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In Elisabeth Egan’s ‘A Window Opens,’ Modern Day Mom Meets E-Pub Giant

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In Elisabeth Egan’s debut novel, A Window Opens, Alice Pearse has it all–she’s a modern-day mom, juggling three kids and a part-time job as books editor for women’s magazine You. Her secure life is uprooted when her hubby Nicholas, a lawyer, comes home with news that he isn’t making partner and is leaving his firm (and his steady paycheck) to start his own office. Until Nicholas starts building a clientele and earning some cash, Alice’s part-time magazine job isn’t going to cut it.

Alice considers herself lucky to land a job at e-publishing giant Scroll. They have big plans to get readers into their stores, buying ebooks–think gummy candies, super-lush seating, and curated novel recommendations. It sounds like Alice’s dream. The reality, however, is something a little more maniacal. Scroll is a passive-aggressive mess of tech-speak and never-ending company-wide e-mails. The dream job begins to turn into a nightmare.

Author Elisabeth Egan, in real life, followed a career path similar to Pearse’s. According to the New York Times, Egan worked at Self before accepting a position at Amazon Publishing. She also has three children, like Alice, and there are other echoes of her life in the novel. Egan has taken the old adage “write what you know” very seriously, and the authenticity comes through in the story.

Although marketed as chick-lit, this isn’t an entirely light-hearted story of finding oneself. Egan’s observations about modern life and its expectations of women are so spot on, they are hilarious. Alice’s conversations with her children, all innocence and awkward questions, are charming comedic breaks. But Alice’s father struggles with cancer throughout the story, and in places I felt myself tearing up. A Window Opens is emotional, endearing, and satisfying. Bring your tissues, grab your e-reader, and ask yourself, “What would you do to have it all?”

A Window Opens on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org

Review – The Fever by Megan Abbott

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Something odd is happening to the teenage girls in the town of Dryden. The town itself seems a bit other-worldly, its dead lake fenced off and bright with glowing algae; its weather shocking, hot-to-cold in the blink of an eye; its rain almost heavy and almost acidic, shredding raincoats to pieces.

The girls who attend the town’s high school begin dropping like flies. Literally dropping, their desks and chairs pitching to the side as they seize and jerk and ramble incoherently. Journalists arrive. The hospital overflows. An event, it seems, is occurring.

The FeverMegan Abbott’s new novel, contains more than just the literal kind. There is also the frenzied burst from adolescent upwards into adulthood, making the book’s high school setting a veritable hothouse of blooming sexuality and judgement, all bright colored tights and testosterone, miniskirts and swoon. The agony and ecstasy of adolescence seems to be Abbott’s expertise, as her previous novel Dare Me focused on the heartless steeliness of the high school cheerleading squad, gone much too far.

As with any high school saga, The Fever‘s story wouldn’t be complete without nearly maniacal parents, losing their daughters to a mystery illness. Could it be the HPV vaccine, which the school recommended? Could it be that mysterious lake, fenced off and smelling odd, forbidden and beautiful? Could there be a haunting in Dryden, or perhaps something more sinister, but sadly, simply human?

High school seen through Abbott’s eyes isn’t a place you go and get educated, but a world unto itself. Anyone who was young once, who grew up awkward and gangly and full of hormones, knows this to be all too true. Abbot’s high school is a place where everything is known by everyone simultaneously, like magic. A place where there are multiple languages, spoken in glances and movements and jangly bracelets tousled on wrists. And a place where once things start going wrong, everyone is a suspect, and no one is safe.

The Fever by Megan Abbott on Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org/Amazon.com*

*Due to the Hachette/Amazon feud, if you are interested in buying the actual book I suggest buying at Powell’s.com or your local bookseller–the hardcover is $26.00 (full cover price) on Amazon as I’m writing this, and will take 2-4 weeks to ship. Yikes! Don’t let this confuse you, as the book is out, and if you want it now you can have it now. Powell’s.com will ship it within 1-3 days, or at your local retailer you can just pluck the book right off the shelf.

Post-Christmas Poetry Post – Victoria Chang’s The Boss

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Although I don’t read a bunch of poetry these days, sometimes I stumble upon something that stops me in my tracks and speaks to me as the truth for our times in a way only a poem could. This happened to me with a poem from Victoria Chang, “The Boss Tells Me,” featured in The Believer‘s June 2013 issue, quoted here as I couldn’t get the spacing right to copy the whole thing: “I can align/myself with the bystanders who have different/standards for another year I can mortgage my heart/in monthly installments for another year I can fill/my garage with scooters and things/with motors like Mona at the end of the hall with/her loan and home and college bills who never/sees anything in the office never seems to hear/anything in the office but her own/heartbeat her own term sheet for another year”

Like this poem, all the rest included in The Boss are so relevant to today’s struggles and so jarring in the most beautiful and breathtaking of ways. Like much of the best poetry out there, Chang isn’t afraid to go to the dark side–she writes of the ennui and injustice (like the chicken and the egg) of American corporate culture (“no keyboard competes with the tap-tap/of his heart”), the struggle in explaining the lost American dream to her children (“we plug away despite plagues in other countries/we are still in awe of the boss and/the law and all the dollars the doll I once had is now my/daughter’s doll she will dream of balls and/gowns and sparkly towns when should I tell her all the/towns are falling down”), and watching her father forget the American and its politics entirely as he ages (“he can’t/remember his passwords can’t get past/his words can’t figure out what the pass is for can’t/access his accounts can’t remember/ass-kissing for his large accounts can’t account/for himself can no longer count”). The words, stanzas, and themes in The Boss all fall apart into a sort of stuttering and skipping word-play of delirium that reaches a powerful crescendo by the end of the book.

The Boss was published by McSweeney’s Poetry Series. McSweeney’s never ceases to amaze me with the quality of work they publish, since publishing my favorite book of all time The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian. In order to get a copy of The Boss, I signed up for a subscription to the McSweeney’s Poetry Series and got a better deal than I would have even on Amazon–when does that happen? Subscribe for 4 issues of the poetry series, starting with The Boss or the next book, for $40.  Chang was recently reading at Moe’s Books in Berkeley and I regrettably missed it, as I wasn’t feeling well. Such is life.

Reading poetry always feels more meditative to me than reading a novel, as I’m not seeking a conclusion or larger plot twist yet to come. I wonder if this is why not many people read poetry, or why I tend to not seek it out as much myself. While reading a book can feel, in a way, like almost accomplishing something, poems ask that I try to not accomplish anything while reading them–they offer nothing, and ask that I simply be open to absorbing their words. This seems rather counterintuitive in American society today, where the demands are always to do more, better, faster. I think this is why poetry was also the perfect medium for Chang to express her points–our time spent getting stuff done in office jobs and our many struggles to get ahead may make this book of poems all the more difficult to get through, but all the more meaningful if we manage to pick it up and appreciate it.

McSweeney’s Poetry Series on McSweeneys.net

The Boss on Amazon.com/McSweeneys.net

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Also, can anyone who knows how to cut and paste something into a blockquote and keep its original spacing feel free to post a comment and let me know how that works? Thanks!