20 February 2014

The Sun and Other Stars, by Brigid Pasulka

Without even knowing it when I accepted it, I realized within a few chapters of Brigid Pasulka's The Sun and Other Stars that this was the book I'd been waiting to read for a long time. A coming-of-age story set in Italy, mixed with the peculiarities and blessings of a small town, I was swept away with its love and grief. What a lovely story.

Etto, the butcher's son in a tiny seaside resort town on the Italian Riviera, is lost. Suffering the recent deaths of both his twin brother and his mother, Etto and his father find themselves slowly growing further apart. Cynical and doubtful of supposed good intentions, Etto distances himself even further from his friends and the residents of their small town, who always think they know what's best. It's only when his father's favorite soccer player, Ukrainian Yuri Fil, seeks sanctuary in San Benedetto to hide from a scandal, that Etto realizes there just may be hope for each of them, no matter how much of an outsider they might be.

There are few things that make me jump at the chance of reading a book offered by a publisher, but the story's setting in Italy is a sure thing for me. When the publicist kindly reached out, I did jump at the chance, even though I've been steadily declining most book offers over the past year. Returning back to work from maternity leave was of course another distraction, but Brigid Pasulka's The Sun and Other Stars seemed like the perfect story to settle in with. And it was. It was worth every single moment.

Written casually yet beautifully, Etto speaks directly to the reader and allows his negativity to take center stage at the beginning, showcasing quite the chip on his shoulder. Like most complex characters, however, the peeling of the onion delivers more layers, and it's clear Etto is not only heart-breakingly devastated by the loss of his brother and mother, but sweet and sensitive as he allows himself to fall in love with Yuri Fil's younger sister.

Most successful stories are able to create a character out of the town itself, and Pasulka does just that with the quirkiness of San Benedetto. Every character, from the nonne (grandmothers) who gather outside of church on Sundays to share in local gossip, to Martina, the owner of the bar everyone goes to in order to watch soccer and cheer for victories or argue and lambast for defeats, provides such substance and support to Etto's overall growth, rebuilding his lost faith and his connection to them. While a tiny village can sometimes either be a curse or a blessing, most times it's the only place to heal. The journeys Yuri, Etto, and his father each need to take to realize how much they do fit, that recovery is possible, is a reminder that perhaps a small town isn't such a bad thing after all.

This is one to remember. I highly recommend this, and I urge you to check it out. I loved everything about it, with Italian thrown into the dialogue and description, I felt like I was right back in Rome five years ago on my honeymoon. Ahh. To move there one day is the goal.

Anyway, you won't regret reading this one. You'll learn how soccer is like a religion, that love can heal, and that small towns and big families of friends and neighbors will always give you the strength you need.

Passages of Note:
I sit through the next round, watching them, and I feel a little like Nonna must feel, like I've got my face pressed to the glass looking in on everybody else. (p.158)
The beaches are empty this early in the morning, the sea so flat, I could fold it up into an envelope. (p.159)
That's another thing they forget to tell you about grief, that every loss you feel after the first is not added but multiplied, like what they tell you in school about drinking and taking drugs at the same time. And after squaring so many fraction and fractions of fractions, you find out you've used up your lifetime allotment of both pain and joy, and all that's left is an emotional flatline and the deep conviction that you will never, ever try anything with the potential to intoxicate you again. (p.295) 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: February 4, 2014
Pages: 336

FTC Disclosure: I accepted this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. If you can't tell from the above, I loved this book.

About the Author (from her website)
Brigid was born and raised in rural Illinois and has lived in Poland, Russia, Germany and Italy. Her debut novel, A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True won the 2010 Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. Her second novel, The Sun and Other Stars, was an Indie Next pick for February 2014. Brigid lives in Chicago with her husband and son and runs the writing center at a public high school.

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13 February 2014

My Stupid Life When I Was 21 Bites Me in the Butt Now.

So, tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I go back to work. After three months on maternity leave, I now have to get settled in my upstairs office and get chained to the desk for eight hours (at least) on internal conference calls, client calls, project planning calls, etc. Two or three weeks from now, I have to get back on the road to travel to my clients a total of one week a month (at least). Not just day trips, but overnighters instead, with a night or two in a hotel (at least). (That pesky "at least" seems to pepper my phrases extensively nowadays.) Working from home is certainly a plus, but the traveling has not been fun for years. And now, especially now, it will be even harder.

So I kick myself when I think back to my college days twenty years ago when I was an English and Creative Writing major. I had lofty dreams for my future, so when I walked across the stage at the University of Maryland and received my degree from a professor who loved my work, I was massively proud of myself, secure in my next steps in life. Another professor loudly applauded who even offered me an opportunity to send my work to him so he could help edit it and advise me.

I NEVER did ANYTHING. I squandered it. Life got in the way? Nah. More like I just let a whole bunch of silly things cloud my next steps and the years just flew by. I am ever the envious one of all my blogging friends who actually use their writing degrees in the real world and who stick with it. (In case you're wondering, I'm thinking of Write Meg! That young lass is just doing things right.)

My degree merely served as a piece of paper to get a "better" job, or so I thought. I never continued to practice the craft other than the occasional smash of stream of consciousness writing when I was bored. (And no, I do not count emails and PowerPoints and contract reviews as writing.) I didn't pursue any of the dreams I had at that time because, hell, I glamorized an image in my head that I needed a job to make a paycheck so I could eat. Woe is me. I just didn't have time, I told myself, to do what I needed to do to get into the job of my dreams later. I didn't want to sacrifice.

Now, twenty years later, I realize I have worked my ass off to have a job that is all tough corporate but, unfortunately, absolutely zero passion. It's important work, and I'm glad to have it, but why? WHY? Why wouldn't I have plugged away to be in an industry I loved, that made me thrilled to go to work each day? Instead, I strayed so far from it that now, as my sweet son sleeps next to me, I realize I have regretfully paid my dues for something which keeps me up late, very late at night. But my sleepless nights are not for the excitement of what I do every day, but simply because I dread the list of things that just have to get done. The list is never interesting. It is never fun. It just, well, is.

Yes, this post has a harsh title. In comparison to the rest of the world, it wasn't a stupid life at twenty-one, relatively speaking. But, oh, it is so cathartic to imagine what I would love to tell my silly and naive twenty-one-year-old self, so that perhaps the hands of time could be kinder now in an alternate universe. Piddly silly little stress at the time. One little girl who, at the time, did not respect the amazing things life would one day give her, and that if she absolutely had to be at work, away from these amazing things, then it better be for something she truly enjoyed. Pay your dues early for the things you want later, I should have repeated to myself. But no.

And, because a post should always have pictures. Behold, my son is introduced to the snow for the first time. I sort of like the photo in the top right as he, um, quietly... informs me that he's not pleased with his hat.

Hi, ho, hi, ho. It's off to work I go.


02 February 2014

Lady Mary Kicks A$$

Did you know Lady Mary will be time-traveling up to the current day and will be on a plane kicking some major action butt in the upcoming movie Non-Stop, to be released February 21, 2014? It still amazes me that Liam Neeson, an actor I absolutely love, is an action movie star now (love the movie Taken), but to add Lady Mary from Downton Abbey (also known as Michelle Dockery) to the cast is intriguing enough that I am even more interested to see it. Just thought you all might like to know lil miss Lady Mary does some sort of jump-in-the-air-punch thing. Did Anna style her hair? What would the Earl and the Dowager Countess of Grantham think about this? Not very ladylike, to be sure. I, however, feel very much like what Lady Sybil (God rest her soul) might feel, which is very forward-thinking... you go, girl.