Sw Swann
Sw Swann

Rene Denfeld’s Five Books from Puddle Town

Maybe it is all the rain—torrential downpours all winter and spring that drive even the natives indoors. Maybe it is the sudden roasting hell of two months of monsoon hot in July and August, forcing us inside once more, panting. Or maybe it is the respite of our lovely fall weather, where you can walk for miles among the falling leaves, dreaming of your next book.

Whatever the reason, Portland, Oregon—or what we natives call Puddle Town—practically rains with astounding female writers. Of course there are widely known talents, like Cheryl Strayed, Ursula Le Guin, and Lidia Yuknavitch. But the city is flooded with other female talents, some of whom you may have missed.

At this point you will thank me for stopping the precipitation metaphors and for giving you some suggestions. Pick up one of these books, curl up in a favorite chair, or reflect upon it on your own next long walk, among the falling leaves.

 

1. Cari Luna, The Revolution of Every Day

This is a debut novel of heft. Not in tone or length, but in weight of thought. Cari Luna delves into the lives of New York City squatters in the 1990s, as the city turned armored police tanks against them, reflecting deep fears of the economic collapse. In tender sweetness and truth, we see how human frailty can cause us to turn us against each other with as much steel as any armored tank. Luna’s writing is deft, descriptive, and deeply humane, making what could be a difficult subject very easy to read. The Revolution of Every Day deservedly won the Oregon Book Award for fiction.

 

2. Ellen Urbani, Landfall

Ellen Urbani weaves an intricate, raw story of mothers and their daughters, and sets it all during Hurricane Katrina. This is a complex novel that tackles race and culture, history and longing, and how humans constantly retrace time, searching for meaning. Urbani’s writing is soft, vivid, imbued with a sense of magic. The passages on the flooding of the Ninth Ward are simply amazing, and the insights of how humans can find sanctity in the midst of destruction are touching and yet refreshingly unsentimental.

 

3. Monica Drake, The Stud Book

It’s pity our society doesn’t recognize female satirists, because if we did, Monica Drake would be on top. Drake has a cutting wit, which she employs not for cheap laughs but for deeper social and cultural probing. The Stud Book is a look inside what motherhood means for womanhood today, from sex to biology to breeding, with fresh insights into population concerns. Drake’s dry, sardonic writing will have you in tears, both of laughter and sadness.

 

4. Liz Prato, Baby’s On Fire

This is Liz Prato’s short story collection, and it sings with honesty. It’s a short collection of shorter stories, but as boxers would say, Prato packs a lot of pound for pound punch. These characters feel so real you might make them your own memories, but only if you’ve walked on the side of sorrow. Prato writes with singe and sensuality. Just one of these rich little stories can feel as satisfying as a much longer novel.

 

5. Sheila Hamilton, All The Things We Never Knew

I just finished reading Sheila Hamilton’s riveting memoir, and I feel uncomfortable yet soothed. Was it her honesty about her husband, whose bipolar illness quickly unfolded into great pain? Was it the suicide that reminded me of my own losses? All good writing is a story of truth, and Hamilton has told her own truth with a sense of welcome. I felt right at home. I especially admire that Hamilton is more than a storyteller—she is a change-maker who walks her talk, actively working to improve our mental health system.

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