LUNCH WITH ANITA

      by Pam Munter

I'VE NEVER REALLY enjoyed her singing, but she is a legend, after all. She was primarily known as a scat artist, often ignoring a song’s meaning or depth. Melody could be elusive, as she affected the harmony lines and intonation of a tenor sax or an adventurous trumpet player. Her innovative stylings caused her to be worshipped by beboppers, revered by jazzbos everywhere. Though I wasn’t a fan, I appreciated the artistry, shared the passion for singing and wanted to meet the infamous Anita O’Day.

So when Ed, my record producer, offered to set up a brunch on my last morning in L.A., I jumped at my chance.

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My Quest to Re-Photograph Southern Hospitality

     by Gay Pasley

SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY IS a vintage black-and-white image of a black slave woman. The image was photographed outside. The slave woman’s eyes are downcast, as though in silent protest to having her picture taken without her consent. She is sitting outside in a rocking chair. Dignified. Her head is wrapped in white cloth. She cradles two babies, one at each breast. One black, the other white. Both suckling. In my series, “My Radical Camera,” I plan to depict this image.

In a letter to a friend, Van Gogh complained, “I myself am suffering under an absolute lack of models.”

I know exactly how he feels.

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A victimless crime

     by Nathan Wyckoff

TALKING ABOUT THE dead is, at best, a self-serving exercise; we’re thieves, pilfering the tragic details to better stock our mental coffers. This I learned by way of a part-time job I had in mid-2007.

For me, working at a bookstore had little to do with books. I just wanted a job where I didn’t have to wear a tie. Neither did books interest my coworker, Jedi, whose experience with reading was limited to the numbers on his postal scale.  His real work was in dealing drugs, and as a rule I kept my interactions with him brief and rare.

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THE HORSE CALLS BULL: COW TIPPING EDITION

     by Heather Buchanan

I'D BEEN LED to believe that in small, rural towns—towns without, say, a bowling alley—bored teens liked to sneak up on upright sleeping cows and push them over. Then (presumably) they'd stand around laughing as the groggy creature struggled to stand back up. A roaring good time for all the bipeds involved.

 


NEW BABY IN THE HOUSE: HOW TO TALK TO OLDER CHILDREN ABOUT SIBLING JEALOUSY

By Paul Buchanan

YOUR CHILD HAS been the sole focus of your parenting efforts for as long as they’ve been alive. They have come to expect your undivided attention as their right. They’re so used to being the center of attention that it’s literally impossible for them to see the world any other way. So, when a new baby arrives, here are some ways to talk to them about the changes they’re experiencing.

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ALWAYS REMEMEMBER: MALLEABLE MEMORY IN DAN CHAON'S ILL WILL

By Nick Orlove

RUSTY TILLMAN LOOKS like a man who’s done time. He has a jailhouse tattoo on his neck and it marks him like a cattle brand. The tattoo was supposed to say REMEMBER, but he wasn’t paying much attention when his cellmate was at work, so what it actually says is REMEMEMBER. That tattoo gives us Dan Chaon’s wicked new literary thriller, Ill Will, in a nutshell. Rusty was convicted for murdering both his adoptive parents, an aunt and an uncle, but, after decades in prison, he’s been exonerated and released. Everything everyone knows about the man had been undermined. What’s clearly remembered isn’t necessarily true.

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GO TO THE GREEN LIGHT

By Melissa Gutierrez

 IN TUCSON IN 2012 I’m walking across a hospital parking lot on my way to class. It’s not even noon and the asphalt is already squishing a little bit underneath my feet – not the whole thing; it’s a well-built parking lot and one-hundred-plus degrees isn’t an abnormal temperature for these kinds of materials or this corner of the world; it’s just the edges and the dark black lines that look like strips of flattened snakes or tread on gum where cracks and crumbs have been repaired with fresher tar are melting back into the earth. I’m talking to a lawyer on the phone. He sounds attractive, but what do I know – anybody trying to help you glows like sunshine sometimes, even from afar, and besides, I’ve always been overly imaginative.

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Not-So-Innocent: The Bystanders in Joann Chaney’s What You Don’t Know

By Katie Caffrey

JACKY SEEVER, THE notorious serial killer, is safe behind bars, selling his prison-house paintings and biding his time in the dimming spotlight of his atrocities. Years ago he was a news sensation, one of those monsters who somehow capture the public’s imagination—think Johan Wayne Gacy and his crawlspace full of corpses. But that was seven years ago, and new horrors have eclipsed the killer in the local papers and on the late news. 

Joann Chaney’s new novel What You Don’t Know isn’t really about Seever and his crimes; it’s about three people who were left floundering in his wake and what happens to them when a series of similar crimes erupts in the same Denver neighborhood. 

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NO HUGGING, NO LEARNING: LINDSEY LEE JOHNSON'S THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACE ON EARTH

By Kent Dunnington

IN AN EPIGRAPH to her new novel The Most Dangerous Place on Earth, Lindsey Lee Johnson quotes Jim Stark: “Nobody talks to children.” The central character of the novel, young first-year high-school teacher Miss Molly Nicoll, is an exception to Stark’s rule. She desperately tries to talk to her students, to enter into their world, and to be a help to them. The novel poses the question whether such an admirable moral undertaking is, in the end, actually worthwhile. 

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Thin Ice

By Heidi Lup

A DEAD, UNIDENTIFIED woman is found in the empty Stockholm house of a major clothing retailer’s CEO. Her severed head seems to have been posed deliberately upright on the floor to witness the killer’s escape. Jesper Orre, the executive who owns the house, has also gone missing. With those first few pages, Camilla Grebe’s new thriller, The Ice Beneath Her already has you snared.

The story is told from the alternating points of view of three central characters, each of whom is fully fleshed out, with their own compelling backstory. There’s Peter, the workaday police detective who’s struggling with his own terrors of intimacy and commitment. There’s Hanne, the retired profiler who’s slipping into dementia and finally trying, as she begins to lose her identity, to gain some kind of freedom from her domineering husband. Finally, there’s Emma, a salesgirl in one of Orre’s shops whose secret affair with him has gone inexplicably off the rails. She finds herself bereft and broke now that Orre’s vanished from her life, and all she wants are some answers.

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LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF CORN DOGS

By Heather Buchanan

IT COST $5 to enter the SOMA StrEAT Food Park Corn Dog Festival, which included a 16- ounce can of PBR or a bottle of water. As soon as we passed the ticket booth and ID check, a large, bubbly woman with blue-and-pink dreadlocks fished a can from a giant cooler. Her fingernails—which were the size of guitar picks—were bright blue and studded with rhinestones. She pried the can’s tab up with one thumbnail and then slammed it back down with the nail on her pointer finger.

She tilted the sweating can towards me. “You want a beer?” she asked me, now that it was already open.

I nodded, maybe a little too eagerly because she burst out laughing as she handed it to me. 

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BOTH MICROSCOPE AND TELESCOPE: LOOKING MORE CLOSELY IN ANNIE DILLARDS THE ABUNDANCE

By Joel Buck

BOTH MICROSCOPE AND TELESCOPE: LOOKING MORE CLOSELY IN ANNIE DILLARDS THE ABUNDANCE By Joel Buck

ANNIE DILLARD'S LATEST collection of essays is called The Abundance.

No lesser word could describe it.

Dillard here collects old and new essays—though the reader must refer to the index to determine which are which, as none in the bunch feels less polished or insightful than the others. It’s easy to be impressed by the grace of Dillard’s writing, but what always brings us back to her work is her hungry exploration of the magnificent in all things—internal and external, mundane and ethereal—on display throughout her body of work. Wherever she looks Dillard sees wonder, and invites the reader to share the vista.

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The Long, Long Fuse: The Art of Making Us Wait in Jonathan Lee's High Dive

By Paul Buchanan

The Long, Long Fuse: The Art of Making Us Wait in Jonathan Lee's High Dive By Paul Buchanan

IN OCTOBER 1984, a strong explosive detonated at the Grand Hotel, a Victorian luxury hotel in Brighton, England. The target of the bomb was the entire conservative party conference, including Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher. The Provisional IRA planted the bomb. Five people, including two important party members, were killed in the blast. More than 30 were injured.

Jonthan Lee’s new novel High Dive—his first to be published in the US—imagines the events leading up to that explosion. Lee tells his story from the points of view of three focal characters, and the novel, skips between them as they go about their lives—all while the bomb’s long fuse burns down.

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Neon Boneyard

By Heather Buchanan

THESE SIGNS ONCE lit up the drunken debauchery that the Las Vegas Strip is known for, now they rust in the desert sun. Decades of history are paused in shattered piles, a reminder of the beginnings of this city.

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MONUMENTS AND CULTURAL HEROES: KENT TWITCHELL TALKS ABOUT HIS MURALS

By Kelly McBride

MONUMENTS AND CULTURAL HEROES: KENT TWITCHELL TALKS ABOUT HIS MURALS by Kelly McBride

KENT TWITCHELL HAS celebrated many major LA and world events with his looming murals: runners for the Marathon, Loretta Claiborne and Rafer Johnson for the Special Olympics, Nelson Mandela to commemorate the Berlin Wall’s dismantling. But not everyone cares for his behemoth celebrations of conventional American life. They’re neither subtle nor complex, these towering figures of local heroes and TV icons, painted realistically. They’re quick-reads, like billboards—designed to be glimpsed and not studied. 

On a Thursday afternoon, I make my way through Downtown’s always-in-progress construction and workday rush to Kent Twitchell’s studio. He told me to find it by the massive “Blue Jeans” sign advertising the store below.  Above the crowds and trash and blue jeans store, his studio is austere—large and white and silent. I want to ask him, how does he hope his works affect the city? Why the large familiar faces?

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Loving the Limits of Language: A Review of Jhumpa Lahiri's In Other Words

By Marc Malandra

Loving the Limits of Language: A Review of Jhumpa Lahiri's In Other Words By Marc Malandra

IMAGINE REACHING THE peak of your profession, your rookie year. Your first book Interpreter of Maladies—a collection of short stories, first published as a lowly paperback original—wins the coveted Pulitzer Prize.

Your three follow-up books all turn out to be commercial and critical successes. They are The NamesakeUnaccustomed Earth and The Lowland—in other words a major motion picture, the winner of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, and a finalist for both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award.

Where do you go from there?

Jumpa Lahiri decided that one way to mix things up creatively was to present herself with a possibly insurmountable challenge: to reinvent herself as a writer by switching languages.

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MIND CAPTURE: COMING OF AGE IN CHICO STATE

By Heather Buchanan

MIND CAPTURE: COMING OF AGE IN CHICO STATE by Heather Buchanan

WHERE I COME from, the noise the Chico State girls made just getting ready for the party would have made someone call the cops. I was sitting on the lap of a toffee-colored teddy bear that was larger than me. My host, who shall remain Nameless, brought me here for one of her BFF’s birthday parties. Since most of the invitees had just returned from their summer vacation trips, the excitement was high.

Nameless wobbled into the room on a pair of nude stilettos. The heels were so narrow, I couldn’t understand how they supported her weight without sinking into the wooden floor, nailing her in place. She had to yell over the noise of two showers, three hairdryers, and four loud girls playing Mario Karts.

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WOMAN OF WONDERFUL NERVE

By Paul Buchanan

WOMAN OF WONDERFUL NERVE by Paul Buchanan

ANNIE EDSON TAYLOR was a liar.  She lopped decades off her age, misrepresented her qualifications to teach high school, and alluded to high adventures that never happened. Her scant, eight-page memoir includes yarns about burglars with chloroform and highway robbers. But one thing about Taylor is beyond doubt: on October 24, 1901, this plump 63-year-old widow rode over Niagara’s Horseshoe Falls in an oak barrel.  She was the first to attempt the stunt and the first to survive.

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THE TALENTED MR. SHRDLU

By Paul Buchanan

THE TALENTED MISTER SHRDLU by Paul Buchanan

TODAY HE IS all but forgotten, but there was a time when Etaoin Shrdlu showed up daily in newspapers across the US. His name most often appeared in the dense columns of classified ads or the business listings, but it also popped up in stories about political intrigue, society soirees and gruesome crimes. In 1922, The Lawrence Daily Journal identified Shrdlu as a railroad union kingpin. Three years later, TheChicago Daily Tribune listed him as a boy soprano at a major music festival. In 1929 The Newark Advocate referred to Shrdlu as the US Ambassador to Germany.

The breadth of Shrdlu’s athleticism, alone, would have impressed any attentive reader. He was a jock of all trades. The Pampa News had him playing football for Yale. The Bakersfield Californian listed him among promising heavyweight boxers. The San Antonio Express lauded his local dominance in ten-pin bowling. According to the Washington Post, Mr. Shrdlu umpired the Midget Sandlot title game of 1923.

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HANG 20

By Heather Buchanan

HANG 20 By Heather Buchanan

AT THE SEVENTH annual Loews’ Surf Dog Competition in Imperial Beach, more dogs are wearing sunglasses than are humans. The competition is held each year in Imperial Beach to raise money and awareness for the ASPCA, and it is no small event. News stations have camera crews on risers made of thin metal pipes, and each time a dog comes in from its heat, it is immediately swarmed by reporters. Spectators stand knee-deep in the Pacific to get good iPhone pictures. Many have given up trying to keep their clothes dry and don’t bother rolling up their pant legs. My clothes are soaked through too, but it’s mostly because a group of kids in the surf zone are running around, splashing everyone except the friend they are aiming at.

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BICKERING BIGFOOT

By Heather Buchanan

BICKERING BIGFOOT by Heather Buchanan

TAKE A LOOK at the Patterson-Gimlin film, if you haven’t watched it a hundred times already. This brief strip of 16mm film—alleged to show a female Sasquatch retreating through the Six Rivers National Forest in California—has been exhaustively debated among believers and debunkers. After the Zapruder Film, this particular footage (or Bigfootage, as I like to call it) is probably the most scrutinized scrap of film in US history. The 52-second Sasquatch cameo shows Patty taking a leisurely stroll through a clearing, casually glancing over her right shoulder at the viewer before disappearing behind fallen, dead trees. This film is so iconic that even if you aren’t interested in Bigfoot, you’ll recognize frame 352, in which the creature stares straight at the camera, left arm bent and swinging up to chest level while the right stretches out behind.

Tragically, the Patterson-Gimlin Film’s veracity has become a wedge issue in the otherwise copacetic community of Bigfootology. There are those who want the world to finally admit that PGF provides conclusive evidence that Bigfoot exists. Then there are those who see the PGF advocates as gullible yahoos who give the scientifically rigorous field of Bigfootology a bad name.

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Pink Mist

By Graham Towers

Pink Mist By Graham Towers

THE PEOPLE AT the St. Catherine’s Military Academy Civil War Re-enactment are a breed apart. Like other weekend warriors, they still spend a ton of money and vast amounts of time on their hobby, but the majority of their day is spent just hanging out talking to people. They refer to this as “living history,” mimicking the fashions of the time and learning a narrative to relate to onlookers.

An observer who just walked around looking at stuff on this day could be forgiven for thinking that the whole enterprise is sort of, well, lame. Being a young man raised twenty minutes from Disneyland, I’m used to my Americana having some spectacledammit. At least some Eco-style hyperreality, so that I can marvel at the painstaking attention to detail and feel immersed in the environment. Any ghost town or Williamsburg worth its salt can at least conjure up some gosh-wow moments.

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TOSSERS

By Paul Buchanan

TOSSERS by Paul Buchanan

ALMOST ALL THE Highland Games’ events involve throwing things that should really be left alone. There’s the Hammer Throw, the Stone Putt, the Braemar Stone Putt (like the Stone Putt but with feet planted), the Weight Throw (a lead weight attached to a handle with a chain), the Weight Over the Bar (a small anvil thrown overhead) and the Sheaf Toss (a hay-stuffed burlap bag lofted with a pitchfork). Riveting as these events are in their way, I am only here at ScotsFest 2012 to witness the most idiosyncratic Scottish event of them all: the Caber Toss.

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Telling and Telling: A Review of Graham Swift's Wish You Were Here

By P J Morkan

Telling and Telling: A Review of Graham Swift's Wish You Were Here By P J Morkan

IT'S LONG BEEN popular to criticize the proliferation of writing MFA programs in the US. And it’s easy to dismiss the overly processed, cookie cutter fiction they often shape. But these programs tend to teach those aspects of writing that are actually teachable. They focus on the “show don’t tell” school of writing—a kind of visual story that’s constructed of discrete scenes composed of dialogue and gesture. It’s the kind of fiction that feels closest to cinematic. But there are other kinds of writing, many of them unteachable.

One example of another approach—an approach that feels distinctly British—is Graham Swift’s new novel, Wish You Were Here. Rather than being built out of scenes that add up to a plot, Swift’s novel is built of echoes, and it adds up, for the patient reader, to a whole and complicated man. 

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How Do You Hold It In

By Melissa Gutierrez

 How Do You Hold It In By Melissa Gutierrez

IN FEBRUARY, THE yoga studio I sometimes go to sends me an email about “March Madness.” My first thought is, of course, something about college basketball (without ESPN on in my space 24/7, i.e., since I don’t live at home anymore with a father who somehow manages to get play-by-play updates sent directly to his bloodstream, I can’t bring myself to care: delete), but since it takes .0038 seconds and almost zero physical effort to scroll down and see the rest of the email, I scroll down and see the rest of the email.

“March Madness!” It says again in bold red, complete with exclamation point. Smart of them to write, “One hour massage” in bigger letters right underneath that, so I keep scrolling instead of hitting the trashcan button with my mouse. And even smarter to write “$38” in biggerletters, right underneath that.

A massage, I think, and bring my hands up to rub my shoulders, pretend like I can tell they’re tight. I could really use that. And only $38?

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These Hips Don't Lie

By Graham Towers

 These Hips Don't Lie By Graham Towers

THE FIRST THING I notice about the “Belly Dancer of the Universe” competition is how out of place I look. I enter the Long Beach Convention Center wearing sunglasses, a baseball cap, and a hooded sweater. I also have a beard, completing the overall Unabomber effect. I try flashing my Morkan’s Horse press pass to get in free, but the belly-dancing gatekeepers are not swayed—either by the pass or my attempts at charm, which (i.e. my attempts to charm) I realize have gotten me into shockingly few establishments. I resolve to look into this matter further when I get seriously enraptured by a kiosk selling scimitars.

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MY LIFE IN THE STEAM TRADE

By James P Blaylock:

JAMES P BLAYLOCK: MY LIFE IN THE STEAM TRADE

MY ATTRACTION TO the world of Steampunk is mostly literary, and it’s in a literary sense that I understand it, although I’m happy that it’s manifested itself in fashion, art, technology, and even as a philosophy for living. My own life as a reader, and hence as a literary type, began when I was ten years old and became interested in the books in my mother’s library. It was my first discovery, The Return of Sherlock Holmes, published by McClure, Phillips, and Co., that was the siren song. 

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We Happy Few: Finding Manchester in Midlife

By Paul Buchanan

We Happy Few: Finding Manchester in Midlife By Paul Buchanan

IT'S COMING UP on four a.m. I’m on a nearly-empty freeway, driving through the dark toward Santa Ana—a city you’re not supposed to visit at four a.m. It’s the Saturday after Super Bowl XLVI. Alabama has been reigning BCS champs for more than a month. Football fans will soon wake to the pointlessness of a February weekend; it’s time for lawn care and rain-gutter maintenance.  

But where I’m heading, football is still going full throttle—only it’s the English kind. Liverpool is playing Manchester United, and I’m headed to the Olde Ship on 17th Street at this ungodly hour because I can’t believe anyone will show up for a live soccer match set to start before the morning paper hits the driveway. This game is on ESPN, which means that anyone who wants to see it can do it sensibly—in bed.

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Grief Gardens

By Heather Buchanan

Grief Gardens By Heather Buchanan

MUCH OF THE street art is renown for its irony and postmodern chic. In contrast, roadside memorials—those small landscapes of candles and crosses, windmills and wildflowers—offer the passerby a spontaneous, collaborative, and often beautiful human artifact.

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Maybe We're Not Such Losers: Why Our Facebook Friends Have More Facebook Friends

By Paul Buchanan

Maybe We're Not Such Losers: Why Our Facebook Friends Have More Facebook Friends By Paul Buchanan

IT'S ONE OF those things we all do. We’re on a friend’s Facebook wall, and we glance at their friend’s list. Six-hundred-and-Twenty-Seven? Seriously? We click through a few more friends’ walls. It’s hard not to jump to the obvious, ego-bruising conclusion: We—with our mere 212 friends—are losers. We’re social pariahs. No wonder we’re at home on-line, instead of out doing… well, whatever people with 627 friends do.

But here’s the weird mathematical fact: Almost everybody’s Facebook friends have more friends than they do.

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STUMP THE SCIENTIST

By Ben Deeb

STUMP THE SCIENTIST By Ben Deeb

“WHERE DID THE moon come from?” It’s a good question. I’m glad I know the answer.

“The moon used to be part of the Earth.” This gets the class’s attention. “Four-point-five billion years ago, before there were animals or plants or even oceans, an asteroid—a huge rock from outer space—came crashing into the Earth. It hit the planet so hard that a big chunk flew out into space. That chunk started revolving around the Earth and became our moon.” They seem satisfied with the answer. Twenty-four wide-eyed first graders now eagerly raise their hands, each hoping to ask the next question in our weekly “Stump the Scientist” challenge. I pick another student.

“When a tree falls in the forest with no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

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LIZARDS AND LEPERS: THE COMPLICATED WORLD OF RUSSELL BANK'S LOST MEMORY OF SKIN

By Paul Buchanan

LIZARDS AND LEPERS: THE COMPLICATED WORLD OF RUSSELL BANK'S LOST MEMORY OF SKIN By Paul Buchanan

A LITTLE OVER three-hundred pages into Russell Banks’ new novel Lost Memory of Skin a character from one of his earlier novels arrives in the story.  It’s Delores Driscoll, the small-town school bus driver from The Sweet Hereafter—the woman behind the wheel when fourteen children were killed in an accident that was probably her fault.  In the new novel she is remarried and living on the edge of a Florida swamp.  No direct reference is made to the great tragedy that looms in her past.  It’s a beautiful touch, since the principal characters in Lost Memory of Skin are people haunted by histories they can never escape.

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