Friday, May 5, 2017

Tangled Webs and Shining Stars

Or, Why I loved West End Quartet

As readers of this blog have probably figured out by now, I read a lot of books—and always have. Books are the focus of my work and fiction my chosen form of relaxation. I used to haunt bookstores the way “normal” people hang out in shopping malls, but these days many of my books come from, in print or e-versions.

Every single time I purchase or, especially, download a book, Amazon wants to know what I think of it. It even asks me to review my own books—which I don’t do. Sometimes I give in to the pleas, more often I don’t, but I’ve never had any trouble with getting Amazon to accept my feedback until this week, when I submitted a review of the latest Five Directions Press title, West End Quartet.

More specifically, Amazon thanked me for the review but never posted it. Clicking on the link gets me a cute dog photo and a “sorry, page not found” message. Clicking on the book link shows one review, not mine. What happened?

One explanation is a simple glitch. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, as the clichĂ© has it. But it’s well known that Amazon can be suspicious about reviews that are perceived as coming from friends or family or fellow authors. So on the off chance that the review was in fact deleted due to some misunderstanding, let me take this opportunity to point out why I went out of my way to recommend West End Quartet to fellow readers at Amazon.

It was not because the author and I share a publisher or even belong to the same writers’ group, although we do. It was because the book is genuinely a wonderful read: rich in complex characters, evocative of a particular time and place, filled with brilliant settings and emotional experiences. I have watched it grow through many iterations, and I can attest that it has improved dramatically during that process. The author put a ton of work into crafting it, and those efforts have borne fruit. If you like foreign travel and reading about relationships among women, books about parenting, self-development, and the many different paths that people can take when they start in one place, then proceed in their own individual ways at their own pace toward maturity—this writer is for you.

Each of the first three novellas follows the divergent path of one member of the urban commune dubbed Group, formed in Manhattan in the late 1970s to promote feminist causes and fight nuclear power. Mallory joins the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, more out of love than conviction, and discovers that revolutions don’t roll along as smoothly as she expected; Mina abandons her Indian ashram for immigration law and a family, only to realize that a path to happiness can take very strange forms; Gwen, an academic star at the height of her career, revisits her own past and rediscovers the self she always wanted to be. In “Reunions,” the three women reconnect with Kleio Platon—the protagonist of the author’s first novel, Seeking Sophia, and the fourth member of Group—but the narrator for the novella is Mina’s daughter, Skye, shipped off to Greece as an au pair for Kleio’s daughter, Sophia, and in major culture shock through much of her story.

As one would expect of a character-focused writer, each story has its own tone, its own vocabulary, its unique approach. But the four novellas, like Seeking Sophia before them, are alike in their wonderful prose, like the passage quoted below, in which Skye discovers that things are not always what they seem.

Now admit: don’t you want to know more?

Excerpt from “Reunions,” part 4 of Ariadne Apostolou’s West End Quartet 

They meander slowly up the road because it’s 115 degrees, an oven. The air just sits on you, a dead weight. Watch out for killer bees droning around like MiG-25 Interceptors, even if they look half dead from the heat, too.

Oh-ho. Behold the Dog!

Seeing Skye, the gigundo creature bares its saliva-dripping fangs, stands its ground in the middle of the road, head and tail lowered. Ears flare. A low growl escalates into a warning bark. Drool.

“Hey! It’s Mavri! Ella tho, Mavri!” Sophia bends on one knee to its eye level. At the sound of Sophia’s voice, ferocious Mavri morphs into a frisky puppy, lifts her head, yelps and raises her tail in a wild waggle. Her fangs recede into a wide grin. She prances over like she wants to play, bumps her snout into Sophia’s outstretched palm. She presses her flank into Sophia’s side, tail gone completely crazy.

Mavri belongs to the widow Kyria Mimika, farther up, Sophia explains. She rubs Mavri under her chin and coos Greek words. The mongrel fawns all over her; her slobbery tongue licks Sophia’s hand, then—plop! Down she goes at Sophia’s feet, a cloud of dust rises up, sprawls out, jaw in the dirt, and sighs. They walk past her, easily. Her round eyes follow them up the road.

“What are you anyway, Mowgli, Commander of Wolves? I don’t believe you, kiddo.”

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