Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Two Reviews: J.A. Pak's Act of Creation and Other Stories and Seal Skin

Seal Skin

I was first turned onto J.A. Pak's writing through one of my favorite blogs, Books Personally, which spotlights indie fiction.

Having received my Kindle a couple of weeks ago, I was ready to download books that I hadn't yet had a chance to read. (I HATE reading on my computer.) J.A. Pak's Seal Skin came to mind immediately. After reading the interview with Pak on Books, Personally, I'd Googled her and found an excerpt of Seal Skin.

Now, I love reworkings of myths and fairy tales. Anne Sexton's Transformations still has the ability to reduce me to a quivering mass of emotion even after 100+ readings. Something about reaching down into those old stories-- where our old fears and superstitions are preserved in fictional amber--resonates with me. That fairy tales often illuminate the struggle of women, of the roles we've been forced to play for hundreds of years, well, it's a no brainer.

Pak's Seal Skin begins on the common enough note of heartbreak. One day Lily's husband loves her, and the next, he loves someone else. Whirlwind divorce.

"Quick, as a gasp of air, they were married."

Intent on reminding the new honeymooners of the heartbreak and misery they have caused her, Lily resolves to follow them on their European honeymoon: from London to Santorini. All this we learn from the conversation between Lily and the man sitting next to her on the plane, Brenn.

But her plan goes awry.

What Lily didn't foresee was how she would feel when her ex-husband and his new bride looked at her with sympathy and love. And as we all eventually do, she realized the anger and pain was rooting her in her own personal hell.

Lily contacts Brenn, the man who understood her devastation, and the two fall in love and quickly marry. But what does she know of this man? And who is the woman who visits her at night?

This spin on the selkie myth is sure to entertain, but also demands the reader to question himself/herself. What lengths will you go to for love? Who would you destroy to preserve it? What of yourself do you destroy in the process?

Act of Creation & Other Stories

There are three stories in this mini collection: Act of Creation, What I Did for Pho, and Gurume Kurabe.

Act of Creation : "Mary ran her cake business in a way she could never have run her marriage."  And when Mary's husband leaves her, all Mary can control is her business, her art, and the subjects she chooses to depict with her magnificent cakes. An amusing and delectable tale that had me thinking of Pygmalion and Galatea, this story will leave you with cravings for cake and more Pak stories.

What I Did for Pho: Say you can convince the owner of your favorite restaurant to rent a recently vacated building right in front of your home. Easy access to food, good neighborhood (and business) for them: everybody's happy. Right? Well, nothing is ever so easy or so uncomplicated. Read the results when one man makes this happen.

Gurume Kurabe: In an effort to appear more "in the know" than his condescending, arrogant "friend," Gordon Swink--a knowledge hoarder who can tell you who has the best corned beef, where to go when you need your shoes re-soled--the narrator, through various devices of his own, wrangles a meal that is the best Japanese you can find in New York. Unfortunately for him, when Swink gets word of this, he will stop at nothing to find out where it is, and to get his own invitation. A hilarious satire on "frenemies" and social climbers.