Monday, November 23, 2015

Link Corral: Moby-Dick; New Review of My Book; Free Journal

I thought this was an amusing report from attending a marathon reading of Moby-Dick:

...The inaugural event occurred in 2012 and took place in three independent bookstores over the course of three days. There are other readings across the country, as the New York Times noted, “with bearded, bespectacled acolytes flocking to seaside ports, sipping from thermoses of grog and readjusting their sweaters at the podium,” but this event was New York City’s first. This year, the event was compacted into two days and delivered before Frank Stella’s Melville-inspired sculptures. At this point, I think it is important to note the origins of the word “marathon”: a feat of endurance that resulted in immediate death….


Here’s a nice review of THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST on BookBrowse…and it was selected as the Editor’s Choice! Because the review is posted for non-subscribers only for a week, I’m going to cheat and include the entire text here:

Exploring the many facets of grief through fiction in a variety of formats and voices, This Angel on My Chest deserves a wide audience.

Leslie Pietrzyk draws on her own experiences in This Angel on My Chest, a collection of loosely connected short stories, each of which features a young widow. Pietrzyk, whose husband died of a heart attack at the age of 37, deftly explores the various aspects of grief she endured following the tragedy, some aspects of which continue to affect her more than a decade later.

The book is fictional, but the author has said that she made a point of including at least "one hard, true thing" in each story, tiny details that would never occur to someone who hasn't gone through a deep loss. For example, in one of the stories she talks about her husband's love for malted milk balls – and regret after his death that she more frequently bought peanut M&Ms because they were her favorite. So while the tales feature different women in different circumstances, each has an underlying ring of truth that blurs the line between fact and fiction. In some of the stories Pietrzyk does seem to talk directly to her husband but whether it's the fictional spouse lost by the character or the real-life equivalent the author lost, it's impossible to tell.

Unsurprisingly This Angel on My Chest is very touching but the feelings expressed aren't limited to sorrow. They instead cycle through a whole gamut of emotions such as anger, fear, confusion and depression. The book is outward looking too, exploring characters' reactions to their husbands' deaths and the responses of those around the women, rather than depicting any of them as objects of pity.

It made me more appreciative of the people in my life, and also caused me to pause and wonder what I'd miss about them should they predecease me, things that I take for granted now. While I choked up a bit from time to time, I generally didn't find the book overly sad or depressing. I was instead primarily impressed by the author's ability to completely capture her subject so perfectly. I've been lucky and haven't known this level of loss in my life, but Pietrzyk's writing went a long way toward helping me understand what she and others have experienced.

The author confines most of her stories to grief and the mourning process, only making her way to healing toward the end of the collection as she seems to apologize to her late husband for moving on. Given the fact that some healing seems to have occurred in her life — she has remarried — I found it interesting that she chose to limit her stories to the death of a spouse and its immediate aftereffects. But even with this limited scope, the book doesn't become dull or keep hammering on a single subject. The variety of voices, formats and emotions is rather remarkable and keeps the collection entertaining as perspectives shift from one account to the next. She moves beyond the standard short story form by including elements such as a multiple-choice quiz and a list of foods mentioned throughout the book. Neither of these formats sounds particularly remarkable; what, you may ask yourself, is so exciting about a list? Yet somehow the author turns chapters such as these into some of the most moving and memorable parts of the book.

Sometimes Pietrzyk's use of perspective is confusing. In some of the stories she uses "you," and I found myself re-reading to determine if "you" was the narrator referring to herself (as in, "you have to ask yourself if…") or if "you" was the narrator talking to her absent spouse ("you once said…"). The same uncertainty occurred over the use of "she" referring to an unnamed character in a chapter that focused on more than one woman. Careful reading of these sections, though, will certainly help avoid the disorientation I occasionally felt, and the overall quality of Pietrzyk's writing makes any struggle through these passages well worth the effort.

This Angel on My Chest is excellent from start to finish, and deserves a wide audience. Readers who can get beyond their knee-jerk aversion to the subject will find a real gem here.


I’m very pleased that one of my stories is appearing in the new issue of The Greensboro Review. “Easy Love” is one of the stories I had to cut from THIS ANGEL ON MY CHEST so I’m happy it found a happy home. Here’s the opening:

            Sunday was Emma’s birthday.  It was also my birthday, and, unfortunately, Dan’s birthday, too.  What were the chances of an entire family having a birthday on the same day?  “We’re just crazy-lucky like that,” Emma used to tell people.

            This year, Emma would turn thirteen, I was going to be forty-three, and Dan—my husband, Emma’s dad—had died last April, so he would be forty-five forever.

            In the weeks leading up to the “big day,” Emma claimed desperately one moment that she had to have a party and claimed the next that all parties were “annoying” and “stupid” and that she wouldn’t sit through one unless I gave her a thousand dollars.  I longed to spend the day distracted by a chaotic sleepover or shepherding a herd of girls through an afternoon of disco bowling, but the final word was absolutely not, no “pathetic” birthday party for her.

            “Are you sure?” I said.  “I think maybe we should do something.”

            “No party,” she said.  “No special dinner.  No nothing.  Just no.”  She was hunkered down into the big leather couch, and I perched on the edge, watching the Caps’ hockey game.  Emma wore the lucky “Rock the Red” T-shirt Dan gave her during last year’s play-off run.  Dan had been a hockey fan, had played goalie in college, and while I could follow the action, I couldn’t care about the outcome the way he and Emma did.  Win, lose, tie: there was another game soon enough, another season, a different team to root for if yours wasn’t any good this year.  Not that I shared these scandalous thoughts. …

Unfortunately, the story isn’t online, but I have an extra copy of the journal…send me an email with your mailing address if you would like to read it. I’ll select one person at random on Wednesday evening. Here’s my email: Please put GREENSBORO REVIEW in the header, so I can keep my inbox organized!


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.