Valerie Laken, one of our favorite writers*, is appearing at Boswell this Friday, April 15, at 7 pm. For folks who write both novels and short stories, the traditional way is to publish the story collection first, followed by the novel. Some publishers don't publish collections, which leaves some authors towards separate publishers for story and novel.
At Harper Collins, they often like to publish the novel, Dream House, first, with the collection following. They also like to publish story collections as paperback originals. That gives you no excuse not to buy a copy of Separate Kingdoms. And here's another reason to buy it--Jim Higgins' review in the Journal Sentinel last Sunday. Here's his opening.
"Valerie Laken hooked me on Page 2 of “Before Long,” the first story in Separate Kingdoms, where Oleg, the sighted Russian boy, is describing a mostly naked woman in a skin mag to Anton, the blind Russian boy."
"Oh goodie, I thought, here’s some fiction with more than just finely wrought observations on people’s miseries and bad choices. Exotic locales! Humor! Hints of nudity!"
One thing I love about stories is that you have complete scenarios, but often without the tieing up of loose ends that goes with a novel. It puts the brain into overdrive. That's also possibly why stories are not for everyone. Here's my take on Separate Kingdoms:
"It’s at the most stressful points in our lives that we perhaps learn the most about ourselves. A woman whose recently lost a leg is pushed to compete in a golf tournament by her husband. Another man after an industrial accident contemplates his own culpability when he is visited by his shop owner and a lawyer, respectively. A salesman copes with blackouts that have led to a serious car accident. In the aftermath of these crises, there is a call to live, to fight, to find out what’s going on, but Laken adeptly notes that there is another opposing force, which is to hunker down and avoid any sort of insight. Mixed in are what I call the foreign-study stories, including one about a lesbian couple adopting a Russian baby, and another where a young woman who, when her semester in Moscow ends, stays on to witness the collapse of the Soviet empire. In these stories, it is society collapsing rather than the protags’ bodies, but there’s still that pull between action and inaction."
I know! Reading Valerie Laken's collection almost immediately made me sound smarter. And it was of course even more fun for me as I was a Russian major in college, but I pulled out of our foreign study program at the last minute in the summer of 1980--yes, the year the United States boycotted the Olympics. I had other reasons, most of them silly. But Separate Kingdoms was the study abroad I never had.
So the split screen story. We have to talk about it. We've had a number of reads of Separate Kingdoms in the store and every conversation converges at the title story, which tells two narratives at the same time. How did it affect us? How did it change the way we read? Did it work? I suggest you come into the store and sit down with a copy and try it for yourself.
So Ms. Laken and I were discussing the event this Friday and she mentioned that she'd like to inject more fun into the evening. So we have givaways! Included are:
1. CD soundtracks for the book
2. A limited edition letter-pressed Valerie Laken short story
3. And we don't want to give it all away
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