Monday, September 30, 2013


Some old friends from Lake Geneva are in a great band, Luray, whose debut "The Wilder" was released just a few short weeks ago. What a delight to see Shannon and Gabe, plus their bandmates, produce such a soulful, intimate album. I hadn't seen or corresponded with them in -- hmm -- maybe 15 years? My brother Aaron let me know they'd be performing in Ann Arbor while I was visiting our father in Michigan, so I reached out to Shannon to let her know we'd be at the show. Here's what I wrote to Shannon about "The Wilder," which pretty much sums things up:

"...congratulations on such a beautiful have a haunting, heartbreaking, exquisite voice, and I love how you & the band meld a throwback-mountain style with contemporary pop yearning. Do you listen to Mindy Smith or The Weepies? Your music lovingly sits alongside their folk tendencies, with that titch of an electronic edge here and there."

For more on Luray, check out their website here:

Dad and I loved the intimate setting of Canterbury House, where they performed (and where Neil Young once did as well). Both Luray and their opening act, Woven Tangles, cast a spell over the audience, luring us into private, melancholic, hopeful thoughts draped in the spirit of folkie Americana.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Save Yourself

With a blog post title like "Save Yourself," you might expect some inspirational message about how you can't turn to religion -- or other people -- to find life's deepest meanings, and how these lessons can only be found in our own cores, and how they're intangible and non-dogmatic, made up of gray zones and shifting, hard-earned wisdoms. And you'd be (partially) right. More specifically, though, I'm referring here to Kelly Braffet's newest novel, Save Yourself.

I'd first heard of Ms. Braffet when her debut novel Josie and Jack was released several years ago. I read a review in Entertainment Weekly and picked up the book immediately. I ended up plummeted into a psycho-sexual world that was part Hansel & Gretel, part Flowers in the Attic, all gothic ambience filled with mystery and yearning. The term "page turner" was invented for books like Josie and Jack. The brother and sister duo in this book will stay burned in your heart.

The same can be said for the characters in Save Yourself, Braffet's third novel recently released by Crown. Told from three alternating viewpoints -- Patrick, Caro, and Verna -- Braffet rips the cover off suburban hypocrisy, exposing the jagged edges and sharp teeth beneath the surface. For every white picket fence and pearly-teethed church leader you'll meet in town, there's a depressing convenient store and down-on-his-luck drunk. These facades, these characters, may be more similar than you think: they are the yin-and-yang of lost, seeking souls -- some search for meaning in the Bible, others in their sixth can of cheap beer. In these pages, you'll meet Patrick, whose father's in jail for manslaughter and whose brother's a drunk. Patrick begins an affair -- more emotional than physical, but certainly both -- with his brother's girlfriend, Caro. In Caro's chapters, we learn about her mentally unstable mother, many lovers, her hunt for love in, yes, all the wrong places. Save Yourself also introduces us to Verna, whose father is an uber-conservative Christian minister and whose sister Layla -- once the (literal) poster girl for purity and good ol' Christian living -- slowly starts luring Verna over to the flip side of cult-ish living. Let's just say that cutting and drinking others' blood are par for the (goth) course.

Braffet spends an uncomfortable amount of time showing us how characters' lives spiral out of control -- and that's a compliment. For instance, rarely have I read a book that so deeply makes you squirm at how the popular kids and bullies in high school sometimes torture the outcasts. (There's a scene in a girls' bathroom that had me holding my breath, putting a hand to my chest because of the suspense.) I can't help but wonder if Braffet herself experienced some -- hmm -- unpleasant ripple effects of being at the bottom of a high school totem pole. And I certainly relate because of my own high school experiences. Braffet lets these scenes work up their fervor, almost religiously, with her attention to detail. As for her representation of family dynamics, the character Caro muses, "You couldn't talk about the way things should be in somebody else's family. Families were like oceans. You never knew what was under the surface, in the parts you hadn't seen." All the characters in Save Yourself feel claustrophobic and trapped, much like the lobsters in the restaurant's tank where Caro works, "like they'd lost all hope, like they knew that this murky holding cell was the last stop."

Save Yourself is a slow burn. It works its way under your skin through detailed, nuanced scenes, ultimately leading to a tragic, violent, and ultimately redemptive conclusion. I don't want to give too much away, so let's just say you'll find parallels to the Columbine high school shooting, or the massacre in the theater during The Dark Knight Rises. Our war-torn world -- on global scales, in our schools, in our homes -- needs help, and fast. I appreciate that rather than slamming us over the head -- or in the heart -- with lessons and meaning at the end, Braffet show us slivers of hope and self-realization. Patrick, Caro, and Verna may not have all the answers, or even a solid grip on the insights at hand, but they certainly have moved forward with change.

For more on Kelly Braffet, check out her website at:

I'll leave you with Verna. At one point she's feeling "insulated from the rest of the world. It wasn't entirely unpleasant. Like at the dentist's, how they wrapped you in that lead blanket, and it was heavy and awkward and smelled funny but felt almost good when they draped it over you, like a hug." Who of us hasn't felt that exact way? Thank you, Kelly Braffet, for putting that feeling into words. This world, both literary and beyond, needs your words.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mood of the Day

Monday, September 23, 2013

Quote of the Day

"Anybody who writes a book is an optimist. First of all, they think they're going to finish it. Second, they think somebody's going to publish it. Third, they think somebody's going to read it. Fourth, they think somebody's going to like it. How optimistic is that?"

~Margaret Atwood

(*I sure do love Ms. Atwood. Been thinking lots about her and the worlds she creates in her fiction.)

My boyfriend knows me well.

Check this out. Gus sent it my way. "He really does get me!"

Monday, September 16, 2013

"Garden's Heart"

Natasha Khan (of Bat for Lashes) and Jon Hopkins have a new song & video, "Garden's Heart", for the film How I Live Now. Ms. Khan directed the video -- and it stars the lovely Saoirse Ronan. (You've all seen Hanna, right?!)

You can watch "Garden's Heart" here:


Friday, September 13, 2013

Happy Friday the 13th! (*I love this poster)

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Coming-of-age films are really getting it right these days.