We read Kent Haruf’s novel “Plainsong,” the only book to date that hasn’t had some sort of tie with the Pacific Northwest. We opted for that geographic limitation because we wanted the SR Book Club to be something special.
We wanted to use it as a way of exploring the range of literature that our region has to offer.
And with only a stumble here and there, mostly having to do with vacations and miscommunication, we’ve managed to read some 58 authors from Washington, Idaho, Montana and Oregon. We haven’t read anyone twice, we’ve covered all genres from nonfiction studies of mining disasters to romance, sci-fi and literary novels.
Yet we haven’t begun to exhaust the possibilities. Even given the regional scope of what we read, plus the fact that we try to tackle books that are available in paperback, the Pacific Northwest includes quite a library.
Just ask Linda Bond. One of those friendly folks who prowls the aisles of Auntie’s Bookstore, Bond – and who doubles as the store’s book-club coordinator – sent us the following e-mail in September:
“I would recommend one that I reviewed on front page of Auntie’s Notes,” Bond wrote. “It’s in paper and takes place in Seattle. The author, Valerie Trueblood, lives in Seattle as well. It’s called ‘Seven Loves’ and is about a 74-year-old woman named May who is, in effect, reviewing her life. It’s very well written and is character-driven.”
So we decided to take Bond’s recommendation and use “Seven Loves” to inaugurate the SR Book Club’s sixth year by making it November’s reading selection.
Trueblood is a contributing editor to The American Poetry Review. “Seven Loves,” which is her debut novel, is a story collection that works as a novel told through the recollections of retired Seattle high school English teacher May Nilsson.
That may sound like the setup for a simple romance, but the “loves” that Nilsson recalls aren’t all romantic. Characters include her labor-organizer mother, her drug-addicted son, the married man she has an affair with, the cop who chased her son to his death – and so on.
As reviewer Miriam Tuliao wrote in the literary review journal Booklist, “Each chapter presents an impressionistic view of May’s family, friends, and lovers and their varying degrees of longing and happiness. Gently told, Trueblood’s first work is poetic, contemplative and tender.”
While faulting Trueblood for “loose plotting and overly lyrical language,” the reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote that the author’s “depiction of May’s most complex love, her husband, Cole, is keen and compelling. The pair’s intensely passionate bond is evident even in their waning years after a lifetime of loss and betrayal.”
For her part, Trueblood wrote an essay titled “The Beginning of ‘Seven Loves,’ in which she credits a couple of great Russian writers as inspiration.
“I’ve always thought Tolstoy’s line about happy families being all the same and unhappy ones being unhappy in their own way could just as well be turned around on itself,” she wrote. “To me happiness is as haunting, individual, and history-laden as misery.”
And, she points out, happiness comes in various forms. A lesser-talented Chekhov, for example, wouldn’t have been able to make the Russian master’s story “The Darling” such a sensitive exploration of love won and lost.
“(I)n our day it is more likely to be a bitter or ironic story,” Trueblood wrote. “I wanted to see such a life unironically, to see how it could be funny or selfish or wasteful of its gifts while still rising to the serious and awful events that ordinary lives do hold, and to the happiness that precedes and sometimes follows them.”
So starts our sixth year. Feels like the best one yet.
December’s read: “Sources of the River: Tracking David Thompson Across Western North America” (288 pages, Sasquatch Books, $16.95 paper) by Jack Nisbet