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Clarinets and Milkyways

By Gay Degani

Sally was in Mrs. Lee’s fourth grade class at Marshall Elementary, the third school she’d attended in four years. Her father, a restless, impatient man, insisted she was old enough to walk the five-and-a-half blocks from their rented house to school: “What are you, chicken?” This was long before parents got arrested for letting their kids wander the neighborhood without adult supervision.

The only thing Sally worried about was the goose two doors down. When anyone happened by, the bird charged the picket fence, honking furiously, bobbing its head in and out, in and out. Sally pretended she was Annie Oakley sneaking past a gang of desperados as she tiptoed through the ice plant along the curb. Still, she covered her ears.

There was a little market on the way to school at the corner of Playa Street and Avenue A. Her mother gave her some change to buy candy for the walk home. Sally preferred Milky Way to  3 Musketeers. She liked to bite around the bar, removing all the chocolate first, then suck the sticky, sweet caramel off the top, and pop the light, malted nougat into her mouth—yum! But sometimes, after school, she’d walk across the Pacific Coast Highway (something she was forbidden to do) to the Frosty Freeze. Sometimes a dipped ice cream cone was worth the risk.

In the winter, the sea air had a tangy flavor that lingered in her nose. She could taste the cold salt wetness on the back of her tongue, and even though she wore a heavy sweater and knee socks, the chill still crept up under her plaid skirt. Girls wore dresses or skirts and blouses then, cotton in fall and spring, wool in winter. A slip usually took care of the itchy wool, except at the shoulders and underarms. Sally scratched all day at her neck and limbs, her body a stinging pink.

She walked to her appointments since Dr. Bridge’s office was on her way home from school. Her mother met her in the waiting room, the two hugging before the receptionist took Sally back to the doctor’s office.

The doctor’s office had toys and a table with paper, crayons, and paints. Sally liked to draw flowers along a fence, sand castles on a beach, the combative goose next door. One time, Dr. Bridge placed an inflatable clown in front of her. Almost as big as Sally, it had red hair winging out on both sides of his head and a red ball for a nose. Dr. Bridge told her she could hit it, kick it, hug it, paint it. Sally hesitated before giving Bozo a tentative punch, but Dr. Bridge encouraged her to get mad, to let go, so Sally kicked and slapped until she was out of breath, then she asked if she could really paint it, and when the doctor nodded, Sally smeared his face brown and covered the rest of him in yellow and purple and red.

The school brought in Mr. Harris, a music teacher, and offered fourth graders music lessons. Sally chose the clarinet. She thought it would be easy because her mother loved Benny Goodman and they’d watched him play on TV. Plus, she liked the sound of the clarinet. It had a deep tone that settled into her chest in the nicest way.

No extra rooms were available for the lessons because of baby boomer overcrowding and because no cafeteria had been built at the school, they had their lessons outside the classroom in the hallway. There were four clarinets, two flutes, and two piccolos. They were doing scales when Sally, wanting to be just like Benny Goodman, moved her clarinet up and down and side to side, trying to get into a rhythm as she’d seen him do while playing “Sweet Georgia Brown” in a black-and-white movie on Channel 9.

“Stop, stop, stop!” the music teacher hollered. He asked Sally what the heck she thought she was doing, scolded her for having the “wiggles,” told her to hold the instrument still and focus on the notes. She wanted to disappear, run away, but knew she couldn’t. Face burning, she managed a choked, “Yes, sir.” They started again. Sally focused on the notes, holding her arms tight against her sides, barely blowing into the clarinet.

In the class room, Mrs. Lee was teaching a unit on music, famous composers, the orchestra, and all the different instruments. They listened to Mozart, Beethoven, and John Philip Sousa. After a week, Mrs. Lee lined up cardboard pictures around the room in the chalkboard trays, each with an instrument carefully depicted. She asked if anyone could name them. No one raised a hand. From her desk, Sally glanced at the clarinet, the flute, the piccolo, waiting to see who would stand up. The room crackled with nervous rustling. She eyed the tuba, the trombone, the trumpet, and her hand went up.

Mrs. Lee’s face lit with a smile. “Sally, you want to name some of them?”

Sally blushed. Didn’t stand up. Mrs. Lee said, “Just get us started. Please?”

Sally’s throat clogged as she made her way to the beginning of the display. “Drums.” “Symbols.” “Triangles.” She continued until she had identified all twenty-six pictures and finished to a burst of applause. Mrs. Lee was surprised and delighted. So was Sally, her head dazed, body thrumming.

On the way home, Sally bought two Milky Ways, sat on the curb in front of the market, and, as the cars whizzed by, gobbled down the candy bars  in two bites, She licked her fingers, and grinned in triumph.

Gay Degani’s work has received  Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions nominations. Her work has also placed or received honorable mentions in contests. Her story “Something about L.A.” won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. She has published a full-length collection, Rattle of Want (Pure Slush Books, 2015), a short story collection, Pomegranate, and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She occasionally blogs at Words in Place.

Book Review: American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI


With seven Law and Orders, four CSIs, and crime thrillers ranking among the top-selling genres of fiction, it is no mystery that America has an addiction to police procedurals and court drama. Networks and publishers have made an industry out of true crime re-creation and documentaries for those with a more discerning bloodlust that want to know that the murder and mayhem they consume is the real deal. In this environment, it should come as no surprise that Kate Winkler Dawson’s newest book, American Sherlock, with its equal parts biography, true crime facts, forensics science history, and social commentary, is primed to be a shotgun blast of mass appeal into the face of the nonfiction marketplace.

At first blush, American Sherlock is a biography about Edward Oscar Heinrich, a man Dawson identifies in the prologue as “a forensic scientist and criminalist from the first half of the twentieth century, a man who changed how crimes were solved before forensics became the foundation of most criminal cases – America’s Sherlock Holmes.”

Dawson tackles Heinrich’s illustrious career by walking the reader through his most famous cases. The chosen series of vignettes reads like the lead plots of the best crime fiction—a Hollywood mogul accused of sexual assault and manslaughter; a devout husband charged with the murder of his wife; a manhunt after a boy finds a body part; and quite possibly the last great American train robbery. That’s not all, but you get the idea.

With her succinct and vivid prose, Dawson places the reader inside the scene of each crime and inside the minds of the key participants, maximizing the immersive experience and effortlessly delivering complicated details, plot twists and all:

Allene’s blood had been transferred to almost every corner of her small home. The pathologist, the undertaker, officers, and countless neighbors had all shuffled through the scene, along with David Lamson and the real estate agent. There were large pools of blood in the bathroom, splashes in the hallway, red footprints leading to both bedrooms, sprays containing hundreds of droplets on each bathroom wall, and smears wiped on doorknobs. Reconstructing the scene would be arduous, even for more experienced detectives.

Dawson goes beyond gruesome details to provide the relevant historical context necessary to shatter popular misconceptions of the time period and expose external forces that complicated each case. For example, most of the key events occurred during what is widely referred to as the Roaring Twenties, a golden era. Dawson dispels all romantic notions of Gatsby-esque socials and speakeasys full of fast jazz and Charleston-dancing flappers. This was a time period of widespread poverty; crime was up and employment was down. “And it was a tumultuous era – the homicide rate in the 1920s, when Heinrich’s most interesting work began, had increased by as much as almost 80 percent from the decade before, thanks to Prohibition,” Dawson writes. In another section, Dawson  writes: “The conclusion of World War I in 1918 did not revitalize the economy as the government had promised. Soldiers returned home traumatized, angry, and often with little hope of finding jobs.”

In this book, Dawson stays true to her documentary producer and journalist sensibilities by conducting an exhaustive examination of court records, case files, newspaper coverage, personal correspondence, and estate property. Along with Heinrich’s achievements, Dawson lays bare a man who was prone to bouts of self-destructive egotism, depression, and an obsessive-compulsive personality that challenged both his professional and personal lives. Heinrich pioneered many breakthroughs still used today, but he also championed techniques that later proved to be unreliable and destructive. Throughout his career, this celebrated crime fighter carried a heavy burden of doubt about whether his work led to the convictions of innocent people or the release of criminals into society.

Dawson’s work goes beyond standard biography and true-crime fare to unpack social controversies of the era, some with alarming parallels to contemporary issues almost a century later. In every case, sensational and irresponsible journalism impacted the pursuit of justice. Media sources discredited experts, spun communities into a panic, and ruined the lives of suspects in the court of public opinion, regardless of a jury’s decision.

Dawson’s book is also timely in the wake of the Me Too movement—a stark reminder that our society hasn’t evolved as far as we might want to believe.

While women had won full voting rights the year before, sexual assaults in America were vastly underreported; when survivors did respond to the police, many times they were blamed for being culpable. The popularity of adventurous flappers with their sexuality on display left men scared of false accusations, while women and girls continued to be sexualized.

Each criminal case highlights the fragility of the American justice system with observations that still hold true today. Despite best intentions, investigative techniques and evidentiary facts used in the prosecution of a suspect could prove flawed or misleading years later. In the conclusion of American Sherlock, Dawson leaves us with a poignant warning in an age when communities are at odds with law enforcement and political leaders:

Investigations must start with honest, intelligent officers willing to do good detective work in the field. The public should question law enforcement without impeding its progress, and jurors shouldn’t be swayed by an expert’s reputation – they should evaluate if his theory makes sense. … All forensic science is fallible, even DNA testing. Americans can only hope that investigators will doggedly gather reliable evidence, clues that can get to the truth rather than settle on an outcome that will appease the public or free a guilty suspect.

Matt Ellis is a retired Army officer currently working as an intelligence and security expert in Guatemala. Over the years, he has served as a HUMINT officer, counterintelligence special agent, linguist, diplomat, musician, and Christmas tree trimmer (the machete kind). He was the story developer and staff screenwriter for Pacific Rim Media, and his short fiction has been published at Thought Catalog. He holds an MS in Information Security from the University of Maryland Global Campus and is studying Fiction at UCR Palm Desert’s Low-Residency MFA program in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts. Find him at

TCR Talks with Steph Cha

By Collin Mitchell

Steph Cha is the author of four novels including the Juniper Song mystery series (Follow Her Home, Beware Beware, Dead Soon Enough) and most recently, Your House Will Pay, a highly-anticipated and well-reviewed book about the aftermath of the 1992 L.A. riots and the relationship between the Korean and African-American communities. Steph Cha spoke about the narrative possibilities of crime fiction at the UC Riverside Low-Res MFA December residency. I sat down with her afterward to talk about Los Angeles, Palmdale, writing different races, and a little about food.

The Coachella Review: One of the things I like about your books is your appreciation for Koreatown in Los Angeles. You’re from the Valley. What was your relationship to Koreatown like growing up?

Steph Cha: Koreatown was probably what I thought of as L.A. because we lived in the suburbs and we would go into L.A. for dinner or go to the market because a lot of the stuff was there. My grandma lived in Koreatown, so when we went into Central Los Angeles it was to go to K-Town. It was always a major part of my map of Los Angeles, but I didn’t necessarily know the surrounding areas.

TCR: It has an authenticity to it. Little Tokyo is great. Chinatown is great. But Koreatown is like a functioning city. There are ad agencies, everything…

SC: It’s an ethnic enclave that has become enormous. It must be one of the largest ethnic neighborhoods that are defined that way in the country. It’s huge and it’s sprawling and there are just so many people in it. I guess the San Gabriel Valley has tons of Chinese people now, but nobody is calling that Chinatown. Chinatown is a dinky little area near downtown. But Koreatown kind of has that feel, where the Korean businesses that have popped up were for Korean immigrants, but still cater largely to a Korean population.

TCR: As an Angeleno was there a discovery process when you were writing the Juniper Song series and Your House Will Pay—an opening up of the city that you hadn’t noticed before?

SC: Oh yeah, absolutely. I also feel like I’ve gotten to know the city better since I moved back in 2010 than I did before. I left for college in 2003 and I spent seven years where I would come home for summers and stuff like that. But I wasn’t really living in L.A. in the same way, and I’ve been back for almost ten years now, and getting to know the city as an adult has been entirely different and has coincided completely with my career as a writer. Because I started writing Follow Her Home when I was still at law school [at Yale]and I wasn’t in L.A. for most of that time. By the time I was living here, I was working on selling that novel, and when I was writing my second, third, and fourth novels, I was in L.A. the whole time.

TCR: What was your process with writing Palmdale for Your House Will Pay? You write with a similar admiration for that city as well.

SC: It’s not pretty but I also have a lot of respect for it. I picked Palmdale because I realized, as I was researching and writing this book, that South Central L.A. does not look like it did in the early ‘90s. It’s no longer this place that is majority black and dominated by Korean businesses. That was a very specific dynamic, and in the last twenty-eight years there’s been a massive exodus of black Angelenos to the exurbs. This is something that I have not read a ton about, but it’s very evident to anybody who’s been in L.A. for a long time. I think cost has a lot to do with it. I think also the high crime in those neighborhoods in the early ‘90s. I wasn’t interested in setting Shawn’s family in the neighborhood where they grew up. And since I also had the Korean family situated in the Valley, I wanted to write a story where the root of it was in this very central part of Los Angeles and then these families kind of bounced out to farther away and are drawn back into the center by the end of the book. When I was thinking about neighborhoods for the Matthews family, Palmdale/Lancaster popped up — my husband actually suggested it. We drove into the Antelope Valley and hung out at the mall for a little bit and just observed for a while. It was obvious that there were more black people at this mall than I almost ever see in Los Angeles. The areas that have stayed predominantly black in L.A., even these areas are changing, like View Park, Ladera Heights, Baldwin Hills—areas that are nicer and have a larger percentage of homeowners. But in areas where people are renting, it’s just been this big bye-bye. Another thing that interested me about Palmdale is that it’s a place where people commute to L.A. It’s pretty working class, and a lot of people who live there, their jobs are in L.A., and they’ll commute seventy miles for jobs that don’t pay that much. I thought there was some obvious injustice in that and some concern about income inequality and access to housing.

TCR: You get that with Shawn’s character a little bit—the stress of getting up early, driving a moving truck and having to go all over the place.

SC: I thought there’s a dignity to that drive and the commitment to work and family that has to come with that. One of the reasons people live there is because you can live in a big house that fits all your family members. So the parents, the adults, are taking jobs and doing all this work so they can provide a roof over the heads of children who go to school far away from L.A. I think it’s interesting and it lined up with who I wanted Shawn to be. He’s not a glamorous guy but he’s very dignified and he just keeps his head down and tries to maintain stability.

TCR: Your books are so much about family.

SC: That’s what I find interesting about crime, is that crime is about people, and what people do to each other, and all of that is about family dynamics, who cares about who. I think crime fiction without family feels a little empty to me.

TCR: You talked yesterday about having a conversation with Raymond Chandler. Was Juniper Song a response to that or was she a character you already had kicking around and you finally found a voice for her?

SC: She was a direct response to that. She came out of this idea that I had that I would like to read a book like the ones I ended up writing. I didn’t think I would end up writing books because I didn’t know anyone who wrote books. I just had this strong idea that I would really love to read a book that is like a Raymond Chandler novel but is from the point of view of a Korean American woman and that reflects the L.A. I know.

TCR: Were you writing from a point of frustration over being Asian and female and not seeing that correctly represented or were you also trying to see if you could write something as magical as Chandler in terms of creating a story?

SC: It was definitely both. I don’t think I was that overtly frustrated. Chandler was a product of his time in a very real way. I don’t think he was thoughtless and I don’t think he was unengaged. But he wrote about women in the way that he did. And he wrote about minorities in the way that he did. And I just wanted to update that. It was more of a positive drive than a reactive one. I thought he had such a unique point of view and I wanted to replicate the way he used crime and the PI figure to convey this sense of his city. And that’s kind of what I put into Juniper Song. I wanted her to be somebody with this kind of fun voice who has this mobility that Marlowe had. I couldn’t make her quite as cynical as Marlowe or as detached. The first draft had her much more Marlowe-like, where you don’t know much about her backstory. That was the note I got from agents. Why is she doing any of what she does? I realized that I couldn’t really get away with someone who you know so little about.

 TCR: On that first draft had you developed the backstory with Juniper and her sister?

SC: No, that was one of the last things I did and then I wove it in. But the first go of it, none of that was in there.

TCR: All your books address race and have a multi-ethnic cast.

SC: It’s a necessity when you’re an Asian-American writer. Even if you grow up in a community that’s heavily Korean American or Asian American you go outside. I don’t have days where I don’t see anybody who’s non-Asian. So just by having friends and going to school and living in a city that is not homogeneous, I’m part of a minority. That’s just something that came naturally to me because it wouldn’t make sense to write a book that doesn’t have characters of different races and backgrounds.

TCR: Was it a challenge to write Shawn’s family, to write an African American family and get in-depth with that?

SC: Yeah, it was a huge challenge. It was a challenge in a way that it was not a challenge to write Daphne in Beware Beware or to write Lusig and her family in Dead Soon Enough. Part of that is because in those books you were in Song’s point of view the whole time and so I never had to get into someone’s head who’s from a different background. This was the first time that I entered the point of view of a character who is not Korean American. With Shawn’s family I had to do a lot more research, and because I was not as comfortable at writing a black family in Palmdale having dinner, there was an initial first step where I did a whole lot of research and wrote a draft that was probably heavy on the sociology and less heavy on the family dynamics. And if you read what I actually ended up writing, it’s all family dynamics. I think the challenge of writing people who you are less familiar with is just making them feel familiar.

 TCR: What did you do for research?

SC: I read books about the history of black L.A. I read books about the Latasha Harlins case and the ‘92 uprising. I read a lot of articles and I talked to people who grew up in L.A. Very early on, a friend of mine who’s a black dude in his forties, who went to Latasha Harlins’ high school, stepped up after he saw me do a reading and asked if I wanted to quiz him. So that was super fun and useful. And then after that, just thinking about what feels like family, what feels like the shit that drives people crazy about the people that they live with. Where do I pull in the resentments, where are the differences, where is the love? That’s just stuff I did with the Park family from the beginning. There was a comfort level I didn’t have at first with Shawn, and I think I developed that by feeling more informed. After that it was just about chiseling and making it work.

TCR: The historical stuff somehow puts you in tune with what it would be like.

SC: It’s all there but it’s much farther in the background in this final iteration. But that took a lot of drafts. For the first 30,000 words at least.

 TCR: When you’re writing are you thinking about educating people about Korean American culture?

SC: Yes and no. I’m very conscious of the fact that I want to write about Korean American Los Angeles. It’s not a community that’s been written about a lot in fiction. I would say that my primary goal is to convey that experience. The educational value of it is secondary, I guess, but I think that if people read my books they’ll have insight into a world that maybe they wouldn’t have known about otherwise. It’s an interesting balance because I do think of my books as books that carry meaning and message and they have a heavy social justice component. I wouldn’t say that they’re purely for entertainment. Although I think the reason that I’m able to sneak so much message in there is because they are entertaining.

TCR: In Your House Will Pay, Grace feels like the reader’s bridge to Korean culture, but also to our own natural sense of apathy, that maybe most people have.

SC: I don’t think she’s a bad person. She’s busy with her own shit. I don’t think she would consider herself a self-absorbed person. She’s not narcissistic, but she is somebody who has her own world in her own small circle and she’s very comfortable there and she’s comfortable not thinking about all this stuff.

TCR: Grace’s sister, Miriam is more self-involved in the traditional sense. In a weird way it manifests itself in this profound global world view.  I love some of the lines you had about her mom, something about burying people.

SC: Oh, like burying their heads in the sand. She says, ‘if someone you love does something evil then you become a little evil.’ Miriam is somebody who I think a lot of people find annoying, and she’s supposed to be kind of annoying because you see her through the point of view of the sister who finds her kind of obnoxious. I feel like she’s the person I’m most like in the book. I think there is something a little bit ridiculous about being somebody who’s in a comfortable position in life and getting really involved in social justice and anti-blackness. But I think that’s okay. I think it’s okay to be earnest and a little bit ridiculous. Miriam is self-absorbed and she does take this hardline with her mother but I have a lot of sympathy for her too. I think she’s somebody who means well in a different way from Grace.

TCR: Juniper is a kind of response to the way an Asian female is traditionally depicted. Were you trying to do anything different with Grace?

SC: Writing two Korean American women who are the same age and making them so different was kind of pleasurable for me. I wanted Grace to be  typical in the sense that she’s somebody like many people I know who grew up going to Korean church, had kind of this quiet life, sheltered largely by immigrant parents, who didn’t engage with them on a political level. She’s not a bad person, she’s just in her own bubble. I think it’s a path, that if you’re from a certain kind of immigrant family, that’s the path of least resistance. You go to school nearby, you live at home. Maybe you work for the family business. And I can see how if that’s your life story it makes your worldview very narrow.

TCR: Your House Will Pay did such a great job of showing how Grace’s worldview came to be by showing the family pharmacy and the way her dad reacted to the past and everything.

SC: Yeah, you can tell these people had a very strong investment in keeping her in the dark.

 TCR: No one’s excused in Your House Will Pay. White people—you have the journalist character, a writer, he thinks in abstractions. Blacks are depicted as thugs with Ray, but also good dads. And you criticize Korean culture and Confucian culture as well. Did you try to do that with this book and be fair and get some catharsis out of it? Kind of reveal these things to show us how we’re all the same?

SC: This is something I’ve dealt with in my other books too. If you show people behaving badly and they’re not the representative of their race or their ethnic background or their class background, you can get away with a lot. In my first book, I had five or six Korean American women, and if one or two of them are a piece of shit then it’s okay, because you’re showing a broad range of personalities and human experience. Where you run into trouble is when there’s one Asian person in your book and they’re the Dragon Lady or there’s one black person in your book and they’re out there criming. I think having Your House Will Pay anchored in two characters in such a close way gave me a lot of latitude to do whatever I wanted with the side characters. Grace and Shawn are not perfect either, and I wanted to make sure that they were human and understandable and the people who surround them represent a wide range of what people do. I also wanted to explore this idea that getting involved in the political conversation is not always a choice for everybody. These are people whose personal lives become politicized.

TCR: Was that a goal when you started writing the book in terms of a call to action? At the end of the book it’s basically like, ‘get involved or figure out a way you can get involved.’ Or did that come out as you as you wrote it?

SC: I feel like now when I think about this book it is what I want people to take away. This idea that you don’t get to choose, because I think people think that being involved in politics is a choice rather than that the way you live your life is political. I don’t know at what point I started thinking about Your House Will Pay in those terms. It might have been early, but I also feel like this is the kind of thing that I might have realized when I was halfway through. I knew that I wanted Shawn to be somebody who was exhausted by politics and I wanted Grace to be somebody who was ignorant and that was kind of their starting positions.

TCR: Food is such a big part of all your novels, and with family and eating I felt like that was a large part of Your House Will Pay. Is that something you think about when you’re writing scenes?

SC: It’s funny. It’s not, but I’m so food obsessed and I think so much about what to eat and I think it’s a natural result of spending time of families. They congregate around the dinner table and I think that is one of the commonalities of Shawn’s family and Grace’s family is that they have dinner together and a lot of shit comes up over dinner. I wanted to kind of center this big story in domestic life.

TCR: It was a commonality. You could look at all the differences of the characters and the families but they all made a point to make a thing about food. It was a connecting point.

SC: Yeah, you got to eat.

Collin Mitchell is a student in the UC Riverside Low Residency MFA program and the author of The Faithful, a historical biography of the opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi. He lives in Palm Desert with his wife and son.

Book Review: The Witches Are Coming


The Witches Are Coming is a collection of essays by Lindy West, some brand new, and some previously published in various online and print magazines and updated for the book. West has been around for a long time. Her work has been featured in publications like The New York Times, The Guardian, and Jezebel. As I read The Witches Are Coming, I recognized a couple of the essays, having read them when they were originally published, but I’ll admit West’s name didn’t become familiar to me until I binge-watched Season One of Shrill, a Hulu original television series starring SNL’s Aidy Bryant. I was impressed and intrigued enough to look up Shrill’s writers, including West, the author of the memoir which inspired the television show. When I read that West had a new collection of essays, The Witches Are Coming, I got my hands on a copy as quickly as I could.

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By Sarah Sheppeck

Edward coughed as the 507 to Oak Ridge slowed to a stop in front of him. The bus shuddered as it struggled to break, belched thick gray exhaust toward the cars behind. He gestured to the woman standing beside him—an attempt to indicate that she should board first. She shook her head, put up her hand in silent protest, but boarded ahead of him anyway.

Edward followed, tapping his boots against the bottom step of the stairway to dislodge some of the dirt. He dropped a handful of meticulously counted change into the collection slot and took a window seat behind the driver, slouching a bit in an effort to make the best of the molded plastic chair. The plexiglass barrier behind the driver’s seat reduced Edward’s leg room, but he liked this spot. No one else ever sat near the driver, and Edward valued his peace.

Today, though, a man boarded at the next stop and took the aisle seat directly beside him. Edward straightened, made a show of looking around the mostly empty bus, as if to make clear to the man that he could have chosen a seat absolutely anywhere else. The man simply smiled. Edward gave him a curt nod, leaned his head against the window, and closed his eyes.

He dozed for maybe two or three minutes. His thoughts drifted to a sunny, cloudless day. He saw lush, green trees and blooming wildflowers. He also saw headstones. In front of one was an older couple, maybe in their early-to-mid seventies, dressed in black and holding hands. They were crying.

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Book Review: Olive Again

By Leni Leanne Phillips

Elizabeth Strout’s third novel, Olive Kitteridge[1], was published in 2008 and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2009. In 2015, the book was adapted into an award-winning miniseries with Frances McDormand playing the title role of Olive, a character who seems to have been written with McDormand in mind. Readers and viewers alike were delighted by the character of Olive. Now, Olive Kitteridge returns in Strout’s seventh and most recent novel, Olive, Again[2]. Imagine my delight to find that this new book is an even more engaging, moving, and meaningful read than the original.

Strout had no trouble letting go of Olive after Olive Kitteridge. In fact, in the ten years since she wrote Olive Kitteridge, Strout had moved on to other things, including writing three more novels. She had no plans to write about Olive again. In a recent interview with Maris Kreizman for The Wall Street Journal Magazine, Strout said: “I never intended to write a sequel, but she just showed up again. She’s Olive and she has to be contended with. A few years ago I had the weekend to myself, and I went to a cafe to sit. All of a sudden I just saw Olive driving into the marina as an older woman, and I thought, ‘Uh oh. Here we go.’”

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Book Review: Year of the Monkey

By Briana Weeger

In the first days and weeks of 2020, the season for past reflections and future resolutions is upon us—if you’re into that sort of thing. In Patti Smith’s newest memoir Year of the Monkey, the writer, photographer, and musician takes a surreal look at her life in 2016, the year of the trickster monkey in Chinese zodiac. But Smith doesn’t seem to be a fan of New Year’s resolutions. Instead, in a tumultuous political and personal landscape, Smith is beautifully open to the lessons, connections, and hidden meanings within dreams that the year offers her. Her writing is a surreal mix of fiction and nonfiction as she contemplates what is real and attempts to absorb the absurd truths of living and dying.

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TCR Talks with Tembi Locke

By Scott Stevenson

Tembi Locke is an accomplished actor, TEDx speaker, and bestselling author. She has appeared in over 60 television shows and films including The Magicians and NCIS: LA. Her TEDx talk, What Forty Steps Taught Me About Love and Grief, traces her journey as a cancer caregiver. Her New York Times bestseller, From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, is a Reese’s Book Club x Hello Sunshine pick.

From Scratch is a poignant and transporting cross-cultural love story set against the lush backdrop of the Sicilian countryside, where one woman discovers the healing powers of food and family and finds unexpected grace in her darkest hour.

Tembi is currently on a paperback tour for From Scratch, and will be speaking at Book Soup in West Hollywood tonight (2/4/20, 7pm), and tomorrow at the Palm Springs Cultural Center at noon (2/5/20, 12pm). Tembi will be in Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Houston, Dallas, and Seattle promoting the paperback.

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Book Review: Dear Twin

By Sarah Sheppeck

Are you Asian? Queer? Mixed race? A twin? No? Then Addie Tsai’s debut novel Dear Twin isn’t for you—emphasis intentional.

Don’t misunderstand—there’s broader appeal in this narrative, which also tackles the less niche topics of interpersonal relationships, individuality, and abuse, both emotional and physical. But it’s clear that in this deeply personal young adult novel, fictionalized in part from the bones of her own memoir, Tsai hopes to reach certain young adults—those who identify at a core level with her pansexual, Asian-and-white, daughter-of-a-first-gen-immigrant narrator, Poppy, who can add the additional hyphenate of “identical twin” to her list of particular identities. In fact, Poppy isn’t just a twin, but a mirror twin, meaning that she and her sister Lola (short for Lolita—there are layers to that) have matching-but-opposite physical traits, like a birthmark that appears on the left side of Poppy’s face but the right side of Lola’s.

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How to Promise

By Zach Semel

A few months after I get back from Europe, I’m in the back seat as my dad drives down East 72nd Street toward 2nd Avenue, luxurious building lobbies flashing by in golden blurs.

Thirteen floors up, we knock on their apartment door.  My heels tap anxiously on the hallway carpeting.  The door opens, letting out a dull glow.

“Hi, sweetie,” my grandma says, strained, wrapping me in a warm Columbia-sweatshirt hug.  I kiss her on the cheek.  We put our coats down in the corner.  The living room and dining room are one open space furnished with a long, maroon, leather couch and a wooden coffee table streaked to appear aged.

“How’s Grandpa?” I ask.

“He’s asleep,” she says.

Past the closed door of the quiet bedroom, the bathroom smells barren—no more of that familiar shaving-cream air.  As far as I’m concerned, his lifelong brand was classic Barbasol in the stubby navy-blue bottles—the ones you trip over in the street the day after Halloween.  He had always smelled like it, as if he had just gotten back from a 1980s barbershop.  But he doesn’t use that stuff anymore; my dad got him an electric razor because he’s been cutting his cheeks up so badly.  I see the shampoo he used to use, too—Pert, those bright green bottles like apple-scented cleaner.  The mirror seems dirty now, and they don’t keep many pills in the medicine cabinet, “or he’ll hide them.”

In all the stories I read about Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s or whatever—the disease makes people forget these peripheral things.  Where they put the electricity bills, bank statements.  Where their favorite restaurant is.  Who their children are.  But what I was not prepared for was how he forgot how to take care of himself.

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