“If you wish success you must master the American language . . . I can tell in your face that you will not learn it.”

accordioncrimes.jpgBooks on Tap read Accordion Crimes by E. Annie Proulx at Champion Brewery on October 4. Most known for her short stories and The Shipping News, here Proulx examines 20th century American immigration using the conceit of one accordion that passes through the hands of Americans from Italy, Germany, France, Canada, Mexico and African-Americans. Almost all meet a grim death, as does the accordion itself after 100 years. 

We did like the research and detail Proulx included and some of the personal stories. However, it was a very long book without much connective tissue and brutal existences for most of the sprawling cast. We struggled to articulate the overall theme (and identify the crimes), finally landing on the fragility of the hope expressed both in the crafting and playing of the accordion and the American experiment as a whole. 

The highlight of the evening was when Peter Kleeman played his melodeon. He explained the similarities and differences between the melodeon and accordion and how each work. He also told us how the different ethnicities in the book tuned and played the instruments differently. He convinced us that Proulx was clever to make the accordion the main character because it is used so widely. Each group can be familiar with it but use it in ways that would baffle others, just as their choices in America can seem both rational and terrible to the reader. 

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The Red Violin (film)

 

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“Beware against the sweet person, for sugar has no nutrition.”

vinegar girl.jpgBooks on Tap read Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler at Champion Brewery on September 5. Anne Tyler’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew was a delightful summer read in which everyone made it out happy (or happyish) ever after. Many participants had read Tyler’s other novels but only a few had read or seen the original play. As was pointed out, marriages don’t fare well in Shakespeare. This particular work seems ripe for adaptation because the original reads as cruel and misogynistic to the modern audience. 

In Tyler’s playful, broadly funny version, Kate is in her late 20s and  lives at home with her eccentric scientist father and 15 year old sister. Having dropped out of college after insulting a professor, she seems stuck. She is wildly out of sync with the ethos of the pre-school where she works, she follows her father’s bizarre efficeniety regime at home and is at odds with her outgoing sister. Her life is shaken up when her father strongly suggests she marry his Russian lab assistant Pytor, who is in danger of being deported when his visa runs out later in the year. 

Against her inclination, she begins to see the benefit in teaming up with Pytor. It’s not a fully emancipated stance, because she’s still viewing the marriage as a transaction and a fairly patriarchal one at that. However, she acknowledges that compromises are necessary in a relationship and that if she gives Pytor room to express all of his feelings (loneliness, joy, grief, curiosity) they can share the emotional work.

What we most enjoyed in this work was the call back to other adaptations (“Kiss me, Katya”), the comedy and the gentle, sympathetic touch Tyler took with all her characters. While it may not be a classic in it’s own right, it did spark some of us to check out her other novels.

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“It was easier to lie when you believed the lie.”

boyerasedBooks on Tap read Boy Erased by Garrard Conley at Champion Brewery on June 6, a memoir of Conley’s time in the Love in Action gay conversion therapy center after his first year of college. Conley describes being raised in a religious bubble with a larger-than-life father who is leading his own church when Conley is outed by his rapist. 

We acknowledged that we were probably not Conley’s intended audience but we were taken by the painful choice he lays out between being true to his religion and family expectations or actually being himself. Conley skips between time periods, which we found confusing and we would have liked more explanation of the institute he was enrolled in and an epilogue to bridge the end of the book with his much different current life. We were most taken by the author’s relationship to his parents. His mother genuinely likes him while his father seems afraid that he’ll fall off the right path. Conely is sympathetic to the ways in which his grandfather’s alcoholism and abuse color his own father’s view on life and parenthood. In fact, it was the realization that he didn’t hate his father that helped Conley leave Love in Action with his mother’s support. 

We would recommend this memoir to teens and parents of teens who are coming out. Below is a list of books that contained similarities. 

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Related Titles:
We the Animals by Justin Torres
Educated by Tara Westover 
Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak 
Celebrating the Third Place 

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