Summer Brenner: My Life in Clothes

April 16, 2011 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

978-1597091633 – Paperback – Red Hen Press – $18.95  (ebook versions also available)

Summer Brenner is an economical and elegant writer whose fiction I have become very attached to (I read her noir novel, I-5, which I think is a terrific book, and interviewed her for Writerscast in December, 2009.  Her latest book, published by the very fine Southern California based independent literary press, Red Hen, is a collection of stories called My Life in Clothes.  It may as well be considered a novel, as the stories are interlocked and related enough to make one, marked by Ms. Brenner’s characteristically beautiful writing throughout.

That she was a poet first is evident in the carefulness and precision of her language; she writes a gorgeous and transparent prose that is warm and fluid and easy to inhabit.  The Economist gave My Life in Clothes a terrific review, and called this book “a fierce and funny slip of a thing,” and while I love the allusion to clothes in that comment, I think this book is much more than a “slip.”   Brenner loves her characters and tells their stories effortlessly.  It’s the retelling and and reimagining of her own life after all.  Clothes are the reference point throughout.

The story begins with Moshe Auerbach, a Lithuanian refugee who comes to America, then follows his family line to Atlanta and then the protagonist and her friends and lovers in California from the sixties onward. Along the way we meet Marguerite, the protagonist’s mother, whose fixation on clothing and appearances is a key element of the book and her cousin Peggy, whose own interest in clothes and what they mean for self image is profoundly meaningful for her in every respect.

Brenner’s writing shines.  She’s funny, poignant and sharp.  Here’s just one of the many great turns of phrase she manages in this book: “Peter and I used to sit for hours with rod and bait, our legs dangling over the pier, sipping beer, waiting for something to happen,” she begins one story. “Most of the time, nothing did. But that didn’t matter. We were looking for an excuse to do nothing and preferred if it had a name. Fishing is the best apology ever invented.”  There are many more – I highly recommend this book to anyone who appreciates wonderful writing, and stories well told.

Brenner is a prolific and diverse writer.  She has published a dozen books of poetry, fiction, and novels for children.  Another recent title is Richmond Tales, Lost Secrets of the Iron Triangle, a novel for youth, which received a 2010 Richmond Historic Preservation award. Gallimard’s “la serie noire” published another of Brenner’s crime novels, Presque nulle part which PM Press will release by its English title, Nearly Nowhere, in 2012.

Her voice is wonderful to listen to as well, and I think you will enjoy our conversation about My Life in Clothes, and its wonderful stories and characters.

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