Mark Chiusano: Marine Park (Stories)

October 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Fiction, WritersCast

9780143124603Marine Park: Stories – 978-0143124603 – paperback original – Penguin Books – $15.00 – ebook versions available at lower prices

Mark Chiusano grew up in Marine Park, perhaps the most isolated and least well known neighborhood of the now hip New York borough of Brooklyn. He spent some of his summers playing baseball in Switzerland.

He went to Harvard University, where he was the recipient of a Hoopes Prize for outstanding undergraduate fiction. Mark is still young – mid-twenties – but has been a prolific writer of short stories since college, some of which have appeared in literary magazines, including Guernica, Narrative, Harvard Review, and online at Tin House and The Paris Review Daily.

This first book is a collection of stories called Marine Park, after his boyhood neighborhood. It’s a diverse collection, but linked by tone, perspective, and some recurring characters. Stories revolve around kids growing up in the tight-knit neighborhood, portraits of its denizens, adventures and misadventures. Eight of the stories, perhaps the core of the book, revolve around the brothers Jamison and Lorris, as they grow up from late childhood into adults in the almost present. 
Overall, these are really well written stories, any one of which can stand alone, but collected, create a cohesive outlook and impact on the reader. There’s a palpable love and joy that shines through the narratives without ever falling prey to sentimentalism.

This is clearly a first book, with some stories seeming to experiment with different manners and tropes, as the author is feeling his way toward his authentic voice. But Chiusano is such a fine stylist, we tend to forgive any missteps or methodological repetitions. He is an original voice in many ways and we can expect more great writing from him as his work continues to grow.

Chiusano is now an editor at Vintage Books and is working on his next book.I’m guessing that his work, where he must spend time reading and editing other writers’ work will help make him even better than he already is. I’m looking forward to reading more from this fine new writer. I think you will find our conversation both interesting and revealing of how a wonderfully creative writer thinks about the work.

This interview was recorded at John Marshall Media, New York City in summer 2014.

Author website –  where you can find a great quote about the book: “Here’s the spirit of dear Sherwood Anderson in Mark Chiusano’s Marine Park.”—Ron Carlson38cbf333096e0a8c0b12c1.L._V336809534_SY470_

Martin Lemelman: Two Cents Plain: My Brooklyn Boyhood

October 31, 2010 by  
Filed under Graphic Novels, WritersCast

978-1608190041 – Bloomsbury – Hardcover – $26.00.

Martin Lemelman grew up in the back of a candy store in Brooklyn, NY.  He has illustrated more than thirty children’s books and his work has appeared in numerous magazines.  Lemelman is now a Professor in the Communication Design Department at Kutztown University and lives in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Martin’s first memoir done in graphic format, with drawings, photographs of personal objects and places, was Mendel’s Daughter, published in 2006.  Told in his mother, Gusta’s voice, the book recounts the story of her life, beginning in pre-war Poland, through her harrowing experience of survival in the Holocaust and displaced persons’ camps, and finally coming to Brooklyn, where she lived with her husband (also a survivor) and two children.

Two Cents Plain is not literally a sequel to Mendel’s Daughter, but it is a continuation of Lemelman’s family storytelling.  Two Cents Plain collects the memories and artifacts of the author’s childhood in Brownsville, a neighborhood of Brooklyn filled with Jews speaking Yiddish and children growing up in a comfortable city neighborhood.  Later in the story, as times change, Martin and his family’s experience in Brooklyn is not so pleasant.  But that’s ultimately the background of the story Lemelman tells.  His real focus is the dynamic story of his parents and how their life experiences in the Holocaust shaped them, and of course shaped their children’s experience as a family in post-War America.

Lemelman’s story is full of struggle, his parents were complicated and sometimes difficult for their children to understand, and life in a candy store was never easy.  But his Brooklyn memories also is also include the joys of egg creams and comic books, malteds and novelty toys, where the neighbors, the deli man, the fish man, and the fruit man, all are brought to vivid life in story and illustration. The changes in the city during the sixties are very personalized for Martin and his family and in the climax of the story, the family must leave their home once again.

I really loved reading and absorbing this book, the combination of Lemelman’s story telling voice and gorgeous illustrations work beautifully to transport the reader into another time and place.  And the author does a fine job of balancing between the sentiment of memory of his childhood with the clarity of the adult rememberer, which is keeps us anchored as the story unfolds.  There are layers of memory, emotion, people and place that are richly evoked in this book.

In our interview, I wanted to explore with Martin not only the story of his life and his parents gripping and sometimes painful experiences, but the period of the fifties and sixties and how he used the graphic memoir form to reflect and amplify the power of his story.  This is a unique and wonderful book whose creator is quite cogent about his work.  Martin has put together a very interesting and useful website for the book that is worth visiting (most useful after you have read the book, I think).  I am looking forward to reading the next book in this series of memory stories.

Lew Paper: Perfect-Don Larsen’s Miraculous World Series Game and the Men who made it Happen

January 18, 2010 by  
Filed under Non-Fiction

39226974

978-0451228192 – Hardcover – New American Library – $24.95

An entire book about one baseball game is probably unimaginable to many people.  Even diehard fans, even those who feel they have heard the story of Don Larsen’s unique feat more than enough times, will be surprised at how easy this book is to (avidly) consume.  Lew Paper manages to keep our attention, even though we know how the story comes out, even though we may know the game, the players, the era so well.  And there are plenty of surprises in these pages.

Paper is a very good writer, almost effortless, and a he is a natural storyteller who plainly loves the material he is writing about.  He uses the game as the structure for telling much more than the story of a single game, of course.  He portrays many of the players in this game, Dodger greats like Jackie Robinson, Carl Furillo, Roy Campanella, Junior Gilliam, and hard-luck pitcher Sal Maglie, the powerful Yankee team of the fifties, which sported Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Billy Martin, Gil McDougal, Moose Skowron and Hank Bauer, all in the prime of their careers.  He brings to life the story of this great team rivalry between two boroughs of the greatest city on earth in the middle of the 1950s, an era that still can fascinate and enthrall us.  And of course baseball is the constant through time, whose essence does not change at all.

It does help to be a baseball fan to like this book, I am sure, and maybe having grown up in or near this great era of intra-New York City competition adds to one’s interest as well.  It was definitely a different time than today, when even star players held real jobs during the off season, and the amount of money won in a World Series could be just enough to give a player some modest luxuries and fleeting financial security.  And of course many of these players had grown up during the Depression, lived through or even fought in World War II or the Korean War.  That may account for some of the different attitudes and behaviors they exhibited on the field and among friends.

But there can be no doubt that Lew Paper has brought this game, these players, this era, vividly to life in a beautiful and brilliant manner.  Talking to him about this book, the research he did to write it, and some of his experiences in talking to surviving players, relatives and witnesses to Don Larsen’s spectacular (and still unique) feat , was a great pleasure for me.  I do love baseball, the game and its history have a terrific pull on me, as it does on many others, but baseball is also just a wonderful lens through which to see human beings, our culture, our foibles, our strengths and our desires.  Thanks to Lew Paper for this book and a terrific interview about it.

Arthur Phillips – The Song is You – Part 2 of a 2 Part Interview

June 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Fiction

1400066468_l9781400066469 (hardcover)
Random House, $25.00

Writerscast host David Wilk continues his interview with Arthur Phillips, acclaimed author of Prague, The Egyptologist and Angelica. Phillips was born and raised in Minnesota, educated at Harvard, and now lives in Brooklyn, the setting for his newest novel The Song is You. It is a beautifully written, complicated, sometimes painful, often extremely funny and very modern novel.  Music is a critical underpinning of the story, and the complexity of the relationship between listener and performer is deeply entwined with the unusual love story that is at the heart of the novel.   Phillips is widely considered one of the best novelists writing today – and The Song is You is solid evidence of how good he really is.  Kate Christensen’s New York Times review says it best: “the whole novel zings with fresh insight and inspired writing. “The Song Is You” is smaller, more focused and more ­character-driven than Phillips’s earlier books, and it’s not only a welcome new direction, but also a novel impossible to put down.”

In this second segment of a lively and revealing two part interview with Writerscast host David Wilk, Phillips continues to discuss his newest book, and how he wrote it, the role of music in the novel, what he is working on next and explores some of the interesting and interior elements of the novel and his life as a writer.

Arthur Phillips – The Song is You – part 1 of a 2 part interview

May 22, 2009 by  
Filed under Fiction

1400066468_l9781400066469 (hardcover)
Random House, $25.00

Writerscast host David Wilk interviews author Arthur Phillips, acclaimed author of Prague, The Egyptologist and Angelica. Phillips, who was born and raised in Minnesota, and educated at Harvard, now lives in Brooklyn, which is also the setting for his newest novel The Song is You. It is a beautifully written, complicated, sometimes painful, often extremely funny and very modern novel.  Music is a critical underpinning of the story, and the complexity of the relationship between listener and performer is deeply entwined with the unusual love story that is at the heart of the novel.   Phillips is widely considered one of the best novelists writing today – and The Song is You is solid evidence of how good he really is.

In this first segment of a lively two part interview with David Wilk, Phillips talks in detail about his new book The Song is You, what it is about, how he came to write it, what music means in the novel and for his main character, as well as what it has meant to him, how he writes, and how he sees his work in the context of his own daily life.