The anthology that will contain my short story "The Wheels on the Bus" doesn't yet have an official publication date, but it must be coming up soon. Smoking Pen Press, the publisher, has shared the cover art:
I won’t have a “Best Book I Read This Month” for this month. I’ve been too busy to get in much reading, but it was a worthy sacrifice.
I’ve been working toward selling my house for the last four or five years. On Friday, it finally went on the market. Townhomes in this area have been selling within 2-3 weeks of listing, so I'm hopeful mine will to. With any luck, I’ll be in my new place—in this same area but one better suited to my work-from-home life—sometime this summer.
And that’s not the only change. This week also brought a new addition: a 7-lb chihuahua named Penny.
I’ve wanted to get a sister for Duncan for a while. It just took a few months to find one he’d tolerate. Penny is 2 years old and originally from Texas. She was transferred to a rescue here in Illinois back in August.
So far, Duncan’s insisted that she keep her distance but there are signs that they will end up becoming friends.
Sign #1: tag-team begging. Penny was here less than hour before I started making dinner. I fed both dogs first and then began preparing my own meal. I was closely supervised the whole time. I suspect I will never cook or eat alone again.
Sign #2: the truce. Even during Penny's home visit, Duncan didn't want her near him. If she jumped up on the chair he was sitting in, he growled at her. If she approached him on the sofa, he growled at her. As long as she wasn't in or near his space, he was fine.
Then I came downstairs after my shower and found them sitting almost-together on the sofa. Duncan still growled at Penny if she tried to peek over the sofa cushion, but he let her curl near him on the pillow. That's pretty good progress for only a couple of hours.
The best book I read this month was the third book in my new favorite mystery series. The series, by Ausma Zehanat Khan, centers on Inspector Esa Khattak of the Toronto police and his junior partner, Rachel Getty. Khattak and Getty make up the Community Policing division, their purpose is to serve as liaisons between the police and Toronto's Muslim community. Khattak, who is Muslim himself, struggles to balance the requirements of his job with his faith. That struggle is part of what makes him such a compelling character.
Each book in the series (so far) has focused on a different aspect of Muslim history or experience. The first book, The Unquiet Dead, builds a mystery around the Bosnia genocide of the 1990s. The second, The Language of Secrets, focuses on the radicalization of Muslims. The third book, Among the Ruins, transplants Khattak to Iran, where he encounters the Green Movement and the nation's oppressive regime as he tries to unravel the truth about the death of an Iranian-Canadian filmmaker.
It's not necessary to read the first two books in order to follow the action of Among the Ruins. The story is self-contained and stands on its own. Most of what the reader needs to know from the previous books, Khan summarizes here. She also shares enough about Iranian history for the reader to understand the socio-political context of the story and historical sites where the action plays out. The mystery, itself, was satisfying, well-plotted with plenty of twists and turns and not quite going where I'd expected it to go.
Most of Khattak's part of the story takes place in Esfahan (Isfahan), a beautiful city that is home to Naqsh-e Jahan Square and the Shah Mosque. I very much enjoyed getting to "visit" such a historic city, since I'll likely never be able to visit it in real life.
This whole series, in general, has made me realize how prevalent the trope of "Muslim as villain/terrorist" has infiltrated our entertainment. Nearly every TV show I watch--and those I don't--fall prey to this mindset. It's in our political discourse and our news coverage. And it does a huge disservice to the Muslim community. As Khan's series illustrates, the Muslim community, like any other community, has its share of heroes and victims and bystanders and yes, villains, too. And I think we could do with more works of art--books, films, television shows--that depict this reality instead of falling for the easy stereotype.
A Wrinkle in Time was one of my favorite books growing up. In anticipation of the new movie, I decided to reread it. In fact, I reread the whole trilogy.* Let me tell you, rereading the series as an adult, and especially as a writer, was a very different experience. There were things that jumped out at me in L'Engle's books now that I never could or would have noticed as a child.
I still enjoyed the stories and, unlike Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles, they hold up fairly well. I didn't end up hating any of the characters I once loved, for one thing, which happened when I reread Prydain. (How did I not notice Taran was such a whiner?) But I saw weaknesses in the construction of the stories and finally figured out why the last book, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, bothered me so much when I read it as a youngster.
A Wrinkle in Time
Let's start at the beginning, literally, with the first line of the first book (see the picture). It's the butt of many a writers' joke, a cliché if ever there was one. I read that line and put the book down because it made me laugh so much.
I also thought the first chapter ended on a perfect note. It left me with just enough questions to entice me to keep reading--exactly what a writer wants a first chapter to do.
Then things got dicey. The whole first half of the book is really set up. The story--the action--doesn't kick in until literally the mid-point. Decades after reading the story, it was the action part that I remembered. That was the part I was eager to relive. And I wish L'Engle had spent more story time there. The Camazotz** scenes were vivid. They've stuck with me for thirty-plus years, but they were a minority of the book. That part of the story felt rushed, and I would have liked some deeper world-building there, too. And then the book ended. It felt very abrupt and key questions felt unanswered. A very disappointing note to end on.
A Wind in the Door
Book Two is the strongest book of the trilogy, structurally speaking. As personal as the stakes were in Wrinkle (rescuing Meg's and Charles Wallace's dad), the stakes here felt higher: Charles Wallace's life. And as with Wrinkle, science formed the foundation of the fantasy in the story. In this case, microbiology rather than quantum physics. The theme of harmony in the universe was a bit heavy-handed, but the story started quickly, moved quickly, and ended well--and unlike Wrinkle, everything was explained but not everything was happily ever after.
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
The third book in the trilogy is the one I just didn't get as a kid. Reading it now, I still think it is, to quote the vernacular, a hot mess.
The story takes place nine years after the events of A Wind in the Door. Meg is married to her high school sweetheart and very pregnant. Charles Wallace is in high school. In this story, though, Meg and Charles Wallace seemed to have less agency than in the previous books. In fact, Charles Wallace "disappears" repeatedly. The disappearances are explained in the plot, but they make him seem like a link in a story anthology rather than a character in a cohesive story. And the story itself is a mishmash of vignettes that seem to tell the same tale over and over again. As a kid, I had trouble following it. As an adult, I was able to follow what was going on, but I kept thinking, "WTF is this?"
Planet diverges from the previous books in other ways, too. It is not based in actual science. It is essentially a time travel tale, but one with very little plausibility (not that time travel ever seems truly plausible, but there wasn't even an attempt to connect it to science here). Even the first chapter got on my nerves. (Never a good sign!) So much melodrama!
First published in 1978, Planet was clearly L'Engle's attempt to make a statement about the futility of nuclear weapons. But I can't help thinking her story would have been better served by a less circuitous plot and greater agency for her main characters.
If the Wrinkle movie is as good as it looks in the trailer, maybe we can ask Ava DuVernay to just rewrite this whole last book from the ground up? I mean, just look at this beauty:
*Officially, the series is a quartet, but only three of the books center on Meg Murry and her brother Charles Wallace. Those are the books I consider the trilogy.
**Interesting aside: Camazotz is the name of a Mayan god. His name is sometimes translated as "death bat."