"Voices from the Blue Hotel" | Author's "I's" blow the flow of "Voices"
Special to The Seattle Times
Maya Sonenberg reads from "Voices from the Blue Hotel," 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Elliott Bay Book Co., Seattle; free (206-624-6600 or www.elliottbaybook.com).
"Voices from the Blue Hotel"
by Maya Sonenberg
Chiasmus Press, 136 pp., $14.95
In this kaleidoscopic set of "fictions," Maya Sonenberg writes stories about memory and desire that are lucid and memorable because she employs so many distinct voices. Yet there are aspects of this collection that will dash a reader's expectations of what a story is — for better or for worse.
In several stories the narrator is extinguished, and an illuminating authorial "I" takes over to discuss the nature of fiction itself. Near the end of "Wanting What We Don't Want," four consecutive sentences begin with the author's disclosure, "The first time I wrote this ... " The explanations radiate out in different directions, overlaying the story with issues of identity and plotting.
In the arresting "Throwing Voices," the narrator's voice is that of a working-class African-American woman, speaking in Black English to her younger child, a daughter who is in jail for killing her gay brother's white lover. After five pages of gripping narrative comes a section titled "Interrogating the Voice," in which the author takes over, asking, "Why did this voice come to me? And once it did, should I have taken it on?" She unfurls an essay as powerful as the narrative, about the rights of the creative imagination, weighed against the writer "plundering whatever riches she finds."
Though both parts of the "story" are stimulating, I found the explanatory essay intrusive. Director of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Washington, Sonenberg is clearly in command of her craft; however, in this over-packaged and over-blogged world, I still believe the naked story can speak for itself.
Not every story is packaged in this way. In the poignant and crisply told "Memento Mori," Gordon has been away from home for 30 years, climbing the world's high peaks and sailing the seas.
He returns with his souvenirs to the house he has inherited from his deceased parents to recover from climbing Everest. There, his encounters with his niece and nephews reveal aspects of his life that he doesn't recognize. This is a fictional moment I will recall with pleasure.
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