What We’re Reading Now: THE BLINDS

The Blinds

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Adam Sternbergh

Published in August 2017 by Kensington Books

Reviewed by Amanda Moore

In The Blinds, Adam Sternbergh tells an intriguing story about the residents of a town called Caesura, Texas. Caesura is an extremely small community of individuals who try to live normal and relatively peaceful lives. However, Caesura is not like other towns — it is isolated and located in a remote part of Texas, where communications with the outside world are virtually non-existent.

As the story progresses, the reader is introduced to residents in the town whose personalities range from friendly and sociable, to odd and reclusive. With the exception of the mysterious presence of a sheriff and two deputies, the residents of Caesura have some memories of their past lives, but they do not remember the circumstances that led them there. They do not know their real names, and they are told to choose new names and identities. All of their food and supplies are shipped to them in a delivery truck. In a community of strangers where everyone has a questionable past, the town is a refuge from the outside world. They are free to leave Caesura, but they can never return.

In this novel, the knowledge of their past actions is something that the residents both seek and fear. As one character states, “It’s hard enough to live with what you’ve done. It’s immeasurably harder to live with knowing you’ve done something, but not knowing what exactly it is you did.” The reader learns about the backgrounds of characters whose pasts are as varied and diverse as their new names. Sternbergh explores the emotional struggles of these characters, but he also allows the reader to come to his or her own conclusions.

As the tale unfolds, horrible incidents occur in the town. A man is found murdered in a bar. A shop is vandalized for no apparent reason. Residents of the town begin to fear the worst as the town becomes as unsafe as the world beyond it. When the reader least expects it, secrets are revealed and more crimes are committed. The story morphs into the ultimate page-turner that forces the reader to reach a shocking but familiar conclusion: people can leave the world they know, but they may never truly escape their past.


Amanda Moore is an attorney and writer living in Austin, Texas.  She won first place in the Texas Bar Journal 2015 Short Story Contest and was asked to return as a judge in the annual competition for two consecutive years. She has been a member of the Writers’ League of Texas since 2014.  Amanda is an avid reader and book aficionado.

Interested in writing reviews? Current WLT members are eligible to write reviews and can send an email to kelsey@writersleague.org.

Have a book you’d like us to review? We review books by Texas authors, as well as books that are set in or about Texas. Email kelsey@writersleague.org for instructions on sending a review copy.

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What We’re Reading Now: WAIT TILL YOU SEE ME DANCE

WAIT TILL YOU SEE ME DANCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Deb Olin Unferth

Published in March 2017 by Graywolf Press

Reviewed by Mary Pritchard

Do you have ten minutes to read a story?  Perhaps five? Or even two?  If you think you can carve out time to digest one paragraph, to 3 pages, to 23 pages, there is a short story in Deb Olin Unferth’s Wait Till You See Me Dance that will fit your time slot. These stories are worth whatever time you can give them.

Unferth’s stories are appealing because they engage the person who finds herself unlikeable; the mother who can’t deal with “[turtles], teenagers, basement apartments”; the wife who thinks “longingly” of the man she might have married when her own husband doesn’t want to take an adventurous walk.  Most of us — man or woman — have been there. Irony flickers throughout each story.

The title story, “Wait Till You See Me Dance,” covers a trip with an unappreciative acquaintance, as well as experiences that anyone who has been an adjunct professor will find relatable. Some stories are in first person, others in third person limited, while “Stay Where You Are” has an omniscient narrator.  Are you thinking of curing your obsession with screens: the computer, the phone, the TV, the movie house?  Read “Online” before taking the plunge.

While reading Unferth’s stories, you’ll more than likely have moments where you laugh and say, “Oh, yes, I’ve been there.”

 

What We’re Reading Now: THE ROAD TO JONESTOWN

THE ROAD TO JONESTOWN

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Jeff Guin

Published in April 2017 by Simon & Schuster

Reviewed by Amanda Moore

In The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, Jeff Guin tells the story of the rise and fall of Jim Jones and the church he founded. In the 1970s, Jim Jones and members of the Peoples Temple left the U.S. to start a new community in Guyana, South America called Jonestown. On November 18, 1978, gunmen from the Jonestown community murdered several unarmed civilians who had come to investigate, interview and communicate with members of the community. A U.S. congressman, two CBS crew members, a photographer and a Jonestown defector were killed in the attack at a remote airstrip at Port Kaituma. Shortly after notice of the attack, the local authorities dispatched a small group of Guyana military soldiers to investigate. They assumed that they would find heavily armed civilians at Jonestown and prepared for an attack once they arrived. Instead they found the remains of over 900 dead men, women, and children lying in and around the Jonestown compound. This haunting description is how the story begins.

Guin describes the upbringing of Jim Jones in the small town of Lynn, Indiana, and his early interest in the Christian faith. Over time, Jones became less focused on religious doctrines and more fascinated with the persuasive style of religious leaders and their ability to captivate the congregation. His study of how religious leaders attracted members and secured their allegiance became an obsession. In his pastoral role, Jones would often call upon individuals during the church service to claim they were healed from various ailments as a way to attract and recruit new members to his church. His followers thought that he was a mind reader, but he would often use members to find out information about congregants before he spoke to them.

Throughout the book, Jones is portrayed as a complex and unpredictable individual. During a time of civil and political unrest in America, Jones led efforts toward encouraging integration among churches and businesses for African Americans. Jones’ church, The Peoples Temple, became influential in local politics both in Indianapolis and San Francisco through its multi-racial congregation. Local leaders praised the Peoples Temple for its commitment to social justice and community outreach. Although these efforts appeared to be genuine, Guin describes how Jones’ true motivations were self-serving and insincere.

The members of The Peoples Temple were expected to commit every facet of their lives to the church and its cause for social justice. Members were asked to cash in life insurance policies, to donate their wages and salaries, and to give personal belongings to the Peoples Temple. Jones’ persuasive rhetoric and the initial inclusiveness of the Peoples Temple convinced hundreds of people to leave their families and communities behind to live in South America. Many individuals followed Jones expecting to create a better life while helping others and embracing socialistic ideals. Some of his followers believed that Jones was a god and knew what was best for them.

After a short time, the dream of Jonestown began to unravel. Ex-members of the Peoples Temple spoke to the media about Jones’s mistreatment of his followers. Concerned relatives began raising serious concerns with elected officials in government because they believed their family members were kept in Jonestown against their will. Both U.S. and Guyanese courts ordered Jones to appear in court and respond to legal proceedings filed against him. Jonestown could no longer stay disconnected from the outside world. The end result was a community of people being led by a leader who lived in a constant state of extreme paranoia.

There are many unanswered questions regarding the events at Jonestown. With an impressive amount of research and personal interviews with former members, government officials and survivors of the Jonestown tragedy, Guin attempts to answer these questions. His narrative style allows the reader to feel as if he or she were actually there to witness the events at the beginning, the middle, and at the tragic and senseless end.