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Poet Jenny Boully.

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WE THE ANIMALS By: Justin Torres. Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 128 pages, $18. Review: "We the Animals" is a spare and strong debut by Wallace Stegner Fellow Justin Torres.

THE BOOKMARK: The latest from the local scene

  • Article by: LAURIE HERTZEL
  • September 16, 2011 - 7:58 AM

Time now to brag a little about the University of Minnesota and its MFA program, named one of the top 10 in the country by Poets & Writers magazine in its September-October issue, based on funding, teaching load and other factors.

One factor, it is to be hoped, is the faculty, which is stellar: novelists Charles Baxter and Julie Schumacher, poet Ray Gonzalez, memoirist Patricia Hampl and nonfiction writer Madelon Sprengnether. Poet Peter Campion, a 2011 Guggenheim fellow, joined this fall.

Another factor, perhaps, could be the writers they attract. This fall, the English@ Minnesota Writers Series features five writers.

Nuruddin Farah, native of Somalia, who also holds the College of Liberal Arts Winton Chair, will read from "Crossbones" at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Central Library in Minneapolis. Jenny Boully, who writes both poetry and prose, will read at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5 in Walter Library at the U; Philip Gourevitch, author of "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families," will read at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10 in Coffman Union at the U; poet Ronaldo V. Wilson will read at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19 in the Weisman Art Museum at the U, and Percival Everett, author of 19 novels, including "I Am Not Sidney Poitier," will read at 7 p.m. Nov. 2 in Cowles Auditorium. Everett's appearance is $15. The others are free.

Also ...

• "The Very Little Princess: Rose's Story," by Marion Dane Bauer, has been published by Random House. Bauer, of St. Paul, has written more than 70 books for children and won a Newbery Honor.

• "What's Left Is the Singing," poems by Mary Kay Rummel, has been published by Blue Light Press. Rummel lives in Fridley; her work has appeared in literary journals nationwide.

Time now to brag a little about the University of Minnesota and its MFA program, named one of the top 10 in the country by Poets & Writers magazine in its September-October issue, based on funding, teaching load and other factors. One factor, it is to be hoped, is the faculty, which is stellar: Novelists Charles Baxter and Julie Schumacher, poet Ray Gonzalez, memoirist Patricia Hampl and nonfiction writer Madelon Sprengnether. Poet Peter Campion, a 2011 Guggenheim fellow, joined this fall. Another factor, perhaps, could be the writers they bring in. This fall, for instance, the English@Minnesota Writers Series will feature five writers. Nuruddin Farah, native of Somalia, author of 11 books, who also holds the College of Liberal Arts Winton Chair, will read from his new novel, "Crossbones," at 7 p.m. Sept. 20 at the Central Library in downtown Minneapolis. Jenny Boully, who writes both poetry and prose, will read at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5 in Walter Library at the U; Philip Gourevitch, author of "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families," will read at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10 in Coffman Union at the U; poet Ronaldo V. Wilson will read at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19 in the Weisman Art Museum at the U; and Percival Everett, author of 19 novels, including "I Am Not Sidney Poitier," will read at 7 p.m. Nov. 2 in Cowles Auditorium. Everett's appearance is $15. The others are free. Also ... • "The Very Little Princess: Rose's Story," by Marion Dane Bauer, has been published by Random House. Bauer, who lives in St. Paul, is the author of more than 70 books for children and the winner of a Newbery Honor. • "Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature," by Joyce Sidman, has been published by Houghton Mifflin. Sidman lives in Wayzata and is the author of many books of poetry for children. Her 2010 book, "Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night," illustrated by Duluth's Rick Allen, was a Newbery Honor Book. "Swirl by Swirl" is illustrated by Beth Krommes, who won the Caldecott Medal for "The House in the Night," written by another Minnesota author, Susan Marie Swanson. • "What's Left Is the Singing," a collection of poems by Mary Kay Rummel, has been published by Blue Light Press of San Francisco. Rummel lives in Fridley; her work has appeared in literary journals across the country. • "Fargo 1957," by Jamie Parsley, has been published by the North Dakota Institute for Regional Studies. The elegy is the story of those who survived the deadly June 20, 1957, tornado, as well as those who did not. Parsley, a poet and an Episcopal priest, is an associate poet laureate of North Dakota. Kathryn Kysar and Jim Moore: Read from their poetry. 4 p.m. today. Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. Sheila O'Connor: "Sparrow Road." 7 p.m. Mon. Edina Library, 5280 Grandview Square, Edina. Russ Van Heel: "A Life in Purgatory." 7:30 p.m. Mon. Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. Ari Weinzweig: "Zingerman's Guide to Better Leading." Noon Tue. Common Good Books, 165 N. Western Av., St. Paul. Beth Bednar: "Dead Air: the Disappearance of Jodi Huisentruit." 4 p.m. Tue. U of M Bookstore, Coffman Union, 300 Washington Av. SE., Mpls. Lori Sturdevant and George S. Pillsbury: "The Pillsburys of Minnesota." 7 p.m. Tue. Barnes & Noble, 2100 N. Snelling Av., Roseville. Michael Perry: ArtReach St. Croix's Writers on Writing series. 7 p.m. Tue. Stillwater Public Library, 224 N. 3rd St., Stillwater. Nancy Paddock: "A Song at Twilight: Of Alzheimer's and Love." 7 p.m. Tue. The Loft at Open Book, 1011 Washington Av. S., Mpls. Nuruddin Farah: Talk of Stacks. "Crossbone." 7 p.m. Tue. Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, Mpls. Theresa Weir: "The Orchard." 7 p.m. Tue. Once Upon a Crime, 604 W. 26th St., Mpls. Rick Shefchik: "Amen Corner." 6:30 p.m. Wed. Penn Lake Library, 8800 Penn Av. S., Bloomington. Majka Burhardt: "Coffee Story: Ethiopia." 7 p.m. Wed. $8-$10. Bell Museum of Natural History, U of M, 10 SE. Church St., Mpls. John Vaillant: "The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival." 7:30 p.m. Wed. Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. Danielle Sosin: "The Long-Shining Waters." 4 p.m. Thu. U of M Bookstore, Coffman Union, 300 Washington Av. SE., Mpls. John Connolly: "The Burning Soul." 7 p.m. Thu. Once Upon a Crime, 604 W. 26th St., Mpls. Stephen Wilbers: "Boundary Waters History: Canoeing Across Time." 7 p.m. Thu. True Colors Bookstore, 4755 Chicago Av. S., Mpls. Colleen Krantz: "Train to Nowhere." 7:30 p.m. Thu. Common Good Books, 165 N. Western Av., St. Paul. Peter Smith: "A Cavalcade of Lesser Horrors." 7:30 p.m. Thu. Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. Christopher Valen: "Bad Weeds Never Die." 9:30 a.m. Fri. Lake Country Booksellers, 4766 Washington Square, White Bear Lake. Michael Stanley: "Death of the Mantis." 7 p.m. Fri. Bookcase, 607 E. Lake St., Wayzata. Catherine Urdahl: "Polka-dot Fixes Kindergarten." 11 a.m. Sat. Osseo Library, 415 Central Av., Osseo. S.L. Smith: "Blinded by the Sight." Noon Sat. Once Upon a Crime, 604 W. 26th St., Mpls. F. Scott Fitzgerald's 115th birthday: Writers and professors discuss Fitzgerald's influence on American literature. 2 p.m. Sat. St. Paul Central Library, 90 W. 4th St., St. Paul. Melissa Marlow: "Forever Yours." 2 p.m. Sat. Potbelly Sandwich Shop, 12485 Riverdale Blvd., Coon Rapids. Bao Phi and Ed Bok Lee: "Song I Sing," and "Whorled." 8 p.m. Sat. Minneapolis Central Library, 300 Nicollet Mall, Mpls. Kendra Wilkinson: "Being Kendra: Cribs, Cocktails, and Getting my Sexy Back." 2 p.m. next Sun. Best Buy Rotunda, Mall of America. Patti Kivestu and Carey Pearson: "Rags to Riches." 2 p.m. next Sun. Bookcase, 607 E. Lake St., Wayzata. Sunny Love: "An Incomplete Story of a Whole Person." 4 p.m. next Sun. Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. By KATHRYN LANG Special to the Star Tribune St. Paul author Theresa Weir writes bestselling genre fiction, but here she tells the bittersweet story of her blighted youth and of her marriage to Adrian Curtis, the handsome fifth-generation apple farmer she meets in Henderson County, Ill., in her uncle's bar. In this frank and disturbing work, Weir reveals painful truths about her early years as well as about the weight of the Curtis family tradition, in which her husband, as eldest son, is treated as a hired hand until he assumes ownership of the farm upon the death of his father. Weir opens with a prologue, "The Legend of Lily," the story of a pesticide salesman and his daughter. Lily wants to help her dad make enough money to take the family to Disneyland. Eager to earn the trip, she does as he asks, and sips from the cup of fetid chemicals he hands her to demonstrate to the onlooking farmers that her father's product is safe. This legend permeates Weir's memoir, and two-thirds of the way through, she writes of her family, "We were all Lily," surrounded by the garlicky odor of the pesticides that will exact a staggering toll. This is a riveting memoir about an unlikely marriage between a city girl and a farmer, two people scarred by their troubled mothers. Hers is an alcoholic bohemian, dependent on men, wishing to divest herself of the impediment of her children; his, a single-minded tyrant who rules the family she married into with singular cruelty. The attraction between the urban nomad and the rooted agrarian is mutual, despite their differences: he's the scion of Heartland prosperity and tradition; she's the throwaway vagabond of feckless parents. Their unconventional courtship, marriage, and the family they create take place within the larger drama of a family curse and the price Heartland farmers pay for creating perfect apples. Weir charts the course of her 18-year marriage, as she gradually comes to understand her taciturn husband's love for her and their children. She shares his delight in the perfect color, shape, and texture of his new variety of apples. She agonizes with him at the threat the codling moth poses to his crop. When he takes small steps toward organic practices, she exults, and when he forbids their son to take part in spraying the apples with the ever-stronger pesticides that hang like a pall over their fields, she realizes the extent of his rebellion against Curtis family tradition. But her constant sense of life's fragility and the family curse ultimately make their claim. The denouement comes swiftly, and in the bittersweet aftermath, Weir and her children wrest a new life, one that turns their experiences on the farm into music and art. Kathryn Lang is former senior editor at Southern Methodist University Press, where she acquired award-winning works of fiction and creative nonfiction for nearly 20 years. The three young boys in Justin Torres' debut novel, "We the Animals," might as well be in your own living room or sitting next to you by the lake, running through your quiet reading life with their dirty shoes, their feral yelling, their boyness emanating from them like a blast of hot steam. Their parents, a young couple with little money and even less patience, struggle to raise them in a small town where their interracial marriage keeps them and their children on the outside of society. They struggle to establish their own rules and mores, and each member of their little tribe dreams of escape but can't imagine a life without the others. Torres' writing is spare and strong, like his protagonists, and with "We the Animals" he chooses his fictional anecdotes with care. In one scene the continuous ring of a telephone pleads with the boys' mother as if it were a human voice. In another scene each boy, and their mother, takes a turn lying down in a muddy grave during a rainstorm, and each emerges having had his own distinct emotional experience. "We the Animals" may take a short time to read, but its rough beauty will linger on long after you turn the last page. MEGANNE FABREGA

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