By Barrie Jean Borich. (Mad Creek Books, 92 pages, $18.95.)
We shouldn’t expect an author whose life’s trade is creative writing to deliver a neat slice of life or even a linear story, and in “Apocalypse, Darling,” we get anything but neat and linear. Instead, noted LGBTQ essayist, DePaul University associate professor and onetime Hamline University instructor Barrie Jean Borich delivers a time-tripping, probing biographic memoir about love and the hard-to-love, dysfunctional families and the new American family, and the almost poetic parallels between toxic relationships and America’s repatriated industrial wastelands.
Borich’s narrative is beautifully written even when she’s not writing of beautiful things. In these compact 92 pages, we meet her dear wife, Linnea, who is dragging Borich back with her to rural Chicago steel country for an unusual wedding. Linnea’s father, a widowed Swedish patriarch, has decided to marry his high school sweetheart — they’re now in their 70s. The eccentric relatives accept Linnea as the odd lesbian in their plenty-odd bunch, but Borich is dismissed as the insignificant “significant other” at this event. She is largely invisible but observes everything.
The wedding scene is a hoot, though not an altogether happy one. The plastic, surreal ceremony is held on an unnaturally green golf course in a spot that was an ecological eyesore when the author grew up there. It has simply morphed into a different kind of dreary pocket of life on her return visit. Oddities abound (think mannequins with missing parts) as the disjointed wedding party gathers to suffer through a few hours of togetherness.
Borich pops back and forth between the wedding charade and her memories, recalling the noxious legacy of smokestacks and pollution with a fatalistic familiarity — part nostalgia, part never-going-back-there. Life, we come to see, is that way, too.
It’s an intimate peek into Borich’s being, and we celebrate her rising above the tainted landscape to find such a lyrical existence and a devoted love.
Go Ask Fannie
By Elisabeth Hyde. (Putnam, 294 pages, $27.)
Elisabeth Hyde’s new novel opens with a setup commonly used in domestic dramas — grown children returning to the family home for a celebration / funeral / confrontation. In Hyde’s “Go Ask Fannie,” it’s for a confrontation. Older siblings Ruth (the bossy one) and George (the sensitive one) want to persuade Lizzie (the difficult one) to break up with her older, married boyfriend. So they head to the New Hampshire farm where their aging father still lives.
The Fannie in the title is Fannie Farmer; the plot revolves (more or less) around a beloved family cookbook. The children’s late mother used to jot notes in its margins — not just of recipes, but of the short stories that she wrote when the children were finally in bed. The cookbook is viewed as an important link to the mother and as a way to better understand the family’s tragic past.
But Lizzie lent the cookbook to the loathed boyfriend, who damaged it beyond repair. Hyde does not belabor the symbolism.
The story — which involves a crime, an accident, an aging father, a connection with an old flame, and various other dramas — whirls briskly. Hyde has a fine ear for dialogue and the impatient snappishness that grown siblings employ with each other — that love-hate familiarity and irritation. She handles the many narrative threads deftly, moving back and forth in time and highlighting various points of view.
Anyone with difficult siblings — and that would be just about all of us, right? — will find something resonant in this entertaining book.