Join us for readings from Miss Portland, a novel by David Ebenbach, and Ghost Child of the Atalanta Bloom, poems by Rebecca Aronson
Unlike other people, Zoe Tussler knows that life is perfectible, and she knows this because of Maine. Thus begins David Ebenbach's Miss Portland, winner of the 2016 Orison Fiction Prize, a moving paean to becoming the place where you belong. Zoe's life has been a quest for meaning, driven by the manic highs and throttling lows of bipolar disorder. She's followed her inner compass to some far-flung places before, but, unlike in those prior incidents, she's sure her precipitous departure from a stable job in Philadelphia for a life with her Kripalu guru in Portland, Maine, is different. Part of what she'd "realized recently--part of the reason that Portland was the answer and not just another thing--was that you couldn't get yourself right by depending on another person. It had to be you. But you doing what? That was the question." Zoe's attempt to answer this question and create her own personal theory of everything is neither a symptom of her mental illness nor separate from it. The dualities in her situation--moving to Portland to live with her guru but not depending on him for her sense of self, quitting therapy and medication cold turkey but monitoring herself for signs of her bipolar cycle--offer a complex, intimate, and deeply humane portrait of a person whose experience of the world is both alternate and poignantly familiar. Ebenbach captures a profound vulnerability in Zoe's dichotomies. At the heart, Zoe wants to root and connect. While she grasps at straws with one hand, she offers whatever she's managed to grasp with the other. Rather than discourage her, Zoe's difference sharpens her conviction. Yet, as Zoe's story unfolds, Ebenbach's sensitive portrayal resists easy answers or convenient endings. Zoe's quest for a happy ending may take her to Portland, Maine, but, ultimately, it leads her back to herself.
In ''Ghost Child of the Atalanta Bloom'' Rebecca Aronson combines myth and memory, history and landscape, dream and the everyday in arresting, painterly poems that sweep the reader beyond the ordinary. With a practiced hand Aronson crafts shapely poems in which no word is wasted. In fact, nothing is wasted, and Aronson's poems redeem all manner of powerful images and experiences from time's grasp, forming a new mythology out of the raw material of her life and imagination. Aronson begins this incendiary collection with a poem entitled I Was the Girl Who Set the Field on Fire, and that sentiment sets the tone. Rife with hunger and volatility, these poems, rooted in the dry heat of the American Southwest, circle an unnamed longing, and seek release. Most of the book is anxiously anchored in the present, and the frenetic quality of the poems gives them the heat of a fever dream. Children ambassadors of a future linger, at first, at the edges. New motherhood, a theme begun in the background of the collection, eventually slides into the foreground, the poems taking on a quieter tone: anxious, still, but not as frantic. Desire is peril, Aronson says in a poem that feels animalistic in its urgency. I want. / I want. I bay at the door of wanting. Through the heat of fire or the joy and fear of new motherhood, she follows that trail of want, searching endlessly for a reason and a reason and a reason for joy.