Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Springtime on Mars - Susan Woodring

Title: Springtime on Mars
Author: Susan Woodring
Date Finished: June 23, 2008 #35
Pages: 177 (ARE)
Rating: 3.5/5

In Springtime on Mars, a collection of eleven short stories, Woodring delves into the lives of very different people and their hidden desires, fears, wishes, and secrets. From an estranged father who doesn't quite know how to interact with his teenage daughter, to an elderly second-marriage couple coming to terms with their new life together, a woman who lusts over the bag boy at the grocery store, and a woman who loves a boy that no one else can.

While these stories couldn't be more different from one another, the common thread throughout them all is the introspective look at what makes ordinary events extraordinary to the individual--the way that the person handles the death of the President, the way that a woman yearns to know her place within a new family, the way that a young girl searches for acceptance and care from her neighbors. On the surface the events in the stories are mundane, but the honesty that Woodring explores within her characters is what makes this collection one that can be appreciated by a range of people.

I marked several passages throughout the book where Woodring takes a simple event and shows how it emotionally affects the character. In the below example, the main character has had an emotional breakdown in the middle of the grocery store:

"Maud dabbed at her eyes with the tissue Donald had handed her and she wondered where it came from. He was not the kind of man to carry tissues, and now, he had given her one and he was moving his hand, rubbing lightly across her back. The picture came to her of what Donald himself had looked like in high school, the person he had been, and she saw his clam, quiet manner, him sitting at the back of every classroom... She thought of his birdhouses in the backyard, of how he had let the children god, of how he stood on the porch and looked back at their house and found something new to start each time. She wondered if it was the same with her, if she ever seemed new to him, if there was anything more for them to do with each other" (97).

I don't know that it is the best example of what I am trying to get at, but it shows the quiet way in which the reader can see the innermost thoughts of the character. I didn't love every story in the book--I felt myself drawn more to the character's whose emotions I could really relate to, but because of the wide range of emotions, I think that all readers can find a little bit of themselves in these stories. Because the stories are so deceptively layered, I think this would be a great selection for a bookclub--nothing fantastical happens in these stories, but in a way I think that makes these stories more relatable and real. Overall, a pleasant and enjoyable read.

**Part of Blog Stop Book Tours--check out the website for more information on Springtime on Mars and Susan Woodring


Laura said...

Sometimes, I really enjoy reading a book without tons of major events or action--it's nice to get a glimpse into character's heads! I like the example you included as well--it makes me think of those cute elderly couples you'll see from time to time, walking together or eating together. I wonder what it will be link to be married for 20+ or 30+ years?

Anonymous said...

I've seen this one begin to pop up and had no idea what it was about, so thanks! I'm not huge into short stories though, so although it sounds good I have way to much other stuff to read to be adding this one to the TBR.

sherylmonks said...

Thanks, Trish. I think you're absolutely right about Susan Woodring's ability to take the mundane and hold it up in such a way that we can really marvel at it. This is the way our lives pass 99% of the time. There is no novelistic climax, no gripping thrill of a plot that we can point to and say, "Look what happened to me!" And yet, so much happens to us; doesn't it? There in the seemingly normal house on the seemingly normal street with the seemingly normal family. All the things that twist us up and yank us through the wringers of our ordinary lives is easy to overlook. I think Susan is playing with this notion, drawing direct comparisons to the spectacular, the historic, the surreal, the scientific and technological. Because after all, what is stranger than waking up one seemingly normal day to discover that someone has died in a freak accident, or to realize that you are living in a time of dramatic change, violence, and uncertainty? It's so ordinary to us we can't see how shocking it really is. One day a kid is run over by a school bus, a man is struck by lightning, a woman's kids grow up and she loses her place in the world, a television comes into a home and the world is changed forevermore. These are extraordinary experiences, and Susan Woodring paints them so vividly that we can't help but see them in all their radiance.

Ana S. said...

I like the sound of this. The "nothing happens" approach is always risky, but in the hands of a skilled writer it can result in very emotionally powerful stories.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Laura - I've found that I really enjoy character development more than a plot driven book--and even when I comment on my blog about books I think I tend to focus on characters more than plot. This book was perfect for that. I really enjoy reading what other people are thinking about certain things!

*Natasha - I really like short stories but I dont' read them very often. This one would be a perfect book to take along with you if you have short bursts of time to read--none of the stories are difficult and all are relatively short (10-20 pages).

*Sheryl - Exactly! You said it much better than I could have. :) I found that Susan really captured the brief moments of the character's lives--so brief that we don't give those moments enough thought but can really impact an individual person so much. Thanks for your thoughts.

*Nymeth - To say that nothing happens isn't quite right--because things do happen to these people. But they aren't spectacular things--they are things that could happen to anyone. But what makes this book so special is seeing what those small things mean in the bigger picture of a person's immediate life. Ha ha--Sheryl above explains it much better than I can! :)

Debi said...

This is the first I've heard of this book. Your review was lovely. You've definitely left me thinking this is one that's worth checking out.

Unknown said...

Sounds very good. I'm reading more and more short stories thesedays. I think they are very under-rated.

Bookfool said...

I agree with C. B. completely. I'm beginning to really adore short stories. I'll keep my eye out for this one. Thanks for the review!

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

*Debi - This was a great book for in between some of the heavier reading (I don't actually do heavy reading...but you know!). It is subtle, but worth the time!

*CB - funny--I love short stories but I read less of them than I used to. I think I'm too busy always trying to finish the next book that I don't take the time for them. Glad I read this collection, though!

*Bookfool - Glad you're back! :) And I'm still waiting for you to set up that short story forum. Ha!! I think you'd like this one.