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Shoes Hair Nails Paperback – December 30, 2005
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
SHOES HAIR NAILS by Deborah Batterman is . . . an intricately woven work of stunning depth. It s full of diverse characters with universal challenges, and the it is what it is way that they accept their realities is honest and true to life. I found myself setting the book aside after each story in order to fully digest the content. I raved about it to several girlfriends and even my mother. It has certainly been a while since I was touched by such a powerful collection.
While each tale has its own unique voice and strength, my favorites were "Hair" and "Crazy Charlotte." Both had to do with young girls and the quirky, free-spirited women that influenced their lives, but that is where the similarity ends. These stories not only made me feel, but they stayed with me long after I read them.
Deftly written and infused with equal parts beauty and heartbreak, this is a wonderful collection about family, lost love, and the enduring strength of women. It was truly a pleasure to read, and I would recommend it. --Mercedes Yardley, A Broken Laptop
However innocuously these stories start -- a mother's shoe collection, cleaning a new apartment, setting off to visit parents -- they end up drilling deep into the characters' psyches and releasing unsuspected emotional truths. I found each story profoundly moving in its own way. Never having been a girly girl -- I was a tomboy right from the start and didn't really know what to do with a jar of fingernail polish, much less a pumice stone or clay mask or other beauty accoutrements -- I don't get chick lit. But I do know what it's like to lose someone dear to me and be overwhelmed with grief mixed with guilt. I do know what it's like to do without a parent and make the best of what I have.
Batterman excels at capturing the small details that make a character in a story seem like a real, if quirky, person you might meet in a grocery queue or at a bus stop. For example, there's a mother who dabs at things, dabbing her eyes or her children's cuts so that it's the father who has to take a child with a stitch-serious cut to the doctor. There's the man who thinks the sympathetic woman sitting next to him at a burger joint must be an alien from outer space: "The aliens always ask the right questions and always know what you're thinking."
She's a master with images, too, and how they reinforce the story. The items named in the title each has its own story in which the image plays a part but does not intrude on the story, not an easy balance to achieve. For example, the narrator of one story has just moved out of her boyfriend's place into a much less desirable apartment. One of the features he first criticizes is a partial wall extending halfway into the living room. "Like an unfinished thought."; The hesitant half-wall placed me right in that space, that scary, can-I-make-it-on-my-own space.
Batterman also knows how to circle around a story and, as Emily Dickinson said, "tell it slant." I regard as failures nearly all of those stories that have tried to address that terrible day In September when I lost two friends in the World Trade Center and the U.S. lost its sense of security (The Emperor s Children). The only one that has worked for me so far ("Let the Great World Spin") only referred to it in the most oblique way. Batterman's final story succeeds because she approaches that day indirectly, through the emotions of one woman and her particular, small slice of the tragedy.
There's an element of forgiveness in many of the tales that I found particularly moving. I enjoyed these stories and even went back and reread a few of them. They seem true to me and to say something about our shared life as humans in this crazy world. --B. Morrison, Monday Morning Book Blog
A mother as Minnie Mouse, a haircut as barometer of change; the origin of red Chinese slippers, a friend who announces, "Every man is a shoe fetishist." Image functions as symbol in Deborah Batterman's first book of beautifully balanced, psychologically complex stories. Written mostly from the POV of middle-class American women, the characters pull us into their struggles with love and family.
With well-developed metaphoric intuition, the author uses details that reflect character, and symbols her characters can react to. When a widow chooses a new hair color ( "Something auburn and sensual. Like an early autumn day...") we think of the clear weather on 9/11 ("Twin Tales" ). In "The Visit," a double-sided mirror divides a mother from her twins. Many of the stories' endings convey fluidity of time as well as the clinching detail.
"It's not easy, for a short story, to contain time and to display its abyss," John Updike says. Some stories, like "Hair," cover many years; the repetition of images helps achieve that span and allows the past to perfume the present.
Batterman writes with a poet's attention to sound and rhythm. In addition, the use of lyrics in some of the stories provides a time frame and suggests the speaker's emotional state. When Norman, suffering from dementia, is cheated of his jackpot in Vegas, a series of staccato phrases underscores his reaction. The passage recalls Eliot's theory of auditory imagination: "Kevin says nothing as the guards escort Jay away. Feels a wrenching, like a knife in his gut, as his father drops to his knees, melts into the carpet. He lifts Norman, leads him out of the casino. 'Look Mama,' says Lucy as we approach Emerald City. She points to the ceiling, to the image of a witch on a broomstick. The image, laser-produced, dissolves into two words: Surrender Dorothy.
About the quality of resonance, Virginia Woolf said, I hope to have kept the sound of the sea and the birds, dawn and garden subconsciously present...The sea is to be heard all through it. That notion is embodied by these eleven stories, where images build throughout the narrative like music. With fresh language, captivating characters, wry humor and empathy for human experience, Deborah Batterman offers searching analyses of how people cope. --Cheryl Snell, Good Reads
From the Back Cover
"There are wonderful stories here, poignant, closely observed, brimming with life."
-- Alan Lightman, author of Einstein's Dreams
Using humor to part the curtains, Deborah Batterman steps inside the seriousness of amusingly awry relationships. Such is the illuminated cloth of Shoes Hair Nails that friends and passersby shine as brightly as family and lovers. In Batterman's heartfelt and jazzy debut, all ties are family ties." -- Nancy Zafris, author of Lucky Strike and The Metal Shredders
Top customer reviews
Deborah Batterman's stories are so convincing you find yourself wondering how many are REAL. Did she ever meet Crazy Charlotte in life? Did she ever get called on the carpet for playing hooky at the eccentric's house, for opting to watch the birth of kittens over sitting at a school desk reading facts (facts, nothing but the facts) from a dull science book?
Regardless, Batterman's characterizations are remarkable. You gotta love a woman who stands her ground against the powers that be, against those who don't understand, who stands boldly in her Keds (and doesn't give a flip what they think), and screeches on the blackboard, I AM MY CHILDREN'S MOTHER AND I KNOW WHAT'S BEST FOR THEM. You gotta love the woman who has never forgotten how to skip, how to win bubble blowing contests, who has never lost her sense of wonder in spite of her circumstances. She is her children's mother, and how blessed they are to have her. And so is Janie Rosenthal to have known her.
Batterman's prose shines with wit and insight, grace and style. Her stories are keenly and poignantly mindful, her voice lyrical and luminous. This is why I assign her stories to my writing students, that they may read, absorb, and learn through osmosis how to become master storytellers - how to step aside and let the characters speak for themselves, as she does.
Every story in this collection you want to read again and again to catch all the things you might have missed the first time around. SHOES HAIR NAILS is a must read.
In "Shoes," we are introduced to a mother's addiction to expensive shoes, shoes of all colors, textures, heel-heights. Shoes that take up whole closets. Then with almost glacial restraint the author moves from shoes to desire to sex to adultery and ultimately to death. We watch the inevitable progression of a character from daughter to caretaker as her father succumbs to gambling, bad debts, bad health, and as her mother slowly dies. Shoes as metaphor. In the end, even they are consumed.
In the story "Hair," we are presented with a mother's cold-blooded abandonment of her young daughter, and her letters through the years explaining to the daughter (left with a friend) how not everyone is meant for motherhood. As the daughter matures into her teens, the mother's extreme vanity, or dim-wittedness, or sociopathy continues to be showcased in her letters to the girl, describing her fascinating life in Paris, her continental lovers, her ever-changing hair-styles. In the daughter's bitter universe there is the growing wish that this woman would simply die. When the mother finally disappears in France, nothing found but her wallet, the daughter seems only mildly relieved, while this reader stood and cheered.
So the author sweeps us along with deftly written stories of mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, lovers and friends, all whirling briefly on this crazy carousel we call existence. Deborah Batterman writes with wry humor, deft descriptions and stunning, unexpected tenderness. Her characters are richly wrought and deeply human. There are moments when her writing left me breathless, as when she describes "a drop of water clinging to a leaf by the pure power of longing."
There are laugh-out-loud characters, a woman who can't leave her husband. "Because he's also my shrink." Customers at a nail salon discussing sex and suicide. And "Crazy Charlotte," a lip-smacking, gum-chewing bag lady of a mother, but the kind of mother all of us should have had. And there are characters of such poignancy and depth the reader is left shaken. In "The Visit," a girl is haunted by her twin sister killed in an auto accident in which the surviving sister was the driver. This story needs to be read more than once, for it is a tale of the death of self. "She was the one most like me," she thinks, and one wonders how she will go on. This story moved me to tears.
These are brilliant, timeless, stories, little gems that address the universals, love and birth and loss and death, and in sly and unexpected ways remind us of our vulnerabilities, our foibles, our deep humanity, and our unaccountable against-all-odds will to survive. This is a collection to cherish, and to be savored more than once.
Kiana Davenport, Author of CANNIBAL NIGHTS, PACIFIC STORIES, Volume II
Most recent customer reviews
Honestly, I found this one a little difficult to get through. That is not to say that this book is poorly written.Read more
I have to admit, I am not generally a big fan of short stories--they often wind up feeling unfinished...Read more