Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rachelle Bergstein

Rachelle Bergstein graduated in 2003 from Vassar College, where she won awards for her academic writing. She works as an editorial consultant for a literary agency in New York City, and her writing has appeared in Fresh Yarn, The Awl, Slice magazine, and The Dirty Durty Diary. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, her cat, and her shoes.

Her new book is Ankle Down: The Story of Shoes and How They Define Us.

Recently I asked the author what she was reading.  Her reply:
I’ve been in the mood for fiction lately, a book I can get lost in. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell, was a perfect choice. Russell’s language is lush – I found myself inspired by so many of her descriptions – but her depiction of female adolescence is equally powerful. Swamplandia! is a ghost story; after their mother dies, three teenage kids have to come to terms with her death. Kiwi, the oldest boy, has an aggressive reaction. He rebels, rejects his father and moves away from the family. The girls, however, turn inward. Ossie, the middle child, gets obsessed with the afterlife and starts going on “dates” with ghosts. Ava, at thirteen the youngest of the three, clings to anything she can: the past, strangers, her hope that it will all work out.

The novel has an otherworldly quality as well as a substantial conflict – the family is in danger of losing their livelihood, a theme park in the swamps where the mother, an alligator wrestler, was the star attraction – but to me it was very much about the difficulties of the teenage years. Ossie’s openness to the occult, Ava’s mix of bravado, vulnerability and naiveté…the time between childhood and adulthood is fraught and strange, even without a family tragedy to make sense of. So, because I found Russell’s book to be an interesting take on the inner lives of girls and wanted to continue in that vein, I then moved on to Alice Munro’s short story collection Runaway. I confess it’s taken me too long to read her work, and I’m slowly making my way through the stories, but I was blown away by the first one, “Runaway”. Like Russell, Munro also writes about the female experience and – I hate to give away the ending – when I finished the story, I lay in bed for a while just thinking about it. Suffice to say, it’s about the things we have to bury in order to be happy in our lives.

When I’m finished I’m moving on to The Art of Fielding. It’s been on my “to read” list for a while and I borrowed a copy from my coworker, so it’s ready and waiting!
Visit Rachelle Bergstein's website.

--Marshal Zeringue