Dinner with Samantha Sotto

After I finished reading Before Ever After, I immediately requested an interview with author Samantha Sotto, because I enjoyed the novel so much.

I’m glad her crazy week had room for me, because it was such a pleasure to meet her!

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(Her) Fearful (Symmetry)


I was looking forward to reading Audrey Niffenegger’s  Her Fearful Symmetry, and I was seriously contemplating buying a copy (20% off at National Book Store using the Laking National Card) when my boss lent me her copy to review.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife; I remember seeing it on a display shelf, reading the blurb, buying it straightaway (those were the days when my TBR was at a manageable figure I could count with my fingers!) and peeling off the plastic wrap as soon as I crossed the threshold!

I also have Niffenegger’s The Three Incestuous Sisters (one of her two illustrated novels) which showcases beautiful and haunting aquatint art, albeit the bizarre story.

Like many others I was waiting for her second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, and wondering what was in store this time around…

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Curiouser and curiouser…

The Curious Sofa: A Pornographic Work by Ogdred Weary
Book #29 of 2009
I took a break from reading In the Company of the Courtesan first, as I dropped by Mall of Asia after work to hit Book Sale, and get my stash of “carmel”-cheddar popcorn from the Chicago Popcorn Shops (yum!) with my sister.
So I got home around 10 and stretched out on the padded divan with The Curious Sofa. When I picked it up at Book Sale, I actually recognized Edward Gorey’s illustration style instantly, so it was a cinch to figure out that Ogdred Weary was a pseudonym, an anagram of his name.
To those who don’t recognize him, Edward Gorey is an artist/writer known for his macabre pen and ink illustrations and over a hundred books, the type that blur the line between adult books and children’s books.

The Curious Sofa
instantly caught my attention due to the subtitle (a pornographic work), so of course I had to buy it, haha, I thank my lucky book-scavenging stars that it was only P25 (Squee!).
The book is about a young woman named Alice, who meets the well-endowed Herbert in the park, and they hop from place to place and are joined by more and more “well-endowed” people, and they all do, erm, “naughty” things together.

“Naughty” is in quotation marks because Gorey leaves it to the reader’s imagination. The picture book is actually as just as pornographic as you think it is, because while it makes a lot of suggestions, it doesn’t actually contain anything overtly pornographic, and the characters could all be twiddling their thumbs or having wild wild sex, depending on how much fun you want to have with the book.

Curiously (pun intended), the book reminds me of one other book on my shelf — Audrey Niffenegger’s The Three Incestuous Sisters, which is about six times the size of this book. I got my copy at the National Book Store cut price sale, for P299.

The Three Incestuous Sisters is in full color, albeit a muted palette and sepia undertones, painstakingly created using watercolor and a technique called aquatint, where a pattern is scratched through a layer of wax on a zinc plate. The plate is then submerged in an acid bath. The acid erodes the zinc where the pattern is scratched and creates grooves for the ink to fall into to create a print. No wonder it took Niffenegger 14 years to finish the book! The paintings are haunting, and bizarrely beautiful at the same time.

Niffenegger (author of The Time Traveler’s Wife), calls it a novel in pictures. It tells a twisted story of three sisters who lived by the sea: Ophile, the smart one; Clothilde, the talented one; and the youngest, Bettine, the pretty one. When Ophile and Bettine fall in love with the same man, the storyline goes off on a surreal tangent, as tragedy after tragedy strikes, and the sisters’ relationship is never the same again.
Both books employ the noir style and surrealism, although The Curious Sofa was some three decades ahead, copyrighted in 1961. They differ in tone, though, as Gorey’s work is cheeky and humorous while Niffenegger’s is evocative, and deep-seated in emotion.
I lean more towards Gorey though, as I felt really drained after reading The Three Incestuous Sisters, as if I’d absorbed all the emotions flying around in the book. And also because I’m not a big fan of the surreal; there’s just a point where it becomes hokey to me.

My copies: The Curious Sofa, hardbound; The Three Incestuous Sisters, hardbound

My rating: The Curious Sofa, 5/5 stars; The Three Incestuous Sisters, 4/5 stars

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a novel about the unconventional love story of Henry de Tamble and Clare Abshire. Clare, an artist, and Henry, a [hot — hehe] librarian, attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals — steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control: Henry suffers from Chrono-Displacement disorder, which causes him to time travel involuntarily, pulled back and forth in the sea of time to significant moments of his past, present and future, while Clare’s life progresses normally with the rest of the world. The novel depicts the effects of time travel on their relationship, and how they test the boundaries of love.

I’d been eyeing this book since December when I saw it at Fully Booked. I was waiting for Powerbooks to get it in stock (for the Powercard points), but I was also wary at first, because I thought it might get too sci-fi for me. After reading Camille’s review, and because Powerbooks had it in stock already, I decided to get it, and I read right through it in one night because I couldn’t put it down.

I can’t even begin to explain how the story flows because if you try and think about the chronology you’ll get the chicken and egg dilemma — Clare and Henry met when Clare was 6 and Henry was 36, and were married when Clare was 22 and Henry 30 – and it’ll thoroughly test your concept of time and space.

It’s a very engaging read, with the words flowing like poetry. The characters come to life on the page, their emotions drawn out so vividly that they seem palpable to any reader. Even though Henry’s condition isn’t something we experience in real life, Niffenegger paints a picture that makes you feel pretty damn close to experiencing it.


HENRY: How does it feel? How does it feel? Sometimes it feels as though your attention has wandered for just an instant. Then, with a start, you realize that the book you were holding, the red plaid cotton shirt with white buttons, the favorite black jeans and the maroon socks with an almost-hole in one heel, the living room, the about-to-whistle tea kettle in the kitchen: all of these have vanished. You are standing, naked as a jaybird, up to your ankles in ice water in a ditch along an unidentified rural route. You wait a minute to see if maybe you will just snap right back to your book, your apartment, et cetera. After about five minutes of swearing and shivering and hoping to hell you can just disappear, you start walking in any direction, which will eventually yield a farmhouse, where you have the option of stealing or explaining. Stealing will sometimes land you in jail, but explaining is more tedious and time-consuming and involves lying anyway, and also sometimes results in being hauled off to jail, so what the hell.

Sometimes you feel as though you have stood up too quickly even if you are lying in bed half asleep. You hear blood rushing in your head, feel vertiginous falling sensations. Your hands and feet are tingling and then they aren’t there at all. You’ve mislocated yourself again. It only takes an instant, you have just enough time to try to hold on, to flail around (possibly damaging yourself or valuable possessions) and then you are skidding across the forest-green-carpeted hallway of a Motel 6 in Athens, Ohio, at 4:16 a.m.,Monday, August 6, 1981, and hit your head on someone’s door, causing this person, a Ms. Tina Schulman from Philadelphia, to open this door and start screaming because there’s a naked, carpet-burned man passed out at her feet. You wake up in the County Hospital concussed with a policeman sitting outside your door listening to the Phillies game on a crackly transistor radio. Mercifully, you lapse back into unconsciousness and wake up again hours later in your own bed with your wife leaning over you looking very worried.

Sometimes you feel euphoric. Everything is sublime and has an aura, and suddenly you are intensely nauseated and then you are gone. You are throwing up on some suburban geraniums, or your father’s tennis shoes, or your very own bathroom floor three days ago, or a wooden sidewalk in Oak Park, Illinois, circa 1903, or a tennis court on a fine autumn day in the 1950s, or your own naked feet in a wide variety of times and places.

How does it feel?

It feels exactly like one of those dreams in which you suddenly realize that you have to take a test you haven’t studied for and you aren’t wearing any clothes. And you’ve left your wallet at home.

When I am out there, in time, I am inverted, changed into a desperate version of myself. I become a thief, a vagrant, an animal who runs and hides. I startle old women and amaze children. I am a trick, an illusion of the highest order, so incredible that I am actually true.

Is there a logic, a rule to all this coming and going, all this dislocation? Is there a way to stay put, to embrace the present with every cell? I don’t know. There are clues; as with any disease there are patterns, possibilities. Exhaustion, loud noises, stress, standing up suddenly, flashing light-any of these can trigger an episode. But: I can be reading the Sunday Times, coffee in hand and Clare dozing beside me on our bed and suddenly I’m in 1976 watching my thirteen-year-old self mow my grandparents’ lawn. Some of these episodes last only moments; it’s like listening to a car radio that’s having trouble holding on to a station. I find myself in crowds, audiences, mobs. Just as often I am alone, in a field, house, car, on a beach, in a grammar school in the middle of the night. I fear finding myself in a prison cell, an elevator full of people, the middle of a highway. I appear from nowhere, naked. How can I explain? I have never been able to carry anything with me. No clothes, no money, no ID. I spend most of my sojourns acquiring clothing and trying to hide. Fortunately I don’t wear glasses.

It’s ironic, really. All my pleasures are homey ones: armchair splendor, the sedate excitements of domesticity. All I ask for are humble delights. A mystery novel in bed, the smell of Clare’s long red-gold hair damp from washing, a postcard from a friend on vacation, cream dispersing into coffee, the softness of the skin under Clare’s breasts, the symmetry of grocery bags sitting on the kitchen counter waiting to be unpacked. I love meandering through the stacks at the library after the patrons have gone home, lightly touching the spines of the books. These are the things that can pierce me with longing when I am displaced from them by Time’s whim.

And Clare, always Clare. Clare in the morning, sleepy and crumple-faced. Clare with her arms plunging into the papermaking vat, pulling up the mold and shaking it so, and so, to meld the fibers.

Clare reading, with her hair hanging over the back of the chair, massaging balm into her cracked red hands before bed. Clare’s low voice is in my ear often.

I hate to be where she is not, when she is not. And yet, I am always going, and she cannot follow.


And Clare, Clare is really something else.

CLARE: It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays. I keep myself busy. Time goes faster that way.

I go to sleep alone, and wake up alone. I take walks. I work until I’m tired. I watch t
he wind play with the trash that’s been under the snow all winter. Everything seems simple until you think about it. Why is love intensified by absence?

Long ago, men went to sea, and women waited for them, standing on the edge of the water, scanning the horizon for the tiny ship. Now I wait for Henry. He vanishes unwillingly, without warning. I wait for him. Each moment that I wait feels like a year, an eternity. Each moment is as slow and transparent as glass. Through each moment I can see infinite moments lined up, waiting.

Why has he gone where I cannot follow?


Sigh. For a strange premise worthy of science fiction, Niffenegger manages to create a hauntingly bittersweet romance that has you laughing and crying all throughout, experiencing love and loss along with Henry and Clare. Beautiful!

My copy: trade paperback upgraded into hardcover with dustjacket (mooched from Vee in CA)

My rating: 5/5 stars