Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Algonquin Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.
When I learned that Alan Shapiro, a prize-winning poet, wrote his first novel, I knew I had to take a look. Broadway Baby, the story of a woman who can't quite seem to accept the fact that she's not the next Fanny Brice, was released last week. Here's the publisher's summary:
As a little girl growing up in Boston, Miriam Bluestein fantasized about a life lived on stage, specifically in a musical. Get married, have a family—sure, maybe she’d do those things, too, but first and foremost there was her career. As a woman, she is both tormented and consoled by those dreams in her day-to-day existence with her family, including a short-tempered husband, a cranky mother, and three demanding children, one of whom, Ethan, shows real talent for the stage.All ten-year-olds dream of what they want to be when they grow up. In the 1930s, Miriam Bluestein envisioned herself on the stage, singing and dancing to a rapt audience. The closest she ever got, however, was being a backstage mom to a reluctant acting son.
It is through Ethan that Miriam strives to realize her dreams. As she pushes him to make the most of his talent, the rest of her life gradually comes undone, with her husband becoming increasingly frustrated and her other two children—Sam, a mass of quirks and idiosyncrasies, and Julie, hostile and bitter—withdrawing into their own worlds. Still Miriam dreams, praying for that big finale, which, when it comes, is nothing that she ever could have imagined.
Poor Miriam, you can't help but sympathize with her one moment and then want to shake some sense into the next. So often she likes the idea of something (being married to a handsome GI, for example) much better than actually doing it. We've all been there, but Miriam takes it to extremes. Her biggest problem, though, is that she has trouble seeing life as anything but a play. Thus, because the appearance of her actions are all important, she never quite gets it right, no matter what her role: wife, mother, or even friend.
One of Shapiro's many talents is his ability to mix humor and sadness almost in the same breath. And really, isn't that the way life is sometimes? Broadway Baby takes readers through the ups and downs of Miriam's attempts to convince her family to play by her script.
Here are a couple of other opinions (click on the links to read the full reviews):
- D. G. Martin, writing for The Pilot: "When great poets like Shapiro write their novels, they bring their powers of wordsmithery to the page. They work with their words so that they do more than simply describe the action, so that the pleasure of reading a good story is enhanced."
- Pam Kelley at The Reading Life: "Sometimes, my favorite parts of a novel are its bits of nonfiction--delicious, crazy facts the author pulls from real life and weaves into the story. This is the case with Alan Shapiro’s 'Broadway Baby,' a novel studded with comic anecdotes so good it would be hard to make them up."
Algonquin Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Executive Editor Chuck Adams's introductory letter, posted here on January 7, 2011.