Winter Rose by Patricia A. McKillip

Having greatly enjoyed my first McKillip book, In the Forests of Serre, I moved immediately to Winter Rose with great anticipation.   Rois and Laurel are two sisters, opposites in every way.  Laurel is calm, serene and happily making beautiful lacey things  for her upcoming wedding to Perrin.  Rois prefers losing herself in the woods, wandering barefoot collecting flowers and herbs.  One day handsome Corbet Lynn shows up at crumbling Lynn Hall intent on rebuilding his family home, stirring up gossip and talk in the village of the murder that took place years before and the curse on the Lynn family.

At this point I was enjoying the “gentle elegance” of McKillip’s style (as described by Library Journal), but scratching my head thinking that this story was shaping up as a typical historical romance.  Around about Chapter 7 I began to realize that things weren’t quite what they seemed.  That charming spring in the woods reflected more than just the bramble roses hiding it, and Rois was hearing more than just the wind in the trees.  Not to mention that odd look in Corbet’s eye. 

McKillip weaves a tale as intricate as that tangle of bramble roses, drawing us into her fantasy world (or should I say worlds?) and holding us there with beautiful, evocative language.  I’ve already started my third McKillip book of the summer,The Bell at Sealey Head, and it’s only May.

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The Mysterious Life of the Heart edited by Sy Safransky

Very few books have captivated me like The Mysterious Life of the Heart: Writing from The Sun about Passion, Longing, and Love.  In this anthology, The Sun Magazine has brought together previously published essays, poetry, and short stories that probes love in all its various guises for a journey replete with ecstasy, heartbreak, and all the moments in between.  This is a cerebral, accessible examination of the erotic, eviscerating effects of love on the body and the soul. 

A few of the highlights include the essay “Bleeding Dharma” by Stephen T. Butterfield where Butterfield honestly explores his feelings of grief when his wife walks out on him on their anniversary.  It is a brutal examination of the extraction of love and the horror of betrayal.  Butterfield masterfully walks the reader through the conflicting, bitter emotions that flay the spouse who is left to behind in the wake of an affair.

A direct counterpoint is presented in the short story, “Ten Things” by Leslie Pietrzyk, who writes of a woman whose husband has died young.  Pietrzyk’s character examines the subtle, powerful ways in which she knew her husband loved her.  Suniti Landgé writes an erotic short story of longing and infidelity of the heart and mind in her short story, “Small Things.”

Although every essay, poem, and short story in this anthology encapsulates moments of love, it is North Carolina author, Krista Bremer’s essay “My Accidental Jihad” that, to me, exemplifies marriage and love with its message of tolerance and mutual understanding.  Bremer shares her conflicting feelings of watching her husband, Ismail, undertake his month-long fast for Ramadan.  Bremer best describes their differences of religion when she contrasts Ismail’s God as “the old-fashioned kind, omnipresent and stern, uncompromising with his demands” with her more tolerant version of God, who “is a flamboyant and fickle friend with biting wit who likes a good party.”

However, as Ramadan progresses, Bremer contemplates the meaning behind the ritual as she watches Ismail’s strict observance of the fast.  He teaches her that the “greatest jihad . . . of our lives is not the one that takes place on a battlefield, but the one that takes place within our hearts,” and Bremer faces her own intolerance and self-absorption.  She is an excellent student of life, because by watching him, she looks inward to herself and incorporates the meaning of his fast to herself and their marriage.  She wonders: “Is love an endless feast, or is it what people manage to serve each other when their cupboards are bare?”

There is nothing superficial about this anthology nor are these writings so erudite as to be elitist.  You can read them to yourself, read them to your lover but if ever you have loved or been loved, then read them you must.  I have spoken many times about looking deeply into the world around us, and the writers showcased in The Mysterious Life of the Heart do just that.

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