Discover Sylvia Brownrigg’s Novels

Pages for You by Sylvia Brownrigg (Picador, 2002)

Note: This is the first book of two, both of which I’ve read. The sequel is Pages for Her, but these are stand-alone novels although I highly recommend reading both. Rare to my experience, I found that the two acutely observed characters, Flannery and Anne, who fall in love at Yale, feel very comfortable with some of my experience. Other readers may not identify with Anne and Flannery to the extent that I did, but they will be entranced by their powerful physical and emotional attraction. Some may find the insertion of bisexuality upsetting; others may find the complexity welcome and a fresh relief from the usual either/or orientation choices. I, for one, felt known and understood by the author, and, curiously, as a writer myself, I was frequently aware of an incredible sensation: that these characters might be ones I could create or, in part, already had.

Pages for You is told from Flannery’s perspective. She is a college freshman, seventeen, impulsive, and falls hard for Anne, who is twenty-eight, a TA in the same English department. The overpowering intensity of first love is perfectly captured, as is Anne’s reaction—Anne is the older, wiser, more experienced woman, yet she is unable to resist Flannery. The contrast between these two is brilliantly handled and reflects their differences, yet Brownrigg makes us feel the heat, passion, and understanding as these differences dissolve in the face of their affair. The writing has fine pacing, created by the use of short chapters, yet the author builds her story with care, into an evocative commemoration of a relationship of beauty, subtlety, and originality. Brownrigg is a fine stylist and an insightful writer who perceives the psychological complexity of her characters. Highly recommended (both titles).

Pages for Her by Sylvia Brownrigg (Counterpoint, 2018)

Unlike the first book, which is told solely from Flannery’s perspective, Pages for Her is told from Flannery’s point of view as well as Anne’s. As a result, Brownrigg achieves even better balance and complexity as she weaves together the lives of the two women, and we learn about the paths taken in the years they are apart, after their brief incandescent affair at Yale, when Flannery was a freshman and Anne was a TA in the English department. The story begins again, two decades later. Flannery is married to a famous sculptor, a selfish, boorish man, who—if the novel has a single flaw—is so annoying as to make the reader incredulous that she would be attracted to him. Flannery now has a young daughter, Willa, and Flannery’s maternal feelings are brilliantly depicted. However, it is the character of Anne, eleven years older than Flannery, who drew me in and made me feel a strong resonance with her personality. Anne has reached a wistful age and has been hurt because her partner, Jasper, the love of Anne’s interim years, has left her. (In a nice piece of irony, Anne opted for Jasper over Flannery many years before.) Now, at forty-eight, Anne is at sea—literally, in one of the opening scenes—and she is also searching and assessing her life. When a women’s conference is held at Yale, both women return and the story reignites where the first book ended. The lives and the love story are beautifully rendered; the characters written with strong and yet different personalities. Both follow roads away from their lesbian affair and select a heterosexual primary relationship, and yet the magnetic pull between the two women is the thread that unites them. The fluid sexuality is adroitly handled and explores the range in a way few contemporary novels manage with such believable success. Let’s hope Sylvia Brownrigg has a third book in the making, because the reader will want to continue this evocative saga.

The Delivery Room by Sylvia Brownrigg (Counterpoint, 2008)

The Delivery Room was published in between Brownrigg’s two linked novels, Pages for Her and Pages for You, and is a considerably different creation. This is a “big” novel, with multiple characters whose lives interweave, and a changing point of view, which allows for different perspectives and amplifications of the characters’ histories, thoughts, and feelings. If there is a central protagonist, it would be Mira, a therapist who was born and raised in Serbia. Her English husband, Peter, is dying, so this is also his story and the story of his family and relationships. The war in Serbia is also incorporated, though I would have preferred less detail about its history and the ongoing news there, which is frequently updated throughout, because this shifts the emphasis away from the primary location and characters. In creating Mira, Brownrigg has done a brilliant job synthesizing the numerous pulls and pushes she deals with: her husband’s encroaching illness, the needs of her therapeutic clients, her grave concern about her Serbian family, and her feeling of uneasiness about being a Serbian woman in England. Her character is rich with complexity—true also of Peter and many others. “The Delivery Room” is a very readable novel, with a fascinating cast—the reader will surely find a character who resonates or an experience that hits home.

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“The Ship of State,” a new poem

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“The Ungodly Hour” Is Published!

A Murder Mystery and Romance set on Mykonos.

The black-robed figure entered the viewfinder just as Dana Fox squeezed the
shutter. They hadn’t been there a second before…

While leading a weeklong photography workshop on picturesque Mykonos,
instructor Dana Fox is entranced by the brilliant light of the Greek island, as well
as by the dark beauty, Cybele Karabélias, a local policewoman. But her idyllic
sojourn takes an ominous turn when a series of gruesome murders rock the town.
Heedless of the possible dangers surrounding her, Dana continues to document the
isle in sunlit photographs, unaware of the killer edging closer, hungry for closure
and the evidence she unknowingly possesses.

Author’s Book Launch: Come celebrate: Sunday, April 19, 3:00 pm at Hotel Tides, 408 Seventh Avenue, Asbury Park, NJ. Reading, book-signing and sale (also will feature the madcap comedy, Fabulous! An Opera Buffa. Free event.

Copies are now available at, Amazon, or (signed copies) at the author’s website:

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“Contagious Dementia”

I am pleased to announce the publication of a creative non-fiction piece, “Contagious Dementia,” in the first issue of Alt-Minds Literary magazine. Hope you enjoy it!

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“A Certain Loneliness” by Sandra Gail Lambert

“An ‘Outsider’ Writer” by Laury A. Egan

I became aware of Sandra Gail Lambert through a fine article in Poets & Writers about “Outsider” writers—in her case, a writer crippled by polio since her early days. Immediately, I ordered the book of memoirs, and as I began reading, I kept thinking that most readers would consider Lambert brave: for kayaking when she is disabled (in waters frequented by alligators) and for often living alone when she is wheelchair-bound and dealing with constant pain and fatigue. Yes, she is brave—as an author—to write honestly about her life, but I suspect Lambert would deny that she’s personally brave. Instead, her life is about conquering logistics, deciding how much physical strength she will have each day, how long her wheelchair battery will last, and how she will negotiate tricky terrain, all doing as much as possible by herself, without help. A number of times in the book she allows strangers to lend a hand, but if she is able to calculate ways to get from Point A to Point B and succeed alone, that’s her first choice.

As a semi-disabled woman and a writer, A Certain Loneliness made me aware of how strongly I felt about being independent, in part because there are times and places where no one will come to the rescue or others (including friends) will disappear and avoid a disabled person. Independence becomes a primary aspiration, because if you don’t develop and hone this trait, you’ll fail to live the fullest version of your life. I completely get this attitude and applaud Lambert for becoming expert at independence and for rejecting self pity. The latter is really hard because it’s so easy to compare one’s limited existence with those who never think twice about walking on uneven pavement, bumpy ground, or thick snow and sand, or to deal with the terrors of stairs; who never have to pace themselves and marshal their energy; who never have to deal with the deleterious effects of chronic pain. Each reader—particularly those who are disabled—will find valuable lessons in coping and adapting to adversity and loss in this book. Others will have their consciousness raised and, hopefully, will become more sensitized to the ongoing struggles of women and men who must live with impairments. All will admire Lambert’s deeply passionate writing about Florida’s birds and wildlife. She is also refreshingly open about her lesbianism, presenting it smoothly in mentions of ex-lovers and the community of women who surround her.

For me, I heard Lambert’s quiet message about giving myself permission to be tired, to not be ashamed that I can’t do as much as others or what I once was able to do. She teaches us to live to the maximum—to our individual maximum—on our terms, regardless of restrictions. A Certain Loneliness is an inspiring and uncompromising book, written with candor, directness, and humanity.

2018, University of Nebraska Press      Amazon:,204,203,200_QL70_&dpSrc=srch

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“Call Me by Your Name”

Last night, I watched “Call Me by Your Name” and found my reaction was surprisingly uneven. I’d love to know what other viewers thought about the film. Please comment! The first issue was the rudeness as displayed by Oliver, arriving and crashing on the bed, skipping dinner on his first night with a new family (and other times), and his overall thoughtless and unlikable behavior. Whether the filmmaker/writer was trying to portray an arrogant American dropped into a sophisticated household or to set up the character’s later change into a more sensitive man, I had trouble feeling any sympathy for Oliver and–other than he looked like a handsome god–couldn’t believe that Elio would fall for him, except in a very plastic way, which didn’t seem to fit Elio’s deep personality. This was a big hurdle to get over, one I never quite managed. The father’s conversations with his son also grated. Why was he whining about never having the same kind of love (as Oliver and Elio) in his life when it seemed that he and his wife were quite close and a great couple? Felt a little like the father-son dialogues were an opportunity to moralize and “tell” us some of the movie’s themes in case we were too dim to figure them out. Give me the depth and complexity of “Brokeback Mountain” any day. While I applaud the subtle and beautiful nature of the film, it needed to begin with the Oliver character less obnoxious so we didn’t have to travel so far to get into the relationship.

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“The New Valley” by Josh Weil

The New Valley is an extremely impressive collection of three novellas, the first two more akin to each other, but the third, “Sarverville Remains,” is one of the best pieces I’ve read this year. Told in the voice of a “diminished” young man, it is brilliantly written, with a plot that circles around until the story is fully told. Maintaining the style of Geoffrey, the story’s narrator, must have been a difficult task but is seamlessly handled by Weil. The first two novellas are also very fine and more classically approached. As reviewed, this author’s style, settings, and moods share similarities with Kent Haruf and Annie Proulx. Highly recommended. Available in paperback.

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“Beautiful Gravity” by Martin Hyatt

Beautiful Gravity: A Novel

by Martin Hyatt

Antibookclub, 2016


“They say towns like this don’t exist anymore, but I know that they do because I live here. Noxington is one of those towns where the big stores that sell everything…have yet to be built.” The opening lines of the first chapter lay out a small, hardscrabble Louisiana town where thirty-six-year-old Boz Matthews lives, not completely by choice, but because when he attempts to leave, he feels sick. He is trapped by his anxieties and loneliness, his awareness of his homosexuality, and his feelings of responsibility to his grandfather, who took him in after his mother walked into his family’s burning home and died. As Boz says about himself: “…no matter who I am with or how many people I am around, I never feel like I’m truly with anyone but me.” Boz escapes his claustrophobic existence by watching movies, listening to music, and fantasizing, until his friend Meg, who is chronically suicidal, returns after discharge from a mental hospital. Then, a glamorous, world-worn singer, Catty, arrives with Kyle, an ex-boxer. The four eventually form a fluid nuclear family of sorts, in which each shifts from heterosexuality to homosexuality in a rotation that fulfills unspoken deep needs. Hyatt handles this flexibility with smooth skill, applying an almost post-gay mentality in which his characters exist as themselves rather than as figures with fixed sexualities, a new trend in contemporary literature that should be applauded. Each person is treated with respect and sympathy by the author, an attitude that reflects his own humanity. He has also created a contained physical world for this novel, one more reminiscent of an intimate theater piece, despite the astutely observed backdrop of Noxington. Most action takes place in the diner, where Boz works, and his room above the diner; the tightly enfolding setting seems to amplify the intensity of the relationships.

Although the location is extremely different, there are some similarities between Hyatt’s novel and the work of the South African writer, Damon Galgut, who usually features an outsider, a young man wandering in search of something he can’t define. The characters in Beautiful Gravity have all united in one place, however, but the narrator evinces much of the same quiet, tragic solitariness, the quest for meaning and self-understanding. Throughout, Hyatt’s writing is fresh and accomplished, with numerous memorable lines that sizzle with simple and piercing honesty. Boz provides this telling analysis about himself: “Most of us in towns like this stay put. Besides, it’s the only thing I know how to do well. I am excellent at staying.” And as Meg says to Boz, “Your being alive and my desire for death are the only things that make me happy.” Or, as Boz says about his grandfather: “You can’t just leave someone that takes you at a time when there is nothing about you worth having.”

Beautiful Gravity is a blend of bleak realism and uplifting transcendence, of despondency and hopefulness, told tenderly by the narrator. Because of the outstanding success of this novel, Martin Hyatt’s next work will undoubtedly garner major publishing interest. I look forward to reading it!—Laury A. Egan, author of The Outcast Oracle and, forthcoming, Fabulous! An Opera Buffa


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Review: I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody by Sinan Antoon

I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody

by Sinan Antoon

City Lights Publishers, 2007

“Pentimento” is a fine descriptor for Sinan Antoon’s layered novella, one that incorporates a young student’s gritty and terrifying incarceration, poetic and beautifully rendered romantic memories, and recollections on life under Saddam Hussein’s harsh totalitarian regime. The text whirls between joy, humor, sadness, horror, and fear; dipping in and out of what the protagonist is experiencing or has experienced; blurring the lines between past, present, reality, dreams, and hallucinations. The evocative first line: “Two clouds kissed silently in the Baghdad sky” soon collides with the line uttered by a member of the secret police: “If you move again, I swear to God I’ll crush your teeth.” This is a rhapsody to the author’s country as it once was, to the proud spirit of the Iraqi people, yet it is also a cry of profound grief, as Antoon has witnessed his nation being trampled by dictators and its riches plundered. The work is powerful and complex, authentic and honest, a devastating warning. –Laury A. Egan


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A Swirling, Deftly Written Collection

The Jungle Around Us: Stories by Anne Raeff

2016, University of Georgia Press – Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Stories

These stories are beguiling in their quiet simplicity, but, as one proceeds through the collection, they gather mass, until, at the book’s end, the reader marvels at their accumulative weight. Raeff achieves this, all the while maintaining a light elegance in her prose; she is that rare writer, a humble one, who keeps her head down and hides her power, or attempts to do so, yet her brilliance shines through. She draws her characters with deftness, interconnecting many of them throughout the book, which is why, perhaps, it feels that the author keeps cracking open doors to show a bigger picture than the one within the pages. Indeed, each story seems to contain a novella or a novel within, as if the text had been gently whittled down. Though Raeff is expert at this short length, it would be wonderful to have these stories expanded into longer works.

Due to the interweaving of some characters, the collection eddies in our consciousness, as, one by one, we meet the protagonists and then move on to another set of people, only to return to the original characters again. This swirling effect is increased by their heady dislocation into humid jungles, literally and psychically, and then their escape into the cool, colorless cities of New York or Leningrad. The extreme contrasts inherent in these environments are augmented by the peculiar displacement of the characters and their families—most are of Jewish/Middle-European heritage, who have escaped Nazi Germany. These transplants seem incompatible in their new locations, places such as Bolivia, yet they often find unexpected solace and self-awareness there.

This collection should be read twice in order to draw the strings more tightly between stories with repeated characters and also to experience the nuanced themes more fully–Laury A. Egan, author of Fog and Other Stories and Fabulous! (forthcoming, November)


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