Dragons, Agathas, a medieval boy and a visit to Lake Wobegon – Twin Towns

Dragons and Agatha Christie. A poor boy in 14th century Venice and the latest news from Lake Wobegon. Who could ask for more from Minnesota writers on a spring Sunday?

Book cover for 'When Women Were Dragons' by Kelly Barnhill.
“When Women Were Dragons” by Kelly Barnhill.

When women were dragons by Kelly Barnhill (Doubleday, $ 28)

In the first chaotic weeks after Mass Dragoning, Sister Margaret, my third-grade teacher, taught us the previously accepted explanation that dragons either fled from hell or were deliberately released from their Demon Gate by sinister forces in the hidden global war between good and evil. and the evil (presumably Russian) had consumed a certain subset of the nation’s mothers, for unknown reasons. And probable causes are unknown. After all, who can reason with a dragon? This, of course, was wildly wrong, but most people were still struggling with the events of that day – burning buildings and devouring husbands and half-exploding homes and motherless children crying in the streets.

Kelly Barnhill could not have realized when she wrote “When Women Were Dragons” how foresighted it would be when it went on sale this month.

Minnesotan Barnhill specializes in fiction for young adults, including her Newbery Medal winner “The Girl Who Drank the Moon.”

In her first novel for adults, she combines growing age with imagination to tell the story of Mass Dragoning from 1955, in which 300,000 ordinary wives and mothers shed their skins and turned into dragons that were glorious in their colorful scales. Some set off in search of the stars, others created municipalities in mountains, and some went to the seas. Everyone was free of men’s dictation in the decade before “The Feminine Mysticism” and the second wave of feminism.

Among those who took flight was Alex Green’s aunt Marla, a strong lesbian who wore boots and trousers and fixed cars. Marla left behind her young daughter, Beatrice, who was taken into Alex’s family as her sister. The talk of Marla and the attraction was considered inappropriate. It was like that womanlike talking about menstruation.

Every branch of government tried to suppress information about thousands of women who shed their skins and fled, even though people saw them with their own eyes. Textbooks were regularly rewritten to provide new instructions on what children could and could not learn. (If this does not sound familiar right now, you have not been aware.)

When Alex’s mother dies, the girl’s cold father, who has a new family, puts Alex and Beatrice in a cheap apartment and tells the teenager that she is old enough to be Beatrice’s mother.

One of the most tender parts of this story is the violent love between the girls. Alex, who has inherited his mother’s math skills, also hides his mother’s knotwork, clothes and scarves with beautiful, intricate knots that symbolize Alex and Beatrice’s relationship.

Creating a life for Beatrice and going to school is exhausting for Alex, who is sometimes furious at her mother because she never talks about her aunt’s attraction, and her aunt for going away.

And then the dragons return.

The story is told in the first person by Alex, who looks back on his childhood, mixed with testimony from a scientist in front of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, who tries to prevent the man from exploring dragons. (Contempt for science. Sounds familiar?)

Barnhill’s prose is beautiful and powerful. Those of us who came of age in the 1950s understand this book in our hearts because, apart from the dragons, we are once again living in the power of oppression of women.

The Agathas by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson (Delacourt Press, $ 18.99)

“And,” Alice says, ‘if I’m going to find out what happened to Brooke Donovan, I need you to be my sidekick. You know people like Thompson do not think we can do that. Like “No one thought Agatha Christie could write an unsolvable mystery. People underestimate women all the time. And I’m tired of it.” “

Miss Marple would be proud of Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson for writing “The Agathas,” a mystery about two young women inspired by one of Agatha Christie’s most enduring characters.

Kathleen Glasgow, former coordinator of the master’s program in creative writing at the University of Minnesota, lives in Arizona. She is the bestselling author of “Girl in Pieces” and “You’d Be Home by Now.” Liz Lawson, who lives outside of Washington, DC, wrote “The Lucky Ones,” which Kirkus Reviews chose as best book in 2020.

Now, these prominent writers came together to write one of the spring season’s most appealing young adult books, a damn thing with a high school vibe of bad girls, Tik Tok, and strictly separate social groups.

The question is – who killed high school student Brooke Donovan? The town of Castle Cove knows basketball star Steve did not, even though police have him in custody. Alice Ogilvie is suspected because she disappeared for five days earlier and authorities believe the dead girl may have imitated Alice.

Alice, who comes from a rich family, is a mother around where she was during her disappearance, but she can not escape house arrest in her family’s mansion to disturb everyone. To help her with homework, she has appointed Iris Adams as her mentor. Iris is poor and scared of her father, who is so violent that she thinks of him as “The Thing”. She is saving money to get her and her mother to safety in northern Minnesota.

Iris and Alice hardly know each other, even though they go to the same high school. Alice eats lunch at the Mains table, which consists of the elite who run the school. Iris sits at a table with the Zones, thrown together because they are all poor and on the edge of student life.

As the two girls gently become friends, Alice Iris convinces that Steve, her ex-boyfriend, could not have killed anyone. Moreover, even though Brooke took Steve away from Alice, she still cares about him. And Brooke was her best friend. Iris agrees to the plan because Brooke’s wealthy grandmother offers a $ 50,000 reward for information about the girl’s death. That would be enough money to get her and her mother out of town and away from the thing.

Luckily, Alice Agatha has Christie’s complete works, and the girls set out to find the killer with the help of some of Iris’ Zoner friends.

Each chapter begins with a quote from a Christie novel, while Iris and Alice pursue clues beginning with the Halloween party from which Brooke disappeared.

This seems to be the beginning of a series that is easy and fun reading for readers of all ages. As Iris says to Alice in the last line of the book: “We might as well do some problems together.”

In a joint interview with the authors, sent to the media by their publisher, the women say they both started their careers writing what Lawson calls Very Sad Books. By 2020, writing that kind of book felt “even heavier than it did before.” So they started talking about writing a FUN book. Thanks to Lawson’s collection of Christie novels, they found their inspiration.

Book jacket for 'Boom Town;
“Boom Town: A Lake Wobegon Novel” by Garrison Keillor.

“Boom Town” by Garrison Keillor (Prairie Home Productions, $ 26.99)

Norm had told me about the start-ups that had taken over the city, such as Universal Fire, which handcrafted twenty-year-old firewood from white oak and ash, non-GMC, in upper height, seasoned with sea salt. It also got into artisanal ice, made from Lake Superior water, and tapped virgin oxygen from the northern wilderness. The founder, Rob McCarter, had an MFA in creative writing, and the artisanal firewood business was right up his alley.

The small town that time has forgotten is changing, and 79-year-old former radio host Garrison Keillor admires the millennials who are changing the city as he recalls his youth with his childhood friends during a visit to his hometown.

In “Boom Town,” Keillor again confuses us as to the boundary between the fictional Keillor and the “real” man. He talks about the death of his radio show and his books, which several Lake Wobegonians dislike because Keillor made them sound like rubes.

While young entrepreneurs make things like Woke alarm clocks, dance videos that teach math, and a detoxifying order made from honey and grasshoppers, he sees that Bunsen Motors and Krebsbach Chev are gone, Halvorson Hardware has been replaced by a grocer called The Common Good , and Dorothy at Chatterbox Cafe has healthier food on the menu.

“Boom Town” is plotless. We follow Keillor as he roams the city, meeting people he likes and dislikes, and spends a lot of time talking to his first love, Arlene Bunsen, who is in a wheelchair and dying of cancer. Keillor is scheduled to pay tribute at the funeral of his brother, Norm Gunderson.

Because there is no separation between the two Keillors, a reader may become uncomfortable reading a little too much about his love summer with Arlene, as well as his passion for his wife in New York, who flies to Minnesota to have sex in the cabin of Norm. traveled to Keillor, and where young Keillor spent the summer, he became a man (with enthusiastic help from Arlene). That cottage is so much a part of his life that he decides to renovate the old structure.

This book is vintage Keillor – fun, gripping, a tribute to old friendships. His “A Prairie Home Companion” audience will welcome these well-known citizens of Lake Wobegone. Younger people who may not know anything about the radio program should read it as a warning about living in the present because life goes fast.

Book jacket for 'The Ballot Boy'
“The Ballot Boy” by Larry Mellman.

“Ballot paper” by Larry Mellman (NineStar Press, no price quoted)

ONEstolfo removes my tunic and shirt; the duke’s men take off my leggings and pants. They scatter me on a seven foot wheel. Every tender point is exposed. I’m suffering for what I did. Maybe it’s going to end like this because I’ve become a monster. I open my mouth to shout that I’m telling the truth, but Leopold stuffs it with his handkerchief.

Nico is 14 years old, a street hedgehog who lives in the Republic of Venice in 1368. The old doge is dead, and since Nico is the first boy to close his eyes to the youngest member of the Dog’s Great Council, Nico traditionally becomes the Ballot boy, a lifetime position where he counts ballots for the upcoming election of a new leader and tries to keep the reigning nobles honest.

The vote goes to Andrea Contarini, who will be the 60th Doge in Venice and Nico’s boss. Contarini does not want the job, which is mostly ceremonial, because he has to take orders from the council, consisting of generations of men from rich families.

Nico is gay, but has to keep his sexuality a secret. He saw a man burned at the stake for that offense, and he never forgot it.

There is a lot of politics in this book, as well as warfare. The hostile Duke of Austria pressures Trieste to rebel against Venetian domination, and the Venetian nobles are divided between hawks who want war and merchants who are desperate for peace. The dog only trusts Nico and sends the boy to Trieste to be his eyes and ears. This is where he falls in love with Astolfo, the ambitious and charismatic Lord of Castle Mocco.

It does not go well for Nico, who is in the clutches of the church and his enemies, who are willing to torture him to death on the stand.

In addition to the excitement of political input, readers will learn a lot in the “Ballot” about life in Venice seven centuries ago.

Mellman, a 75-year-old gay man living in St. Louis, Missouri Paul, lived in Venice for five years, when “The Ballot Boy” was born (and completed in St. Paul). Mellman collaborated with Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground on Exploding Plastic Inevitable, a series of multimedia events hosted by Warhol in 1966-’67 in New York and California. Mellman was mentored by bestselling author Dean Koontz and shared a palace in Venice with international opera singer Erika Sunnegardh.

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