Wednesday, May 03, 2006



WILD STARS SEEKING MIDNIGHT SUNS (Doubleday, 2006) is the latest collection of short stories from playwright, novelist, and short fiction writer J. California Cooper. Readers are invited to learn from the mistakes of a cross-section of women and men. In "As Time Goes By," Futila Ways invests her time in satisfying and keeping tabs on her lover. She thinks her sister is foolish for pursuing an education. "The Eye of the Beholder," the strongest story in the collection, follows Lily Bea's efforts at self-improvement. Believing her to be ugly, her mother arranges a loveless marriage to an old, skinflint dry cleaner. Lily Bea's beauty shines as she finally gains love and independence. Tashyah and Greg are both bored by their lives and material possessions in "Success" but neither knows how to sustain a meaningful relationship. "Just-Life Politics" is the funniest story. On his death bed, a miserly employer asks his maid to pray for him. Her response is hilarious.

Cooper encourages readers to extend themselves beyond the mundane into a larger, beautiful world full of opportunities. But, in order to enjoy all that the world offers, one must choose carefully how and with whom to invest time, energy, and love.

For your consideration:

The Random House Readers' Companion includes a biographical sketch. Its questions for book clubs are particularly good. I am "borrowing" question 2 for this post:

"Cooper has been praised throughout her career for her unique style. How would you define that narrative style? Do the narrators in each story adopt a common tone and/or speak from a common situation, or are there significant differences between her narrators? What are the strengths of this style, and what might be its shortcomings? Which characters do you feel tell their stories most effectively? Can you think of other writers who use the same kind of narrative device?"

The book's dust jacket includes the following words of praise:
“My fifth grade teacher, who has since become one of my friends, one day said, ‘Instead of calling and asking me for advice, try reading J. California Cooper.’”

—Halle Berry, from “Halle Berry’s Bookshelf” in O, The Oprah Magazine, on Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime

How useful is J. California Cooper's "advice"?

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