Book Report: Ruins (and other literary events)

Book Report: Ruins (and other literary events)

If Akashic Books once seemed an imprint for punk-crafted literature, Achy Obejas’ latest book, Ruins (published by Akashic this month) proves otherwise.

Ruins is a rare work of true literary fiction. Slight but weighty, dreamy yet emotive and as much poetry as it is a story, the book deserves comparison to early works by Michael Ondaatje.

“The man dies alone (regardless of what that woman from Indiana had said), Usnavy noted, his moment in the spotlight long gone, all those people who’d bought those lamps once thought of as treasured having moved on to the next thing, the lamps stowed away in basements and attics all over the eastern seaboard and Midwest of the United States,” Obejas writes near the end of the novel. This is how the text flows: it has a rhythm and a lulling sing-song even if the reader is unfamiliar with the storyline.

Usnavy is the main character, his name both laughable and meaningful. Middle-aged and keen to parry disillusionment, Usnavy runs a small store, plays dominos with his friends and reads. This is Cuba, circa 1994, a country buckling under the weight of poverty. Usnavy thinks about those who left the country, those who make their desperate escapes on “homemade sails on boards,” while trying to provide for his wife and daughter. But there is never enough. “He still hadn’t figured out any kind of plan,” Obejas writes. “He still didn’t have a clue what to do. He still didn’t have a single dollar to his name.”

At turns spare and lush, Ruins centers on a glass lamp that belonged to Usnavy’s mother. This one treasured item serves as the portal to a mystery, even as Usnavy’s day to day existence seems little more than an exercise in susbsisting as Cuba crumbles around him.

Achy Obejas presents Ruins at Malaprop’s on Friday, March 20. The 7 p.m. event is free. Info: 254-6734.

Also this month:

• Pamela Duncan (author of Moon Women, Plant Life and The Big Beautiful) appears at in the Kaplan Auditorium of the Henderson County Public Library as part of the Local Author Series. Thursday, March 19, 4 p.m.

• The Flatiron Writers (Geneve Bacon, Toby Heaton and Heather Newton) read from their short story collection at Accent on Books  on Friday, March 20.  Wine and cheese reception starts at 6 p.m., with reading and discussion to follow.

• Cecil Bothwell is set to release the second edition of his best-selling city guide, Finding Your Way in Asheville—2009, at Malaprop’s. Wednesday, March 25, 7 p.m.

• The Flood Reading Series at the Phil Mechanic Studios (109 Roberts St., Asheville) brings four writers on Sunday, March 29, 1 p.m. Justin Gardiner is the 2008-09 Joan Beebe Fellow in Creative Writing at Warren Wilson College; Amanda Gardner is a UNCA student; Carl Adkins is an Iowa transplant; Landon Godfrey recently appeared in Offending the Audience at the BeBe Theatre. Info: 776 8438.

—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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