A CONVERSATION WITH JOHN MICHAEL CUMMINGS

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In his most recent novel, John Michael Cummings explores a painful and traumatic intersection of  family and mental illness.  As we mentioned in our review of the book, Don’t Forget Me, Bro is not a heart-warming family tale of redemption and faith, but it is “an engrossing, honest, and empathetic account of the bravery, will-power, and perseverance it takes to endure mental illness on a daily basis.”

This week, we had a chance to get to know John Michael Cummings a little better and to further explore the influences and motivations behind Don’t Forget Me, Bro.  What follows is a heartfelt and poetic conversation about trauma, memory, mental illness, fear, and perseverance…with a little added flair of Bruce Springsteen and The Hardy Boys:

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Beyond the Pale Motel by Francesca Lia Block

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There is a skeleton of pain beneath your flesh and I can see it.

Francesca Lia Block has been a sensation in the YA scene for over 15 years.  Since her 1989 debut of Weetzie Bat, Block has been casting spells over readers with tales of magical realism in the glittering world of Los Angeles.  With a fearless exploration of love, sex, abuse, heartbreak, and redemption, her novels are powerful yet whimsical portrayals of growth, discovery, and perseverance.

With this novel, Block steps out of her YA comfort zone and into the Adult Mystery genre with a tale of lust, deceit, addiction, and murder in L.A.  Beyond the Pale Motel introduces readers to Catt, a fierce yet deeply heartbroken and damaged woman.  After more than ten years of sobriety, Catt and her best friend Bree are finally settling into positive routines, happiness, and health.

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Don’t Forget Me, Bro by John Michael Cummings

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You can’t, you shouldn’t, go home again.  Still you do, and must

John Michael Cummings’s recent novel is a heartbreaking and highly-charged portrait of one family’s struggle with abuse, mental illness, death and grief.  When narrator Mark Barr’s bother dies unexpectedly, he must return to his hometown of Alma, West Virginia after a decade of absence to honor Steve’s last wishes and bury him next to their grandfather.  But when Mark’s family cannot agree on how to handle Steve’s physical remains, emotions run high and each member of the family must face their personal demons before healing can begin.

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Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken

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The soul is liquid, and slow to evaporate.  The body’s a bucket and liable to slosh.

A 2014 National Book Award finalist, Thunderstruck has certainly earned its place among competing titles.  Comprised of 9 short stories, Elizabeth McCracken’s collection is nothing short of haunting – and I’m not just saying that because we’re getting close to Halloween.  These unforgettable tales are mesmerizing and devastating as McCracken explores aspects of love, grief, family, death, companionship and loneliness.

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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

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You can hide memories, but you can’t erase the history that produced them

Haruki Murakami’s thirteenth novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage follows a mid-30s engineer in Tokyo who reluctantly returns to a painful and traumatic memory, and, with the help of his girlfriend Sara, decides to pursue the truth behind his suffering.

As a teenager in the 90s, Tsukuru Tazaki developed a very close group of four friends – two men and two women – each with last names that represent a color, with the exception of Tsukuru, whose Japanese name does not indicate any particular color.  Thus, Tsukuru developed his nickname of “colorless.”  Of course the nickname is meant to be harmless enough, but Tsukuru deeply internalizes this idea of himself as colorless, and it greatly affects his self-perception as an adult.  Murakami writes:

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