Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Just Another...Book Crush (#2): Small Damages by Beth Kephart

Just Another...Book Crush! is a monthly feature where I invite an author whose book I've recently reviewed and loved to write a guest post and share their three latest book crushes. It's a feature I'm starting mostly because I'm often very shy to approach authors, especially ones I admire, and also because I love reading guest posts since, more often than not, they convince me to pick up a book even when the reviewer cannot. 

I actually real Small Damages back in January, but I haven't been able to stop thinking about it, even though it's been two months and I've read a plethora of novels in between then and now. I figured, with all the thinking my brain was doing about this book, it only felt right to spread this never-ending crush with the rest of you, so it is with great excitement that I welcome Beth Kephart to my blog today! :)
It’s senior year, and while Kenzie should be looking forward to prom and starting college in the fall, she is mourning the loss of her father. She finds solace in the one person she trusts, her boyfriend, and she soon finds herself pregnant. Kenzie’s boyfriend and mother do not understand her determination to keep the baby. She is sent to southern Spain for the summer, where she will live out her pregnancy as a cook’s assistant on a bull ranch, and her baby will be adopted by a Spanish couple. Alone and resentful in a foreign country, Kenzie is at first sullen and difficult. She begins to open her eyes and her heart to the beauty that is all around her and inside of her.
It’s hard to believe, I’m sure, that I spent a decade of my life working (off and on) on the book that became Small Damages, but ask my husband, ask my son, ask the friends who said, Keep going. I always had the setting—that cortijo in southern Spain that I had visited with my family. I always had an old cook with a secret, an old man close to dying, a pack of fighting bulls, flamenco gypsies, the heat, the sun, and some one or two young people in the midst of ancient dust. I had all that. But it took me a long time to find the story that Small Damages became. I needed Kenzie—a young American girl with “a problem.” I needed love of another kind—the kind of deep, enduring love that I, as a mother, will always understand.

But in 2004, the book, which was written in alternating voices, began with this small moment from Terese, who was the daughter of the man who owned the cortijo and had been raised by the cook after her own mother died. Terese, oddly enough, would someday become a minor character in another one of my novels called House of Dance; I just couldn’t let her go. Many of the scenes in this version of the book would realign themselves to tell Kenzie’s story. This small scene reveals how continuously obsessed I was with the inscrutable qualities of a true cook’s kitchen.
She disappears as quickly as she had appeared, into the unlit cave that is her kitchen.  Leave it to Stella.  I hear a spoon inside a pot, I hear the creak of the oven door, I hear the water going on and off, and I will not disturb her.  How she does what she does in that cramped and dingy space is nobody’s business but Stella’s.  “Let me buy you a new oven,” my father has said.  “I know this oven,” Stella has answered. “Let me buy you a new set of copper-bottom pots,” I have said.  “Where would I put them?” she has answered.  Nobody new here would know that Stella had a boss.  She is the boss of the meals of Los Nietos, and my father and I don’t contradict her.
            The table is laid.  I have slapped the dust from the old loveseats, though they still smell of the stables where they’d been stored until yesterday, when Esteban and Manuel dragged them from in there to right out here.  They’re ugly things, these old loveseats.  Ugly loveseats that smell like horse and look rather stupid in the sun.
            The spoon in Stella’s pot is angry.  The water goes off and it goes on.  I cannot hear the gypsies singing.  They’re still far away, in the dust.

Just Another...Book Crush! 
To write about three book crushes—well, that’s easy, sort of. I write about the books I love weekly on my blog, Beth Kephart Books. Let me choose three recent love fests and share the links to my blog, in case you wish to know more. I will warn you though. I love books in which language matters as much as story. That’s a good thing for many people, but not a good thing for some. I love that we all have so many books from which to choose.

1. In the Garden of Stone by Susan Tekulve
"You know how it is when you steal that time to read the book you desperately want to read? I have been stealing that time...let me say that this generational book about the south and southern Italy (yes, they combine to perfection here) is so brilliantly built and quietly affecting that I could choose any single paragraph and it would impress you."

2. The Colour of Milk by Nell Lyshon
"And there, on the front table, I found The Colour of Milk, by Nell Leyshon. I had never heard of it or her, but because I am forever milking my own metaphors, I was intrigued. Read the first two lines.  Bought it.  Finished it on the flight home. Held it to my chest—this riveting, fierce, enveloping, and I-know-you-want-to know-what-it-is-actually-about book, so let me explain that in a line or two. The Colour of Milk is the story of a girl in the year 1831 who has learned literacy, but at a terrible price. Milk is her story, her confession. Milk will break your heart. "

3. Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
"I consider it a triumph every time I snare a sensational book and actually read it. So consider me triumphed again—discovering Swimming Home by Deborah Levy in Philadelphia's Thirtieth Street Station bookstore (a tiny clutch of a space that has yet to fail my good-book greed) and reading it on the way to Penn and back, then in a fold of early morning hours. ...This is the kind of book I love—dangerously intelligent, smashed and dared, big themes on a small stage, more revealed by the brave elisions and planted repetitions, the near repetitions, than most authors can disclose declaratively."

Beth, thank you so much for stopping by today! Quite frankly, I think it's astounding that this novel has been worked on for ten years, but it certainly shows in the writing and intense subtlety this novel contains. Also, the cooking aspect of Small Damages was one of the best, making this both extremely unique and playing a larger role in the relationships between characters, drawing them together over a love of food. I'm thrilled that this was present in the original draft too and, needless to say, I'll have to get myself a copy of House of Dance at once!

Also, I haven't heard of any of the novels you recommended, but they all sound amazing! Beth sent me links to reviews of her favorite novels that she posted on her blog, so I took the liberty of sharing some of my favorite lines from those lovely reviews. If you like Beth's writing style even remotely, I cannot recommend Small Damages enough. It's the type of book whose words and phrases you can get lost in. (You can read my review for it HERE.)

Anyway, what were your thoughts on Beth's post? I, for one, am thrilled that so far, each author has taken the fluidity of this feature and approached it differently. I'm thoroughly enjoying it, so I really hope you are too! :)


  1. I am always in awe of Beth and her way with words, and here she does it again. Her words are ones that I always appreciate when they pop up on my blog reader, or finally find their way into my hands when I have a moment to look back at my TBR shelf and notice that her books are still sitting there, waiting for me. This is a great feature!

  2. Beth's writing is gorgeous! Ah, how I wish I could write like her LOL. ;) Anyway, I love your fairly new feature, Keertana! <3 I haven't put much thought into Small Damages, but this guest post convinced me to pick this book ASAP. The setting of the book is very lovely - SPAIN! I love books set in foreign countries, especially ones that I rarely hear about. :)

    Amazing guest post! I'll make sure to take time to visit Beth's blog! :)

  3. I haven't come across any of those books either, but I'm definitely curious now. Will have to check a couple of those out very soon! It's incredible that Beth dedicated a whole decade of her life to writing Small Damages. I definitely would not have the patience for that! But it's inspiring to hear. :)

    Thanks for sharing Beth's post with us, Keertana!

  4. I've never read anything by Beth but I want to! I haven't read anything of the books she recommended either but they sound LOVELY.

  5. I haven't heard of this book Keertana! FAIL. I love books that simply refuse to be moved from their spot in my heart and mind no matter how many other books I try to cram in there. They're all "You love me and I'm not letting you forget it" and I'm all "I know". I think I need to give this one a try for sure!

  6. I haven't read this book yet but I have read You Are My Only and I loved the author's language in that book! I remember that several of you bloggers that I really enjoy have REALLY LOVED this one, so I NEED TO GET TO READING IT ASAP. I honestly have no excuse!

  7. I've never heard of those books either, so they seem to be new to most of us. It's always nice to listen to something new.

    I loved the post though and that certainly shows some dedication to a book.

    Glad you are enjoying the experience so much! :)

  8. Beth writes so wonderfully in this guest post and I regret having had Small Damages on my to-read list for so long and not having got a copy and read it yet - will make it a priority this year!

  9. I always feel AWFUL when someone recommends novels I've never even heard of! Not read, okay, but not even heard of! And it's kind of my area of expertise, you know?! Lol. I'll live, don't worry.

    I actually got a copy of Small Damages the second I finished reading your review, I just haven't had time to actually read it yet. I'm drowning in arcs again, but not for long. :) It sounds exactly like something I'd enjoy very much. I can't wait.
    Thanks for the reminder and the recommendations. :)

  10. I'm so privileged to be here, Ivy. Your blog is beautiful, and your followers are very kind. Thank you.

  11. I really loved Small Damages! it was one of my favorites from the recent reads and I look forward to all her books.

  12. This right here is precisely why I LOVE this feature so much, Keertana! I love getting suggestions for books that would otherwise never hit my radar, especially when they're spoken of so beautifully (I'm interested in the first one in particular). I haven't read Small Damages yet, but I'm convinced I ought to given your (and everyone else's) reaction.


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