I've said before that I was in love with Kiana Davenport's books before I ever wrote a word. The fact that we have grown to be friends still astonishes me. Her books are, in my opinion, some of the most powerful, astonishing, hard-hitting fiction I've ever read. She, herself, is a good friend of such literary luminaries as Alice Walker and Isabel Allende (another of my literary goddesses.) Kiana's new collection of short stories, Opium Dreams, is loaded with gut-punches and her new novel, coming out in August, The Spy Lover, promises to be epic.
Consequently, it just dazzles me that this extraordinary writer is such a fan of my writing. Throughout the writing of both Depraved Heart and The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall we spent HOURS on the phone (me in Gloucester, her in Hawaii) as she mentored me through these two challenging works. Today she posted a review of The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Volume 1" that just takes my breath away. I am so blessed to have her as a friend and guide:
BEAUTIFUL! RICHER THAN "LAKE WOBEGON DAYS" !!!,
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This review is from: The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall: Volume 1 (Secrets of Marienstadt) (Kindle Edition)In this age of quick-read novels with thin plots, we yearn for bigger, deeper novels we can sink into, a universe we can enter and be part of. Kathleen Valentine has created such a novel in THE WHISKEY BOTTLE IN THE WALL: VOLUME I, SECRETS OF MARIENSTADT. She is publishing the novel in story form, one tantalizing volume at a time. The town of Marienstadt is fictional, but is based on the Pennsylvania Dutch town she grew up in, populated with unique and indelible descendants of German immigrants.
In Volume I, we are introduced to characters named Mulligan Wolfe, Peeper Baumgratz, Wenzeslaus Opelt, and beautiful, lonely ladies who run strudel shops, and fabric shops. There are shops for homemade breads. Shops for homemade sausages and sauerkraut. And a shop with the mysterious name, "The Bearded Lady Hometown Treats." And there are a host of fascinating characters based on the author's memories of her hometown: Nuns who run a snowplow business. A handsome, virile chief-of-police, whom married women fantasize being handcuffed to!
There is Sister Adelaide who loves to speed. It is rumored when her car hits 60MPH "the windows turn to stained glass, and the radio plays Nearer My God To Thee." And there is a three hundred-pound giant who talks to pigs, and loves to waltz and polka, a veritable legend on the dance-floor. How can you not be drawn in by such fabulous characters? And best of all, the author promises that the three volumes comprising WHISKEY BOTTLE... will be a rotating cast of characters, people we grow to care about. It will not be just random, unconnected vignettes that made LAKE WOBEGON DAYS, although a huge bestseller, a somewhat disjointed and disappointing book.
The first story in Vol. I, "Peeper Baumgratz and the Sisters' Snowplow," seems a light-hearted, hilarious, home-spun tale. But after reading Valentine's stand-alone short story, "The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood," which introduced readers to THE WHISKEY BOTTLE...collection, I know her stories will eventually take us to darker, deeper depths. "The Reluctant Belsnickel..." started off light and humorus, and rather erotic, but then quieted down to a deeply sorrowful tale of Oliver, whose two boys were taken from him, and Oliver's years of loneliness and grief. In the end, there is redemption; his boys return to him as young men. The scene where they are reunited left this reader in tears.
I suspect the rest of Valentine's collection, Volumes II and III, will also transport us to the highs and lows, the hilarous and tragic, aspects of human nature, from dumpling contests and polka competitions to - it is rumored - unwanted pregnancies, sexual abuse, adultery, even murder. From her earlier novels she has brilliantly proven she understands the darkest aspects of human nature, as well as the abiding goodness in each of us. The second story, the title story of Vol. I, exemplifies this perfectly. A story within a story, a shocker and a stunner. I will not spoil it for readers.
In the third story in Vol. I, "The Great Dumpling War and Dance Competition," there is a hilarious scene where two competitive women argue with righteous indignation over the proper ingredients for a variety of dumplings - knadles, niflies, spaetzles, semmelknodels, kartoffelklobes. Though I could hardly pronounce the words, I realized that in this scene the author is EULOGIZING THE DUMPLING, which is the most representative food of Pennsylvania Dutch heritage.
I quickly understood that this an not just an entertaining collection of stories about a fabulously rich culture. Valentine is MEMORIALIZING her people, and her town. This becomes more than just a novel, but also a fascinating and educational look at a region and culture relatively unsung in American literature. THE WHISKEY BOTTLE IN THE WALL, VOL. I: SECRETS OF MARIENSTADT, promises that the entire collection will be more than just a slice of small-town America. It will be a tribute to a people and a place, the Pennsylvania Dutch, and their contributions to American history.
With compassion and satire, and beautifully detailed writing, Valentine has delicately chiseled out of these seemingly ordinary lives, the unique, profound, and quixotic traits that make each character memorable, even epic. We are offered history as well as comedy and tragedy. So, please read these stories slowly, then read them again, because while we are reading about life, love, and birth and death, we are also learning the rich culture and traditions of one of the most fascinating communities in our United States.
I anticipate that with each volume, Valentine's characters will enlarge and expand. Their personal mysteries will be exposed and eventually resolved, and we will want to follow them, story after story! And, because these are characters with conscience - small-town people who care about their neighbors - I know there will be redemption at the end of each story. The author writes of her people with great PRIDE. She is creating a rich tapestry that will forever reflect Pennsylvania Dutch history, ancestry and legends. Her very heart is in her words. I predict the entire collection of THE WHISKEY BOTTLE IN THE WALL... will become a classic. I can't wait for Volume II! Thank you, Kathleen Valentine
KIANA DAVENPORT, author of OPIUM DREAMS, PACIFIC STORIES