Monday, February 16, 2015

What Wred's Reading: The Sunny Spaces

New Castle, Pennsylvania USA has a bit of a literary bent.  Maybe most small towns do if one digs around enough, but I have always been a bit surprised at the amount of literature that the little place has produced, not that most people there notice, since they tend to be most interested in fireworks, food, and football (and if pharmaceuticals were spelled with an "f" at the beginning, then I would have thrown that on the list as well).

True, the town's most famous literary creation is the stretchable sleuth from the comic books known as Plastic Man, courtesy of hometown boy Jack Cole, and some literati would sniff about that, but I got a thrill as a kid reading that Plas hailed from the same town that I did (though the book that contained that fact, Secret Origins Of The Super Heroes, thought "New Castle" was one word like its English counterpart).

A little closer to mainstream literature, though still someone that snobby literati would scoff about, is Edmond Hamilton, a pulp science fiction writer who, like Cole, worked in comic books but, unlike Cole, also wrote for Weird Tales and whatnot.  As a teenager, I read his Starwolf novels and enjoyed them, but I never read anything else by him since I was gravitating out of science fiction and more into mystery.  Eventually, I would move through mystery into literature with a capital L.

A few years later, I would stumble upon a fantasy novel by a local named Susan Dexter.  It was enjoyable, but, having moved past fantasy about the same time I stopped reading science fiction regularly, I didn't read more.  Since then, one of my high school classmates, Diana Joseph, wrote two books, both of which I enjoyed.  She specializes in humorous memoir.

I am sure that there are also some fine local fiction writers, playwrights, and poets, whom I do not know of, since I do like to keep up with literature produced elsewhere as well, and it is a big world.  Still, I do have an interest in literature from that small town and, indeed, that general area of Western Pennsylvania.  New Castle is located in Lawrence County, so I also get a big kick out of Ellwood City poet Ron Androla's work, though he has lived in Erie for so long that it is probably more accurate to call him an Erie poet.  Or an eerie poet?  Androla would enjoy that description!

In any case, I was delighted to get a copy of Ann Antognoli's novel, The Sunny Spaces, for Christmas.  Not only is Antognoli from New Castle, but also her novel is partly set there.  It's a middleaged love story where two wounded souls find solace in one another.  It has lots of literary references as well, with the title coming from Moby Dick, for example. It is an enjoyable read, reminiscent of the work of Richard Russo.  It also reminds me of Lawrence Richette's work a bit.  All three writers tend to focus on straight-up storytelling in a realistic mode.  Ann is a retired high school English teacher, so she has clearly learned well from studying the great works of literature!  I believe that I had Antognoli as a substitute teacher a couple of times, but I know her husband better since he taught a great creative writing class that I took at the Hoyt Institute of Fine Arts.  Having met with both Antognolis recently, I know that Ann is thinking about another novel, so the literary heritage of New Castle should only continue to grow!

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