‘Wolf in the Suitcase’ by Dina Friedman; ‘Uno’ by Bill Wells

Staff Writer
Published: 5/22/2019 3:34:09 PM

In “Where I Am From,” the second poem in her new collection, “Wolf in the Suitcase,” D. Dina Friedman looks back on her New York City roots with a vivid and somewhat droll opening line: “I am from buildings and concrete, from subways lined with spit, / thick letters announcing untaken exits.”

In another part of the poem, Friedman, who moved to Hadley 40-odd years ago, touches on her adopted home and her life as a writer: “I am from weeds, and the miracle of bulbs / returning from their place of birth. I am from ink, spilling and spilt, / then bursting veins, like businessmen swarming out of subways.”

Many of the other poems in “Wolf in the Suitcase” offer a similar kaleidoscope of images. “We are Stuck in October” begins on a somber note: “It’s raining again, and the remnants of leaves / shellacked on the slippery stoop test our dogged / tenacity.”

The poem recalls some family history, a long-ago game at Yankee Stadium, and the times today when athletes take “knees at the national anthem” to protest police violence. Then it circles back to look at the fall’s darkness as a metaphor for something more disturbing.

“Yesterday, I heard the geese exulting / escape, siren of honks and truth, / as if they knew hurricanes, wildfires, rising / water. A car alarm bleated a clashing, / distant pitch. No one paid / attention to the warning. Like stadium cries / for hot dogs, beer, we blot them out: / too normal in these slippery, tilted times.”

Friedman, who teaches business communication at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, has also published two Young Adult novels, including “Escaping Into The Night,” a story of a young girl who flees a Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland and joins a partisan encampment in a forest.

In “Munich,” she revisits that deadly era, seeing a place “where fires consumed my ancestors’ hair” and recalling “the pianist’s sour whisper / when my grandfather, alone in Germany, / played for the violin master. / Her words, “dirty Jew,” incessant as fugue, / echo oceans and years away ...”

As one reviewer puts it, “Friedman celebrates the real world, and infuses it with spirit.”

Uno, by Bill Wells

“Uno” is a novel with a disturbing origin: Author Bill Wells was moved to write it after his daughter, Megan, was involved in an abusive relationship with a man that only came to an end after she drove her car head-on into a tree, suffering significant injuries. Megan was later transferred to a psychiatric hospital, and a counselor there “pieced things together for all of us,” Wells says.

Wells, the director of student promotion at Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Wilbraham, says after he and his wife attended to their daughter’s recuperation — the accident occurred in Maryland last fall — he became consumed with answering one question: Why do people stay in abusive relationships?

After researching the issue, he decided to recast his daughter’s case — with her approval — as a novel because he was “determined to help people in similar situations,” he wrote in an email to the Gazette. He is donating all proceeds from the novel’s sales to Safe Passage, the Northampton nonprofit group that offers a range of services to victims of domestic violence.

Wells is also the author of “Run for Rwanda,” a novel set partly during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and in its aftermath.

In “Uno,” Kevin Roy has just retired from decades of working with an HVAC company in a Massachusetts town. He’s suddenly and achingly alone: His wife, Marie, has recently died after an illness, and he’s also lost a lifelong friend from work. Ken keeps busy, exercising and watching sports on TV, but his one real consolation is phone calls and occasional visits from his daughter, Brooke, who lives in Florida.

After he has some blood drawn at a nearby hospital during a checkup, though, Ken is asked if he’d like to volunteer there, talking to people in the emergency room to help ease their nervousness. Following some comic encounters with a few patients, he meets Rhaymi, a young woman who’s come in for treatment of a sprained wrist that she attributes to her clumsiness.

Rhaymi, a student at a nearby college, is friendly and enjoys Ken’s company at the hospital. But after seeing her back there not long afterward with a bandage on her head, and then talking to a counselor at the hospital, Ken begins to suspect Rhaymi’s boyfriend is hurting her.

Not long after that, Rhaymi shows up at Ken’s home unannounced and injured again; he tries to convince her to leave her boyfriend and join a support group for people in abusive relationships.

From there things begin to snowball, as Ken confronts Rhaymi’s boyfriend, Mathew, a young businessman, and then finds himself in jail, as Mathew’s father is the town’s chief of police. Ken will have to enlist the help of the lead editor of the local newspaper to get out of jail and try to help Rhaymi in her continued struggle, in what becomes a race against time to protect her.

Copies of “Uno” are avail able for sale at Safe Passage and at Amazon.com.

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