Review and Giveaway: Springtime on Mars by Susan Woodring

When my kids were very small, I would find myself with little snippets of time, perhaps while waiting at the pediatrician’s office, or watching a toddler gymnastics class, or while the kids were napping.  I found I could read short stories in a single sitting, and there was something really satisfying about that, unlike a novel, where it might be days until my next opportunity to sit down with my book, and I would need to go back and reread to figure out where I was. 

Springtime on Mars by Susan Woodring is a short story collection filled with intensely personal domestic situations of quiet desperation.   There are 11 stories, set in the 1950’s until the present day, loosely connected by recurrent themes of science and technology, marriage and relationships, love and loss.  

Charming, deceptively simple, and utterly American, many of these tales depict the country at the brink of change and huge scientific advances. Others show the struggle between faith in God and faith in science.  Ranging from the introduction of the television into our living rooms, to the Kennedy assassination, to the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, Springtime on Mars holds up a mirror and shows us not only who we were, but who we are. 

In Zenith, 1954, Reverend Joe and his wife Marianne, pregnant with twins, are given a welcoming gift by their congregation: 

I knew Frank did not hold to the elders’ decision to gift us with a television set, a worthless diversion that not only inspired rampant idleness, but also one that was relatively new- the whole thing could turn out to be nothing more than a Hollywood fad.” 

Woodring breathes life into her characters so quickly- within a few short paragraphs you fully grasp who they are.  In the story Inertia, Lizzie’s mother sends her to the basement for a jar of preserves and some beans.  She’s reluctant to go, and when she gets there, we understand why:  

“The shelves on the far wall held my grandmother’s canning efforts:  tomatoes, okra, peppers, and preserves: strawberry, pear, and rhubarb-strawberry.   There were empty spaces now, as there always were this late in summer, but since my grandmother had passed away last winter, the holes were unsettling.  My mother had promised to keep the garden up, but she’d tended only to her bees…” 

Later, Lizzie’s father attempts to explain her mother’s grief over her grandmother to Lizzie this way: 

“He assured me my mother’s need to tend to them {the bees} would pass, the same as people’s need to watch the skies for news from other worlds.  He taught math at the junior college and this seemed to give him an insight into why people believed what they believed.  It’s all, he said, an irrational desire to control the uncontrollable.  I wanted him to think I had a scientific mind like his, so I nodded and told him I understood, though I didn’t.” 

I was perhaps most touched and completely caught off guard by the story Beautiful, in which a father is staying in a hotel, apart from his family, on an extended business trip.  His wife and daughters come down for a visit, but there are huge walls of silence and misunderstanding.  He realizes his 13 year old didn’t want to make the trip; she seems embarrassed and unsure of how to act around her dad.  He then remembers how it used to be: 

“When she was little, though, she used to cup his face in her hands and draw it very close to her own.  Listen, she would say.  There’s a crisis on planet Gimbel and we have to go there now. “ 

Throughout that story, I was rooting for the dad so much.  I kept thinking,  Do something!  You’re going to lose your family!  The relief I felt when he finally took some action to connect with his kids is hard to describe.  I got so choked up and was surprised at how much it affected me. 

Susan Woodring has a unique voice and a disarming style.  Many short story collections are woefully uneven, but that is not the case here.   I found real moments of charm and humor in every single story.  I enjoyed this book so much and enthusiastically recommend it. 

The author has generously agreed to provide a copy of Springtime on Mars to one lucky commenter.  Please leave a comment here and a winner will be selected on June 6th, the date of Susan Woodring’s Books on the Brain stop on her blog tour.  On that date I will post a beautiful essay Susan has written on why a short story collection is a great choice for a book club. 

Susan Woodring’s website can be found HERE 

Here are excellent discussion questions for Springtime on Mars: 

Book Club Discussion Questions compiled by Ashley Roberts, March 2008.

1.   Though you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, what were your expectations before reading the book? Did the stories meet these expectations or were you surprised?

2.   Susan Woodring plays with family dynamics. What do these different types of families have in common? How are they different?  

3.  Why do you think “Springtime on Mars” is the book’s namesake? Does this story accurately represent the rest of the stories? 

4.  In “Birds of Illinois,” what do the birds symbolize? The meat? 

5.  Six of the eleven stories are written in the first person. Do you think these stories would be diminished in any way if we didn’t have the thoughts of the leading characters?  

6.  Woodring plays with different fears in “Inertia.” What fears are present? Are the characters fearful of different things? Does fear appear in other stories? 

7.  Compare Jean and Harold’s relationship in “Morning Again” to Gladys and Andy’s. How would you describe their understanding of their roles in their respective relationships? 

8.  In “Love Falling,” there’s a lot of tension in the house. What is the breaking point for Julie? Why does she ultimately decide to leave? 

9.  Woodring describes the weather with much detail. Why do you think this is, and can you draw any connections between the weather and the temperament of the story?  

10.   What do you think Woodring is implying in her observations of belief systems: religious, political, and extraterrestrial? 

11.   Russia makes a frequent appearance in the stories. What do you think it symbolizes? 

12.   The parent/child relationship is often very strained in the stories. What do you think Woodring is trying show the reader?  

13.  When Shannon urges Jean to take the triangle IQ test in “Morning Again,” she responds, “I’ve raised three children.” What do you think this implies about Jean’s values? Shannon’s? 

14.  All of the characters are unique. Is there one in particular you most empathize with? Why or how?  

 

45 Responses

  1. Sounds like a really good book. Please enter me in the drawing. Thank you.

  2. I can’t actually remember the last time I read some short stories – these sound really powerful though. I’d love to be entered in the draw.

  3. I actually prefer short stories! ONe of the best books I’ve read was called Wilderness Tips, lovely stories. Thank you for the contest!!

  4. This sounds like something out of my Mom’s life… and very interesting at that. Please put my name in the hat and if I win I’ll read it and then pass it on my Mom. Thanks for a great post! I wish my book discussion posts could be as thorough as yous L!! I guess I need to work on that huh?🙂
    -K

  5. I haven’t read a book of short stories for a very long time! This looks like a good book🙂 Woiuld love to win!

  6. I’m usually NOT a short story fan, but these sound really fascinating. Please enter me! I’m adding this to my TBR list too.

  7. That sounds like a really good read. Sometimes short story collections are just the ticket. I’d love to read it so please include me in the drawing.

  8. Wheeeeeee! Me me me me me!

  9. I am not a big short story reader. I always find them coming up short when it comes to character development, but from the brief snippets you posted, I am already drawn into these stories and simply need to read more.

    Pick me! Pick me!

    Ti

  10. Planet Books, it’s interesting you mentioned your mom…that’s actually my mom on the cover! It’s her eighth grade graduation photo, taken in 1959!

    So great to see so many short story lovers!

  11. This collection sounds perfect for me! I can carry it with me to all the kiddie events! Thanks for the opportunity!

  12. I want to win this time.

  13. Great post, sounds like a good nightstand book!

  14. Lovely website. I’ve added your feed to my reader. This short story collection sounds like a nice addition to any library. Count me in for the drawing. Thanks.

  15. I want a copy too!!!

  16. Sounds like an interesting book. Count me in.

  17. This sounds like such a good book! Count me in.

  18. I have never read a book of short stories. but this one sounds fascinating. I would love to win the book! Thanks for the chance!

  19. […] on Guest Blogger: Author Joshua H…tara on Review: Year of Wonders by Ge…Lisa on Review and Giveaway: Springti…Myrthe on Review and Giveaway: […]

  20. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of this collection.

  21. sounds like a goog read. please sign me up..thanks!🙂

  22. I like to read short story collections. Do count me in for his!

  23. I would love to read this one…please enter me in the giveaway🙂

  24. Wnter me!

  25. Great review, great writer, great stories, great post!

  26. I love short story collections. I recently read “Out of the girls room and into the night” by Thisbe Nissen and can really recommend it.

    So enter me in the contest, please!

  27. I don’t think I’ve read many (if any) short stories. But, your review has me intrigued. I would love to be entered into this contest.

    This book sounds like one I’d love to read with my mom and talk about. I’ve found that some books are really good at getting us to talk out things we normally wouldn’t.

  28. My favorite type of book is one that contains short stories. Although there are also many novels I have enjoyed just as much. I love short stories because just as you said, you can read them in one sitting. I’d love to enter your giveaway. This book looks wonderful. Thanks!

  29. Great review – I’ll be checking out the book even if I don’t win it from you, but thanks for the chance!

  30. Sounds very interesting. Please enter my name in the drawing. Thanks!

  31. I would love a chance to win this book!

  32. Thank you…I’d love to win a copy of this book.

  33. […] Susan Woodring, author of the brilliant short story collection, Springtime on Mars (reviewed HERE). I mentioned to Susan that Books on the Brain focuses on book clubs, and she suggested she write […]

  34. Your giveaway has been listed on the June ’08 Giveaways and Contests post at http://upforgrabs08.blogspot.com

  35. Please enter me in the drawing. I love short stories!

  36. Sounds like a great book. I also enjoyed the author’s post on short stories as a great book club selection. Please enter me in the drawing.

  37. I would like to be entered in the drawing and have posting about the contest on my book blog:
    http://www.manyaquaintandcuriousvolume.blogspot.com (which links from my personal blog: http://www.randomwonder.com).

  38. I love short stories and this collection sounds wonderful! Please add my name to the giveaway! Thank you!

  39. Excellent review and I am intrigued and fascinated with these wonderful stories. This era is so appealing and memorable for me. thanks for this lovely giveaway.

  40. […] at Books on the Brain has two books available in giveaways:  Springtime on Mars by Susan Woodring (Enter here by midnight June 6) and The Fires by Alan Cheuse (Enter here by midnight June […]

  41. Oh, I can identify with reading snippets of books while waiting with the kids (or waiting *for* the kids!). I’ve posted about your contest at http://sheistoofondofbooks.wordpress.com/2008/06/06/friday-freebies-8-book-giveaways/
    and I’ll get my entry in “under the wire!”

  42. I hope I’m not to late to be added – I really enjoy short stories. I’ll certainly look for this at my local library if I don’t win a copy.

  43. This was a fantastic review. I am FINALLY able to read it now that I’ve finished the book and my review is up. I’m not anal about spoilers (and I knew you wouldn’t really have any anyway), but I try not to read other people’s reviews if I am going to be reviewing the book soon, or I’m afraid my thoughts will be less original.

  44. Another fabulous book giveaway drawing. Please enter me in your drawing. Many thanks, Cindi

  45. That’s my writing teacher there!!! She wrote that book!!! Haha I need to read it though…I haven’t yet.

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