Archive for March, 2018

23
Mar
18

“To look out and see not another soul between you and the horizon could be a strange and disturbing sight.” CBR10 Review 18.

UnknownThis was by no means a pleasant reading experience. But its one that I’ll remember for quite a long time.

Aaron Falk is a federal police officer in Australia, specializing in financial crimes. He comes home to the country for the funeral of his childhood best friend, Luke, who apparently brutally murdered his wife and young son, and then took his shotgun to himself. Luke’s father, who knows a secret about Aaron, convinces him to stick around town for a while to investigate. Luke’s parents simply cannot accept that he would commit such a heinous crime.

Aaron hesitantly agrees. He’s not exactly welcome in this small Outback town, due to the mysterious death of his friend/almost girlfriend 20 years earlier. When her body was found, the only clue for the police was a piece paper in her pocket with Aaron’s name and the date of her disappearance on it. The town quickly turns on Aaron and his father — no matter that he’s innocent — and he hasn’t been back since.

This book is brilliantly written. The language is shockingly beautiful. The descriptions of the vast Australian countryside are amazingly evocative. Huntsman spiders, cockatoos, and cicadas are all supporting characters, as is the utter silence of the empty land surrounding the small town of Kiewarra. Not a word seems wasted.

The two mysteries — while uncomfortable to read about — kept me guessing until the end.  I honestly had no idea what would happen until it did. And I both loved and hated that. I had grown attached to most of the characters (except for Ellie’s dad and cousin, who were blatantly terrible) and didn’t want any of them to be capable of such a brutal action.

I loved how Harper included events from the past by adding chunks of text in italics, it made it easy to differentiate between the mystery of Ellie and that of Luke and his family.

Jane Harper clearly loves Australia. The descriptions of the farmlands, the drought, the tight rural community, and the absolute and immediate danger of fire were so lifelike, I could picture everything on the page clearly in my mind. Her writing reminded me a lot of Ian Rankin’s Rebus mysteries (where Edinburgh is more or less a character on its own) and James Ellroy’s LA books, which really couldn’t take place anywhere else but Los Angeles.

I had no idea that this was the first book in a series about Aaron Falk. The second book recently came out, so I’ll have to make sure to pick it up and add it to the very top of my TBR pile.

PS: I just saw that Reese Witherspoon (the new Oprah!) has optioned the film rights to The Dry for her production company. I hope they decide to keep it in rural Australia, as I think the story would lose a lot of its identity if it were moved to drought-ridden California.

 

11
Mar
18

I wish I had a sköldpadda of my very own. CBR10 Review 17.

Unknown-4For a long time I’ve stood by my assertion that Song of Susannah was my least favorite Dark Tower book, hands down. The last time I reviewed it (back in 2012), I even went out on a limb and said this:

Song of Susannah, however, was my least favorite Dark Tower book when I first read it. And I can safely say that it will always be my least favorite.

Well, I guess I can’t trust myself.

Now that I’m almost another full loop through the saga, I’m not sure if my opinion is still the same. Is SoS still my least favorite? Or is there enough good stuff in there (the stuff that isn’t about Susannah and the wretched Mia) to change my mind? Is Wizard & Glass my least favorite? It hurts me to think that because I loved it so much the first time I read it…but like it less and less with each subsequent reading.

I’ll be honest. I do hate the stuff with Mia. Their long long long talks in the deserted town of Fedic make me crazy. Every time the POV switches back to those two, I would audibly groan. At least, until the sköldpadda makes an appearance. Because the sköldpadda makes everything better. Who wouldn’t want a little magic turtle?

I didn’t like the parts when Susannah has to travel to her “dogan” to control Mia and the baby. And while I appreciate that Odetta Holmes was a great woman who stood up for what she believed in, I didn’t need to read pages and pages of folk song lyrics right when things were getting interesting. Yes, Man of Constant Sorrow is a lovely song…but after a while, this was all I could think of:

But I don’t really want to talk too much about Mia. Or at all, really. There are a lot of other things I’d rather spend time on.

I’d rather talk about John Cullum. He’s one of my favorite minor characters in The Dark Tower. I love his Yankee sensibility and his immediate acceptance of the situation he suddenly finds himself in when Roland and Eddie literally appear in front of him in the general store. I had an uncle who was a pilot in WWII, and he was from New England. That’s who I imagine here. A guy who gets stuff done and gets it done well, and still makes time to ask about the Red Sox no matter how busy he might be.

Or how about Trudy Damascus? I’d like to know what eventually happens to her after her mental unraveling from witnessing Susannah/Mia appear out of thin air and then steal her shoes. I want to know if she’s still working at her accounting firm, and if she likes to sit in the park and listen to the voices at 2 Hammarskjold Plaza. I hope she’s ok, whatever she’s doing.

Same with Mathiessen Van Wyck. I hope he and his wife have worked out their differences. And I hope his stomach problems work themselves out, too. He deserves to be happy after telling us that the little turtle was called a sköldpadda.

But mostly, I’d like to talk about the badass trio of Jake, Oy, and Pere Callahan, tracking Susannah around New York City. These three weren’t even supposed to end up in Manhattan — they were supposed to go to Maine to talk to the wretched Calvin Tower — but they assimilate to 1999 pretty quickly. They find the hotel where Susannah/Mia are staying, they figure out the plan to get to the Dixie Pig, and they permanently hide Black Thirteen, all within a few hours.

I really love how Pere finds his lost faith at the end of this book. Without it, they never would have been driven insane by Black Thirteen in Susannah’s hotel room. But Pere Callahan gathers all of the faith he has left, and prays to God to save them from Black Thirteen.

“God, if you still hear me, this is Callahan. Please still this thing. Please send it back to sleep.”

And so, God does.

I was glad that Pere had that faith with him as they got in the cab and drove uptown to the Dixie Pig. We all know he was going to need it. But more on that in a few weeks, when I’ve finally finished the series and have more to say about Callahan’s last stand.

 

10
Mar
18

This was a book? I read it. I liked it? CBR10 Review 16.

UnknownThere’s been a lot of talk about Lincoln in the Bardo over the past 18 months or so. It won a lot of awards, for sure. I finally got it from the library and I read it.

And I have no idea, honestly, if I liked it or not. I did?

There’s a lot going on here. Abraham Lincoln’s youngest son, Willie, has died and been laid to rest in a cemetery in Georgetown. Lincoln is mad with grief and spends the better part of the night after the funeral sitting in the cemetery, mourning his son.

Meanwhile, Willie’s spirit is stuck in a sort of purgatory, right in the very tomb where his body is at rest. The cemetery is filled with these spirits, many of whom tell their tales and attempt to help Willie get back to his father and his life. None of these spirits accept the simple fact that they are dead, and that’s pretty much the only reason they are stuck in this place. Occasionally, a spirit that they know will disappear suddenly, and we know that’s because that spirit has finally faced the truth.

I’ll admit that it wasn’t until I finished the book that I actually wondered what the definition of “Bardo” was. I ignorantly thought it was the name of the tomb or the cemetery. But I was very wrong. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of Bardo is as follows:

  1. (in Tibetan Buddhism) a state of existence between death and rebirth, varying in length according to a person’s conduct in life and manner of, or age at, death.

OK. So. I wish I had known that going in. My bad.

Anyhoo, here’s the gist of the story. The historical parts about Lincoln, his presidency, and the illness and death of his son are told by citing actual writings (letters, interviews, biographies, etc). The bits in the “Bardo” are told with many narrators, all spirits, who are shocked at the actions of Lincoln, as no other human has ever spent more time than absolutely necessary in their little world.

It absolutely takes a while to figure out how to read this book. Its amazingly original, but a little tough to follow at times. (And I hear that the audio book is great, but really confusing if you don’t know the story. There are hundreds of narrators here.)

I appreciate what George Saunders did here, and some of it made me want to read more about Lincoln and the early parts of the Civil War and his presidency. I had no idea that he was disliked to such an extent, and some of the citations made me think of our current leader. For instance:

The people have, for nineteen months, poured out, at your call, sons, brothers, husbands & money.–What is the result?–Do you ever realize that the desolation, sorrow, grief that pervades this country is owing to you?–that the young men who have been maimed, crippled, murdered, & made invalids for lie, owe it to your weakness, irresolution, & want of moral courage?

and

You have seized the reins, made yourself dictator, established a monolithic new form of government which must dominate over the rights of the individual. Your reign presages a terrible time when all of our liberties shall be lost in favor of the rights of the monolith. The founders look on in dismay.

and lastly

If Abe Lincoln should be re-elected for another term of four years of such wretched administration, we hope that a bold hand will be found to plunge the dagger into the tyrant’s heart for the public welfare.

That’s a lot to deal with for good old Honest Abe, I’d say. And I guess he really turned things around for himself, as far as public opinion goes.

The history was certainly interesting. I had no idea that Lincoln’s children had met such tragic ends, and the background here really hit me as a parent. I felt sorry that he was scrutinized as a parent and more or less blamed for Willie’s death because of his easy-going parenting style, similar to pretty much any parent on social media today!

The bits in the Bardo were a bit tougher for me. They were certainly well written and some of the narrators back stories were heartbreaking. But I just didn’t like this part as much as the historical part. It simply didn’t speak to me most of the time.

But there were definitely some parts that did. Near the end, when some of the spirits realize exactly where they are and why they haven’t moved on to the afterlife, one of the main narrators realizes exactly what’s happening to him, and the writing was simply beautiful.

There was nothing left for me to do, but go.
Though the things of the world were strong with me still.
Such as, for example: a gaggle of children trudging through a side-blown December flurry; a friendly match-share beneath some collision-titled streetlight; a frozen clock, a bird visited within its high tower; cold water from a tin jug; towering off one’s clinging shirt post-June rain.
Pearls, rags, buttons, rug-tuft, beer-froth.
Someone’s kind wishes for you; someone remembering to write; someone noticing that you are not at all at ease.
A bloody ross death-red on a platter; a headgetop under-hand as you flee late to some chalk-and-woodfire-smelling schoolhouse.
Geese above, clover below, the sound of one’s own breath when winded.
The way a moistness in the eye will blur a field of stars; the sore place on the shoulder a resting toboggan makes; writing one’s beloved’s name upon a frosted window with a gloved finger.
Tying a shoe; tying a knot on a package; a mouth on yours; a hand on yours; the ending of the day; the beginning of the day; the feeling that there will always be a day ahead.
Goodbye, I must now say goodbye to all of it.
Loon-call in the dark; calf-cramp in the spring; neck-rub in the parlour; milk-sip at end of day.
Some brandy-legged dog proudly back-ploughs the grass to cover its modest shit; a cloud-mass down-valley breaks apart over the course of a brandy-deepened hour; louvered blinds yield dusty beneath your dragging finger, and it is nearly noon and you must decide; you have seen what you have seen, and it has wounded you, and it seems you have only one choice left.
Blood-stained porcelain bowl wobbles face down on wood floor; orange peel not at all stirred by disbelieving last breath there among that fine summer dust-layer, fatal knife set down in pass-panic on familiar wobbly banister, later dropped (thrown) by Mother (dear Mother) (heartsick) into the slow-flowing, chocolate-brown Potomac.
None of it was real; nothing was real.
Everything was real; inconceivably real, infinitely dear.
These and all things started as nothing, latent within a vast energy-broth, but then we named them, and loved them, and in this way, brought them forth.
And now we must lose them.
I send this out to you, dear friends, before I go, in this instantaneous thought-burst, from a place where time slows and then stops and we may live forever in a single instant.
Goodbye goodbye good-

Simple observations of what its like to live a life. Unsure of what will happen to him next, as he prepares himself to move on from the Bardo, he remembered the little things that he could from his mortal existence, the things that made him human.

I’m glad I read this, but am not sure I would recommend it to everyone. If you know what you’re in for, its a worthwhile read. But it isn’t a straightforward piece of fiction. You really have to work for it.

 

 

 

 




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