The Lantern by Deborah Lawrenson, Read-a-Long Week 3

I felt horrible to miss last week’s read-a-long post for The Lantern, but as my last post mentioned, I was just deep in the middle of a funk! But I’ve worked my way out of it,  and I can’t wait to share the rest of my thoughts on this wonderful, beautiful fall-time book! On to the questions, sent to us this week by the lovely Heather! As always, you can find the other participants’ answers here!

1. Now that it’s all said and done; what did you think of the book? Did you see the ending coming?

Yes and no. I mean, not in the detail-y way. More in the whole, you know, I began to think about 75% of the way through that things were going to end up working out between Dom and Eve – she was just too damn in love with him throughout the rest of the novel. I did not, however, see Benedicte’s blindness coming, and almost felt that it was a bit of a let-down on Lawrenson’s part that the ghosts could be explained away medically, in essence. It would have been much more interesting, in my book, if she had just left them up as visions (then again, I did kind of like the circularity that the blindness theme presented, so who knows…). I also don’t know how I feel about them choosing to stay in the house – I don’t think I could handle that, in the same situation!

Reading that paragraph makes it sounds like a I had a whole host of problems with the end/whole of the book, but I didn’t. I LOVED the twists with Pierre and the dead bodies, and I thought the whole thing was just the kind of sensory overload I was looking for! I guess I just have a few things still niggling me.

2. What do you think of the characters? Lawrenson took us on a twisty little ride there, I had trouble deciding who was good and who wasn’t for a while there! What do you think of Dom? Of Sabine? Rachel?

I think the only person I was really ever iffy about was Sabine. Don’t get me wrong – I was flat out wrong about Dom. I totally had him pegged as the creepy murdering type, and was actually pleasantly surprised by how well-done Lawrenson was able to work out that twist in the story, especially as it did ‘excuse’ some of Dom’s more moody behavior as well as some of the guilt he was feeling.

However, with Sabine I just couldn’t figure out where she was coming from. Of course, that was revealed by the end of reading, but for the rest of the novel I just couldn’t decide where she was coming from or what she was doing there. I was never really concerned about Rachel, as she was dead and there wasn’t much the story was going to do to change that, but I did like the way Eve and Rachel ‘interacted’ throughout the story. I also think I’m kind of glad that Eve and Dom ended up together, even thought I DON’T EVEN KNOW HOW SHE STAYED THAT LONG. See my last read-a-long post for my quibbles with Eve and this whole part of the story.

3. Pierre was such a conflicted character. In the end, do you think he killed Marthe and Annette, or did the fall to their deaths because of their blindness?

To be honest, I never gave credit to the fact that Marthe and Annette fell to their deaths. I mean, true, it could have happened, but then why would Pierre have buried the bodies and not just left them? And how ‘convenient’ was it that, after the visit, Marthe suddenly changed her tune and started talking about how much she wanted to sell and how much she hated Benedicte? Nope, I never bought it – I always believed, and still do, that Pierre is such a thoroughly bad guy that he killed them both, cut Benedicte and Marthe’s ties post-mortem, and disappeared to die drunk, old, and alone.

Pierre is the perfect example of a character who I LOVE to hate, who is so evil that it makes me want to yell, makes my skin crawl, but he was so well-written that I just couldn’t get enough of him!

4. The book is being compared to Rebecca and Daphne du Maurier’s writing. Do you think the book lives up to that description?

If nothing else, I think the books both share such beautiful prose that the rest doesn’t even matter to me. I mean, yes, obviously there are other similarities – a creepy house with a deep history, a young man tortured by his past lover, deceit and lies and mistrust and all those other fun themes. But Lawrenson definitely wrote her own book, though, so I think that the deepest connection the two share is that they both create, so vividly in the mind of the reader, a world and a relationship full of dark corners and dusty secrets, using sights and smells and touches and a deep knowledge of humans to create a world where the reader loves to live almost as much as the characters themselves. If only we could get more and more books like that!

5. Did you have any problems with the book? Narration? Plot? The back and forth between two different characters and times?

See: problems with Eve, the disease causing the ghostly apparitions, staying at Les Genevriers.

6. Do you think Lawrenson tied both stories together well in the end? Is there anything she could/should have done differently?

I don’t think so! I feel like I’m being so repetitive, but honestly, the only thing I really couldn’t accept at the end was the fact that they decided to stay in that house! I mean, yeah, I guess since everything spooky was ‘explained’ – another problem I had with the story – it wouldn’t necessarily matter, but I really don’t know if I could handle staying in a place where there were skeletons found in my pool and a whole host of angry memories locked up in the walls. I also think it would have been far more interesting to see where that whole buried treasure plot line led, as it didn’t really go anywhere and felt like that was kind of an unnecessary plot addition (stop me if I missed something too huge!)

7. One problem I had with the novel is the reliability of the narrators. Do you think any of them were telling the truth? Which ones?

I think part of the thing that worked so well for The Lantern was that the narrators were kind of all unreliable – Benedicte never really knew the truth about what happened to her sister (or her brother) and so everything she tells us is inherently unreliable. And Eve is too preoccupied with Rachel to know/tell the full truth about Dom. However, it works in this story because the truth comes fully to light at the end, and the secrets along the way are just what keep the tension going, stringing the reader along behind!

Well, folks, there you have it! I’m super stoked that I was able to play a bit of catch up this week (I’m now two weeks behind on the Fragile Things read-a-long, but by God I will be there next week to finish up the discussion) and expect to see a few more reviews throughout the week, as well as a new vlog if things go well (this one may NOT be Library Loot, if you can believe it, as I love the vlogging format and would like to see how it goes to use it as a way to review books as well!) Hope that your autumn is as beautiful there as it is here, and happy reading to all!

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Banned Books: The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Oh my goodness me, Mr. Holden Caulfield! The angsty panty-twister of my pre-adolescent years! The man who made me want to rent a cheap NYC hotel room, wander the city, call as many former flings as I could in the hope of sleeping with them, and dwell on how burdenoning my life was. And don’t you judge – you know you did it to! If not with Holden, then with one of the many brooding teen males that have come down the line in his image. And we’ve all got one. Here’s the Goodreads:

The hero-narrator of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.

That’s such an elegant description! Man, Goodreads really hit it on the head this time.

When we begin Catcher in the Rye, Holden has been expelled again from yet another school. So, instead of calling his parents and going home like he’s supposed to/tells everyone he’s going to, he goes to the city to wander and to go visit his little sister, who he feels strangely bonded to. You see, Holden has real tragedy in his life (not like I did, when I was his age and pining after him miserably) – his brother has died, and he’s been haunted ever since then by dreams of being ‘the catcher in the rye’, of saving kids in his dream. So, he goes to New York, wanders for a good long while, calls up a number of girls he used to date, takes them to various places around the city, and visits his little sister at her day school. There is also a good conversation with prostitute, for those of you who are in to that sort of thing. However, by the end of it, Holden returns home and ends his story by telling us he won’t tell us the story of what happened after he went home. The book ends contentedly, if not happily.

I think that every teenager should be made to read this book. To tell you the truth, I can’t really figure out why it’s been banned/challenged. Maybe because he’s a young teenager who runs away? Maybe because he talks about sex, or tries to have it with women he isn’t married to? Perhaps its the rather depressing mindset that Holden stays in throughout the entire novel. Who knows. None of it seems salacious enough to ban, to me, even given the time the book was written (let alone that it keeps being challenged to this day). Thoughts? Anyway, that being said, I don’t think that this book is meant to be read by adults. I’ve tried. I wanted to shake Holden and tell him to get over it (this, for me, is a complete 180° transformation from where I was at 16). But the book is true to that tragic (I use the term loosely) voice of teenagers figuring out themselves and where they belong in this big crazy world. If you’ve got a teenager in your life (or are willing to spend your hours basically ‘conversing’ with the angsty-est of teens) then this is definitely the book for them! Happy reading!

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: Read-a-Long Week Three

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I can’t believe we’re already to the third week of the read-a-long! Even though it’s only a once a week post, I feel like the book is just flying by! This week’s stories are “Going Wodwo”, “Bitter Grounds”, “Other People”, and “Keepsakes and Treasures”. All in all, while this wasn’t my favorite week, I had more hits than misses.

“Going Wodwo”

I loved thus piece of poetry! DEFINITELY more than “The Hidden Chamber” and slightly more than “The Fairy Reel”. First and foremost, the poem totally appeals to my love for nature, and the fact that I love sensuous language and imagery in a piece of poetry. I mean, I was literally lingering in images like “I’ll tell the wind my name, and no one else./True madness takes us or leaves us in the wood/half-way through all our lives”. The introduction says that Neil wrote this one for a collection on The Green Man, and while I don’t actually know about that character specifically, Gaiman made magic for me in this poem!

I also think that the poem made some important claims about the importance of nature versus civilization. The fact that, discarding everything from his civilized life (“Shedding my shirt, my book, me coat, my life”) he is able to find the place where he belongs (“I’ll find a tree as wide as ten fat men/Clear water rilling over it’s grey roots/Berries I’ll find, and crabapples and nuts,/And call it home.”) is an incredibly important and an incredibly message to me. Not only do I think that God gave us all the answers and hope we need in the world around us, but I believe it’s up to us to protect and be stewards of our planet. Needless to say, Gaiman got major points from me for this one!! 😀

“Bitter Grounds”

For as much as I was totally enamored with “Going Wodwo”, I was equally as disappointed with “Bitter Grounds”. This, I think, was for multiple reasons. One, I don’t think I understand it. I read it three times and still. I mean, I understand the progression if the plot, but I just don’t get it. Zombies, right? Like, that’s the whole thing with all of it in the end – he runs off and joins the land of the zombies? Or he was a zombie the whole time? See? No idea. The second reason most likely largely pertains to the fact that I was just not jiving with any of the characters. And I mean, like, any of them. It makes it much harder to invest in understanding the story when you don’t care to spend any more time with your protagonist.

That being said, I do think that there were the occasional scary moments throughout the story. When the fake Jackson Anderton returns to the site of the tow truck and finds the car door open, the back window open, and no one in sight, I will admit that I got a little freaked out. And hearing the story of the little zombie girls was a bit…off. But, do those two moments balance out the difficulty of the rest of the story? No way. This one was definitely a thumbs-down for me.

“Other People”

OH. MY. GOODNESS. This story packed so much punch in to it’s three and a half pages was ridiculous. It sucked me in from it’s first line: “‘Time is fluid here,’ said the demon.” I mean, dang y’all. This story was intense. Gaiman’s progression from physical to mental torture, followed by the ultimate transformation into the demon himself is an example of prime narrative structure. I can’t express enough how much I love the concept behind this story, too.

Anyone who has been following my R.I.P. reviews knows that I think that the scariest thugs in the world aren’t supernatural. They’re the things human beings can do to one another. I feel like Gaiman hits this nail so firmly on the head, it hurts:

“Everything he had ever done that had been better left undone. Every lie he had ever told – told to himself, or told to others. Every little hurt, and all the great hurts. Each one was pulled out of him, detail by detail, inch by inch. The demon stripped away the cover of forgetfulness, stripped everything down to truth, and it hurt more than anything.”

All I know is that that sounds like a pretty apt description of hell to me. Another win for Gaiman!

“Keepsakes and Treasures”

I’m not sure how many of those in the read-a-long are going to like this story. But I liked it. I won’t say I love it, because it’s hard to love something so…graphic and, ultimately, sad. But I do think that Gaiman did a great job creating an unlikeable character who I actually kind of liked!

I guess ‘liked’ shouldn’t be the word I use. I don’t really like Mr. Smith, per say, but I think part of me can understand why he is the way he is, given the past and history he comes from. I can sympathize, I guess. And, as disgusting and sad as their work is, I’m glad that these two despicable men were able to find a kind of home and family in one another. Plus, who doesn’t love the idea of a culture made of all women and few men, even if the goal is inky to shelter this one man into perfect, beautiful adulthood! Gaiman also says we’re going to see both Mr. Smith and Mr. Alice again in a later story, so I can’t wait to see how that one might change my opinion if these characters and their story!

Well, folks, that’s all for this leg of the read-a-long! If you’re reading along as well, I hope you were able to enjoy these stories as much as I did. If you’re not, I hope that whatever you’re reading is keeping you up at night with it’s brilliance! Now, I’m off with FBM to our new church home for a good time of food and fellowship (PS: we finally found a new church home! Yay! Hehe) so, I leave you all with peasant reading wishes and autumn dreams!

Fragile Things Read-a-long Week 2

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The second week of the Fragile Things read-a-long is finally here, and I couldn’t be happier because the weather here has finally decided to jump on board with all of my fall reading – cloudy, blustery grey days that have been getting progressively colder! I know there are many out there who hate these recent developments, but I love fall and winter and thus couldn’t be happier! But, enough gabby adulation of the weather – let’s discuss some short stories! The selections for this week are “The Hidden Chamber”, “Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire”, “The Flints of Memory Lane”, and “Closing Time”.

“The Hidden Chamber”

Another piece of poetry from the great Neil Gaiman, I have to say that I liked this one less than “The Fairy Reel” of last week. The reason for this twofold: one, it’s not nearly as pretty in terms of it’s lyricism. Now, I know this isn’t necessarily required of poetry, but when it comes to my personal tastes, it definitely ups my enjoyment factor. At the same time, I also consider the concept of the fairy world and it’s existence to be more enjoyable than the Bluebeard-based tale. Bluebeard was just never really my thing!

That being said, however, there were bits and pieces of this poem that I absolutely adored. “Do not fear the ghosts in this house; they/ are the least of your worries” . How WONDERFULLY creepy a starting line is this, especially when you read from the perspective of the Bluebeard character. It immediately makes the mind jump to conclusions as to what else in the house could possibly be more worrisome or terrifying. There is also this incredibly ominous sense of captivity and a kind of crushing omnipresence in the even tone and matter-of-factness with which the narrator speaks. I found this echoed again the the part about the butterfly. Even as the narrator let’s the butterfly go, there is a sense that part if it will always remain trapped along with him, as he himself is trapped and trapping. I hope that makes sense! It does in my head, I swear! Hehe 🙂 All in all, I have to say that it’s a well written poem, if not my personal favorite.

“Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire”

Let me just go ahead and begin by saying that I LOVED this story, and will probably continue to love it for quite some time! I actually read this one twice, the first time straight through and the second time reading it as almost two separate stories – reading first the parts with our frustrated author and secondly the sections with our gothic tale of our young lady house inhabitant. I found that doing it this way allowed me to really be able to compare the two.

One of the things I’ve always loved Neil Gaiman is his ironic sense of humor. Case in point? The fact that, as the writer becomes more and more frustrated that his attempts to write real life come off campy and cliched, in his own life things like this happen:

The man facing him was almost his double…the stranger’s eyes were dark and wild, his mouth petulant but oddly firm. “Yes -I! I, your elder brother, whom you thought long dead these many years. But I am not dead – or perhaps, I am no longer dead – and I have come back – aye, come back from ways that are best left untravelled – to claim what is truly mine…I claim birth-right, and blood-right – and death right!” So saying, he pulled both swords down from above the fireplace, and passed one, hilt first, to his younger brother.” I mean, come on?! It’s the perfect kind of gothic camp in his real life that he fears he can’t escape in his writing! It’s the kind of literary turn that only Gaiman could pull off with such mastery.

Lastly, in discussing the second aspect of the story, I actually thought this gothic tale was pretty damn scary at points. I mean, obviously Gaiman imbibes it with his fair share of humor and wit, but passages like this really creep me out: He simply stared at her for a moment. Then he beckoned again, with one bone-colored finger. As she entered, he thrust the candle close to her face and stare at her with eyes that were not truly mad but were still far from sane.” The portrait Gaiman created in my mind actually got scary enough that I found I couldn’t read this story much after the street lamps came on!

“The Flints of Memory Lane”

I love this title. It evokes a kind of sharpening of memory that reminds me of that expression ‘as steel sharpens steel’. Plus, I couldn’t agree more with he narrator more when he starts with “I like things to be story-shaped” . I mean, all that really means is that I like things to have a beginning, middle, and end, but for me it also means that I tend to like having that little bit of drama, that occasional odd occurrence or story-line not wrapped up.

That happened to be the aspect of this story I was totally enamored with – the truth of the fact that sometimes the scariest stories we have are based on nothing more than moments, special happenings that can’t necessarily be explained or shared. I found the young narrator to be just innocent enough to tell this kind of story, understanding what it means but, on the flip side, coming just short of understanding the full impact of the moment, the way an adult and the reader does. This story may have been the shortest of this weeks reading, but it packed quite a bit of punch!

“Closing Time”

This was probably my favorite of all the reading we did for this week! I’ve always been a little in love with the idea of dark and secret pubs, of reading clubs and smoking rooms and all those British men-only things. No idea why, but these ideas always seem to go hand in hand with the feeling of all things literary and revolutionary. I also thought that the fact that the young man’s drawing of a house with a red door-knocker mirrored the playhouse he found to be one of the spine-tingliest moments of any story we read this week.

I loved Carl V’s mention of the fact that, whatever the young boys who disappeared in the house experienced, could have been sexually abusive in nature to be spot-on, because that’s what I assumed too. The way the old man described he and his fellow boy’s imprisonment, the cages and the screaming and such, it just felt like a kind of horror that goes beyond things that go bump in the night – the kind of horror that comes from inside people. And sometimes that can be even more horrifying than all manner if feedlots and crawlies.

I also greatly enjoyed the fact that it was never made explicit what happened to the three boys. It’s my assumption that they were tortured in to madness and that one of them was the old man at the end of the story, but it’s also entirely possible that this man is loony and that all three of the boys in the actual story have died. It is not only scarier that way, but it also indicates just how quickly something as innocent as childhood pranks and dares can become something far greater than that. I think Gaiman does some of his best work when he leaves questions in his story unanswered, and this is quite possibly the perfect example of that!

That wraps up my thoughts for this weeks chunk of the read-a-long! Don’t forget that it’s not too late to join us for the last few weeks if the read-a-long — we’d love to have your input, too! In a quick personal update, things around here are pretty much business as usual! With the great weather have come the not-so-great allergies, and FBM and I are just trying to stay warm and sickness free as we catch up on Dr. Who! It is, quite possibly, the perfect fall! Happy reading!

“The Masque of the Red Death”/”The Pit and the Pendulum”, Edgar Allan Poe

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I feel like perhaps the first thing I should do is provide one GIANT spoiler alert for this post. I always try not to give away too many spoilers, but I’ve found over time that this gets next to impossible with short stories. So consider yourself warned!

I feel like I’m just plowing away on the short stories for Carl’s R.I.P Challenge and Future-Mr. Book Maven’s recent obsession with Call of Duty: Black Ops has given me the perfect opportunity to read two greats from a legend of horror – Mr. Edgar Allan Poe himself.

Both “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Pit and the Pendulum” are considered to be classic example of Poe’s ice-cold and bone chilling horror writing. The former tells of a lavish masque party gone awry while being held in a sequestered monastery during a plague called the Red Death; the latter the tale of man convicted during the Inquisition and subjected to one of the most horrifying (to me) deaths imaginable. Both are great examples of a challenging short story that will scare the piss out of you if allowed to take hold.

I have to say that while I personally find “The Pit and the Pendulum” to be the scarier of the two stories, I think that “Masque of the Red Death” is far more beautiful to read. To begin with, I find the description of the lighting – different colored rooms lit only by back lit windows – to be appealing both to the color freak as well as the creepiness lover within me. Second, just the general setting of a lavish, un-class conscious ball held during so much decay and death is just hilarious in a kind of sick way. If there is one issue I have issue with, it’s the ending. I mean, come on Poe? A ghost? Really? I would have enjoyed it much more, I think, had the man in the mask been, I don’t know, a zombie or recently infected party goer (somehow). It was scary, but it wasn’t terrifying. Unlike…

“The Pit and the Pendulum” scared the shit out of me. Seriously. I have often thought that being buried alive would be an absolutely horrible way to die. Add to that the panic I feel when I contemplate what it would be like to slowly watch my inevitable death approaching..damn. Well done, Mr. Poe. I’m not sure what else there is to say! I believe that the horror of a good horror story lies in the environment and surroundings, and no one does that better than Poe. The descriptions of everything from the slimy pit walls to the starving, red-eyed rats was terrifying. Of the two, if you’re only going to read one, I’d definitely have to say go with “The Pit and the Pendulum”!

In other reading news, I’m making decent headway on China Mieville’s The Kraken, although I usually find myself making the ” what the fuck is happening” face more often than not (people who have already read it – this is normal, right?!) but I’m enjoying it regardless! I’m also just starting to dabble in some H.P. Lovecraft short stories, and I’m thinking of picking up Daphne DuMarier’s Rebecca for the Labor Day weekend. We’ll just have to see though! No matter what you’ve got on the front and back burners, I wish you happy reading!

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Well oh my good God, look at that everybody! A book that’s been finished! And oh, what a book it was. I should probably go ahead and let y’all know now that this post is full of spoilers. So, if you’ve yet to get your hands on this wonderfully written piece of fiction, perhaps avert your eyes now and come back when you’ve had your full dose of the beautiful woman that is Toni Morrison.

Toni Morrison has long been one of my favorite authors. This stems, most likely, from watching the movie Beloved with my mother as a child (okay, teenage to be fair. My mom was a bit better than that about controlling what my prepubescent eyes landed on) and then using the book as my central focus when I took my Intro to Literary Analysis class my sophomore class. Since then, I’ve been able to work closely with a faculty mentor who emphasizes in teaching Morrison, looking even more closely at both Beloved and Jazz. This was my first time reading The Bluest Eye though, and thank God my parent’s have a number of Morrison’s work tucked away in our dusty little home library!

The Bluest Eye is, most simply, a story of beauty and what makes beauty. More specifically, it tells the story of Claudia, her sister Frieda, and their neighbor and sometimes friend Pecola Breedlove. Pecola and Claudia, while often not getting along – Pecola is a bit of the town oddball, and everyone knows how cruel kids can be – share similar feelings about beauty in relation to race. Claudia hate Shirley Temple and some of her fellow white classmates because they’re white and, thus, are given attention and praise. Pecola also realizes the power behind being white, but instead of becoming angry, she desires to be like them. More specifically, she desires to have blue eyes, because she believes that blue eyes are what make white people so beautiful. However, more than a story of just beauty, The Bluest Eye also makes comments on race, gender, and getting caught in a life you didn’t intend. Themes that, if you’ve ever read Morrison, you know she’s touched on in practically all her other books.

Running along side the story of Pecola and Claudia is the story of Polly and Cholly, Pecola’s mother and father. The two are trapped in a marriage of hate, violence, and frustration. However, out of what seems to be a sense of proving the ability to stay, a misguided sense of duty, the two remain together. Both stories are told, Polly’s about a young woman with a lame foot who takes her strength not from her husband and children but from the movies she escapes in to and the luxuries she can pretend to have from the white family she works for. Cholly, abandoned by mother and father and raised to his teens by an aunt who passes away, is a man who enters in to marriage without knowing why, knowing the whole time that the thing most abhorent to him is sameness and obligation. Obviously, putting the two together results in the kind of marriage that **spoilers** leads to the rape and impregnation, and eventual miscarriage and insanity, of Pecola, raped by her father and beaten and berated by her mother. It is also the relationship that teaches Pecola her ugliness, an ugliness that forces her to the local witch-doctor to ask for blue eyes. The price she has to pay? ‘Sacrificing’ a local dog via poison. **End spoilers** 

Morrison’s writing style is always addicting. At once complicated and simple, the book hits on a level that somewhat goes beyond conscious understanding. While her individual sentences can sometimes be convoluted, and there are many times when you just have to trust her, trust that it will all be explained in due course, the power of her story comes through and comes through swimmingly. Morrison reminds me of one of the primary reasons I read – for the awesome power of stories, for the deep root that a really good story reminds you exists (I really hope that last sentence was grammatically correct! I think it is, but it still doesn’t sound right to me).

I don’t think there could have been a better book to pull me out of my recent slump, and I’m already on to the next book that I’m hoping will be just as addicting – Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune. I started her Island Beneath the Sea earlier this summer, but didn’t get the chance to finish it before I had to return it to the library. I loved what I was able to read, though, and am really hoping this one works out just as well! As far as real life goes (since, you know, I know that’s what you’ve been waiting for this whole time. Updates on my life.) things are a little hectic right now, with moving out of the apartment and in to the townhouse right around the corner, but nothing says distraction like a fantastic book to read. Happy reading!

 

A Once-Upon a Time Update and Short Story Adventure

Hello lovely bloggers! I’m so sorry I missed the Sunday Salon, but I was at home over the weekend and didn’t really get the chance, between church, breakfast, my boyfriend’s dad’s choral concert (he sings in a metro Christian choir) and then a delicious Sunday dinner, I didn’t get the chance to stop by a computer for long. Also, because my brain seems to have lost ALL ability to remember even the slightest details, I left my copy of The Magicians at my parents house, which my mom is thrilled about, but the library less so. I guess the good news is that, since we’re going home again next weekend for Easter, I’ll be able to pick it up then. If my mom’s done. If she’s not? Claws people. Claws.

Anyway, on to a little acutal book reviewing, huh?! In all fairness, it’s not a book so much as a short story, but the general concept still applies. Since I was all set to read The Magicians for the Once Upon a Time V Challenge (at least until my other library holds came in) I’ve had to do some last minute improvising and instead have picked up Dark Alchemy: Magical Tales from Masters of Modern Fantasy edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois, a short story collection I picked up a while ago at Half Priced Books (I think because it was around Halloween time, but I can’t remember for sure) and have relegated to the realms of the TBR pile since then.

 

The first story in the collection, which also happened to be the first story I read, is “The Witch’s Headstone” by Neil Gaiman, the, as far as I’m concerned, Lord and Master of All Things Fantastical And Mysterious. You know, this guy…

(Mmmm…Neil Gaiman….sorry. Had to take that little moment for myself)

“The Witch’s Headstone” later became a chapter in Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, which I’ve also read and reviewed before. However, I just had to read it again, both because I love Gaiman and because, to be honest, I was beginning to miss that Bod Owens.

The story begins with Bod (short for Nobody) Owens investigating the story that a witch is buried outside of the graveyard in which he lives, on the consecrated ground. After questioning both his “parents” (quick note:: I’m glossing over a good deal of the backstory of Nobody Owens because it’s not talked about in “The Witch’s Headstone”. For the full details, see The Graveyard Book. For the purposes of this review, though, it should be known that Bod is an orphan who has been, essentially, communally adopted by a local graveyard and it’s inhabitants and has been given the “freedom of the graveyard”, meaning he can see and talk to all sorts of spirits normal people can’t) as well as his teachers and guardians, Bod decides he’d like to meet the witch.

Unfortunately, Bod is a good boy and won’t violate the wishes of those who he’s supposed to obey. Perhaps it’s the power of the graveyard, then that sends him hurtling over the fence one day when the branch he’s sitting on in his favorite apple tree breaks. When he awakes, he sees the infamous witch, Elizabeth (Liza) Hempstock, standing over him. He questions her about her life as a witch, how she died, and the fact that all she wants more than anything now is a headstone, something to mark her burial space and, also, her existence. Bod then forms a plan to get Liza the headstone she seeks.

Stealing an ancient and valuable amulet from the Sleer (WE ARE THE SLEER. WE GUARD. I have a friend who has that exact phrase tattooed on the back of her neck, fun little tidbit), an ancient crypt-monster, Bod heads to a local pawnshop to sell the snakestone. When Bod tells him he found the stone in a graveyard, the man becomes enraptured with greedy thoughts of mountains of treasure and locks Bod up in an office while he calls his business partner. It’s then that Liza shows up and, hearing what a nice thing Bod is doing for her, helps him to become invisible and escape, but not before Bod notices and absconds with a heavy stone paperweight on the desk. Bod quickly returns the amulet to the Sleer (IT ALWAYS COMES BACK) and, after recieving a thorough flogging from his parents, makes Liza’s headstone out of the paperweight he stole. He mows the grass over her burial site, and leaves the stone carved just how Liza requested it:

E.H. We don’t forget.

Perhaps the thing I love most about this story, and about Bod in general, is that he really is such a loving boy. Yes, he disobeys his parents. Yes, his curiosity can get him into trouble (we’re talking stolen by demons and taken almost to the gates of hell kind of trouble) but, at the end of the day, he’s generous and caring and a truly warm heart in the cemetary. I also think that Bod gives us the chance, as readers, to read a very well written narrative told in the voice of an ordinary child (Bod never gets to be older than his early teen years) which I think is especially interesting given the fact that Bod is, really, anything but ordinary. He lives in a cemetary, for God’s sake, which isn’t a good start. But Gaiman writes him with such sympathy and love that it’s kind of easy to forget all that. And just love Bod for Bod, which is the best any writer can do, I think – to get a reader to love a character for that character, flaws and all.

I’m moving on now to “Color Vision” by Mary Rosenblum, another story in the Dark Alchemy collection, and I’m about a page in to it. So far it’s a little hard to get in to, but I also wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that I read it right after the Gaiman. After all, it’s hard to step away from the mastery Gaiman writes with when it comes to fantasy and fairy tales. However, I plan to stick with it and couldn’t be more excited to be getting some short stories into my reading diet. Because this post is so inordinatly long, I’ll go ahead and stop, but I do also want to mention that I’ve got Escape by Carolyn Jessop next on the pile (a memoir about a former polygamist who escaped with her eight children from a FLDS compound) and was wondering if any of you out there had read it? Liked it? The story seems great but the writing…eh… so I guess I’ll just have to wait and see if it picks up. Happy Monday, y’all, and happy reading!

– Chelsea

 OTHER NOTABLE QUOTES FROM “THE WITCH’S HEADSTONE”:

“It’s like people who believe they’ll be happy if the go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.” (3)

A great example of Gaiman’s humor: “‘I do believe’, he announced, scratching his dusty mustache, ‘that you are getting, if anything, worse. You are not Fading. You are obvious, boy. You are difficult to miss. If you came to me in company with a purple lion, a green elephant, and a scarlet unicorn astride which was the Kind of England in his Royal Robes, I do believe that it is you and you alone people would stare at, dismissing the others as minor irrelevancies” (9).

“‘It’s not that much to ask, is it? Something to mark my grave. I’m just down there, see? With nothing but nettles to mark where I rest.’ And she looked so sad, just for a moment, that Bod wanted to hug her. And then it come to him, as he squeezes between the railings of the fence. Hje would find Liza Hempstock a headstone, with her name on it. He would make her smile. (8)

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