SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn

Sometimes I have to be in just the right place for  certain writers, and that is true for a Gillian Flynn novel, because they are dark, quirky, strange, with an unsettling undercurrent that makes you absolutely positive that something unpleasant is about to happen.

Sharp Objects is her first book, published in 2006.  It is a testament to my short attention span that after reading Gone Girl  although I acquired her other books, I never got around to reading them, other lovers having intervened.  Her debut effort earned her a couple of awards.

A young woman reporter in Chicago, the product of a hypochondriac mother, a strange and quiet step father, a dead sister, is sent back to her home town by her paper to report on the murders of two preteen girls.  She stays in her mother’s house, where she is in contact with her strange half sister, now thirteen, an odd mix of mean girl and sweet mama’s baby.

While nosing around, trying to find out more about the deaths of the two murdered girls, she stumbles on facts that lead back to her own childhood, and we readers discover that she has been in psychiatric care for cutting.  It is an obsession she still struggles with, but is holding her own.

It is a creepy read, and one you cannot put down.  I don’t want to tell you too much.  You’ll learn more than you really want to know when you read it.

 

WILD LIFE by Molly Gloss

It is the early 1900s and Charlotte Bridger Drummond is a thoroughly modern woman. The sole provider for her five young boys, Charlotte is a fiercely independent, freethinking woman of the West who fully embraces the scientific spirit that is sweeping the nation at the dawn of the industrial age. Thumbing her nose at convention, she dresses in men’s clothes, avoids housework whenever possible, and proudly supports her family by writing popular women’s adventure stories. Ready to show off her knowledge of the local flora and fauna and have an adventure of her own, Charlotte joins a search party for a child who has disappeared in the deepwood wilderness on the border between Oregon and Washington. But when she gets lost herself, she is thrust into a mysterious world that not only tests her courage but challenges her entire concept of reality.

Starving and half dead from exposure, Charlotte is rescued by a band of elusive, quasi-human beasts. As she becomes a part of the creatures’ extended family, Charlotte is forced to reconsider her previous notions about the differences between animals and humans, men and women, and above all, between wilderness and civilization.

Yeah, I lifted that plot description directly from Goodreads, because I am behind in writing up my thoughts on what I am reading, and I am also lazier than the guy who drew the Japanese flag. So, in keeping with my motto not to put off til tomorrow what you can put off til the day after tomorrow, I kind of got backed up in my posts.

So.  This book.  It was great until about 2/3 through it, telling the story of of Charlotte, who is definitely a chick you would want to know.  It also has a lot about the logging industry back in the turn of the other century, and gives the reader a real taste of what life must have been like out in the far west as the country was beginning to grow up.  Had the flavor of Angle of Repose  which was based on the life of Mary Hallock Foote.   

And then it got weird.  The granddaughter of her housekeeper is taken by her father up into the logging camps to see what it was like.  She goes missing, and a massive search is on for her.  Charlotte gets it in her head to go up into the mountains around the camps and join the search, she gets lost, and hallucinates and is taken in by some wild creatures.  It went on and on and on, and not being in an introspective mood, but in a mood for the STORY, I lost interest and skimmed and skipped until she is finally rescued and the thread about the missing girl comes to a conclusion.

I still, even thinking back on the work,  cannot figure out what was the point of (a) a pragmatic women who is the widowed mother of 5 boys choosing to go off on the hunt, and (b) the getting lost part, and (c) what WAS that about the half human creatures?   Did we slip ever so slightly into fantasy there?  Anyway, it ruined the book for me, so if you read it, feel free to skip over that part, because the rest is great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hFoote,

SILVER SPARROW by Tayari Jones

A story about bigamy.  Yeah, don’t see too many of those, do ya.  It is a story about Black families in Atlanta, which started back in the fifties when Laverne, at age 14, gets pregnant in a one night dalliance.  Her parents throw her out, and Miss Bunny, the matriarch of the family of the young boy who is the father, takes them into her home and teaches Laverne how to be a wife and mother.  At the same time, Miss Bunny’s best friend had a son about the same time as Miss Bunny, decided she didn’t care for motherhood, and Miss Bunny took him in, too, when his mother left.

The two boys, James, the reluctant young father, and his abandoned friend Raleigh, are together all their lives.  Sometime in their twenties, James meets a beautiful woman working the gift wrap counter in a department store, and I guess falls in love with her, but with no intention of leaving his wife of ten years.   They begin to see each other, and the woman gets pregnant.  Shortly after, his wife also becomes pregnant, and the two children are born, both girls.  The ‘outside’ woman wants to be married, and she and Raleigh cajole James into getting married across the state line.

The book is the story of the two girls and the two families.  The outside wife and her daughter, Dana, secretly spy on James’ legitimate family, but those two know nothing of the other woman and Dana.

Dana eventually insinuates herself into the life of the legitimate daughter, Chaurisse.   There is back story on all the characters, and of course, it all comes to a head when the outside woman and daughter come to the beauty shop of the legitimate wife and reveal themselves.

What happens next.  Does James get kicked out of both houses?  Does he have to choose?

This is all about the effects of bigamy and secrets and lying have on families, the fallout of desire, and the issue of trying to have one’s cake and eating it too.

I found it extremely readable, and a really well-done look at the issues involved.  Not everything got tied up with a nice ribbon at the end.  There were still some unanswered questions, because like life, the story doesn’t end until the characters do.

MY HONOR FLIGHT by Dan McCurrigan

A … hmmmm….. delightful is not really the right word ……  touching …. yeah, that’s it, touching…. first person account of a soldier’s  experiences in Europe  during WWII.

Well, sort of first person, in that this is a novel, and a beautifully written one at that.  The premise is that a young soldier, soon to be deployed to Afghanistan, accompanies his great grandfather on a sponsored trip to visit the WWII memorial in Washington, D.C., an ‘honor flight’.   During the flight, the old man recounts to his great grandson his experiences in Buzz Company, a group of misfits and leftovers from other companies, brought together to form their own unit.

The ‘memoir’ has tales that are funny, and heartbreaking, and poignant.  Lots of action, lots of characters we come to love, and mourn,  just all around a fine work, helping us to remember and appreciate our soldiers from an older war, from a time when war meant protecting your country, not destroying another country for what seems to be no apparent reason other than oil reserves.

I remember reading a couple of memoirs from the First World War that I found on Project Gutenberg.  This novel has the same feel and flavor as those accounts of an even earlier war.

Golly, we suck as a species.

Honor Flight — Our Mission: To transport America’s Veterans to Washington, DC to visit those memorials dedicated to honor the service and sacrifices of themselves and their friends.

Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. We transport our heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials. Top priority is given to the senior veterans – World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill.

Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation—and as a culturally diverse, free society. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 640 WWII veterans die each day. Our time to express our thanks to these brave men and women is running out.

LANDFALL by Joseph Jablonski

A salty tale, along the Joseph Conrad lines.  No.  It isn’t.  I lied.   It is less about the sea and sailing than it is about the people who sail upon the briney.  Well, maybe that is also true about Conrad’s work.

Jake Thomas is now a retired merchant mariner.  He writes fiction, mostly sea tales,  but his story is all about when he was a 19-year-old cadet on his first voyage.  It was 1969, the Vietnam war was still raging,  and the old freighter he was on was ferrying supplies around the Pacific Rim.  During a month-long stop at Subic Bay in the Philippines for repairs and loading, he is encouraged to go off to the debauchery and corruption of the area’s red light district in the jungle, where he indulges in sex, drugs and maybe even rock n roll.  He contracts some illness, perhaps mosquito-borne,  and the prostitutes with whom he is living fear they cannot save him, so call on the wife of a nearby missionary who has nursing skills.  She comes to take care of him, and it’s Elmer Gantry meets Graham Greene.  She is a sexually frustrated, feisty gal and even though there are twenty years separating their ages, they have a fine old time.

Turns out that the missionary and his family are to be traveling back to California on the same freighter, much to the delight of the now-well young man, who foresees several weeks of hanky, not to mention panky, on the agenda.  However, those dreams are thwarted by the aggressive and peculiar first mate. VERY peculiar.

The night before arriving at the San Francisco port, the woman is found dead.

As the book opens, her now grown children come to Jake to ask what he knows about what really happened on that fateful voyage.  The kids were only 12 and 8 at the time.  They only know what they were told. They ask him to write a narrative about it, and will pay him a large sum to do so.  And thus ensues a tale of moral depravity, youth, corruption, and includes a ship captain whose loyalty to duty and his ship is heartwarming, in an Apocalypse Now kind of way.

It is an examination of human frailty, loss, and the excoriation of government policies and actions.  Yeah.  All of that.

A really great book.  It has everything…. stupidity, human nature, love, hate, and large scary animals.  What’s not to like?

 

THE ROSES UNDERNEATH by C. F. Yetmen

Did you see the movie The Monument Men?  Or read anything about the German Reich looting artworks, and finally stashing it in undisclosed locations?  This is another story about the Monument Men, told from a German woman’s perspective.

It is 1945 in Wiesbaden, Germany.  Anna and her six-year old daughter Amalia are living on scraps, sharing a one room apartment with her elderly aunt.   Anna’s husband, a psychiatrist, is still in a Russian-controlled  area working in a hospital there.  Anna sold what she could and after a huge fight with her husband, who refused to leave, managed to acquire a broken down truck in order to travel to her aunt in Wiesbaden.  The truck broke down 20 kilometers outside of the city, and she and her daughter walked the rest of the way, hoping that when she arrived that her aunt would still be alive and able to take them in.

She gets a job as a typist at the nearby museum which has been turned into a collecting point for the artworks the Americans are finding all over Germany.  There is a new law in place:  no artwork may change hands under any circumstances, not even between friends or family, until further notice.  The goal of the Monument Men is to sort out what is found, and redistribute it back to its rightful owners, or the families of the deceased owners, many of them being Jews, before the trade in artworks begins again.

The second in command of the place needs a translator for the field, when he goes out to investigate reported stashings of work in various abandoned houses, churches, etc., and learns that Anna speaks flawless English from her years living and going to school in London before being forced to return to Germany.

The story is all about the black market for art, the clandestine operations,  and life in 1945 Germany, just at the time when Japan surrendered.  It is about the guilt felt by the citizens, complicit in their knowledge of the camps and the possessions taken by the Nazis.  Anna struggles with this guilt, having living right outside the Theresienstadt camp, and feeling that the German people should all suffer for their actions and lack of actions, that they are all guilty.

It is a poignant story of the characters involved:  the Monument Men, the starving German people, forced to deal with the black market for scarce food,  Anna, her daughter, her Aunt, who remembers such better days, and the closet SS people who still believe in the purity of the Nazi policies.

The title is really interesting.  It is from the idea that although the ground may be covered by winter’s dead and decaying debris, they cover the roses which will appear in the spring. And thus, although Germany is covered with the blood and debris of war, as it is cleaned up, the flowering spirit of its people will once again bloom.

It is really not only a page-turner, but a sad one, and one that can serve as a warning as to what can happen when we ‘let George do it’.   Freedom is everyone’s responsibility, None of us are entitled to it for nothing.

 

 

LONG DIVISION by Kiese Laymon

An interesting first novel by  an American writer, editor and a professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Mississippi. What you think of it has a lot to do with who you are, your age, your race, your gender.

It features a young black 14 year old, who is a participant in a YouTube contest, Can You Use This Word in a Sentence, or something like that.  It is not a spelling bee, but rather a contest to highlight the most articulate students. Citoyen “City” Coldson is a clever kid, definitely more intelligent than most of his contemporaries in   Post-Katrina Mississippi.  He has a fast mind and often an even faster mouth.  The title of the book comes from:

“City, speed that up.  Why you gotta   be so long division?  For real, you don’t have to tell me all the background.  The story doesn’t have to go on and on and on.  “It doesn’t?”  “No.” Shalaya Crump said.  ·Everything with you is long division.  You busy trying to show all your work.  Just get in and get out.”

City has an on-camera melt down during the finals of the contest, railing against the system, against racism.  He has humiliated his family, and is sent to stay with his grandmother in a small coastal town.  As he is collecting his things from school, a teacher gives him a book titled, Long Division.  In it, all the characters are him and his friends and family, but set in 1985.  The small town is the home of a teen who has disappeared.   In the book he received, the characters find a portal in the woods which take them to 2013, or maybe even farther in the future.

OK, so we have time travel, fantasy, an ongoing theme of racism in America, an ongoing theme of being a young black male in America, an ongoing theme of being a teenager, all told in first person black southern teenage slang and rhythm.  It is just beautifully written.

My issues with this debut effort:  (1) too many themes.  It is hard to examine a serious and painful issue as racism in a short book that includes time travel and finding portals.  I have read many books where the idea of racism in a fantasy world was examined very successfully, but in this one, it is hard to reconcile. Are we readers supposed to be seriously contemplating the pitiful state of race relations in America today, or are we supposed to be having fun popping around the time line?  One or the other.

(2) Because of the intertwining of the current events (2013), and the events in the ‘book’, (1985), it was hard to follow.  I have an e-copy of the book, so maybe in print, there was some kind of differentiation — different fonts for each, perhaps.  It was a really fun idea, and a clever vehicle to carry the mystery of the girl’s disappearance, but definitely confusing to the e-reader.

(3) Because of the number of themes, and none of them layered sufficiently to work, none of the themes was explored enough.  It is a long novella length book, almost as if a story idea had been spun out long enough to create a bookish length.

(4) Essentially, the plot wasn’t all that and a bag of chips. What really shone in this work were the characters.  They were perfection.  They were real.  We didn’t need a plot.  We could have just followed them around for a few days of their quotidian lives, being enchanted by them.  All of that time travel was frankly just distracting.

So whether this was aimed at young black people, who all seemed to love it, as it represents their reality,  or at the general reading public, for whom I think it misses the mark on several literary levels, I don’t know.  Being an old white lady, I am surely not the target demographic.  I think it is a literary mishmash, but we all have to start somewhere.