Saturday, December 28, 2013

Our Potential Virtual Worlds

A couple of takes on the near-future as the virtual world becomes just a little more real than the real world. Although neither is a total nightmare, both are just disturbing enough to make you rethink your online life.

More Than This by Patrick Ness
(Candlewick Press, 2013)
Format: hardback via library

From Goodreads: "A boy named Seth drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments, losing his life as the pounding sea claims him. But then he wakes. He is naked, thirsty, starving. But alive. How is that possible? He remembers dying, his bones breaking, his skull dashed upon the rocks. So how is he here? And where is this place? It looks like the suburban English town where he lived as a child, before an unthinkable tragedy happened and his family moved to America. But the neighborhood around his old house is overgrown, covered in dust, and completely abandoned. What’s going on? And why is it that whenever he closes his eyes, he falls prey to vivid, agonizing memories that seem more real than the world around him? Seth begins a search for answers, hoping that he might not be alone, that this might not be the hell he fears it to be, that there might be more than just this. . . "

After the Chaos Walking trilogy, I expect the following from Ness: boys on the brink of manhood, thrown into the deep end of a world that is not what they thought they knew, navigating it with the help of well-met new companions. More Than This delivers it all, though in an alternate present (or near-future, perhaps) rather than on another world. Seth wakes in his deserted childhood hometown after drowning a continent away, and his mysterious solitude is no more explicable once he finally meets some fellow recently-departed teens. As he struggles with the traumatic memories of his life, this post-life world is sometimes hell and sometimes just a mystery, until it turns out that reality and life were not at all what he, or perhaps anyone, expected. 

The Circle by Dave Eggers
(Knopf / Random House Audio, 2013) 
Format: audio via library (narrated by Dion Graham)

From Goodreads: "When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America—even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge."

Here's a fun thing: think of all the online stuff you do - social, financial, recreational - and imagine it was all bound up in one identity. One username - a real one, tied to your government ID and banking info - one password, everything linked so you can chat about a product and buy it from one place, and the fact that you can't hide behind an anonymous sobriquet means there aren't trolls 'ruining' the conversation. Sounds convenient, until you put it all in the hands of someone with a brain like Eggers's, and then all the Ways It Could Go Wrong build, slowly at first, a little from one side and a little from another, until suddenly: yikes. Sure, high-res cameras to show the surf conditions! and make them little and cheap so they can be hidden in political hot-spots and catch para-militants in action! or, maybe in your elderly mom's kitchen so you can ensure she's taking her pills! Never mind that, just as you can access your friend's beach camera, she can also access the one trained on your mom. It's totally fine. 

Mae is an interesting character, accessible but infuriating - zigging when I wanted her to zag. Of course, those zigs are what allow Eggers to push her deeper and deeper into the Circle's world, unwitting though she sometimes is, and make the unfathomable seem almost reasonable. I willed her to just snap out of it long before I gave up on her, but her unwillingness - or inability - to untangle her life from the Circle was creepily effective and thought-provoking. 

Dion Graham grabbed ahold of the tone of this book, sounding placid and accessible and assured as he moved inexorably forward, allowing just a hint of menace to steal in even as Mae, blindly trusting, removed every filter between herself and the entire online world. He could be giving a wildly successful TED talk, and everyone would want to share and replay, spreading his message across the globe.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Night Film

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
(Random House, 2013)
Format: hardback bought at the wonderful Blue Willow Bookshop

From Goodreads: "Night Film tells the haunting story of a journalist who becomes obsessed with the mysterious death of a troubled prodigy—the daughter of an iconic, reclusive filmmaker.

On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.

For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself.

Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world.

The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more."

So, I actively disliked Scott McGrath pretty much from page one. (Or should I say pretty much from page one.?) (The of italics in this text was gratuitous and inexplicable, unless the purpose was to assist in my disliking the narrator.) In addition to the italics, we've got his crappy parenting and his egoism and the very fact that he was obsessing over all this Cordova stuff. On the other hand, he went for it. He chased his story, he endangered himself and others, he tossed around piles of cash in pursuit of leads. He was all about taking action. Which meant that even though I disliked him, I was very much along for the ride.

Cult horror films aren't my typical milieu, but I enjoyed this deeper and deeper delving into the world of Cordova and his fans. Pessl did fun things with her interactive portion of the book - not just the pages made to mimic web sites or sheaves of notes, but the scannable photos that took me to additional content. (The additional content was pretty much all about Cordova's films in some way, the kind of thing that his obsessive fans would compile for their invisible internet sites. It wasn't necessary for the narrative of the novel, but made the world McGrath was investigating all the more real.)

Ultimately, the mystery unraveled to reveal something not terribly mysterious, and I think Pessl could have done more to make each character an individual - they weren't any of them all that distinguishable from McGrath, which made them all a little hard to like - but I found myself turning pages and looking forward to more as the story developed, so I'm very happy to have taken the leap down a disused elevator shaft and into the world of this book.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

One Minute There, Then She Was Gone

Have you been waiting with bated breath? Thought so! Well, dear readers, wait no more, because here is the second half of 
Book Eight - The Wicked Poor Man
Drama! Action! Suspense!
The odor of burning
human flesh!

Victor Hugo's Les Misérables gets pretty dramatic here at the end of Volume 3: Marius; as you'll remember, young Marius is standing on the commode spying through a hole in the plaster at the con-man next door, who has just been given cash and gifts by the sweet ol' man, father of his beloved angel, but wasn't able to follow her to her house because he gave all his cash to the con-man's bedraggled daughter. WHAT WILL HAPPEN? Well, I'll tell you:

  • Jondrette (the con-man) says he recognizes the old guy, makes his daughters leave, and whispers the old guy's identity to his wife. She doesn't believe it, and furthermore, is outraged when Jondrette whispers the girl's identity. Wife's not happy. "Surprise, rage, hate, wrath, were mingled and combined in one monstrous intonation." (p.508)
  • Jondrette's not as pissed as his wife. He's ready to rake in the cash. "Thunder! It was not so very long ago that I was a parishioner of the parish of die-of-hunger-if-you-have-a-fire,-die-of-cold-if-you-have-bread!" (p.508) he says. 
  • He's got the old guy returning at six that evening to bring some more cash, and is going off to set a trap. Machinations! Plans! Schemes!
Now, Marius can't let this lie. He's got a beloved to protect! So he creeps out of the house (his neighbors think he's been gone all this time) and heads to get the cops. And here's an interesting twist! The commissioner isn't in, but there's an inspector filling in, so Marius goes to talk to him. "This man's air was not much less ferocious nor less terrible than Jondrette's; the dog is, at times, no less terrible to meet than the wolf." (p.512) (This is not the first time the wolf and dog have made an appearance when discussing this particular guy's appearance.) (Have you guessed who it is?)

Marius tells the inspector that he has an urgent, private matter to relate. He goes on about the plot and the accomplices and the girls setting a trap and then says where it's all going down. "[A]ll this was to be carried out at six o'clock that evening, at the most deserted point of the Boulevard de l'Hopital, in house No. 50-52.
"At the sound of this number, the inspector raised his head and said coldly:-'So it is in the room at the end of the corridor?' " (p.513)

Marius is like 'oh, you know it?' and the inspector's all 'yeah, yeah, can't hide there, too exposed, gotta make a plan - oh, you say all those bad guys from Book Seventh will be there? Fine, here, take these guns, shoot as a signal if there are urgent problems, we'll be there about six - oh, and if you need me, send a message to Inspector Javert.'

Marius heads home and takes up his position on top of the furniture. Jondrette is doing a lot of stage-
setting: a coal brazier with some tools heating in it, dark corners, oiled door hinges, etc. He sends his daughter next door to be sure Marius is gone, but she is so distracted by her reflection and teenage dreaminess that she only claims to have looked under the bed where Marius had hidden himself. (If you're wondering, yes, this is all just as farcical as you might be imagining.)

Everything's finally ready. "The Jondrette lair was, if the reader recalls what we have said of the Gorbeau building, admirably chosen to serve as the theatre of a violent and sombre deed, and as the envelope for a crime. It was the most retired chamber in the most isolated house on the most deserted boulevard in Paris." (p.519)

Of course, they don't have enough chairs, and Ma Jondrette dashes over to Marius's room to borrow his. Lucky for him he's in a dark corner and she's in a hurry to get back to the action. He's got his pistol cocked and his ears alert as the old guy enters; he knows the cops are nearby, and he hopes to learn some stuff about his angel before the night is over.

As Jondrette accepts the man's cash and chats about his injured daughter's hand, and various sob stories about work and wages and being under the boot of The Man and so forth, a few quiet brutes enter, one at a time. Jondrette is all 'hey, that guy? Just a neighbor, no big. Ignore him. And him, too. You can't see their faces 'cause they work with coal, it makes them dirty. How 'bout them Knicks?' Once everyone was in place, he starts yelling at the old guy, wants to know if he's recognized, can't believe the old guy's denials. Jondrette says that he was an inn-keeper, named Thenardier. The old guy still denies knowledge.

"Marius did not hear this reply. Any one who had seen him at that moment though the darkness would have perceived that he was haggard, stupid, thunder-struck…. Let the reader recall what that name meant to him! That name he had worn on his heart, inscribed in his father's testament!…That man, to whose service Marius was burning to devote himself, was a monster! That liberator of Colonel Pontmercy was on the point of committing a crime whose scope Marius did not, as yet, clearly comprehend, but which resembled an assassination!" (p.526)

"He shuddered. Everything depended on him. Unknown to themselves, he held in his hand all those begins who were moving about there before his eyes. If he fired his pistol, M. Leblanc [Marius's name for the old guy] was saved and Thenardier lost; if he did not fire, M. Leblanc would be sacrificed, and who knows? Thenardier would escape. Should he dash down the one or allow the other to fall? Remorse awaited in either case." (p.527)

Thenardier, meanwhile, is heaping invective upon Leblanc. Here are some of his exclamations (p.527-9):

  1. Done for! Smoked brown! Cooked! Spitchcodked!
  2. Mister philanthropist! Mister threadbare millionaire! Mister giver of dolls! you old ninny!
  3. Old charity monger, get out with you! Are you a hosier, Mister millionaire?
  4. you old blackguard, you child-stealer!
  5. And with his goody-goody air!
  6. I said to myself: 'Blockhead! Come, I've got you! I lick you paws this morning, but I'll gnaw your heart this evening!'
  7. Ah! you folks warm your feet, you have Sakoski boots, you have wadded great-coats, like archbishops, you lodge on the first floor in houses that have porters, you eat truffles, you eat
    asparagus at forty francs the bunch in the month of January, and green peas, you gorge yourselves, and when you want to know whether it is cold, you look in the papers to see what the engineer Chevalier's thermometer says about it.

In the course of this diatribe, he not only confirms to the eavesdropping Marius that he's the same guy who saved ("saved") Marius's dad Colonel Pontmercy at Waterloo, but he speaks not so sweetly about the beloved patriarch.

"Moreover, there was in all these words of Thenardier, in his accent, in his gesture, in his glance which darted flames at every word, there was, in this explosion of an evil nature disclosing everything, in that mixture of braggadocio and abjectness, of pride and pettiness, of rage and folly, in that chaos of real griefs and false sentiments, in that immodesty of a malicious man tasting the voluptuous delights of violence, in that shameless nudity of a repulsive soul, in that conflagration of all sufferings combined with all hatreds, something which was as hideous as evil, and as heart-rending as the truth." (p.529)

So now Marius has a quandary: protect the father of his angel, or do service for the devil who (he thinks) protected his father? He starts to shoot (to summon Javert's men), he fails to shoot, more thugs show up in Thenardier's room. Thenardier is pacing and ranting, "with full confidence that the door was guarded, and of holding an unarmed man fast, he being armed himself, of being nine against one, supposing that the female Thenardier counted for but one man." (p.530)

A battle ensues, and as strong as the old man is, the odds are bad, and they end up capturing him, searching him, and tying him to the bed. Being a clever criminal, Thenardier comments on the fact that Marius (and I) missed: during all of this ruckus, the old man didn't cry out for help. Why? Because he wants to evade the law himself. And this makes Thenardier all the more sure that his request will be fulfilled. He merely wants 200,000 francs from the man. Thenardier dictates a letter for the old man to write to his daughter, asking her to come to him at once, with the bearers of the letter.

In the course of this, we discover that the old man's actual name is Urbain Fabre, which means Marius has been carrying the father's handkerchief all along, but never mind. Fabre writes his address on the letter and one of the thugs, along with Thenardier's wife, head off to deliver it. Everyone settles in to await their return. Marius is still unsure where his conscious stands with all of these men, but he does know he'll give his life to protect Mademoiselle Fabre, so he has an action plan, at any rate.

It turns out Thenardier instructed the thug to abduct the angel, and hold her until he got the ransom from Fabre, which horrifies poor besotted Marius. Eventually the outraged Madame Thenardier returns. The address Fabre gave was false! It's not even a house! Marius breathes a sigh of relief - his angel is safe. But why bother with the false address, Thenardier demands to know.

" 'To gain time!' cried the prisoner in a thundering voice, and at the same instant he shook off his bonds;
they were cut. The prisoner was only attached to the bed now by one leg." (p.538) Fabre reaches for the iron-hot chisel resting in the fireplace and brandishes it before the seven conspirators can react. How did he do it? I love this part:

"The judicial examination to which the ambush in the Gorbeau hovel eventually gave rise, established the fact that a large sou piece, cut and worked in a peculiar fashion, was found in the garret, when the police made their descent on it. This sou piece was one of those marvels of industry, which are engendered by the patience of the galleys in the shadows and for the shadow, marvels which are nothing else than instruments of escape. These hideous and delicate produce of wonderful art are to jewelers' work what the metaphors of slang are to poetry…. The
unhappy wretch who aspires to deliverance finds means sometimes without tools, sometimes with a common wooden-handled knife, to saw a sou into two thin plates, to hollow out these plates without affecting the coinage stamp, and to make a furrow on the edge of the sou in such a manner that the plates will adhere again. This can be screwed together and unscrewed at will; it is a box. In this box he hides a watch-spring, and this watch-spring, properly handled, cuts good-sized chains and bars of iron. The unfortunate convict is supposed to possess merely a sou; not at all, he possesses liberty." (p.538)

Fabre makes it clear through vicious means that nothing Thenardier and his thugs can do will cause him to name his actual address. "[H]e extended his arm, and laid the glowing chisel which he held in his left
hand by its wooden handle on his bare flesh.
"The crackling of the burning flesh became audible, and the odor peculiar to chambers of torture filled the hovel.
"Marius reeled in utter horror, the very ruffians shuddered, hardly a muscle of the old man's face contracted, and while the red-hot iron sank into the smoking wound, impassive and almost august, he fixed on Thenardier his beautiful glance, in which there was no hatred, and where suffering vanished in serene majesty." (p.539)


Fabre throws the chisel out the window, and the ruffians attempt to grab him, which the Thenardiers decide knifing their prisoner is their only option.

Marius is freaking the heck out. "For the last hour he had had two voices in his conscience, the one enjoining him to respect his father's testament, the other crying to him to rescue the prisoner." (p.539) As he looks around despairingly, he notices the scrap of paper the older Thenardier had written on that morning in her attempts to impress him. Her words were, "THE BOBBIES ARE HERE," and they give Marius an idea. He wraps it around a bit of plaster and tosses it through the gap between their rooms, where the Thenardiers find it and assume it came through the open window.

All bad guys dive for the rope-ladder that is resting by the window, jostling and pushing in an attempt to be the first to escape. They can't settle on an order, and one of the ruffians suggests drawing lots to see who leaves first.

"Thenardier exclaimed:- 'Are you mad! Are you crazy! What a pack of boobies! You want to waste time, do you? Draw lots, do you? By a wet finger, by a short straw! With written names! Throw into a hat!-'
" 'Would you like my hat?' cried a voice on the threshold.
"All wheeled round. It was Javert.
"He had his hat in his hand, and was holding it out to them with a smile." (p.540)

The next chapter is titled One Should Always Begin by Arresting the Victims. So that's promising.

Javert and his guys spent a long time sitting around, surrounding the Gorbeau house. His first move was to capture the Thenardier girls, though Eponine got away. Then they waited, and waited, and watched all the well-known bad guys arrive, and Javert had ants in his pants, so up they went, even though Marius hadn't signaled them.

"He had arrived just in the nick of time.
"The terrified ruffians flung themselves on the arms which they had abandoned in all the corners at the moment of flight. In less than a second, these seven men, horrible to behold, had grouped themselves in an attitude of defense, one with his meat-axe, another with his key, another with his bludgeon, the rest with shears, pincers, and hammers. Thenardier had his knife in his fist. The Thenardier woman snatched up an enormous paving-stone which lay in the angle of the window and served her daughters as an ottoman." (p.541)

Javert suggests mildly that instead of exiting via the window, the gang should use the door. One of the crooks passes his gun to Thenardier, whispering, " 'It's Javert. I don't dare fire at that man. Do you dare?' " (p.541) Javert is all 'hey, go for it, you won't hit me no matter how close you are' and Thenardier is all 'bang!' but he misses and Javert is all 'told ya!' and the ruffians proceed to toss their weapons at Javert's feet and surrender. The other cops come in and start cuffing everyone, but one person challenges them:

"The Thenardier woman had entrenched herself in one of the angles of the window, and it was she who had just given vent to this roar.
"The policemen and agents recoiled.
"She had thrown off her shawl, but retained her bonnet; her husband, who was crouching behind her, was almost hidden under the discarded shawl, and she was shielding him with her body, as she elevated the paving-stone above her head with the gesture of a giantess on the point of hurling a rock.
" 'Beware!' she shouted….
[everyone backs off and she calls them cowards]
"Javert smiled, and advanced across the open space which the Thenardier was devouring with her eyes.
" 'Don't come near me,' she cried, 'or I'll crush you.'
" 'What a grenadier!' ejaculated Javert; 'you've got a beard like a man, mother, but I have claws like a woman.' " (p.542)

She throws the rock at him, which he ducks easily, and it lands at his feet. He collars the couple and had his men cuff them, and tells them, FYI, your kids are in jail, too.

And now Javert shows off a little, to make the ruffians fear him even more. He tells them to keep their masks on, lines them up, and names them one by one. While he's at it, he notices the dude tied to the chair, and orders the cops to untie him, and also to not let anyone leave the room. Javert sits himself at the table and starts writing his report. After the standard opening lines, he says, " 'Let the gentleman whom these gentlemen bound step forward.'
"The policemen glanced round them.
" 'Well,' said Javert, 'where is he?'
"The prisoner of the ruffians, M. Leblanc, M. Urbain Fabre, the father of Ursule or the Lark, had disappeared.
"The door was guarded, but the window was not. As soon as he had found himself released from his bonds, and while Javert was drawing up his report, he had taken advantage of confusion, the crowd, the darkness, and of a moment when the general attention was diverted from him, to dash out the window….
" 'The devil!' ejaculated Javert between his teeth, 'he must have been the most valuable of the lot.' " (p.543)

And all that's left to end this long entry, Book Eight, and Volume III: Marius is this: the next night, a ragamuffin lad came singing down the road, tossing insults at an old woman who turns out to be the portress of No. 50-52. She recognizes him as the imp (who Hugo notes we met back when we first went to the Thenardiers' inn in Volume II) whose whole family was just carted off to various Parisian jails. The portress takes a certain grim pleasure in informing him of their current abodes. The boy turns on his heel and walks back out into the night.

(Happy birthday to me! I am "only" two volumes away from completion of this silly self-imposed task. It's been fun, if time-consuming. But I'll go on.)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Survival Lessons

Survival Lessons by Alice Hoffman
(Highbridge Audio, 2013)
Format: audio CD via Audiobook Jukebox (narrated by Xe Sands)

From Goodreads: "Fifteen years ago, Alice Hoffman received a diagnosis that changed everything about the life she'd been living. Most significant aside from the grueling physical ordeal she underwent was the way it changed how she felt inside and what she thought she ought to be doing with her days. Now she has written the book that she needed to read then. In this honest, wise, and upbeat guide, Alice Hoffman provides a road map for the making of one's life into the very best it can be. As she says, "In many ways I wrote this book to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that s all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. There were many times when I forgot about roses and starry nights. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts sorrow and joy, and that it's impossible to have one without the other. . . . I wrote to remind myself that in the darkest hour the roses still bloom, the stars still come out at night. And to remind myself that, despite everything that was happening to me, there were still some choices I could make."

Good things come in small packages sometimes, and it's very much true in this case. After cancer and treatment and the mental blows that accompanied the physical ones, Hoffman was moved to think deeply about the choices she made with her life. I don't get the impression she was living such a bad life before the diagnosis - certainly her career was already going very strong - but it's not the overall course of things, it's the small decisions and moments that pass without a lot of thought that concern her here. 

Choices, deliberately and thoughtfully made. Choosing friends, pleasures, heroes. Choosing to accept or reject burdens, when that's possible. Choosing to eat brownies. Allowing that deliberate thoughtfulness about so many aspects of your life to strengthen and sustain you, both in fine times and in troubling times. In many ways, these aren't startling or new ideas, but Hoffman is a stylist, accessible and thoughtful and unique. It's a pleasure to have her Survival Lessons compiled like this, and though I teared up frequently listening to her words, I was left feeling peaceful and a bit wiser at the end of this short collection.

Xe Sands is a beautiful narrator for this book. Here's how much I love listening to her voice: there's a section at the end, just a few minutes, giving a knitting pattern. I'm not yarn-adept, it meant nothing to me and I could easily have skipped over it, but there was something soothing about her mellifluous voice. Purl and knit and cast off and so forth - if Sands narrated a book of knitting for dummies, I'd be tempted to learn just to have an excuse for it. 

I recommend the book, and the audiobook. If you follow my advice, you'll need the brownie recipe (and butter, and a double boiler, and possibly some doilies) so I've got it here for you:


Friday, November 29, 2013

My Secret Feelings about The Goldfinch

You guys! I'm struggling. Struggling to explain away my niggling negativity towards Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. Should I have read it instead of listening? But David Pittu's narration was quite good, his voices interesting and consistent and his Theo, in particular, accessible and familiar. Is it because I'm working so much on my own writing at the moment? But I've noticed writerly tricks in other authors' works and not felt irritated by them. Is it the high expectations stemming from my love of The Secret History? But I've already been vaguely disappointed by The Little Friend, so I ought to be inured to Tartt's follow-ups not delighting me in that same way.

One thing is, I didn't like Theo very much. He was a little bit of a punk before his mother died and he took The Goldfinch (though I will say I was delighted by Tartt's creation of his 13-year-old boy voice. I spend a lot of time with smart 13-year-old boys, and she did beautiful things with the tension between child and young man, a boy who has an active - if not admirable - secret life but who still holds his mom's hand and worries about her opinion of him.) The pinball trajectory of his teen years and the overwhelming influence of Boris on his life works well and makes sense. But I am rarely interested in pages and pages of a drug-fueled life, no matter how artful or how consistent for the character. So that's part of it.

The other thing is, the visibility of the construction. Tartt puts guns on the mantle piece and says, "Look, a gun. On the mantle piece." Then she references the gun, or the mantle piece. And then the gun goes off. I found the transparency too blunt, too often. Kid is left holding a priceless painting. How about if he befriends an antiques restorer who teaches him something about preservation techniques? Hey, Boris is chewing on a thumbnail - watch out, it means something. Not that Theo will trouble to find out. It happens repeatedly, big and small things. Andy's deep dislike of sailing. Theo's engaged lover. Every mention of Tom.

I love Tartt's writing on the sentence level, the paragraph level. Her scene-setting is evocative, often gorgeous. I love Xandra and Mrs. Barbour and Pippa and especially I love Boris and Hobie. But Theo had so little agency, other than his idée fixe about the fate of the painting, always running from instead of towards, always upset but not seeking solutions.

And here's where I'm going to complain about the ending, so stop reading unless you want big spoilers.


The set-up, fine. I'm okay with his ruined suit and missing passport he doesn't try to do anything about until Christmas Eve. I guess. Not crazy as always about the drug-and/or-fever-induced dreams. But especially feel cheated by Tartt using 'dead cell phone, can't possibly find a charger or get a new damn phone or call voice mail service or log in online to see your texts or any other way for anyone to get in touch with him' as a device. He never checks email? Boris never phones the hotel? Coupled with 'oh these Dutch papers I can't read are the only ones I could possibly get my news from so don't even bother delivering the International Herald Tribune to me, thanks,' I was about ready to throw the book across the room, except it was an audiobook I was listening to on my phone, since THAT'S HOW TECHNOLOGY WORKS NOW, Tartt, and you can be as elaborate as you want in explaining why he's not accessing it, but it's going to read like you're trying too hard and you're not then justifying that effort with a payoff. If somehow Theo had woken up and managed to direct his own destiny, I might have been able to ignore those factors, but he didn't, so it's a constant thorn.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

In My Life She Has Burst Like the Music of Angels

Y’all ain’t gonna believe how action-packed this part is. Fasten your seat belts, ‘cause Volume 3: Marius of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is a wild ride.

Victor Hugo: close observer
of teenage girls
Ado, begone! It’s time for
Book Eighth – The Wicked Poor Man

Poor Marius! So many sad things in his life, the worst of which seems to be that the old man and his pretty daughter have vamoosed for good. He goes all around Paris looking for them, in places both sensible and strange, all of his youthful exuberance and dreaminess and so forth shattered; “he was a lost dog.” (p.482)

“He took to living more and more alone, utterly overwhelmed, wholly given up to his inward anguish, going and coming in his pain like the wolf in the trap, seeing the absent one everywhere, stupefied by love.” (p.483) Poor boo. After ages of this, “he had been obliged to take to dining again, alas! Oh, infirmities of ideal passions!” (p.484)

So he’s walking out to get some food, when he gets bashed in passing by two fleeing grubby girls. “Through the twilight, Marius could distinguish their livid faced, their wild heads, their disheveled hair, their hideous bonnets, their ragged petticoats, and their bare feet.” (p.484) He overhears them fretting (in “repulsive slang” p.484) about how they’ve barely escaped being nabbed by the cops. They head off, and Marius finds a packet on the ground, which he pockets, since the girls are gone.

“ ‘How gloomy my life has become!’ he said to himself. ‘Young girls are always appearing to me, only formerly they were angels and now they are ghouls.’ “ (p.484) Don’t you feel sorry for Marius? Marius really wants you to feel sorry for him.

So he eats, heads home, and re-discovers the packet. Turns out it holds a pile of stinky tobacco-smelling letters, addressed to various people, signed with various names, each relaying a different sob story but all in the same hand. One – important info for later! – is addressed “To the benevolent Gentleman of the church of Saint-Jacqusedu-haut-Pas” (p.486) from a down-at-luck but grateful actor supplicant calling himself Fabantou.

So Marius is all, ‘huh, someone’s a con artist, eh?’ but is too bummed out by love to care, much less to speculate that the fleeing girls had any connection to it all.

Next morning, there’s a knock at the door, and to his surprise the voice that answers his “come in” isn’t Ma’am Bougon, the portress. “It was a dull, broken, hoarse, strangled voice, the voice of an old man roughened with brandy and liquor.” (p.488) It belongs to “one of those beings which are both feeble and horrible, and which cause those to shudder whom they do not cause to weep.” (p.488), also known as the older of the girls who ran into him in the street, also known, lo and behold, as the girl next door.

(Shall we see what Hugo has to say about this particular teen aged girl’s grim appearance? “The most heart-breaking thing of all was, that this young girl had not come into the world to be homely. In her early childhood she must even have been pretty. The grace of her age was still struggling against the hideous, premature decrepitude of debauchery and poverty. The remains of beauty were dying away in that face of sixteen, like the pale sunlight which is extinguished under hideous clouds at dawn on a winter’s day.” (p.488) In case someone needs to refute that the modern cult of beauty is at fault for causing teen girls to be image-obsessed, be aware that creepy old men have been scrutinizing and judging teen girls for centuries, and it leaves a mark, okay?)

So, this wretch brings Marius a letter asking for alms, and what? Surprise! It looks just like the other letters (but is signed “Jondrette”) He figures out that the girls have to carry supplication letters on behalf of their dad, the gross guy next door, and Marius takes some time to ruminate about the sad life the girls live, how poverty and manipulation and all are turning them into more monsters than women.

The girl, meanwhile, is having a ball. She hesitatingly reads a little from Marius’s books, writes on his paper, tells how her little brother is a friend of artists (take note for later, folks) and sometimes gets tickets to the theater she can use, lets Marius know how handsome he is, etc. Marius is all, ‘uh, yeah, uh, here’s your letters?’ and hands over the packet. She’s delighted, thought they were lost for good, and dashes off to deliver the one to “that old fellow who goes to mass.” (p.491) Marius comes up with five francs for her, keeping his last sixteen sous for himself. (He also paid 6 months rent for the neighbors at one point when he had cash. Remember, Marius is proud of living poorly to spurn his grandfather.)

So now Marius realizes that his level of destitution isn’t on the same scale as his neighbors. He contemplates all that misery and if this volume weren’t already so voluminous, I’d share more, but as it is, let’s get to the point: he discovers a hole near the ceiling that allows him to stand on the furniture and see into the Jondrette’s room. Or “hovel” as we should call it. “Marius was poor, and his chamber was poverty-stricken, but as his poverty was noble, his garret was neat. The den upon which his eye now rested was abject, dirty, fetid, pestiferous, mean, sordid.” (p.494)

Notable among the broken, shoddy furnishings, the lack of food, the barely-clothed torsos of the residents, was the fact that Jondrette had tobacco for his pipe. He’s writing more letters, and his big coarse wife is lauding him hollowly and his pitiful younger daughter is morose.

Marius is about to leave them to it, when the older daughter bursts into the hovel and tells her family that the old fellow from the church is following her, about to join them in their home. After Jondrette quizzed her closely to be sure she wasn’t spreading misinformation, he sprang into action. He put out the fire, broke the straw out of the bottom of their one chair, forced the younger girl to shove her hand through the window pane, breaking it to let in the cold and bloodying herself to add more pathos to their home. “One would have said he was a general making the final preparation at the moment when the battle is on the point of beginning.” (p.498) He tears his shirt, sends his wife to bed, encourages the kid to cry, and stands posing at the mantle, ready to look as miserable as possible, muttering about how the philanthropist probably won’t give them anything but bread and clothes that don’t fit and all his work will have been for nothing.

A knock!

The man and his daughter enter!

“Marius had not quitted his post. His feelings for the moment surpassed the powers of the human tongue.

It was She!” (p. 500)

He’s agog, he can’t believe his angel is in that horrible garret. His soul soars.

Meanwhile, the old man has given Jondrette the expected bundle of clothes and food, which Jondrette pretends to appreciate while making snide comments to his daughter about it. But he wants more, so he “exclaimed with an accent which smacked at the same time of the vainglory of the mountebank at fairs, and the humility of the mendicant on the highway” (p.501), pointing out the lack of fire and clothes, the broken window, the “ill” wife in the bed. He pinches his daughter’s bleeding hand to make her sob more, attributing the injury to unsafe factory work. He claims they’ll be kicked out if they don’t come up with a year’s rent, and names an amount that would have covered 18 months instead. (Also, Marius knows it’s a lie because it had only been 6 months since he paid their back rent.)

The philanthropist hands over his coat and the only five francs he has on him, promising to return at six that evening with the sixty francs Jondrette needs.

Marius kind of noticed all this, but mostly he’s been staring at the girl all this time. Her. His angel. Being all angelic with her charitable goods, her kindness to mother and daughters, and so on. When they leave, Marius tries to follow, but the cabbie is all “pay in advance, bub” and Marius is all “I’m good for it, I swear!” and the cabbie is all “you think I was born yesterday?” and since Marius gave his cash to the Jondrette girl, he can’t afford to follow his angel. ALAS!

He’s super sad and grumpy as he heads back to his room, and the last person he wants to see is the Jondrette girl who took his cash, but she butts into his room and suggests that, since she is always running helpful errands for her dad, she has the skills to help him out of whatever jam is bumming him out. She is NOT delighted to be asked to find the Angel Girl’s address, but she agrees. “There was a shade in the words ‘the beautiful lady’ which troubled Marius,” (p.506) but he pays no attention to his instinct and promises her anything if she’ll find his lady love.

Okay, this particular volume has a LOT more action, but there’s a limit to how long I’m willing to
make this post. So we shall leave it here with these compelling questions:
·      Will the philanthropist return with the cash?
·      Will the younger Jondrette have her arm cut off due to injury?
·      Will the older Jondrette find the angel lady’s address?
·      Will Marius fall through the commode he’s standing on to spy on his neighbors? 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Audiobook Auction Happening Now!

Howdy, readers and listeners,

I'm helping to spread the word about a fundraising auction for ALS, organized by members of the awesome audiobook community. A lovely audiobook producer, Bob Deyan, has ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) and the goal of the auction is to raise research funds.

If you're in the LA area, there's a fabulous 25 hour audiobook read-a-thon in Burbank. And if you're everywhere, you should check out the silent auction - it's not just audiobooks (though you CAN buy me a personalized story reading by Simon Vance, hint hint) but that's a lot of the organizing principal. Know of a kid who likes books? Bid on the full (and incredibly done) set of Harry Potter audiobooks! Or listen to my wise advice about how wonderful it is, and go for the Bloody Jack series! Get your favorite Nerdfighter a bunch of John Green audios! There are really just a ton of great books available, in addition to services, fun treats, etc. Do please check it out, and spread the word about this great cause. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

This is a test

it's only a test.

If you comment below, guess what? You get an A+ and gold stars!

Otherwise, I fail. (I don't really fail. I can comment myself to test this. But hey, I love hearing from y'all! Whatcha reading these days? I'm about 3/4 done with the new Inspector Lynley audiobook; I had to cry in the car this morning because of it.)

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Breath Away from Hell

And now is the part of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables where Hugo gets philosophical.

Well, another one of the parts.

But this time about depravity, so that's always fun! Let's see what Volume 3: Marius has to tell us about the human condition, in:
I'm halfway through this novel,
I've seen the stage production
and a film, and I've yet to see
why they made a book cover
featuring a lot of shoes.
Book Seventh - Patron Minette

Well, diving right into it: "Human societies all have what is called in theatrical parlance, a third lower floor." (p.477) So: up top, all those "great political, revolutionary, and philosophical" folks discussed in Book Fourth. Nobility of thought and action, etc. Progress. 

Below that, normal everyday schlubs.

Below that is "the great cavern of evil." (p.478) Nothing redeeming here. Nothing good. "Its name is simply theft, prostitution, murder, assassination. It is darkness, and it desires chaos.Its vault is formed of ignorance." (p.479) (I think Hugo disapproves!)

And in that evil place: "A quartette of ruffians, Claquesous, Gueulemer, Babet, and Montparnasse governed the third lower floor of Paris, from 1830 to 1835." (p.479) Now, Hugo does a gorgeous job of describing these four evil dudes, and since this chapter is exactly half-way through the book, I encourage you all to just go read it for fun. My favorite part: "[Claquesous] was a ventriloquist. Babet said: 'Claquesous is a nocturne for two voices.'" (p.480)

Possibly not the Proteus
Hugo meant.
So you've got these four baddies. They "formed a sort of Proteus, winding like a serpent among the police," (p.480) making it impossible for the police to pin anything on any one. "These four men were not four men; they were a sort of mysterious robber with four heads, operating on a grand scale in Paris; they were that monstrous polyp of evil, which inhabits the crypt of society." (p.481) And the underworld called them Patron-Minette. Plus lots of other things; Hugo makes a list. It is long.

Basically, he's not big on gray areas here. There is black, and there is white. These four: black. "What is necessary to cause these spectres to vanish? Light. Light in floods. Not a single bat can resist the dawn. Light up society from below." (p.482)

Presumably, the next long chapter will proceed to do just that.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mum's the Word

So: Texas. October. Teenagers. 

You see where this is going, right? Yep: Homecoming Mums.

(Look, I can't explain the whys of all this. But the fact is, if you're going to the homecoming game, and you have a date, your date pretty much is going to give you a mum - or garter, if you're a guy - and these things are huge. Both literally and as a tradition.) 

My high schooler hasn't done this whole mum thing before, so we were a little at sea. We checked around, and here's the math: pre-made mums are pricy, and not really personalized; home-made mums ain't the cheapest, but you can choose your own trinkets. Of course, they also take hours of planning, shopping, and crafting, and leave the mum-maker with a sore back and raw fingers, but that's balanced out by the joy of successful craftiness and the sincere-ish compliments from the teenager.

So I did my research, printed out my lists,
bought a ridiculous amount of stuff.

I started with one of those heart-shaped cardboards
and stapled a bunch of folded-over ribbon loops
around the edge (turning it more into a triangle)
and then I used thinner ribbon in loops to make
the pointed bits in front.

You can maybe see all the places
I had to remove staples while I
figured out how to do this.
Next I hot-glued the heck out of the
three fake mums (FYI, the recipient
is a senior, which apparently means
her mum should be all white.)

I added embellishments to
the mums. Normally it's a
bear on there, but my son
requested a squirrel.
Know what is impossible
to find? A stuffed squirrel.
This one's resin.
I stapled 20 of the wider white
ribbons to a second heart-shaped
cardboard base, fanning them out.

Here's where I started to get creative. I took
loops of thinner white and translucent ribbon,
stapled them together, then added the silver
stick-on letters of her name and stapled the
loops to a translucent ribbon, which I attached
to the cardboard with the mums on it.
And now: hot glue!
I laid out some fancy silver, red, and translucent ribbons,
a red/white/silver ribbon braid (school colors are red & white),
a ribbon with their school name, a red whistle (she's a drum major),
and a feather boa, and glued, glued, and glued some more.

Her band uniform is black,
so I used black binding ribbon
to make a neck loop and an
alternative pin loop, stapling
then gluing them to a third
cardboard backer.
I glued all 3 backers together.
It hangs together!
All those special braids and ribbons
and stuff add volume so it's as fluffy
and full as I can get it. 
Volume! You can see more of the
trinkets, the curling ribbon,
the beads, etc. (Not pictured:
my bloody fingertips.)
My sister said: "I hope she's tall!"
(I'm 5'3" - I think she's shorter. But she's smart,
she knows how to use scissors probably
even better than I do.)

Monday, October 21, 2013

In Your Eyes I am Just Like a Child

I am going to have to work diligently to get anywhere close to completion of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables by the end of 2013. Do feel free to scold me for my tardiness.

So, we're in the midst of Volume 3: Marius, and that young man is living the poor but noble life, while his grandfather thinks harsh thoughts about him, and about everyone. Start rubbing your hands together in anticipation now, folks, because here comes:

Coy womanhood! Or, actually,
girlhood, because dang but
does Hugo wax rhapsodic
about teenagers, or what?
Book Sixth - The Conjunction of Two Stars
Not to give too much away, but one of those stars is the affable, attractive Marius, who likes to take morning walks through various public places in Paris. The other first appears sitting on a bench with a white-haired old guy: "a sort of child thirteen or fourteen years of age, so thin as to be almost homely, awkward, insignificant, and with a possible promise of handsome eyes." (p.466) Marius passes them frequently, and doesn't particularly note the duo. "He found the man to his taste, but the girl insipid." (p.466) 

After a couple of years of this - them on the bench, him walking by - things change. This is when you can think about 60-year-old Hugo writing about teenage girls:

  • "The person whom he now beheld was a tall and beautiful creature, possessed of all the most charming lines of a woman at the precise moment when they are still combined with all the most ingenuous graces of the child; a pure and fugitive moment, which can be expressed only by these two words, - 'fifteen years.'" (p.467)
  • "In six months the little girl had become a young maiden; that was all. Nothing is more frequent than this phenomenon. There is a moment when girls blossom out in the twinkling of an eye, and becomes roses all at once. One left them children but yesterday; today, one finds them disquieting to the feelings." (p.467) Does one, Victor? DOES ONE?
  • "As three days in April suffice to cover certain trees with flowers, six months had sufficed to clothe her with beauty. Her April had arrived." (p.467)
  • That not metaphor enough for you? How about a poor person who suddenly has wads of cash? "That is the result of having pocketed an income; a note fell due yesterday. The young girl had received her quarterly income." (p.467)
  • "Her eyes were of a deep, celestial blue, but in that veiled azure, there was, as yet, nothing but the glance of a child. She looked at Marius indifferently, as she would have stared at the brat running beneath the sycamores," despite the fact that he's walking past her bench half a dozen times. (p.468)
  • But then one spring day Marius walks by, and "the young girl raised her eyes to him, the two glances met.  What was there in the young girl's glance on this occasion? Marius could not have told. There was nothing and there was everything. It was a strange flash." (p.468)
  • "There comes a day when the young girl glances in this manner. Woe to him who chances to be there!" (p.468)
  • "It is a snare which the innocent maiden sets unknown to herself, and in which she captures hearts without either wishing or knowing it. It is a virgin looking like a woman." (p.468) Ummmm....

So all of that happens, and Marius goes home and glances in the mirror and is horrified to realize that he's "been so slovenly, indecorous, and inconceivably stupid as to go for his walk in the Luxembourg with his 'every-day clothes,' that is to say, with a hat battered near the band, coarse carter's boots, black trousers which showed white at the knees, and a black coat which was pale at the elbows." (p.468) Ah, that magical moment when a guy realizes that he's making an impression with his appearance.

The next day he gets dandified and heads for his walk. "On the way thither, he encountered Courfeyrac, and pretended not to see him. Courfeyrac, on his return home, said to his friends:- 'I have just met Marius' new hat and new coat, with Marius inside them. He was going to pass an examination, no doubt. He looked utterly stupid.'" (p.469)

Lots of perambulation follows. It would make a great madcap movie montage. Marius strolls by, pretending it's just as usual, but looking sidelong at the girl. He walks closer to the bench some days, further away but slower other days. Sometimes he doubles back, sometimes he hides behind the statues and trees to spy on her, sometimes he sits on a nearby bench, going over his mental catalogue of her every gown and bonnet, and thinking inane things about how she was ignoring him, but she couldn't "help feeling esteem and consideration for me, if she only knew that I am the veritable author of the dissertation on Marcos Obregon de la Ronde," (p.470) and so forth. It even occurred to him that the girl's dad might start thinking his behavior odd.

One day! Oh, bliss! Marius was sitting on a bench near them, pretending to read, and she and her dad
walked past him! "He felt his brain on fire. She had come to him, what joy! And then, how she had looked at him! She appeared to him more beautiful than he had ever seen her yet." (p.471) It was heaven on earth, natch. "At the same time, he was horribly vexed because there was dust on his boots. He thought he felt sure that she had looked at his boots too." (p.472)

Nevertheless, Marius was on Cloud Nine, and unaccountably merry when dining with his friends. "When the mine is charged, when the conflagration is ready, nothing is more simple. A glance is a spark." (p.472)

Marius (as those of us who spent pages and pages reading his back story know) had this hero-worship thing happening with his father, which "gradually become a religion, and, like all religious, it had retreated to the depths of his soul. Something was required in the foreground. Love came." (p.473) On with the madcap montage, now with less pacing and more of Marius crouching behind pedestals trying to look grand for his lady love while being unnoticed by the dad.

"Sometimes, he remained motionless by the half-hour together in the shade of a Leonidas or a Spartacus, holding in his hand a book, above which his eyes, gently raised, sought the beautiful girl, and she, on her side, turned her charming profile towards him with a vague smile. While conversing in the most natural and tranquil manner in the world with the white-haired man, she bent upon Marius all the reveries of a virginal and passionate eye. Ancient and time-honored manoeuvre which Eve understood from the very first day the world, and which every woman understood from the very first day of her life! her mouth replied to one, and her glance replied to another." (p.473)

Papa starts playing mind-games with the dumb boy - walking to another bench while leaving his daughter at the original, to see which of them Marius follow, coming to the park alone to see if Marius would spy on Papa alone. Marius is goofy enough to fall for his traps.

And here's my favorite love-struck stupidity story: one day when Papa and the girl leave the park, Marius finds a handkerchief on the bench embroidered with "U.F." and instantly snatches it up, decides her name must be Ursule, keeps it by his heart during the day, on his pillow at night, and decides it embodies her soul. "This handkerchief belonged to the old gentleman, who had simply let it fall from his pocket." (p.474) So then Marius spent days kissing the handkerchief in front of "Ursule" in the park. "The beautiful child understood nothing of all this, and signified it to him by imperceptible signs. 'O modesty!' said Marius." (p.474)

Let's ogle teenagers with fancy language again, shall we? One windy day Ursule and Papa walked past Marius and he got up to follow. "All at once, a gust of wind, more merry than the rest, and probably charged with performing the affairs of Springtime, swept down from the nursery, flung itself on the alley, enveloped the young girl in a delicious shiver, worthy of Virgil's nymphs, and the fawns of Theocritus, and lifted her dress, the robe more sacred than that of Isis, almost to the height of her garter. A leg of exquisite shape appeared. Marius saw it. He was exasperated and furious." (p.474)

"Alas, the poor child had done nothing; there had been but one culprit, the wind; but Marius, in whom quivered the Bartholo who exists in Cherubin, was determined to be vexed, and was jealous of his own shadow." (p.474)

So jealous dumb Marius is watching Ursule, who glances at him. He "darted a sullen and ferocious glance at her. The young girl gave way to that slight straightening up with a backward movement, accompanied by a raising of the eyelids, which signifies: 'Well, what is the matter?' This was 'their first quarrel.'" (p.474) (Because it's totally kosher for guys to get mad at gals for being blown about by the wind and glare at them and them to not question it but just to be saddened.) (I'm sarcastic, but check out Hugo's further commentary: "Marius' wrath against 'Ursule,' just and legitimate as it was, passed off. He finally pardoned her; but this cost him a great effort; he sulked for three days." (p.475))

Eventually, Marius follows the duo home. He asks the porter lots of nosy questions, gets info about which floor they live on, that he's not rich but does good works with what income he has, and leaves feeling that he'll get the guy's name out of the porter soon. But the next day, when Marius follows them home, Papa sends Ursule inside and stares down Marius, who's standing in the street.

For the next eight torturous days, no Ursule or Papa in the Luxembourg gardens. No sign of them at them coming or going from their house. Eventually he goes to the house and there's no light in the window. He asks the porter.

They'd moved out the day before. No forwarding address.

Poor dumb love-struck Marius.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Reason to Live

A Reason to Live by Matthew Iden
(Matthew Iden, 2012)
Format: audiobook via the author (narrated by Lloyd Sherr)

From Goodreads: "In the late nineties, a bad cop killed a good woman and DC Homicide detective Marty Singer watched the murderer walk out of the courtroom a free man. 

Twelve years later, the victim's daughter begs for help: the killer is stalking her now. But Marty has retired to battle cancer. A second shot at the killer--and a first chance at redemption--Marty has A Reason to Live."

Iden contacted me via twitter to see if I'd listen to his first Marty Singer mystery. I looked at the sample pages and was engaged enough to want to keep going, so I had him send me the audiobook. And I truly enjoyed the listen.

Singer is wry and fond of the sound of his own voice, but sharp and more compassionate than he would like to be. Like all the best retired detectives, he crosses lines but trades on his accumulated goodwill to keep out of trouble - and being the cop who retired due to cancer gives him more goodwill than some of his former compatriots would like to grant him. The mystery is well-constructed, twisty but not trickstery, and I liked the way Singer comes to rely on others not just physically but emotionally and mentally, too. He grows, even as the cancer depletes him. It's a satisfying journey.

Sherr is a new-to-me narrator. His voice has grit and gravity, very suitable for Singer, and he carries the listener very ably through the tense moments. I wish his female voices were more differentiated, but otherwise I found listening to him for 8 hours a pleasure.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Tale for the Time Being

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
(Viking, 2013)
Format: paper via library

From Goodreads: " 'A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.'

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home."

Nao! Wonderful, complicated, smart, bullied, depressed, buoyant, philosophical, super Nao. She's a treasure of a character, and her tale is the definition of engrossing. I wanted to devour it in one setting, but Ruth wouldn't let me. (Ruth the character, not Ruth the novelist.) Ruth makes it all about her, possessive of Nao even with her husband. And possession gradually gives way to obsession, which is a whole delightful journey of its own, no matter how often I wanted to shake Ruth (the character) and force her to let me get back to the next installment of Nao's journal. (Okay, maybe in those cases it was Ruth the author I wanted to shake. But then she would grant me some wonderful moment with Ruth the character, and I had to restrain myself.)

This is the first of the 2013 Booker Shortlist books I've read, and based on this, I'm excited to get to the rest of the list.