Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Someone

SomeoneSomeone by Alice McDermott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't know what it is that makes me LOVE books that are just really well-told stories of everyday life. Indeed, this book boils down to various ordinary routines that make up Marie's life. Sometimes those routines are changed up just a bit and become the thing that defines us. An innocent swear word at the routine family gathering becomes the basis of the family nickname of pagan. Collecting a friend from her house where she is baking for her pregnant mother becomes the impetus of Marie's reticence to learn how to bake. There is nothing earth-shattering here. Yet the beautiful way that McDermott describes these moments makes the ordinary feel sublime. They feel authentic because we can see pieces of our own lives drawn in them; there is no need for suspension of belief or complicated plot twists. Throughout these works there are often motifs the author uses to underscore their observations or points and I enjoy discovering them. Although there may be several, McDermott uses light and shadows to emphasize the mood and to hint at the everyday revelations that we only see in retrospect and that what we see is not always how things are.

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"Never good to forget to remember," she said, "Always better to remember you forgot."

"Well, I don't want to learn," I said. "Once you learn to do it, you'll be expected to do it."

I sat on the edge of the bed.  I wanted to take my glasses off, fling them across the room.  To tear the new hat from my heat and fling it, too.  Put my hands to my scalp and peel off the homely face.  Unbutton the dress, unbuckle the belt, remove the frail slip.  I wanted to reach behind my neck and unhook the flesh from the bone, open it along the zipper of my spine, step out of my skin and fling it at the floor.  Back shoulder stomach and breast.  Trample it.  Raise a fist to God for how He had shaped me in that first darkness: unlovely and unloved.

The air was a wall.  The heat was a reminder of what I had glimpsed when my father was dying, but had, without plan or even intention, managed to forget: That the ordinary days were a veil, a wswath of thin clothes that distorted the eye.  Brushed aside, in moments such as these, all that was brittle and terrible and unchanging was made clear.  My father would not return to earth, my eyes would not heal, I would never step out of my skin or marry Walter Hartnett  in the pretty church.

Because the devil uses dirty words, Mrs. Fagin added, instructing me, her tiny finger held in the air, to make us believe that we're only the sum and substance of ugly things.

The ordinary, rushing world going on, closing up over happiness as readily as it moved to heal sorrow. 

I shrugged, aware of, grateful for, the grace of this ordinary conversation.

...But it was also, I came to believe, the very lifelessness of the bodies that made them all somehow indistinguishable and anonymous.

...when there's a sudden death, everybody thinks about all the days before, the days that were a vigil, after all, a vigil everyone was living through but nobody knew it."

Of course, churches should have been the touchstone places of our lives, a pair of Catholics such as we were.  But in truth it was the tiled corridors of these old urban hospitals that marked the real occasions of our life together.

Girl Waits with Gun

Girl Waits with Gun (Kopp Sisters, #1)Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Knowing this was based on real events, I had much more patience with the fact that the "Girl Waits" part of the title is more descriptive than "with Gun". I so wanted Constance to throw down a couple of times. Still Constance is no shrieking violet. And neither are her sisters, who live alone on a farm when single ladies just didn't do that. I loved Constance, Norma, and Fleurette. They each had their quirks but nothing to make them caricatures. They were strong women that refused to give in to pressure, physical or societal. Can't wait to read more about them int the Kopp sisters series.

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Before I Go to Sleep

Before I Go to SleepBefore I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This little psychological thriller puts on the slow burn. I guessed at the twist right away but Watson slowly, methodically disabused me of my suspicions only to turn it around and "get me" in the end. A shorter, tighter story might have made a more powerful impact, but I enjoyed the ride nonetheless.

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It's not life, it's just an existence, jumping from one moment to the next with no idea of the past, and no plan for the future.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Devil in the White City

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. Everyone told me how great this book was so I may have come into it with too high expectations. I feel like it was actually two books, one about the world's fair and one about the murders, and they were only sightly connected by time and place. Quite frankly, I hoped for a little more detail on both accounts and felt like the two tales competed with each other. However, both stories were interesting.

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1984

19841984 by George Orwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one is a classic. And also timeless. i finished this up on Halloween and couldn't think of a better horror novel. Yes, it can be slow and laborious in some places, but when you try to extrapolate their government to society today, it is still eye-opening and relevant. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Night Sky With Exit Wounds

Night Sky with Exit WoundsNight Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Put your big boy pants on for these poems; this is Poetry. Vuong uses imagery and words to create moods and feelings like an impressionist artist uses color and texture to create the idea of a picture. It isn't always clear what he is talking about, and more times than not, I wished for my old poetry group I was in in high school to help untangle the Gordian knot of words and understand the poems better. Because I felt certain there was stuff I just wasn't smart enough to untangle on my own. But even so, I could appreciate his images, both through the use of words and often through the placement of the words on the page. "Aubade with Burning City" was hauntingly beautiful about the evacuation in Soth Vietnam in 1979. In "Daily Bread" and "Logophobia" he explores the idea of creating truth with what you write. There are love poems, and poems of self-exploration. There are poems about his heritage and his family and poems about his hopes for the future. These are poems that demand to be read several times, and poems that morph with each reading. Although I wish I could understand the narrative of some of the poems more, I do understand that this is good poetry.

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How sweet. That rain. How something that lives only to fall can be nothing but sweet. Water whittled down to intention. Intention into nourishment.

...For hunger is to give/ the body what it knows/ it cannot keep...

Say autumn despite the green/ in your eyes.

My thrashing beneath you/ like a sparrow stunned/ with falling.

Say amen.  Say amend.

...That a boy sleeping/ beside a boy/ must make a field/ full of ticking.  That to say your name/ is to her the sound of clocks/ being turned back another hour/n & morning/ finds our clothes/ on your mother's front porch, shed/ like week-old lilies.

...It's not/ about the light--but how dark/ it makes you depending/ on where you stand.

....Maybe we pray on our knees because god/ only listens when we're this close/ to the devil...

...How we live like water: wetting/ a new tongue with no telling/ what we've been through...

...They say the sky is blue/ but I know it's black seen through too much distance.

Spilled orange juice all over the table this morning.  Sudden sunlight/ I couldn't wipe away.

....Like how the spine/ won't remember its wings/ no matter how many times our knees/ kiss the pavement...

loneliness is still time spent/ with the world...


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Garden


As newlyweds you strolled
among lush, verdant hostas,
ferns, and sedges; along a
travertine path.
Hydrangeas and honeysuckle
beckon hummingbirds and
butterflies: a magical Eden
alive with faires and elves
under the watch of guardian oaks.
Heat radiates from the green,
sighs fragrant with flowers,
heavy and earthy, raw with desire.
An orchestra of cicadas sang
to the twilight.  Fireflies
echoed constellations.
You captured a star for your bride:
A firefly under glass:
Celestial turned beetle.

Monsoon months arrive
with showers that impel
leaves to dance a tarantella.
The garden grows close as
the sky grows heavy.
Travertine path as slick
as your lies.
With mincing steps
and mincing words
you walk the fine line
between truth and what
you want her to know.
Wading in mud leaves
a mess too big
to clean up.

When the water retreats,
the army advances
in two single-file lines.
Like her barrage of carping
vitriol, the river of
six-legged creatures,
relentless and resolute,
pour forth from camoflauge
to infiltrate your citadel,
dissecting and carrying
away your lives
one crumb
at a time.

Under summer sun
mosquitoes, buzzing
like your bickering,
find their mark in
soft spots,
unthinkingly laid bare,
as surely as your
provoking pronouncements,
sucking blood,
replacing it
with venom,
so that alone
in bed at night,
you lie awake,
scratching at sores
until they bleed anew.

Fruit and flowers
lay lost and putrid
among the litter
of spent leaves and
brittle stems. Chill winds
carry decay and rot
around a lone
stationary figure,
the taste of dark
in the back of
your throat,
bewildered
at the waste.
Bare branches
crack the sky.