Graced Land

Kalpakian, Laura. Graced Land. New York: Grove Press, 1992.

Reason read: Elvis Presley was born in the month of January and if you couldn’t tell by the title of the book, Graced Land has an Elvis slant…big time. Read in his honor.

Emily Shaw, fresh out of college with a degree in social work, thinks she can heal the world Candy Striper style with her notes from her final Sociology class. Elvis has died five years prior and Emily’s first welfare client, Joyce Jackson of St. Elmo, California, is obsessed-obsessed-obsessed with the fallen idol. Joyce doesn’t need a Candy Striper. She needs to spread the work of Elvis. As she sits on her porch-turned-shrine to the king with her two daughters, Priscilla and Lisa Marie (of course), Joyce tells anyone who will listen how Elvis’s job was to sing, entertain, and look pretty, but his life’s work was to spread love, charity, and compassion. To make the world see Elvis as a humanitarian is a tall order considering many see his final years as a drug-addled, overweight has-been. Emily, instead of spending the prerequisite twenty minutes with Joyce on the first visit, ends up listening to Joyce and drinking the tea for three hours.
Later we learn how Joyce came to be such an Elvis fanatic. We leave Emily’s little life and follow Cilla’s childhood, describing how her mom was obsessed with Elvis since forever. I think the story would have held up better if Kalpakian had stuck with the story from Emily’s point of view, rather than brief first person narratives from Cilla. They didn’t serve much purpose other than to fill out Joyce’s personality as a mother. There is one critical scene that Cilla had to narrate, but I think Kalpakian could have found a different way.
But, back to the plot. Along the way, Emily learns Joyce is scamming the government by making money on the side. As a new social worker she needs to make a decision, turn Joyce in or give in to Elvis.

As an aside, I don’t know if Kalpakian did it on purpose, but a lot of the characters have alliterate names: Penny Pitzer, Marge Mason, Joyce Jackson…

Confessional: I had never heard of the Old Maid’s prayer before this book.

Author fact: Kalpakian also wrote Educating Waverly, also on my challenge list.

Book trivia: Real people and events from Kalpakian’s life make cameo appearances in Graced Land. Another interesting tidbit is that Graced Land was also published under the title Graceland.

Nancy said: Pearl said Graced Land is an example of a novelist using the facts of Elvis’s life to “explore themes of love, family, relationships, and even religious and socioeconomic issues” (Book Lust p 79).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Elvis On My Mind” (p 78).


January Jumping

Believe it or not, I’m kind of happy with the way January is shaping up already, five days in. After the disappointments of December I am definitely ready for change. I’m running more these days. I convinced a friend to see sirsy with me. I’m not sure what she thought, but I am still in love with the lyrics. Anyway, enough of that. Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett – in honor of Bennett’s birthday being on the 14th of January. (EB)
  • Sanctuary by Ken Bruen – in honor of Bruen’s birthday also being in January. Confessional: I read this book in one day. (EB)
  • The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat – in honor of Danticat’s birthday also being in January. (EB)
  • Graced Land by Laura Kalapakian – in honor of Elvis’s birth month also being in January.
  • Passage to India by E.M. Forster – in honor of Forster’s birth month also being in January. Yes, celebrating a lot of birthdays this month!

Nonfiction:

  • Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten – in honor of a Cuban Read Day held in January.
  • Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel – in honor of China’s spring festival.

Series continuations:

  • Persuader by Lee Child – the last one in the series, read in honor of New York becoming a state in July (and where Child lived at the time I made this whole thing up). (AB)
  • The Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset – this is another series I am wrapping up. I started it in October in honor of a pen pal I used to know in Norway.

Early Review:

  • I am supposed to receive an Early Review from November’s list, but it hasn’t arrived so I can’t mention it. For the first time in a long, long time (perhaps ever, I’ll have to look), I did not request a book for the month of December.

Careless Love

Guralnick, Peter. Careless Love: the Unmaking of Elvis Presley. New York: Back Bay Books, 1999.

If in Last Train to Memphis Elvis Aron Presley was a shy, quiet kid with diamond-in-the-rough talent, for all appearances he is now a cocky, self-assured music and movie star in Careless Love. All of the makings of a good rock and roll star are there: sex, drugs and money. At this stage of the game Elvis is dating more women than he can keep track of, taking upppers and diet pills to keep up with the party-til-3am lifestyle, and spending boatloads of money all the while. By the time he is in his early 30s he has bought his entourage push carts, motorcycles and horses. “In all he managed to pay out well over $1000,000 in approximately two weeks, an orgy of spending that seemed to momentarily pacify Elvis…” (p 252). His sincerity gets lost in the mayhem and only resurfaces when he remembers his deceased mother. His mother brings out the best in him. Without her, his struggle to know himself is heartbreaking. Yet, what he really does knows is how to work the public, especially the ladies. Guralnick doesn’t shy from this fact. He is unflinching in his quest for the truth of the legacy. He captures Presley’s demise as the epic tragedy that it was.

Quote that shocked me, “Elvis had told her before they were married that he had never been able to make love to any woman he knew to have had a child…” (p 291).

Reason read: January was Elvis Presley’s birth month. Careless Love is the second volume of Last Train to Memphis.

Author fact: Guralnick has his own website here.

Book trivia: Careless Love was a New York Times Best Seller.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called, “Elvis On My Mind” (p 78). Simple enough.


Last Train to Memphis

Guralnick, Peter. Last Train to Memphis: the Rise of Elvis Presley. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1994.

When Guralnick calls Elvis a “myth” is he referring to the unfolding of events that created rock and roll, or is he implying Elvis had an unverifiable existence? Was Elvis a false notion? I’m not really sure. What I am sure about is Guralnick’s ability to tease apart the smaller pieces of Elvis Aron Presley’s early life; the moments that led up to his stardom. There is certainly enough emphasis on Elvis’s shy and polite and humble beginnings as a sheltered country & western wannabe who couldn’t play the guitar worth beans. There is also emphasis on the key people surrounding Elvis during his rise to fame. It is obvious as Elvis’ stardom rose, the less he was able to discern who was trustworthy. He needed an entourage and he struggled with identity, but a growing confidence led him to expect adoration and special treatment, especially when it came to cars and women. I appreciated the historical context of the songs Elvis made famous, especially since someone else wrote them and almost always sang them first. Everyone knows Elvis made ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ famous, but few recognize the true origins of the song. I also appreciated the emphasis placed on Elvis’ connection to family. Elvis may have had a taste of reality when he had to enter the military, but he had to swallow it whole when his mother died. The event changed his life. This is where Last Train to Memphis ends. The sequel, Careless Love picks up the biography.
Last Train to Memphis includes photographs (as it should), but that’s not the cool part. The cool part is that the photos are not clumped together in the middle of the book like most biographies, but rather they begin each chapter like a little surprise.

As an aside, I found it interesting that in the author’s note, Guralnick mentions more than once that he felt he needed to “rescue” Elvis.

Reason read: Elvis was born in January. Need I say more?

Author fact: This is silly. I have been misspelling Peter’s last name for the longest time. I have been leaving out the N. It’s GuralNick.

Book trivia: Last Train to Memphis covers the years of 1935 – 1958. Careless Love continues where Last Train leaves off.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Elvis On My Mind” (p 76).