Accidental Man

Murdoch, Iris. An Accidental Man. New York: Viking Press, 1971.

Reason read: Murdoch was born in July. Read in her honor.

While the story of An Accidental Man opens with American Ludwig Leferrier and his British girlfriend, Gracie Tisbourne, getting engaged, the “accidental man” is actually middle aged Austin Gibson Grey. He is a hapless man followed by trouble with a mentally unstable wife.
As an FYI, the thing about Murdoch’s writing is that there are a lot of other characters to keep track of and the plot is dark and convoluted, but after a while the characters become old friends which makes the plot easier to follow. Kind of like when you are stuck in an elevator and everyone becomes familiar by the time the doors open and you are freed.
There are a lot of tragic moments in An Accidental Man so it’s surprising to think of it as a comedy. Take, for example, the scene of Gracie’s wealthy grandmother dying. Her children are desperate for the doctor to speed up the process because they just want it to be over or do they want her money? the sooner the better. The doctor tries and tries to leave but the family keeps finding excuses to make him stay.
Or, when Austin, driving Matthew’s car while drunk, hits and kills a child. Matthew helps cover up the crime because it was his automobile that struck the child. How they avoid detection from the police, I don’t know.
Or when Mitzi and Charlotte attempt suicide…see what I mean? Dark, dark, dark! However, one of the best things about Murdoch’s writing was how descriptive she could be with her characters. Grace Tisbourne is described as small calm radiant unsmiling. Just like that. It’s the “radiant unsmiling” that grabs you.
One of the worst things about Murdoch’s writing is how disjointed the story line could be. Because of the multitude of characters the plot jumps around a lot.
The message of the story is we all have to determine our moral obligation towards one another.

Lines I liked, “Crushed close together, two hearts battered in their cages” (p 4), “His parents were grateful to America, and the glow of that gratitude was shed over his childhood” (p 10), “The terrible solipsism of youth can offend the old” (p 26) and last one, “A police car kerb-crawled him and then drove away leaving the scene empty” (103). Brilliant.

As a trivial aside, I found a Natalie connection to Accidental Man. The cover is a man with puppet strings. All I could think was, “You Happy Puppet” when I saw it.

Author fact: Murdoch was also a philosopher.

Book trivia: Accidental Man is Murdoch’s fourteenth book.

Nancy said: One of Pearls all time favorite quotes is from An Accidental Man. She also indicated this was one of her very favorite Mudoch books.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the very obvious chapter called “Iris Murdoch: Too Good To Miss” (p 161).


Sacrificial June

June was all about giving up various elements of my life for the sake of family. I’ll go off the book review protocol to say one nice gesture threw off a myriad of plans. Because of one nice gesture I:

  • sacrificed a camping trip,
  • postponed my first trip of the season to Monhegan,
  • cancelled plans with my mother,
  • lost four training days,
  • lost hours of sleep but gained a kink in my back due to sleeping on an air mattress,
  • got behind on reading and writing end of year reports,
  • spent more money than I budgeted due to a cancelled flight,
  • missed a day of work, and
  • have no idea if I actually helped or not.

Anyway. Enough of that. On with the books:

Fiction:

  • Book of Reuben by Tabitha King
  • Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Sun Storm by Asa Larsson

Nonfiction:

  • Soldiers of God by Robert Kaplan
  • From a Persian Tea House by Michael Carroll

Series continuations:

  • Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov
  • Because of the Cats by Nicholas Freeling
  • Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian
  • Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope

Short Stories:

  • “Shadow Show” by Clifford Simak
  • “The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above”
    by Sherman Alexie
  • “At the Rialto” by Connie Willis
  • “The Answers” by Clifford Simak
  • “Garden Party” by Katherine Mansfield
  • “What You Pawn I will Redeem” by Sherman Alexie
  • “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx
  • “Harrowing Journey” by Joel P. Kramer
  • “Ado” by Connie Willis

“What You Pawn…”

Alexie, Sherman. “What You Pawn I Will Redeem.” Ten Little Indians. New York: Penguin, 2004.

Reason read: June is National Short Story month.

If the idea of countdowns or running of out time makes you anxious, this short story might make the sweat bead on your brow just a little. The main protagonist, Jackson Jackson, spots his grandmother Agnes’s stolen powwow regalia in a pawnshop window. She had lost her battle with breast cancer so the regalia is all that the grandson would have left of her…if he can get it back. The shop owner makes a deal to sell back the regalia for $1,000. There is only one problem. No one Jackson Jackson knows has $1,000. As an additional gesture of kindness, the pawnshop owner gives the grandson twenty bucks and twenty-four hours to come up with the rest of the cash. The clock is ticking, however the twenty immediately vanishes in the form of “three bottles of imagination.” It might infuriate the reader but subsequently every time Jackson comes into money it is frittered away on something else. Hamburgers vomited back up. Losing lottery tickets. A cigar that will only burn away to nothing. Drinks with strangers. A round for everyone at the bar. But it is the kindness of strangers that gives our hero a break.

Line that stayed with me for obvious reasons, “Indian alcoholics are either sprinters or marathon runners” (98).

Author fact: Alexie has lived on the Spokane Indian Reservation.

Book Story trivia: “What You Pawn…” was first published in the New Yorker Magazine in 2003.

Nancy said: nothing specific.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102). The reading of this story marks the completion of this chapter.


“Garden Party”

Mansfield, Katherine. “Garden Party.” Garden Party: and Other Stories. Garden City, New York: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1922.

Reason read: June is National Short Story Month.

“Garden Party” illustrates many themes: wealth versus poverty, insensitivity versus compassion, death versus life.
Wealthy Mrs. Sheridan has been preparing for an elaborate garden party with flowers and tents, food and music. Servants and gardeners and workers toil like busy bees here, there, and everywhere setting up chairs, organizing the musicians, placing the flowers just so. The excitement catches with her four children, too. But when a terrible accident leaves a man dead right outside their gates daughter Laura doesn’t thinks it’s appropriate for the show to go on. She questions the sensitivity of their actions. Later Mrs. Sheridan allows Laura to bring a basket of food to the dead man’s family. Walking through the poor neighborhood gives Laura a new perspective and in the face of mortality she learns about living.

Quote to quote, “The very smoke coming out of their chimneys was poverty stricken” (p 71). What a devastating image.

Author fact: the location of the garden party was modeled after Mansfield’s own property.

Book trivia: my copy of Garden Party was marked up like someone was editing the book. Bummer.

Nancy said: Pearl asked her readers not to neglect Mansfield, calling “Garden Party” brilliant.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Kiwis Forever! New Zealand in Print” (p 124).


Mariner’s Compass

Fowler, Earlene. Mariner’s Compass. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 1999.

Reason read: May is supposedly National Museum Month and Benni works in a museum…

The theme of Mariner’s Compass is, in a word, home. Benni Harper learns a lot about what ‘home’ means when she becomes the sole heir of a stranger’s modest fortune. Jacob Chandler, dead of an apparent heart attack, leaves everything to Albenia Louise Harper with the condition that she live in his house for two weeks straight. If she does, she will inherit his house and everything in it, a modest bank account, and a dog named Scout. Benni takes two weeks off from her job at the museum, leaves her husband at home and honors the strange request. To the reader, there are many ways this particular premise for a plot could fall flat. Benni could decide she doesn’t need a stranger’s inheritance and refuse to stay in the house. (Who’s watching to see that she does it anyway?) Or she could live in the house for fourteen days straight and not be curious enough to investigate this mysterious Jacob Chandler. Luckily for Fowler fans, Benni not only takes the challenge but goes to great lengths to solve the mystery. The plot thickens when this stranger for all intents and purposes seems like in life he had been Benni’s stalker. He knows the name of her childhood horse. He has a picture of her deceased mother. He has newspaper clippings of every major event in Benni’s life. Just who is this guy?
My biggest pet peeve? Despite the ominous idea of Jacob Chandler being a stalker, Benni is not discreet. She tells just about anyone the entire story. Not your typical behavior when your life might be in danger.

Lines to like: I didn’t make note of any. Weird.

Book trivia: There were a few places where a twist in the plot was too transparent to be a shock. When Bennie has a picture of the deceased Chandler sent to his sister I knew she wouldn’t recognize the man as her brother. I won’t spell out the other situations as they would definitely spoil the plot. Let’s just say, there were no surprises for me at the end.

Author fact: taken from the back flap of Mariner’s Compass: Folwer was raised in La Puente, California which explains her expansive knowledge of Mexican food and customs.

Nancy said: Pearl included Mariner’s Compass in a chapter about mysteries under the subsection of occupations (museum). Truth be told, Benni’s occupation does not play a factor in this book. She doesn’t do a day of work at the museum. There is a subplot. The new mayor wants to replace the museum with a bigger money maker. In protest Benni’s grandmother and a group of other women (including the mayor’s mother) arrange a sit-in until the issue can be resolved.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “I Love a Mystery” (p 117).


The Painted Desert

“…April is over. Will you tell me how long before I can be there?”
-The Painted Desert, 10,000 Maniacs

I will have that song playing in my head from now until June. Not only am I planning to be there, the trip cannot happen soon enough. But for the purposes of this post: April is over and here are the books accomplished:

Fiction:

  • The Warden by Anthony Trollope.
  • The City and the House by Natalia Ginzburg (EB & print).
  • Summer at Fairacre by Miss Read (EB).
  • Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding.
  • All Souls by Javier Marias (EB & print).
  • All-of-a-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor (AB and print).

Nonfiction:

  • Sixpence House by Paul Collins (EB & print).
  • Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs.

Series continuation:

  • Hunting Season by Nevada Barr (EB and print).
  • The Game by Laurie R. King (AB/AB/print).
  • Topper Takes a Trip by Thorne Smith (EB & print)
  • Second Foundation by Isaac Asimov (EB)

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Red Earth: a Rwandan Story of Healing and Forgiveness by Denise Uwimana

For fun:

  • Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver – Yes! I finally finished it!

Finding the Dream

Roberts, Nora. Finding the Dream. New York: Severn House Publishing, 1996.

Reason read: to finish the series started in August in honor of dream month.

Finding the Dream ends the Templeton trilogy.  Just to recap: In Daring to Dream flamboyant Margot Sullivan found love. In Holding the Dream Serious Kate Powell found love. In Finding the Dream finally, it is practical Laura Templeton’s turn in the spotlight. Would she find love again after all she had been through? Here is my favorite part of the entire series: throughout the pages of Daring to Dream and Holding the Dream, Laura’s bad marriage and equally awful divorce had been playing out. It’s the one story line that successfully weaved its way through the entire trilogy (aside from the cheesy Seraphina treasure hunt). Peter Ridgeway, a Templeton employee, seduced Laura when she was a teenager. He only wanted to marry her so that he had a permanent “in” with the family hotel business. But after cheating on Laura and stealing their two daughter’s inheritance he flew the coop, marrying a Templeton rival. (Another story line that ran through all three books but was unsuccessful.) Now, it is time for Laura to climb out of the ashes of a failed marriage and find a true love for herself. Just as Margot and Kate had climbed out of the wreckage of their own personal traumas. And just like Margot and Kate, Laura finds a love interest who is wrong for her in every way. True to the Nora Roberts formula, refined Laura and rough-around-the-edges Michael Fury clash at every turn. How will they ever fall in love?

Author fact: Roberts has written as J.D. Robb for her Death series.

Nancy said: nothing specific.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Romance Novels: Our Love is Here to Stay” (p 203).