October Light

Gardner, John. October Light. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1976.

Reason read: Autumn in New England is pretty fantastic. October Light takes place (mostly) in Vermont.

When I first picked up October Light I thought it was going to be this old-timey story about two elderly siblings, living in seething resentment of one another in a farmhouse somewhere in Vermont. Admittedly, the book jacket didn’t give me much to go on.
So, the plot: James Page is angry at the world. So angry he can’t stand his sister Sally’s droning television and ends up silencing it with a shotgun blast. The shooting of the television sets in motion a series of events – James locks Sally in a room (but seemingly not her own room because she finds a trashy novel which doesn’t belong to her). She becomes absorbed in said trashy novel; literally can’t put it down and refuses to come out of the bedroom, even when her niece convinces James to free her. James doesn’t care either way. In truth, he is not without deep rooted grief, a grief that has hardened to him. One son committed suicide and another died in an accident. James’s sister, widowed and a polar opposite, does nothing to comfort him. The epic sibling battle lasts for the entire book and escalates to a catastrophic ending.
I have to admit, I didn’t enjoy the frame novel technique. Sally’s trashy novel seemed to be the story Gardner really wanted to write. There is no explanation of how this trashy novel came to be in her room until the end. In truth, the story came alive for me in the last fifty pages.

Confessional: the phrase “New England piss and vinegar” had me smiling. Yes, I know the type.

Line I liked, “It was a fact if life that if people knew what you were feeling they could work you around” (p 64).

Author fact: October Light uses the framed novel technique of a story within a story. Gardner does a great job with both voices.

Book trivia: October Light was illustrated by Elaine Raphael and Don Bolognese.

Nancy said: Pearl said October Light was another good novel set in New England. Really, I would beg to differ. Because this is a framed novel only a portion of it takes place in Vermont and even then the location is a rundown Vermont farmhouse. Not a lot of it takes place out and about in New England. Only at the end do you get a real sense of what it is like to live in New England…the covered bridges, mud season, endless waiting for spring…

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “New England Novels” (p 177).


The Shining

King, Stephen. The Shining. Read by Campbell Scott. New York: Recorded Books, 2005.

Reason read: Stephen King was born in the month of September. Read in his honor.

The magic of King’s writing is this could be the story of any family anywhere. This sad tale is so middle America, it could be about you if you look in the mirror long and hard enough. Jack Torrence is a man struggling to be something other than a drunk with writer’s block. Fired from his Vermont teaching job after he is found guilty of assault, Jack takes a job in Colorado as caretaker for a massive mountainside hotel during the off season. How hard can it be to watch over a hulking, empty hotel when it is closed for the winter in the middle of nowhere? With only his wife and son to keep him company, Jack hopes to use the mountainside solitude to secure a spot more firmly on the sobriety wagon and break through his writer’s block. Only, this is no ordinary hotel and it’s not really empty. It lives and breathes tragedy and hones into each family member’s deepest and darkest secret. Paranoias of each family member are amplified and personified. Because Jack was accidentally and drunkenly violent with their son, Danny, wife Wendy sees Jack as a growing threat. She grows increasingly nervous for their safety. Jack in turn grows more and more resentful of Wendy’s distrust. Meanwhile, poor Danny (‘Doc’) has the gift of telepathy (the Shining) so he knows his parents have every right to be suspicious. Disaster is right around the corner for all of them.
As an aside, when you have The Shining read to you, you start to hear the psychological breakdown of each character.

Confessional: I can remember reading this book in high school. Here’s the weirdest part. What sticks in my head most is not the plot or even the characters. What I recall most is whenever I was sufficiently frightened enough I would stop reading and do push ups until I felt brave enough to continue.

So. In addition to listening to this on audio, I was also reading it as an e-book. Someone classified the book as “advice on parenting.” Funny.

Author fact: Stephen King was born in the same hospital as my nephew.

Narrator fact: Campbell Scott is great at the spooky voices. Not so much at the gender specific voices. Wendy sounded exactly like Jack.

Book trivia: I think everyone is familiar with Jack Nicholson’s performance in the horror classic, but what people forget is that legendary Stanley Kubrick adapted The Shining to film.

Nancy said: absolutely nothing.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the benign chapter “100 Good Reads: Decade By Decade (1970s) (p 178).


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).