Orr, Gregory. The Blessing: a Memoir. San Francisco: Council Oaks Books, 2002.
Reason read: April is National Poetry Month. Gregory Orr is known for his fantastic poetry.
This is Gregory Orr’s painful memoir of not only the terrible moment when he shot his brother to death in a hunting accident, but the uncharacteristic way he and his family, tight lipped and stoic, dealt with the pain. Only one week after the tragedy the Orr children were back in school as if nothing happened. Gregory was in the seventh grade at this point. When Orr’s father uprooted the family and took them to Haiti, Gregory, as an adult, is able to look back at the episode and as delve briefly into Haiti’s turbulent political history and conflicting cultures (a mention of Castro and Papa Doc Duvalier) as a perfect comparison to his own family’s unsettled time. It is unbelievable, but even more tragedy followed the Orr family after arriving in Haiti. Once in full adulthood, Orr tries to make sense of his past and his responses to all of its shocking heartache. For example – when his mother died, none of her children were invited to the funeral. Father, a man Gregory once worshiped and wanted all to himself, is later described as having “not a nurturing bone in his body.” What father gives bottles of amphetamines as going away presents to his son while he carrying on a relationship with a girl barely older than Gregory? All of this sounds like a book unbearable to read. It is not. In the end, Gregory is able to find his way through the maze of mixed emotions and come out with the determination to become an accomplished poet.
Lines to ponder, “We were grateful to let something so mysterious and disturbing pass out of memory” (p 85), “Violent trauma shreds the web of meaning” (p 134), and “Poems are discrete artifacts of language that prove someone’s imagination and linguistic gifts have triumphed over disorder in a definitive, shaped way” (p 144-145).
Playlist: “Ti Oiseau,” “Greensleeves,”Somnambule Ballad,” “Keep Your Eye on the Prize,” “Aint Gonna Study War No More,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “Birmingham Jail,” “We Belong to a Mutual Admiration Society (My Baby and Me),” “We shall Overcome.” Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, Bob Dylan.
To look up: To Die in Madrid: a documentary on the Spanish Civil War and the sculptor, David Smith.
Author fact: Orr also wrote The Caged Owl which is also on my Challenge list. It will be interesting to read the poetry now that I’ve read the memoir. Will I see hints of Orr’s personal life in his lines of poems?
Book trivia: There are no photographs in Orr’s memoir.
Nancy said: Pearl included The Blessing in her list of “beautiful and moving memoirs by poets.”
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Prose By Poets” (p 194).
Korten, Tristam. Into the Storm: Two Ships, a Deadly Hurricane, and an Epic Battle For Survival.
Confessional: this was a very difficult book for me to read. When I first requested it from LibraryThing I thought time and circumstance had adequately removed me from emotion. In other words, I thought I was far enough away from the story’s potential emotional impact. My father was a member of the U. S. Coast Guard. His responsibility in the service was Search and Rescue. Even though my father has been dead for over 25 years the urgency with which the Coast Guard acted and the determination of rescue swimmer, Ben Cournia, had a profound effect on me.
Additionally, I am from Maine. My mother’s little town of Rockland was devastated by the loss of so many Maine Maritime Academy graduates. It’s a grief that, to this day, lingers on the resident’s stoic faces.
But, having made my confession there is something else to admit. Emotional impact, especially one that lingers, is the sign of a well-told story. Korten stirred the memory pot and moved me to tears with his eloquent writing. Even if I had been a landlocked farmer in the Midwest Into the Storm would be just as powerful.
Korten’s detail of the events of September 29th, 2015 builds in tempo like the events that unfolded before, during and after Hurricane Joaquin’s rage. In the beginning, seasoned seamen and meteorologists alike were not impressed by Joaquin. As a weather condition, nearly everyone underestimated the storm’s growing power and unpredictability. This languid misjudgment proved to be deadly. Additionally, there were the missed chances to take the El Faro out of commission. The Coast Guard had put it on its target list for 2016 for vessels deemed dangerous and a risk to marine safety. Even more devastating was the fact the El Faro crew tried numerous times to tell the captain they were in a risky situation. Finally, the last known communication with land didn’t sound dire enough. No one had a clue the ship was that close to the deadly eye of Joaquin.
Preston, Diana. Lusitania: an Epic Tragedy. New York: Walker & Company, 2002.
Reason read: on May 7th, 1915 the Lusitania was torpedoed on her 101th journey from New York to Liverpool, England. This reading is in honor of that horrific anniversary, 102 years later.
1915 – the year when everyone was in competition to see who could build the biggest, the fastest, the safest, the most stylish luxury ocean liner on the Atlantic. In the meantime, war was underway so another group was trying to build the fastest, the safest, the most stealthy and deadly underwater vessel called a U-boat. On May 7th, 1915 these two ocean vehicles would come together and make controversial history and spark one of World War I’s biggest mysteries. In 1915 the British vessel the Lusitania was the fastest passenger liner on the ocean. It was rumored to be able to outrun any U-boat enemy. However, what is fascinating about Diana Preston’s version of events is the amount of suspense she builds in the telling. I found myself questioning what I would do if I was set to board a British passenger ship, knowing full well its country was at war and the enemy had just issued a warning to passengers (to me!) stating they would attack my mode of transportation. In addition, I had options. There were neutral American boats going the same way.
I enjoyed Preston’s Lusitania so much I sought out documentaries about the May 7th, 1915 sinking to learn more.
Cache of worthless information:
- Admiral Lord John Arbuthnot “Jackie” Fisher would have been a solid contender on Dancing with the Stars.
- Admiral Lord Charles Beresford had a hunting scene tattoo across his buttocks “with the fox disappearing into the cleft” (p 19). Thank you for that image, Ms. Preston!
- Businessman Elbert Hubbard’s wife’s preoccupation with potted plants got on his nerves.
Quote to quote, “A disaster always seemed necessary to bring about safety improvements (p 59). Isn’t that always the case?
Here’s another interesting quote, “A group of bellboys had spent the night before sailing electrocuting rats…” (p 133).
But, the most devastating quote to me is, “The German government regretted that the American passengers had relied on British promises rather than heeding German warnings” (p 334).
As an aside, I enjoy when a book educates me further on things I wasn’t aware I needed to know. Reading Lusitania prompted me to look up Leonardo Da Vinci’s underwater suit. I wanted to know more about Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt. His portrayed him as a dashing man.
Author fact: There is a saying out there, “stick to what you know” and Preston certainly subscribes to that point of view. She has written four other books about the sinking of the Lusitania. None of these, nor any other Preston books, are on my Challenge list.
Book trivia: at first glance Lusitania: an epic tragedy is a hardy 438 pages long. In reality, its text is more like 380 pages once you remove all the awesome photographs, maps and diagrams. There are 80 photographs, 5 maps, 7 illustrations and 5 diagrams in total.
Nancy said: Nancy called Preston’s account “fittingly moving” (p 76).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Dewey Deconstructed: 900s” (p 76).
Shakespeare, William. “King Lear.” The Riverside Shakespeare. Ed. G. Blakemore Evans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974. 1249-1305
Reason read:Billy the Bard was born in April.
I think I have had to read King Lear half a dozen times in my academic career. It keeps coming back. It is interesting to note that this time I didn’t read it as a Pearl pick, but rather as a Pearl comparison. King Lear is compared to a Jane Smiley novel in More Book Lust in the chapter, “Big Ten Country: The Literary Midwest (Iowa) (p 27).
So, back to Mr. Shakespeare and his brilliant tragedy. To sum up the play in one sentence: this is the story of a king seeking to divide his kingdom among his three daughters based on who could articulate her love for him the best. Beyond that it is the tragedy of emotional greed – of wanting to be loved at any cost. It is the tragedy of politics and family dynamics. Youngest daughter Cordelia is unwilling to conform to her father’s wishes of exaggerated devotion. Isn’t the last born always the rebel in the family? As a result Cordelia’s portion of the kingdom is divided among her two sisters, Goneril and Regan. The story goes on to ooze betrayal and madness. Lear is trapped by his own ego and made foolish by his hubris.
Author trivia: it makes me giggle to think that Shakespeare was married to a woman named Anne Hathaway, only not that Anne Hathaway.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called (as mentioned before), “Big Ten Country: the Literary Midwest (Iowa)” (p 27).
This should be a ps at the end of the Tougias review but somehow it doesn’t seen appropriate to put it there. What I am about to say has nothing to do with the review but is essential to the enjoyment of the book. LISTEN TO THE AUDIO BOOK! Seriously. I wrote my review before listening to the acknowledgments and thank yous and the I-couldn’t-have-written-this-book-without-you spiel. I should have waited until all that was over. Here’s what I would have included:
Listen to the very end of Ten Hours Until Dawn. What you will hear will chill your heart and break your soul. Listening to the actual radio calls between Coast Guard stations Glouster, Salem and Peabody and Frank Quirk, Captain of the “Can Do” is breathtaking. You spend so much time hearing an actor portray these people and you spend so much time with Tougias’s words that when the real exchange is finally heard it’s like a punch to the gut. On a personal note, I felt actual anger listening to the captain of the Global Hope fumble for the correct terminology to describe his situation. I felt sheer helplessness listening to Charlie Bucko make the mayday call from the “Can Do”. Listening to these people blew my mind. Maybe I am so moved because my father was a tried and true Coastie. To be sure I have been thinking of him as I heard Frank Quirk’s brave voice on the radio. Next month marks the 20th anniversary of my father’s passing; a man who died while trying to save the life of another.
But, back to Ten Hours Until Dawn. I have to admit this is one of those rare times when I want to read the book even after hearing the audio version. This is a story that truly resonated with me.
Tougias, Michael J., Ten Hours Until Dawn: the True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do. Read by Joe Barrett. Blackstone Audio, 2006.
I grew up on the water. As a child I went to sleep with the sound of the surf crashing in my ears. I could see the ocean out my schoolhouse windows. To go anywhere special I had to ride across the waves for over an hour. At an early age I was taught to respect the sea, to love the sea and yes, even to fear it. The very idea of drowning in the ocean fills me with such a horror I cannot fully articulate. I knew picking up Ten Hours Until Dawn would be a lesson in breathing through fear. I knew I did not want to face the doomed men of the Can Do. For that reason alone I chose to listen to Tougias’s story instead of read it.
Tougias was obviously influenced by Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger when he wrote Ten Hours Until Dawn. There have been many comparisons made of the two ocean-tragic books. In listening to the audio version of Ten Hours Until Dawn I appreciated the detail with which Tougias recounted the Can Do’s final hours thanks to actual radio transmission transcripts. In addition Tougias included many stories of other rescues and tragedies to illustrate his point of just how dangerous the ocean could be. The arch enemy of a boat is wind and the blizzard of 1978 produced winds topping 100 miles an hour. Seas were well over 40 feet. Tougias paints a touching biography of Frank Quirk, the civilian pilot-boat captain who gathered four other men to brave the blizzard elements to assist in the rescue of two other Coast Guard boats in peril that day. My only “complaint” would be of myself. Because Tougias includes many different rescues to illustrate different points (the bravery of a certain man, an example of fierce weather, the sea worthiness of a boat) if I wasn’t paying attention, I would get confused as to which tragedy Tougias was recounting. He frequently bounced between the “current” action of the Can Do and other incidents that happen before and after 1978.
As an aside, I loved Joe Barrett reading Ten Hours Until Dawn because he did such a good job with the voices. The nasal Boston accents cracked me up!
Reason Read: I threw this on my August list because June, July and August are the three months I love to be on the water.
Author Fact: In addition to sea stories I’m guessing Tougias likes to hike. He has coauthored several books about hiking across Massachusetts. I’m thinking about picking up one or two of them.
Book Trivia: As mentioned earlier, too many people like to compare Ten Hours Until Dawn to Sebastian Junger’s Perfect Storm. Like Perfect Storm I think they should make a movie out of Ten Hours Until Dawn!
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “See the Sea” (p 201).
Packer, Ann. The Dive From Clausen’s Pier. New York: Random House, 2002.
I have to start off by saying this seems to be the month for reading about selfish women. The Dive From Clausen’s Pier is about Carrie Bell, a young woman who doesn’t really give a lot of thought to other people’s feelings. After her fiance is paralyzed from a diving accident (hence the title of the book) Carrie must decide if she can spend the rest of her life with a quadriplegic she doesn’t really love anymore. After the decision has been made the rest of the book is more of the same, Carrie steamrolling over people’s emotions while she forges ahead in search of what makes her happy. The Dive From Clausen’s Pier is extremely well written. Character development is flawless. Carrie is supposed to make you angry. Her family and friends are appropriately hurt and slow to forgive. You may not agree with the character (I certainly didn’t when it came to her second big decision), but you will agree with the pages on which she comes to life.
Personal aside: Probably the person I connected with the best is Paul Frasier, better known as Kilroy. There was something magical and intriguing about his character. For days after finishing Dive From Clausen’s Pier I couldn’t stop thinking about him.
Best lines: “How could you become anything without having wanted to be that thing first?” (p 227), and “Lane and I were like lines that intersected and then split apart again, without a pattern but with a kind of purpose” (p 281). I have a friendship like that. We can go for months without speaking, living those parallel lives, until one day our paths cross and it’s like we never were apart.
Author Fact: This is Packer’s first novel.
Book Trivia: The Dive From Clausen’s Pier was made into a Lifetime Original movie.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “First Book” (p 89) because indeed, The Dive From Clausen’s Pier is Ann Packer’s first novel. Also, in More Book Lust in the chapter called “Ready, Set, Liftoff: Books to Ignite Discussion” (p 192). I would also agree with this selection because it’s the ultimate topic for discussion: what would YOU do?
This should have been posted sometime in September – sorry!
Smith, Dennis. Report From Ground Zero. New York: Viking, 2002.
I chose to squeeze this onto my September reading list because it matched my mood, my New York State of Mind, if you will. When you are embraced by sadness additional tragedies are easier to handle. It’s as if someone wants to throw a bucket of water on a man standing in the pouring rain. What’s a little more precipitation to an already drowning man? Bring it on.
The first thing you notice about Report From Ground Zero is how stark it is. My copy didn’t have publisher or copyright information. It was if my version was a rough draft, a real report from bowels of hell. It disturbed me and I can’t tell you why.
Dennis Smith asks the question everyone can answer even nine years later, “where were you on September 11, 2001?” In Report From Ground Zero Smith asks key rescue personnel to recount the moments directly after seeing, hearing, or learning of the attack on the World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan. He calls each story a testimony. Smith starts by giving his own account which amounts to a litany of questions surrounding logistics and survival. As a retired New York City firefighter he anticipates the magnitude of destruction and ponders the challenges surrounding survival with great concern. As each rescue worker recounts that fateful, awful day a pattern starts to emerge. Initial disbelief turns into a sense of determination as the magnitude of destruction is fully realized. Every single response was to roll up the shirts sleeves, harden the jaw and with single minded pure grit get to work. After the dust has literally and figuratively settled other shared memories come to mind – how deathly quiet and dark everything became after the towers fell; how surreal the landscape. Like nothing they had even seen before or since.
While the first half of the book contains the powerful testimony of others around him, the second half of Report From Ground Zero is Smith’s diary of the aftermath of 9/11. It isn’t as emotional as the first half of the book, but sheds critical light on one man’s determination to document just how tireless and faithful those rescue personnel searched to rescue fellow officers and even family.
Favorite lines: “I am attached to the television as if every friend I had is about to cross the screen” (p 6). I think we were all that way, for days to come.
Another one: “There is no reason why I’m alive and anyone else is dead” (p 32). Words remembered by Deputy Chief Pete Hayden.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, simply ” 9/11″ (p 171).
McNeal, Tom. Goodnight, Nebraska. New York: Vintage, 1999.
This could have been a movie for me. It is the coming of age, and redemptive story of Randall Hunsacker. Although he is just a teenager Randall has been sent to Goodnight, Nebraska to turn his life around. He has escaped a violent past and left behind a broken family in Salt Lake City. Redemption is not what Randall is seeking, at least not at first. Goodnight is a small tight-knit community and Randall’s inclusion is not readily welcomed. He rebels with ridicule in letters to his sister and remains a mystery in school. The only place Randall allows himself to feel anything is by being violent on the football field. Over the course of ten years Randall slowly starts to settle down with a wife and an occupation. It is during this time that Randall realizes redemption is what he needed all along.
My one complaint? At one point the story breaks away from Randall and follows his wife, Marcy, when she decides she needs a fresh start. After Randall starts drinking and becomes progressively violent she leaves Randall behind and escapes to California. There is no real explanation for Randall’s behavior and you almost want the marriage to fall apart.
Favorite lines – one really short and one really long: “Me. I believe in me” (p 126), and “…there are some kinds of love, the ones we’re all after, that are meant for open air and natural light, but there are other kinds too, more than we’d like to think, that come out of the dark and drag us away and tear parts from our bodies, kinds of love that work in their own dim rooms, and harbor more sad forms of intimacy and degradation and sustenance that those standing outside those rooms can ever dream of” (p 260).
BookLust Twist: From more Book Lust in the chapter called, “The Great Plains: Nebraska” (p 108).
September 2009 was…Back to school. I spent the first part of the month concentrating on hiring for the library and avoiding tragedy. Kisa and I took a much needed vacation – first to Fenway park (go Red Sox!) and then to Baltimore for a little getaway. September is the month I will always mourn my father, but now I add Mary Barney to the list of tears. As I have always said, everything bad happens in September. This year was no different. As you can tell, I buried myself in books.
The Escape was:
- The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka ~ I had completely forgotten how disturbing this book was!
- The Reivers by William Faulkner ~ a southern classic that almost had me beat.
- A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby ~ funny tale about a first-time expedition
- Out of the Blue: the Story of September 11, 2001 From Jihad to Ground Zero by Richard Bernstein and the staff of The New York Times ~ an unsettling journalistic account of what really happened on 9/11/01.
- The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough ~ a nonfiction about what happens when mother nature meets bad human design.
- Off Balance: the Real World of Ballet by Suzanne Gordon ~ a nonfiction about the ugly side of dance.
- Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler ~ magical book about three very broken people (in honor of real character month).
- A Student of Weather by Elizabeth Hay ~ Hay’s first novel – one I couldn’t put down it was that good! This was on the September list as “the best time to visit Canada.”
- Native Son by Richard Wright ~incredibly depressing. I’m almost sorry I read it this month.
- The View From Pompey’s Head by Hamilton Basso ~ a last minute pick-me-up, read in honor of Basso’s birth month (but also doubled as a “southern” read).
For LibraryThing and the Early Review program: Day of the Assassins by Johnny O’Brien. Geared towards teenage boys, this was a fun, fast read.
For fun, I read a quick book called Women Who Run by Shanti Sosienski . Since our flight to Baltimore was only 40-some-odd minutes I didn’t want to bring a lengthy read. This was perfect.
McCullough, David G. The Johnstown Flood. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968.
I have no idea what possessed me to read about two large scale disasters in the same month. The tragedy of September 11, 2001 cost the United States over 3,000 lives and was entirely a man-made nightmare, The tragedy of May 31, 1889 cost the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania over 2,000 lives and was a combination of man and nature coming together to create a different kind of nightmare. I instantly thought of Hurricane Katrina descending on the levies of New Orleans.
In the case of the Johnstown Flood, it was the man-made dam that held back the waters of Lake Conemaugh. As long as the dam held, the bustling valley town of Johnstown below was safe. While the dam was surrounded in controversy – those who thought it was perfectly safe versus those who thought it needed a makeover – no one could have predicted the amount of water the heavy rainstorms of May 31st, 1889 would bring. By midday the dam was in serious trouble. Despite frantic efforts to bolster its walls, by late afternoon it was too late and the dam gave way. It was impossible stop the deluge of millions of tons of water rushing down the mountainside. In a matter of hours an entire town was demolished. McCullough does an amazing job tying personal stories with the facts of the events. His recreation of the chain of events is stunning and almost unbelievable.
For some reason, it’s the examples of innocence right before the disaster that touched me the most. “The distance between the two houses was only about five feet, so he [Horace Rose] had put some candy on the end of a broom and passed it over to her [Bessie]. That was so successful that he next passed across a tin cup of coffee to Bessie’s mother in the same way. She was just raising the cup to her lips when the first crash came” (p 145).
The truest line of the book: “All ordinary rules of decorum and differences of religion, politics and position were forgotten” (p 187). Isn’t that what happened after September 11, 2001?
BookLust Twist:From Book Lust in the chapter called, “What a (Natural) Disaster” (p 124).
Bernstein, Richard, and the staff of the New York Times. Out of the Blue: the Story of September 11, 2001 From Jihad to Ground Zero. New York: Times Books, 2002.
Today was a day just like September 11, 2001. Crystal bright blue skies. Not too warm, not too cold. Almost perfect weather. Weather like that makes me suspicious – on edge. Every since 9/11/01. You probably feel the same way. Not a cloud in the sky makes me nervous. I stare up expecting it to fall down. I still can’t watch CNN reports from that day. It’s still too fresh in my mind, still too soon. Eight years later and I’m thinking it’s almost too soon to be reading Out of the Blue. Still.
Out of the Blue takes us chapter by chapter through what on September 11, 2001 – from the transformation of Osama bin Laden and the emergence of Al Qaeda to the trainings of the terrorists and finally, to the day we will never forget. A day that some are calling the end of innocence. Intermingled in this “explanation” for what happened and how it all began are the personal biographies of some of the victims. It is not clear how Bernstein chose these Americans to be included in Out of the Blue, but the inclusion of their stories illustrates just how unexpected these attacks really were. Normal, everyday routines carried out by normal everyday people were shattered in the blink of an eye. Bernstein documents the terrible reality of when the planes hit; the choking smoke, the inferno flames, the lethal leaking fuel, the rescue workers rushing into the buildings while terrified victims either rushed out or jumped to their deaths. The entire New York Times staff is to be applauded for their thoroughness for facts and details that make Out of the Blue more of a matter-of-fact (and less of a sensationalized) account of a mind numbing tragedy.
Aside from the typo on page 246 I enjoyed Out of the Blue as much as I could…considering the subject matter.
Tragic lines: “Whole families, traveling together on the hijacked planes, were obliterated together” (p 7), and “After denying for months that there would have been any way for American law enforcement or intelligence to have detected the terrorist plot beforehand, he [Director of the FBI, Robert S. Mueller] admitted that important clues to the coming disaster were ignored or neglected by the FBI” (p 157).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter, “9/11” (p 171).
Maitland, Sara. Ancestral Truths. New york: Henry Holt & Co., 1993.
To be quite honest I don’t know how this came into my hands. I’ve already read one book in honor of National Sibling Month. This was supposed to be on the list for next year, or maybe even the year after that. I wasn’t supposed to read two sib books in one month. But, suddenly there it was and after I picked it up I couldn’t put it down.
Ancestral Truths is a bizarre tale about a woman who starts a journey climbing a mountain in Zimbabwe with her lover and ends it with her alone with an amputated hand and the nagging doubt of murder in her heart. Reliving her days in Italy and on Mount Nyamgani while on holiday with her large family in Scotland, Clare Kerlake tries to figure everything out. Did she kill her boyfriend? Can she live without her right hand? She comes from a large family and they all have baggage so it’s no surprise when the plot gets a little preachy and over the top. Religion, feminism, mysticism and witchcraft all play a part in this novel. It gets heavy at times but well worth slogging through.
Favorite parts: “She was an amputee, a cripple, stared at discreetly and pitied; or completely ignore, invisible in the embarrassment of strangers” (p 10). “‘You named me,’ Joseph once said irritably, ‘not only after the only married male virgin in the Church’s calendar, but after the only bloke in history who would take his pregnant girlfriend on a trip without booking in advance'” (p 110). Last one, “Clare had been embarrassed, self-conscious in her laughter while Julia was free in hers” (p 286).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Brothers and Sisters” (p 47).
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: Plume, 1987.
Another must-read from the days in Maine. Although, I don’t remember reading it then. I don’t remember reading it, ever. Is that sad or what? This is a classic. Something everyone should read.
I don’t think I could summarize the plot adequately. Basically, it’s the story of Macon “Milkman” Dead III. He got the nickname Milkman from being breastfed by his mother way past infancy. But, this story goes beyond coming-of-age; it transcends stereotypical stories of racial strife and strained family relations. Yes, there is all of that. This is a story that has been described as tragic and magic in the same line. It may be a story about one man’s rise to adulthood, but it is told from many different points of view. We learn about Milkman’s ancestry and the culture of his time. Morrison weaves imagery and symbolism together so that everything important means something different. Family names are not just names. They come from religion, mistaken identity and social injustice. Family ties are tethered and severed through love and hate, peace and violence, poverty and wealth. One man’s perception is another man’s reality.
Quotes I liked: “I’m on the thin side of evil and trying not to break through” (p 21).
“He wouldn’t know what to feel until he knew what to think” (p 75).
“She was the third beer” (p 91).
BookLust Twist: Toni Morrison is mentioned twice in Book Lust. Song of Solomon is in the chapter “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade” (p 175) under the section 1970s.
Manfredi, Renee. Above the Thunder. San Francisco: MacAdam & Cage, 2004.
Once I started reading Above the Thunder it was like a giant boulder building momentum down a hill. I couldn’t stop turning the pages. I like that it’s all about journeys, big and small. Personal and global. On the surface its four people, on the whole it’s humanity. The plot is simple – it’s about the life of Anna. She starts out being a cynical, bitter widow who “doesn’t want to get involved.”‘ She doesn’t want to get involved in living, period. She has all but disowned her daughter whom she hasn’t seen in 12 years. She has one friend. When her son-in-law and granddaughter return to live with her and she reluctantly agrees to help moderate an aids support group she ends up being the center of a collection of people so diverse and wonderful she can’t help but change and, in the process, grow. Sounds predictable and nice, but it isn’t. There is a harsh reality to this coming-into-the-light story: aids, suicide, divorce, miscarriage and sadness all play an important part in the plot.
The thing I liked best about Above the Thunder are the characters. They are believable. Anna is introduced to us as closed off and inflexible. In time she changes, but when faced with a new tragedy she reverts back her old self and craves solitude where she can grieve in private. In shrugging off the comfort of others she is still the same person we meet in chapter one. Even Jack, a homosexual with problems with fidelity, doesn’t change his desire for sexual freedom once he discovers he is hiv positive. All the characters go through a period of growth and acceptance, but at the core are all still the same unique individuals.
Some favorite lines:
- “She doubted it was possible to understand someone else’s suffering. Even her beloved husband whose pain had become a private geography on which she couldn’t trespass.” (p 21)
- “Holy God, man, how long does it take to cook a hot dog? I’ve been in line long enough to break a habit, backslide, and recommit.” (p 183)
And a favorite scene: two homosexual men trying to teach a pubescent girl how to use a tampon for the first time. It’s hysterical and poignant all at once.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called, “Maiden Voyages” (p 159). I have always loved discovering someone’s very first novel. Katherine Weber’s maiden voyage is one of my favorite, but Above the Thunder rates right up there, too.