Silko. Ceremony. New York: Penguin Books, 1986,
Reason read: November is American Indian Heritage month.
I like to compare reading Silko to drinking a icy cold glass of limoncello. It is not the kind of thing you gulp down in chug-a-lug like fashion. It is better to take in small sips of the scenes in order to let them slide over your subconscious and filter slowly into your brain. Think of it this way. It is as if you have to give the words time to mellow and ultimately saturate your mind.
First things first. When you get into the plot of Ceremony what you first discover is that Tayo is a complicated character. After being a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II, alcoholism, battle fatigue (now called post traumatic stress disorder), mental illness, and guilt all plague Tayo. It’s as if threads of guilt tangle in his mind, strangling his ability to comprehend reality, especially when other veterans on the Laguna Pueblo reservation turn to sex, alcohol and violence to cope. Friends are no longer friendly.
Next, what is important to pay attention to are the various timelines. There is the time before the war and the time after at the mental health facility with the timeline with Thought (Spider) Woman, Corn Woman, and Reed Woman. Each timeline dips back and forth throughout the story. Tayo struggles to reconcile what it means to be Native American, with all its traditions and beliefs, with the horrors of war and captivity. How does one as gentle as Tayo forgive himself for being a soldier? “He stepped carefully, pushing the toe of his boot into the weeds first to make sure the grasshoppers were gone before he set his foot down into the crackling leathery stalks of dead sunflowers” (p 155). He can’t even inadvertently harm a bug.
Interspersed between the plot are pages of lyrical poetry.
Throughout it all, I found myself weeping for Tayo’s lost soul.
Quotes I liked, “Somewhere, from another room, he heard a clock ticking slowly and distinctly, as if the years, the centuries, were lost in that sound. (p 98) and “But as long as you remember, it is part of the story we have together” (p 231).
Author fact: Silko was born in Albuquerque in 1948, the same year as my mother.
Book trivia: As I mentioned earlier, Silko’s poetry is part of the story.
Nancy said: Nancy said Leslie Marmon Silko is one of her favorite American Indian writers.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “American Indian Literature” (p 23).
Salinger, J. D. Nine Stories. Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1948.
Reason read: June is Short Story Month
Both short stories I read share a central theme of a soldier who is more comfortable conversing with a child than any adult.
“A Perfect Day for a Bananafish”
He is a soldier who strikes up a conversation with a young child on a Florida beach. The phone conversation his wife has with her mother early in the story indicates he is suicidal, although the reader doesn’t clearly see this until the end. For that reason, it is worth rereading. Clues become clearer with a second read.
Line I liked, “She was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing” (p 4).
“For Esme – with Love and Squalor”
He is a soldier who strikes up a conversation with a teenager in a restaurant. She is precocious and intelligent. Wise beyond her years. Through letters with Esme the soldier is able to cope with the squalor of war.
Author fact: Everyone knows Salinger penned Catcher in the Rye because everyone has read Catcher in the Rye. Right?
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Good Things Come in Small Packages” (p 102).
Mason, Bobbie Ann. In Country. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1985.
In Country is deceivingly simple. The language is so straightforward and uncomplicated you think it was originally written for children. Here’s the scoop: 17-year-old Samantha Hughes acts obsessed with the Vietnam War. She lives with her vet uncle and pesters him daily about the possibility of Agent Orange reeking havoc with his health. He has bad acne on his face and strange headaches. Despite having a boyfriend her own age Sam also starts to fall in love with a local mechanic, another vet. To the average witness Sam’s fixation with all things Vietnam is borderline mania, but Sam has good reason. The father she never knew was lost in the war. He died when she was only two months old. He never came home. No one knows very much about him and if they do they aren’t saying much. As a result Sam feels her entire existence is shrouded in mystery. After being rejected by the vet and reading her father’s journal Sam decides she needs a change of pace. She loads her uncle and paternal grandmother in her clunker car and travels from Kentucky to Washington D.C., to The Wall. There the entire family finds some sort of closure.
I had to come back and modify this review because I forgot to point out the best thing about this book. Sam has another obsession – music. I love the way the hits of the 80s, especially Bruce Springsteen’s album ‘Born in the USA’ ground the reader and orient him/her to the timeframe of the story.
Author Fact: Bobbie Ann Mason wrote criticisms and short stories before writing In Country, her first novel.
Book Trivia: As a best-selling novel In Country was made into a movie in 1989 and starred Bruce Willis. In Country is even studied in high school English classes.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Maiden Voyages” (p 159). Pearl liked it enough to mention it again in another chapter called “Teenage Times” (p 216).