Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Scarlet Sister Mary (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Scarlet Sins. Prayer Meetings. God. Children. Love Charms. Hell. Heart-love. Eye-love. Forgiveness. 

Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin won the 1929 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. This novel is especially noteworthy because it is the first Pulitzer Prize winner to have a main character who is African-American. The prize was awarded over the objections of some people who found the novel obscene because it dealt with the topic of sex outside of marriage.

Briefly, near the beginning of the book we meet Mary, who has been raised by her aunt and older cousin. She has a vision in which her sins are forgiven. She is baptized and accepted into the church, becoming Sister Mary. Unfortunately, she falls in love with July, a sinner. On the morning of her wedding day, her aunt notices that Mary is pregnant. Rather than having to wait for the birth of her child to be kicked out of church, she dances on her wedding night, resulting in her expulsion. Unex, for unexpected, is born seven months later. Soon, July leaves Mary for another woman. In order to get him back, Mary gets a love charm. While it does not help her with July, it does result in Mary having eight more children by various men. Eventually, she confronts her scarlet sins.

Mary comes across as a strong, hard working, good hearted woman. I think some people could consider the book somewhat racist. I don’t think that is what Peterkin intended. The book speaks to us about types of love. I cried when I read some of the last scenes in the book because I was so moved. I am glad the Pulitzer Prize committee chose this book.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Helliconia Spring (SF Novel)

Cycles. Climate Change. Forgotten Knowledge. Binary Stars. Hunting. Domestication. Slavery. Gender Roles. Ancestors and Descendants.

Helliconia Spring by Brain W. Aldiss won the 1982 BSFA and 1983 Campbell awards. It is the first book in the Helliconia Trilogy. Aldiss creates a memorable world. Not only does he populate it with interesting humans and non-humans, but he adds some twists. The first twist is that Helliconia has a traditional year that lasts over 400 days and a second type of year that lasts centuries. This creates dramatic climate changes on the planet. The second twist is that people from earth are watching the drama on the planet unfold. These twists give the reader a unique sense of time. The novel is mostly science fiction with some fantasy elements.

Briefly, the opening section of the novel describes the experiences of Yuli, who comes to live in Oldorando after his father is captured and enslaved by the phagors. Yuli goes on to become something of a folk hero. The majority of the book describes the experiences of Yuli’s descendant Little Yuli, his grandson Laintal Ay, and their contemporaries. For the most part, they live in a brutal, patriarchal society that looks at knowledge as a luxury. A handful of women try to create and maintain an academy and explore the history of their civilization. The changing climate brings changes to the society.

Helliconia Spring is my first book in the Worlds Without End Grand Master Challenge and the first book that I remember reading by Aldiss. He impressed me with the world that he created, and he made me think about the climate changes that are going on in our own world.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Death and Resurrection (Fantasy Novel)

Death. Uncles. Cadaver Dog. Hospice. Puppies. Body Switching. Martial Arts. Painting. Delog. Murder. Bear Woman. Magic. Hospice. 

The recently released Death and Resurrection by R. A. MacAvoy was an easy, enjoyable book to read. It is structured more as a series of novellas, rather than as one overarching plot line. A couple of the stories I would label supernatural mysteries. Some of the plots were a trifle cliché, but MacAvoy put her own spin on them. The characters are so darned likeable that it is hard for me to find fault with the book.

Briefly, the main character of the stories is Ewen Young, a martial artist and painter. He has a twin sister, Lynn, a therapist with whom he has a telepathic connection. Lynn’s husband runs a hospice. In the first story, the gambling debts of Ewen’s uncle lead to Ewen being shot in the heart and having a near death experience. In the second story, Ewen meets Susan, a veterinarian, and Rez, her cadaver finding dog. They search for Susan’s missing uncle, whose disappearance may or may not be connected to the grisly murders of holy men. In the third story, Jacob, a patient of Lynn’s, switches bodies with Ewen. In the last story, the remains of three children are found near the hospice.

This is the first book that I have read by MacAvoy, and I now plan to read more of her books.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Bridge of San Luis Rey (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning. 
The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder won the 1928 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. This slim novel can easily be read in an evening. The novel engages the part of the brain that listens to poetry or spends time looking at a painting. It does not have the feel of a story where the reader wonders what will happen next.

Briefly, a bridge collapses in Lima, Peru in 1714 and the five people on it die. The novel looks at the lives of the people on the bridge and at the people associated with them. To a certain extent their lives are intertwined. The novel looks at the meaning of their deaths. It also looks at love in its many forms.

The novel was over so quickly that I didn’t have much time to think about it. I am left with feelings and memories of snippets of different scenes. While I don’t have a concrete definition of literature, I know that I would put this novel in that category. It was well worth a few hours of my time.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Arrowsmith (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Medicine. Scientific Research. Public Health. Bubonic Plague. Commercialism. Salesmanship. Success. Men of Measured Merriment. Politics. 

Arrowsmith, written by Sinclair Lewis, won the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for the Novel. It was made into a film in 1931. I found the novel a nice change of pace from some of the previous Pulitzer winners that focused on domestic drama.

Briefly, Lewis describes Martin Arrowsmith’s journey into the world of medicine. The story opens with a young Martin working for a doctor. The storyline continues with Martin going to medical school, taking various jobs, becoming a minor hero, and fighting to do what he loves. Lewis shows how various people in Martin’s life support or undermine his love of research. Lewis also shows the politics and social aspects of medicine.

While Arrowsmith is set in an earlier time, a modern audience can easily relate to it. The novel speaks to the idea of doing something we love and to having a calling. In some ways the novel is a love story. Lewis shows Martin’s love for research, his love for various women and his admiration and fondness for various men. My guess is that many modern medical novelists were inspired by this story.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The War of the Worlds (Classic SF Novel)

Mars. Alien Invasion. Falling Stars. Cylinders. Tentacles. Heat Ray Guns.

H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds was published in 1898. The story continued to terrify audiences in its radio and 1953 and 2005 movie adaptations. It is science fiction with a touch of horror. It is the first story most of us think about when we hear “alien invasion.” 

Briefly, the novel has two storylines. The dominate storyline centers on the experiences of the narrator. A minor storyline centers on his brother, who escapes London. The story begins with flashes on Mars. It moves on to falling stars that turn out to be large cylinders. Layer by layer H.G. Wells makes the aliens more terrifying and the humans more helpless to stop them. Near the end of the story the narrator is trapped in a building for two weeks, where he ends up having direct contact with the aliens.

If I had known nothing about the plot, I would have had nightmares after I finished the book. I still found myself frightened. For anyone who has any interest in science fiction, this is a must read.