Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Town (Pulitzer Winning Novel)

Was there something deeper and more mysterious in his mother’s philosophy than he and his generation who knew so much had suspected; something not simple but complex; something which held not only that hardship built happiness but which somehow implied that hate built love; and evil, goodness? 

I was reading one of the last chapters of The Town by Conrad Richter when I realized that I was sobbing. Up until that time, I wasn’t sure that I even liked the book. I felt like I was just plodding along, determined to finish yet another one of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction books. Sure, there were some beautiful scenes. But, after reading more current, popular fiction with fast paced plots and witty narrators, reading this novel felt like a chore. Yet, I realized that it touched my heart. I knew these characters. Perhaps I even was one or more of the characters.

The Town won the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It is the third novel in Richter’s The Awakening Land Trilogy, which begins with pioneers settling in 1795 Ohio and ends with the citizens industrializing the town that eventually rises up. If I had read the first two novels in the series, I am sure that I would have had a very different impression of the story. For example, I would have better understood the importance of the trees. Still, I could easily follow the plot.

Most of the chapters revolve around Sayward, the founder of the town and the mother of ten children, or her son Chancey, the runt of the family who was never expected to survive into adulthood. In many ways they are foils to one another, Sayward’s hardiness versus Chancey’s frailty. A number of chapters are about Rosa, the illegitimate child of Sayward’s husband, a respected judge. Rosa provides yet another foil to Chancey. He imagines that he isn’t really his parent’s son. While Rosa doesn’t realize that she is the Judge’s daughter.

I’m still not a great fan of slow moving, period piece novels, but The Town has many beautiful scenes. In one, Sayward finds out her long-lost sister is still alive, but the reunion proves more bitter than sweet. In another scene, Sayward, who has spent a life-time feeling animosity toward the trees, brings some saplings home to plant in her town yard. Over and over, Sayward makes one concession after another, yet until the very end she remains a strong, admirable woman. Part of me wishes that I had read the series from the very beginning so that I could read more about this woman.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Deep Down (Supernatural Mystery/ Fantasy Novel)

Black Dogs. Moving Shadows. Reapers. Death. Disappearing People. 

Deep Down by Deborah Coates is an enjoyable, forget-about-your-life-for-a-few-hours, novel. It is a direct sequel to Wide Open and combines elements of the supernatural with a touch of mystery.

Briefly, Halle is in the process of leaving the Army and is at loose ends as to what to do next. She thinks her days of seeing ghosts are over. But, things quickly turn weird. She has encounters with a black shadow that floods her with images. Halle begins to see mysterious black dogs that almost no one else can see. Her elderly neighbor begins to attract these black dogs and enlists Halle’s help to get rid of them. Meanwhile, Halle encounters a bizarre car accident, which is a copy of the one that killed Boyd’s wife. When Halle investigates further, she meets Holloway, who was responsible for the original accident and allegedly died as a result of it. He starts stalking Boyd’s sister-in-law. In addition, some of the town folks are disappearing. Halle sets out to uncover what is going on, enlisting the help of some interesting characters, which include a medium and one of the black dogs.

I didn’t enjoy Deep Down as much as I liked/loved Wide Open. Maybe some of the novelty wore off. I did enjoy how Coates deals with ideas about death and lost, which almost all of us face. I liked the supernatural elements and the various characters. The black dog is an interesting sidekick. I would certainly read any sequel, but I am not pining for it the way I do with some other series.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Drowning Girl (Mythic Fiction/Gothic Novel)

Hauntings. Ghosts. Sirens. Wolves. Mermaids. Drownings. Ravens. Schizophrenia. Suicides. Myths and Legends. Music. Paintings. Numbers. Murders. 

When I first started reading The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan, I thought it was a bunch of semi-coherent ramblings. I was confused how it could have been nominated for five awards -- 2012 Nebula, 2012 Shirley Jackson, 2013 Locus Fantasy, 2013 Mythopoeic, 2013 World Fantasy – and won the 2012 Stoker. In time I began to see the patterns and the forms, the play of themes, the interplay of the literal and the metaphoric.

Briefly, the story is narrated by Imp, a lesbian and schizophrenic, whose mother and grandmother both committed suicide. At the beginning of the novel Imp talks about a painting, "The Drowning Girl," that she saw in a museum when she was eleven. Imp rescues two women. The first is Abalyn, a transsexual, who makes her living writing reviews of video games. Imp finds Abalyn’s belongings out on the sidewalk after a messy breakup. Imp takes her back to her apartment, and they soon become girlfriends and lovers. The second woman whom Imp rescues is Eva. One night when Imp is out driving, she sees a naked woman along the side of the road. Imp takes her home. The true story of Eva, if it ever is actually revealed, is woven throughout the novel. Why does Imp think she met Eva twice? Why does Imp think that there are two Eva’s? What really happened between Imp and Eva? Who is (are) the “drowning girl”?

The Drowning Girl is not an easy novel to read. It has some intense themes, and it requires mental energy to work through the ideas. I won’t even pretend that I had it all figured out by the end. Even after finishing the novel, I still am seeing how all the ideas fit together.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Wide Open (Supernatural Mystery/ Fantasy Novel)

Okay, excluding some very necessary, quick breaks, I read Wide Open by Deborah Coates in one sitting. By the second page, I was deep into the story. At the end, I was grateful there was a sequel. I wouldn’t call it a "great" book from a literary standpoint, but it is a very engaging story. But then again, I am partial to mystery/fantasy hybrids.

Briefly, Halle comes home to South Dakota, on a bereavement pass from serving in Afghanistan, because of the death of her sister, Dell. Halle learns that suicide is the most likely cause of death. She also learns quite quickly that she is being accompanied by the ghost of her sister and the ghost of a fellow soldier. She soon meets Deputy Boyd, one of the few people who believes that there is more to Dell’s death. Halle first tries to uncover the truth of Dell’s death, but soon her goal changes to preventing more deaths. Boyd, himself, proves something of a mystery: what does he really know; is he a help or an obstacle. Halle has only ten days of leave to accomplish her mission.

I found so much to like about Wide Open. Halle is a very strong protagonist and yet I could identify with her grief. She struggles with the idea that she has some contact with her sister’s ghost—an enigmatic presence, but the experience is not the same as having her sister alive. I liked the pacing. Other than the ghosts, Coates waits until the middle of the book before she reveals that there is anything supernatural going on. We learn about Halle’s backstory fairly early in the story, but Boyd’s backstory is not revealed until close to the end. I also appreciated that the novel defies some formulas I associate with mysteries. I hope this is a beginning of a series in which I can look forward to reading the next book each year.