Sunday, September 28, 2014

Legends (Spy Novel and scattered thoughts)

Reading Legends by Robert Littell marked a departure from my usual reading habits. Legends is the first spy thriller that I remember having read. It is also one of the first times I turned reading a novel into part of a larger event. I had just started watching Legends on TNT and was curious about the book on which it was based. So, I saved up episodes to watch until I finished the book, watching the last five episodes back to back last night. The effect raised questions for me about the context of my reading. Do I just want to keep reading book after book, or do I want to see if I can integrate books into a larger experience? In which case, what experiences do I want? What do I want to explore?

Briefly, a “legend” is an elaborate identity created for a spy by the CIA. Martin Odem is that spy. In both the novel and in the television series he is confused as to his true identity. Someone is keeping the truth from him. He is outwardly tough and inwardly fragile.

In the Legends novel, Odem is a detective who has been hired by Stella to find her brother-in-law, Samat, so that her sister can obtain a Jewish divorce. Odem has a number of mysteries to solve. Who is Samat and where is he? Why doesn’t the CIA want Odem to find Samat? They would rather kill Odem than have him find the answers.  At the same time, Odem struggles with his own mental health. Is this merely a side effect of taking on too many legends or does he have multiple-personality disorder? Reading Legends was a relatively fun and interesting experience for me. I enjoyed how Littell wove the different storylines together, putting chapters with different time periods side by side. Odem is a fascinating character. But, what I found most interesting was learning about the end of communism and the role that the CIA played. I just never thought about it, and the novel made it come to life. A German friendly acquaintance of mine has a rather harsh opinion of Americans and their knowledge of World events.

I had a different experience watching Legends than I did from reading the novel. Unlike the novel, Odem is still belongs to the CIA and plays an integral part in missions. The plotline of the series is driven by Odem trying to uncover the truth about his identity. Most of the episodes don’t have clear ending; a couple of times I thought I had fast-forwarded too far. I especially enjoy watching Odem transform into the different personalities. Watching the show made me remember the work of Hal and Sidra Stone, who believe that all of us are made up of different personalities. 

I don’t intend to start reading and watching spy thrillers on a regular basis. But, Legends has been an enjoyable experience for me.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Dust Devil on a Quiet Street (Fantasy Novel)

There should be a genre called “haunting and beautiful.” I would definitely put Dust Devil on a Quiet Street by Richard Bowes into that category. While it has some (very) minor fantasy elements –possible ghosts, telepathy, a soul imprisoned in amber, and feline genes – it is more a novel about one man’s life. It is haunting to me not because of any fantasy elements, but because it does such a good job of capturing poignant moments. While the main character is a gay, former drug addict who lives in Manhattan (none of which describes me), most of the time I could easily identify with him. Much of the novel deals with universal experiences: losing friends, aging, coping with tragedy, celebrating friendship, and nurturing the next generation.

Dust Devils on a Quiet Street is written in a style that I am coming across more and more often, a hybrid between a series of stories and a traditional novel. Two of the chapters/stories especially touched me. The first was the opening chapter, which takes place on 9/11. The main character does his best to deal with his own sense of loss, while comforting those who look to him for a sense of stability. The second story that moved me involves the narrator coming close to the brink of suicide and being gently brought back. Be aware that some of the novel deals with the exploitation of young gay men, which while not particularly graphic is disturbing.

I sometimes talk about wanting novels to represent us to future generation, and I think Dust Devils on a Quiet Street does a good job of taking some snapshots of the opening days of 9/11 and of the beginning of the AIDs epidemic. While the novel was nominated for the 2014 World Fantasy Award, I wish it had received more recognition, so that more people would be moved to read it. It certainly touched my heart.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Love Letters (Romance Novel)

The inn had worked its enchantment once again, healing wounded hearts, lifting spirits, blessing all who stayed.
I slept extremely well last night, an odd statement with which to open up a review of a book and an unusual statement from someone who often has problems sleeping. But, the truth is that Debbie Macomber’s novels often have a soothing influence on people, especially me. They are definitely not examples of great literature. The prose is unsophisticated, the conversations unrealistic, the plots simplistic. Yet, in many ways Macomber is a great writer because she is able to touch the hearts of millions of women. Make no doubt about it, I am coming back for more.

Debbie Macomber’s Love Letters is the third novel in her Rose Harbor Inn series and continues where the last novel left off. Jo Marie Rose, the owner of Rose Harbor Inn, continues to cope with the grief she has felt since the death of her husband two years ago. In Love Letters she finds herself more and curious about her handyman Mark, who has become a close friend but remains something of an enigma. Meanwhile Jo Marie has some guests: Ellie, a young woman who is meeting a man she met on the internet; and a married couple, Maggie and Roy Porter, who are trying to heal their marriage. Ellie’s mother has warned her about the potential dangers of meeting the young man, but neither woman could have predicted the surprise he has in store for Ellie. As for the Porters, just when they think they have rekindled their love, it is tested by a potentially insurmountable challenge. In Love Letters, Jo Marie, her dog Rover, and even Mark attempt to heal the hearts of the Rose Harbor Inn's guests.

Macomber takes on some difficult topics in Love Letters. I’m not sure any real person would react the way her characters do, but it is nice to think that they would. The novel ends with something of a cliffhanger, and I plan to see what happens at The Inn at Rose Harbor next year, when the next book comes out.