Friday, January 13, 2017

Big Little Lies, Liane Moriarty (2014)

This book really "struck home" so to speak -- what with my sister working at a "center for domestic peace" (as in, safe place for beaten people). It was also interesting to read a story set in Australia, where my stepdad's from, but the issues and people are not really any different than here where I live in the US.
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“You hit me, you hit me, now you have to kiss me.” School Yard chant

“Pirriwee Public School...where we live and earn by the sea! Piriwee Public is a BULLY-FREE ZONE! We do not bully. We do not accept being bullied. We never keep bullying a secret. We have the courage to speak up if we see our friends bullied. We say NO to bullies!” (opening saying)

Opening:
“‘That doesn’t sound like a school trivia night,’ said Mrs. Patty Ponder to Marie Antoinette. ‘That sounds like a riot.’
The cat didn’t respond. She was dozing on the couch and found school trivia nights to be trivial.
‘Not interested, eh? Let them eat cake! Is that what you’re thinking? They do eat a lot of cake, don’t they? All those cake stalls. Goodness me. ALthough I don’t think any of the mothers ever actually eat them. They’re all so sleek and skinny, aren’t they? Like you.’
Marie Antoinette sneered at the compliment. The ‘let them eat cake’ thing had grown old a long time ago, and she’d recently heard one of Mrs. Ponder’s grandchildren say it was meant to be ‘let them eat brioche’ and also that Marie Antoinette never said it in the first place.” (1)

Story starts with Mrs. Ponder and her cat, then into short snippets of interviews with witnesses to Trivia Night that ends in MURDER. We don’t find out until the end what really happened that night - everything starts building up that 1st day of kindergarten, 6 months before. Fun, very creative read - light touch to heavy subject.

Celeste White - beaten wife,
Perry White - the beater - also uses alias Saxon Banks (his cousin) to sleep with other women anonymously, including Jane, who he abuses when he 1-night stands her, resulting in her pregnancy with Ziggy, kindergartner
Madeline - Friend of Jane/Celeste - divorced from Nathan, married to Ed, very passionate type
Ed - current husband, 2 kids
Nathan - ex husband w/ young wife Bonnie and Abigail daughter who bumps back and forth between them
Renata - the alpha woman who starts the “petition” to kick Ziggy out of school that he’s a bully

Ultimately, Bonnie pushes Perry off balcony after he slugs Celeste - everyone drunk at Trivia night. Turns out she’d been watched her mom beaten as kid. No one goes to jail

“The school had tried to support the parents of the kindergarten class as they decided whether or not to send their children to the funeral. An email had gone out with helpful links to articles written by psychologists: ‘SHould I let My Child Attend a Funeral?’

The parents who didn’t let their children go were hopeful that those kids who did attend would have nightmares and be just a little bit scarred for life, at least enough to affect their university entrance results. The parents who did let their children go were hopeful their kids would have learned valuable lessons about the circle of life and supporting friends in their hour of need and would probably be more ‘resilient,’ which would stand them well in their teenage years, making them less likely  to commit suicide or become drug addicts.” (444)

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Geraldine Brooks - The Secret Chord

Geraldine Brooks writes erudite and wonderfully crafted literature -- I really enjoyed her Caleb's Crossing. She writes historical fiction that is a clear step above a lot of the stuff out there, both in terms of its research and the mastery with which she practices her word-craft.

In The Secret Chord, she takes on the ambitious goal of retelling the story of the biblical figure King David, a hugely challenging task, considering the length and polyvocality of the original account in the Bible . She chooses to use a 1st person POV of Natan (Nathan) one of the seers who lived with David and his household and sets the whole story within a frame tale reflecting backward on David's life.  For me, unfortunately, this way of organizing her retelling makes the story feel too distant and not engaging enough for me to want to keep reading through the bloodshed and horror (especially for women) during Biblical times.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction (2014)

The Sixth Extinction (2014) Elizabeth Kolbert

Poignant and thorough, Kolbert traces the history of human impact on the planet and the emergence of this new, strange species that was (and continues to be) unchecked by habitat or geography due to its unique resourcefulness.


“Everything (and everyone) alive today is descended from an organism that somehow survived the impact. But it does not follow from this that they (Or we) are any better adapted. In times of extreme stress, the whole concept of fitness, at least in a Darwinian sense, loses its meaning: how could a creature be adapted, either well or ill, for conditions it has never before encountered in its entire evolutionary history?...The reason this book is being written by a hairy biped, rather than a scaly one, has more to do with dinosaurian misfortune than with any particular mammalian virtue.” (90-1)

“There is every reason to believe that if humans had not arrived on the scene, the Neanderthals would be there still, along with the wild horses and the woolly rhinos. With the capacity to represent the world in signs and symbols comes the capacity to change it, which, as it happens is also the capacity to destroy it. A tiny set of genetic variations divides us from the Neanderthals, but that has made all the difference.” (250)

“Right now, in the amazing moment that to us counts as the present, we are deciding, without quite meaning to, which evolutionary pathways will remain open and which will forever be closed. No other creature has ever managed this, and it will, unfortunately, be our most enduring legacy. The Sixth Extinction will continue to determine the course of life long after everything people have written and painted and built has been ground into dust and giant rats have-or have not-inherited the earth.” (268-9)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Americanah

I found Americanah to be similar to many of the other immigrant novels I've read, but unlike those, which described coming to "America" from China or India, this was the first I've read about immigrants coming from Africa. I confess that I knew very little about Nigeria before reading it, but after finishing the novel, I now have a richer understanding of some of the tensions in that country as well as the some of the tensions that complicate race relations between Africans, African Americans and white Americans, as experienced by her two Nigerian protagonists.

‘When I started in real estate, I considered renovating old houses instead of tearing them down, but it didn't make sense. Nigerians don’t buy houses because they’re old. A renovated two-hundred-year-old mill granary, you know, the kind of thing Europeans like. It doesn't work here at all. But of course it makes sense because we are Third Worlders and Thirds Worlders are forward-looking, we like things to be new, because our best is still ahead, while in the West their best is already past and so they have to make a fetish of that past.’” (Obinze speaking to Ifemelu, 538-9)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ray Bradbury - Fahrenheit 451

After reading Dave Eggers' The Circle, I found myself drawn to reading this book, which so many people have cited to me over the years. Bradbury may not be a "great" writer in the "literary" tradition (whatever pretentious thing that means), but as I read F451, I kept having to remind myself that it was published in 1951. The futuristic, dystopian world Bradbury imagined more than 50 years ago mirrors our own world in some ways, especially the constant screens (I write this self-consciously, too - looking at a screen that someone, out there somewhere, may look at their own screen and read these words, someday). Google is digitizing the world's libraries and hard copy books are disappearing as people turn to digital media. I hope the power stays on!

"'We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the Constitution says, but everyone made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy...So! A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it.’”(55-6)

Dave Eggers - The Circle

Dave Eggers' thriller, a futuristic vision of social media and surveillance gone too far:

“'Look at our log,' he said, and pointed to a wall-screen, where, on his cue, the logo appeared. 'See how that 'c' in the middle is open? For years it's bothered me, and it's become symbolic of what's left to do here, which is to close it.' The 'c' on the screen closed and became a perfect circle. 'See that?' he said. 'A circle is the strongest shape in the universe. Nothing can beat it, nothing can improve upon it, nothing can be more perfect. And that's what we want to be: perfect. So any information that eludes us, anything that's not accessible, prevents us from being perfect. You see?'” (p.287)

“'Secrets are the enablers of antisocial, immoral and destructive behavior.'"(p.289)

SPOILER ALERT (following contains major plot point)

“Now another voice,this one a woman's and laughing, boomed from the third drone: 'Mercer, submit to us! Submit to our will! Be our friend!' Mercer turned his truck toward the drone, as if intending to ram it, but it adjusted its trajectory automatically and mimicked his movement, staying directly in sync. 'You can't escape, Mercer!' the woman's voice bellowed. 'Never, ever, ever. It's over. Now give up. Be our friend!' This last entreaty was rendered in a child's whine, and the woman transmitting through the electronic speaker laughed at its strangeness, this nasal entreaty emanating from a dull black drone. The audience was cheering, and the comments were piling up, a number of watchers saying this was the greatest viewing experience of their lives.
And while the cheers were growing louder, Mae saw something come over Mercer's face, something like determination, something like serenity. His right arm spun the steering wheel, and he disappeared from the view of drones, temporarily at least, and when they regained their lock on him, his truck was crossing the highway, speeding toward its concrete barrier, so fast that it was impossible that it could hold him back...”(461)

Cheryl Strayed's Wild

I read this memoir, excited to encounter another woman's tale of walking the Sierras in her early 20s, as I did in the early 90s. But what a missed opportunity! Strayed writes of the "wilds" of the Sierras, but I can only use quotation marks for her version of "wild" since her trek omits Muir's "Range of Light" - the high jagged edge of the Eastern Sierra and Yosemite - AND the PCT is a veritable freeway of other hikers, not much truly wild about it.

“But walking along a path I carved myself--one I hoped was the PCT--was the opposite of using heroin. The trigger I’d pulled in stepping into the snow made me more alive to my senses than ever. Uncertain as I was as I pushed forward, I felt right in my pushing, as if the effort itself meant something. That perhaps being amidst the undesecrated beauty of the wiilderness meant I too could be undesecrated, regardless of what I’d lost or what had been taken from me, regardless of the regrettable things I’d done to others or myself or the regrettable things that had been done to me. Of all the things I’d been skeptical about, I didn’t feel skeptical about this: the wilderness had a clarity that included me.” (143)