Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Lisey's Story
by Stephen King

On the way to and from a recent road trip, my husband and I listened to this on audio CD in the car. Though it was slow starting out, after it got going it had us mesmerized.

Lisey is a widow in her 50s. She lost her husband two years ago due to a strange illness after 25 years of marriage. Lisey and Scott's marriage was quite bizarre at times. There was a special place that Scott knew how to get to in his mind he called Boo'ya Moon where his ills could be healed, or be eaten alive by dark creatures that lurked there in the shadows and came out hunting for flesh at night.

After Scott's death, it becomes Lisey's turn to face Scott's demons at Boo 'ya Moon. Scott was a very famous and well-known author and had many fans, and also a few enemies. His rivals make relentless phone calls to Lisey, wanting possession of Scott's papers. One of those enemies comes after Lisey to stalk, and torture in unimaginable ways. Lisey goes to Boo 'ya moon in an attempt to lead her stalker there.

It is Lisey's own visits to Boo'ya Moon that she learns the darkest secrets of her husband's violent and horrible childhood.

I highly recommend this book. King never fails to scare the pants off his readers.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Herman Melville's
Moby Dick

When I was a child I read the children's version of Moby Dick. I never read the complete version until recently and Melville, in my opinion is one of the greatest writers who ever lived.

Most of us know that Moby-Dick is the enormous white whale who torments Captain Ahab and Ahab is obsessed with finding and killing Moby-Dick as revenge for having lost a leg in a previous encounter with the whale. Ahab's crazed desire for revenge leads to his demise. At novel's end, Ahab finds and attacks Moby-Dick, but the terrible whale destoys Ahab, his ship Pequod, and all of its crew down to a watery grave with him, except for Ishmael, who is telling the story. Melville based his tale, in part, on the sinking of the real-life whaling ship Essex in 1820.

Several themes, motifs and symbols run throughout the story of Moby Dick such as limits of knowledge, the exploitative nature of whaling, whiteness, surfaces and depths, Queequeg's coffin, and even Moby Dick and the Pequod itself are symbols.

Though the captain and the crew of the Pequod use every bit of knowledge they can pool together, it isn't enough in the end. The men cannot see below the depths of the ocean, and certain things about the great whale are unknowable to humans, as certain things are unknowable about their god.

Thoughout the story, we are given the foreshadowing that the Pequod is doomed. I knew it was doomed because I have read the book before and had seen the film. But if I had not read it before, I would know that there was no hope for this fateful mission of a captain who is consumed with his quest for vengence.

The exploitative nature of whaling in those days is illustrated throughout the story, also. While the crew of the Pequod come from every part of the globe and all races, they seem to get along quite well together. At first Ishmael is uneasy when first meeting Queequeg (which is a quite amusing chapter of the book), but later he realizes it is better to have a sober cannibal on his side than a drunken Christian. The crew of the Pequod are paid quite well, but the exploitative nature of whaling is similar to buffalo hunts and unfair trade with indigenous people that characterize American and European territorial expansion. Non-white crew members are given the dirtiest and dangerous jobs.

The whiteness which permeates the story is symbolic of all things unnatural and threatening. The role of whiteness in Moby Dick is reversed from the usual symbolic meaning of purity and peacefulness.

The Pequod is a symbol of doom. It is painted black and covered in whale's teeth and bones, literally decorated with mementos of violent death. Decorated like a huge coffin, which the Pequod fatefully becomes.

Queequeg's coffin symbolizes both life and death. The coffin is built when Queequeg becomes deathly ill and the crew believes he is not going to pull through, but he does. Queequeg uses the adorned coffin to store his possessions in. In the end, the coffin provides a buoy to save Ishmael's life.

Moby Dick, the largest symbol of the book represents many things. To the crew he represents the dangers of their frightening job. To Ahab, Moby Dick is a manifestation of all that is wrong in the world and he feels it is his destiny that he eradicate this huge evil. Many critics say that Moby Dick represents an unknowable and mighty god. Moby Dick is also a profit commodity and represents the white expansion and exploitation of the nineteenth century, and also the destruction of the environment that is caused by such exploitation.

This book could be discussed in great detail for a whole semester of study. It's one of the greatest stories ever written.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Holidays on Ice
by David Sedaris

This is a great little short read, a collection of short stories by very funny David Sedaris. He never fails to entertain me. Even if it's not the holiday season, this is a collection of short little stories that are humorous and no sappy, unrealistic messages at the end. These stories are real life. The continuing life of David Sedaris.

In my opinion, the best story in this bunch is SantaLand Diaries. David recalls his experiences while working as an elf in the SantaLand section of a large department store. Just the idea of this iteself is amusing. Sedaris' recollections of overbearing parents posing their frustrated children on Santa's Lap so that Photo Elf can snap a picture of them are hilarious. We have all seen those people in the lines and some of us may have been those parents when our own children were little. I wasn't, though ;)

The elf training class cracked me up because I have worked some lame jobs in my life and know just how seriously they take this crap. There are rules and instructions that supervisors expect you to follow to a T. And those who work in these ridiculous jobs bend and break the rules, and then write about their experiences in books later in life. They provide for good material, because many people have been in the similar job situations.

The story Let It Snow brought back memories about how when I was little my siblings and I would pray for snow to keep coming down until we were buried in the stuff, immobilized and not able to ever go to school again (much to the angst of our housebound, kid-crazed parents who desparately needed us to go back).

Six to Eight Black Men brought up the subject of cultural differences at the holiday season and Season's Greetings could have been written about my own family. This book would make a great stocking stuffer that I may give to several family members next Christmas.

I highly recommend this little gem.
We need to talk about Kevin
by Lionel Shriver

This novel was a bit difficult to get started on. The first few chapters seem to drag on, but I persevered and was glad I did since it was simply setting up the story about Eva and her husband Franklin's life and their decision to have a child in the first place. I find Eva's reasons to be pretty lame since she was uncertain if she even wanted to be a mother at all.

I have always wondered what it must be like to be the parent of a child who goes on a killing rampage and harms others. I wonder how they can continue to live their lives, how they could ever possibly be happy at all for the rest of their entire time on this planet. I don't think I could be, not at all.

Eva who is the letter-writer and telling the story about her son, is constantly trying to figure it all out. What had she done, what had she not done, what could she have done to prevent such a thing? Why had she not been excited about Kevin's birth? Is she somehow responsible for the horrible events that went down because of her own child?

Usually kids who shoot up a bunch of their fellow classmates also kills themselves. But in this story, Kevin does not kill himself. He is in prison for life, and Eva, despite the abuse she receives from Kevin, keeps going to visit him at the correctional facility where he is. I feel as if she is almost punishing herself, and also trying to make sense of it all at the same time. Regardless, Kevin is quite nasty to his mother. And Eva keeps going back for more, and I think it is out of guilt, guilt about not loving Kevin as a mother should have. She feels guilty about the abuse, such as when she threw Kevin across the room which led to her having to take him to a hospital. All-in-all, I think that Eva should never have been a mother at all. It was a mistake to bring children into her self-centered world.

In an attempt to find "something about her soul" Eva decides to have another child even though Franklin doesn't want to, and she has a little girl, Celia. Celia is an angelic child and makes Eva glad to be a mother. Unlike Kevin, Celia is easy to live, easy to protect and care for. Unfortunately for Celia, however, is that Kevin now has an easy target to abuse. A defenseless and passive little sister. There are accidents involving Celia and bleach . . . Celia loses an eye in an accident when bleach gets into her face. Also a family pet dies involving a bleach accident. And Eva suspects Kevin. Why the mother did not do anything to protect her other child, and other children in Kevin's environments is beyond me. Maybe it's a denial, maybe she just didn't know what to do. But in Eva's place, I think that finding a good psychiatrist while the boy was young would have been a good idea. Hindsight is too often 20/20.

This book brings up many good points about family and children. People have children often for the wrong reasons, and when they have the children they don't know how to parent, or are in denial that anything might be wrong. They want to give the impression of a happy upper-middle class family, don't want the world to know that they have any flaws. They brush the bad stuff under the carpet but eventually there is just no room to hide anything anymore. It all blows up in the end sometimes.

Good book, but like I said...DEPRESSING AS HELL.