Stuff To Read

All month, I’ve been enjoying Erin Pringle-Toungate’s short story celebration over at her blog.  She’s linked up to one great story every day for the entire month, and I’ve discovered some terrific stories there.  If you happened to come to this blog today for its intended purpose (to find good stories out there on the web), make your way over to Erin’s site and go back through the past month of entries.  You won’t be sorry.

scary children sell books

Instead of perusing the web in search of the perfect story, I’ve just been reading her selection.  I’ve also been doing a lot of re-reading in preparation for next year’s syllabi, and I’m slowly making my way through Justin Cronin’s The Passage. It’s the first book I wish I’d bought for my Kindle instead, simply because it weighs 45 lbs and the little girl on the dust jacket creeps my shit.

I haven’t read anything else by Justin Cronin, and while I am propelled along, grateful for not having to think too much at this hectic time of the year, I’m also comforted by his pretty sentences and gentle characters.  I also had very low expectations (not because of his reputation – just because of the subject matter), and have been pleasantly surprised by the tautness of the story.

Next on the list:  Of Beasts and Beings by Ian Holding.  I feel fortunate that every time I walk into Book People, I am able to find something compelling on the staff rec shelves.  I almost always walk away with something I’ve never before even considered.

In other news, one of my favorite new discoveries has a publication on the horizon:  Gilliann Flynn’s Gone Girl is hitting the shelves in a week or so.  I hope this one gets all the recognition it deserves.  I also hope it lives up to its predecessor, Dark Places.

Violence, part 2

I finished Alice LaPlante’s Turn of Mind last a few nights ago.

The similarities between La Plante’s Turn of Mind and Jansson’s The True Deceiver are striking, not only because of the interiority of narrative, but also because of the complexity and toll of the inflicted emotional damage.  It’s life changing; life ending.

Like The True Deceiver, the point of view is broken up and scattered around – sometimes in close third, sometimes in first.  Unlike The True Deceiver, there are no jumps from character to character, and the mysteries are less mysterious.  Despite the unfortunate fact that the narrator in Turn of Mind is suffering from Alzheimer’s and is by turns angry, woeful, and oblivious, there is a clarity in characterization and motivation that withstands choppy narration.

If thou on any day Saint Christopher see/Against sudden death you will protected be.

At the heart of the book is a murder – someone named Amanda is dead, and it looks like she died by the hand of someone named Jennifer.  I think that the body is meant to disturb – it is bashed and mutilated – but more chilling than that particular image is the relationship between the dead and the supposed killer.

Amanda and Jennifer, both close friends and formidable adversaries, are not necessarily Frog and Toad on a bicycle ride. In fact, not many scenes depict them being good to one another.  However, more tellingly, they fight as only close friends can fight – with edgy, manipulative argument and weighty, potentially destructive threats.

When the mystery is solved, the killer revealed in a long confessional passage, I found myself shooting backward (on the kindle, this is no small feat) into the dialogue between Jennifer and Amanda again, trying to understand why the physical violence at the end mattered less to me than the emotional damage inflicted in their every day contact.

Intriguing is how they found ways to intertwine their mutual desires for closeness with their needs for control and moral high ground.  More intriguing was trying to suss out which was which from the cryptic dialogue interspersed in the present tense narrative.

I find this kind of tense, densely written dialogue satisfying in Nurse Jackie, when Jackie and O’Hara are in dramatic scenes together.  The killer acting helps, but the dialogue is also  so well rendered and paced that their friendship is at the helm of everything – even their fights – and that friendship never seems vulnerable, even when they have essentially pushed each other into enemy territory.

Both stories take place, in part, in the medical field.  I wonder if this setting requires a  passionless expectation of both the best and the worst in the people, and that if friends are going to last, they’ll have to see each other through a certain amount of violent disappointment and manipulated joy.