Monday, December 11, 2017

In the Wilderness

By Kim Barnes

Kim grew up in the logging communities of Idaho. Her parents had fled poverty from the southwestern states and settled in the woodsy towns and company towns of the logging industry. Her father worked as a logger and they were joined by other family members looking for a better life too. Kim's parents came from backgrounds of alcoholism, poverty, abusiveness, and failure.  Her father and mother found direction and solace by joining a Pentacostal church whose teachings helped them overcome the addictions inherent in their very DNA. The father became the demanding authoritarian figure he believed the Bible required him to be. The mother became the submissive, subdued and obedient servant she believed the Bible required her to be.
Raised to believe the inerrant truth of the Bible, Kim followed her parents' lead and tried to be the submissive, subdued and obedient daughter she was told the Bible required her to be. But then she became an adolescent and the family moved from the woods to town.  The pressures of teenage life and the urge to conform to her peers created conflict between Kim and her parents. She began to rebel. She no longer wanted to wear the long dresses, the knee stockings and the braids in her hair deemed proper for a girl her age. She wanted to be like the other kids and wear jeans, and shave her legs and wear makeup and go to parties. She didn't like being an outsider, like most kids, she wanted to be part of the group. Her anger about the restrictions of her parents' fundamentalist religion drove her to more extreme forms of rebellion, ending up with her running away from home. But she was soon back home and her parents gave her a choice: reform school or back to the woodsy community to live with the Pentacostal preacher and his family. She chose the preacher.
Once settled in with the preacher's family, Kim again conformed to behavior expected of her gender. Cook and clean, do the chores, be quiet, be submissive and obedient. But despite her best efforts, the preacher and his family turned against her and claimed she had brought demons into the home and that she was trying to seduce one of the men of the family.
So back home with her parents and little brother, once again Kim toed the line and tried to fit herself into the mold required of her. But, now moving into adulthood, she began to question the unfairness of it all. How she was made to feel sinful simply because she was female, simply because she was pretty. At eighteen, after graduating from high school, she moved out when her father wouldn't let her go on a camping trip with a group of teens from her school.  He gave her an ultimatum: if she left to go on the trip, she couldn't come back home to live. So she left and made her way in the world on her own.

This book describes way of a life that is pretty much anti everything I care about. They were deeply religious. They hunted and fished. They cut down the forest and damned the rivers, polluted the air and poisoned the water and saw nothing wrong with it. Their religion imposed ridiculous standards on people but completely failed to teach reverence for God's creation.
I found it hard to sympathize with her story and of how she went from one extreme to the other, from super-pious, super-religious (she even spoke in tongues and was a faith healer) to out-of-control, raging teen rebellion. I found it shocking how blind she and her family were to the destruction of the wilderness they supposedly loved and how gutless they seemed in their willingness to bow to the silly dictates of their extremist religion.
So even though I didn't have a lot of sympathy for her or her religion-addled parents, I still enjoyed the story and I am glad she was able to free herself in the end.

Kirkus Review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kim-barnes/in-the-wilderness/.


Sentenced to Prism

By Alan Dean Foster

Prism. A planet unlike any other. Life there is based on silicon, not on carbon: plants and animals with bodies of glass and minerals. A world of living gems. And the big corporation that has discovered it is eager to exploit its many wonders. They sent a team to the planet but have lost contact with them. Now they are sending Evan Orgell to the rescue, all very undercover and hush-hush. Because what they are doing is highly illegal and breaking several laws, keeping knowledge of a newly discovered planet hidden.
Evan is a highly confident man and his employers are also highly confident that they have equipped him with the best in survival tools, mainly the MHW, the Mobile Hostile World suit, a suit designed to be a mobile, completely equipped habitat, travel and defense garment. But the suit designers didn't know about the dangers of Prism.
So it isn't long until Evan finds himself, naked and afraid on the hostile surface of an alien planet. It was only a matter of days before the suit failed and he was forced to abandon it. Now he has no one to help him and no real understanding of the native life and its dangers. As he has discovered, the trace minerals that compose the human body are a smorgasbord to the denizens of Prism, as witnessed by the many organisms dining on the remains of the very team Evan was sent to rescue. Not only are all the people dead, but the base's equipment has been destroyed too, including communications, munched to death by invading plants and animals.
Fortunately, Evan is rescued by a kind, compassionate, highly intelligent Prism native, who takes him to his compound and who accompanies Evan on his trek to locate the beacon of what may be the only surviving member of the base team, lost, it seems, in the strange and inimical wilderness of Prism.

This is probably the third or fourth time I have read this story, which says a lot about how much I really, really like it. Every time I read it again, I like it just as much as the first time. The reason why is because of the charming and wonderful Prismites who rescue and aid Evan in his quest. I just love them. They are everything you would hope an intelligent alien people would be.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Trashed

By Derf Backderf

JB has dropped out of college and moved back in with his mom. But she has reminded him that he has to be either in school or working. The town where he lives doesn't have a lot of openings and the only job he can find is as a garbageman. And so begins his education in garbage, small town politics and the quirks of the trash-creating public.

If you have ever wondered what it is like being a garbageman, this book will give a really good glimpse of it. And it has lots of information about how garbage is handled (or not) in this country. It's pretty gross but very informative and amusing. And it is a quick read because it is a graphic novel.

Review from Publisher's Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-4197-1454-2.


Sunday, December 03, 2017

Crosstalk

By Connie Willis

Briddey is a young woman who works for a cell phone company. Their biggest competitor is Apple. So the company, Commspan, is constantly trying to develop ideas that will appeal to consumers and enable the company to get the jump on Apple. Trent, Briddey's fiancé, also works for Commspan and he is working on a secret project that he hopes is going to impress his boss very much. What he hasn't told Briddey is that she is part of his secret project and the project is the reason why he wants the two of them to undergo a surgical procedure that will create an emotional bond between the two of them. They will be able to sense each other's emotional state and, supposedly, this will create greater closeness and trust in their relationship.
But Briddey gets much more than she bargained for, thanks to her Irish roots. Turns out the Irish have a telepathy gene and the surgery just activated hers. Now she is hearing the whole world and it is unbearable. Fortunately, the first person she hears upon wakening in the hospital is C.B., a coworker at Commspan and, it turns out, an old hand at telepathy. Together, they work toward enabling Briddey to cope with the mental onslaught. Eventually Briddey discovers that Trent's motives aren't exactly pure and unselfish towards her and that he is mainly interested in scoring points with the big bosses and advancing his career.

Usually I enjoy novels by Connie Willis. But not this one. It was just too chaotic. The poor main characters hardly ever have a moment to just be. They rush here, they rush there, they call, they text, they climb all over each other. It was a real rat race and just tiring to read. Also, the romantic plot is just the usual stuff: girl falls for boy, who is a jerk, girl finds new boy and realizes first boy is a creep and falls for second boy. Ho-hum.

See also, the LA Timeshttp://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-ca-jc-willis-crosstalk-20161007-snap-story.html.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Vermilion Sands

By J. G, Ballard

A collection of nine short stories set in a luxury resort town on some extraterrestrial location. Wherever it may be, it is hot, dry and sandy, with strange plants and animals. Each story centers around the activities of some beautiful, warped woman and the men attracted to and affected by her. Of the women in the nine stories, most where crazy, several were murderous, some were conceited and vain and none of them were worth the trouble they caused. About four stories into the book, I began to think that the author has some kind of grudge against women, which was shown, perhaps, by this quote from the book:
"Made me realize how absolutely terrifying all women really are."
Speaking as a woman, these stories did not appeal to me. I began to tire of his view of women after about five stories in and was relieved to reach the end of this rather short book. His anti-women bias ruined the stories for me.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

True Experiences with Ghosts

Edited by Martin Ebon

The editor gathered several ghost stories that he believed were true, unexplainable events.
One of the stories concerns Ocean Born Mary. According to the story and to information I found online, Ocean Born Mary was a real person. Her parents were traveling to America by boat when the boat was intercepted by a pirate. He planned to pillage the boat and kill all aboard, when he heard a newborn baby crying. Going to investigate, he found the captain's wife and her tiny baby, who was born on board the boat. He was charmed and promised to spare everyone is the new mother would name her baby Mary, after the pirate's wife. She agreed and the pirate left the boat. He later returned with a bolt of expensive green  silk cloth which he gave to baby Mary to made into a wedding gown when she grew up and married.
All this part of the story of Ocean Born Mary are true to that point. But then the author of the story, Louis Roy, starts making stuff up. He bought a house in the town where Mary spent her old age which he then claimed was haunted by her and by the pirate who befriended her. He claimed the house was built by the pirate and that Mary moved into it to be his companion and housekeeper. He claimed the pirate died and was buried there along with his pirate treasure. He further claimed many people had seen or experienced many uncanny and eerie things on the property and in the house, which he also claimed was filled with Mary's original furniture.
But there is a site online, by the local historical society, that totally debunks all of Roy's claims. The house was built by one of Mary's sons, not by a pirate. Mary never lived in the house, she lived in a nearby house with one of her other sons and, at the time, she was quite elderly, in her seventies. Her furniture was never in the house, since she never lived there. The pirate also never lived there and was never part of Mary's life beyond that first encounter. Roy made all the haunting nonsense up and charged people admission to the house and property. The details can be found at Henniker Historical Society website: http://www.hennikerhistory.org/obmary.htm.
Since this story was so thoroughly and easily debunked. it casts doubt on the veracity of the other stories in the book. I am inclined to believe it is all a bunch of made up nonsense. The one proven false story taints all the other stories, I am sorry to say.
But besides all that, it just wasn't a very interesting book. It cloaks itself in scientific & scholarly terms but, although the editor might have intended it to add weight to the book, it merely makes it dull.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Yearling

By Marjorie Rawlings

Ora and Ezra, know as Penny, with their only child, young Jody, are poor farmers in rural Florida. They have a lot of problems with their no-account neighbors, the Forresters who have been stealing their pigs.
One day, while out searching for the missing pigs, Penny gets bit on the arm by a rattlesnake.  So he shoots a doe and uses her liver as a poultice to draw out the poison. But the doe had a young fawn and Jody adopts the little orphan fawn. His parents understand his compassion but know that this will just lead to problems in the future.
Jody loves the little fawn and names him Flag. They grow up together. But Flag grows up a lot faster and, as predicted by the parents, having a growing deer on the property is just causing too many problems for a family struggling just to get by. Some hard decisions are going to have to be made, whether Jody is ready to make them or not.

I really enjoyed this story a lot, even given its heartbreaking elements. This is a sad story and one in which we wish the impossible could, for once, become possible. But it never does, it never does.
This novel is the Pulitzer Prize winner for 1939. It a tremendous read and well worth it.

See also, Kirkus Reviews:  https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/marjorie-kinnan-rawlings-3/the-yearling-2/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=&utm_campaign=DSA.


The Store

By T.S. Stribling

This is the story of Miltiades Vaiden of Alabama of the 1880s. Vaiden was a Civil War veteran, former leader of the KKK and, since the South was freed, not prospering like he feels he should. He feels he is a Southern Gentleman of the Old South and he longs for those days to return, a time he thinks of as a kind of Eden. Of course, it wasn't an Eden for the slaves, but Vaiden is not accustomed to thinking of black people as human beings. They are property and as such have no equal standing with their former owners. A view that is held by 99.99% of the whites in the South at the time.
Vaiden was swindled by a store owner, Mr. Handback. When he sees an opportunity to swindle Handback and enrich himself in the process, he seizes upon it. With the result that Vaiden becomes wealthy and Handback is driven into financial ruin. The whole town knows what Vaiden did and holds it against him. But being rich has it rewards and he is eventually forgiven and welcomed back into the social ranks, especially after fixing up a mansion in town and making donations to the building of a fancy new church. He even ends up marrying the beautiful young daughter of the woman who left him at the altar when he was a younger man. Seems like everything is going his way, finally. Until his only child, his only son, is murdered at the hands of an enraged mob, a son he only found out about as he rushed to save him from the lynch mob.

The Store is the second book in the Vaiden triology. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1933. It deals very frankly with the racism of the Old South. And lays out, in painful detail, white attitudes to blacks among them. Must reading for anyone who is ignorant of or dismisses the history of slavery in the United States.
But other than that, I am sorry to say that I found the book dull. It was a plain chore to finish it. I am not going to say it was a bad read, but it just didn't engage me the way I want when I read a novel. For one thing, it is a long book, almost 600 pages long. Frankly, I got bored with it and just wanted it to be over.
Also, one thing that annoyed me from the very beginning of the story was the author's constant ragging on Vaiden's fat wife. The author calls her fat, shapeless, overflowing, heavy, fleshy and on and on. He can never mention her without reminding the reader that she is fat. OK, we get it, she's fat! Give it a rest, man!
Here is something I thought was little funny. But whether the author was poking fun too, I don't know. Anyway, two white people are commenting on the odd names that black people choose. The name they are laughing at is Toussaint. Meanwhile their names are Miltiades and Sydna :-).

See also, Reading the Pulitzer Winners for Fiction:  https://pulitzernovels.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/1933-the-store-by-t-s-stribling/.


Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Egg and I

By Betty MacDonald

A fictionalized version of Betty's life on a chicken farm in western Washington state in the late 1920s.
Newlyweds Betty and  Bob pooled their money and bought a rural acreage, intending to get in the chicken egg business. The property did have a house and few outbuildings and an orchard of mixed fruit trees. The house, while sturdy, had no modern comforts, no electricity, no bathroom, no furnace, no indoor plumbing. All their water had to be hauled in and heated in a stove in the kitchen, said stove being their main source of heat for the house. (Betty never mentions a fireplace or other wood burning stove, so I assume there was only the kitchen stove.) Laundry had to be done by hand. All the hot water had to be heated on the kitchen stove. In the winter, all the laundry had to be dried inside, as winter there was mostly rainy. Plus Betty had to help Bob with his work on the acreage, building chicken houses, pens for livestock, clearing the land for crops and gardens and clearing the orchard of unwanted trees and brush. They got up at 4 AM and worked all day and Betty had all the housework and food preparation too. And it wasn't too much longer before there was a little baby to take care of also.
So it was a hard life, very demanding, but Betty tells her story with humor and self-deprecation. Unfortunately, some of her humor comes across as looking down on the locals, whom she describes as ignorant, unenlightened, and, in some cases, lazy and dirty. She especially singles out her next door neighbors, the Kettles. And she has harsh words for the local native peoples, about whom she says:
"...the more I saw of them the more I thought what an excellent thing it was to take that beautiful country away from them."
Oddly though, she goes on to comment about the devastation to the land caused by logging:
"On the way we passed barren ugly hills which had once been beautiful green mountains and saw mile after mile of slashings [logging areas], ugly, dry as tinder and inexcusable." 
Never seems to occur to her that if the native peoples she despised were still in charge of the land, the mountains would be pristine and green instead of stripped bare.

The book, which was written in the early 1940s, has an interesting passage about abortion:
"One day when Bob and I were driving to Town, a man hailed us. We stopped and he climbed on the running board and leaned into the car confidentially. 'Say,' he said, 'heard you was that way.' 'Yes,' I said, 'I am.' The man leaned in farther so his face was uncomfortably close to mine. 'Just say the word and I'll fix you up. Drop by some evening with six dollars and I'll fix you good as new. Not a thing to it,' he said winking at Bob. 'Took care of Mrs. Smith when she was six months along and got rid of three for my own wife at three months. Just a plain old-fashioned buttonhook. Nothing to it.'
'Oh, him!' said the girl in the doctor's office in town. 'His wife's in the hospital right now recovering from her last abortion. We get his work in here all the time,' and she laughed heartily. I didn't think it was funny. 'Why don't they stop him? Why don't they arrest him?'
The girl sighed and looked out the window. 'If it wasn't him it would be someone else. If they can't find someone else to do it they abort themselves. The hospital's full of 'em all the time. Buttonhooks, bailing wire, hatpins. God, they're dumb.'
Just a little reminder of what abortion was like back before it was a woman's right to choose.

Literay Ladies' Guide review: http://www.literaryladiesguide.com/book-reviews/the-egg-and-i-by-betty-macdonald-1946-a-review/.