Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rabbit Is Rich

By John Updike

Pulitzer Prize winning novel in 1982.

Third in the series, this novel finds Rabbit in his 40's, enjoying a little prosperity, at a calmer point in his life. His son, Nelson, is grown and off at college. Rabbit and his wife, Janice, are living with his wife's mom and Rabbit is working at the car lot owned by his wife and her mom, which is now a Toyota dealership. Thanks to Janice and her family, Rabbit is living in security and comfort and a sort of contentment. He and his wife also enjoy a mild social life with their friends at the country club, Rabbit continuing to play the golf he was introduced to in the first novel.
The snake in this little paradise turns out to be Nelson, who comes home unexpectedly with a girl, Melanie, moving into the same home with Rabbit, his wife and his mother-in-law. Nelson is an unhappy boy, trying to be a man, and blaming Rabbit for his misery. Nelson is still angry at Rabbit for the death of Jill, a drifter girl from the second novel who died in a house fire. Somehow, Nelson thinks Rabbit abandoned Jill to her fate, blaming Rabbit for not being there when the house was torched.
So Nelson blames and resents his father and his father resents Nelson, especially when Nelson pushes his way onto the dealership, talking his mom and grandma into letting him try to sell cars. This means that Jan's old lover from the second novel, Charlie, has to be sent packing because the business can't support an extra salesman. Rabbit feels bad for Charlie, whom he has come to regard as a friend, but can't stop what is happening since Janice and her mom are the owners of the business.
Then Nelson reveals that he has a girlfriend he met at college who is now pregnant. This is not Melanie, the girl he brought home, but is another girl, called Pru. This girl soon arrives to move into the house too, Melanie having left by then. All in all, the big house is starting to feel a little crowded and Rabbit wants to move into a house of his own, against the objections of the wife's mom, who is afraid of being left alone in the big house.

This novel isn't exactly jammed pack with action. At least in this one Rabbit doesn't slap any women around which is an improvement. But he has frequent fantasies of bashing his wife's head in, so he hasn't changed that much, he's still a jerk: "Janice giggles. Some day what would give him great pleasure would be to take a large rock and crush her skull in with it." This skull crushing fantasy recurs at several points in the book. Of course he doesn't bash her in the head since she is his meal ticket and he owes all his new prosperity to her and her car dealership.
Nelson turns out to be a chip off the old block with similar murderous fantasies. "It would be nice, as long as he was standing, to take up one of the beer bottles and smash it down into the curly hair of Melanie's skull and then to take the broken half still in his hand and rotate it into the smiling plumpnesses of her face, the great brown eyes and the cherry lips, the mocking implacable Buddha calm." He even pushes his pregnant girl friend down a steep stair case because he is angry at her. Rabbit and Nelson are more alike than they realize.
The first novel had some understated sex scenes, the second had more explicit sex scenes and this one has very graphic sex scenes. Is it education or degradation? I don't know but if you don't enjoy reading such stuff then give this one a skip because the book is chock full of it. Other than that, it has been kind of fun watching Rabbit live his rather ordinary life, even though I find Rabbit rather repulsive. Next one in the series is Rabbit at Rest in which Rabbit ends up where we all do. Doesn't sound like it will be a lot of fun to read.

For another review see Fifty Books Project.

New Words

Stanchions: a stanchion is a prop or support, usually a piece of timber in the form of a stake or post, used for a support. 'Scrolling cast-iron light stanchions not lit since World War II.'

Redbellies: a form of bullying or hazing in which a person is held down and the stomach slapped until it is reddened. 'Rabbit has known Ronnie for thirty years and never liked him, one of those locker-room show-offs always soaping himself for everybody to see and giving the JVs redbellies and out on the basketball court barging around all sweat and elbows trying to make up in muscle what he lacked in style.'

Nassau: a popular competition among recreational golfers. Points are awarded to the winner of the front nine, back nine and overall 18. Each point usually represents a separate bet. 'Harry's team lost the Nassau, but he feels it was his partner's fault.'

Ferhuddled: confused, mixed up, fractured. 'The boy means well in his way but he's all ferhuddled for now, and the girl, I don't know.'

Soignée: polished and well-groomed; showing sophisticated elegance. 'She was less soignée than formerly; the tiny imperfection at one corner of her lips had bloomed into something that needed to be covered with a little circular Band-Aid.'

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Sand Castle

By Rita Mae Brown

A memoir of a day at the beach, set in the 1950s, with a little girl, Nickel, and her young cousin, Leroy, and his grandmother, Louise, and the little girl's mother, Julia, Louise's younger sister.
Louise's daughter, Leroy's mother, has passed away six months previously and little Leroy is still grieving for her. Leroy has become a little whinny and difficult as he continues to adjust to his loss. He refuses to get in the water because he is afraid of sharks. He and Nickel squabble and fuss at each other while the two sisters also squabble and fuss at each other. While the kids play the two adults build an elaborate sand castle. It's a typical day at the seashore, the worse thing that happens is one of the kids gets nipped by a crab.
Not much plot here, just a pleasant, enjoyable visit to a time when people didn't worry about skin cancer and coat their kids with sunscreen and didn't worry about lung cancer while blithely smoking cigarette after cigarette.

For another review see Epinions.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Medicine River

By Thomas King

Will is a photographer that lives in the town of Medicine River in Canada, his home town. Although he was raised there, when he grew up he moved to Toronto, but came back home to live after his mother died. Will's mom was a Blackfoot and his dad was an Anglo but his dad was not part of Will's life and Will's mom raised him and his brother on her own.
Anyway, Will moves back home and opens a photography studio and reestablishes himself in the Blackfoot community, with the help of Harlen Bigbear, a man who knows everybody and their business and loves to manage the lives of his friends, including Will and his girlfriend Louise and her baby daughter.

A sampling of tales from the life of Will and other members of the Blackfoot community in this northern Canada town, this story doesn't exactly have a happy ending but it doesn't have a bad ending either. Like real life, the folks of Medicine River muddle through. Sharing their trials and triumphs made for an enjoyable and entertaining and often amusing read.

For another review see Books & Quilts.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Calling

By Inger Ash Wolfe

Simon is there to help you, to relieve your pain and suffering, to enable you to pass over painlessly when you are suffering from an incurable, painful, and fatal disease. He is an angel of mercy. Or is he?
Delia Chandler is dying of cancer. She has nothing to look forward to except more and increasing pain and death. She turned to Simon for release and he obliged her. But to the police this is murder and Hazel Micallef, the head of the local police department, is going to do her best to track down the man who came into her quiet Canadian town and committed this crime.
Simon is a man on a mission. He isn't out just to help the suffering, not at all. For he has a bizarre plan, a plan requiring the defilement of the bodies of his victims, a plan that has left a trail of bodies across the breadth of Canada. The only thing that will get in his way is Hazel Micallef and her detectives.
Hazel Micallef has troubles of her own, including unrest in her department, a sometime drinking problem, a failed marriage, an aching back, and a feisty mother who is trying to manage her daughter's life and who lives with her. Between trying to solve the most important case to ever come her way and juggle her own problems and insecurities and her increasing back pain, Hazel is tested to the limits.

This was a pretty good story, with a very disturbing and weird killer and a sympathetic and down to earth heroine in Hazel. Trying to figure out just exactly what Simon was really up to, beside being an angel of mercy, was intriguing right up the revelation of his motives, which turn out to be really offbeat, something I never would have guessed. Simon is probably one of the strangest killers in fiction to come along since that nut in Silence of the Lambs, Buffalo Bill. Some of the things Simon does to his victims makes for pretty grim reading, but that is par for the course for thriller novels. But the gore is less important than the puzzle of Simon's true motives and I will remember Simon for a long time.

New Words

Damiana: an herb used for tea and for medicinal and recreational reasons. For more details see Wikipedia. 'He put a tiny amount of the damiana in it and covered it with hot water. "It tastes like chamomile," she said.'

Shibboleth: a slogan, motto, or saying, especially one distinctive of a particular group; a password, phrase, custom or usage that reliably distinguishes the members of one group or class from another. 'A framed sampler hung on the wall over the piano, a shibboleth.'

Mimosas: a mixed drink containing champagne and orange juice. 'Ray Greene had brunch with his mother every Sunday. Drove out to The Poplars to get her, and took her to Riverside House for mimosas and pancakes.'

Asclepias milkweed. 'The eastern provinces were a better source for some of the mosses and lichens he could not find in such abundance out west. Club moss and Asclepias. He scoured the forest floor for seedpods, herbs, and fungus.'

Titrated and chloroform water: to titrate is to determine the concentration of a substance in a solution and Chloroform water is an aqueous solution of chloroform containing approximately 1 part in 200; it tastes sweet and is used to make foul tasting drugs taste better. 'He made the tincture with chloroform water and sodium carbonate, then titrated it. The herb's bitter scent filled the inside of the tent.'

Secondment: the detachment of a person from their regular organization for temporary assignment elsewhere. '"We're a secondment factory now, Ray. If Ian Mason isn't going to send me what I need, I'll beg, borrow, and steal it.'"