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The Perfect Mother: A Novel

The Perfect Mother: A Novel - Nina Darnton Received this book through the GoodReads First Reads giveaway program

"She thought again of Emma, alone and scared in jail, and felt the already familiar ache. Being a mother is like being held hostage, she thought, with no prospect of release - even when your children are grown, probably even when they have children of their own."

The Lewis family wake up in the middle of the night to a phone call that will likely alter the course of their future. All they could ever hope to appreciate about their lives and the realization of the "All-American" family will prove to be a failed attempt at parenthood in middle-class suburbia. With all intents and purposes, they were living the dream, on the path to success with 2.7 children and a home with a white picket fence. Sure there were some hiccups along the way with possible affairs and minor run-ins with the law, but what family doesn't go through that kind of stuff. Living in Philadelphia (the city of brotherly love), stay-at-home mom aficionado Jennifer Lewis lives with her husband and corporate lawyer Mark, made complete with her most prized possessions: her eight-year-old son Eric, her sixteen-year-old daughter Lily, and her twenty-year-old daughter and social activist in training Emma. Since putting her acting career on hold, Jennifer has made it a point to raise her children in the most stimulating of environments possible. Between countless extra-curricular activities, tutors, personal freedom, unconditional love, and unwavering affection Jennifer maintains a constant presence in all of her children's lives, (unlike their father).

"Jennifer sank down on the bed and looked helplessly at Mark. Usually, she would take comfort in his presence, gain strength from their dual purpose, from his arm around her. But now? She felt alienated, criticized, hurt, but mostly alone. Sitting next to her on the bed, he did put his arm around her shoulders, his habitual gesture in times of trouble, but he did it absentmindedly, dutifully, and she sensed the difference."

The family's eldest daughter Emma is in Spain participating in a program instituted by Princeton university that sends students overseas to study for a year. After eight months, everything was going great, there had been limited conversation and correspondence, but by all accounts there were no issues with Emma until that fateful night. In a drunken, drug-fueled haze Emma calls her mother to tell her that she was being held in jail. Emma has been accused of murdering a local young man who happens to have a reputation for being non-aggressive and who comes from a family with a good standing in the community. Jennifer gets on the first flight to Seville while Mark organizes the family situation at home. When Jennifer touches down and gets the lay of the land, she realizes really early in the process that what she thought she knew about her daughter had dramatically changed. The daughter that left Philadelphia eight months ago is not the one she has heard about from investigators and townspeople, read about in the local tabloids, and saw with her own eyes in prison. Over the course of eight months, what could have happened to turn a lively, resolute, passionate, and open-minded young woman into a listless, resentful, lying, and hotheaded stranger?

"One day she needs me, another she wants to be completely independent, another time she wants to show off how much she's learned and how sophisticated she's become, and yet another, she wants to tell me how spoiled and privileged and unworthy I am. She goes from hot to cold to hot again. Sometimes I feel like she's been invaded, like in that film, The Exorcist, but not by the devil - by Paco, and the ideas he's filled her head with."

First thing that came to my mind when reading this story was how similar it was to the Amanda Knox story. Like Emma, Amanda was raised in an upper middle-class family streamlined to a life of success. A young and beautiful woman, Amanda had the world at her fingertips before she decided to leave the nest and study abroad in Italy. Her parents had their reservations due to her naivete about the real world and her sheltered upbringing. In their minds this was too big of step to make at this vital point in her life, but like most parents they granted their blessing even if the bad outweighed the good. In both cases the murders happened during a public holiday, Amanda is accused of murdering a woman in a jealous rage while Emma is accused of being an accomplice to murder even in self-defense, they are both strangers in a strange land with variances and complexities of the national legal system, and are misconstrued due to contrived and overzealous media and the propaganda machine. The two personal stories are very similar, but the differences lie in the details. The problem I had was that I couldn't shake the knowledge I had of the Knox case to better submit myself to this story. I felt somewhat cheated. If you have no prior knowledge this book will probably be more enjoyable than it was for me.

The interesting element of the book is that it is told through the eyes of the mother. Jennifer is blinded by her defenses, so much so that she can't fathom to comprehend the truth that her own flesh and blood could do such a horrendous act. She no longer has the feeling that she can diligently evaluate her children with an honest eye. The shame Jennifer feels for her children's failures is equal to the credit she gives herself for their successes. Her children have not been held responsible for anything in their lives; it's all been excuse, after excuse, after excuse. This book is emotionally suspenseful showcasing how a seemingly controlled upbringing with the most honest of intentions can unearth the dark side of parenthood. Secondarily this book deals with the complexities between national media, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, and how families can be changed forever with one phone call.

"She leaned back again and looked out the window at the crowded streets, all the people moving about, living their lives, hurrying to meet someone or going home alone to empty apartments, happy or sad or angry or afraid. They were all coping with their own private crisis or celebrating their own triumphs. And though she didn't know them and could barely understand their language, she felt a kinship with them somehow, a sense that they were all part of the same human drama and that though the case might be different, her current unhappiness was something they could understand."

Valley of the Dolls

Valley of the Dolls - Jacqueline Susann
" 'You think from day to day. If you allow yourself to think of the future - any personal future - you lose your nerve. And suddenly you recall all the senseless time-wasting things you've done...the wasted minutes you'll never recover. And you realize that time is the most precious thing. Because time is life. It's the only thing you can never get back.' "

A story that spans twenty-two years and takes you from coast-to-coast and across oceans as three young woman live their lives all in the pursuit of happiness. For these three women it is quite easy for them to become friends when you all share youth and a personal struggle in one of the fastest moving cities in the world. The difference is that each one of them have their own story to tell. Valley of the Dolls focuses on their lives in New York city as they go about their day-to-day waiting for their big break and dealing with all internal and external forces that come with it.

Anne Welles fled from her hometown of Lawrenceville, Massachusetts in search of personal freedom and opportunity. Every nineteen-year-old girl from her home town wants to get married to some schmuck that their parents picked out, live an orderly life, and care for their kids. According to their mom it is the best laid out plan. Anne wants to escape the confines and have freedom to work where she wants to work, love who she wants to love, follow her dreams and not compromise them for anybody. Early on Anne gets what she wants as she is hired on as a secretary at Bellamy & Bellows talent agency, she finds an apartment in the city, and has four successful men clamoring for her attention. At this point, life couldn't be any better, but she will soon find out that her deeply ingrained small town values could end up hurting her as she settles in the world of glitz and glamour. The differences in personality that people show you is hard to decipher when you take everyone at face value. The mirror has two faces; small city dreams could manifest themselves into a big city reality check if naivete and ego gets in the way. Anne better be careful for what she wished for.

"Anne felt sad. People parted, years passed, they met again - and the meeting proved no reunion, offered no warm memories, only the acid knowledge that time had passed and things weren't as bright or attractive as they had been. She was glad Lyon was in England. She'd hate to run into him like this, to find that his hair has thinned or that the girl he dated was too young, too insipid. It was better to keep a memory intact."

A young woman from Cleveland named Jennifer North lives in a world overwrought with maternal control. Her mother has a disease called "stagemotheritis" and has presided over her daughter's life whether she's directly in it or off in a distant land. Her mother's voice has haunted her at home, in Spain, in New York, in California, and in France; whispering, begging, asking, pleading for money and for her to watch her weight and push up her breasts because she isn’t getting any younger. Her impact has stunted Jennifer's mental and emotional growth leading to haste lesbian encounters (this is the 1940’s), desperation for any sort of love, abortions, drug dependencies and cosmetic surgeries. Her lack of freedom has lead to a pattern of bad decisions directed by outside influences and without council could lead to her demise.

Ethel Agnes O'Neill is a true New Yorker. She is a fighter through and through and wants nothing more than to perform under the lights on Broadway. She is traditionally raised in the theatrical genre of entertainment of Vaudeville with her performance trio known as The Gaucheros. After her group receive their first contract she is kicked aside only to be given a bigger gig as an understudy in the Broadway musical Hit the Sky. Building her reputation through her supreme talents and bedfellows, she realizes that all eyes are on her and her opportunities are endless.

" 'Yeah, I read all that jazz in Spain, how she suddenly found true love and all. But come on - the Senator was no Rock Hudson. Jen got pretty bored sitting around just being married to Tony, and he was young and gorgeous. Nope, I think she just couldn't face it. She was getting older, and her looks had to go soon, and she couldn't settle for just the Senator. So she took a powder.' "

Life couldn't be much better for these young ladies, beautiful dolls playing around in a patriarchal environment of diamonds, lust, mink coats, alcohol, drugs, and a lot of money. What we learn is that perception is not always reality when women believe they are treasures in the eyes of men and instead are seen as mere instruments to be played. As time goes on, men leave and women are left with the thoughts of the physical and age-related pressures of the entertainment business in conjunction with societal norms that begin to take hold of their lives. In the end, the hope for something more becomes lost after reaching the pinnacle of personal success.

I hope I am not overstepping any boundaries by saying that this book starts off as a feminists nightmare. My god, for me personally this is a nightmare, a reoccurring episode of The Twilight Zone where the world is your stage and everyone around you is pitted against you. You think you get away from it when you cross state lines only to have it come back two-fold. Reminded me of a movie called Anger Management or a Hitchcock"ian" psychological thriller where it just seems that external forces are controlling your life at every turn.
One of the running jokes throughout the book is Neely not having a man to escort her to the after party, and instead having to rely on the services of a "queer". This is the lowest of the low for these starlets and a cold hard reality they must endure, and says enough about the signs of the time.
If I was going to relate to these characters and be overly dramatic I would say that this story was very sad and deeply tragic. There are some books where you expect sadness but this wasn't one of them for me. The female characters are young, beautiful and talented while the male characters are rich and powerful. Not much to really be sympathetic about especially after you are introduced to them and realize that the majority of these characters are absolutely terrible human beings. What's there to be sad about? Well for me there was this one thing...

" 'Since everyone seems to be offering unsolicited advice, let me add some of my own. Never judge anyone by another's opinions. We all have different sides that we show to different people.'
She smiled. 'You mean that even Hitler could be soft playful with Eva Braun.'
'Something like that. And King Henry didn't kill all of his wives. If I recall correctly the last one actually henpecked him.' "

Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It

Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It - Marc Goodman https://bindblottyandcajole.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/that-what-you-dont-know-about-interconnectivity-may-shock-you/

A Monster Calls

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness, Jim Kay
"You do not write your life with words...You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.”

This book demonstrates the art of storytelling in a part fantasy, part reality environment where the main character finds himself dealing with what troubles may come. Courage, loss, survival, relief, and satisfaction will all be felt as the reader goes through a wide array of emotions with our main character as he embarks on his journey to find an inner peace. Most people have dreams where they are falling and have no idea where they are going. This indicates a high-level of anxiety and a feeling that in your waking life you are overwhelmed and out of control. In Conor O'Malley's dreams he is not the one falling, he is the one unintentionally inflicting the fear onto someone else by holding on, struggling, losing grip and eventually letting go. Conor is thirteen-years-old and he is deeply traumatized by this nightmare, so much so that he won't talk about it with anyone. In truth he has no one to turn to because his father has a new life and family in America, he doesn't have any friends that he can trust, his grandmother is a tad contentious, and most of all he doesn't want to burden his sick mother with his petty problems. Belief is half of healing and Conor makes it a point in life to never lose hope even if it is only himself that has it.

As Conor awaits the nightmare at 12:07 to come, he is taken a back as an ancient Yew Tree comes to life, swaying its limbs, rustling its leaves, and penetrating Conor's domain. Strangely enough when confronted with this ancient, mythical, and ghastly looking creature, Conor's bravado is present unlike any other situation he has ever been in. Conor is humourous, smart, confident, and calm, but when the monster starts talking about wanting to know Conor's inner truth, he becomes unsettled. The monster's stories of a cheater's injustice, responsibility for selfishly destroying a worldly framework, and confronting your worst fear details a monster that has demands unlike many others. The monster has the potential of being your own personal judge, jury, and executioner, that is if you don't agree to play its game by the rules.

"There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.”

In a word Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls is heartbreaking. This book starts out as a typical elementary school strife novel complete with a young boy's rite of passage with a sole friend who happens to be of the opposite sex, the daily presence of bullying, seemingly unsurmountable troubles at home, and an otherwise fantastical world built upon the main characters dreamscape. Some would say that this sounds a lot like A Bridge to Terabithia or many other books intended for this demographic, and I wouldn't argue, but what it does emphasize unlike others is the paradoxical elements of life, death, and a person's role in the outcome. In this story you know what's coming, everybody in the story knows what's coming except the main character. This naivete exacerbates the blow for him as well as us because in his mind he just can't stop believing that God will eventually answer his prayers and his nightmare will be over.

"He was greedy and rude and bitter, but he was still a healer. The parson, though, what was he? He was nothing. Belief is half of all healing. Belief in the cure, belief in the future that awaits. And here was a man who lived on belief, but who sacrificed it at the first challenge, right when he needed it most. He believed selfishly and fearfully. And it took the lives of his daughters."

While reading I found myself to be frustrated with the merits of the three tales that were expressed by the monster Yew Tree to Conor. By the end all these emotions came rushing to me and I completely understood even if the execution wasn't done as well as I would have liked. In the totality of the book I can see the thought process and how well-orchestrated it was even if that wasn't my initial interpretation. Being so raw with emotion it was hard to anticipate how everything was going to fit together given all of the troubles that came Conor's way. To all the future readers I would suggest keeping an open-mind and to go with the story like a leaf in the wind. This is the type of story that, although intended for children should resonate with everyone that has experienced loss and the dreaded yet mandatory process that must be undertaken. A resource for us all that promotes an appreciation for the ones we love the most as it is relevant to all generations. As heartbreaking as it is I can't help but feeling unexpectedly satisfied.

"Who am I? The monster repeated, still roaring. I am the spine that the mountains hang upon! I am the tears that the rivers cry! I am the lungs that breathe the wind! I am the wolf that kills the stag, the hawk that kills the mouse, the spider that kills the fly! I am the stag, the mouse and the fly that are eaten! I am the snake of the world devouring its tail! I am everything untamed and untameable! It brought Conor up close to its eye. I am this wild earth, come for you Conor O'Malley."

Everyone Loves You When You're Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness

Everyone Loves You When You're Dead: Journeys into Fame and Madness - Neil Strauss
"So sometimes it's the sand in the oyster that creates the pearl. You need some irritation. You need some repression or some conflict. And my life would have been much less satisfying if I didn't know that." Hugh Hefner

From his mouth to God's ears Neil Strauss has been eighteen-years-old for more than two decades doing his job by asking questions of his entertainment idols, others that are too damn interesting to pass up, and some that begrudgingly must be done. Throughout his twenty or so years he admits that he lost focus of what is most important, he needs redemption, this book is his testament. You get the highly-celebrated celebrities, the one-hit wonders, the reluctant stars, and many more. One common theme among them all is a sense of vulnerability, but the passion for art and expression supersedes it all. 228 of the best singular moments of a rock and roll journalists career are included in this retrospective and it gives a glimpse into the minds of your favourite celebrities. The curtain is magically drawn for him to enter, but not immediately granted with a glass of wine, a joint, and a red carpet, he earns the rite with his scope of knowledge, his inability to hold back any punches, his personal integrity, and of course let's not forget he does work for Rolling Stone Magazine.

I was watching Mary Herron's director's commentary on the much talked about movie American Psycho and was left entertained and interested as Patrick Bateman delivered his monologues of different artists from Huey Lewis & The News, to Phil Collins, to Whitney Houston before he went through with his nefarious deeds. 80's music is a very important aspect to his time on earth and something that makes him seem like less of a martian as he wakes up, makes himself up, and goes about his day-to-day. He briskly walks into work listening to I'm Walking on Sunshine by Katrina & The Waves after a night filled with murder, wine, cheese, and small conversation. As his inhumanity overcomes any chance for likeability his love of music never wavers and I naturally felt compelled to finally read Everyone Loves You When You're Dead, a book that has taken on dust on my shelves for quite some time. This book details the emotions behind the art and how interpretations can vary. Thank you Patrick Bateman for your inspiration:)

Marilyn Manson reminds us that 'it's the users who make the abusers look bad'. Julian Casablancas is the best representation of the phrase "it's not you, it's me". Riding in cars with Doggz during the rising tension of the East vs. West war. Chris Rock philosophizes about crack cocaine and the ghetto, Johnny Cash about violence. What you find out is that most of these celebrities need to channel their inner Elsa and let it go. Fame isn't the cure all for all of life's problems. With fame and money your problems take on a new life all their own. If these issues are not addressed they will fester until the point of paralysis. Balance can be achieved through self-awareness, being honest with yourself, the taking on of new things that bring you out of your comfort zone, and eliminating the outside noise. One final thing is to be like Bieber and never say never, grand statements will only make you look dumb in the future. Although these words of wisdom are a direct reflection of celebrity life, many people grinding out a living can benefit from these important principles.

"The weirdest thing about being really successful is that you are kind of ready to die. Especially now I've got kids. I mean, I want to live. Don't get me wrong. But I'm not in fear of dying. I've made my mark. Death is the enemy of my family-of my wife and my daughters. But to me as an artist, it's actually my friend." Chris Rock

My favourite entries included Ike Turner and his "Felony Idol" experience, Lady Gaga being very "open" to anything, the relatable Liam Gallagher, the incomparable Twiggy Ramirez, the insane reality that is Antoinette K-Doe, the mass stupidity that is Paris Hilton, down to earth Stephen Colbert, and the humbled Chris Rock. Something about Chris Rock that I always appreciated was that at a recent awards show, every A-list presenter was extremely nervous, fumbling over words, screwing up punch lines, had negative comedic presence, and/or were very robotic. It seemed as if the disease was spreading with no stopping it, that is until Chris Rock was called to the stage. He had no sidekick or prop or anything accompanying him, it was just him, and he came up and looked around, almost with a sense of exasperation that these "actors" can't even deliver lines knowing they get paid millions of dollars to do something to that effect. If the Oscar's are the equivalent to the Super Bowl than the majority failed to execute on something they were practicing in the mirror as children. Anyway Chris Rock just killed it and it was amazing to see a person just have such a presence and understanding that in the grand scheme of things this means nothing, and it showed. The reason that this resonated with me is that I have a fear of public speaking, stage fright, and a bad case of fremdscham(look it up) and Chris Rock gave me a perspective that I will never forget and in Everyone Loves You When You're Dead you understand why Chris Rock is such an ice-cold professional and a level-headed human being.

The author does give the perception that he is God's gift to effective communication and getting the answers he wants. His lack of humility is apparent as he constantly tells the reader that so and so doesn't do interviews for just anyone, or the inventor of rock and roll has only done four or five interviews throughout his forty year career but he'll do one with you. I get it, you're talented, have great backing, target the right material, mention sex and the supernatural, but at least have some sort of modesty. It's one thing to have an ego while securing and conducting the interview process, it is another thing to have that demonstrated to the humble reader. Besides that one issue I really don't have many negative comments to say about the author or the novel. This is a book that took me a while to finish, simply based on the number of interviews not based on the content. This is a collection of the best moments of an extensive catalogue of interviews, a greatest hits anthology if you will, and I must say that I never objected to picking the book back up where I left off and continue reading, it's just that breaks were very necessary. I don't see why anyone would hate this book, so if you are a music lover like me, or if you are interested in jacking up your Playlist (Gary Wilson, New York Dolls anyone) then I recommend this book to you.

"I haven't heard anything new that I've liked on the show. A lot of the bands we play with are just bad, especially those alternative rock bands. They can do it in the studio but they can't play live... I see the audience applauding while they're playing, and I wonder if it's just because they're fans of the band and don't care, or out of spite. Because it certainly isn't because they sound good" Branford Marsalis

The Illuminations


"What is an adult? He'd always wondered. Was it a person who can speak when silent and who invents life, as opposed to just living it? At the wheel, Luke told himself she was the most adult person he had ever known. Some people would argue the opposite: that she had never grown up, that she had never faced things. But he was a happy student again, learning, over the miles, how to read a person by finding what character was available. She was brazen with words and actions no matter how baffled she seemed. No matter how far away she seemed, no matter how lost, she was with him, and he was determined to go with her as she slipped through the past into some brand-new element of the present."

Disconnection from life, family, and self can lead to many internal questions that in the end could leave you better off for it, or in the same stationary state where life simply carries on. Story of how as independent personalities we hide certain fragments of ourselves from the ones who love us and the people we love the most. To unearth what is most coveted we must look deep into ourselves before we can address the question that demands the most attention.

Anne Quirk is an eighty-two-year-old woman holding up residence in Saltcoats, North Ayrshire, Scotland. She is living in an assisted living facility as her dementia is slowly but surely taking complete control of her mind during the golden years of her life. What we can gather is that her past is one of adventure and mental prosperity, but there is something about her yesterday's that must be revealed. Anne has seen her life go from her childhood in Ontario, Canada to New York, to Blackpool, and finally to Scotland. She became an artistic legend with a generational talent after identifying a need for documentary photography with the helpful motivation of Harry Black. In her old age she has turned to fantasy as a response to a detached feeling from her artistic self and a sick realization of being trapped by a life that is no longer hers. The narrative is beautiful, sentimental, and nostalgic as we get a first-hand look at a portrait of a young woman through the same timeworn, yet lively eyes. Anne reminisces about her past but there is also a lot of foreshadowing that builds anticipation for the conclusion of the novel.

Maureen Ward is sixty-eight-years-old and the youngest resident at the sheltered housing complex. After spending countless hours, years upon years caring for her three children Ian, Esther, and Alex, Maureen is left with the feeling that she is no longer needed and essentially the only thing left for her is death. She finds a new motivation in providing assistance and a personal confidante for Anne. Maureen’s desperate need for a purpose in life is answered as Anne is exactly what the doctor ordered, and like true love she is the gift that keeps on giving. With suggestive photograghs that still manage to have a level of obscurity Maureen finds Anne's mysterious past life invigorating for her own present and future.

"Luke felt weak. Just as there was heat inside the heat, there was weakness inside his weakness. Everything is dense with itself out there; everything is thick with its own crazed lack of known limits. Things could escalate. You could sense it in your nerves and feel it on your skin."

Willingly trying to erase bad memories, unwilling to lose grasp of the ones you hold dear. Luke Campbell is a twenty-nine-year-old captain in the British army for the Royal Western Fusiliers. He is stationed in Afghanistan with men who are not much younger than him, but given his rank he must affiliate as well as dissociate himself from his platoon from time to time. After many years of service he is beginning to question the significance of his role in the grand scheme of things as it pertains to his home country and war's overall role in civilization. At one point a hopeful idealist looking to uphold the legacy of servicemen in his family that came before him, he now sees his failings in his own fundamental principles and enters his own unique identity crisis. After coming home to Scotland, Luke embarks on a new beginning where war is not the answer and his new journey will end up bringing him closer to home. While Luke is in Afghanistan the author utilizes a specific narrative that emphasizes the current unrest that brings out the immaturity and violence in its characters in an environment that demands a level head. We initially read about the honesty and the harsh beauty of war in comparison to the deception, unethical, unsightly nature of love, but as we go along natural feelings begin to right themselves. As beautiful and engaging as one narrative can be, this one is equally ugly and hard hitting.

"There was no such things as an ordinary life. He'd learned that from Anne and he learned it from himself. You can only live a life proportionate to your nature. And he was calm. He was getting there. He could imagine a future less taken up with loss."

Storytelling is a big part of this novel which reminded me of the movie Big Fish. Anne's daughter Alice really shared the same feelings as Billy Crudop's character in that movie as both of their creative parents spin their yarns. You see the lasting effects as each of them hold a resentment and how lives can be overshadowed by their parents seemingly harmless stories.

" 'Everything was before me, ' Alice said. At times she felt that her mother might suffocate her with the past. Yet she went silent, admiring the mix of periods, wondering if her mother's neighbor really had any notion of the places that Anne had been to in her busy life. Sometimes Alice would just be sitting like this and she'd suddenly realize she was in pain, without really knowing where it came from."

In the end I can’t shake the feeling that this book failed to deliver on the expectations that I had after reading the first fifty or so pages. This book grabs you right away with all of the reminiscing, hope, charm, and optimism that leaves you in anticipation as to what Anne's real motivation could be. I truly cherish my experiences reading about the cultured and well-traveled folks and how their past has shaped them. With most forms of media I prefer to subject myself to psychological struggles, mental deficiencies, and tests of the human condition. This is why I preferred Anne's narrative in comparison to Luke's. I hate to admit it but coarse language and violence doesn't shock me like it used to, I have officially been desensitized, however conflicts involving the soul, spirit and the mind gets me every time. This book is a struggle to get through as it periodically lags, but it does come through in the end.

The Never List

The Never List - Koethi Zan
"Captivity does things to you. It shows you how base an animal you can be. How you'd do anything to stay alive and suffer a little bit less than the day before."

One of my initial thoughts after finishing the book, and perhaps a subtext to the whole relevance of the plot, was how big of a role social media plays in the day-to-day of the majority of people's lives today. How innocent it may seem in the present it can eventually lead to unfortunate circumstances in the future if observed by the wrong person. At a time when the Internet gives many people the opportunity to reveal any and all secrets, there are a few who take every nugget of disclosed information to use to their advantage to inflict harm in any way they can. This book will make you think twice about who, how, where, and why you reveal personal information that could determine your fate with a rather systematic approach that you wouldn’t see coming. This is a book about how paralyzing fear can be and how overcoming it can lead to a freedom that has been long lost.

With no background or expectations of the book, let me tell you all how I came to buy The Never List by Koethi Zan. I went to my local secondhand everything shop looking to buy some new looking old clothes (and yes this is a thing). Being a guy it probably doesn't surprise the most of you that I hate shopping for clothes let alone spending a crazy amount of money on jeans that you can get elsewhere for a quarter of the price. So as quickly as I stepped through the threshold of the store I had about four pairs of stylish jeans, one of which was a tad too long, one that was a little too baggy, and two that were just right. Really the jeans were just a diversion to my initial point of arrival which was the attention-grabbing book section. With a promotion of five books for the price of four deal where the price of books range from $1.99 to $4.99 you really can't go wrong. It is the perfect situation for a bibliophile on a budget and I get excited every time. While I avoided the all-too-common James Patterson, Dan Brown, Robert Ludlum, and Joyce Carol Oates. I did happen to get suckered in and get the equally and widely obtainable A Farewell to Arms and Atonement. While covering some of the classics I did manage to snag a few that interested me in the Valley of the Dolls due to the prescription pills pop culture classic, Foe for its complex narrative, and The Never List. With the last book I was hoping for something as seedy and gripping as Gone Girl, it was also a book I never had on any of my to-buy-next lists so I became intrigued with the unknown. To say I was disappointed would most definitely be an understatement.

"They didn't understand how much safer it felt to have crowds of people right outside my door at all times. In New York City, I tried to explain, there is always someone to hear you scream. And better still were the glorious advantages of a doorman building in a city that never slept."

Mentally, Jennifer hasn't been the same since being injured in the car accident that left her mom dead and her best friend Sarah seriously injured. By proxy Sarah has made it a goal in the both of their lives to never put themselves in situations where the level of certainty is unknown. Living a life of freedom, ignorance, and childish oblivion from any troubles seems like a few lifetimes ago for these two young girls. Now their reality is one of paranoia and preparation for possible disasters. They've become fascinated with tragedies accounting for every possible death; it's statistic, it's preventive measure, and warning sign. These two woman are the last you would think to see on the local 6' o clock news. But one misstep and period of complacency would find them on the headline news and spend years regretting the time they bent their own rules for their survival.

"The only other human I would dare touch. Who was the lucky one here? I wondered. Jennifer didn't have to be alone anymore, while I was here, locked in my own box, a solitary figure unable to let anyone in. Sealed up as tight as a drum, with nothing but phobias and paranoia to guide me. Broken. Unfixable. Trapped."

There are a few different dynamics going on in The Never List with respect to narrative and time-setting that are not high on the complexity scale, but they should be pointed out. The primary narrative is one of Sarah Farber who has now changed her name to Caroline Morrow ten years after her escape from captivity of a sadistic, tortuous, and perverted man dubbed by the media as Professor Pain after his subsequent arrest. If you thought Sarah was a psychological wonderland before the abduction with anxiety, paranoia, and other neuroses, well now she has gone into full-blown isolation with post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive, agoraphobia, fear of touch, curtains drawn and keeping the outside out. She is able to sustain her low-standard of living by working as a life insurance agent from home, she is able to go through the healing process through in-home counseling with her psychologist Dr.Simmonds and keeping her tormentor behind bars with the aid of FBI agent Jim McCordy. Periodically throughout the rest of the book you get flashbacks of Sarah and Jennifer's life before as children and young adults before the abduction as well as life during their time chained in the cellar. I would have liked to have read more about how this psychology professor was able to manipulate the girls. You really only read about how he become motivated and how he achieved the end game, but not much about his processes. Not that I need detailed descriptions, but more knowledge of the matter would have gone a long way in enhancing and supporting the tone it was trying to set.

"I stopped at a gas station on the way down, taking advantage of what appeared to be an unusually pristine BP right outside of town. I noticed with no small satisfaction that the attendant was locked away from me behind plexiglass. If only everyone could be like that."

Some of the confounding aspects of the book was that I found it hard to believe how instantaneous a woman like Sarah can turn into a criminal investigator given her traumatic history. She goes from a solitary person to a woman breaking into barns, traveling to unknown cities and going to fetishist retreats with people she doesn't know based solely on the delivery of a letter. You get the feeling that she has already accepted death and has given way to horrible decision making. Her change was too fast to be realistic, but you would expect nothing less from an author trying to write a thrilling tale. I must admit that it would be boring to read about a woman’s constant indecision, but there was not enough of a slow progression to make it plausible.

This is a cautionary tale about relying too heavily on safety measures against the world's evils and letting your guard down during a moment of complacency. This isn't a horrible read but it really didn't alter in its evolution. The story never lost its flow, but it didn't do or say anything to gain any momentum either. It truly stayed the course falling into line with expectations that were conceived from the start and ended with few surprises. In the end I was hoping for more.

"Or is it the case that no one ever truly gets over anything? Is there really that much pain and suffering continuing right now at this minute, in millions of hearts, in bodies carrying on the burden of existence, trying to smile through tears for fleeting, passing moments here and there - when when they can forget what happened to them, maybe ever for whole hours at a time? Maybe that's what it is to live."


Foe - J.M. Coetzee
"I ask you to remember, not every man that bears the mark of the castaway, is a castaway at heart."

To me J.M. Coetzee's story Foe is a function of three distinct points of view that takes the reader from a manageable settled feeling, to a further state of evaluation, and finally to an interpretative position. From a traditional fictional novel it gradually transforms all the way to the more intricate patterns of a metafiction. The maddening thing is, is that you are never sure where the story ended and the retrospective or fantasy began. That I suppose, is left for the reader to figure out. This book starts off in a rather straightforward manner, maintaining an honest and an eerie feeling from the onset. Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way. The narrator, a young woman named Susan Barton tells the reader about her life in England with her French father and English mother. She has a two-year-old daughter who was abducted without a trace by a lone Englishman. With few leads and nothing but misfortune Susan goes south to Brazil to sniff out the trail. (I was never sure how Susan came to believe her daughter was in Brazil. The only mention was of a "New World" and if this is a referance to Defoe's Robinson Crusoe then that was lost on me). Searching and searching and finding nothing, Susan is beginning to lose hope, but never her determination. She boards a ship destined for southern Europe when a brief tryst with the captain leads to an unimaginable, epic, wayward travel complete with thoughts of her personal demise.

"They put me in a boat with the captain's corpse beside me, and set us adrift. Why they chose to cast me away I do not know. But those whom we have abused we customarily grow to hate, and wish never to lay eyes on again. The heart of man is a dark forest."

A postmodern redux of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. One hundred and fifty or so years after the original, the author stays true using two of the more pronounced characters, encountering mutineers, being threatened by the fear of cannibals and other similar internal motivations like the personal joy found in isolating one's self from society. The author does establish a different approach by using a strong, willfull female narrator to tell the story on her own terms, and throwing her into a situation where gender equality let alone insubordination was a non-starter. Coetzee's Crusoe seemed to lack a diversified motivation and purpose that Defoe's seemed to have. So while there are parallels, there is also an artistic license that can't be denied. Both Robinson Crusoe haters and lovers can enjoy this version of the story.

"I thought I was myself and this girl a creature from another order speaking words you made up for her. But now I am full of doubt. Nothing is left to me but doubt. I am doubt itself. Who is speaking me? Am I a phantom too? To what order do I belong? And you: who are you?"

Year spent on a desert island is not as idyllic as you may think. After a mutiny and the subsequent murder of the captain left Susan fighting for survival, she drifts away until reaching shore in an unfamiliar environment. To any sea animals. or pirates on the sea, she was ripe for the picking. In the water with the captain's corpse flanked at her side, she has accepted death, but would like some water first. Met by a voiceless black man named Friday she is taken to Coetzee’s Robinson Crusoe where she learns the art of deception as it pertains to storytelling and the formulation of a past life. Being a mystery himself, good-natured Susan and resigned Robinson conflict at times over life on the island and the lack of urgency to go back to the lives they left behind. A complex relationship that is built on the maintaining of sanity, the forming of companionship, the budding affection, undeniable love and ultimately, survival.The similarities between the instability of life on a desert island and life back in civilization was fascinating. With no money, little food, no one to talk to, Susan desperately needs to find Defoe, but doubts about her own story hinder it's importance.

"For surely, with every day that passes, our memories grow less certain, as even a statue in marble is worn away by rain, till at last we can no longer tell what shape the sculptor's hand gave it."

I enjoyed the intricacies in the development of the story as well as the insecurities and honesty that the author provided from the narrative of Susan. The mystery surrounding Robinson and Friday's relationship provided an uncertainty as to what was coming in the following pages. As the story develops reality starts to blur for the reader. This can be troubling as some questions seem to be answered, but the characters deviate from expectation, prolonging the mystery and leaving more introspection for the reader as to what in the hell is really going on. My main gripe with Foe was that the book seemed to lack the same punch that the first section had. In the middle it lagged and carried on with continuous and for the most part redundant arguments between stubborn Foe and willful Susan about language and people and psychology that stopped momentum that didn't pick back up until the final pages. In the end I really enjoyed the experience in reading about the power of language, the creation of mythology, and the determination to break through even in the toughest of circumstances. I will keep this author in mind next time I'm bargain hunting for more books.

"I do not wish to dispute, but you have forgotten much, and with every day that passes you forget more! There is no shame in forgetting: it is our nature to forget as it is our nature to grow old and pass away. But seen from too remote a vantage, life begins to lose its particularity."

The Crying of Lot 49 (Perennial Classics)

The Crying of Lot 49 (Perennial Classics) - Thomas Pynchon "http://bindblottyandcajole.com/2015/07/17/watch-your-step-kid-once-you-go-down-that-road-there-is-no-turning-back/"

The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon
"Paranoid are not paranoid because they're paranoid, but because they keep putting themselves, fucking idiots, deliberately into paranoid situations."

In a post-modern world, in a town that on the surface is not unlike many others, there lives a woman named Oedipa Maas. She lives in a town that goes by the “rolls off the tongue” name Kinneret-Among-The-Pines, California. Dissimilar to any other typical morning Oedipa wakes up to find out that she has recently been named a executrix of her one-time boyfriend and real estate tycoon, Pierce Inverarity's estate. Initially shocked to find out that Pierce had died, she becomes flabbergasted to be given such a responsibility given the little time they courted and the few times they stayed in touch. Oedipa had moved on, found a new lover and husband in local radio disc jockey Wendell "Mucho" Maas, she didn't have time for games. After her subsequent meeting with the co-executor of the estate, Oedipa begins to realize that if she doesn't do it, no one else will. She begins to settle his matters swiftly and with due respect by taking her role, however crazy it may seem, very seriously and with great honour. After finding out the numerous amounts of securities and holdings that Pierce had in corporations and properties, Oedipa gives her best effort to sort it all out. Slowly she begins to find that the people around her, the ones that she cares for are changing. Upon this realization she is beginning to uncover some mysterious symbols on bathroom walls, stamps, sidewalks and other places pertaining to a 17th century secret organization and their conflict with a fellow mail distribution company. Oedipa believes that she is part of an elaborate plot, that her dead ex-boyfriend may be playing a nasty trick from the grave is very plausible given his vast financial resources and business contacts. In willingly playing the role of the pawn Oedipa has determined one of two things: 1) she may have unearthed a national conspiracy, or 2) she has gone bat-shit crazy. After reading this book, with no clear-cut answer, I tend to go with the latter, but whatever it is, she remains unphased and carries on.

"San Narciso was a name; an incident among our climatic records of dreams and what dreams became among our accumulated daylight, a moment’s squall-line or tornado’s touchdown among the higher, more continental solemnities—storm-systems of group suffering and need, prevailing winds of affluence. There was the true continuity, San Narciso had no boundaries. No one knew yet how to draw them. She had dedicated herself, weeks ago, to making sense of what Inverarity had left behind, never suspecting that the legacy was America.”

What makes this book interesting is that it takes a normal, yet shocking situation that most people have to deal with in life and couples it with a sub plot of psychiatric prescribed pharmaceuticals and the meeting of equally-effecting eccentric people. The story is simple, but the recipe is there for a wild ride that when it stops you still are not quite sure what the hell happened. A woman who has become increasingly aware of her surroundings has noticed that her once beloved city of Kinneret has become filled with terrorists, fanatics and crazies. A post modern mystery surrounding American history, conspiracy theories, hallucinatory drugs and paranoia. All of this is encountered for the sake of executing a past loved one's last will and testament. The irony is amazing. What started off as an understandable situation, that ultimately demanded a mental inquisition ends up being a prolonged wild goose chase across city limits for a rare edition of a collection of plays and a secret underground world with its own rules and residents. With two passionate factions fighting for over three hundred years you would think it would be over the right to bear arms, instead they fight over the right to deliver mail. The losing organization establishes an Illuminati/Wizard of Oz-esque hidden reality complete with symbols and yellow brick road, leading wanting citizens to a unique society. Is this real life? Is she dreaming? Has the world gone completely crazy? Or, am I the one that's gone completely bonkers? Yes, I believe it is safe to say that this book is a little bit different.

"Oedipa wondered whether, at the end of this (if it were supposed to end), she too might not be left with only compiled memories of clues, announcements, intimations, but never the central truth itself, which must somehow each time be too bright for her memory to hold; which must always blaze out, destroying its own message irreversibly, leaving an overexposed blank when the ordinary world came back.”

This is widely-regarded to be one of Thomas Pynchon's more accessible books. Well outside of the continuous flow of colour commentary for acts within a revenge play called The Courier's Tragedy along with other historical and machination musings I would agree. Unfortunately, attention paid towards the plot is few and far between, while the creativity of the writing and the lengths he's willing to go seems like a primary objective. The author focuses more on the personality construct of the eccentric and complex characters, while forming their independent internal motivations and interesting environments for them to be situated rather than delivering a focused plot. I am assuming that this is a “thing” for the authour. Zaniness does not bother me, what bothers me is the literary equivalent coupled with the expectation of a certain mental acuity for time-travelling leaving me in a physical state of shock. Now I ask the author, which one of us is supposed to be on drugs or inebriated in some kind of way? Would a little drink help me understand? This novel was trying and demanded extreme attention which resulted in short spurts of reading in order to achieve any sort of retention, which essentially proved to be wishful thinking on my part.

"For there either was some Tristero beyond the appearance of the legacy America, or there was just America, and if there was just America then it seemed the only way she could continue, and manage to be at all relevant to it, was as an alien, unfurrowed, assumed full circle into some paranoia.”

I read and loved the author's latest release Bleeding Edge which many of Pynchon's most devoted admirers thought it was too cliché or had a profusion of cheap shtick. One thing even the man's most hated reader couldn't disagree with is that this man truly is an original. He displays a wide breadth of historical knowledge even if it's not really all that important, cultural understanding even if he is not sensitive or politically correct, and a tendency to promote a counterculture environment built on questioning, for the most part in a non-threatening manner. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future, but I think it would be best for me and the author if I let this one breath for a a little while.

"There was nobody who could help her. Nobody in the world. They were all on something, mad, possible enemies, dead.”

Suddenly, a Knock on the Door

Suddenly, a Knock on the Door - Etgar Keret https://bindblottyandcajole.wordpress.com/2015/03/20/restless-sleep-take-35-of-these-and-call-me/

Scouting for the Reaper

Scouting for the Reaper - Jacob M. Appel Scouting for the Reaper by Jacob M. Appel contains an unorthodox collection of short stories that center around the common theme of life and its many mysteries that follow us, or at times plague us along the way. The author explores situations that arise whether young or old, male or female. He goes about his way in a nonchalant, matter of fact manner while simultaneously doing it with a concealed charm, a pain, a humour, a fear that we all can relate to personally or envision happening one way or another.

Choose Your Own Genetics - Tells a story about an intelligent, albeit a friendless and average looking young girl trying to reinvent herself to win the heart of a boy in school. After a science experiment something is brought to light that was supposed to be kept in the dark. The story is about the danger in protecting reputations, expectations, public perceptions, in spite of the truth. Creve Coeur - Is a story of dormant emotions being stirred by a past love and how tramautic events for one family lead to another’s misfortune. For some people bad luck seems to follow, wherever you may go.

"That was the sort of thing my father used to say often. Soft on logic, but as potentially lethal as a live current."

Scouting for the Reaper - Reminded me of one of my favourite movies Paper Moon. Enterprising father yields a generation of Cuftig children for positions in his door-to-door tombstone selling business. Taking advantage of people in peril is the name of the game, sometimes it's for business, sometimes it's for pleasure. But when a situation arises that allows for revenge, two-fold, Gordon could never pass it up. Hey, it's just business.

“‘I’ll tell you the real problem with dying is,' Delia said, her eyes fixed on Papa. 'It's a one-shot deal. You don't have an opportunity to learn from your mistakes.' "

Ad Valorem - The only certainties in life are death and taxes. Greta is dealing with the death of her meticulous and trusting husband George. For thirty-two years they owned a printing business together and have relied on a local taxation office to take care of their fiduciary duties. Going against her desire file with a more local and bigger company she decides to follow George's path back to Felix Ingersoll. A case study in the transformation of a man you truly loved, the search for a lost feeling in a stagnant existence, and irrational decision-making.

"He was a very cautious man, who never romped or played. He never smoked, he never drank, nor even kissed a maid. And when he up and passed away, insurance was denied. For since he hadn't ever lived, they claimed he never died."

Rods and Cones - A story of crisis and how one can lead to many more. A struggling empty nest couple deal with a crisis of the heart when confronted with an unexpected family crisis that brings about questions with the strength of their marriage. A pessimistic wife Roberta who is always thinking about death is married to an optimistic husband named Norm who is very much pro life. In a lot of ways they couldn't be more different. Their beloved yet unorthodox domesticated pet rabbit has gone blind forcing them to think about their "child's" future as well as their own mortality. Roberta has spent her life waiting for answers, looking for something to care for and when all seems lost she receives the answer she was hoping for.

"So everyone has secrets. Badges of shame they carry around under heavy clothing. Why should Archimedes be any different?"

The Extinction of Fairy Tales - This story reminded me of one of my favourite short stories from Steven Millhauser's Dangerous Laughter called The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman. Both stories ask the question; "Is it true that whatever has once been seen is in the mind forever?" Over thirty-seven years a relationship has been constructed on the exchange of services for income and nothing more. When something happens and a Tuesday is not a regular Tuesday anymore you wish you could have more time. Powerless, a woman realizes that life lives on in memories but not without some lamentations.

"There was the problem with human relationships - you could never really explain them. Sammy had simply been Sammy. Why wasn't it enough of a claim on him that she cared what happened to him? Obviously, it wasn’t."

Hazardous Cargoes - Practicing intellectual big rig driver gets more than he bargained for when a rebellious stowaway gives him a slice of life he's been missing for five years. Unbeknownst and reluctantly taking on additional responsibility on top of a collection of wild animals, a man travels the roads gaining a new perspective on life after its almost taken from him. The Vermin Episode - A Gregor Samsa redux or epilogue from a bystander’s perspective after his death. The short story details many of the important elements as well as providing a commentary for some interesting extenuating circumstances. Story involving the fallibility of man, the innate nature people have in disassociating with differences, the importance in practicing patience, and the reward for being unique.

This is not my first time reading a Jacob M. Appel book, but I could distinguish a difference between his use of a short story collection and a full-length novel. When I read The Biology of Luck you could really see the talent as he was able to weave his way between characters and situations with his trademark humour, perceptive, offensive, philosophical, satirical, and entertaining style. In a full-length novel it can become too much as he tends to tip toe on your last nerve by throwing unlikable characters in your way and being extremely long-winded . With a short story collection the reader can hit the proverbial refresh button as you go on to the next one. With Scouting for the Reaper I can honestly say that I was not irked by anything and really enjoyed myself the whole way through. I believe after two books I have become a fan.

Beat the Reaper

Beat the Reaper - Josh Bazell https://bindblottyandcajole.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/most-times-its-better-to-be-the-hunter-than-the-hunted-sometimes-there-are-special-cases/

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go - Kazuo Ishiguro
"It never occurred to me that our lives, until then were so closely interwoven, could unravel and separate over a thing like that. But the fact was, I suppose, there were powerful tides tugging us apart by then, and it only needed something like that to finish the task. If we'd understood that back then-who knows?-maybe we'd have kept a tighter hold of one another."

Somewhere in something or other "shire" England, Kathy has been a carer for eleven years, slowly wearing down from the emotional strains of the job, hoping to make it to twelve before she has to address an intricate matter. Kathy has just been granted the fortunate opportunity to pick and choose who she directly cares for in hopes of slowing her withdrawal from the system that has been developed for people like her. This honour has extended her life as a carer, but like a moth to a flame she has also been forced to revisit the past, making her look back at her troubled childhood, address the many questions that are burning deep inside, and determine her next step. Will the truth finally reveal itself? Or will she remain living in the shadows waiting for her time to come knowing that somewhere, someone is living her life?

Kathy, Tommy, Ruth were once students at a boarding school in London called Hailsham. They maintain a casual, yet complex relationship that on the surface seems to have great elasticity but in reality had great complexity. Between the three of them a variety of things can change course at the batting of an eye, or an utterance of a word, but in the end, it can in a matter of minutes bounce back as if nothing ever happened. Within the confines of the school, teachers are formally referred to as guardians, while the education system in itself is built around creativity and healthy living. This curriculum as it has stood for many years is all the students have ever known, it's natural, no need for questions or doubts. As they continue to grow, matters inside and outside the school begin to change which influence's Kathy's perception of life and with the subtleties of an ambiguous guardian named Miss Lucy, Kathy begins to feel that there is more to the world than she was lead to believe.

“I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it's just too much. The current's too strong. They've got to let go, drift apart. That's how it is with us. It's a shame, Kath, because we've loved each other all our lives. But in the end, we can't stay together forever.”

Maddening is probably not the best way to describe Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, but that happened to be my initial reaction. After a period of further absorption and contemplation I would have to roll the dice with the less-impulsive, yet still impactful dissatisfaction as my overall feeling for this novel. This probably in the end is more appropriate given my respect for foreign voices, the way they see the world, and my personal expectations prior to reading. There are similarities between this novel and my ‘native sista’ (without bias might I add) Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. Both are works of speculative fiction in a dystopian world with a presence of science fiction (if you're in to that sort of thing). Ishiguro focuses on the innocence of children as he has them come of age in this peculiar world while Atwood focused on the classification of roles within genders as well as the declining status of ethnic groups and women in a world that is not implausible. What I enjoyed about The Handmaid's Tale was the emotional investment that it demanded. Never Let Me Go reminded me too much of an ordinary story that failed to take advantage of the plot lines that differentiated it from the rest. Ishiguro had this book published in 2005 which only magnifies my disappointment because the possibilities of cloning at a time like this was not all that absurd and not very speculative on his part. Atwood on the other hand had her book released in 1985 about a militarized society with little respect for the role of women by taking away all of their rights and going back to the orders of biblical times. Talk about a culture shock, talk about back to the future to the 'nth' degree.

"So you're waiting, even if you don't quite know it, waiting for the moment when you realize that you really are different to them; that there are people out there, like Madame, who don't hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you - of how you were brought into this world and why - and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs. The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it's a cold moment. It's like walking past a mirror you've walked past everyday of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange."

In a nutshell Never Let Me Go is a story of old friends, new beginnings, forgiveness, destiny, failure, and mortality. A lot of themes that I am sure everyone can relate too. A modernized approach to an alternative near future with little merit for anything in the form of a thought-provoking piece of literature besides the whole argument; why this story now? It is a mere journey and a look through the lens at a few unique children as they grow from young children to adults in an England where strangers seem to know more about them then they do of themselves. Common logic asserts that when reading a novel of this genre that you will spend quite a bit of time living in your own head, questioning the viability of these circumstances, as well as wondering what you would do in any one of the situations that arise. What you find with this story is why even bother? If the author is not demanding that of the reader, then why even reciprocate his intended feelings. From an optimists point of view I suppose you should just enjoy the journey with all of its sentimentalities and the search for self-actualization. I would also suggest going into this novel thinking of it as a horror novel, you may have a more emotional attachment with that thought in the back of your mind.

A predetermined life with an extremely limited future and few aspirations, an existence where you're told that life as you know it is controlled by someone else's design. You can definitely draw parallels to one’s own life, but I wish it offered more beyond symbols and metaphors. Take a little bit of The Brothers Grimm Hansel and Gretel, with a little of M. Night Shamalyan's The Village and the backdrop of any of the 1980's teenage coming of age drama and you get Never Let Me Go. With all of the rules, the cliques, the boundaries, the mythology, and typical social behaviors in an atypical environment this book leads you on a unique journey that will leave you sobbing into the pages hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

“‘We all know it. We're modeled from trash. Junkies, prostitutes, winos, tramps. Convicts, maybe, just so long as they aren't psychos. That's what we come from. We all know it, so why don't we say it? A woman like that? Come on. Yeah, right, Tommy. A bit of fun. Let's have a bit of fun pretending.'"

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer
"She died in my arms saying, “I don’t want to die.” That is what death is like. It doesn't matter what uniforms the soldiers are wearing. It doesn't matter how good the weapons are. I thought if everyone could see what I saw, we could never have war anymore."

Children in books about serious matters are often very precocious or highly-conflicted resulting in the author having the ability to maintain a standard of credibility for their story. It takes a special kind of person to make a dumb, easygoing young person hold up throughout the duration of the novel. Well, with our leading man Oskar Scholl you get both, a definitive, thoughtful, and multi-faceted individual who is currently dealing with the loss of his father and best friend Thomas in one of the fastest moving cities in the world. Oskar is a renaissance “boy” with interests in just about everything, but the things that young boys typically enjoy, and has thoughts that peers his own age could never dream of. A boy whose mind is constantly on the go, at times he blurts out strange yet interesting facts almost as a release in order to retain more information. He spends his free time writing letters to persons of interest, making jewelry, conjugating French verbs, listening to The Beatles, reading A Brief History of Time, conjuring up ideas for inventions that are based around personal safety, along with many other hobbies. His latest hobby has taken complete hold of him, and with any luck will provide him with some answers to these vital questions. This information will help aid in the completion of his personal grieving process as he embarks on an epic journey throughout New York and its five boroughs to fill in the gaps of his father’s last moments.

"Well! So many people enter and leave your life! Hundreds of thousands of people! You have to keep the door open so they can come in! But it also means you have to let them go!"

From a psychological perspective, superficially speaking Oskar is a standard case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but what makes it relatively unique is that he has a high-functioning case of Asperger's. He is often dealing with periods of depression which he refers to as “heavy boots”, insomnia which he combats with thinking of inventions waiting for the seven minutes to come before he can fall asleep, and anxiety where he does his best to avoid certain traumatic, emotional, feeling-oriented settings. With respect to his Asperger's he loves working shapes and patterns into his life, he always wears white clothing, he often doesn't understand certain social behaviours in situations, he is rather direct in voicing his feelings, and he has a penchant for self-harm. Oskar was quite dynamic to read about as he went through New York dealing with its entire cast of characters, whom all seemed to be quite cordial. New York gets a bad rap.

There are three distinct narratives being highlighted in this novel with the story of Oskar being the primary one. Equally important to the vitality of the story is that of Oskar's paternal grandmother and a man simply known as “The Renter”. We are not made aware of their names but their message is of great importance to the trajectory of the novel. Grandmother grew up in Dresden, Germany during World War 2 and was one of very few people to survive the bombings that devoured the city and all of its inhabitants. These moments in Dresden provide some heartbreaking accounts of war and a person’s willingness to overcome and endeavor for more. In Manhattan she married her late sister’s boyfriend Thomas and spontaneously got married. Together they lived in a household with a lot of rules and structure and as a result the baby to be was conceived out of the wife’s indiscretion with respect to the order of the relationship. At times it seems like a loveless marriage with little hope, but what you find is that these two individuals have lived a traumatic life and in a sense are lucky to have each other; otherwise they would have been lost living in a stark reality. Throughout the novel, grandma is the constant friend in young Oskar's life due to their similarities in life’s circumstances and the regrets they share in their last moments with their father. The Renter on the other hand is an enigmatic figure who Oskar perceives to be a figment of his grandmother’s imagination due to her old age. What we find out is that this shadow is very real, very peculiar, and has lived a very harrowing existence. There isn't much verbally shared between the two throughout the book, but emotionally speaking there is a profound presence from beginning to end.

She’s at home now, writing her life story, she’s typing while I’m leaving, unaware of the chapter’s to come. It was my suggestion, and at the time I thought it was a very good one, I thought maybe if she could express herself, if she had a way to relieve the burden she lived for nothing more than living, with nothing to get inspired by, to care for, to call her own, she helped out at the store, then came home and sat in her big chair and stared at her magazines, not at them but through them, she let the dust accumulate on her shoulders."

The author’s talent is inarguable; his attention to detail is demonstrated with great intuition while his willingness to go to the depths to each characters inner struggles in order to bring their story to light shows a meticulous devotion that is not found often found in contemporary novels. My main reservation about this novel centers on the style used and the resulting structure of the story. Your greatest strength at times can become your greatest weakness and with this story I felt that the author used too much force in his approach to relay information rather than using a more accessible and graceful process. It came across as too fantasy oriented and less realistic given that the reliance of emotion is important for comprehending the subject matter and the overall perspective of the book. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a story of mortality, forgiveness, the fragility of life, and the essential expression of love. It has some shortcomings, but I feel that it is the type of book that everyone should read once because it has the potential to be a favourite even if it it didn't happen to be mine.

"Grief and loss are probably the most fearful creatures that exist. But loss shouldn't be a fearful creature. It should be a creature of wisdom. It should teach us not to fear that tomorrow may never come, but live fully, as though the hours are melting away like seconds. Loss should teach us to cherish those we love, to never do anything that will result in regret, and to cheer on tomorrow with all of its promises of greatness. It's easy and un-extraordinary to be frightened of life. It's far more difficult to arm yourself with the good stuff despite all the bad and step foot into tomorrow as an everyday warrior."

The Psychopath Test

The Psychopath Test - Jon Ronson https://bindblottyandcajole.wordpress.com/2015/04/09/theres-a-fine-line-between-genius-and-insanity-your-wet-bed-may-have-tipped-the-scales/