Friday, June 29, 2012

When the Devil Holds the CandleWhen the Devil Holds the Candle by Karin Fossum
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm close to 4 stars, certainly 3.5. I assume some (which was confirmed in my friend Lynn's review) will be bothered that it isn't really a mystery--you know who dunnit right from the beginning. And I agree it's more of a psychological thriller but it seems other mysteries (including other Fossum novels) reveal the murderer from the beginning. To me it's simply a variation on the mystery.

I found the psychological exploration of Irma Funder (what a name) to be intriguing. We get a first-person narrative from her and then the traditional 3rd person narration focalized back and forth between Sejer and Skarre, the two detectives, AND two other teenage hoodlums as it were, Andreas and Zipp. I like that Fossum is willing to go deep with Funder, especially at the beginning of the novel, where we get key scenes from her childhood. I would, though--here agreeing with Lynn--like to have had more of this depth later in the novel.

Still, I enjoy the quirky references (a bunch to Blade Runner, a favorite film of Andreas, which takes on symbolic meaning) and the surprising themes: existential angst which settles over several of the characters and how to determine sanity (which again alludes obliquely to Blade Runner).

All and an all...a Goodread.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Lips Touch

Lips Touch: Three TimesLips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I quite enjoyed all three of these thematically intertwined stories. Not the type of book I would usually pick up, but it was recommended by my teenage cousin who I'd asked to guide me in my reading of children/teen fantasy. Overall the stories are incredibly inventive, fraught with desire, sensuality, and forbidden love. And each has some literal significant reiteration of lips touching. The only big unfortunate--the illustrations which to me seemed unneeded and overwrought.

The first, "Goblin Fruit," is the story of a young girl, Kizzy, who wants so badly to be loved she falls for the aptly named Jack Husk. Reminiscent of Twighlight, though darker and better written, Kizzy is enraptured by these new attentions. In the end she understands that she is in trouble, "A goblin had her soul on the end of his fishing line...She knew. But now in the fugue of wanting, of almost having...her hip still warm from Jack Husk's head, the knowing was as insubstantial as words written on water." Invoking the collection's title, Kizzy's first kiss was possibly her last though also "delicious."

The second, "Spicy little curses," tells of a beautiful young woman whose voice is cursed as a young baby to kill all who hear it. James Dorsey, a soldier, pursues the young Anamique wishing she would speak to him, convinced that the curse isn't real. The curse eventually comes to fruition yet there is the possibility for redemption. A good story though not as compelling as the other two for me--still we do get wonderfully sinister lines like, "It was the only lullaby she would ever sing, and it was sung in Hell." Badadump.

The last, "Hatchling," my clear favorite, is a complex fable-like tale about the symbiotic relationship between the soulless Druj and few chosen humans. Mab, a female human imprisoned by the Queen of the Druj as a sort of pet, escapes with the help of a seemingly sympathetic outlander Druj named Mihai. But slowly we learn that Mihai is working on his own plane, his own realm of existence, in an attempt to bring "life" back to the Druj. Certainly an engaging narrative. But there's more: it is also a rumination on the classic themes of understanding the soul.

The Druj can wear the bodies of animals and humans for a period of time. In one scene the Queen and her companion wear the bodies of Mab and a young man in order to have sex, but "they would never feel what it was that made two strangers cling to each other, more intimate in fear and sorrow than a Druj could ever be, even aping the act of love." We come to learn that Mihai has been hatching over and over again, "each time, his humanity deepened." And here the fabulous story speaks truth about the reality of the human condition.

After finishing the book in the morning, I went for a hike that afternoon. Hiking up the trail the archetypal images of the story floated through me. I do not believe in a pre-existence, as the Mormons do, or in the Hindu notion of reincarnation, but as I hiked I felt a deep connection to something in the past. As Mihai describes each hatching clears the mist a bit so that he can see his true human, "souled" nature. I breathed in the air, looked up at the sun-glittered leaves, sensing a wisp of how those who came before me would have experienced this world--the familiarity of the gurgling stream, the ability to spot food or protection or danger with ease; most importantly the wholeness of existing in the land with no distinction between city and the wild or simulation. I do not see this oneness, this Hathra (the wholeness of the soul), as a salvation from our fractured modern identities. Instead I simply sense (or maybe only sensed for a moment) the remnants of past lives lived out differently than mine, yet animated with my same biological materials.

What Mihai remembers most of his past human life, mostly still lost in the mist, is a kiss--Lips Touched again. But it is a semblance of, a partial remembering, the type accessed by closing the eyes, turning the head slightly to the side and upwards while trying to remember an image from a dream OR like looking up at the leaves in an attempt to imagine the path of one's own ancestors, one's blood and body formed over thousands of years.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

He who fears the wolf

He Who Fears the WolfHe Who Fears the Wolf by Karin Fossum
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I continue to love everything I read of Fossum's (also read Indian Bride and Black Seconds). In this novel we have a murder, a bankrobbery, and a kidnapping. Yet the criminals are as dysfunctional as those you hear about in the news making fun of criminal stupidity: "Today a man robbed a bank and after getting away got lost only to stop and ask for directions from a....cop." Yet these criminals are also broken people, sympathtic, who reach out to others in the most unexpected ways.

As expected this novel has all the good stuff--the lonely brooding detective, the familiar twists, interesting side characters I just referred to--but also Fossum also offers compellingly reflective passages about what it means to do this work.

For example Skarre, who works under Sejer the head detective, asks after interrogating a teen, "What will it do to me as a person, to be constantly asking innocent people: Where were you yesterday? When did you get home?" A poignant line of thinking I'd never considered.

Or this passage where we get inside the experience of the dog handlers on the final chase for the criminals, "All five men had guns. The hard weight of their belts was both comforting and frightening. The assignment was an exciting one...this was what they had pictured when they joined the police force...All three [dog handlers] were mature men...They loved the peace of the woods, the not knowing, the work with the dogs. The sound of panting dogs, of twigs breaking, of rustling leaves, the buzzing of thousands of insects. All their sense were on alert...Studying the dogs, the way their tails moved, whether they were wagging briskly or were suddenly lowered, stopping altogether." What a beautiful passage which takes us inward for a moment before pursing the objective and plot line.

All in all a great read.

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Saturday, June 16, 2012

A book with hiking adventures AND emotional depth

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest TrailWild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I couldn't help compare this PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) travelogue with Bill Bryson's *A Walk in the Woods* about hiking the AT (Appalachian Trail), a hilarious description of long-distancing hiking near the other coast. While there are many similarities, these narratives do not really fit into the same genre. Bryson's is a true travelogue, taking every opportunity to ramp up the humor, avoiding most opportunities to serious self-reflect; Strayed's is a true memoir, unabashedly exploring her identity and sexuality. But it was well-paced, moving easily back and forth from travelogue (both hilarious and nerve-wracking trail adventures) to poignant scenes from her past as when she and her brother put down her mother's horse a year or so after their mother's death.

And amazingly she does all this without the narrative feeling forced or overwrought. Even when I like a memoir, there are generally several places where it seem overdone--and I only remember one spot near the end where I questioned a passage about her mother and the river. It was a bit too nifty, too crafted, but easily forgiven. Strayed ends strongly for me in the last paragraph where she simply states after she had reflected on what she had learned through the years about those who she hiked with, "It was all unknown to me then, as I sat on that white bench on the day I finished my hike. Everything except the fact that I didn't have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I'd done was true."

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