The other night I made a decision I do not make lightly...being anal...I decided to put this title aside. I rarely give up on a book. But this book waThe other night I made a decision I do not make lightly...being anal...I decided to put this title aside. I rarely give up on a book. But this book was so much like a guy I met in a bar back in 1987. It certainly had the right packaging! (The guy in question looked like a Calvin Kline advert model -- which wasn't as cheezy as it sounds considering it was the High 80s.) And just take a look at the cover on this book! To my way of thinking, it is way hotter than that guy ever was. I love supernatural stories! I salivate over them! I locked eyes with this book cover...I read the description...and immediately threw caution to the wind and decided that this book was coming home with me that night!
But sadly, it fizzled on me.
The guy in question, for readers who want to know the rest of the story, sauntered up to me at the bar, made small talk, and invited me to go to Cedar Point with him and his friends the next weekend. I goggled and almost tipped off my bar stool while my girl friend kicked me in the ankle and telegraphed mentally to me that I should be cool. I tossed aside judgement, stared into his chiselled face, and squeaked 'ok. sure' -- The good news was that this dude was not a German cannibal. The bad news was that he was a douchie pretentious ass who stared at himself in every glass surface he passed. I guess that taught me something. The highlight of the day was when we rode on a water ride and he got a bucket dumped on him, momentarily destroying his perfection. And, I liked his friends and started to hang with them.
This book was not so insufferable. It just ended up not being my sort of thing. Perhaps it was the conceit of telling the story in the form of letters, transcripts of recordings and mainly non linear forms of narrative. It felt too clever by half. I wanted to dig more into the characters...a nameless central character, who is a young man of uncertain European origin and his platonic girl pal, a mute Irish girl called Niamh. The young man, known only as 'A', surprisingly inherits a house in Virginia from a distant relative, Ambrose Wells, whom he never knew.
This is a plot that I enjoy over and over again in old 'Mystery Movie of the Week' films I recall from my childhood (and still seek out and watch on You Tube.) I wouldn't have thought it possible that I could not get immediately sucked into this story. There is a mysterious secret society, a butler, cryptic code names, odd disturbances in the force of the home, and terrible nightmares to haunt the nameless leading man. Yet...it didn't draw me in. I kept falling asleep. Much like I did with that pretty boy 30 years ago.
So in the interest of a precious lack of reading time and a diminishing life span (it isn't 1987 any longer and I have a bit less time left on life's odometer) -- I have decided to part company and leave this book for readers who can relate to the method of story telling, give it a better chance, and get into the meat of the action. I made it about 1/3 in and I was still not 'hooked'. I would not say this is because the book was poorly written. Perhaps I am too traditional of a reader to appreciate the way the author was building the story out of bits and pieces of correspondence. And perhaps I just wanted to super-impose my memories of old made-for-TV suspense movies over the top of this book rather to allow it to fully speak for itself. ...more
By Gaslight may have already claimed the prize as 'my favorite historical fiction book read in 2017'. The year, however, is young. I reserve the rightBy Gaslight may have already claimed the prize as 'my favorite historical fiction book read in 2017'. The year, however, is young. I reserve the right to enjoy another title even more later in the year and to revise my opinion. But, in this elegant and rather epic saga of a man hunt that spans post Civil War America, the Victorian London demi monde and the far flung shores of South Africa, Steven Price has entered a superior offering into the mix.
By Gaslight weaves together the real life character of William Pinkerton (son of famed 19th century detective Allen Pinkerton, of the eponymous detective agency) and the fictional character of Adam Foole, also know as Edward Shade. Adam Foole is a skilled professional thief and member of London's 'flash world' of criminals. Once upon a time he was Edward Shade, an orphaned boy of mixed heritage who became caught up in the American Civil War. Before that he was another boy altogether...a boy without a home or family and with a birth name he has shed more than once. Foole has survived through cunning and criminal skill. Yet, as a boy, he had worked for Allen Pinkerton, embarking on a harrowing piece of espionage behind Confederate lines. Pinkerton senior had taken note of Edward Shade's street urchin skills and groomed the boy to work as an operative.
Edward Shade, before he vanished, became another son to Allen Pinkerton...a son not through birth but through the relationships that are forged by battle. Pinkerton senior grew obsessed with the fate of Shade and this mystery clouded his later years. The ''shadow" of this Shade also left a mark on the relationship between Pinkerton and his eldest son, William. After the great detective dies, William, himself, becomes compelled to look for Shade and to learn what his father failed to uncover about the man who may only have existed in myth.
William's quest takes him to the sooty, choleric and dangerous world of London's criminal class in search of the enigmatic boy, Edward Shade, who vanished after the war.
Meanwhile we take in much of the story through the viewpoint of Adam Foole. Foole's life has been one of both misery and splendor. His is a tale of adventure in love (with a female con artist named Charlotte Reckett) and war. I remain unsure as to whether the author intended Pinkerton or Foole to be the main protagonist. Pinkerton certainly would be the traditional choice. He represents the long arm of the law, traversing two continents to learn the truth about his father's complex relationship with a man who may be only a ghost. Yet Pinkerton's character is more difficult to warm to. He is the emotionally reserved and rough detective character we often find in crime fiction. Foole is more vibrant. At times he is a tragic soul, at times a romantic figure, at times nothing more than a slick con man. I rooted for Foole at every turn.
In the final analysis, I believe that both characters share the vital role of protagonist (I was too invested in Foole to view him antagonistically) and that they had a symbiotic relationship in the story. The motivations of one could not be fed without the actions of the other.
By Gaslight is a lush and descriptive work of bravura fiction. The cover art is such that the book screamed 'Read Me!' when I pulled it off the shelf. I compare it to another book I loved twenty years ago..."The Alienist" by Caleb Carr. I do not feel that the design of this book was accidental. In my opinion, readers who enjoyed The Alienist would also be pleased with By Gaslight. -- Finally, readers should note two things: First, this book is long. It is over 700 pages. I often read reviews of door stoppers like this one and find that the reviewer spends paragraphs complaining about how long the book was. I always wonder what they thought they were getting into when they chose the book in the first place! (It feels like me taking an ill advised trip to H&M, selecting a pair of size 4 skinny jeans, purchasing them, and then going home and writing a nasty email to the company about how the jeans were 'too small'. Only the inverse.)
Secondly, several reviewers have pointed out an anomaly in style that was used in this book, to the distraction of some and the downright irritation of others. This was the choice the editors made in not enclosing character dialogue in quotation marks. Many readers found this to be unnecessarily confusing and also a hindrance to their enjoyment of the book. Although I was able to get into the flow of the narrative and get past this stylistic oddity, I do feel like it is a valid complaint. And I wonder if more books will get this treatment, in the future, as we continue to move more toward 'text speak' in our writing. I suppose I am enough of a fuddy duddy to hope that this will not be the case.
That is a small issue in a wonderful larger confection of deft writing....more
Such a depressing title to begin my 2017 reader's journey. Our Kids was written by a sociologist from the Erie shores of my home state. He grew up inSuch a depressing title to begin my 2017 reader's journey. Our Kids was written by a sociologist from the Erie shores of my home state. He grew up in the misted-in-memory idyll of 1950s white America in a little town called Port Clinton. I am familiar with this town as I drove through it many times during the 1980s while making the dull trek between my parent's home, on the east side of Cleveland and my university, which was smack in the midst of the corn fields of north west Ohio. My family still ventures through the Port Clinton area once a year on our summer visit to the Lake Erie Islands.
Certainly times have changed from Robert Putnam's Happy Days. Our nation's current psychotic trip is underpinned by a collective desire among many of our population to return to Putnam's youth in a small town America pre-Wal Mart, pre-industrial collapse, pre-digital age, pre-ISIL and pre- modern complexity and whatever new age we are currently ushering in, which will replace the world of our childhoods.
Right now we are, as a society, in the crisis point. The new ways (new industries and new solutions) are still out of reach for many of us. The old problems (unemployment, displacement, opiate addiction epidemic and virulent gun violence) remain. The adults who nominally run our society seem out-of-control and corrupt. The adults who seem smarter and more thoughtful are marginalized to the shadows while hucksters and gangsters take center stage. We are worried about our kids who are inheriting a world that appears to be randomly violent, inherently dishonest, in constant chaos and crisis, and lacking in wisdom.
Where will Our Kids work? Will they be able to purchase homes of their own? Will they manage to attend college? Will our families hold together just enough to support their emotional needs and provide them with a fall back plan if things go badly? Sadly, many indicators point to a darker future for Our Kids...one where inequality in housing, education, opportunity, family support, health care and income will enable a small percentage of upper middle class (mainly white) kids to thrive while larger segments of society, beneath them in status, will stagnate.
Our Kids traces the paths of a group of young people from various locations around the nation and from various walks of life. We learn their back stories and are given a snap shot of their lives. Unlike Putnam's Port Clinton of yore, where rich kids lived a few blocks away from poor kids, attended the same school, shopped the same local stores, worked the same after school jobs and dated classmates from lower social rungs...today's kids are definitively segregated by income. You see this in every city when you travel. There are inner metropolitan rings, where there is a wealthy and shiny down town core surrounded by inner city poverty. Next are the ageing inner ring suburbs, followed by ever more opulent and privileged outer ring suburbs and, finally, the 21st century Landed Gentry who reside in 'exurbs'. Once you leave exurbia, you are back out among the vast stretches of rural poverty classes. Rarely do these people live in proximity to one another or connect socially or through school or work.
Putnam points to a time when neighborhoods were more economically mixed. The wealthy families in a small town took an active interest in talented youth from more modest backgrounds and mentored them. My mom went to college because her friend's dad was a banker who picked up a college application for her, along with one for his own daughter. So my mom, the farm girl and school valedictorian, attended Ohio University on his urging. (His own daughter dropped out. My mom finished.) My dad was the poor son of immigrant parents. However, his amazing artistic talent was noticed by teachers and the head of the art curriculum in the Cleveland Public Schools and he was also encouraged. Amazingly, he also made it to college and, thus, my life was one spent in the comforts of the post war middle classes.
These days, upper class Tiger Moms and Dads save all of their efforts and networking for their own privileged offspring and their children's generally equally well off friends. To be fair, wealthy people rarely 'know' the lower classes in 21 century America. Those who least the need the hand up are the same people who have all of the 'soft contacts' in business, at country clubs and in academia. Meanwhile, the vanishing middle class and the expanding working and lower classes face ever increasing obstacles to higher education due to intimidating price hikes and a basic lack of understanding when it comes to the tricks and secrets involved in applying to college.
Gone are the days when the kids who are not academically motivated can drop out and find gainful employment in manufacturing. Today's lost kids work third shift at Taco Bell and live at home forever, often with an ever rotating cast of adults who are never permanent fixtures in their lives.
These days, people mainly work...or else they are unemployed. Leisure has declined precipitously for those fortunate enough to have jobs. (My own spouse works 50 hour weeks and we have almost zero time for hobbies, clubs or civic involvement.) We are more secular (I am a good example of this modern type, being unaffiliated with religion) and do not have room in our lives for community groups. Thus, our kids have lost the extra buffer they might receive through their religious congregations or through their dad's Kiwanis Club membership or their mom's pull with the local PTA. Only the wealthy can afford the luxury of time to commit to these organizations. And many of the groups that enjoyed vibrant mid century membership are withering away today.
I am fifty and, therefore, have been around for awhile. I have seen a sea change in the way we live now as opposed to the pace of the life I lead in the 1970s as a kid. It concerns me greatly to raise my own daughter in this colder, more impersonal, more competitive and less compassionate world. Reading this book didn't really give me a lot of hope...but it did bolster some of my own feelings about areas where we have steered wildly off course as a society. I fear only time, innovation, and new solutions to continuing problems will bring positive change. I realize that my own generation, as a rule, lacks the drive and the vision to make the necessary changes and adjustments to the way we do things to provide a better world for Our Kids. We are mired in our nostalgia for 'the way things used to be/or perhaps only existed in our hazy daydreams'. It will be up to Our Kids, in the end, to decide that they must take the reins and change things for themselves and for the future....more
Entry number six in Tana French's exceptional Dublin Murder Squad series is given to us through the perspective of Antoinette Conway, sole female membEntry number six in Tana French's exceptional Dublin Murder Squad series is given to us through the perspective of Antoinette Conway, sole female member of the Big Boys Club (the murder detectives.) Conway was a shade too bitchy for my taste the first time I encountered her (in French's last book.) However, The Trespasser was the first book I picked up to numb myself after the election. Seeing as we decided to hire the frat boy most likely to date rape you at a Kappa Kappa Klan kegger, suddenly Conway's acid manner and the chip on her shoulder seem very, very credible to me. I have always tried to be 'Cool Girl' (the persona Conway adapts to put her male suspects at ease during certain interviews) -- but right now is a terrible time to be a woman in America. Some changes are called for and I will have to dust off a persona I have not used regularly since my college days. To quote Elton John, "The Bitch is Back".
So this was the right time for me to explore life in the murder squad through Conway's lens. What may have gotten on my nerves a few years ago was actually revving me up with righteous indignation. The Murder Boys, with the exception of Conway's likeable and affable partner, squad newbie, Steve Moran, were rendered mainly as annoying and at times misogynistic background noise. Conway was running the show on this case, or at least attempting to manage her own case. The case is that of the murder of Aislinn Murray, found knocked out on the fireplace hearth in her flat with a head injury that proved fatal. This incident is dished up to Conway and Moran as a probable domestic dispute gone over the top. Disgusted with another garden variety domestic being dumped in her lap while the squad hot shots (all male) take the juicy cases, Conway starts out with her general pissed off attitude. Her attitude is further adjusted (for the worse) by the sudden interference/oversight of Detective Breslin -- a glib and douchie 'toss pot' who imposes himself as an unwanted 'mentor'. French has some fun with Breslin, giving him loads of deadening jargon-speak dialogue. When Conway butts heads with Breslin it is a joy to read.
As with all of French's stories, the psychological mind set of the detective takes on an even greater role than the motivations of the perp. Each detective brings a unique set of baggage to a case, which can greatly color his or her interpretation of events and the story he or she authors about what might have happened. The Trespasser contains many narratives. All are plausible and interesting. It takes the reader to the end of the book to learn which of the stories most closely matches the events as they actually occurred.
Obviously there is more at play here than a standard bit of domestic violence. The Trespasser revolves around a missing person case (from Conway's past life in that department), and the secrets in the victim's life. We also learn a great deal more about Conway and where her issues began. By the end of the story, you always feel that you know all of French's characters quite well. She has a talent for bringing a myriad cast alive with detail. I enjoy psychological suspense and the psychological aspects of her work (both with her detectives and her criminals) is of the highest caliber.
I recommend this title as being much better than her last one, which I felt was French's weakest effort. I feel like she is back on her game. Fans of the series and readers who enjoy a crime story that happens in the head as much (if not more) than on the streets would find The Trespasser well worth their time. As always, I wonder who Tana French might spin out as the main character in her next book. Next time my money is on O'Kelly, the head of the Murder Squad. But I could be wrong! As always, I will tune in next time and look forward to finding out....more
So I ended a difficult year with a Stephen King book. King has been a portal to creepy escapist fiction for me since the late seventies when I first bSo I ended a difficult year with a Stephen King book. King has been a portal to creepy escapist fiction for me since the late seventies when I first began reading his titles. As I have mentioned in previous reviews, I had begun to weary of King in the 'horror' mode some time ago. I read Doctor Sleep and it just did not summon the same enthusiasm in me as The Shining did so many years ago. (To be fair, I WAS in junior high back then! Perhaps my tastes have moved on just a bit.)
However I am still a King fan and it is because of books like this one (and the two that preceded it in this trilogy) and because of his wonderful time traveller's take on the Kennedy assassination a few years ago with 11/22/63. I believe King's writing style has evolved and matured as he has aged. He was the master of the creep out in his younger days. But older people have slower and sadder tales to tell. Once life has roughed you up for five or six decades, you view life through a different lens and, perhaps, your sense of 'horror' changes from the weirdly supernatural to the all-too-banal reality of growing older.
It will be difficult to write much about this final title in the Bill Hodges trilogy without spoiling the major plot points. End of Watch reunites retired detective and private investigator, Bill Hodges, with his confederates, Holly Gibney and Jerome Robinson and pits them, one final time, against the malevolent Brady Hartsfield...now physically confined to his hospital bed but mentally unleashed to the world. Most of the satellite characters in the series make at least one more cameo in this last chapter: Barbara Robinson and her mother, Tanya, Bill's former partner, Pete, and even Brady's former co-workers at the computer store. Readers who have enjoyed Mr Mercedes and Finder's Keepers will definitely want to follow through and wrap things up with End of Watch.
I enjoyed the characters in this trilogy and the action in the books was steady and engrossing. It feels like King has hit his stride, lately, between character development and story telling. In many ways, this is not new. He could develop memorable characters back in his hey day and they never took a back seat to the horror elements in his stories. In fact, these stories were so macabre because you, the reader, felt like the odd and horrific events were happening to a 'regular Joe' -- a person you might know at work, or a neighbor...or even yourself!
Bill Hodges was an older character (in his sixties) and he seemed very authentic in King's hands. I would enjoy reading more of Stephen King's takes on ageing and on the various mundane 'horrors' that await a person as they begin to wrap up their lives. It feels like there may be much to explore and I know King would be an adept and much read voice. May I hope that he is working on something else now that he has concluded Bill's adventures?...more
The Lost Boy is the latest title in the Patrik Hedstrom/Erika Falke Swedish import mystery series that I have been able to acquire and read. I thorougThe Lost Boy is the latest title in the Patrik Hedstrom/Erika Falke Swedish import mystery series that I have been able to acquire and read. I thoroughly enjoy this series for escapist and page turning mystery fare. We were left with real nail biting cliff hanger in the least instalment of this series and the opening chapters give fans some crucial information about what happened to Erika and her sister, Anna at the end of the last title. (The Drowning)
The Lost Boy involves Patrik and his colleagues at Fjallbacka Police Station in the matter of 'who shot Mats Sverin?' Sverin was a well liked, if secretive, financial director for Fjallbacka Council. When he is discovered shot to death in his apartment, the trail quickly goes cold. Who could have motive to murder such a nice and unassuming man? On the other hand, why was Mats so close lipped about his personal life?
Patrik's wife, crime writer Erika Falke, can never resist a mystery. As she balances her family life with research for her books, she often becomes embroiled in Patrik's cases and offers assistance and answers. Patrik is often concerned for Erika's safety as she tends to barge headlong into frightening scenarios. As the more restrained personality in the marriage, Patrik can also become embarrassed by Erika's nosy nature. The two have a solid marriage, however, and their dynamic is fun to read.
The Lost Boy continues in the tradition of Lackberg's solid mystery plots and revisits all of the characters, at least to a degree, whom readers have come to know and love. (Or, in the case of Melberg, learned to love to hate!)
I am not one of those people who gets involved with sports. I don't watch Big Sports of any type (even living in this miraculous year in Cleveland.) TI am not one of those people who gets involved with sports. I don't watch Big Sports of any type (even living in this miraculous year in Cleveland.) Team sports hold no interest for me and I tend to be put off by the rabid partisanship of the crowds, the idolization of overgrown boys who can play what are basically children's games with skill and their out-of-proportion importance in our society. I am the first to grouse about the billions of dollars we pour into these entertainments which could, instead, be used on medical research, alternative energy sources, hunger and infrastructure. -- I am also thoroughly creeped out by the nationalism I see encroaching more and more into our world view. It was a bad idea eighty years ago and it remains a bad idea today.
Yet...I am a hypocrite. Because I have a soft spot for the hyped up, money hemorrhaging, nationalist circus that is the Olympic Games. Although I view their current underpinnings with suspicion and a bit of disgust, I enjoy the spectacle and the events, themselves. I have a long memory for some things and my Olympic memories extend back to Munich (that dismal and frightening Games, marred by the footage of armed terrorists and police on balconies in the Olympic Village.) I looked forward the the Olympics because we had to wait four years between them (which felt like an eternity to a child) and because they took place in various exotic locales around the globe. I was a child who was fascinated, from an early age, with other cultures and parts of the world. My life ambition was to be a 'world traveller' (a goal I met, mainly, through the television and my viewing of the Olympics and other documentaries about the world's treasures.)
I recall Olga Korbut, Marc Spitz, Dorothy Hamil, Bruce Jenner (long before Kaitlyn), Nadia Comaneci, Torvill and Dean, Carl Lewis, Sebastian Coe, Sugar Ray Leonard, the East German women's swimming team, the US hockey team 'miracle' of 1980, Greg Louganis, Mary Lou Retton, Katarina Witt, and on and on and on. I could write six more paragraphs about the memories I have being glued to the TV with my family watching our collective pop cultural sports history unfold throughout the latter part of the 20th century. -- As an adult, I have had less time to watch and I have been less happy with the coverage of the events. (Less depth of coverage, too much focus on American athletes and gold medalists and not enough attention paid to athletes from other regions and athletes who are deeper back in the medal field but who may have intriguing personal stories.)
So there is a lot for me to love but also a lot for me to wince about when it comes to this world wide ritual. -- As I read The Games, I had a clear impression that the author, David Goldblatt, has a similarly complex relationship with the Olympics. His commentary on the history of the Games was, at times, scathing. (I found him to be quite funny.) And I believe he almost wrote parts of this book as a cautionary tale. Fans may not be aware of how out-of-control the Olympics have become from a staging perspective. Very few cities in the world can actually afford to present them and to keep them relatively secure at this point. They have ballooned into a high maintenance White Elephant with champagne taste, which may not survive long into the 21st century if reforms and retooling do not take hold.
The Olympic Committee does not come off smelling like a rose in this narrative. They are, apparently, very much an Old Boys Club of insiders who enjoy luxury travel. (I don't know how you get this gig...but it sounds like a sweet deal to me...getting first class treatment for months at a time as one vets the sexiest world capitals on the globe. Nice work, if you can get it.) They have also been somewhat fossilized and very late to adapt to the changing world around them. Goldblatt saves a lot of his hilarious British sarcasm for this gang of grifters.
But we all like to look back on the highlight reel of our lives and these 'collective events' are growing more and more rare in a fragmented world where everyone has their own Youtube channel and Soundcloud mix. People no longer join community groups or social organizations (Bowling Alone) and fewer and fewer belong to organized religions. Gone is the group experience in most of our lives. Perhaps this is why we have become so relentlessly tribal in our sports fandom and our political affiliations. These remain the few areas in our lives where we feel part of a larger group of 'people like us'.
I enjoyed this overview of the Games because it did ignite some deeply buried memories I have as a spectator. I was also fascinated by the chapters on the early modern Games from the turn of the last century. (There is interesting video footage online of the London Games from 1908.) The Games provides an interesting overview of the modern Olympic Games from Athens in 1896 through an introduction to the Rio Games we just finished viewing this past summer. The Summer Games get more coverage in this book than the Winter Games, (which are described as somewhat of a step child to the Summer Games, at least initially. They seem to have gained in stature and popularity in more contemporary times. I have always enjoyed them equally, being fond of figure skating and skiing.)
I was hoping that the book would have a bit more depth about each Olympics. However, the scope here is to provide an overview of the history of the Games as a whole. Something more detailed would probably be encyclopedic in length. I do not feel this is a demerit. The Games was a solid and entertaining starting point. I am interested in the topic and will probably search for more titles about the various Olympics I remember watching over the years.
The supernatural book I finished just before this one was okay, but not exactly what I had hoped. House of Echoes, on the other hand, was picked up atThe supernatural book I finished just before this one was okay, but not exactly what I had hoped. House of Echoes, on the other hand, was picked up at random and read almost as a 'filler book' while I awaited some titles I have on reserve. And this one came through for me in a big way!
The autumn season brings on a desire for 'scary stories' and, although it is still in the 70s and 80s in Cleveland and we are only a couple days into autumn, I am already craving some more chilling fare. I have also been on a steady nostalgia kick for the eerie 'movie of the week' style made-for-TV movies of my childhood...and have been watching a lot of this sort of thing, lately, online. House of Echoes is exactly what I wanted to find in a creepy novel this month because it echoes these story lines from a childhood spent staying awake on weekends in front of suspense shows.
The Tierney family, like so many families on my old TV movies, are city folk who have relocated to the backwaters to start a new life and to get away from the stresses and anxieties of city living, high powered careers and social problems. (Note to such families...this is always a bad idea when you are in a made for TV flick...the country is way more terrifying. Just wait and see!) Ben Tierney is an author who is attempting to write his next book, but who is plagued by anxieties relating to his marriage and the issues his son faced with bullying. (Even better! Author as main character gets bonus points in this sort of story. The Shining, anyone?) Ben's wife, Caroline, was a high flyer in the financial world until she lost her job in the fallout of the 2008 banking scandals. Always a driven woman, Caroline is more manic than ever as she attempts to single handedly turn the large but decrepit country mansion the Tierney's have purchased in upstate New York into an inn/B&B. Ben's son, Charlie seems happy to wander the grounds of The Crofts (their new mansion/home) and to explore the woods around the estate in a world of his own. However Ben worries that the boy spends too much time alone and that he has withdrawn from the world after the serious bullying issues he endured back in New York City. Ben and Caroline also have an infant son, nick named Bub, who rounds out the family.
The Tierney's found their way to the out-of-the-way village of Swannhaven when Ben inherited land there from his grandmother's estate. The inheritance skipped over Ben's troubled mother (an addict) and was bequeathed to Ben. Ben sees it as an opportunity dropping out of nowhere to help his family escape their problems and begin a new life in the relative peace of The Crofts. At first, this seems like a good choice. Ben is pleased with Charlie's new school, administered by the wise and kindly Father Cal. Ben is embraced by a few of the key residents of Swannhaven's Old Families (known as the Winter Families because of the town's history of barely surviving a ravaging winter of Indian attacks and starvation back in Colonial American days.) As a descendant of the Swann family, Ben is given a degree of respect by some of the towns people. (And I hesitate to use the word 'town' as Swannhaven is a tiny settlement indeed.) Other residents appear to resent the Tierneys and give them that cold and creepy rural stink eye attitude.
Soon, however, macabre events begin to occur. Mutilated animal parts are found in the woods around the Crofts. Charlie begins to become more and more immersed in his wanderings in the woods, where he feels a constant presence watching him. The family dog goes missing....and Ben begins to feel that there is a malevolent force ever presence...a force that wants to do great harm to him and to his family.
And Ben is not wrong.
House of Echoes is a satisfying and atmospheric horror story combining elements of Stephen King and Thomas Tryon. If you read Harvest Home many years ago and enjoy that vibe, House of Echoes is highly recommended....more
I loved this book. It came out in late 2013 and much was written about it in 2014, a year I completely missed due to extreme personal tragedy. Since tI loved this book. It came out in late 2013 and much was written about it in 2014, a year I completely missed due to extreme personal tragedy. Since that watershed year I have been negotiating life as a griever and it colors most of what I encounter both on and off the pages of books. I read this beautiful book as a griever and I believe it spoke to me more vividly because of my losses. Death and grief are themes which run through the the Goldfinch. The protagonist, Theo Decker, is never far from his own bereavement experience. Although the Goldfinch is also so much more, I read each page with the knowledge of loss and it is a story that will remain with me long term.
Theo Decker is a thirteen-year-old boy when his mother is killed in a terrorist bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Theo briefly separated from her and headed to the gift shop where he notices an older man with a captivating red haired girl, about his age. Theo's mother chose to turn around and go take a final look at her favorite painting: The Goldfinch -- a minor Dutch masterpiece depicting a yellow finch chained to a perch by its ankle. The artist, Fabritius, was later killed in an explosion in Delft. Another explosion suddenly erupts and kills Theo's mother. This alters the course of Theo's life and the ensuing chapters recount the fumbling, damaging and, at times, dangerous path he is set on after her death.
Theo's own survival is miraculous. He is blown back by the intensity of the blast and is knocked out. As he comes to, Theo sees that he is lying near the body of the older man he had focused on just before the bomb exploded. The old man is not yet dead. Theo is able to get to him and offer him some of the bottled water he had in his backpack. Despite the gravity of his injuries, the man carries on an urgent but disjointed final conversation with Theo and begs him to take the painting of the Goldfinch with him and leave the museum. Dazed and desiring to do as the old man wishes in his last minutes of life, Theo takes the small canvas with him and works his way, carefully, out of the ruins of the gallery.
Once he makes his way home and, eventually, learns that his beloved mother did not survive, the initial chaos of Theo's life causes him to put aside the painting and forget about it. Over time and in the depths of despair and fear, however, Theo returns again and again to the painting he secretly holds and clings to it as a tangible memory of his last moments with his mother.
The old man had also given Theo a ring before he died and asked that Theo return this ring to 'Hobart and Blackwell' and to 'ring the green bell'. Theo disregards this request for awhile as he tries to settle in with the family of a school friend. Theo has been basically orphaned in New York upon the death of his mother. Theo's dad has been out of the picture and out-of-touch for awhile and his paternal grand parents do not want him either. The wealthy and somewhat eccentric Barbours are good to Theo but he is uncertain of his place with them and wary about his future.
Eventually, Theo does decide to make an attempt to return the ring to this "Hobart and Blackwell" and finds that it is an antique store in the Village. Here he is befriended by the old man's business partner, James Hobart, generally known as Hobie. In Hobie, Theo finds an anchor in the maelstrom of grief and bewilderment that has become his life. Hobie is also able to introduce Theo to the red haired girl who had captured his attention in the museum moments before tragedy hits. The girl is Pippa, and the old man had been 'Welty', her guardian and Hobie's business partner.
In Hobie and Pippa, Theo finds a harmonious hide-away from the strife and uncertainty in his life. However, this feeling of potential security is short lived. Theo's wastrel father, Larry, and his new girlfriend, Xandra, arrive out of nowhere from Las Vegas to retrieve Theo and take him west, supposedly to establish a new life. Larry and Xandra and the brassy, rough edged, seedy and artificial Vegas environment is a striking contrast to the dusty, cultured and quaint antique store where Hobie lives and works and the established luxury of the Barbour's Manhattan apartment. Alhough Vegas represents a new beginning and a chance to reinvent himself and lose his memories, it also provides a shocking lack of structure and nurture. In Vegas, Theo falls into dissolute ways and meets up with Boris, the final key character in this melancholy saga.
The Goldfinch is over 700 pages of writing that was, to me, compelling...amazingly entertaining reading yet tinged throughout with the restrained tragedy of Tartt's beautifully defective characters. Theo, the motherless child. Boris the picaresque wild boy. Andy Barbour, both cosseted and doomed. Hobie, the kind soul with his own damaged past. Pippa, Theo's fragile muse. And through it all, the ghost of Theo's beautiful lost mother.
The Vegas chapters are mired in a sordid glow of fly-by-night boom town risk taking, drugged lost hours and half built dreams. The New York chapters are suffused with a more urbane dissolution -- prep school junkies, grifters and neurotics. I enjoyed the contrast of these settings and the way they were revealed as two sides of one often sordid coin.
Meanwhile the presence of the Goldfinch, a lovely and luminous little piece of beauty which had withstood the tides of time and more than one disaster, remained hidden away --Theo's connection to the grace and beauty and love that was his mother. Like the Goldfinch, each of the characters makes the occasional attempt to soar -- above their surroundings or their circumstances -- and to aim higher than the common fate of man. Art and music and finely crafted furnishings provide a motif throughout the story. This is what humankind can occasionally create and appreciate. This beauty pulls us, for short periods of time, out of the mundane and often ugly world we inhabit. Like the Goldfinch tethered to its perch, we are pulled back short -- only able to soar into our more enlightened selves for moments at a stretch before being pulled back to the realities of being human.
The Goldfinch is a beautiful story...an international adventure...and a love story on more than one level. I understand that this book received a lot of praise shortly after it was published. Later on, a backlash apparently ensued and some literary figures felt it did not live up to Tartt's reputation. I fail to see what was lacking in this novel. It combines excellent story telling with memorable characters and employs elegant writing.
Finally, the Goldfinch contains one of the more resonant descriptions of depression I have ever read. The following passage, though dismal, jumped off the page at me and made me mark it for later thought. THIS is how one feels when the bottom has dropped out and the sadness and sense of futility threaten to overtake one:
"But depression wasn't the word. This was a plunge encompassing sorrow and revulsion far beyond the personal: a sick, drenching nausea at all humanity and human endeavor from the dawn of time. The writhing loathsomeness of the biological order. Old age, sickness, death. No escape for anyone. Even the beautiful ones were like soft fruit about to spoil. And, yet somehow people still kept fucking and breeding and popping out new fodder for the grave, producing more and more new beings to suffer like this was some kind of redemptive, or good, or even somehow morally admirable thing: dragging more innocent creatures into the lose-lose game. Squirming babies and plodding, complacent, hormone-drugged moms. Kids shouting and skidding in the playground with no idea what future Hells awaited them: boring jobs and ruinous mortgages and bad marriages and hair loss and hip replacements and lonely cups of coffee in an empty house and a colostomy bag at the hospital. Most people seemed satisfied with the thin decorative glaze and the artful stage lighting that, sometimes, made the bedrock atrocity of human predicament look somewhat more mysterious and less abhorrent. People gambled and golfed and planted gardens and traded stocks and had sex and bought new cars and practiced yoga and worked and prayed and redecorated their homes and got worked up over the news and fussed over their children and gossiped about their neighbors and pored over restaurant reviews and founded charitable organizations and supported political candidates and attended the US Open and dined and travelled and distracted themselves with all kinds of gadgets and devices, flooding themselves incessantly with information and texts and communication and entertainment from every direction to try to make themselves forget it: where we were, what we were. But in a strong light there was no good spin you could put on it. It was rotten top to bottom."
And it can be -- when the bottom falls out and the masque is momentarily torn away. But the human tendency is to soar, for just a moment in time, toward the light. Beautifully wrought artwork or hand crafts, luminous melody and good writing can take you there. Luckily, authors like Tartt can deliver it.