In the beginning was nothing. From nothing emerged night. Then came the children of nothing and night
Seventeen-year-old Finn Sullivan has the luck...more
In the beginning was nothing. From nothing emerged night. Then came the children of nothing and night
Seventeen-year-old Finn Sullivan has the luck of the Irish, if you consider how the phrase was used during Irish immigration to the New World. When she was living in Vermont, her mother was killed in an auto accident. A move to San Francisco did not improve things for good as her older sister, Lily Rose, committed suicide there. A need for a change of scene brings Finn and her Da back to the town where he was raised, Fair Hollow, in upstate New York. Enrolled in a local college, HallowHeart, she meets the dazzling but mysterious Jack Fata. They may or may not be fated to be together, but the Fata family is very definitely a big deal in this small town, which is not exactly the epitome of exurban serenity.
“So what’s with all the little pixies everywhere? Carved into HallowHeart, the theater…” “They were worshipped here…” “Pixies?” “Fairy folk. Some of the immigrants from Ireland followed the fairy faith. And the Irish had badass fairies.”
The local décor seems to favor the mythological, as if the entire place had brought in the Brothers Grimm and Arthur Rackham to consult on a makeover. The older mansions tend toward the abandoned and the locals tend toward the odd. Finn finds a few friends, and together they try to figure out the enigma that is Fair Hollow, maybe save a few folks from a dark end, and try to stay alive long enough to accomplish both.
There are twists aplenty and a steady drumbeat of revelation and challenge to keep readers guessing. Finn is easy to root for, a smart, curious kid with a good heart who sometimes makes questionable decisions, but always means well. Jack offers danger and charm, threat and vulnerability. And Reiko Fata, the local Dragon Lady, a strong malevolent force, provides a worthy opponent. Harbour has fun with characters’ names that even Rowling would enjoy. Jane Ivy, for example, teaches botany. A teacher of metal-working is named, I suspect, for a metal band front man.
Each chapter begins with two quotes (well, most chapters anyway). One is from diverse sources on mythology and literature, and the second is from the journal of Finn’s late sibling. They serve to give readers a heads up about some elements of what lies ahead. One of the things that I found interesting about this book was the sheer volume of references to literature and mythology from across the world, not just in the chapter-intro quotes but in the text as well. I spent quite a bit of time making use of the google machine checking out many of these. You could probably craft an entire course on mythology just from the references in this book. In fact the author includes a bibliography of some of the referenced works. There are references as well to painterly works of art. Harbour includes a glossary of terms used by or in reference to the Fata family that comes in very handy. The core mythological element here is Tam Lin, a tale from the British Isles about a man who is the captive of the Queen of the Fairies and the young lady who seeks to free him.
The dream scene where Finn is speaking with her older sister and things grow sinister was an actual dream I had when I was seventeen. The revision was influenced by a book called Visions and Folktales in the West of Ireland, by Lady Gregory, a collection of local stories about some very scary faeries. The Thorn Jack trilogy is influenced by Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Frankenstein. - from the author’s site
It is tough to read a book about young attraction of this sort and not think of Twilight, or Romeo and Juliet for that matter. And where there is a school in a place in which there are some odd goings on, and mystery-laden instructors, there will always be a whiff of Hogwarts in the air. But this one stands pretty well on its own.
Gripes-section. I did indeed enjoy the mythology tutorial available here, but sometimes I felt that the author could have pared this element down a bit. One result of this wealth of material was that it made the book a slow read for me. But then I have OCD inclinations, and have to look up every bloody one of these things. You may not suffer from this particular affliction, so may skip through much more quickly than I did. Or, if you are a regular reader of fantasy fiction, you may already know the references that my ignorant and memory-challenged self had to look up. Also, there are a LOT of characters. I tried my best to keep track by making a list and I strongly advise you to keep a chart of your own. It can get confusing. Finally, the quoted passages from Lily Rose’s journal do not much sound like passages from anyone‘s journal and seem to be present primarily to offer a double-dip into mythological reference material.
That said, Thorn Jack was engaging and entertaining, offering mystery, frights, young romance, and a chance to brush up on your mythology. Think Veronica Mars in Forks by way of Robert Graves.
Harbour has two more planned for the series, The Briar Queen and The Nettle King. I would expect she would address some of the questions that linger at the end of this first entry. What did her parents know and when did they know it? Is there an actual core curriculum requirement at HallowHeart College?
There should be fireworks shooting off for Smith Henderson's first novel, as it is a just cause for celebration. This is not to say that the subject m...moreThere should be fireworks shooting off for Smith Henderson's first novel, as it is a just cause for celebration. This is not to say that the subject matter is exactly festive, but the book is a triumph.
Pete is a social worker in Tenmile, Montana, a place so insignificant it was named for it's distance from the nearest possible somewhere. The folks he is charged with trying to help out need all the support they can get, but some can't seem to accept any.
There are three main threads braided into this novel. Cecil is a troubled teen in a household where the biggest problem is his substance-abusing layabout mother. The two do not get along, big time. Firearms are involved.
When eleven-year-old Benjamin Pearl wanders into town alone, dressed in rags, and looking like he'd been reared by wolves, Pete is called in to check things out. Following the story of Benjamin and his family is the core here, although a portion of almost every chapter is given over to the third thread, Rachel Snow, Pete's daughter, who has troubles of her own. Pete is the central element interlacing with the threads.
Pete Snow is basically a decent guy, bloody far from perfect, but his heart is in the right place. He really cares about the people he is charged with helping, and tries his damndest to figure out what the best thing is to do for each. That it does not always work out, and that he is better at helping others than he is himself, are foregone conclusions.
Smith Henderson offers us a look at a place in America, rural, and sometimes not so rural Montana, but also a time. It is no coincidence that the story is set in 1980, when the promotion of "Morning in America" also encouraged the release of a lot of pent-up insanity. Benjamin's father is a seriously scary survivalist. His paranoia may at times have a basis in reality, but his worldview is straight out of the Lunatic Fringe Encyclopedia. There have always been folks with Jonathan Pearl's particular flavor of madness, but it looks like Henderson is signaling what lies ahead, a world in which entities like right-wing talk radio, Fox News and any organization associated with the Koch brothers foment fear 24/7 and offer a media route in which to legitimize lunacy. Ben's father actually believes, when he sees jet contrails, that the gub'mint is spying on him. There is plenty more to that story, but the political, this-is-what-is-being-unleashed, element is quite significant, although it is only implied. The implications of freedom are given a look. At what point does your ability to be free, living a life of paranoia, infringe on the rights of those who have not chosen the same path? Where is the line between legitimate desires for non-interference and license to do whatever? Where is the line between society's right to protect it's children and parents's rights to raise children as they see fit?
We get a look at institutional limitations and extreme downsides, even when those institutions are staffed by well-meaning folks. Of course not every one is so well-meaning. We also get a look at the hazards to kids of growing up working class, from screwed up homes. Children have a lot to contend with here.
Ok, now that I have made the whole thing sound like such a downer, time to shine a bit of light in the darkness. While Pete definitely has his issues, he is beautifully drawn and is someone we can cheer on, most of the time anyway. There are some good people in Tenmile, a family who fosters kids in need, a caring judge, a tonic to the extant horrors. Learning about the survivalist world is fascinating stuff, even if these days we know more about it than we should have to. The writing is powerful and stunningly beautiful. A sample of lovely descriptive:
He liked the Sunrise Cafe for its coffee and smoky ambience and the way his arms stuck to the cool plastic tablecloths in summer and how the windows steamed, beaded, and ran with tears when everyone got out of church and came in for breakfast on a cold morning. He liked how Tenmile smelt of burnt leaves for most of October. He liked the bench in front of the tobacco shop on the square and how you could still send a child to buy you a pouch of Drum from inside with no problem from the proprietor. He liked the bowling alley that was sometimes, according to a private schedule kept only by them, absolutely packed with kids from the local high school and the surrounding hills who got smashed on bottles of vodka or rotgut stashed under their seats and within their coats. How much biology throbbed and churned here--the mist coming off the swales on the east side of town and a moose or elk emerging as though through smoke or like the creature itself was smoking. How the water looked and how it tasted right out of the tap, hard and ideal, like ice cold stones and melted snow. How trout looked in that water, brown and wavering and glinting all the colors there were and maybe some that didn't really exist on the color wheel, a color, say, that was moss and brown-spotted like peppercorns and a single terra-cotta-colored stone and a flash of sunlight all at once. That color existed in the water here.
There are plenty more examples to be found here. One particular image of native fauna coming into contact with civilization was particularly chilling.
Henderson may be new to novel-writing, but he has already had some success with other forms. I do not know if he had much success as a social worker, a prison guard or a technical writer, but he co-wrote a feature film, while at the University of Texas, Dance With The One, won a 2012 Pushcart Prize for his story Number Stations, and the 2011 PEN Emerging Writers Award for Fiction. I guess he has emerged. It should be known that you have probably seen some of Smith Henderson's work already, without realizing. You know that half-time Superbowl ad for Chrysler, with Clint Eastwood, Halftime in America? Henderson was one of the writers. It ain't halftime this time. Henderson, with Fourth of July Creek goes long and scores a game-winning TD.
There is satisfaction to be had in how Henderson resolves the conflicts he has presented. And even when his outcomes are not happy ones, they are believable. We have been treated in recent years to a wealth of top-notch first novels. Fourth of July Creek will fit in nicely with the likes of The Orchardist, The Enchanted, and The Guilty One, for example, and it would sit very comfortably next to works by Willy Vlautin. Smith Henderson's is a dazzling new literary voice, and the release of this outstanding work is cause enough to light up the sky with barge-full of pyrotechnics.
Publication date - May 27, 2104
This review was posted March 7, 2014
Couldn't find a web or FB page for Henderson, but here he is on Twitter
Anne Thompson is an on-online Hollywood reporter. Aware that the what’s-happening-right-now world of just-in-time digital journalism (or most print jo...moreAnne Thompson is an on-online Hollywood reporter. Aware that the what’s-happening-right-now world of just-in-time digital journalism (or most print journalism for that matter) does not allow for much reflection, she was looking for a way to tell her story of change in the movie business. Thompson was inspired by William Goldman’s The Season: A Candid Look at Broadway, which covered one year in the theater and, in The $11 Billion Year, applies that formula to the business of tinsel town.
While Thompson’s book hardly qualifies as a rom-com there are definite elements of affection. She headed into the ‘wood some time back, working as a film columnist and editor at Variety. She hails from that other big cinematic locale in the US, New York City. Clearly she carried a bit of home with her, as she remains a Yankees fan. She worked for Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, and other entertainment media as well. She began her blog “Thompson on Hollywood” in 2007, which conjures for me an image of the writer in a saddle atop the sign (not gonna go with cowgirl here), and heightens the disappointment I feel at my lack of expertise with Photoshop. It is not nearly a bio-pic either, as Thompson keeps herself pretty much in the background. Nor is it likely that this book will begin a franchise or constitute a blockbuster and be a tentpole to support her other endeavors, but hopefully it will find an audience.
The $11 billion of the title refers to film income for one year, and that’s just domestic. Sounds like H’wood is doing nicely, able to put food on the dining room table, and maybe a few lines on the coffee table. In fact, according to Thompson
Hollywood is like Harold Lloyd in Safety Last, hanging desperately to the hands of that old (silent) clock, which is moving inevitably toward future time.
She says that Hollywood studios, increasingly profit centers in Blob-like corporate behemoths, are narrowing the range of product they are willing to put out, going increasingly for the formulaic, the tried-and-true, and thus are pushing talent into other venues, TV, internet, VOD, Netflix, et al. This represents the real core of the book, the migration from a studio-centric film world to a more dispersed digital environment.
This is not necessarily a terrible thing, as technological changes have put the means of production into the hands of more and more potential film-makers, and a broad range of potential venues has arisen to provide places where these films can be sold and seen. One interesting bit of history Thompson looks at is the rationale for and the transition from film (1999) to digital (2012), and how the diverse parties came to an agreement.
She tracks the annual festival migrations, from Sundance in January to the SXSW in Spring, Cannes in May and the Fall festivals in Venice, Telluride, Toronto and New York, stopping at other annual events along the way. At Cinemacon, filmmakers show their upcoming product to theater owners. And fan-boy nerds rule at Comic-Con. Part of this is to track the progress, or lack of progress of films through this gauntlet, whether the end result is to gain notice for awards season or merely to get some distribution at all and make back production costs. You will get at least a feel, and sometimes more, for each of these festivals.
She writes in some detail about a handful of films whose titles are familiar and others you may not have heard of. Attention is paid as well to gender issues in the industry, with a focus on Kathryn Bigelow. The book offers for your consideration a look at some of the politicking that goes on before and into Oscar season, and some bits of info on AMPAS (The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) membership, which is about 6,000 strong, and is by invitation only. You will pick up some terminology too, and a few more abbreviations to add to your alphabet soup. “IP”, for example has nothing to do with an initial public something or other, but refers to “Intellectual Property,” the from part of an Oscar nomination for Adapted Screenplay. You will find that NATO can be something other than a plot device in a war flick. (National Association of Theater Owners). MG is not a car or a medication dosage but a Minimum Guarantee, a cash advance payable to the producer upon delivery of the completed film in exchange for exclusive rights to distribute a film in a sales territory. One last term, “four-quadrant” refers to a film that can attract viewers from diverse demographics, including the young, the old, male and female. There are plenty more expressions and letter combinations to take in.
As with any survey-type book, there is always the problem of wanting to know more about this or that element.
Thompson’s prose is fluid, as easy to read as a film treatment . If you are a fan of the cinema (Yes, yes, me, me) there is plenty of scene stealing material here, and a bit of comic relief, but the end result is a fascinating documentary look at how the whole business has changed, a long tracking shot of the running of the festivals, a bit of close-up on Oscar season machinations, and some previews of what might lie ahead. While I could not say for certain that The $11 Billion Year would walk away with a statue for best book about the business of Hollywood, not having screened read other candidates, there is no denying that it has earned at least a nomination. And that’s a wrap. Let’s do lunch. I have a project I’d like to tell you about. I’ll have my people call your people. Okay?
Publication date – March 4, 2014
Links to the author’s blog, Twitter and FB pages. Seriously, if you want to keep up with things Hollywood, Thompson’s blog is a can’t miss, four-quadrant, blockbuster product.
Thompson mentions Emma Fitzpatrick’s wonderful send-up of Anne Hathaway in a satirical version of I Dreamed a Dream . If you have not yet seen this you absolutely must.
When a man knows another man is looking for him He doesn’t hide.
--Frank Stanford, “Everybody Who is Dead”
Even death starts to look attractive when hope...more
When a man knows another man is looking for him He doesn’t hide.
--Frank Stanford, “Everybody Who is Dead”
Even death starts to look attractive when hope is gone. And the fittingly named Gravesend of William Boyle’s first novel is a place where hope is regularly interred. Conway D’Innocenzio and RayBoy Calabrese are in a race. The finish line is their own demise, and the contest is neck and neck all the way. Death comes in many guises. Conway’s big brother, Duncan D’Innocenzio, found his when a gay-bashing teenaged thug and his pals chased him into traffic on the Belt Parkway. RayBoy, the alpha asshole, did 16 years for the deed, but the RayBoy that was is no longer. Now he is looking to pay for his crime for real. Conway wants to kill him, which would seem a nice match. Only problem is that, after sixteen years of planning his revenge, letting his life waste away while he stewed, Conway can’t seem to pull the trigger.
The death-wish field here makes it seem more like a group outing than a pairs event. Ray’s nephew, Eugene, is a 15-year-old, wanna-be thug, with a limp, a misguided case of hero worship and a worse case of bad judgment. Alessandra, an actress back from the other coast to help take care of her widowed father, is one of the few main characters here who seem determined to stay alive. The old classmate she looks up, Stephanie, is the epitome of what it is to be trapped like a rat in the place where you grew up, and to internalize the incarceration.
This is not the well-heeled Brooklyn of the Heights, the Slope, Fort Greene or Boerum Hill. Not the trendy arts scene of DUMBO, not the hipster haven of Williamsburg, nor the post-apocalyptic deathscape of Brownsville. Gravesend is a neighborhood on the southern end of Brooklyn, working-class, ethnic, hard-scrabble. Like most neighborhoods in New York it watches as one immigrant group moves up, hopefully, and another moves in. It used be primarily Italian, still is, but things are changing. Not always for the better. Unfortunately, for some, they are not changing enough, and the only way up is to blast your way there or to leave entirely. The place has its share of gangsters and gang-bangers, dive bars and secluded, while public, spots for the exercise of what is usually private behavior. And the environment helps make these characters who they are.
The author was raised in a small town in Brooklyn, and now writes and teaches in Mississippi – “I see Brooklyn in new ways from here.”
Boyle has plenty of experience with working class Brooklyn life, having had a full measure, hailing from the County of Kings, Gravesend in particular. He communicates quite well the ironically small-town feeling that pertains in so many New York neighborhoods, where kids have only a slight image of what may lie across the bridges and tunnels in Manhattan, or pretty much anywhere in the wider world. I can affirm from personal experience that Boyle speaks truth.
Neighborhood as small town or not, is it possible to go home again? And would you really want to? Can one really get satisfaction from revenge? Or is it that, in the same way that depression is anger directed inward, revenge is self-loathing directed outward?
The writing here is taut. I would not say that Boyle’s text is a place where adjectives go to die, but they’re not bleeding over the edges of the pages either. The narrative movement is certain and consistent, moving towards resolution of the inevitable sort. Which is not to say there are no surprises. There are. The story is not a mystery, per se, but more a look at how place affects people. Rayboy was admired as a kid for his thuggish exploits, was found attractive by girls. Not exactly a disincentive. Homophobia was hardly unknown in the environment of his youth. His nephew Eugene, short on adult male models on which to base his vision of what being a man looks like, fixates on the one male he knows who was effective and respected.
While the bulk of the story is dark, there are some rays of light. Good can be found, although more in thought than deed. Hope digs its way back up to the surface, allowing for some second chances. Alessandra’s affection for a particular painting at the Met can be seen both as an artistic inspiration and an omen. Her participation in various forms of Manhattan life lifts her spirits. After all, she did manage to make it out to the west coast. But hope had better move quickly before another body lands on it. Stephanie latches on to Alessandra as a way out, but she may be too limited to make a go of that.
Most of the characters may not be the sorts you would want your children to marry, but they are very well realized. Boyle offers us abundant surface, but also scrapes plenty of layers away so we can see what is going on beneath.
My gripe with this book was definitely of the minor sort. The title, Gravesend, is particularly apt, suiting well the content, given the body count, whether from violence or less dramatic means. But Boyle wanders a bit in his native borough. If you are expecting a singular, focused portrait of this neighborhood, fuhgeddaboudit. The author gives us a look, for sure, but we also spend time in Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, Manhattan’s East Village, a small slice of Queens and even go for a couple of jaunts upstate along the Hudson, these reflecting the author’s personal NY geography, or a lot of it anyway.
It was fun to walk through so many places that are personally familiar, Nellie Bly, the promenade near the Verrazano Bridge, Xaverian High School under another name, subway stations, and so on. I also related to the Stephanie character, as one of the things that makes me truly shudder is the thought of being stuck back in the Bronx neighborhood in which I was raised. No love-hate issues going on there. Such dark fears constitute more of a Twilight Zone episode.
Arthur Miller lived for many years in Gravesend, as did Carlo Gambino. In Boyle’s Gravesend we get to hear the patois of the latter, and look at the people and places of his tale through eyes that see the world a lot more like the former. Gravesend, Boyle’s first novel, is a pretty good beginning to what promises to be a very illustrious long-form career. Dig in.
There is a lot of used-to-be in Wiley Cash’s sophomore novel, This Dark Road to Mercy. Wade Chesterfield used to be a baseball player, used to be a hu...moreThere is a lot of used-to-be in Wiley Cash’s sophomore novel, This Dark Road to Mercy. Wade Chesterfield used to be a baseball player, used to be a husband and used to be a father. But he went oh-for three and now, as a guy who used to hang drywall and is on the run, he is mostly a crook.
Bobby Pruitt had been a ballplayer too, but his damaged youth led him in a dark direction, and now he is an enforcer for a local thug. He would like to apply his professional skills to Wade, not only in service of his current employer, but as personal payback for something Wade had done to him on the ballfield. He presents a clear and present danger not only to Wade but to his family.
Brady Weller used to be a police detective, but after he was involved in an event that left a boy dead, he became an installer of home security systems, working for his brother-in-law. There is more going on with Brady, though. He is also a court-appointed guardian to children in need of such protection in Gastonia, North Carolina. This includes two young girls.
Easter Quillby hasn’t been around long enough yet to have much in her rear-view. But more than most pre-teens. Wade had surrendered custody of her and her little sister, Ruby, a few years back, and mom died recently of a drug overdose. Have a nice childhood. She and Ruby live in a state-run orphanage.
Writing in the voice of a child has its risks and rewards. Children often lack the power of reflection that adults possess, so their narratives can charge forward without the breaks of reflection or evaluation. Adults are more cautious, especially about what they divulge. If a child is an unreliable narrator it’s probably because he or she doesn’t fully understand what he or she is talking about. If an adult is an unreliable narrator then it means that he or she is hiding something. But child narrators also offer a challenge in terms of their emotional make-up. Their reactions to tragedies great and small are often displayed in similar ways. A young child’s reaction to the death of a pet can be similar to the reaction to the death of a family member. With that in mind, you have to be very careful about how you portray a child’s emotional scale. You want the reader to be able to intuit its depth even if the child’s reaction doesn’t reflect it. - Cash ,in an interview with Crime Fiction Lovers
Easter, Brady and Pruitt are the three alternating narrators through whose eyes we see the events in Cash’s tale. We see Wade mostly through Easter’s eyes.
The action of the novel consists of Wade re-entering the girls’ lives after years of absence, snatching his daughters to join him as he flees dark elements in Gastonia, Pruitt pursuing Wade do him harm, and Brady trying to protect the girls. There are white-knuckle moments in this chase.
One of the true strengths of Wiley Cash’s debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, was his portrayal of children. That gift is manifest in full power here. Easter certainly reminds one of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, and the usual Stephen King pre-ad heroes and heroines. And with a name like Easter you’ve gotta figure she is gonna be reborn someway, somehow. Name a girl Ruby and I expect most of us might think of slippers and “There’s no place like home.” That would make sense here, for a girl who is hoping to have a family again. But it is Easter who will hold your attention and your affection. When there is danger afoot you will really, really want for Easter to be ok. She is not only a tough and decent kid, she is a very well-drawn one, and the best thing about this book
There are several threads (maybe red stitching?) running through The Dark Road…. Baseball figures large. Page 1 introduces Easter on a ballfield. Wade was a professional player, as was Pruitt. And when baseball is in play, one need not look too far to bring in the element of steroids. Wade and Pruitt have a history with them, and one of them still imbibes. And speaking of steroids, the time is 1998, and McGwire and Sosa are engaged in the most famous ‘roid-fueled home run derby of our age. The contest is large in the consciousness of these characters, and a subject of widespread daily conversation in the environments they inhabit. The heavy-hitters’ contest is even used in a very Hitchcockian way to provide a dramatic backdrop for the climax.
The Race is On
Another seam here is parenting. Wade is not a complete screw-up. He may not have made the best choices, and he may not be, exactly, the best person, but he does love his kids, and wants to be a father to them. But abandoning them for several years and snatching them on his way out of town was probably not what a good parent might do. Pruitt’s upbringing comes in for some inspection as well. And Brady copes with having a surly teenager he only gets to see some of the time. Finally, atonement comes in for a look. Wade may be a criminal, but he does want to make up for having left his children. He really wants to make a better life for them. Brady wants to atone for his part in the fatal accident, and does so by acting to protect vulnerable children. Pruitt is more interested in payback than atonement.
Another item you might keep an eye out for is the notion of what’s in a name.
Mom always said that she’d named us what she’d named us because those were her favorite things: Easter was her favorite holiday and rubies were her favorite jewels. Me and ruby used to ask Mom all the time what her other favorite things were, and we’d pretend those things were our names instead…It seems crazy to say we played make-believe like that now, but we used those names so much they almost became real.
Easter has to contend with a real-world decision concerning her name, and there is at least one adult in the story with a temporary alias, and another who has adopted a new name permanently.
Finally, this is a road trip, (it is even in the title) and that usually means a journey of self-discovery. The girls’ fondness for the computer game Oregon Trail foreshadows their later journey with Wade. What will these characters discover, how will they change, grow or wilt on this trip? A Catcher in the Rye mention does let us know there is some of coming of age going on. The girls are looking for a family. Pruitt is looking for revenge and Brady is looking for redemption. Wade is looking for some sort of gateway to a Promised Land.
”Oklahoma, Texas? California?” His eyes got bigger as he listed the names. “We could keep going clear on to the Pacific Ocean if we wanted to.” “Then what?” I asked. “We can’t live in this car forever.” “I don’t know,” Wade said again. “I guess that’s why they call it an adventure.”
This is an engaging and fast-paced story. A pretty fair read. I do have some gripes of course. While the attempt for a North by Northwest moment was ambitious, it was not fully realized. Of course by then you have already enjoyed 95 percent of the book so it is not a huge issue. I still read Stephen King and I usually do not much care for his endings either. I did feel that some decisions made by characters here were stage-managed a bit too much. Why such and like has to take place here and then might fit into the author’s desire for the most dramatic possible setting, but did not make all that much sense to me as something the characters would actually do. There are also some convenient events that are inserted into the story to prepare one for the finale. It seemed to me that these were artificial and a bit jarring. Fine, whatever. It’s still a pretty good read, and those elements might not make your Spidey senses tingle the way they did mine.
This Dark Road to Mercy is indeed dark, but illuminated. There is plenty of road to contrast with a desire for home, and sufficient dollops of mercy to soothe sundry pains. This road is one worth taking.
This review was posted on January 28, 2014 – the day the book was published
Benjamin Mills was born in December 1993. His body seemed to be developing normally over the next year, but all was not right. Soon after his first bi...moreBenjamin Mills was born in December 1993. His body seemed to be developing normally over the next year, but all was not right. Soon after his first birthday, he was diagnosed with autism. Ron Mills and his wife, Sara, had been handed a parenting burden far in excess of that which most of us must contend with, and far greater than most could handle. Their marriage, strained further by Ron’s depression at the death of his father, and no doubt by chronic sleep deprivation and financial woes, failed. But one thing that did not fail was the love Ron and Sara had for their son, and their dedication to do whatever they could to help him.
Author Ron Mills - from his web site
When Ben was five, he developed a particular affection for a Sorcerer Mickey Mouse doll and a corresponding fondness for Disney films, well, parts of them anyway. It was the beginning of what would become a lifelong relationship for Ben. He even managed to learn how to use the VCR in order to play his favorite parts, over and over and over and over. His first sort-of words were neither “Mama”, “Dada”, “More”, or even “No”. They were fill-ins to omitted words in the song The Bare Necessities that Ron would sing to him. Later, Ben listened to Disney music through his headphones as a way to drown out the overwhelmingness of his surroundings. Given his love for things Disney, Ron and Sara wondered how he might fare with a trip to Disneyworld. It turned out to be, for Ben, the happiest place on earth. Not all black and white. There were a few bumps. But, Ben came alive there as he had nowhere else.
Months later, after enduring all sorts of disruption from Ben:
I would think about his maddening behaviors, and then think about the Ben that I had seen skipping his way through the Magic Kingdom, and I began to wonder if he actually belonged there.
Ron and Sara considered a drastic measure.
Kinda tough to give your kid the Disney experience if you are living in Seattle and the park is located diagonally across the continent. It may be a small world, but it’s not that small. Despite being divorced, despite the strains of having to find two new places to live, and two new jobs, and despite there being no guarantee that the magic of his Disney experience would not vanish in a puff of theatrical smoke, Ron and Sara decided to take one more trip, just to make certain, and after that worked out, they moved to Orlando.
I have my issues with the Disney corporation. All is not magical in the Magic Kingdom. But there is a place and a time, and this will not be the place or time where I discuss some of the more maleficent leanings of the Monstro-size Disney corporation. For today, and for the gaze we cast on 3500 we will put that aside and go all hakuna matata. Don’t worry. I haven’t gone entirely soft. But for now we will accentuate the positive.
Ben became a regular at Walt Disney World, with a particular attachment to Snow White’s Scary Adventure ride. Not an attachment like you or I might indulge in, but a serious, and repetitive attachment. He rode the ride several times every time he went to the park, and his parents took him there very often.
Bring Ben to WDW was a form of immersive therapy for Ben, and his behavior took a definite turn for the better. The WDW staff came to recognize him and supported him in diverse ways. There are some particularly moving episodes Mills relates in which the “cast member” employees and management go out of their way to make Ben’s experience a magical one. Snow White held a special place in his heart and when the “cast member” in the role engaged him in person, he was agog.
Ben as a teen, with Snow - - form the author’s site
Ron Mills’ story is a straight ahead narrative, this, then that, and then the other. He has a fluid style and is very easy to read. You will zip-a-dee-doo-dah through 3500 quickly. Telling the story was the goal here, and it has been accomplished. I enjoyed the book. It is a moving chronicle. If I have a gripe about 3500 (you knew there had to be at least one, right?) it is that the volume of information offered on autism, per se, and not just Ben’s experience, is about as thin as Cruella Deville. I do understand that Mills is writing as a caring parent and not as a scientist, but one would think that Ben’s story would have offered an excellent opportunity to teach the rest of us something more about this challenging condition. I wondered, for example, about what the latest theories might be as to causation, what treatment modalities were considered. Are there any research projects afoot that might hold a key to understanding cases and treatment?
While Walt Disney World, the Disney corporation and many of the exceptionally kind and caring people who work in the Disney organization went out of their way to help Benjamin Mills, it shines through that the real Magic Kingdom here was the one constructed by Ben’s parents and caregivers. Really, would you move across the country, alongside your ex, on such an enterprise? Love continues long after the theme park rides end, and the gates close. Love and patience, in Jumbo-sized quantities, are what it takes to help an autistic child cope in a world that is not nearly understanding enough. Have some tissues at the ready, particularly when Ben is the last rider on Snow White’s Scary Adventure, before the ride is closed forever. You will most definitely be moved by this magical tale.
You can find more information on Ron’s experience with Ben on the web site that he and his wife run, the unfortunately named Shmoolok.com Definitely check out the Good Day Sacramento video interview on the media page there.