It is the 1920s, and Jack and Mabel have moved to Alaska to homestead and to escape the shame and sadness of being unable to bear children. And then o...moreIt is the 1920s, and Jack and Mabel have moved to Alaska to homestead and to escape the shame and sadness of being unable to bear children. And then one winter they meet Faina, a young girl who seems to have materialized from the snow and who lives in the forbidding Alaskan wilderness. The mysterious Faina alters the hearts and lives of Jack and Mabel in ways that echo a Russian fable which Mabel recalls from her youth.
Gorgeously written and richly atmospheric, ‘The Snow Child’ enthralled me. The characterizations are superb, the storytelling is utterly compelling, and the homesteading lifestyle and Alaskan landscape are vividly conveyed. The narrative weaves together strands of harsh reality and enchanting mysticism into a mosaic of wonderment. The lines dividing reality from fantasy are indistinct and the reader is swept into a mesmerizing story of hope and heartbreak.
One of the blurbs on the cover states, “If Willa Cather and Gabriel Garcia Marquez had collaborated on a book, ‘The Snow Child’ would be it.” That accurately conveys all that is wonderful about this novel. “The Snow Child” is complete perfection and is at the top of the list of favorite books I have read this year. (less)
The style of "Rebecca" has echoes of Austen and the Brontës, yet it is also remarkably modern and it is apparent the influence du Maurier had on futur...moreThe style of "Rebecca" has echoes of Austen and the Brontës, yet it is also remarkably modern and it is apparent the influence du Maurier had on future writers and the evolution of the novel. Du Maurier excelled at adhering to the gothic formula and the writing is descriptive and evocative. However, I was not as enamored with “Rebecca” as many readers are, and I only gave the book 3.5 Stars.
My primary problem with the novel is how intensely I disliked the unnamed narrator. While I understand that, in the gothic tradition, she needed to be naïve and helpless, I thought that du Maurier took this to extremes. The narrator is timid, pessimistic, fretful, and insecure. She constantly daydreams about what could have been and what might be, and does so with the gloomiest of perspectives. And she remains this way throughout the book, without evolving and maturing at all.
The other fault I found in the novel was lack of character motivation. From the very beginning, with the courtship and proposal, I was baffled. I never sensed that they were falling in love, and there really wasn’t any logical reason for Max to propose or for the narrator to accept. And when it is finally revealed what happened to Rebecca, Max’s role in that event seemed totally out of character. Throughout the book, he was cold and stuffy, so it was difficult to accept that he did something so furiously passionate.
Although “Rebecca” did not make my list of all-time favorites, du Maurier is obviously a talented writer whose works have stood the test of time, so I do plan to read more of her books. (less)
“Tam Lin” is an ancient Scottish ballad that tells the story of how Tam Lin is rescued from the Queen of the Fairies by his true love, Janet. The firs...more“Tam Lin” is an ancient Scottish ballad that tells the story of how Tam Lin is rescued from the Queen of the Fairies by his true love, Janet. The first recorded version of the song appears in the 1549 book "The Complaynt of Scotland.”
Tam Lin abides in the Forest of Carterhaugh, where he collects either a possession or the virginity of any maidens who pass through the wood. One of these girls, Janet, discovers she is pregnant after her encounter with Tam Lin, and returns to the Forest of Carterhaugh. Tam Lin explains to her that he is bound to the Queen of the Fairies, and he fears for his life, because every seven years a tithe to hell must be paid to appease the Queen. Only Janet can rescue Tam Lin from this fate.
In Pamela Dean’s modern retelling of the Scottish ballad, Janet is a student at Blackstock College in Minnesota. Much of the book chronicles her life as a university student and all the requisite complicated relationships with roommates, first loves, and professors.
There are hints that there is something strange going on at Blackstock - an eerie professor, a bizarre group of Classics majors, a ghost who tosses books from a window, and a midnight horse ride that takes place every Halloween. These elements are all almost background, though, and seem secondary to the plot of everyday college life.
This portion of the book is somewhat interesting, in a voyeuristic sort of way, as all the intricate details of the lives and relationships of Janet, her roommates, and their boyfriends are shared in all their day-by-day happenings. It does get a bit tedious, however, especially things like lengthy expositions of plays they attend, or their habit of speaking to each other using quotes from literature.
Only in the last 50 pages of the book do the parallels with the ballad begin to occur, and with these happenings, the previous mysteries are all explained. As in the ballad, Janet begins a relationship with Thomas Lane (same initials as Tam Lin) and becomes pregnant during an encounter in Charter Hall (sounds like Carterhaugh, the forest in the ballad). She then must rescue him from the Queen of the Fairies, who is the eerie professor. It all ties together in a nice neat conclusion, but the rapidity with which it occurs is rather jarring.
“Tam Lin” is well written (aside from the author’s obsessive use of the semi-colon). It was a compelling read that I got through quickly, even though the book is just over 400 pages. As a fairytale retelling, though, I found it rather disappointing. Overall, I would rate “Tam Lin” 3 Stars. If the fairytale elements had been introduced earlier in the story, and if there had been a bit more mysticism, I would have given it 4 Stars. (less)
“Report to the Men’s Club” is a collection of short stories by Carol Emshwiller that spans her career from 1977 to 2002. I was curious about Emshwille...more“Report to the Men’s Club” is a collection of short stories by Carol Emshwiller that spans her career from 1977 to 2002. I was curious about Emshwiller, having come across her name in numerous places; none of the summaries of her novels especially interested me so I decided to discover her via this collection.
There is no theme that connects the stories in this collection but there is discernible similarity in the writing style. The 19 stories, seven of which had not been previously published, cover several different genres - mythic fiction, science fiction, fairy tales/folklore.
“Acceptance Speech,” about a woman who is kidnapped by aliens to write poetry, is perhaps the story that falls most clearly into the science fiction genre. “Grandma,” a sort of tall tale variant of mythic fiction, is the recounting of a woman’s years as a superhero as recalled by her granddaughter. In the folklorish “Creature” a man adopts a monster that isn’t quite what it seems to be.
The ideas are imaginative and clever but for whatever reason the stories did not resonate with me. I was never captivated by a story. I never felt the bewitching enchantment of the author’s storytelling skill. I never felt the lingering echo of the stories still resounding in my heart days later in the way a truly masterful story tends to do.
“Report to the Men’s Club” is a good collection of short stories - solid, respectable, and well written - but for me they were unremarkable and forgettable. (less)
I was not overly impressed with any of the stories in "Artificial Things." The stories are not particularly creative or ingenious, and the writing sty...moreI was not overly impressed with any of the stories in "Artificial Things." The stories are not particularly creative or ingenious, and the writing style is only mediocre. It's not really a bad collection, it's just unremarkable.(less)