Monthly Archives: March 2013

#8: A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

A Land More KindSmall North Carolina town.

Religion with fire, snakes, and poison.

Faith healing.

Helpless and desperate mother begging for a miracle.

Shyster preacher?  Of course.

The story is told in three voices: Adelaide, eighty-one years old and the town’s midwife; Clem, the town’s sheriff with a heartbreaking story of his own; and Jess, a nine year old boy with a mute eleven year old brother.

Adelaide is terrified of the church with its snakes and members speaking in tongues.  She’s seen what can happen behind the closed doors and blacked out windows.  She’s watched the men of the church keep its secrets while members sip poison and let fire brush their faces to prove that God will protect them.  That they have been Chosen.

Ten years ago she and Pastor Chambliss came to a dangerous truce that allowed her to pull the children from inside the church to teach them outside while their parents danced in feverish abandonment.  Pastor Chambliss has never trusted her for leaving and waits for her to make the tiniest mistake so he can turn the town against her and bring the children close to him again.  She also waits, knowing that something horrible will eventually happen inside, knowing she is powerless to stop it and hating herself because she’s weak.

Clem is also an outsider.  He has no interest in the church, other than making sure the faithful keep to themselves and don’t cause problems in town.  He’s distrustful of the Pastor but has no reason to poke around.

Until Stump dies.

Jess has protected his brother for as long as he can remember.  Stump has been forever silent and sometimes slips into a world of his own.  Jess isn’t sure if he understands what happens each day, but is happy to sit beside him for hours, watching dragonflies and searching for perfect rocks.  He loves his brother and knows that he’ll always be there for him.

But Stump saw something, and Chambliss has to make sure no one knows.

Jess watches helplessly when Stump is called inside the church.  God has spoken to Pastor, letting him know that He is ready to heal the boy.  The church will lay hands on him and he will be saved.  Innocently and horrifically, Jess drives the nails into Stump’s casket.

Using the three voices and jumping from past to present, stories about the families are spread out.  While there are hints of what has happened to Clem, it takes a while for his story to be fully told, and I liked that.  Jess’ own father and grandfather are part of the tale and while Jess doesn’t know this, he’s pulled into their history.

Adelaide moves between wanting to protect the children to being desperate to save herself.  She’s constantly watched by the church elders and she knows if she slips up anywhere, she will quietly be silenced and no one will suspect a thing.  She is also angrily aware that she can protect the children by looking the other way and letting the Pastor lead his adult flock.

The book is heartbreaking.  Just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, they did.  The past keep crashing onto the characters, blinding them to what was happening and filling them with rage.  Jess watches it all in confusion and panic, not knowing who is there to protect him and where lines are drawn.

The one thing I didn’t like was Jess’ voice.  There were too many times when I thought “Yeah, there is no way a nine year old would say that.  Or notice that.  Or reflect on something with that tone.”  However, I did like the innocent lens he brought.  I immediately knew what was going on and it was heartbreaking to see that he was unable to process it because of his age.

Clem’s story also works because he is an outsider to the church and yet can probably destroy it.  But is he working out of his dedication to serve and protect, or does he want revenge for his own loss?

I really enjoyed this a lot, especially because it showed the madness of Pentecostal ceremony.  The scenes inside the church are both terrifying and fascinating.  Watching the group whipped into madness, it’s easy to see how someone could desperately want to be part of it because it means God is there to protect them as an individual and it gives them a community that dictates every moment.

#7: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr PenumbraThis is a book about books for people who love books.

I liked it SO MUCH.

Clay has had bad jobs and things are getting worse.  But fate or happenstance or J. Randomness has him stumble into Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.  Seemingly without his knowledge, he takes a job there and things are weird.  Really weird.

There aren’t many books that you’d expect to see in a bookstore and not a lot of customers.  But there are really weird people who come in and out to borrow books from the back.  Climbing ladders like a monkey, he lends out and reshelves books that make no sense to him.

So, of course, he investigates.

A new girlfriend and old friends join in on the adventure.  From technology created right this very second to scribes and giant books chained up in a basement, this book is all about books.  And exploring books.  And loving books.

I had no clue what was happening and there were times where I wasn’t sure who was The Good Guy in Clay’s journey.  I was totally on one side, but then.. waitaminute… what if?  I was more into the characters than the solution to the investigation, but that’s a compliment.  I wanted to see how everyone approached it in their own way and how it was going to all come together to reveal what was happening.

And this is what I liked the most about this book.  Everyone is searching for the same thing, but in different ways and the answer might not be the same.  Someone is going to be disappointed.  Someone is going to fail.  It’s possible that no one will even figure out the ultimate question, let alone solve the problem.  People want to keep with tradition while others think it’s criminal not to use technology to approach the problem.  Everyone is working on the same goal, but everyone has different reasons.

Clay does fit in to that sort of Everyday Hero Man.  He’s not too much of anything and he surrounds himself with people he can draw from to move forward.  This was a bit clichéd but I didn’t mind.  Books follow motifs because motifs work.

I wish I worked in a crazy bookstore with weird secrets and odd customers and rules.

PS: The cover glows in the dark.  IT GLOWS IN THE DARK!!!

#6: Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing up Groovy and Clueless by Susan Jane Gilman

Disclaimer: I read this book in 2008.  My book group chose it and I happily reread it.  I looked at the review I wrote when I originally read it, and honestly, I don’t need to change it.  So here it is:

PouffyGilman’s writing style is amazing. Several times I had to put the book down because I was laughing so hard. She has a great take of growing up as a full on feminist, but at the same time becoming giddy with delight when Mick Jagger points out that she’s got huge boobs. This is a woman who’s been everywhere and done everything, and it’s a brilliant read. The book starts off with her at four years old, the daughter of hippies, prancing around in a tutu and figuring out how to rule the world. Her first foray into stardom comes in the form of an independent film that has her skipping around naked with another 4 year old, trying to catch a butterfly. We end with Susan getting married and having a total meltdown in the middle of a David’s Bridal when she finds a wedding dress that looks amazing on her. The plan was to be married in red or black satin, but she stands on the pedestal in the middle of the store for *four hours*, trying to come to terms with the fact that she loves this pouffy white dress, even though it represents everything she hates. In between she writes for a Jewish newspaper, which leads to her accompanying a group of Jewish teens on a trip through the concentration camps in Poland. She’s accidentally labeled “that lesbian Jewish writer” and suddenly receives call after call from unhappy Jewish moms who just want their gay daughters to meet someone nice, and is she doing anything this Saturday? Her parents get divorced and suddenly develop personalities, she jets off to work for a congresswoman in D.C., and later moves to Geneva.

Her life seems improbable, but the way she writes it makes it sound just like everyone else’s upbringing, just with different type of parental interactions, series of crappy jobs, and dreaded apartment hunting.

Stop Fucking Around and Write Your Reviews Already!

I am seven books behind on my reviews.

I just sat down to write at least one of them.

I’ve been on Buzzfeed for the last 20 minutes.

#5: Clown Girl by Monica Drake

Clown GirlI finished this book way back in January and it’s been sitting next to the computer, mocking me and racking up library fines.  Every time I sit down to write this review, I’m immediately stuck and have no clue what to say.  I have a compulsion to write my reviews in the order I read the books, so there is a stack of six books waiting and I’m about to finish two more.  It’s time to get this out of the way.

Here’s the description from Goodreads:

Clown Girl lives in Baloneytown, a seedy neighborhood where drugs, balloon animals, and even rubber chickens contribute to the local currency. Against a backdrop of petty crime, she struggles to live her dreams, calling on cultural masters Charlie Chaplin, Kafka, and da Vinci for inspiration. In an effort to support herself and her layabout performance-artist boyfriend, Clown Girl finds herself unwittingly transformed into a “corporate clown,” trapping herself in a cycle of meaningless, high-paid gigs that veer dangerously close to prostitution. Monica Drake has created a novel that riffs on the high comedy of early film stars — most notably Chaplin and W. C. Fields — to raise questions of class, gender, economics, and prejudice. Resisting easy classification, this debut novel blends the bizarre, the humorous, and the gritty with stunning skill.

I don’t know how this book got on to my radar and made it to my TBR list.  Maybe I was interested in it because it sounded so bizarre.  I like weird things, and a combination of rubber chickens. clown prostitution and a place called Baloneytown seemed a good indicator of weird.

But man, I do not know what in the hell I read.

Either I wasn’t smart enough for this book or I wasn’t the right reader.  It was weird, but not in a good way.

Clown Girl, aka Sniffles, lives her life by the Clown Code.  She isn’t a clown.  She is a Clown.  Her entire being is to bring meaning to life through the seriousness of Clowning.  She wants to create and make herself more than what she is through Clowning tradition and showing the audience what the truth of life is.

I think.

Along the way, everything falls apart.  She meets and falls blindly in love with Rex, the clown who teaches her about Clowning.  He leaves to join Clown College and she does everything she can to earn enough to move there and be with him.  She doesn’t hear from him for days.  Then weeks.  It’s longer and longer and she knows he is becoming famous, maybe, and she knows he will come back for her.

In the meantime, she tries to figure out her next Performance.  She gets arrested and is both curious and terrified of the cop that keeps rescuing her.  She stays in character, even in her own mind.  She becomes more and more desperate as she realizes that she might be the only Clown.  Everyone else seems to use clowning as a way to make money and who cares about the rest?

The more I read, the more confused I got.  At first I though this was a quest where Sniffles would climb to the top, become a true Clown and raise the audience to a better place of awareness.  Or something.

Then I thought she might be crazy because no one else seemed to speak the same truth that she did.  Rex made Clowning clear to her, but now he’s gone and she’s the only one who isn’t in it for the money.

A whole bunch of weird things happen and then I finished the book.

One thing I really did like was how Drake created the world.  Baloneytown and clowning and Clowning was matter of fact, so that wasn’t the absurd part.  Right away I was in and figured “OK, so this is how this world works.”  If I had gotten stuck on the social creation of Sniffles’ world, I wouldn’t have made it very far.

So, yeah.  I didn’t hate it.  I didn’t like it.  The reviews seem to be all over the place with people hating HATING it and other people swearing by their five star review.  I give this one an “eh”.