What I'm Reading (or just finished)

Stella Maris

Cormac McCarthy

1972, BLACK RIVER FALLS, WISCONSIN: Alicia Western, twenty years old, with forty thousand dollars in a plastic bag, admits herself to the hospital. A doctoral candidate in mathematics at the University of Chicago, Alicia has been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and she does not want to talk about her brother, Bobby. Instead, she contemplates the nature of madness, the human insistence on one common experience of the world; she recalls a childhood where, by the age of seven, her own grandmother feared for her; she surveys the intersection of physics and philosophy; and she introduces her cohorts, her chimeras, the hallucinations that only she can see. All the while, she grieves for Bobby, not quite dead, not quite hers. Told entirely through the transcripts of Alicia’s psychiatric sessions, Stella Maris is a searching, rigorous, intellectually challenging coda to The Passenger, a philosophical inquiry that questions our notions of God, truth, and existence.

My Thoughts:

I found the format for this book intriguing. I listened to this book and found it interesting that the chapters mapped out to about 45-50 minutes sessions, which is a math equation in and of itself for McCarthy. This format requires much more work on the part of the reader to piece together the story that unfolds. Having listened to The Passenger first, I had some background information that helped with the process, but am wondering how much different the experience of this book would be without that. What I enjoyed most about this book is that it got me thinking philosophically again, pondering the big questions. I like when a book does that.

Goodbye for Now: A Novel

Laurie Frankel

Sam Elling works for an internet dating company, but he still can't get a date. So he creates an algorithm that will match you with your soul mate. Sam meets the love of his life, a coworker named Meredith, but he also gets fired when the company starts losing all their customers to Mr. and Ms. Right.

When Meredith's grandmother, Livvie, dies suddenly, Sam uses his ample free time to create a computer program that will allow Meredith to have one last conversation with her grandmother. Mining from all her correspondence—email, Facebook, Skype, texts—Sam constructs a computer simulation of Livvie who can respond to email or video chat just as if she were still alive. It's not supernatural, it's computer science.

Meredith loves it, and the couple begins to wonder if this is something that could help more people through their grief. And thus, the company RePose is born. The business takes off, but for every person who just wants to say good-bye, there is someone who can't let go.

In the meantime, Sam and Meredith's affection for one another deepens into the kind of love that once tasted, you can't live without. But what if one of them suddenly had to? This entertaining novel, delivers a charming and bittersweet romance as well as a lump in the throat exploration of the nature of love, loss, and life (both real and computer simulated). Maybe nothing was meant to last forever, but then again, sometimes love takes on a life of its own.

My Thoughts:

This is the third Laurie Frankel book I've read (the others being This is How it Always Is, and One Two Three). I enjoyed this story more for the idea behind it than the writing itself. I was not as invested in the characters in this work as I was the other two, but I found myself thinking more about the themes in this book, about how people deal with grief, and their own mortality. Would I recommend this book? Yes, but if I had to pick just one book of Frankel's to read (or to read first), I would choose One Two Three, mainly for the craft involved in the way she tells the story.

The Passenger

Cormac McCarthy

1980, PASS CHRISTIAN, MISSISSIPPI: It is three in the morning when Bobby Western zips the jacket of his wet suit and plunges from the Coast Guard tender into darkness. His dive light illuminates the sunken jet, nine bodies still buckled in their seats, hair floating, eyes devoid of speculation. Missing from the crash site are the pilot’s flight bag, the plane’s black box, and the tenth passenger. But how? A collateral witness to machinations that can only bring him harm, Western is shadowed in body and spirit—by men with badges; by the ghost of his father, inventor of the bomb that melted glass and flesh in Hiroshima; and by his sister, the love and ruin of his soul.

Traversing the American South, from the garrulous barrooms of New Orleans to an abandoned oil rig off the Florida coast, The Passenger is a breathtaking novel of morality and science, the legacy of sin, and the madness that is human consciousness.

My Thoughts:

I began reading McCarthy about ten years ago when someone suggested I read The Road. I was familiar with his work only through the movie adaptations of his books up to that point. Since then, I've read a lot McCarthy, almost everything he's written in terms of novels, and I would put The Passenger alongside any of them. What I like most about reading McCarthy is the way he creates sounds through his use of language and syntax. For example, The Road is a dark story not just because of the setting or narrative arc, it is dark because McCarthy uses short, jabbing sentences with hard consonants. He punches you again and again. It is the physicality of the language that makes your stomach queasy as much as the subject matter. I felt the same way reading The Passenger. I wanted to look away, but I couldn't.

this is how it always is

Laurie Frankel

This is how a family keeps a secret…and how that secret ends up keeping them.

This is how a family lives happily ever after…until happily ever after becomes complicated.

This is how children change…and then change the world.

This is Claude. He’s five years old, the youngest of five brothers, and loves peanut butter sandwiches. He also loves wearing a dress, and dreams of being a princess.

When he grows up, Claude says, he wants to be a girl.

Rosie and Penn want Claude to be whoever Claude wants to be. They’re just not sure they’re ready to share that with the world. Soon the entire family is keeping Claude’s secret. Until one day it explodes.

Laurie Frankel's This Is How It Always Is is a novel about revelations, transformations, fairy tales, and family. And it’s about the ways this is how it always is: Change is always hard and miraculous and hard again, parenting is always a leap into the unknown with crossed fingers and full hearts, children grow but not always according to plan. And families with secrets don’t get to keep them forever.

My Thoughts:

What I like about this book is that because Frankel takes the time to really develop the characters, their actions always seem believable. All too often, writers rely on the suspension of disbelief in order to move their stories along, but we get to know Frankel's characters so intimately that we can understand why they do the things they do, even though sometimes their actions (on the surface) appear implausible. While the underlying subject matter might be considered controversial, it doesn't deter from the story itself, and I found myself wanting to continue to read to find out what happens not only to Claude, but the entire family.

Fairy Tale

Stephen King

Charlie Reade looks like a regular high school kid, great at baseball and football, a decent student. But he carries a heavy load. His mom was killed in a hit-and-run accident when he was seven, and grief drove his dad to drink. Charlie learned how to take care of himself—and his dad. When Charlie is seventeen, he meets a dog named Radar and her aging master, Howard Bowditch, a recluse in a big house at the top of a big hill, with a locked shed in the backyard. Sometimes strange sounds emerge from it.

Charlie starts doing jobs for Mr. Bowditch and loses his heart to Radar. Then, when Bowditch dies, he leaves Charlie a cassette tape telling a story no one would believe. What Bowditch knows, and has kept secret all his long life, is that inside the shed is a portal to another world.

King’s storytelling in Fairy Tale soars. This is a magnificent and terrifying tale in which good is pitted against overwhelming evil, and a heroic boy—and his dog—must lead the battle.

My Thoughts:

For the most part, I read Stephen King to be entertained, and I found this book very entertaining. I must confess that I actually listened to this book, much of it on a weekend roadtrip to visit my brother in Wisconsin. I don't feel guilty because King, himself, has said that audio books are a great way to experience a book – and he even does the voice of one of the characters in this audiobook.

As for the book itself, it's classic Stephen King. Lots of side stories, and a cohesive plot that keeps you wanting more.

For those who haven't read much King (I only began in earnest about five years ago when someone suggested I read the Dark Tower series), he knows a lot about writing. If you want to learn how to write a story, I'd suggest reading his book On Writing. It really helped me understand the writing process in a way I had never envisioned it, and made me realize that writing a story should be every bit as much fun as reading one.

Some other novels I've recently read