Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Down River by John Hart

One of my favorite bookstores is located in Blue Hills, Maine. Not only do they have an excellent selection of books,  but they are located in what appears to be an old house--no fluorescent lights and long aisles.

Downstairs a small nook with a number of well-stocked shelves contains their mystery selection. Despite the small size I always find a number of intriguing  mysteries --many new to me.

John Hart, well-known to many a mystery aficionado, was someone I discovered. I tend to read mysteries during the summer.

Down River by John Hart

While the New York Times review found that Hart had a " furiously overwrought voice", I disagreed with their hyperbolic description. They did own that his tale was  not dull.

John Hart is a storyteller and spins a fast paced tale. Adam Smith, the protagonist, had been tried for murder five years prior to his return to his family home in North Carolina. After  his acquittal he leaves for New York City. His stepmother had wanted him gone and most of the townspeople harbor doubts about his innocence.

Only after his long-time friend, Danny Faith, contacts him does he return. Danny is the one person who has always trusted in Adam's innocence.

The story is peopled by an interesting set of characters: Robin a past lover, is now a policewoman; Grace, a young woman who was brought to the farm as a baby and cared for by a man who worked for his father as a caretaker on the farm.

In some ways the characters who people the novel are like the eccentric or broken characters we might find in a Southern Gothic novel. They are bigger than life and may be metaphors for a larger view of the story. Adam is the prodigal son and the fight to save the farm and the land from the developers of a nuclear plant pits townspeople against one another.

Hart captures he regional flavor of the setting, the complexities of secrets and the corrosive effects of unmoderated self-interest.

My interest never flagged.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Room by Emma Donoghue

As soon as I began reading Room I found myself immersed in the voice of the five year old narrator—Jack. It is this voice that carries the story. Since this is a limited point of view the reader only knows what Jack knows or perceives.

Jack and his mother live in a square eleven by eleven foot room— and it is the only space Jack has ever known. Within this contained space his mother creates a world for Jack. Each important object in the room is named and capitalized and they become more than inanimate objects—they are friends.

His mother arranges their day within a set of rituals to give Jack a structured environment. While there is a television within the room Jack only watches it for short periods of time. Despite the television Jack is unaware of the larger world beyond the confines of the room.

Jack is also unaware of the circumstances that resulted in his living arrangements. He doesn’t know that the man who takes away their garbage and brings food is keeping his mother against her will. Since Jack sleeps in the wardrobe and is forbidden from being seen or seeing this man when he occasionally comes into the room—he only hears the sounds of the bed. He is too young to understand what is happening beyond the confines of the wardrobe.

This book is more than a view from the room and its occupants. It is also about the choices people make when in situations they didn’t chose. And when and if the person gets out then there is the prolonged difficulty of adjusting to a world that is different, a world that may not understand all of their decisions, a world that may be insensitive. The new space can be harrowing and require a new mindset.

In time and with some ingenious plans made by his mother they both escape the confines of the room. Being absorbed back into the world is both a long process and an emotionally draining process.

People on the outside make judgments based upon a dissimilar paradigm. Jack’s mother was still breast-feeding him at the age of five. When she’s questioned she responds by both becoming angry and making her questioners feel small. How do we on the outside know enough to question?

Donoghue’s ending doesn’t gloss over the pain of giving up what he knew and the halting acceptance of a bigger world. His mother must confront the fractures and losses of her life and move slowly back into the world.

Room is both a particular story and a metaphor for all those situations where an individual is forcibly removed from familiar surroundings and held as a hostage or prisoner by another individual or group of people. Some people survive by creating alternative universes while others die. But for all the reintegration is arduous and some don’t make it and remain on the edges of society.

Take a Chance Challenge
Challenge 5: Blurb— Donoghue wrote a blurb for Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman