Books I Read in February

Rooney, Kathleen. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
St. Martin’s Press, 2017
ISBN 978–1–250–11332–0

I am old and all I have left is time. I don’t mean time to live; I mean free time. Time to fill. Time to kill until time kills me. I walk and walk and think and think. It gets me out, and it keeps me healthy, and no one on the street seems to mess with me, as they say on the street. All my friends in New York—back when I still had friends, before everyone moved away or died—had mugging stories, but I’ve never had trouble. (p. 61)

In this novel Kathleen Rooney rejuvenates the well-worn metaphor that life is a journey. As Lillian Boxfish walks around Manhattan, she reminisces about her life, from her career as the country’s highest-paid woman in advertising in the 1930s up to the present. In the process she not only recaps her life but also creates a love letter to New York City in all its historic grandeur.

On New Year’s Eve, 1984, 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish sets out for her annual dinner at a favorite neighborhood restaurant. But before she leaves she eats nearly an entire package of Oreo cookies (not failing to acknowledge the irony that this former star advertiser has been influenced by contemporary advertising) and isn’t hungry when she arrives. Nevertheless, she stays long enough to chat with the restaurant owner, her long-time friend. When she leaves, she decides that if she walks to Delmonico’s, the exercise will have aroused her hunger by the time she arrives there.

As she walks from midtown to lower Manhattan, Lillian thinks back on the life that brought her here, to the brink of 1985. She begins lightheartedly describing her early life as an aspiring writer who left her family in Washington, D.C., to strike out on her own in New York City. With self-deprecating humor she describes her ascendency in the advertising department at R. H. Macy’s department store and her success as a published poet. But the further she walks, the deeper she digs into her past, finally getting to its most significant events.

When Lillian gets to Delmonico’s she finds out that she can’t get in without a reservation on this, one of the busiest evenings of the year. A young family, overhearing her plead her case to the hostess, invites her to take the extra place at their table caused by a last-minute cancelation. She enjoys talking with the family while awaiting her delectable steak:

We chat about the things New Yorkers chat about … but I am surprised to find, and I think they are too, that our stories emphasize the serendipitous, even the magical. Our tone is that of conspirators, as though we are afraid to be overheard speaking fondly of a city that conventional wisdom declares beyond hope. My long walks, I discover, have provided a rich reserve of encounters with odd, enthusiastic, decent people; I hadn’t realized that I have these stories until someone asked to hear them. (p. 153)

Lillian may be surprised at her magical stories, but readers aren’t. We see some of those stories in the making as Lillian interacts with people she encounters along her walk: a pregnant woman waiting while her partner parks the car before entering St. Vincent’s Hospital, a young man working the late shift at his family’s bodega, the limo driver who tries hard to give her a ride, three teenagers intent on stealing her mink coat. These encounters demonstrate that Lillian’s true gift is to encourage people to tell their stories, to notice details and look beneath surface appearances, to find joy in understanding people in their individuality. Lillian goes out this New Year’s Eve in search of dinner, but she also allows New York City to feed her creative soul.

Lillian Boxfish is a delightful character. I’m glad I met her, and I’ll take to heart her lessons of how to find goodness and joy in the world.


Pinborough, Sarah. Behind Her Eyes
Flatiron Books, 2017
ISBN 978–1–250–11117–3

Do you remember all the hype that surrounded the movie The Sixth Sense? Don’t give the surprise ending away, all the ads and reviews exhorted, and for the most part people didn’t. The same thing happened again with the release of Gillian Flynn’s novel Gone Girl and, again, most people complied.

And now it’s happening again with Sarah Pinborough’s novel Behind Her Eyes. The wording is a bit different, but the message is the same. From the front flap of the dust jacket:

And if you think you know where this story is going, thing again, because Behind Her Eyes is like no other book you’ve read before.

And from the back flap:

Sarah Pinborough has written a novel that takes the modern-day love triangle and not only turns it on its head but completely reinvents it in a way that will leave readers reeling.

I’m willing to go along with the common agreement that book reviews should not contain revelations that will spoil the reading experience for others, even though that dictum restricts what a reviewer can say. I read a lot of mystery and suspense novels, and it’s usually easy to write a review without giving away too much.

But in the case of Behind Her Eyes, that restriction leaves little else to say about the book other than that it deals with a love triangle. I can tell you that I read the book slowly and carefully, and I did figure out the ending a little bit before it happened. But the important question is not so much “What happens?” as “What do I, as a reader, want to do with what happens?” I will tell you that if I had known about the ending beforehand, I wouldn’t have read the novel—not because of the spoiled surprise, but because of what that surprise means to me in a literary sense.

That’s a cryptic statement, I know. Feel free to get in touch with me for a real explanation if you like, but only AFTER you’ve finished the book.


Fuller, Claire. Swimming Lessons
Tin House Books, 2017
ISBN 978–1941040515

I never meant for this to be my life. (p. 328)

Gil Coleman’s wife, Ingrid, has been missing for exactly 11 years and 10 months when he sees her out of the bookshop window. At least he thinks he sees her. The old man sets off in pursuit but suffers a nasty fall that requires a lengthy convalescence.

Ingrid, who disappeared one day after a swim in the ocean, has been presumed dead, even though her body was never found. Since Ingrid’s disappearance Gil, well known author of the racy novel A Man of Pleasure, has been searching through his vast literary collection in search of the letters his wife wrote and hid in his books during the month before she vanished.

In her letters Ingrid recounts the story of her life with Gil: her initial encounters with the charming college writing instructor in 1976, the summer romance and ensuing pregnancy and marriage that forced her to leave university shortly before graduating, her fears and disillusionment about motherhood, her thwarted dreams, and the deterioration of their marriage.

The novel’s present time is 2004, when Gil and Ingrid’s two daughters arrive to care for him during his convalescence. Nan, 15 when her mother disappeared, took over mothering Flora, who was not quite 10. Now Nan assumes the main responsibility of caring for Gil while Flora, an art student who never accepted her mother’s death, immerses herself in memories, trying to imagine why her mother left and where she has gone.

The novel unfolds in chapters that alternate between the present and Ingrid’s letters, written in 1992. She starts writing to put down

all the things I haven’t been able to say in person—the truth about our marriage from the beginning. I’m sure I’ll write things you’ll claim I imagined, dreamed, made up; but this is how I see it. This, here, is my truth. (p. 17)

A minor but important character in the novel is Gil’s friend, Jonathan. His function is to attest to the reader about the veracity of Ingrid’s narrative. Without Jonathan to confirm it, Ingrid’s story would seem less credible.

Ingrid’s truth comprises all the big issues of a woman’s life: love, trust, marriage, motherhood, friendship, betrayal, independence, hopes, ambitions, responsibilities. I finished this book wondering how all these issues will play out in the lives of Ingrid’s two daughters. In the letters to Gil Ingrid stresses that when he finishes reading them, he must destroy them so that the girls will never see them. Her intention is to prevent them from learning the painful truth about their father, but they might have benefitted more from the opportunity to learn the truth about their mother.

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Books I Read in January

January was my month for reading memoirs, according to my reading plan for 2017. I only read two, but both, which had been on my TBR shelf for quite a while, were very good.


Macdonald, Helen. H Is for Hawk
Grove Press, 2014
ISBN: 978–0–8021–2341–1

Highly Recommended

H Is for HawkWhen Helen Macdonald’s father died unexpectedly, she was nearly overcome with grief. She cancelled an upcoming teaching assignment and struggled to find a way to reconnect with the world. An experienced falconer, she decided to fill her days by training a goshawk, the wildest, fiercest, most difficult to train bird of prey.

Macdonald had trained other hawks, but never a goshawk. She knew well the literature of falconry and followed The Goshawk, by T.H. White (well known author of The Once and Future King, a tome of Arthurian legend), as she progressed through her own training program. White’s book is a narrative about his experiences trying—and failing—to train a goshawk during the mid 1930s (although the book was not published until 1951). The comparison between her progress and White’s lack of progress in the difficult task of training a goshawk provides the underlying structure of Macdonald’s book.

Macdonald obtained a female goshawk, whom she soon named Mabel. As Macdonald became acquainted with Mabel, she realized “without knowing why, I’d chosen to be the hawk” (p. 58). Her identification with Mabel became stronger as the training progressed:

I was in ruins. Some deep part of me was trying to rebuild itself, and its model was right there on my fist. The hawk was everything I wanted to be: solitary, self-possessed, free from grief, and numb to the hurts of human life”(p. 85)

The hawk became a symbol “of things that must be mastered and tamed” (p. 113).

As she trained Mabel, Macdonald read about White’s fits and starts with his goshawk. In her book she examines White’s approach to training for clues about the mind of this brilliant yet troubled man, whose unhappy childhood underlay life-long insecurity and difficulty fitting into the world. Implicit in Macdonald’s process of understanding White through his book is the realization that readers will understand Macdonald, just as she comes to understand herself, through hers.

H Is for Hawk contains that necessary ingredient of a good memoir, an epiphany—something missing from many memoirs, such as the much over-hyped Wild. Macdonald’s epiphany begins with this realization: “Hunting with the hawk took me to the very edge of being a human. Then it took me past that place to somewhere I wasn’t human at all” (p. 195). She knew that she had wanted to slip onto the wild world of the forest with the hawk:

part of me had hoped, too, that somewhere in that other world was my father. His death had been so sudden. There had been no time to prepare for it, no sense in it happening at all. He could only be lost. He was out there, still, somewhere out there in that tangled wood with all the rest of the lost and dead. I know now what those dreams in spring had meant, the ones of a hawk slipping through a rent in the air into another world. I’d wanted to fly with the hawk to find my father; find him and bring him home (p. 220)

In the end she realized that she couldn’t overcome her grief by abandoning the human world to become a wild, feral hawk. Rather, she had to bring the lessons of the wild world back into the human sphere:

There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things. And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all. You see that life will become a thing made of holes Absences. Losses. Things that were there and are no longer. And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are (p. 171)

The key to a memoir-worthy experience is not simply to endure, but to learn, to change, to grow.

Part of that growth is the ability to see new meaning in other aspects of the world. The broadly educated Macdonald fills her book with
details of the natural world: fields, flowers, bushes, trees, animals, rocks. Nature takes on new meaning because of the experience rendered in this moving and enriching memoir.


Cahalan, Susannah. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness
Free Press, 2012
ISBN 978–1–4516–2137–2

Highly Recommended

Brain on FireOne day in 2009 Susannah Cahalan woke up in a hospital room, strapped to her bed, unable to speak, move, or remember how she got there. As she stared at an orange band around her wrist, the words FLIGHT RISK came into focus.

Cahalan’s journey to that hospital room had begun weeks earlier. Out of nowhere she began having paranoid thoughts; for example, with no evidence she suddenly believed that her boyfriend was cheating on her, and the voice in her head nearly overpowered her: Read his e-mails. The paranoia was rapidly followed by other symptoms: slurred speech, over-reaction to colors and sounds, nausea, insomnia, wild mood swings, uncontrollable crying, lack of focus, inability to write, facial tics, drooling, involuntary muscle movements, and seizures.

Physical examinations and extensive medical tests revealed no discernible cause for her symptoms. Various doctors prescribed anti-anxiety and anti-seizure medications and used phrases ranging from all in her head to psychotic break as Calahan’s family and friends watched her condition continue to worsen. Finally, a new neurologist, Dr. Souhel Najjar, joined the medical team and did one more medical test that saved her life. Dr. Najjar tested Cahalan for a newly discovered, rare autoimmune disease that causes the body to react against the brain. The disease causes inflammation that Dr. Nijjar explained this way: “Her brain is on fire.”

This book differs from most memoirs in that Cahalan has almost no memories of what happened to her during the period she writes about. Her father, who spent most days in her hospital room, kept a personal diary of the ordeal (hers and his own). In addition, her father and mother left a notebook in her room in which both documented what had gone on during their visits; the purpose of this notebook was to keep both parents informed about their daughter’s condition. Cahalan used these two documents, her medical records, and interviews with family, friends, work colleagues, and medical personnel as the basis for the book. Her journalism background enabled her to do the extensive research necessary to supplement those sources.

Despite the absence of her own memories, Cahalan maintains the focus on personal experience that’s necessary in memoir. When she can’t focus on her own experiences, she frames the story with the experiences of the people close to her: her parents, her boyfriend, her friends, and her colleagues at the New York Post.

Cahalan excels at describing complex, arcane medical material for a general reader. Here, for example, is her description of how memory works:

My short-term memory had been obliterated, a problem usually rooted in the hippocampus, which is like a way station for new memories. The hippocampus briefly “stores” the patterns of neurons that make up a memory before passing them along to the parts of the brain responsible for preserving them long term. Memories are maintained by the areas of the brain responsible for the initial perception: a visual memory is saved by the visual cortex in the occipital lobe, an auditory memory by the auditory cortex of the temporal love, and so forth. (p. 101)

After Cahalan was successfully treated for her brain inflammation, there remained questions about how much of her former self, particularly her mental faculties, would return. This book, with its extensive research and clear writing, demonstrates that her brain is now back to functioning quite well.

Brain on Fire has been made into a movie that will come out on February 22, 2017. You can find information about the film, including a link to the official trailer, here.


© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

Books I Finished in October

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena
Viking, 2016

couple-next-doorAnne and Marco Conti appear to have an ideal life: a loving marriage, a nice home, and a beautiful baby daughter, Cora. One summer night they are invited to have dinner at the home of the neighbors with whom they share a duplex wall. When the baby sitter cancels at the last minute, they decide it will be all right if they take the baby monitor with them and run home to check on Cora periodically.

And of course the unthinkable happens: on one check-in, Cora has vanished. Anne is swamped by guilt because she agreed to go next door and leave the baby home alone. Marco comforts her, saying that using the baby monitor was not an unreasonable solution. The police believe that the Contis are hiding something and begin to suspect them. Because Anne’s mother and stepfather are extremely wealthy, the police and family anxiously await a ransom call.

This is a pretty typical thriller, with information gradually emerging about the secrets each of the major players is hiding. As usual in this genre, things are not always as they seem and darkness swirls below the surface of life. And the ending involves a standard trope of the genre that I particularly dislike.

This is not a bad book, just an ordinary one that breaks no new ground in the insights it presents. It’s appropriate for reading on a long airplane flight, as I did on a recent coast-to-coast trip.


Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Knopf, 2015

souls-at-nightIn the fictional small town of Holt, Colorado, the setting of Haruf’s earlier novels, Addie Moore, age 70, offers a proposition to her neighbor, Louis Waters. Their spouses died years ago and their children live far away. Now each lives alone and lonely. Addie asks Louis if he’d be willing to spend nights with her so that they’d have someone to talk to and share stories with. Louis initially is stunned but then realizes that he’d like some company just as much as Addie does.

The two soon develop a comfortable relationship, not caring that other people in the town think. When Addie’s son decides he can’t handle his own son, he drops the boy off at his grandmother’s house. Addie, Louis, and the boy bond, creating a surrogate family that enriches all their lives.

The book’s bittersweet ending probes the significance of relationships and of fulfilling other people’s expectations. This is the last book Kent Haruf completed before his death in 2014 at age 71. In its look at the lives of older adults, this short novel is a fitting and large-hearted conclusion to Kent Haruf’s body of work.


The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
Simon & Schuster, 2010

distant-hoursThe description on the back cover of the paperback edition explains, “In this enthralling novel, Morton pays homage to the classics of gothic fiction, spinning a rich and intricate web of mystery, suspense, and lost love.” The novel is full of gothic trappings: a huge old castle, full of secret passages and creaking stairs, that looms over the surrounding land like a living, breathing entity; eccentric and isolated long-time inhabitants of the castle who harbor long-suppressed secrets; and a mysterious, long-ago story that continues to dominate lives in the present. (For more about gothic literature, see Gothic Elements in Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” .)

The story opens with a letter delivered 50 years after it was sent—a typical quirky and mysterious catalyst for gothic storytelling. Edith Burchill, an editor at a small publishing firm, is helping her mother, Meredith, peel potatoes when the letter arrives. Meredith doesn’t want to talk about the letter and is vague about its origin and contents. Eventually, though, Edith gets the germ of the story out of her mother: during World War II, at the age of 12 or 13, Meredith was sent away from London to avoid the German bombing. In the country Meredith lived at Milderhurst Castle with the Blythe sisters, a pair of twins and their much younger sister. The girls’ father, Raymond Blythe, wrote a tremendously popular children’s book, The True History of the Mud Man, which Meredith had read to Edith as a child.

Edith and Meredith have always had a troubled relationship. With an interest in literary matters and a desire to learn more about her mother’s background, Edith sets out to visit Milderhurst and discover what her mother experienced there so long ago. Under the guise of a gothic tale, The Distant Hours examines the power of long-kept secrets and their power to continue to dominate lives.

I don’t remember how I heard about this book or why I picked it up, but I came to it at a significant time in my life. Like Edith and Meredith, my mother and I have always had a strained relationship. Reading this novel while my mother was dying helped me to realize that healing can come through trying to understand life from the other person’s point of view. Like Edith, I began to see how the past can influence the present and how learning about the past can help us understand and accept the present.


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Quirk Books, 2011

miss-peregrines-homeAs a young child, Jacob was always fascinated by his grandfather’s box of unusual photos. Then, when Jacob is 16, his grandfather is brutally killed in what police call a dog mauling. But Jacob suspects something else killed him, and he goes off in search of the place where his grandfather came across the peculiar children of the photographs.

When I started reading this book, I thought it would be a typical coming-of-age story coupled with a typical hero’s journey quest. But somewhere along the line these notions evaporated. The book becomes an unfocused wandering in search of something that may or may not exist. The children’s peculiarities are not anything like super powers; they are simply peculiar.

Jacob’s search is sloooooowww,, and I found each plot complication more annoying than the previous one. The book ends with a cliffhanger, with no resolution of Jacob’s search. To be fair, Riggs has published two more books in the series, so I imagine that I’d have to look at the series as a whole to see and understand the resolution. However, I disliked this book so much that I’m not going to spend the time to read two more.


© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

The Classics Spin #13: “Cold Sassy Tree”

It’s time to report back on The Classics Spin #13, as explained in my post.

Burns, Olive Ann. Cold Sassy Tree
Dell, 1984; rpt. 1994
ISBN: 0–385–31258-X

On July 5, 1906, Grandpa Blakeslee instructs his grandson, 14-year-old Will Tweedy, to summon relatives to a family meeting. Grandpa then informs the family that he intends to marry Miss Love Simpson. The announcement causes a scandal in the town of Cold Sassy, Georgia, since Grandma Blakeslee has been dead only three weeks and Miss Simpson is half Grandpa’s age, and a Yankee. In Cold Sassy Tree Will narrates how the scandal played out in this small town. Along the way he paints a vivid picture of what life was like in rural Georgia at the turn of the twentieth century, with highlights such as the arrival of automobiles and the social tension between the “lintheads” who work in the cotton mills and the merchants and professionals who live on their own side of the tracks.

Will lets us know on the opening page that he’s telling the story eight years after the fact. Given Will’s age at the time of the events (14) and his first-person narration, I expected Cold Sassy Tree would be a typical coming-of-age story. The point of this type of story is to let readers know what the narrator has learned from the experience. The novel does eventually turn in that direction, although it starts out with maddening slowness. I almost gave up on the book early because all the goofy humor quickly wore thin.

In coming-of-age stories there are two set topics young characters must learn about: death and sex. Will learns about death early, not only because of his grandmother’s death but also because of the precariousness of life in a time before antibiotics. He slowly comes face-to-face with the fact of sexuality in the undercurrents of all the scandalous talk of the town’s residents. (It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Grandpa Blakeslee is only 59 when his first wife dies.) Will also begins to realize his own sexuality in the attraction he feels but cannot initially explain to one of the young mill workers at school.

By the end of the novel Will has matured enough to know that he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life in Cold Sassy managing the family’s general store, despite Grandpa’s entreaties: “Well, in the matter of my future, I meant to have mine” (p. 390). On the novel’s last page he lets us know that, even though he went off to college, he still keeps a treasure box holding his journal and several tokens representing his early life in Cold Sassy.

I rate this book three stars out of five.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Books I Finished in May

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Original publication date: 1857
Translated by Lydia Davis
(Penguin Books, 2010)

Highly recommended

madame bovaryMadame Bovary is a seminal work in the rise of literary realism:

an approach that attempts to describe life without idealization or romantic subjectivity. Although realism is not limited to any one century or group of writers, it is most often associated with the literary movement in 19th-century France, specifically with the French novelists Flaubert and Balzac. George Eliot introduced realism into England, and William Dean Howells introduced it into the United States. Realism has been chiefly concerned with the commonplaces of everyday life among the middle and lower classes, where character is a product of social factors and environment is the integral element in the dramatic complications (see naturalism). In the drama, realism is most closely associated with Ibsen’s social plays. Later writers felt that realism laid too much emphasis on external reality. Many, notably Henry James, turned to a psychological realism that closely examined the complex workings of the mind (see stream of consciousness).

Citation: “Realism.” The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia®. 2013. Columbia University Press. 15 May 2016.

Emma Bovary, daughter of a farmer and wife of a country doctor, dreams of a love that she can never attain. In the convent school she attends as a young girl, she reads romantic accounts of mythical love and imagines a similar life for herself. But her visions of what married life should be quickly fade in the face of real life in a country village. She then turns to motherhood to sustain her, but her lofty visions of motherhood pale in the reality of the everyday chores of caring for a child. Still searching, she hires a servant to take care of her daughter and imagines herself involved in truly passionate love affairs that rise above quotidian reality. In a discussion about literature with Leon, one of her would-be lovers, occurs the following exchange:

”That’s why I’m especially fond of the poets,“ he said. “I think verses are more tender than prose, and more apt to make you cry.”

”Yet they’re tiresome in the end,“ Emma said; ”these days, what I really adore are stories that can be read all in one go, and that frighten you. I detest common heroes and moderate feelings, the sort that exist in real life.” (p. 73)

That pesky “real life” always intrudes on the romantic picture of love she developed from her earliest reading:

One day when [Emma and her lover] had left each other early, and she was walking back alone down the boulevard, she caught sight of the walls of her convent; she sat down on a bench, in the shade of the elms. How peaceful those days had been! How she had longed for the indescribable feelings of love that she had tried, with the help of her books, to imagine for herself! (p. 251)

Someone like Emma can never be happy, the novel assures us:

She was not happy and never had been. Why was life so inadequate, why did the things she depended on turn immediately to dust? … Yet if somewhere there existed a strong, handsome being, with a valorous nature, at once exalted and refined, with the heart of a poet in the shape of an angel, a lyre with strings of brass, sounding elegiac epithalamiums to the heavens, then why mightn’t she, by chance find him? Oh, what an impossibility! Nothing, anyway, was worth looking for; everything was a lie. Every smile hid a yawn of boredom, every joy a malediction, every pleasure its own disgust, and the sweetest kisses left on your lips no more than a vain longing for a more sublime pleasure. (p. 252)

Not long after I finished reading Madame Bovary, I came across the article Alain de Botton on why romantic novels can make us unlucky in love. He distinguishes between the tradition of Romantic novels, “novels that do not give us a correct map of love, that leave us unprepared to deal adequately with the difficulties of being in a couple,” and Classical novels, which, he writes, present us with a picture of the right kind of love:

The narrative arts of the Romantic novel have unwittingly constructed a devilish template of expectations of what relationships are supposed to be like – in the light of which our own love lives often look grievously and deeply unsatisfying. We break up or feel ourselves cursed in significant part because we are exposed to the wrong works of literature.

That is exactly what happened to Emma Bovary.

Choose your books wisely.


the nestThe Nest by Cynthia E’Aprix Sweeney
(HarperCollins, 2016)

Recommended

Meet the Plumb children: Leo, Jack, Beatrice (Bea), and Melody. Years ago their father, Leonard, set up a trust to provide them with a little nest egg, “not an inheritance,” he insisted, for a midlife boost. The money was to be distributed when Melody, the youngest child, turned 40. Over the years “the nest” has grown more than Leonard ever imagined. Since Leonard’s death, the fund has been administered by his wife, Francie, who has steadfastly resisted her children’s various pleas to allow them to borrow against their future inheritance.

Until now. A very drunk Leo, the oldest, has picked up a pretty young woman from the catering staff at a family wedding and driven off with her for a quick tryst. Along the way Leo drives into a spectacular car crash that causes the amputation of the young woman’s foot. To keep Leo out of trouble and the story out of the papers, Francie has approved a huge chunk of the nest as a hush-money settlement quietly arranged by Leo’s cousin and family lawyer.

The book opens as the other three siblings gather for a meeting with Leo to make clear that they expect him to repay the nest so that they can all get their money when Melody turns 40 in three months. Over those three months we get to know all four of the Plumb children, two of whom desperately need that inheritance—the whole amount they’ve been counting on, not the half left after Leo’s payout.

Sweeney deftly brings all these major characters, along with a few minor ones, to life in an exploration of the meanings of family, relationships, commitment, betrayal, and money. The resolution, which is exactly right for these characters in these circumstances, is a lesson in moving through dysfunction into a new working definition of family.


A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
© 1959

leibowitzThis book was popular when I was in college back in the late 1960s. I never got around to reading it back then, and the same mass market paperback has been kicking around on my bookshelves ever since then. It won the 1961 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel that deals with the themes of recurrent history and of the conflicts between church and state, and between faith in science. It comprises three sections:

Part I: Fiat Homo (“let there be man”)
Part II: Fiat Lux (“let there be light”)
Part III: Fiat Voluntas Tua (“let thy will be done”)

Part I opens 600 years after nuclear devastation, known as the Flame Deluge, destroyed 20th century civilization. Isaac Leibowitz, who had been a scientific engineer with the U.S. military, started a monastic order to preserve as much knowledge as possible by hiding books, memorizing books, and writing out new copies. The order’s abbey in the Utah desert is the repository for the Memorabilia, the remaining documents of the earlier civilization. We learn that after the nuclear devastation, there had been a backlash against the science and technology that had produced it, a period known as the Simplification, when learning, even the ability to read, became a cause for execution. For 600 years the Order of Leibowitz had been keeping safe the Memorabilia for a time when the world was once again ready for it. Part I ends with the canonization of Leibowitz as Saint Leibowitz.

As Part II opens, 600 years after Part I, civilization is beginning to emerge from the previous dark age. While scientists study the Memorabilia at the abbey and begin to make crude instruments from the preserved descriptions, political unrest and manipulation heat up.

After another 600 years, in Part III, mankind once again has nuclear weapons along with spaceships and extraterrestrial colonies. Members of the Order of Saint Leibowitz load the Memorabilia onto a ship and head off toward another planet just as the people of earth once again destroy themselves through nuclear attack.

Through its three sections this novel examines the themes of the cyclical recurrence of history and the eternal conflicts between darkness and light, knowledge and ignorance, truth and deception, religion and science, and power and subjugation. A Canticle for Leibowitz has remained in print since its original publication and is generally considered one of the outstanding works of science fiction. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.


chatham school affairThe Chatham School Affair by Thomas H. Cook
(Bantam Books, 1996)

Recommended

I’ve seen so many recommendations of this book, which won the 1997 Edgar Award for Best Novel, that I finally had to read it.

Henry Griswald, now an old man, narrates this story of an event that occurred about 70 years ago, in 1927, when he was 15 years old. In this classic coming-of-age story, he reflects on the significance of the event and how it affected both his own life and the lives of others.

The structure of the novel features a framing device, a short sequence at both the beginning and end, that serves to introduce, then conclude the main action. At the beginning, an old friend visits Henry, now an old man, to enlist his help in selling the property that contains Milford Cottage. At the end, after the sale of the property, the book returns to its present time with a short section in which Henry distributes the money from the sale of the property.

The bulk of the novel, between these two events, consists of Henry’s memory, examination, and explanation of what happened at Milford Cottage on that day long ago. He begins with the most general memories—description of the setting and introductions of the characters involved. He continues to peel back the layers of the experience, like peeling an onion, gradually moving toward the center in ever-tightening circles. This spiraling structure is appropriate, perhaps even inevitable, in the narration of how a character comes to understand how a long-ago event affected the rest of his life.

I recommend this novel for anyone interested in deep psychological fiction.


Year-to-date total of books read: 17

Review: “A Canticle for Leibowitz”

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
© 1959

leibowitzThis book was popular when I was in college back in the late 1960s. I never got around to reading it back then, and the same mass market paperback has been kicking around on my bookshelves ever since then. It won the 1961 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel.

A Canticle for Leibowitz is a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel that deals with the themes of recurrent history and of the conflicts between church and state, and between faith in science. It comprises three sections:

Part I: Fiat Homo (“let there be man”)
Part II: Fiat Lux (“let there be light”)
Part III: Fiat Voluntas Tua (“let thy will be done”)

Part I opens 600 years after nuclear devastation, known as the Flame Deluge, destroyed 20th century civilization. Isaac Leibowitz, who had been a scientific engineer with the U.S. military, started a monastic order to preserve as much knowledge as possible by hiding books, memorizing books, and writing out new copies. The order’s abbey in the Utah desert is the repository for the Memorabilia, the remaining documents of the earlier civilization. We learn that after the nuclear devastation, there had been a backlash against the science and technology that had produced it, a period known as the Simplification, when learning, even the ability to read, became a cause for execution. For 600 years the Order of Leibowitz had been keeping safe the Memorabilia for a time when the world was once again ready for it. Part I ends with the canonization of Leibowitz as Saint Leibowitz.

As Part II opens, 600 years after Part I, civilization is beginning to emerge from the previous dark age. While scientists study the Memorabilia at the abbey and begin to make crude instruments from the preserved descriptions, political unrest and manipulation heat up.

After another 600 years, in Part III, mankind once again has nuclear weapons along with spaceships and extraterrestrial colonies. Members of the Order of Saint Leibowitz load the Memorabilia onto a ship and head off toward another planet just as the people of earth once again destroy themselves through nuclear attack.

Through its three sections this novel examines the themes of the cyclical recurrence of history and the eternal conflicts between darkness and light, knowledge and ignorance, truth and deception, religion and science, and power and subjugation. A Canticle for Leibowitz has remained in print since its original publication and is generally considered one of the outstanding works of science fiction. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.

 

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

Books I Finished in April

11_22_6311/22/63 by Stephen King
Recommended

Jake Epping is a 35-year-old high school English teacher in the small town of Lisbon Falls, Maine. To earn some extra money, he also teaches English to adult GED students. The only other activity in his life is moping around and lamenting the recent divorce from his short-term alcoholic wife. At least he doesn’t have to track her down and go drag her home from some bar any more.

So when Al Templeton, owner of the local diner, asks Jake if he’s willing to take on a secret mission, Jake’s interest is piqued. Al confides to Jake that, at the rear of the diner, there’s a portal that leads to a day in 1958. Al himself has gone through the portal and back several times, so he knows that the passage through always leads to the same day. Also, no matter how long he has stayed in the past, when he returns he has always been gone from the present (2011) for exactly two minutes.

Al believes that the greatest disaster of modern history was the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. When he discovered the time portal, he decided to go back in time and prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from shooting JFK. Al has spent years researching Oswald’s life and movements, but now he’s dying of lung cancer and can’t finish the job. Would Jake be willing to see the mission through?

After a few trial runs into the past and back, Jake agrees. Armed with Al’s notebook of information on Oswald, he goes back to 1958 with the plan of ending up in Dallas on 11/22/63. He drives through the land of Long Ago and settles down in a small town in Texas to make his preparations. There he becomes George Amberson, who begins substitute teaching at the local high school, falls in love with the new school librarian, and finds a life much more satisfying than the one Jake Epping left behind in Lisbon Falls.

Will George/Jake be able to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing JFK? And, if he succeeds, how will subsequent history unfold?

Stephen King excels at using details to create interesting characters and to build narrative worlds. 11/22/63 presents him at his storytelling best.


The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati

gilded hourIt took me a while to figure out the provenance of this book.

First, Sara Donati is a pen name for Rosina Lippi, a former university professor. She writes historical fiction as Sara Donati. Under her own name she writes contemporary novels and academic work.

Second, the blurb on the inside fold of the dust jacket says “The Gilded Hour follows the story of the descendants of the characters from the Wilderness series.” I, apparently erroneously, took this to mean that this novel is the next installment of that series. According to Lippi’s web site, the Wilderness series comprises “six historical novels that follow the fortunes of the Bonner family in the vast forests in upstate New York, from about 1792–1825.” However, The Gilded Hour, also about the Bonner family, jumps forward to after the Civil War. It is the first book in a new series that will follow the Bonner granddaughters into the twentieth century.

For more information, see these sources:

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In New York City in 1883, two female physicians, Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie Savard, graduates of the Woman’s Medical School, care for the city’s poor and immigrant inhabitants. They must contend not only with society’s expectations for women, which still looked down upon women in professions previously reserved for men, but also with Anthony Comstock, self-proclaimed upholder of Victorian morality and creator of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. The 1873 Comstock Law, passed by the U.S. Congress, made illegal the production and distribution of any printed material explaining abortion or birth control. For more information about Anthony Comstock, see THE LIFE AND TIMES OF A TRUE AMERICAN MORAL HYSTERIC.

I was drawn to this novel because I wrote my dissertation on the life stories of five nineteenth-century U.S. women physicians. The first woman to receive a medical degree in the U.S. was Elizabeth Blackwell, in 1849. Women of that era knew that they had to be self-confident, assertive, and thick-skinned to succeed, but they also knew that they could not overtly flout society’s expectations about the proper behavior of women. Most early women physicians therefore worked to expand the role of women to include health care rather than to denounce social expectations altogether.

And this is where I become uncomfortable with Sara Donati’s portrayal of Dr. Anna Savard, who quickly becomes the central focus of the novel when her cousin Sophie departs for Switzerland. Anna is self-confident, assertive, and thick-skinned, but too aggressively so. She is always eager for an argument. A more realistic portrayal of a female physician of the time would have been someone who was less confrontational and more willing to work around challenges instead of charging straight into the middle of them.

There is also a lot more sex in this book than necessary. Of course sex is an apt area for characterization, but the encounters in this novel are as explicit as those in a typical romance novel. Anna and her love interest, detective Jack Mezzanotte, also engage in a lot more subtle sexual communication in public than would have been natural at this time period. For example, Jack often unbuttons Anna’s cuff and rubs his finger along her wrist and down into her palm. It’s hard to imagine much of this actually going on in public among polite nineteenth-century society.

Despite these criticisms, I found much to like in The Gilded Hour. At 732 pages, it’s a Big Book that exhibits many of the positive characteristics its size permits. There’s a large cast of characters who have the room to reveal themselves amply. Donati/Lippi’s eye for detail creates a fascinating picture of New York City in 1883 and reveals that the author has done an enormous amount of research. And, as some readers lamented on Goodreads, even at 732 pages, this novel leaves several storylines unresolved. But that’s all right, since The Gilded Hour is the first novel in a new series.


no join book clubNo! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club by Virginia Ironside

About three months before her sixtieth birthday, Marie Sharp decides to keep a diary to record her passage into old age. She begins with comments on the usual complaints of this age: aching knees, bunions, HRT (that’s hormone replacement therapy for the uninitiated), and receding gums. However, she gradually begins to appreciate some of life’s larger aspects: love, death, and personal relationships.

There’s a lot of humor in this book, but it’s humor based on stereotypes. Even when Marie Sharp turns those stereotypes on their heads, she does so in a completely expected way. For example, the woman who can’t imagine why grandmothers go so ga-ga over their grandchildren goes completely ga-ga over her own grandson.

There’s nothing new in this novel. I’m 67, and while I was sometimes amused by this book, I certainly didn’t learn anything from it.


Year-to-date total of books read: 13

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

The Classics Spin #12: “Darkness at Noon”

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darkness at noon

Koestler, Arthur. Darkness at Noon
Translated by Daphne Hardy
Original publication date: 1940
Rpt. New York: Bantam Books, 1966
ISBN 0–553–26595–4

 

Originally written in German and translated into English by Koestler’s companion Daphne Hardy, Darkness at Noon was first published in 1940. Set in an unnamed country, the book is an allegory for the USSR’s 1938 purges during which Stalin worked to cement his position as dictator by eliminating potential rivals.

In an opening note Koestler wrote:

The characters in this book are fictitious. The historical circumstances which determined their actions are real. The life of the man N. S. Rubashov is a synthesis of the lives of a number of men who were victims of the so-called Moscow Trials. Several of them were personally known to the author. This book is dedicated to their memory.

The Classics ClubThe main character, Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov, is imprisoned and tried for treason against the government that he helped to create. As he contemplates his life, Rubashov realizes the Party, which has been in power for 20 years, is no closer than it originally was to accomplishing its goal of creating a socialist utopia. He remembers, with some shame and guilt, his own earlier actions of betrayal that promoted the Party’s purposes.

As he is interrogated, Rubashov initially refuses to admit to the trumped-up charges. Afterwards, the two interrogators, Gletkin and Ivanov, discuss Rubashov’s fate. Ivanov, the more intellectual of the two, is basically humane and disturbed by the suffering he causes. Ivanov represents the original Party supporters. Gletkin represents the younger generation of the Party elite moving to take over from the older generation. He favors more ruthless means of torture such as sleep deprivation and doesn’t care how he gets the confession he needs to establish his own position.

Eventually Rubashov admits to the false charges. The novel ends with his execution.

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

2 Big Books That Disappointed Me

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I’ve been writing a lot about Big Books lately. Since I no longer continue to slog through books that don’t engage me (although I’ll give a Big Book, one of more than 500 pages, 100 pages to win me over), I don’t have a long list of Big Books I didn’t like. I don’t review books I don’t finish and only seldom report on books that I gave up on.

However, here are two Big Books that I did finish and didn’t like.

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
Paperback, 768 pages

hour first believedI picked up this book really wanting and expecting to like it because I was so taken with I Know This Much is True. However, there’s so much wrong with this novel that it’s hard to know where to begin discussing it.

The book centers around a married couple, high school English teacher Caelum Quirk and his wife Maureen, a nurse. When Caelum discovers that Maureen is cheating on him, he attacks the other guy with a pipe wrench. In an effort to repair their lives, the Quirks move to Littleton, Colorado, where Maureen gets a job as school nurse at Columbine High School. And if you think you can see where this story is going, you’re right.

A few people I know said they refused to read this book because they didn’t want to revisit the terrible massacre at Columbine. In fact, in remarks at the end of the book Wally Lamb apologetically addresses his decision to use that event as a plot point. I don’t object to his use of this event. What I object to is the point of view he chose with which to narrate it. In the book Caelum has returned to his family home in Connecticut to check on an aging family member when the attack occurs. He tries to reach Maureen by phone while she covers in a closed cabinet listening to the gunfire. Afterwards, we learn more about the massacre as Caelum researches it to help himself understand Maureen’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Once Lamb had chosen to write about Columbine, I felt that, to do the issue justice, he should approach it in first person, through the eyes of the person who experiences it in the book, rather than obliquely, through someone reporting on the event and on his wife’s reaction to it.

The couple decide to get away from the scene of the trauma and move back to Caelum’s Connecticut home. Eventually Maureen, unable to overcome her demons, goes to prison for vehicular homicide. And here the story pivots into sole focus on Caelum. SPOILER ALERT: In an obvious deus ex machina move, Lamb eliminates Maureen from further consideration.

In this second half of the novel, Caelum discovers a cache of letters from the 19th century that sets him a crusade to discover his now deceased mother’s true identity and background. He lets a feminist scholar use the letters for her dissertation, a long portion of which appears in the novel. Either half of the book could have been a novel in its own right, but jamming the two together makes this novel a structural nightmare, even though the two parts deal with some of the same themes. Add a few wobbly, far-fetched attempts at symbolism—praying mantis, butterfly, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse—and you have a book that never would have been published if its author were not already a well established figure.

This book looks like an attempt to apply the formula that worked so well in I Know This Much is True to another novel for which the formula is inappropriate. I would have given up on this book long before I reached the end if it hadn’t been a selection for one of my book clubs. I wasn’t surprised when just about everyone else in the club said they also didn’t like it.

A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe
Hardcover, 742 pages

man in fullAuthor Tom Wolfe is a Big Figure: Goodreads describes him as “our prime fictional chronicler of America at its most outrageous and alive.” Big Figures write Big Books, such as this one that deals with a number of contemporary themes: real estate development, boom vs. bust, shady deals, the politics of college sports, the life of the corporate elite, and racism in the U.S.

The book features Charles Croker, a former college football star who now, in late middle age, owns a large quail-shooting plantation where he schmoozes with the corporate and political elite. Croker also owns a huge but half-empty new office tower and the load of debt associated with it. As real estate tanks in Atlanta, Croker attempts to juggle his enterprise to keep himself afloat.

This is the book that taught me the lesson of not passing judgment until I’ve finished a book. Wolfe’s writing is so vivid and clever that he kept me interested in these characters and the situations they dig themselves into for most of the book. However, most of those situations are so complex and definitive that there really is no way out of them. Wolfe painted himself into a corner and could not find a suitable ending: the book runs out of steam and peters out. Perhaps it’s fair to say that it’s enough for an author like Wolfe to point out society’s problems without having to suggest solutions to them, but Wolfe is such a good storyteller that the failure to provide an adequate ending here irritated me. After I had told a few people that I was enjoying the book as I was reading it, I then had to tell them that I was disappointed in the way it ended. Now I wait until I’ve finished a book to recommend it.

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What Big Books (of 500 or more pages) have you read that disappointed you?

© 2016 by Mary Daniels Brown

“The Headless Hawk,” Truman Capote

Cover: The World WithinCapote, Truman. “The Headless Hawk” (1945)
In The World Within: Fiction Illuminating Neuroses of Our Time
Edited by Mary Louise Aswell
Notes and Introduction by Frederic Wertham, M.D.
New York: Whittlesey House, 1947

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This story first appeared in Harper’s Bazaar in October 1945. It later appeared in the collection A Tree of Night and Other Stories (1949) and in The Complete Stories of Truman Capote (2005).

In her introduction to the story, Mary Louise Aswell, literary editor of The World Within, wrote that Capote, then in his 20s, had “consistently explored a territory of the mind that our generation knows instinctively, but dimly.” She added that “we ourselves have visited it in the dark” and are moved to “the catharsis at least of terror” (p. 283). In an interview published in the spring-summer 1957 issue of The Paris Review, Capote acknowledged Mary Louise Aswell of Harper’s Bazaar as one of the editors who most encouraged him early in his career.

Truman Capote later became known for his innovative writing style in In Cold Blood, but in his early stories of the 1940s he was a master at using gothic elements to create psychological states. He is therefore often associated with the Southern gothic tradition of writers such as Carson McCullers, Eudora Welty, and William Faulkner.

In “The Headless Hawk,” Vincent, a 36-year-old art gallery employee in Manhattan, has an affair with a young girl, who remains mysteriously unnamed, who sells him a painting depicting a girl with a severed head and a large, headless hawk. Both the painting and the girl draw Vincent in in a way that first thrills, then repulses him.

The story opens with the following quotation from the biblical book of Job:

They are of those that rebel against the light; they know not the ways thereof, nor abide in the paths thereof. In the dark they dig through houses, which they had marked for themselves in the daytime: they know not the light. For the morning is to them as the shadow of death: if one know them, they are in the terrors of the shadow of death.

—Job 24:13, 16, 17

Capote uses imagery to create an atmosphere of darkness and death in keeping with this epigraph. We first meet Vincent when a “promise of rain had darkened the day since dawn” (p. 284). He lives in a dark basement apartment. Much of the story’s action takes place either under cloud-darkened skies or at night. Scenes, such as Vincent’s stumbling, rambling visit to a Broadway funhouse and penny arcade, become surreal night visions. Other macabre scenes come to Vincent in dreams.

Imagery of the sea, of submersion, also creates a picture of Vincent moving unnaturally through the world, encumbered in an alternate reality: “Vincent felt as though he moved below the sea” (p. 284). Buses “seemed like green-bellied fish, and faces loomed and rocked like wave-riding masks” (p. 284). Vincent sees himself in a dream “swimming through oceans of cheese-pale faces, neon, and darkness” (p. 293). Later, “The air seemed thick with gummy fluid” (p. 307).

Vincent is out of sync with the world, “never quite in contact, never sure whether a step would take him backward or forward, up or down” (p. 284). He had “substituted for a sense of a reality a knowledge of time, and place” (p. 287). Later, Vincent thinks of himself as “a man in the sea fifty miles from shore” (p. 291).

Narrative structure also contributes to the creation of a dark, foreboding, otherworldly atmosphere. In the opening section of the story, Vincent sees the girl and tries to elude her. But he watches where she goes and then approaches her. He stops to light a cigarette in front of her, and she steps out of the shadows and offers her lighter. This action sequence is disconcerting for the reader because it seems counterintuitive: Who is stalking whom? He walks away, and she wanders into traffic, causing a cab driver to yell. Vincent turns and sees her staring straight at him, “trance-eyed, undisturbed as a sleepwalker” (p. 286). He walks on but continues to hear “the soft insistent slap of [her] sandals” (p. 286).

Much of the rest of the story is an extended flashback about how Vincent and the girl met and how their relationship developed. Events jump back and forth in time as the flashback unfolds, and this disjointed time sequence contributes to the story’s sense of jumbled reality.

The focal point of the story is the girl’s painting, with its dominant image: “The wings of a hawk, headless, scarlet-breasted, copper-clawed, curtained the background like a nightfall sky” (p. 289). For Vincent, the painting, though lacking technical merit, “had that power often seen in something deeply felt, though primitively conveyed” (p. 289). He just knows that he must have the painting, which has “revealed to him a secret concerning himself” (p. 290). On nights when he can’t sleep, “he would pour a glass of whiskey and talk to the headless hawk, tell it the stuff of his life” (p. 291). At those times he sees himself as “someone … without direction, and quite headless” (p. 291).

Vincent sees himself in the headless hawk: “a victim, born to be murdered, either by himself or another; an actor unemployed. It was there, all of it, in the painting, everything disconnected and cockeyed, and who was she that she should know so much?” (p. 291). It is this question that piques his interest in the girl:

There are certain works of art which excite more interest in their creators than in what they have created, usually because in this kind of work one is able to identify something which has until that instant seemed a private inexpressible perception, and you wonder: who is this that knows me, and how? (p. 290)

The climax of the story comes in a dream in which a young and handsome Vincent recognizes an “old and horrid” (p. 302) Vincent. Of other guests in the room of his dream, “many are also saddled with malevolent semblances of themselves, outward embodiments of inner decay” (p. 302). In the dream a man approaches with “a massive headless hawk whose talons, latched to the wrist, draw blood” (p. 302).

After this dream, Vincent realizes that

he’d betrayed himself with talents unexploited, voyages never taken, promises unfulfilled … oh why in his lovers must he always find the broken image of himself? Now as he looked at her in the aging dawn his heart was cold with the death of love (p. 304).

He gathers the girl’s belongings and puts them and her out, marking the death of yet another love, just as all his other love affairs have ended. The phrase “the death of love” recalls the epigraph’s references to the shadow of death.

In his brief remarks after the story, psychiatrist Frederic Wertham focuses on the girl, whom he describes as a schizophrenic portrayed with “almost clinical accuracy” (p. 311). Wertham also touches on the story’s “surrealist tapestry” of “phosphorescent decadence” (p. 311), but about Vincent, the story’s protagonist, he has little to say.

The psychiatrist’s remarks don’t do the story justice and in fact demonstrate how we understand the human psyche as portrayed in literature. We don’t need a clinical diagnosis of a specific condition, complete with a catalog of symptoms. Rather, we more often experience psychological states in literature as a “private inexpressible perception,” a “territory of the mind that our generation knows instinctively, but dimly,” that we may not know how to articulate ourselves but recognize when we see represented by an artist of words.

In fact, this story well illustrates how that process works. Capote’s language creates more of an atmosphere than coherent symbolism. Even the headless hawk produces a general, though macabre, feeling of terror and unreality that cannot be mapped as a specific symbol (e.g., headless hawk = death, headless hawk = fear). This story well illustrates how a master of language such as Truman Capote can communicate psychological truth that feels more real to readers than a clinical description would.

© 2015 by Mary Daniels Brown