Tag Archives: Fiction

Ode To Strangers

Prompt Week 05/15/2017 – Shadow, Photograph, Darkness, Ode to Strangers, Swinging & Sliding

Ode To Strangers

I see you.  I have watched you from near and far.  You have not seen me though.  I would have known if you had by the startle in your eyes, the slight stiffening in your shoulders, the tightening at your lips or the little tremble in your fingertips.  None of you, in all the places I have watched, have spied, have studied, have ever had the slightest hint of my presence.  Or, at least of my focus on you.  I have not always been obscured by the darkness, though it generally began there.  The shadows are my friend and co-conspirator, veiling me whilst I learn and watch, making notes in my book of you.  The places you like most, the foods you order most often, the things you dislike that make your scowl.  I also bring my camera with me.  Just the little one most of the time.  I do need the big one if I am a distance away.  But, I keep it in the car behind the seat always, just in case.  But, the little one fits nicely in my pocket, almost silent when I click the button to take photographs to go with my writings.  I print them at home and watch with anticipation as they slide out of the printer.  Full color, glossy memories of my day with you.  I add them to the rest on the lines over my bed.  This is so I can look on your faces as I close my eyes to sleep at night.  I just lay there, tapping gently on the newest pictures and watch them swinging and sliding along the lines.  A dancing mobile of all of you.  Often, I smile, needing just a little bit more and I reach for the box next to the bed and spread out the contents across my lap on the blanket.  The presents.  One from each of you.  Grandma’s ring.  Father’s cufflink.  Mother’s necklace.  Sister’s bracelet.  All wrapped up in a soft piece of velvet in the box.  And in a little jar next to them, a tooth from each of you.  The blood has dried almost black on them and I have to be very careful so it doesn’t flake off.  They just wouldn’t be the same if they didn’t have that part of you as well.

This room, this place, these treasures are all an Ode to you, once strangers.  But now you are all mine.  Strangers no more.  And fear not.  I will find others to join you.  The family will grow.  Yes, the family has only just begun.

Sephi PiderWitch
05/16/2017

 

The Mermaid’s Singing by Val McDermid

The Mermaid’s Singing by Val McDermid

This was just a nice taste of twisted!  You have a serial killer who is fascinated with ancient torture methods, is a skilled handyman and makes his own rack and other devices after seeing them in a museum and finding a picture book.  You just have to love picture books, don’t you?  They can show you so much.  Add to that, he keeps a recorded diary of his work and its outcome.  And to add just another taste of twisted to it, he video tapes them and feeds them into a virtual game computer to be relived over and over.

Tony Hill is a psychologist that has been hired to try and create a profile of this killer.  A minor problem is that he finds the killer fascinating.  He’s actually a bit turned on by him.    And in his off hours, he is stalked by a phone sex worker, Angelica.  She is annoying and pushy, until she starts to do it for him.  Or is it the cocktail of the killer with her that is the right mix?

I am beyond impressed with this woman’s ability to write the mind of a psychopath.  Admittedly, this was an audiobook.  And admittedly, the man who did the voice of the killer was excellent.  But, I believe I would have stayed up nights to finish it had I had it in print form.  Twisted minds like Val’s are a rare commodity.  I will be reading more of her stuff!

SephiPiderWitch
04/23/2017

 

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng


I listened to this book as an audible.  It was narrated by Cassandra Campbell.  I think I should probably start designating whether I “read” a book or “listen”.  Listening to books while I drive makes the drive so much more endurable.  Cassandra did an excellent job on the narration, even in simulating the male voices.

Wow!  Wow!  And Seriously, Wow!  “Everything I Never Told You” has to be one of the best and most profound books I can remember reading.  The book begins Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. . . . 

Lydia’s body is found in the local lake.  The story is told through the voices of Lydia, her family and Jack, the neighbor boy.  Its told through many time shifts, from when her Chinese father met and married her American mother.  The isolation and rejection her father faced as a Chinese man in the US at that time.  Her mother, raised by a Home Ec teacher who tried to make her daughter into the perfect domestic partner for her future husband, but would up with one that excelled in the sciences.  Who vowed she was going to be a doctor, not a wife.  That is, until she met James.  And when she has Lydia, she pours herself into trying to make her into the doctor she couldn’t be.

Jack, the one outsider in the story, is at a time, suspected of foul play with the drowning of Lydia.  Or at the very least, corrupting her in some way that led to her death.  Though he doesn’t have his own voice in the story, you learn about him through the eyes of everyone else, and each of them see him from a different perspective.

What makes this book so profound is not the story itself, but the way it is told and the beauty of the prose in its pages.  Celeste takes you deep into the hearts and minds of each of the family members and you see a trace of the unspoken reality of who they really are, so very different from whom they are perceived to be.  She lays bare how people so misunderstand each other, how all seem to mirror their own fears and biases into interpreting the motives and personalities of others.  You walk away reevaluating your perception of the people in your life, how often are you guilty of those very same misconceptions?

She had me in tears as the book neared its end.  Not for Lydia, but for the people and family she left behind who had been exposed to their barest bones by the time she was done.  We are all of us somewhere in those pages, in at least one, if not more of the characters.  The tears are for the lack of sympathy we had because we didn’t see the real truth, but only the surface or a single face of another.  And the tears are for knowing that others look at us with the same blindness, seeing our motives, our deeds through the colored glasses of their experience.  The tears are from realizing how little we know each other, even the ones we claim to know the best.

I was stunned when I realized this was Celeste’s first book!  If this is any indicator, I will be waiting with bated breath for any and every new book she follows with.  Read her, breathe in her words, let them settle in deep.  Her words are a tonic for the soul and the heart.

 

Sephi PiderWitch
January 31, 2017

 

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

roses-and-rot-by-kat-howardI found this little gem on the New Arrivals at the library and it looked like it had some real promise.  Neil’s comment did help in making my decision to walk it to the checkout though.  I have since been told that it is listed as a YA book.  If that’s the case, I shall be looking at more that fall under this category!

Roses and Rot was a surprise and a delight.  The stunning revelation was that this is Kat’s first novel.

Its about two sisters who are accepted into a coveted artist retreat for 9 months.  One, Imogen, is a writer, the other, Marin, a dancer.   No evil stepmother here, its the real mother that has the evil heart.  And much of the girl’s drive comes from attempting to escape from her.  And the retreat?  It borders on the land of Faerie.

Is sort of a “Sell Your Soul to the Devil for Riches and Fame” story, but replace Devil with Fairy and add some interesting mythology, Evil mom, and a whole resort full of artists who don’t blink an eye over something less than ordinary.  She speaks the voices of artists with all their jealousies and quirks and generosities and daring to live out loud.  She lays open their fears, their dreams and the price they are willing to pay.

I think one of my favorite quotes is when she offers up the truth of faeires.

“They are beautiful and without mercy.  Cruel.
Stories of the Fair Folk are not at all then what we think of as fairy tales, those moralistic stories wherein evil is punished and virtue triumphs, that were set safely in once upon a time, and had happy endings guaranteed.  True fairy tales are horror stories.”

And though the main story plot is not new.  The reality is, how many really are?  It is told with a lot of interesting twists and turns and through a very unique voice.  Her biography says she was a lawyer, turned writer.  I think she found her true calling.  Though I am sure she was silver tongued as an attorney, her skills are better employed at weaving tales to be enjoyed by the world.  Hers is a voices whose prose is so beautifully wrought and cast down to paper that we will be combing the new releases for anything that has her name.  Which makes one wonder, how long was she a Tithe for???

SephiPiderWitch
11/26/2016

 

The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch

The Small Backs of Children by Lidia YuknavitchThe Small Backs of Children is like walking into a dream. No, its like walking through the dreams of a group of people. Its lyrical and fragmented and at times you have no idea what turn you just took and how it connects to the rest of the fragments. But, you forget it quickly and let the new dream stream carry you along its current.

The author, Lidia Yuknavitch is not a writer. She is a word painter, bringing together all the genres of her characters as they paint their own unique story upon your soul.

The story begins with a young girl caught on film by a photojournalist as she is leaving her home just before a bomb explodes and takes her entire family with it. And in that moment begins the web of all the women connected within its strands.

The girl, who I don’t believe is ever referred to anything other than “the girl” disappears into the woods after the infamous picture is taken and begins to paint . . . . with blood. She tells the story of her life with her blood paintings as well as the story of those she has known. At the doors of a widow, who lures her to safety as one would a feral animal and shows her kindness and teaches her and readies her for the outside world.

So also begins the search for her, by the photographer, the writer, the poet, the playwrite. Each with their own stories, their own paintings, their own pains and demons. Wrought in vivid color and sound and feeling. Each dream fragment, incomplete, yet standing firmly on its on and embedding itself in your memory and your soul. Cruelty and forgiveness, sacrifice and conquest, all laid out in a bare spattering of words.

And that is one of the things that makes this book so unique and powerful. Lidia doesn’t use a single word that isn’t utterly necessary. It is as if each word has been carefully chosen and sharpened to perfection before insertion into its precisely engineered line. Till you find yourself holding your breath on almost every page and needing to walk away and allow those last couple pages time to fully digest before you dare taste any more.

The Small Backs of Children is not a story, it is an experience. Unlike any I have ever encountered between the pages of a book before. If Ms. Yuknavitch is not nominated for a entire rash of awards for her achievement, someone needs to answer why. Other than words as naked as hers are sometimes difficult for even the critics to gaze too long upon. Personally, I am humbled before this woman’s expertise in extracting the soul from her ink.

SephiPiderWitch
02/02/2016

 

Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore

Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher MoorePractical DemonKeeping is just one of those fun silly books.  Its about Travis O’Hearn and the Demon he picked up 70 years ago, Catch.  The book had a bit of a stumbling start and I wasn’t entirely sure where it was going when I first started.  But, he finally found his footing and the story began to emerge.  Travis became the “accidental” keeper of Catch and is sorely mismatched for the role of demon-keeper.  And Catch is a bit odd from what one would expect from a demon.  Yes, he likes to feed on people and must every so many days or he will go out of control and on a mass killing rampage, but he also likes comic books and old movies.  Its a cute quirky story and an entertaining break from some of the other books I have read lately.  Given that this is only his first book, I will check out some more of his stuff to see how he has improved with practice.

SephiPiderWitch
02/01/2016

 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

YTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Leees, I know.  Most people read this when they were in high school.  To be honest, I don’t remember what the book was we read in high school.  That is probably because I blasted through about a couple hundred books a year.  But, I know that To Kill a Mockingbird was not one of them.  I did see the movie, as I said in my review of Go Set a Watchman.

So, I should start with that.  Its not that the movie didn’t bear any resemblance to the book.  It was actually quite accurate.  At least as far as the portion they took the scalpel to in order to remove what they wanted.  But, the movie starts with the kids in front of the court house with Atticus.  That was more than 9 chapters into the book.

I understand why this book got the high reviews and praise that it did.  It is haunting and picturesque and a delight to the senses.  Admittedly, I think the fact that I listened to it on Audio added to that, as Sissy Spacek was the reader for it.  I don’t believe they could have found a more perfect choice of reader for Harper Lee’s book than Sissy.

To Kill a Mockingbird has been on the Banned Book list for a laundry list of reasons since it was first published, including that it was published under protest of the publisher because of the content.  The reality is that with the negative comments about blacks, including the word nigger, you also have the white trash elements, the class division that existed/probably still exists in the South.  The book speaks as its characters would have, thinks as they would have, behaves as they would have.  You cannot take an eraser to the words you don’t like and pretend that they were never used.  That the good an upstanding citizens of the south did not use them.  They did.  And the bigotry in the book is as real as the words that depict it.  As are the complexities of many of the characters.

And I think that is the genius of the book.  She shows you the humanness of all of the characters, even the most vile of them.  She gives them history and a voice.  You can still hate many of their words, their actions, but its tempered with a taste of understanding as well.  For Harper places their shoes upon your feet and sends you for a walk along their path.

The book is far more about the Fitch family, the children, Scout and Jem, their father Atticus, and their aunt Alexandra.  Its about growing up in a small town and full of memories many of us can relate to such as treasure finding, daring each other into scary places, and trying to understand the world of the grownups.  Its full of family secrets both win their family as well as whispered secrets about their neighbors.

The section carved out for the movie is but a sampling of what the book is about.  It is more to show the reality of the times, and what the law held for a black man accused in that time frame of a charge of rape.  It also shows how a small town, through this case, begins to have a struggle of conscience as it is growing and beginning to move beyond some of the prejudices.  For just as hate and prejudice don’t emerge overnight, they also do not go away overnight.  And that is one of the shining lights of the book.  To see how the community begins to mature and take a few more baby steps to being a bit more enlightened.

I hope we never see the banning of books such as this.  They are a slipping back into time, where many things were much simpler, where people took the time to swim in a creek and believe in ghosts in the neighbor house.  That the people often acted only as they had been taught how. And even the darker things such as rape and the treatment of blacks, it offers a treatise on how far we have come.  We should never erase or forget the words of our past.  For if we do, we are doomed to repeat them.

I don’t know that I agree in having To Kill a Mockingbird as a student requited reading.  I don’t think the young people will understand it the way that it should be understood.  Or if they are, they should be given it in a way that they are given the history and lessons of the book in a way for them to truly experience what it meant to live in that time, that place.  In a way that it is more than just words on paper.

Harper Lee has recreated life in the south in a way that only someone from there can.  If you are like me and have never read it, do yourself a favor and change that.  Read it, breath it, then close your eyes and dream it.

SephiPiderWitch

November 2015 

 

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Kate ManningThis should be a must read book for our times.  A cautionary tale that reminds us what the “good old days” consisted of.  That reminds us of what life without choice means.    And how one man’s personal crusade can and shackle lives for generations.

My Notorious Life is a novel based on the life of Ann Lohman, a 19th century midwife and abortionist dubbed the Wickedest Woman in New York.  Mostly because she was successful, rich and flaunted it with her lifestyle and dress.

Kate Manning does a superb job of portraying this fascinating figure from our history.  Her fictional version of Ann Lohman is Axie Muldoon, daughter of Irish immigrants who is sent off to fostering by a “well-meaning” man of the cloth when their mother falls ill.  Her and her siblings are split apart, each going to a different family.  Axie runs away to find her mother with another “orphan” Charlie.  She finally reunites with her mother, only to have her mother fall ill from another pregnancy.  She gets her to a local midwife where her mother dies because it was too late for treatment.

It is here, with the midwife, that Axie finds her home and learns her trade as midwife and eventually abortionist.  When her foster mother, the midwife, dies, Axie takes with her the recipe book of remedies.  She begins to peddle the remedies on the streets with the help of Charlie, childhood friend and soon to be husband.

Charlie takes the advertising to the newspapers and then expands to surrounding towns.  It isn’t long before they are no longer the poor near homeless orphans.  They rise rapidly in society and finances.  Axie’s letters to her sister are no longer lies of a luxurious life, but are quickly becoming the reality.

She performs her first abortion when her friend shows up and begs her to help her.  Then word of mouth begins to bring her more and more patients.  Women/girls who are victims of rape, incest, married women who can’t support the children they have, married women who have too many children.  Rich woman, poor women, street women and society women.  Abortion is illegal if the fetus has quickened.  And Axie won’t intervene if it is “quick”.  She will shelter the woman till its time.

Midwives are generally left alone.  But the male medical industry wan’ts to rope in this lost business.   But, women then, as women often now, want another woman.  One who truly understands the workings of a woman’s body.  Who understands how to work with the natural rhythms.  Not one that wishes to bring forceps and surgical instruments to force what should happen on its own.

Enter into the arena Anthony Comstock, not a doctor, not an elected governor, but a postal inspector.  A hateful prude of a man who called himself a “weeder in God’s garden” who boasted of having driven at least 15 people to suicide with his persecution.  From Anthony Comstock, we have the anti-pornography laws that still exist on the law books today.  Laws that imprisoned many for years for crimes as vile as the sending of medical texts, distribution of condoms or birth control, distribution of information about sex, birth control, human anatomy, etc.

Though Axie is too big, too well known for Comstock to come after in the beginning, as his power grows, he begins to set his sights on her.  Her flamboyant lifestyle and challenges to him make her a target he has to make an example of.

My Notorious Life is a story that should be required reading anyone who questions a woman’s right to choose with her own body.  For, it shows you a world well before women had those rights.  When women didn’t even have the right to vote, own her own money, much less her own body.  It also shows you when our body’s care was wrested from the hands of the skilled women and into the uncaring hands of the physician.  And it introduces you to a fictionalized version of a lost woman hero, Ann Lohman.   A pioneer and warrior for women who still served the lowest born even at the peak of her fame and wealth.  One of many unsung heroes that paved the way for women to rise above the servitude of men and forge a life of their own choosing and making.

SephiPiderWitch
10/31/2015

 

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

go-set-a-watchman-harper-leeI must admit that I have not yet read To Kill a Mockingbird.  I saw the movie and the book is on my “to read” list.  But then again, so are a couple thousand other books.  And I realize that movies don’t do books justice, so I will read it.  And now that I have read “Go Set a Watchman”, it has moved higher up on the must get to list.

I’m not sure what I expected with this book, only that it wasn’t what I thought I should have expected.  It was quite slow in getting around to some of the main themes of the book.  Much of the book fills you with the atmosphere, the people, the customs, the history and the unique level of interactions that is distinctly Southern.  Having been raised by a father that was born and bred in a small town in Georgia and spending many years of my childhood surrounded by his family, I became all to familiar with these types of ways.

The central character of the book is Scout or Jean Louise (gotta love the South’s use of double names), daughter of Atticus Finch, who has returned home from her life in New York City.  The story is a slow awakening of the racial bias in all its complexities that existed at the time of de-segregation, and even persist today.  Actually, it goes even further than the racial bias, but also covers the social and gender bias.

The book offers a unique and interesting perspective on the thoughts and culture of America’s South.  A perspective that still holds to a large degree today in many areas, as is evident by the popularity of the rhetoric of many of the politicians emerging from this area.

But, the thing that is unique in this book is the way it is presented to you.  The issue is not just black and white and there are no real “good guys” or real “bad guys”.  They are humans, many of which believe they are acting for the greater good, attempting to preserve what they believe is a way of life they are entitled to.  In fact, many don’t even see their prejudice for what it is.  They see it as watching over “less fortunates”.  And this does not, by any means, excuse bigotry in any way.  It simply gives you a peek inside the heads of many of these people and seeing there are many shades of gray in there.  And as inexcusable their bigotry is, there is also immense decency in them.  The truth is, they are not unlike many other people who truly believe they are doing good when their acts diminish and marginalize others.  People of faith, and most of these are, believe it is their duty to watch over and guide those that don’t share their beliefs, look different, etc.  They hold a class structure that they will often deny.  And a belief that one can only rise so far above one’s origins.  So often through the book was peppered the line, “Love who you want, but marry your own kind.”

And I give Harper Lee credit for also turning the mirror effectively back the other way when she had Scout called a “bigot” and offered the definition, “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices;especially :  one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance”  For, when we close the doors of communication through failing to hear, to understand, no matter how right our cause, we will doom it to failure.  The world didn’t become the way it is overnight, nor shall it change overnight.  And part of changing it is to understand it with empathy and respect.

It’s a coming of age, a God busting, religion busting, hero busting, blinders shattering journey.  Others refer to it as rough around the edges in comparison to To Kill a Mockingbird, but I think that gives it more power.  Because, the emergence from the shroud of our youth can be a very messy and rough journey.  I don’t know what the criteria is for a Pulitzer for a novel, so I have no idea if this one qualifies.  But, it is an amazing work of writing that makes you at least glance at the world through the eyes of another and shows you nuances and hues you had previously missed.

SephiPiderWitch
10/22/2015

 

Inktober Day 13 – Night’s Day

Okay, so I did a cat yesterday.  Its the 13th which always deserves a cat.  Alas, my pen ran out of ink and I had to finish as best I could with a sharpie.
Night's Day

Inktober Day 13 – Night’s Day
#drawingwithoutanet   #inktober #inktober2015