A case of one skill translating perfectly to another field...Maria Semple is an accomplished TV writer (Mad About you, Arrested Development) with years of perfecting the art of compacting a storyline with dialogue and comedy into the most effective punch possible for a time slot. It's a good thing books don't come with laugh tracks--or you'd be downloading thousands of hours to accompany this energetic and hilarious romp--because it is funny. Not rolling off the couch guffawing or holding your sides funny, but clever snarky fun that Semple reigns in just enough to keep her characters real and multi-dimensional instead of implausible quirky stand-ins delivering witty one-liners. These people are smart, troubled, caring, and completely original, all tumbling down a slippery slope from LA to Seattle to Argentina to India (and the Russian mafia) to the Antartica--a story that follows one misunderstanding along all of its crazy off-shoots. Seattle, seen through the eyes of native Californian Bernadette's eyes, becomes a wacky character itself.
Bernadette is a "misplaced" LA to Seattle artist that "can't create," causing mayhem and acting on whims and pent-up anxiety; Elgin is a brainiac that spends his shoe-less days as a Micorsoft demi-god; Bee is the precocious perfect mix of the two with a insouciant bohemian heart, and a genius and insight uniquely her own (and worships the Beatles Abbey Road - lyrics, history, and all. Her mother's favorite song ironically is Here Comes the Sun; Harrison's guitar lead in "always causes [her mother] to smile.") Bee also serves as the voice that connects this series of communications (faxes, e-mails, letters, memo's, FBI reports, etc.) into a map to find her missing mother Bernadette, who escapes "the butterfly nets" during a mental-health intervention...she went out "through the bathroom window"... that ends up being more like a Keystone Cops episode.
As far as the narration...if you'd have asked me 20 min. in, I'd have said awful. The writing style is already a bit frenetic and the animated adolescent voice of Bee made me want to offer the narrator some Ritalin; I almost threw in the towel. But I was hooked enough by the charming calamity that I didn't want to quit. I also realized that when you committ to audio books you have to weigh the risk of great stories being told by not-so-great narrators, or vice versa (and the wonderful times when you get a magical pairing of 2 greats). I'm so glad I took the pragmatic approach because I ended up really liking Kathleen Willhoite; I think she may have been the perfect narrator for this story afterall (a case of a not-so-great listener...).
A fresh and captivating read that will appeal to anyone that appreciates good smart comedy and satire--just as good for Bernards as for Bernadettes. If you pass because you think this is only chick fic [?] you are missing out. I just dare you to read this and not smile. The funny feel good book of the Summer of 2012.
IF you've wondered about this book, thought about purchasing it when Audible highlighted it a month ago...just do it. *Like a girl*, like a boy, like a YA or an OF, just download it and prepare yourself for a fantastic read, a brilliant experience; but, one you may have to, may want to, take twice. Even those savvy readers who can follow a twisting plot like a hungry cat on a mouse are going to be tossed in a special way. That's why all these reviews let you know right off that they can't tell you a thing (except you'll probably need a tissue.)
[Did you see the movie "The Usual Suspects;" do you remember the shocking end where everything you thought you knew was turned on its head? When Keyser Söze straightens his limp and walks erectly across the street, letting you know that everything was hiding in plain sight all along? And you watched the whole movie again just to shake your head and see it in a new light? That's this experience.] We can't tell you more or we'd have to kill you...
The book is constructed so cleverly with such elegance that you won't see the end coming, though it was always there over you like a sledge hammer. And when it hits you, and it will, you'll realize the force of the story and the talent of this author. You'll realize this is a more fiendishly complex and riveting story than you already thought it was.
A piece of historical fiction that is an espionage thriller, impressively capable of standing up to even the most sophisticated of the genre, not just limited to YA, although none of them could match the heart of this adventure. The themes of courage and friendship are both heartbreaking and uplifting, and the basis of the story, but the history is remarkable. By describing the air raids, the tensions felt by the civilians, and finally the torture endured by the captured spy, Wein brings the terror of war to life. [Imagine how terrifying: Captured by an SS officer for something so simple as looking the wrong way before crossing the street...she looked left, like the British, instead of right, like the French.] Hiding behind the narrator's allusions to J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” Kipling's "Kim," Shakespeare, and other literary works, the daily horrors take on a fairytale-like quality that add to the overall masquerade. These two great characters/narrators will grab your heart and burrow in, so make room. I want to see the movie; make T-shirts with their names emblazoned on the front; join their fan clubs.
Yea for the girls...I love that the contribution of females is portrayed so wonderfully by this book. These two friends have all the power, bravery, and loyalty of the females in The Hunger Games or Divergent, etc., but these are human characters created from history, not from fantasy or science fiction. The similar acts of bravery during WWII and other wars are well documented. Women weren't only helpful Rosie the Riveters -- they were soldiers, spies, pilots; they fought, they were tortured and they died.
My little sis reads for a living; over all YA and Children's books for libraries in another state. When Code Name Verity was published, she told me it was great, the new favorite of her Young Writers Group, which is comprised of people ages 14-23. She also told me she thought I'd like it. So, I purchased this in 2013 per her recommendation, foolishly put it in my TBR file thinking YA would be good, but not big-girl good...stupid mistake. I read a couple hundred books between downloading this and finally listening. Code Name Verity is one of the most impressive.
And, the narration...I'm so surprised the book hasn't been nominated for an award for the narration. It was outstanding. A Scottish brogue, French, German, English -- every accent spot on, clear, and animated. They both give spectacular performances.
Just fantastic in everyway. I hope this helps you decide if this is a book you'd enjoy.
After reading the publisher's summary in Audible's *Featured Pre-Orders,* I was drawn to The Nightingale -- I have an obsession with the history of early twentieth century France, particularly the Inter War period and the few years after WWII. Unfamiliar with Hannah's body of work, I read that her oeuvre was *female fiction,* repeatedly compared to other authors I have chosen not to read. That translated to concern that I would be disappointed with the author, and by a book that inaccurately used history to piggy back on a saccharine love story. Not what I was looking for.
It was this line from the Kirkus Review that perfectly addressed my worries and sold me on this book: "Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II." Hannah's skillful writing, and forceful story telling ability quickly became apparent and convinced me The Nightingale was a perfect choice.
As the story begins, the reader knows only that the novel is about two disparate sisters during the WWII Nazi occupation of France. From one of those sisters, now placed in a nursing home in Oregon, USA, the tale of survival is unraveled, but which surviving sister narrates the history remains unknown until the novel's end...and I hung onto the book until that ending and wished the story could've gone on.
Sisters Vianne and Isabelle are polar opposites, even in their individual strengths: Vianne is compassionate with the strengths we know as *a mother's-love,* wise and thoughtful; while the younger Isabelle is defiant, fearless, and recklessly brave -- opposites, but equally formidable. Each of their paths are harrowing and absorbing. On the home-front, Vianne must protect her daughter while fighting starvation, freezing winters, and the degradation from German soldiers. In silent horror, she watches as her friends and neighbors are branded with the Jewish star, then gathered into wagons and trains, often leaving infants behind alone. Even a rumor started from jealousy, or a false accusation can be deathly under the brutal Gestapo's presence. Young and compulsive, Isabelle defies the occupation openly until an event brings soldiers too close to their home. She realizes that for the protection of Vianne and her daughter, she must flee. She joins the Resistance and becomes a guide secretly transporting injured Allied airmen over the Pyrenees into Spain. [Isabelle's surname, Rossignol, is the French word for nightingale.]
Having read my share of French history, I was impressed with the historical accuracy of the story (though this was in part a love story that added little more than some quasi-romance). Many of the events were echoes of history books I've read and it was gratifying to see that Hannah did not treat the civilians as *landscape* and marginalize those poor souls caught in the crossfire of war. This was a riveting story, excellently told and narrated well (I will leave the accuracy of the French accent to those more knowledgeable than my HS French; it did not impede the story for me). It is worth mentioning that though this is fiction, Hannah said her idea for the story was ignited by a real incident she read about...and there are too many real incidents out there, both historical and current.
**It is estimated that 350,00 French civilians died during the German occupation, not from bombs or fighting, but from: crimes against humanity, famine, disease and "military acting out." This war preceded Article 27 of the Geneva Convention; females were considered *carnal booty.* Since 1949 Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly prohibits wartime rape and enforced prostitution. In a speech to the United nations Security Council in 2008, Retired Major General Patrick Cammart stated,
“It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.” Sadly, we haven't made much progress.
Another debut novel, and my faith in new authors continues to brighten -- and I say that after(struggling) listening to a story, that was somber from the opening sentence and weighed on me with almost every page. Therefore, I've given a lot of thought about how to approach this review without discouraging a possible reader. What sustains me through a read as difficult as this was is not only a strong story, writing and characters -- all those necessary elements Walsh does keenly -- it's the take away, the message, the lesson, and, while more nuanced than Aesop's moral, the no less present, moral of the story. My Sunshine Away is a story with a very nuanced message, or moral, that is especially relevant and necessary, handled with kid-soft gloves, (you can only see once you look back over what you just read).
Walsh skillfully sets up the listener at the very beginning with the assault, then gorges them with emotions by having you believe the story is being told directly to you by this 15 yr. old neighbor boy considered a suspect. In addition to the opening offense, it may be difficult to hear what teenage boys do behind locked bathroom doors, so bluntly. You'll wonder if the revelation of those raging hormones is necessary...it is to the narrator. Considered a suspect, his story feels confessional, both pleading his case and clearing his conscience.
The rape brings the real and gritty world crashing into the unspoiled neighborhood. Walsh creates a community of children suddenly stripped of their innocence and thrust into the darkest aspects of adulthood. As the days move away from the crime life is compounded with the normal adversities of acne, popularity, divorce, child abuse (one incident of very sad animal abuse).
The author clearly understands the teenage mind and capably balances the naiveté and discovery, but I was constantly struck by Walsh's amazing knack for subtly. His ability to take severe traumatic episodes and delicately weave them into the development of these teens gives the story the slightest bit of tenderness in the maelstrom. It is a captivating read that kept me so in the moment that I didn't do my usual detective-as-you-go. The signs are certainly there--but I told you...Walsh is subtle. I got caught up in the imaginings and suspicions of the teenage sleuth. It's not until the ending of the story that you finally hear who the story is for, and why. The *why* is that saving grace that brings light and hope to the novel. Difficult? Indeed, I almost quit, but with the conclusion, and looking back and taking the story as a whole -- it was remarkable. With so much in the headlines of violence against women and accountability, this is a little novel that slams the point across.
The narration is done well. The flow between chapters itself is sometimes appropriately abrupt and that is made more obvious with an audio production, but no fault of author or narrator, and does not detract from the story. It's not for everyone, but I'm so glad I found this novel and stuck with it. Walsh shows here a talent with some real staying power.
Once upon a time there was a little girl that loved to spend time with her father combing pristine beaches looking for sea shells. [Their mother had died.] Together they would travel and explore new beaches, rising with the out-going tide each morning to sweep the smooth fresh sands of the intertidal zones looking for their little calcium carbonate exoskeleton treasures. Her name was Mayarella, and as she grew, she waxed strong in beauty and the knowledge of conchology and became a famous journalist who wrote a column for the NY Times all about seashells, and people around the world loved it.
It so happened that while Maya spent her childhood days combing beaches, there was a horrible and greedy man that was recklessly pumping out the pools of oil that had collected beneath the ocean floor. He had a little boy he named after a monster that lived in Scotland. Ness spent time at the ocean with his father also, looking for shells. His father didn't care about the oceans or shells, he only cared about money. He drilled and got richer than anyone in the whole world while the water got really polluted, then started getting warmer until all the animals and plants died, even the coral reefs. Next thing you know, New Yorkers were wearing galoshes like Venetians, sea shells disappeared with all living creatures in the sea. The evil man and his wife eventually died, leaving everything to Ness -- by then a young man.
Ness has become reclusive, living in a compound surrounded by the only clean ocean left. Maya is about to publish a series of scathing articles about this evil shell-destroying family when she is summoned to appear before the FBI. A mush-mouthed FBI man dangles before her pretty eyes a perfect Lace Murex, a rare mollusk shell that sells now for millions of dollars. There is a dead body involved, a physicist that worked for Ness and owned the shells, but that's not the problem. FBI man Cooper thinks Ness is manufacturing fake shells, making millions of dollars selling them (and the IRS hasn't seen a penny from those sales, Maya knows from history that tax evasion is how the FBI gets their really big criminals. This goes against all of her shell collecting principles.) These shells have been extinct for 30 yrs., but these look new. "So, that famous shell collector Ness Wild is nothing more than a phony," she spits, and agrees to help the FBI take down the monster.
The ridiculously long driveway to Ness' house crunches under Maya's tires and she realizes this isn't cement, Ness has crushed shells....gazillions of crustacean corpses, crushed shells, volutes, cones, cowries, and rock shells lining miles! She is appalled and ready to give this monster a piece of her mind. She pounds on the front door and standing there is a beautiful golden man with sun bleached hair. His body is tan and toned; he is bare footed, wearing white drawstring pants that billow around his muscular thighs. A large black pearl threaded through a leather thong hangs on his chiseled chest, and birds sing in the back ground, "I'm Ness."
He's beautiful. His sea-green eyes twinkle, belying his evil nature, "Be my guest! Be my guest, put my vintage wine to the test!" he pours her wine and gives her crackers and cheese and charcuterie. She remembers she is a serious journalist, and on a mission from the FBI. She sips her wine suspiciously and judiciously. Her body tingles with each sip; Maya has never tasted anything so lovely. What a cad he is, she bats her eyes. Her head reels and she imagines a hallway lined with the photos of hundreds of female journalists Ness has slept with; she is determined not to fall for this smooth performance -- not to be part of his world. He is trying to tell her something he has never told anyone before--the *truth,* a real scoop, something about his *sniff* beloved misunderstood grandfather *tears in his eyes*. What a shameful act! She finishes her wine and she stands to go. Maya is a little, "what's that word...Tipsy!" And wouldn't ya know it, her car... it won't go, it won't go, Turn away and slam the door, back into Ness' house. He makes her the best coffee ever and tells her all about the rare Hakuna matata beans. Surely a man that makes his own coffee...
Maya knows her life is in danger; she is on guard as she spends the night in his fabulous guest house. When she awakes, the fridge is stocked, and there is a surprise! Ness has a little girl (about the same age as the one Maya lost when she was once married). The little girl is spunky and cute, and takes right to Maya. They form the *I hate rain* club and cook eggs-in-a-hole, and fall asleep...Ness sneaks in after his meeting, and finds them cuddled together, and tears up.
Eventually (that week) Maya blows off the FBI, discards the wires, tells her boss she quits, goes in a deep sea diving bell to the bottom of the ocean, makes out with Ness, and has several other adventures around the world before she discovers, by Friday, that she and Ness are soul mates. They knew it the minute they saw each other. Little daughter knew it too; all she's ever wanted is for her daddy to be happy. Together, the three save the oceans; new kids again find the joys of collecting shells...and they live happily ever after.
Wonderful, wonderful, and the girl telling the story does a lovely job in spite of sometimes using her boy voice when it's time for her girl voice (and the mush-mouthed FBI Cooper).
My complaints: So many missed opportunities; choreographed little sea creatures frolicking around the kissing couple would have added some magic to the romance; a colony of sick oil drenched otters hiding out on Ness' property secretly aided by the little daughter would have given emotional depth and dimension; a full-on Mer-people attack against humankind was definitely needed for the drama element, a resentful lone-surviving giant squid could have attacked the diving bell, the FBI would have logically launched a door to door hunt for Mayarella, testing each young lady resident to see if the wire fit -- come on, Howey! (And, I know this is a little out there, but...wouldn't an appearance by the real Loch Ness monster at a wedding have been just the ultimate?!) If an author is going to turn an environmental issue into a fairytale romance, there absolutely HAS to be an Olaf and/or Sven, at least a Gus Gus, a Jiminy Cricket, or perfectly suited for this sea-theme, a Sebastian the Crab(!). I take off stars for such oversights.
This story begins in Paris with her first lie... "Bonjour, je m'appelle Julie." She is really Grace from Tennessee, hiding out in France. Tomorrow her secret husband, and former lover will be released after 8 yrs. in prison for a crime she masterminded. Casually she tells the reader, "the best lies were the simplest...and made the most sense...these lies are the easiest to swallow." With the ease of a chameleon switching colors Grace tells the reader how she came to be Julie in Paris. The story is told in flashbacks for the first portion, then switches to real-time. Until that switch, the story is jittery and suffused with tension; Julie expecting any minute to be found.
From a dysfunctional wrong-side-of-the-tracks family, Grace has always felt insignificant and ashamed. Growing into a pretty young girl, she catches the affections of local golden boy Riley Graham. From an esteemed and wealthy family Riley has everything Grace has ever dreamed of, a wealthy aristocratic family, respectable parents and a doting mother that has always wanted a daughter. Grace twists and turns herself to meet their expectation, molding herself into that longed-for daughter, and Riley's perfect girlfriend. Always on her mind is caution to keep up the pretense...to become the person she is pretending to be, staying one step ahead of the lies. As we hear her tell it, it all seems a harmless act of survival by a desperate little girl longing for love. Grace's longings go much further than just love though, and as she moves through the years her personality becomes defined, Scherm deftly creating a little sociopath before the reader's eyes, that dismisses the trail of destruction she leaves behind.
The back and forth narrative style keeps the plot going at a steady, but sometimes bumpy pace. The flashbacks didn't always transition smoothly into a segment, but it wasn't distracting either. While not nearly Highsmith or Hitchcock, Scherm gave me the sense and promise of her own definite style. Her development of Grace/Julie was most nuanced while she is away from Riley, but it was also interesting to see how she manipulated around the Grahams. Most enjoyable to me was while Julie worked for the disreputable Jacqueline restoring antique jewels, and then finally, where we see what the author can really do when she releases Julie from her years of self-doubt -- when she finally *becomes.*
New author Rebecca Sherm is one of the new crop of debut novelists that have found themselves one of the *critic's darlings* having their debut novel released with an attached pedigreed before it even hit the shelves. It's commonplace lately to see every psychological thriller with a psycho femme fatale branded the next Gone Girl, every art heist story inspired by Tartt's The Goldfinch, and any suspenseful crime novel the offspring of Hitchcock or Highsmith. With these astral claims, marketers are lining these fledgling writers at the gate with the seasoned thoroughbreds --not always a favor. My opinion is that Unbecoming was a very good debut novel, and I hope that Scherm will feel encouraged to continue writing. She definitely has both creative and writing talent and a distinctive style that I'll be looking forward to reading in the future.
"The Abyss meets The Shining" and I would say also meets King's IT, and a quite a bit of Jeff VanderMeer's *weird fiction,* the AreaX: Southern Reach Trilogy. I can see why author Nick Cutter has amassed fans like Stephen King. To open this book, you are under the control of Cutter's chilling narrative in a setting that is completely foreign from what you know. He controls the horror with vivid imagery that (unfortunately for us) imprints itself on your mind. It is a multi-level horror attack that is claustrophobic, psychological, repulsive, and in the end, unfathomable. In other words..no happy ending and chances of some pretty macabre nightmares.
Readers, especially listeners, are at the mercy of Cutter's darkly creative mind as the book descends into the Marianas Trench and the total deprivation of the Trieste. Isolated 8 miles below the sunny surface in a pitch black world, a spider-like conglomerate of tubes form the lab. The lights illuminate only a tiny radius, lighting just parts of foreign creatures that glide in and out of the murky *sea snow* at the bottom of the ocean. The sounds are slurpy, slimey, and schllicky, and your mind does awful things with those sounds. At 8 mi. below, the pressure against the lab makes every sound a horrifying threat; they sound like bowels and digestion of a gigantic beast. It is almost traumatizing.
If not already terrifying, Cutter creates a pair of brothers that survived a very dysfunctional childhood that would be enough to induce nightmares. The older brother is the scientist that has not been heard from since the Trieste went incommunicado. Clayton spent his childhood escaping the abuse by unconscionably experimenting on (dismembering) animals. He is cold and without compassion, purely scientific. Luke has the opposite temperament; a veterinarian and a father that lost a son in a heartbreaking *missing-child* incident that haunts him. (Let's just say the boys have TONS of baggage between them.)
An issue I had with this book is the lack of story about the *Gets,* the initial catalyst for the story. So little is said about the effect on the world and how it motivates the trip down to the Trieste. That could be a whole great book. And for animal lovers...don't expect any mercy from this horror master. There are animals aboard the Trieste, cute, furry, animals and they don't fare well. The narration was spot-on, with great pronunciation of those onomatopoeia words that Cutter uses to make your skin crawl, and things slurp and splat and skitter.
Stephen King once said, “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud.” The Deep is one of those that swings for the terror, bounces on the horror, and lands square on the gross-out. If that sounds like your kind of read -- enjoy. A little too much like swallowing slugs for me personally, but to you horror fanatics I say...Bon Appétit! You'll love this.
Some of my favorite novels are those told from the *looking back* POV -- those coming of age stories, retelling of events enlightened by hindsight. From King's The Body, to Twain's The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, and Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, when told with skill and sincerity the shared humanity, no matter how diverse, *strikes those familiar chords* in each of us [*paraphrased from author Daniel Woodrell's NY Times review for this book]. In his debut novel, Christopher Scotton shares the tragedy of a family and strikes those chords with a skill that defies the term 'debut novel.'
The plot of this Bildungsroman is complex in that it is set in 1985 and tackles not only the usual companion issues of growing up after tragedy, but also is intertwined with the complexities of social and environmental attitudes. Kevin recalls the summer when after witnessing the horrific death of his 3 yr. old little brother (truly grizzly), the mother is grief stricken and withdraws into a catatonic state. At the urging of the grandfather (Pops) the two retreat to the mother's childhood home, tucked into the Appalachian Mountains, to heal.
Pops is that stalwart of integrity and honor; a hard working veterinarian with a love for the land and its people. He introduces Kevin to reading and great books, but when Kevin still shows signs of heading into serious trouble to cope with his feelings of guilt and loss, Pops makes him his vet assistant. Together they trek back into the hills to administer to ailing livestock. But it is Buzzy Fink that saves Kevin from his sorrow by befriending the naïve city boy and teaching him the secrets of the mountains. Under Buzzy's tutelage, Kevin learns to respect and love this land, opening a connection and a closeness with Pops. He also learns that in a small town everyone is connected, and nothing remains a secret for long.
In Scotton's characters, you'll recognize many of the same qualities that define the great characters of favorite novels. As the book progresses, these characters become more defined by the environmental and social issues. The bucolic setting hits a boiling point when the towns people begin experiencing the effects of Mountaintop Removal Mining -- a process that literally blasts the tops off the mountains leaving the countryside scarred and riddled with toxic carcinogens. Bubba Boyd is the strong arm mine owner that employs most of the town and is buying out the land to extract coal without consideration for the environment. The contention splits the town and the leader of the opposition, a gay hairdresser despised by Bubba both for his stand on preserving the pristine mountains and his secret sexual orientation, is found murdered.
The novel is substantial in page number and subject matter, difficult to summarize and do it justice. The heart of the story is charming and unforgettable, and this was one of my favorite reads. I can't recommend it highly enough. Here comes the BUT... I had a few issues with the book that I point out to justify my rating: Once Pops takes Buzzy and Kevin on a *Quest* into the mountains, I found myself having to chew a little more to swallow some of the story. There's a chimerical white stag that felt a little too "Expecto patronum!" and a legendary moss-back fish that almost swims onto Kevin's hook, a poultice concocted by Buzzy that defies known medical cures. Character-wise, Kevin is inordinately naïve; Buzzy, very Huckleberry; Big Bad Bubba?; Peter the gay hairdresser? the mule-shootin', corn-piped hillbilly?...I'm listening to their story, but sometimes thinking *central casting.* Technically these are issues that felt like little hiccups, but kept this from being a perfect novel. Didn't really matter...loved it in spite of itself.
*[Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell, is one of my all-time favorite novels.]
**Though already long, I'd like to address another reviewer's comments about the foul language. With respect, there are a few F-bombs, but I don't recall it being used often or gratuitously (I didn't count).
From the onslaught of pre-release reviews for this book I was very prepared for the *unreliable narrator,* that tricky little beastie that requires the reader to stay on their toes, but, when our girl Rachel settles onto the train and pops her canned gin and tonic for breakfast, I knew we were in for one helluva ride. In what has been called an *amnesia thriller,* been compared to Hitchcock's Rear Window, and tacked with the ubiquitous "the next Gone Girl" tagline (when will that stop?) author Hawkins gives us one of those always entertaining train-ride thrillers told from the pov of 3 female narrators -- one of whoms story is ala Mary Alice Young in Desperate Housewives, from the grave. Their connection...a man, a neighborhood, and a fateful event.
Not much should be said about the story because it relies heavily on slowly revealing a little more with each clickety-clak of the rails. I'd suggest just settling in and riding along as sad, overweight, unemployed, newly divorced, and barren Rachel rides the train and peers into a certain yard/window of a house that borders the tracks along her journey. Looking out the window of the train at that house, she projects everything she wished for onto a certain willowy blonde she names *Jess,* and her husband. Rachel used to live in the same neighborhood -- now her ex lives in the home with his new wife and baby girl.
Hawkins dishes out the information with a controlling hand, and might rely a little too much on this tactic to keep a sense of tension when more information, fleshing out the characters a little more, could have given the story more psychological depth -- she certainly has created characters with the underpinnings of a great psychological thriller and shows talent as a writer. Maybe I've seen too much Hitchcock, read too many Flynn novels; I didn't find the story really thrilling or mysterious, but that's OK -- it was fun and entertaining, and I flew through it enjoying every minute. I have to say it is a much lighter read than that GG novel (except for the issue of alcoholism, which is especially dark here).
The narrators did a good job keeping the novel moving and interpreting the characters and make this all the more enticing.
Each chapter of this superbly crafted book contains multiple *moments in history,* events that intersected with the political strategy and shaped this country's development. It is also a character study of ambition, courage, greed, inexperience and bad decisions, all set on the grand stage of the beautiful and treacherous, still uncharted, American Northwest. On the heels of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (just 2 years prior) one of the country's wealthiest businessmen, John Jacob Astor, schemed to corner the hungry global fur market by establishing a trading post on the west coast of the continent, thereby harvesting the untapped resources of the Pacific Northwest. *[from his NY base, Astor was already trading heavily with a demanding China and Europe. It was an extremely lucrative business for Astor. His company was trading *trinkets and beads* to several Indian tribes for pallets of furs worth thousands of dollars -- at a "2,500% profit."]
Encouraged by Jefferson, who dreamed of claiming the country after Lewis & Clark's report, and expanding America from coast to coast, Astor financed 2 expeditions: by sea, the 94 ft. 290 ton, copper-hulled Merchant ship, the Tonquin, captained by a seasoned but arrogant, US Navy lieutenant, Jonathan Thorn; and a land expedition led by fur-trader businessman, Wilson Hunt Price. Though inexperienced, and it can now be added ignorant, Hunt planned to use information gathered from the Lewis & Clark Expedition to lead his group west to the mouth of the Columbia River. 340 days later, the two groups would meet at their destination...but, both journeys had been ill-fated. 61 men had perished (also an infant child born on the trek) or had suffered physical and psychological traumas, the Tonquin lay at the bottom of the Clayoquot Sound, and eventually, the weary survivors sold out to the Canadian North West Fur Company for pennies on Astor's dollars.
Stark has done an outstanding job researching journals, letters, articles, interviewing descendants of the explorers, and studying the different cultures of the Native American tribes that inhabited the landscape of the American Northwest -- a culture that paid the ultimate price of Manifest Destiny. Stark, wonderfully describing the topography along the journey, leads his own expedition in a sense: the passages detailing Hell's Canyon and the "Mad River" (The Snake River) are both beautiful and intense; the vistas of buffalo covered prairie's out of the Dakota's are majestic, and so on. The voyage of the Tonquin is just as eloquently written. Struggling to navigate through the system of bars and shoals at the mouth of the Columbia River, battling the waves, wind, and currents, Stark gives readers a white-knuckle passage through what is known as the *Graveyard of the Pacific.* Often I was left behind, picturing the scenes, in awe of the fury or the serene beauty -- the land seems so raw from what I have experienced... I've safely rafted down the Snake River, looked out across the Badlands, ridden a tugboat through the bucking swells of the Columbia Bar. To look back through history from our hard-won state of comfort is incredible.
The characters are nothing less than fascinating from the robust and colorful French Voyageurs to the quiet, brave interpreter, Maria Dorian [gave birth during the trek]. It would be overwhelming to highlight every stunning aspect of this book, or encapsulate such a huge and important adventure into paragraphs. The epilogue is the eye of history looking back over the expedition and wrapping it all up nicely for a great conclusion. This is a read I recommend highly to anyone, and an absolute *don't miss* for history fans. I would also recommend reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose, if you haven't read about Lewis and Clark.
Reading the account of the bear attack, I couldn't help but think of the almost silly slow motion battle between Tristan (Brad Pitt) and the monstrous grizzly bear (Bart the bear) at the end of Legends of the Fall. Apparently the trained stunt bear, Bart, thought the two were just rough housing and the clip had to be tweaked to make it appear the grizzly was the killer that would give Tristan his "good death."
Working for Capt. Andrew Henry as a member of the Rocky Mountain Fur Co., Hugh Glass is sent out scouting the uncharted hostile territory along the tributaries of the Missouri River. The trapper is startled when a pair of frolicking bear cubs tumbles onto his path, their notoriously protective mother just a few yards behind. Faced with a charging mother grizzly, Glass knows that no matter how many bullets he can fire into the animal with his 1822 model rifle, he is facing certain death -- he draws his knife and braces for the blow of a massive paw.
Glass is mortally wounded; Capt. Henry and the trapping party begin to dig his grave. After days of caring for the dying man, Capt. Henry decides he is losing money and time and leaves two men behind to bury the body; a cold-blooded cutthroat John Fitzgerald, and the young Jim Bridger. Seeing hostile Indians nearby, Fitzgerald forces Bridger to leave with him, taking the dying man's weapons as they leave.
Against all odds, Glass does survive, and swears to kill the two men that left him defenseless, to die. Unable to walk, Glass begins his mission of revenge on hands and knees in what is a mind boggling account of survival and perseverance. Author Punke writes a riveting tale in the style of great westerns, based on the true story of Hugh Glass. The supporting characters are diverse and colorful pieces of the American Frontier. I couldn't put the book down (audible talk for couldn't disengage from my ipod) until I finished the story.
As a narrator, Graham did a good job bringing the characters to life. His depiction of young Bridger tended to be jerky and halted, and therefore a little distracting at times, but not enough to spoil the novel for me. For fans of the American Western, you can't go wrong with this piece of absorbing historical fiction.
*[I noticed a publish date of 2002 and found that this has been reprinted. It is probably no coincidence that the movie version is scheduled for release Dec. of 2015, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.]
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