Monthly Archives: March 2015
Gilead is a fictional autobiography of a small-town reverend named John Ames. When John finds out his heart is failing, he begins to write a “never-ending letter” to his 7-year-old son, hoping to pass along stories he may not get the chance to tell. John has lived his entire life in Gilead, Iowa and has dedicated his life to the church.
Gilead’s plot jumps around as often as an old man’s thoughts, as it should, but because of this loose structure the story holds little curiosity and even less suspense.
My main impression of this book is that it demands attention. Every page, every sentence, even every word at times seem to hold multiple layers of meaning. I found myself re-reading paragraphs because they would strike me as a truth that needs to be understood. Like poetry. The lack of chapters and minimal page breaks also reinforces a slow reading pace.
Lack of emotion, Lack of purpose
John Ames is writing this letter to his son, who will have very few memories of him without it. The gesture is romantic but this “letter” read more like a journal to me. John focuses his writings on his random thoughts, memories of his childhood, and the current events of his life. Had he been writing for the sole purpose of giving his son memories, I think the story should have focused more on their life together, the stories that John cherishes of his son, and the love and hope he has for his son. The story of how he met and fell in love with his wife is present and relevant, but most of the stories seem to me to be of very little interest to a boy trying to get to know his dead father.
The story of Jack Boughton, for example, dominates the second half of the book. I like Jack’s story because it added suspense, depth, and meaning to the novel. But I don’t buy the connection of why John would want his son to know this story. John says he is sharing Jack’s story because he “may never hear a good word about him”, but the reasoning feels to me like an editor saw the disconnect and encouraged the author to add in a reason why John’s son would care.
Knowing he would die and never have the chance to show his son how much he cared for him, the “letter” was quite unemotional. Not only because he didn’t fear death or the afterlife, but because I don’t remember him telling his son he loves him even one time. I don’t recall any father-son stories or even ramblings about how much he loved him. I don’t think its realistic for a “letter” of this nature to not contain a desperate, depressed feeling.
Although this novel is highly regarded, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005, I didn’t enjoy it much. The focus was misplaced and the plot was too whimsical for my liking. I choose this book because it was on the list of Modern Books Our Kids Will Read in School, but if I was a teacher, this book would not be on my syllabus.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. It delves into explaining the flawed truth of humanity, defying cultural biases, and portraying an inside view of a significant world change. And Hosseini does it all in beautiful prose!
The Kite Runner is in a category all its own and well deserves its spot on the list of Modern Books Our Kids Will Be Taught in School that I blogged about recently. Its a list I plan to read in full.
Summary of The Kite Runner
Amir and Hassan were the greatest friends either would ever know but society placed a wedge between them. Hassan was a Hazara, a discriminated class of Afghan, and the son of Amir’s family servant. The two friends grew up under the same roof, played the same games, and loved the same books but because Hassan was a Hazara, he was not allowed to go to school with Amir or sleep in the family’s extravagant house. Hassan and his father slept in a one-room hut in the yard. While Amir learned to read and write at school, Hassan cooked his best friend’s breakfast and made his bed.
The boys’ friendship ends harshly and with tragic heartbreak but their story does not end there. True childhood friendships stay close to heart one’s entire lives.
As the Taliban take over the Afghanistan government, destroy his hometown, and crash into the Twin Towers, Amir escapes the evil rule of Afghanistan and moves to the US. The Kite Runner is a story of Afghan culture before and after it made American headlines. It will open readers’ eyes to that culture but even more so, it will open your eyes to the immense connection of friendship and family and the emotions will tear you apart as surely as they tear apart the characters of The Kite Runner.
The Flawed Truth of Humanity
The range of emotions and the depth at which they are explored is incomparable. Love and guilt. Shame and fear. Pride, joy and love. Desire. Hate.
Perhaps a man can only be considered a “great men” if he is a successful secret keeper. Why? Because everyone is flawed. Every human being holds the entire range of human emotion, including hate, envy, jealousy, selfishness.
Point of View and Tone
Amir tells the story in first person. The mass of the story is told in past tense but the very end jumps to present tense. The switch worked well for me.
The emotion that was so strong in this novel had a lot to do with the tone of regret Amir told the story in. From the very first sentence, the reader feels the regret of his childhood. Watching young Amir act cruelly, knowing how much he regrets it later in life, makes my heart ache even weeks after turning the last page.
Afghanistan’s Discrimination and American’s Stereotypes
The characters in The Kite Runner keep immense secrets and make life-altetering sacrifices in order to keep their name “honorable” by going along with the cultural discrimination of Hazaras. As hard as we try to be fair to all genders, races, religions, ect. in America, we struggle. And because we are so drawn up in our own struggle for equality, we overlook the downright racism and discrimination that is going on all over the world.
This novel opened my eyes to a culture and a religion that is stereotyped more than any other in America.
The Kite Runner is relevant in world news, in politics, and in the struggles of Americans’ daily life. Published in 2003, this book couldn’t have been released at a more relevant time. It reflects a time in American history from the point of view of someone emotionally, physically, and culturally close to the change while still keeping a “neutral” stance on the political aspect. The book does not verbally abuse the Taliban, it simply shows their evil nature. It does not go in depth about the effects of 911, but it reminds readers there are innocent people on both sides of this war.
The Kite Runner is a heart-felt story written in beautifully-crafted prose but the reason it makes the list of Modern Books Our Kids Will Be Taught in School is because of its political and cultural reflection of 21st century American history.
5 stars!!! An extended timeline packed with action. Characters too real to let go. Emotions too deep not to shed a tear. Cultural and political relevance during a testing time in history. Simply stated, The Kite Runner is not a book you will easily forget.
Happy World Poetry Day!!!
Here are few articles to browse while celebrating!!
Pay with a poem: cafes around the world to exchange coffee for poetry from The Guardian
Short history of World Poetry Day from Poets.org
My Favorite Poet: Ted Kooser
Flash fiction demands creativity from the writer and the reader. The beginning is never the beginning and the end is never the end. Speculations must be made.
In China, flash fiction is sometimes referred to as a “smoke long” suggesting the story can be completed before the reader finishes their cigarette.
Modern novelists Amelia Gray and Lindsay Hunter got their starts writing flash fiction. (See Huffington Post’s 12 Super Short Stories You Can Read in a Flash)
Although Ernest Hemingway often gets credit for the first six-word novel, this has never been validated and similiar super short stories do predate him. His six-word novel reads as: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.” See more at QuoteInvestigator.com.
Twitter has become another medium for flash fiction. As it only allows 140 characters, its the perfect outlet to hold you to your limit. See @VeryShortStory, @arjunbasu, @twitterfiction and so many more!
My Flash Fiction History:
I was first introduced to flash fiction in my high school writing class when the teacher assigned everyone to write a story that was exactly 100 words long. Once written, we held a bracket-style tournament to crown the best 100-word story.
See my previous blog for a writing prompt and an example of my own 100-word story.
A few places to get your Flash Fiction Fix:
Smith Magazine (known for its 6-word stories)
Revival is a story about power. The power of belief, addiction, religion, science and curiosity. Although I would not consider this one of King’s best novels, it has one of the most dramatic endings to any novel I’ve ever read.
Revival follows the intertwining stories of Jamie Morton and Charles Jacobs. When Jamie is six, Charles Jacobs (mid-twenties) moves to his small Maine town and becomes the new minister of the local church. Reverend Jacobs, along with his wife and son, are beloved by the entire community. But when tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, Charles “goes off the deep end” to use the common phrase. After giving a sermon denouncing his belief in God and mocking the community for their blind faith, he is forced to leave town.
Coincidence, or maybe a connection too strange to be understood, ensures Jamie and Charles Jacobs reunion many years later. During this encounter, Charles leaves Jamie with a renewed life that leaves him indebted and connected to the man for life.
As the characters age through the 50 year timespan, the strangeness grows and grows. Limits are pushed and reality is stretched to new limits and this ending, its like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The novel might start out slow but its worth reading through to the end.
The old question becomes relevant once again: is a 1st-person narrator always the main character?
People argue that yes, because even if the narrator is not in the midst of the action, we are still hearing the story through their perspective and seeing how the story affects them individually. (The Great Gatsby is a great example of this.) This is the side of the argument I fall on simply because I cannot think of a single story where the 1st-person narrator was not a pivotal character in the story.
If you know a story where you believe the 1st-person narrator is NOT the main character, please comment below! That’s a story I’ll want to read!
But Jamie, the narrator, is certainly not the most interesting character in Revival. I don’t think many would argue that Charles Jacobs is the most interesting. One could argue that Jamie is telling Charles’s story but because the plot follows Jamie’s life in depth even when Charles is nowhere near, I’ll stick with saying Jamie is the main character.
Side vent: no surprise that King’s main character is an addict/recovering addict. Lately I’ve felt that King’s minor characters are his most unique. His main characters are overwhelmingly middle-aged males with drinking problems.
2.5 stars, because I have high expectations for King’s books. A slow start but a CRAZY ending. The extended timeline worked well but the main character was a bit too forgettable to me.
Friday Writing Prompt:
For an entire day, pay specific attention to your environments and write down as many observations as you can. When you take the time to notice the surroundings (even when its a place you spend time everyday like your house, work place, in your car) and put it in writing, I guarantee you will see something you’ve never seen before!
Either carry a notebook with you or open Notes on your phone. I recommend the notebook. 🙂
What’s the world look like?
Describe your setting, the weather, your mood. Describe the things you see every day, and things you’ve never noticed before. Look for connections. Look for opposing forces.
Be a creep
Watch the people around you; describe their body language, their looks, their clothes. Write down their conversations. How does their word-for-word conversation differ from what you actually write down and why?
Who are they with? How are they connected to that person? Or why are they alone? Why are they at this place in this specific moment in time?
Why Mary Francois Rockcastle’s debut novel, Rainy Lake, was all about opposing forces, In Caddis Wood explores the parallel of humans and nature and how they interact and disrupt one another. Both novels focus on the strength of family in difficult times but while Rainy Lake is told through a teenager’s eyes, In Caddis Wood focuses on an aged married couple whose history haunts their present.
Hallie escapes to her family’s second home in Caddis Wood as often as she can. What is she escaping from? A husband who would rather be at work than at home. An emptiness left behind since her twin daughters moved far from home. A past filled with disastrous family deaths. And on top of all that, a long-ago affair and a serious illness are currently haunting Hallie’s marriage.
In Caddis Wood explores the inner workings of a marriage with a history. The lengthy timeline shows the reader that issues are not solved overnight; that marriage comes with a full history of mishaps, struggles, and hope.
Point of View
In Caddis Wood is told in alternating perspectives from Hallie’s and her husband’s, Carl, point of view. The overlap is small and the timeline large. The present time in the story covers many months and a lot of descriptive backstory stretches the timeline even more.
Connection to Nature
My favorite part of this novel was the characters’ connection to nature. As a nature-lover myself, I related to Hallie when she “escaped” during a long walk in the woods and enjoyed the in-depth knowledge of plants that was explained. Nature’s destructive power was also explored in the book through forest fires and hurricanes.
One parallel explored by Rockcastle was the destruction of nature and how it repairs itself, compared to the deteriorating health of Hallie’s husband, Carl, from a disease without a cure. As he is dying, Carl is working on an architecture project thats main aim is to rejuvenate an area of river that has turned into a polluted waste ground after years of commercial and public dumping. The team uses specific plants that soak up the pollution in the soil and whisk it away.
Although it is an interesting parallel, the comparison is too obvious for my liking. As a reader, I like connections/parallels/themes to be subtle, something to be uncovered. At one point, Hallie wonders aloud if nature can always find a way to rebuild itself, the why can’t doctors find a way to cure her husband.
3 stars. The book was well researched and written in excellent, smooth prose but the storyline itself didn’t connect with me. My young, unmarried self couldn’t connect to Hallie’s life-long marriage with drastic peaks and valleys. I enjoyed Rockcastle’s debut novel, Rainy Lake, much more!