Random Review: Duma Key

It took Stephen King his entire life to write this book.0619f_dumakey

Duma Key by Stephen King

After a debilitating job-site accident wealthy contractor Edgar Freemantle is left with one arm, a barely functioning hip, and scrambled mental faculties. When he threatens his wife’s life with a plastic knife and she decides that she can take no more, his therapist suggests a change of scenery. So begins Freemantle’s second life: in a big pink house on Duma Key, Florida he discovers a latent talent for painting and a supernatural mystery that’s been haunting the island for nearly a century. As his skill grows, along with powers seemingly granted by his missing arm, so does the danger to everyone he loves.

Quite simply, this is King at his best. The supernatural elements are as strong and sinister as those in It or ‘Salem’s Lot. Freemantle’s friendships with former-lawyer-with-a-current-brain-injury Wireman, college student Jack, and Elizabeth Eastlake are as rich as any he’s ever written.  There are insights on art and creativity that could just as easily have come from his non-fiction work On Writing. King draws much from his own struggle to recover artistically from being hit by a van and his experiences as an artist and father. The mythology, the textural details of the Florida locale, the peek into the world of visual arts..it’s really good, you guys. That’s what I’m saying.

The way the dread builds from mere despair to out-and-out unstoppable horror is unparalleled. How King found somewhere lower than “suicidal divorcé amputee” to take his main character, and made me enjoy it, is a spectacular mystery for the ages. I stayed up all night reading this one, and I could see myself doing it again.

I have no complaints with the novel, but I did see a Goodreads reviewer call it “sentimental” (as a negative trait). The novel is sentimental, about art and family and loss and recovery, I just don’t agree that that’s a bad thing.

Chair rating:

Dark, disturbing, and absolutely built upon a strong foundation.

Dark, disturbing, and absolutely built upon a strong foundation.

Random Review: Ender’s Game

I loved this book. Full stop. ender

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Ender Wiggin is the specially-commissioned brilliant third child in a family tracked for its ability to create brilliant children. His older brother was too violent, his older sister too passive, and the hope is that Ender (like that third bowl of porridge) will be just right. With the fate of the Earth resting on his six-year-old shoulders, Ender is shipped off to a boarding school in space where the planet’s brightest children are being trained to win an intergalactic war. Cut off from everything he loves and everyone he knows, the powers that be put him through a gauntlet in hopes of turning him into the greatest general the galaxy’s ever seen. Socially isolated, younger than everyone, and pushed to his limits, can little Ender save the world?

This might be the most perfectly written book I have ever read. Nothing is extraneous. The conversations between Ender’s handlers about the ethical implications of what they’re doing, the political subplot with Ender’s brother and sister back on Earth, each army and leader Wiggin learns from or comes up against; it all feeds into the central story. It is so tightly plotted that at times one feels like Wile E. Coyote: you’ve run right off the cliff and extra ten feet before the full impact of what’s happened hits you. My only regret is that I waited so long to read it. Because it seemed like “a boy book” with its soldiers-in-space cover, I’m not big into war stories. This is not a war story: it’s a story about the making of a hero and what that costs at every level.

What I love most about the book is the social dynamic when Ender reaches his training academy. He has been marked for greatness, and intentionally set apart. There are people who take offense and oppose him simply because of this, others who are indifferent, others who are willing to befriend him and share what they know. Card includes a range of ethnicities, belief systems, and moral codes. This is a school for brilliant children, and Card understands at a fundamental level the social structure that exists among the gifted.  Where they are blessed and where they fall short, and the things they need that are often overlooked. I could easily devote an entire Character Study to breaking down each of the people Ender encounters at the academy and how they contribute to his future.

My only quibble is the treatment of women in the book. There are only three of significance: Ender’s mother, Ender’s sister Valentine, and sharp-shooter classmate Petra. Ender’s mother is little more than a caricature: sad to lose her baby boy, secretly religious, the end. Valentine is basically uninterested in war despite her brilliance, and acts as a human blankie for Ender when needed. While she does have some impressive political accomplishments, they are basically spearheaded and engineered by her brother Peter. Petra is an exceptional shot, unable to rise higher in the ranks because that is the only area in which she shines. She is also used as “weakest link” at one point in the story. Card writes at one point early on that evolution had made girls softer and less-suited to military success. Um. That irked me. Methinks your Mormonism is showing.

Still. The book is an A+, and I’m passing my copy directly on to my brother.

Chair Rating:

Magnificent, beautifully crafted.

Magnificent, beautifully crafted.

100 Things to Write Other Than a Rape

Sometimes, as a person who writes things and occasionally lets people read them, there is a deep desire to write about something in particular. That’s what we call “inspiration”.

I would not look this bemused if a swan was trying to get all up in my business, in front of a crowd no less.

I would not look this bemused if a swan was trying to get all up in my business.

Sometimes there is no inspiration, but one writes one anyway because it is expected. It is also possible to write one’s way into inspiration through diligence. At other times, a subject simply comes up on so many occasions in a short span of the time that one feels compelled to throw one’s quill in the ring.

The gratuitous rape of female characters in fiction is my number one literary pet peeve. I have abandoned one book outright because of it and soured on another that I had quite enjoyed right up until the end. A few weeks ago I was keeping my brother company during a street-sweeping shift and we were discussing the Kill Bill movies, the only Quentin Tarantino movies I somewhat enjoy. He had never made it past the opening scenes due to to the rape of the comatose “Bride”, Uma Thurman’s character. I had actually forgotten that that part even happened, because I usually fast forward or change the channel until it’s over. It’s unnecessary to the story. The Bride’s presumed loss of her child is enough motivation for vengeance, the rape of her insensible body seems like a grotesque bid at titillation.

This week, author Maggie Stiefvater expressed her disgust with the phenomenon of  (generally male) authors using rape as a fallback method to damage female characters. As though being raped is the only interesting/significant/legitimate way to harm a female character or create tension. Some respondents to her Tweets/Facebook post/blog post asserted that this is because rape is “the worst thing that can happen to a woman”. Hmph. It is my feeling that traditional masculinity attaches far more importance to sex and sexual purity than the average woman does, and male writers often don’t realize that if given a choice between being raped and some other horrible thing happening, a woman might well choose to be raped. Furthermore, rape is a violent act that leaves a female character just as pretty/sexy/what-have-you as she was before, struggling internally. Ew, guys. Ew. In good books, girls get to be just as ugly as the boys. Whether that’s spiritually, emotionally, physically, or mentally. I imagine the “worst thing” would vary from woman-to-woman, just like it would vary from man-to-man.

That must be what has gone wrong here! These writers, their imaginations are broken!  To help these limited authors, I have compiled a handy list of dramatic events that might lead to a better story than a female getting raped just because you can’t think of anything else to do to her:

Continue reading

Mix-Tape Mondays: Very Violent Horses Edition

cassette-tape-convert

This week I wanted to do a more contemporary novel, and one I had reviewed on the site (no matter how useless my review was). I went with my favorite novel of 2011, a Printz nominee that was signed and doodled in by the author herself at the only book-signing I have ever attended in my life: Continue reading