Monday, June 29, 2009

Drown All The Dogs: Thomas Adcock

Drown All The Dogs is a paperback I picked up at a great little store in Portland called Murder By The Book. I bought this book years ago and am only now finally reading it. I think I needed to read this book as an adult, as it's pretty thick stuff. It's an Irish cop mystery intricately woven with Irish history and literature.

Neil Hockaday is a New York cop of Irish descent who spends his time in Hell's Kitchen, trying to fill the "hollow places" inside him. Ruby Flagg is his gal pal who gives strong, independent woman a good name. In an effort to solve the mystery of Hockaday's faceless father, Neil and Ruby take a vacation across the pond to visit old Uncle Liam. From there, the mysteries pile up faster than the body count, with Neil at the epicenter.

I'm still not sure I fully understand this book. The Irish Republic Army, Nazis, secret organizations, and so much convoluted patriotism create a web of deceit that our New Yorker cop has to untangle to reveal the truth about his family. Unfortunately, some places are so tangled and dark that they may better be left alone.

While reading this novel, I couldn't help but wonder how much our family history defines us. For some folks, I think that lineage is just history. For others, I think that family is defining. What ugly secret would it take for you to disown your familial history? Imagine that you learned that your ancestors had committed horrendous crimes. How would that effect you?

Adcock is not the best, most articulate writer being published, but his story is detailed and smart. It takes a real talent to incorporate so much information into a novel and keep it interesting. What could read like a history book, instead reads like a novel, with developed characters and a driving plot line.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Pact: Jodi Picoult

The Pact is the third book I've read by Picoult and I'm noticing a disturbing trend; her stories are real enough and written well enough to jar my mind. I find myself instantly sucked into the story, only to be smacked by an uneasiness stemming from the realness of her writing. I suppose that's a commendation for Picoult. For me, it's a good enough reason to put her aside from now on.

The Pact is a misleading title, but that's only appropriate, as Picoult so often turns her stories towards the end in an effort to confound her reader. Picoult lovingly calls this a Love Story, though the love that she writes about is implausible, if not impossible.

Chris and Emily are born to neighboring families. They are raised together, and live as much with each other as they do with their own parents. Picoult goes through great effort to illustrate the closeness of their relationship as children and how it develops during adolescence. As is probably predictable, their parents are cheerleaders for the blooming relationship between the children. When they are caught kissing for the first time, the parents are actually gleeful. While it's all a very sweet thought, I also know that growing up that closely with someone may lead to some physical experimentation, but ultimately the only relationship that blossoms is that of siblings. Picoult does make it clear that the sibling factor occurs to both Emily and Chris, but it is easy brushed away so as not to remind the reader of incest.

The pact is in fact a suicide pact, further stereotyping teenage melancholy, and simultaneously downplaying real depression. I can't say too much more about the story without giving it all away, though I will tell you that Chris spends the majority of the book in the county jail.

My biggest problem with this story, other than the close-to-home reality of it, is that this novel can't seem to decide who it's about. Emily? Chris? The parents? Whose parents--Emily's, or Chris'? There are a number of players in this story including a defense attorney with a teenage son of his own, and each character has a different perspective. In this way, there is no bottom line truth in the story. The reader spend almost 500 pages hoping to get to the answer and there is no single answer! What's more, the reader is told a crucial piece of information in the first hundred pages or so and waits through the rest of the book for someone else to learn this piece of information, but waits in vain. It was incredibly frustrating to me.

This book came highly recommended, as did the previous Picoult novels. I don't deny her readability as an author. She is, in fact, a terrific writer, and I can even appreciate the stories she tells. However, if you are a sensitive reader, who is easily effected by words, Picoult may be a dangerous trigger.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Watership Down: Richard Adams

Watership Down is another one of those books on my "must read" list. It is often alluded to, and even shows up on many canon lists. I expected to pick up a piece of epic literature; a novel that would change my view of the world, or at least make me think about it.

Obviously, I was unaware that it was about rabbits.

This is not a novel about a sinking ship. It is, in some ways, a novel about war, but mostly, it's a novel about rabbits. Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and all of the other rabbits are in hot pursuit of freedom. The novel is broken into four parts relative to the various parts of their journey. The rabbits leave their home warren to find a new home where they are free to be wild rabbits. Then comes the segment where they must intrude on a neighboring warren to steal away some females so as to propogate. There, they run into some trouble and it becomes a bit of a war story. But have no fear, there is a happy ending. Because after all, this is a children's story.

Yes, you read that right--it's a children's story. Richard Adams wrote this novel much like Rowling wrote Harry Potter--as bedtime stories for his kids. As a lit person, I have been well trained to look for the allegory in every story. I look for hidden meaning in subtle symbols. About halfway through Watership Down I found myself floudering, unable to explain what the story was really about. So I did some research and found an interview with Adams in which he explains that the book was comprised of just a bunch of stories he told to his kids. He did mention that he may have woven stories of his own military experience into the story. But ultimately, it was just stories for his little girls.

The book has never been out of publication, and has been made into a movie (a cartoon). Would I recommend it? Sure--read it to your kids!