Admiral Naismith (admnaismith) wrote in bookish,
Admiral Naismith

May Book Post: Demons and their Hapless Prey edition

Eclipse, by Stephenie Meyer :
Time had not made me immune to the perfection of his face, and I was sure that i would never take any aspect of him for granted. My eyes traced over his pale white features: the hard square of his jaw, the softer curve of his full lips, twisted up into a smile now, the straight line of his nose, the sharp angle of his cheekbones, the smooth marble span of his forehead, partially obscured by a tangle of rain-darkened bronze hair...
I saved his eyes for last, knowing that when I looked into them I was likely to lose my train of thought. They were wide, warm with liquid gold, and framed by a thick fringe of black lashes. Staring into his eyes always made me feel extraordinary, sort of like my bones were turning spongey. I was also a little lightheaded, but that could have been because I’d forgotten to keep breathing. Again.
It was a face any male model in the world would trade his soul for. Of course, that might be the asking price: one soul.

Isn’t Edward dreamy? Isn’t he wonderful? Wouldn’t any girl just swoon over the chance to be with a dark, brooding, obsessive boyfriend who stares into her window at night and who disables her car so she can’t go see her other friends?

I’m disappointed. After the vampires and werewolves of the earlier books, I wanted zombies this time. Finally, the one kind of monster that would never, ever find Bella to be an irresistibly tempting morsel (Hey, Edward: have you ever considered that just maybe the reason you can’t read Bella’s mind is that she doesn’t have one?? Just a thought). But no zombies.

However, I DID get one thing I asked for, in that, when I heard of Meyer’s mind-boggling claim to have written homages to great literature (she thinks the first two books have something in common with Pride and Prejudice and Romeo and Juliet, respectively), I thought a Wuthering Heights episode might be appropriate. Of course, neither Meyer nor I thought that one through. Although Edward is appropriately broody and vengeful, there is no way Jacob and his tribe of furries has anything in common with the feeble Linton clan; Edward's family is nice to him and he does not drive any of them to drink and gambling so that he can take their land; and Bella doesn't even end up on a foggy moor yelling for Edward at the top of her lungs. But other than that....

Oh, well. One more volume to go. I’d probably have stopped with book 1 but for The Redhead’s insistence on getting all four volumes from the library, so they were right here in my house; and because of the wonderful Sparkledammerung blog entries of “stoney321” , which show that the whole series is an analogy to Mormonism and that becoming a vampire is analagous to joining the LDS family of patriarchs! BAHAHAHAHA I’d always suspected as much.

Just read it. It’s so wonderfully snarky, it almost makes the books tolerable:

Children of the Night, by Mercedes Lackey:
She flipped the locks, and the door swung open. Lenny stood framed in the doorway, white with fear, every muscle tensed, a baseball bat in one hand, a sharpened piece of wood in the other. He looked at her with his mouth dropping open for a moment, then deflated and shuffled his feet sheepishly. “I thought—Morrie called me. He seemed to think you might be in trouble.”
She caught a hint of movement out of the corner of her eye and realized that Andre was there beside her, pressed up against the wall where he would be hidden from anyone in the doorway.
ENOUGH ALREADY! Her nerves were worn down enough that this was beginning to make her angry. “Will you two STOP trying to save me from each other?” she snapped—and both Lenny and the vampire jumped, startled.
She grabbed Lenny’s wrist and dragged him inside, shut the door and turned him around so that he faced Andre. “Lenny, this is Andre. Andre, Lenny. Shake hands and be nice.”
Lenny swallowed, and reluctantly extended the hand holding the stake, then realized what he’d just done, blushed, and fumbled awkwardly with it. Andre recovered first, and saved the moment by taking the piece of sharpened wood from him, clasping his hand with a chagrined smile. “I think we are both fools, non? I am pleased to meet you.”
Di waited, hoping Lenny would see the man, and not the mythic monster.
“Funny”, said Lenny, after a long pause, plainly responding to that smile. “You don’t look Transylvanian.”

YAY! Coming on the heels of Twi-Hard, a story of vampires and dark forces as they should be portrayed. This one is very different from the first Diana Tregarde book, and a lot darker and eerier. It takes place several years before the events of Jinx High, when Diana is a bit newer at the Guardian of the Universe business, and not yet too all-powerful Mary Sue-ish for any monster to be an interestingly worthy adversary. There is a wonderful vampire ally, several suitably nasty villains, and a hapless victim who manages to find his own strength instead of requiring rescue. It’s still *mostly* a candy novel, but I found it highly satisfying compared to the first.

The Golden Warrior, by Hope Muntz :
”Sire”, said Earl Harold, “the Atheling prayed me to give you this ring, with the prayer that you would stand guardian to his lady, and these his children.”
Edward looked down and saw he held the royal ring of Wessex. He cried aloud and cast it from him. Then he fell on his knees beside the bed and broke out into such tears that all men stood in dread.
Hugolin the king’s chamberlain stood with his people. He saw where the ring rolled unheeded, and he bent down and took it up when no one saw. Hugolin was a careful man. He suffered much by reason of his open-handed master. He carried the ring to the King’s treasury that night and hid it with good care.
Edward said, shuddering, “It is a thing accursed. Elfrida took it on the night that she betrayed her stepson. Where is that evil thing? It shall be burnt with fire.”
Men looked everywhere for the royal ring, and some were questioned with stripes, but it was never found, for Hugolin had hidden it within the royal hoard, and laid it in a secret place.

What a strange book! It clearly has justified pretensions to great, important, intellectual literature, and yet few people I know have ever heard of it. A melding of centuries of literature, it tells the story of King Harold of England and the battle of Hastings in 1066 in the style of the old Norse Sagas, with clear parallels to King Henry IV. It’s also dedicated to Winston Churchill in 1948, and I’m told it has something to say about WWII, although I couldn’t see any resemblance there even while looking for it. It’s about an invasion of England in which the invaders win (Heck, most lists of the Kings of England these days START with William the Conqueror, and treat Harold, Knute, Ethelred, etc., as an inconsequential preface to the *real* history), and both William and Harold are painted as partially in the right. Woven throughout as a major character is the cursed ring, which has a tendency to glitter whenever someone makes an unwittingly precognitive statement involving death, doom and fate. High recommendations.

God’s First Love, by Friedrich Heer :
”Kill the Jews!” That was the official Russian battle cry. It was taken up with enthusiasm in France by Edouard Drumont and the many Catholics who with him welcomed pogroms in Russia. Drumont declared that the Jews had infected Russia with Syphilis. Drumont considered himself a pioneer, the precursor of some later great man who would produce a final solution. Jean Drault, one of the last survivors of Drumont’s short-lived party, said in 1935 that Hitler had achieved what Drumont proclaimed. Drumont wanted to burn Zola, the defender of Captain Dreyfus, and drown the Jews in the Seine. They should not be burnt alive, since a young roasted Jew would give off a dreadful smell.

By far the worst demons on this month’s book post are the ones here, because they are real. Dedicated by one Austrian Catholic to the victims of another, Heer’s book is a thorough documentation of something I’d always taken for granted: the wholehearted encouragement of violent antisemitism by the highest Catholic and Protestant church leaders from Paul and John through the holocaust and beyond. Apparently, the murder of six million was too much even for the Popes to condone, and so they did an abrupt about face from bloodthirsty enabling to doe-eyed “Who, us?” denial (think of the Similar Catholic about faces on Irish child abuse and American pedophilia, or Rev. Rick Warren’s denial that he supported Proposition 8. In all cases, the highest clergy blame bad behavior entirely on the allegedly “misguided” poorly educated masses whom they themselves whipped into hateful frenzies), and Heer isn’t having any of it. He’s got the quotations and the doctrines right there. All of them. And be warned, they are not pretty.

Heer is, thankfully, a better historian than prophet. Writing in early 1967, he is absolutely certain that the Western world is about to once again happily look the other way in the face of yet another holocaust, i.e. the certain annihilation of the fledgling nation of Israel by the overwhelming numbers of the Arab League. Then again, it could be that his book of preventative damnation helped to influence the outcome.

An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser :
In this instance, the mind of Clyde might well have been compared to a small and routed army in full flight before a major one, yet at various times in its precipitate departure, pausing for a moment to meditate on some way of escaping complete destruction and in the coincident panic of such a state, resorting to the weirdest and most haphazard of schemes of escaping from an impending and yet wholly inescapable fate. The strained and bedeviled look in his eyes at moments—the manner in which, from moment to moment and hour to hour, he went over and over his hitherto poorly balanced actions and thoughts but with no smallest door of escape anywhere. And yet again at moments the solution suggested by the item in The Times Union again thrusting itself forward, psychogenetically, born of his own turbulent, eager and disappointed seeking. And hence persisting.
Indeed, it was now as though from the depths of some lower or higher world never before guessed or plumbed by him...a region otherwhere than in life or death and peopled by creatures otherwise than himself...there had now suddenly appeared, as the genii at the accidental rubbing of Aladdin’s lamp—as the efrit emerging as smoke from the mystic jar in the net of the fisherman—the very substance of some leering and diabolic wish or wisdom concealed in his own nature, and that now abhorrent and yet compelling, leering and yet intriguing, friendly and yet cruel, offered him a choice between an evil that threatened to destroy him (and against his deepest opposition) and a second evil which, however it might disgust or sear or terrify, still provided for freedom and success and love.

THESIS: An American Tragedy, Dreiser’s most famous work, is a scathing indictment of American capitalism as a society in which an otherwise good and productive man is driven to inevitable murder. The dueling values of unlimited licentiousness and self-righteous religious moralism; of strict justice opposed to the romantic quasi-deification of outlaws; of a steeply stratified social and economic world with limited mobility and with different rules for the upper and lower classes, together with the Horatio Alger promise that, in fact, there IS mobility for those who aggressively pursue the dream hard enough; and above all, the subversion of love, families, ethics and business loyalty to GREED; the temptations of luxuries constantly dangled before those who cannot afford them, and the constant evaluation of human worth in terms of material worth—all combine to bring the hapless Clyde and the even more hapless Roberta to twin early demises that neither of them wanted, but which they are drawn to as inexorably as the English characters in Thomas Hardy novels.

ANTITHESIS: Oh Puh-leez! Boo-Friggin-Hoo. What we have here is a soppy story of a greedy, amoral murderer, that tries to teach the youth of the day that they aren’t really responsible for their actions, that criminals should be coddled, and that white men are the center of the universe. How about being sorry for the victim for a change? How about the millions of working class Americans who manage to get through life in a capitalist society without killing anyone, and especially not people who trust them? The book would have been a lot better if Dreiser had just fried the bastard halfway through and spared us 400 pages of crying and whining and making excuses for him.

SYNTHESIS: This is a flawed book, but a powerful and important one. I find it reviewed a lot on the various bookish websites I frequent, usually giving Clyde a lot less sympathy than he got from readers in the 1920s, when the book was published. The media trots it out every time a Preppy Killer disposes of a pregnant girlfriend or a Susan Smith murders her children who stand in the way of her upward remarriage. And yes, it focuses on the criminal’s perspective. Sometimes authors get to do that. You want the victim’s story, you can read The Lovely Bones. Criticizing An American Tragedy for being Clyde’s story and not Roberta’s makes about as much sense as criticizing it for failing as a whodunnit.

It seems to me that Dreiser does not so much try to absolve Clyde from accountability as spread the blame around. The various people who dare to judge the central figures and close off sensible alternatives: snobbish family members who make it impossible for Clyde to marry Roberta, or for Sondra to marry Clyde; doctors who not only won’t perform a wanted abortion, but who preach sanctimoniously to Roberta mostly for being unable to afford it; town personalities who condemn behavior that they themselves indulge in; prosecutors who cook the evidence. It may not be “society” so much as the sum total of many individuals whose decisions drive Clyde into a corner before and after the fact. Dreiser also tries (and, I think, fails) to put a note of ambiguity into the moment of the crime; Clyde plans a murder, but if you squint hard enough, the actual deed might have been accidental after all. In fact, this part reads more like Clyde’s attempt to bullshit his own conscience, and probably causes a lot of reader frustration with the subsequent please for mercy. Whatever your views on crime and punishment, it’s a pretty gripping tale.

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, by Simone de Beauvoir :
I would look at Mama’s armchair and think: “I won’t be able to sit on her knee any more if I go on growing up.” Suddenly the future existed; it would turn me into another being, someone who would still be, and yet no longer seem, myself. I had forebodings of all the separations, the refusals, the desertions to come, and of the long succession of my various deaths. “A spoonful for grandpapa...” I went on eating, all the same, and I was proud that I was growing. I had no wish to remain a baby all my life. I must have been intensely aware of this conflict to be able to remember in such minute detail a certain book from which Louise used to read me the story of Charlotte. One morning, charlotte found on her bedside chair a huge egg, almost as big as herself, made of pink sugar. This egg fascinated me too. It was both stomach and cradle, and yet you could eat it. Refusing all other food, Charlotte grew smaller day by day; she became minute. She was nearly drowned in a saucepan, the cook accidentally threw her away into the dustbin, and she was carried off by a rat. She was rescued; Charlotte, now chastened and scared, stuffed herself so greedily that she began to swell and swell until she was like a gigantic bladder of lard. Her mama took this monstrous balloon-child to the doctor’s. I gloated, but with a new restraint, over the pictures illustrating the diet the doctor had prescribed: a cup of chocolate, a nicely coddled new-laid egg, and a lightly grilled chop. Charlotte returned to normal size and I came out of the adventure safe and sound after having been reduced to the size of a foetus and then blown up to matronly dimensions.

I remember going off to college as an insecure privileged male teenager, and digging in my heels against the strident, humorless school feminists who spelled “woman” with a y and attacked linguistic hermeneutics with the energy that Democrats should have employed against torture apologists in the Bush Administration. With that background, I grumbled as I was required to read The Second Sex...and found myself laughing and changing my thinking at Beauvoir’s improbable musings on women, those mysterious “other people” who confounded the sages of old with their all powerful wiles, and whose menstrual blood threatened to wither the crops. As always, the most persuasive opponents of entrenched injustice are the ones who make thinking look easily, and who can laugh and cause others to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of it all until the very vibrations of the laughter cause walls to tumble down.

This is Beauvoir’s early autobiography, inviting you to see life in early 20th Century France (which I’m not all that familiar with to start) through her oddly colored glasses. It’s intoxicating. The metaphors flow over you like a blanket, and it’s amusing until you think back on what you’ve just read and suddenly it’s not all that amusing after all. The demons are inside Beauvoir’s psyche, and in society, beneath the surface, and the hapless one is Beauvoir’s childhood friend Zaza. The best autobiographies are those that give the reader a unique lens to view ordinary experiences through, and by that standard Beauvoir is magnificent.

The Gracie Allen Murder Case, by S.S. Van Dyne:
”And now tell me,” she pleaded, “what wild, exciting adventure did you have there?”
Vance drew a deep puff on his cigarette.
“Really, you know,” he said with a mock seriousness. “I’m afraid to breathe a word of it to anyone...By the by, just how exciting do you like your adventures?”
“Oh, they must be terribly exciting—and dangerous—and dark—and filled with the spirit of revenge. You know, like a murder! Maybe a murder for love...”
“That’s it!” Vance slapped his knee. “Now I can tell you everything—I know you’ll understand.” He lowered his voice to an intimate, sepulchral whisper. “When I came dashing so ungracefully over the wall, I had just committed a murder.”
“How simply wonderful!”

S.S. Van Dyne’s Philo Vance is a second tier detective from the Golden Age, a suave and independently wealthy Manhattan gentleman who consults with the police on the crimes of NYS, borrowing a hodgepodge of characteristics from Holmes, Wimsey and Ellery Queen. Most of his mysteries are pretty good fair-play whodunnits with a gigantic arrow pointed at the least likely suspect; The Gracie Allen Murder Case is not one of the good ones. It has Van Dyne’s real life friends Gracie Allen and George Burns as employees in a perfume shop, having endless “comic” fun as suspects in a murder involving too many improbable coincidences and a solution that had me going “Yeah, so?” Also, Vance is inexplicably smitten with Gracie despite her insufferable silliness. For better Vance, try The Bishop Murder Case.

Captain Horatio Hornblower, by C.S. Forester :
Hornblower tugged at his chin again. He had fought in ten single ship actions. If he took the Lydia to sea and engaged the Natividad on open water the two ships might well batter each other into wrecks. Rigging and spars and hulls and sails would be shot to pieces. The Lydia would have a good many casualties which would be quite irreplaceable here in the Pacific. She would expend her priceless ammunition. On the other hand, if he stayed in the bay and yet the plan he had in mind did not succeed...if the Natividad waited offshore until the morning...he would have to beat his way out of the bay against the sea breeze, presenting the Spaniards with every possible advantage as he came out to fight them. The Natividad’s superiority of force was already such that it was rash to oppose the Lydia to her. Could he dare to risk increasing the odds? But the possible gains were so enormous that he made up his mind to run the risk.

Horatio Hornblower is the template for every Super-Officer from Jack Aubrey to Honor Harrington, and this book is three early adventures under one cover. In Beat to Quarters, Hornblower, the great English Navy Captain in the Napoleonic Era, is in the Pacific, where his orders are to foment rebellion by a wealthy plantation holder against the Spanish in California. Unfortunately, said plantation owner is the demon of the story; he has turned into the Marlon Brando character from Apocolypse Now, renamed himself “El Supremo” and is busy torturing the hapless natives to death in nasty ways. Ship of the Line is about assorted escapades in the Mediterranean and Flying Colors has Hornblower as a prisoner of war, plotting escape from certain execution deep within France. Many thrilling battles, impossible odds, and daring gambits. As Hornblower says when the enemy presents its broadside, “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful”. And you the reader will be.

Fluke, or I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings, by Christopher Moore :
The whale blew and arched its back into a high hump as he readied for the dive (the reason whalers had named them humpbacks in the first place). Amy fixed the rangefinder on the whale’s back; Nate trained the camera’s telephoto on the same spot, and the autofocus motors made tiny adjustments with the movement of the boat.
The whale fluked, raising its tail high in the air, and there, instead of the distinct pattern of black and white markings by which all humpbacks were identified, were—spelled out in foot high black letters across the white—the words BITE ME!
Nate hit the shutter button. Shocked, he fell into the captain’s chair, pulling back the throttle as he slumped. He let the Nikon sag in his lap.
“Holy shit!” Nate said. “Did you see that?”

I read this one out loud to The Redhead, to the great delight of both of us. It’s a much better introduction to Christopher Moore than A Dirty Job was, and reading it out loud brought out the deliciously funny flavor of the adventures of marine biologists Nate Quinn (the nerdy, hapless beta), Amy (the brilliant, sexy alpha female), Clay (the ponderous, imperturable one) and Kona (oh God, how can I describe Kona? indicator of Moore’s genius is that he can write a spliff-whiffing wannabe Rasta surfer with blonde dredlocks whose every word and thought is enshrouded in purple ganja haze, and the character is likeable). They’re out trying to find a purpose in the song of the humpback whale, amid the snakepit of cutthroat Machiavellian intrigue that is marine science. What they learn, and the improbable adventures that happen to them afterwards, simply have to be read, preferably out loud, to be believed.

Two days after finishing the book, I’ve already got half the filk done. Very highest recommendations.

Breaking Dawn, by Stephanie Meyer :
I ran away from them, trying very hard not to think about what was next. Instead, I concentrated on my memories of the long wolf months, of letting the humanity bleed out of me until I was more animal than man. Living in the moment, eating when hungry, sleeping when tired, drinking when thirsty, and running, running just to run. Simple desires, simple answers to those desires. Pain came in easily managed forms. The pain of hunger. The pain of cold ice under your paws. The pain of cutting claws when dinner got feisty. Each pain had a simple answer, a clear action to end that pain.
Not like being human.
Yet, as soon as I was in jogging distance of my house, I shifted back into my human body. I needed to be able to think in privacy. I untied my shorts and yanked them on, already running for the house.
I’d done it. I’d hidden what I was thinking and now it was too late for Sam to stop me. He couldn’t hear me now.
Sam had made a very clear ruling. The pack would not attack the Cullens. Okay.
He hadn’t mentioned an individual acting alone.
Nope, the pack wasn’t attacking anyone today.
But I was.

And so it ends. We get to the point where Bella is finally going to join the Latter Day Saints and get sparkly vampire superpowers. Will she go through with it? Will it break the treaty with the Wolfie People? Will she reconcile her love for Edward and Jacob? And...what about Naomi?

But first...the pretentious literary homage of the episode. And it is...The Merchant of Venice? Really? I mean, I know it’s supposed to be that because they keep referencing the play, merchant, no three caskets with riddles, no pound of flesh bargain, no trial and definitely no leading lady passing herself off as any sort of “learned” authority figure. Nor any other part belonging to Shakespeare. And seriously, who is supposed to be the Shylock figure? Jacob? The Volturi? It makes absolutely no sense.

The Latter Day Saints analogy from Sparkledammerung (see Eclipse, above) holds a lot of water, however. Start with the Cullens as Mormons, Quiutes as Lamanites, and Volturi as Catholics...and now we get to meet Celtic, Egyptian, Inca, Slavic and random American evangelical sects bring in their tribal gods for a survey of YA sparkle theology. Weird, Weird, Weird.

In the first half of the book, various spoiler things happen that I won’t mention, but which drag the story deeper into Teh Stupid than even the other three dared to go. Private Islands staffed by superstitious Oompa-Loompas who hate and fear the Cullens. One vampire drinking blood out of a sippy cup. And...No, Stephanie. Just...No.
Perversely, however, the SECOND half of the book, I actually found to be worthwhile and suspenseful. Not so much that I’d actually suggest a post-teen friend of mine suffer through three and a half volumes of gibberish to get there, but a decent ending if you’ve made it this far.

I would have thrown Nessie back into the loch, however.

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  • Terminus, by Peter Clines

    A sequel to 14, in which the Great Old Ones arrive to eat the world. Kavach Press, 2020, 333 pages Murdoch’s past has finally come…

  • Burr, by Gore Vidal

    Aaron Burr in his own words... kind of. Random House, 1973, 430 pages Here is an extraordinary portrait of one of the most complicated -…

  • Aria: The Masterpiece, Volume 2

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