Beloved

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I waited entirely too long to read this book. Who knows, maybe now that I’m older I can appreciate it much more than I would’ve years ago.

It’s obvious by the 5 stars that I love, love, love this book. I can list all the reasons why, but it would take too long. That’s not to say the book is perfect, because it’s not. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Beloved could be called a ghost story, a possession of sorts. It could be called a dark, twisted horror novel that skates along a razor sharp edge toward the Realm of Terror a la Stephen King. There are a lot of people that call it an allegory, a spirit of guilt so overwhelming as to feel like a physical presence, one that pushes someone toward a psychotic breakdown. Strangely enough, the classification of Beloved is secondary to the feelings conjured from this story.

I say this because no matter what theory a reader holds, it doesn’t change what the book is about:

A runaway slave named Sethe who killed her kids rather than let them be captured and sent back into slavery. Part of why she did this probably had to do with the PTSD associated with  being raped by four men while she was pregnant with her daughter Denver. That’s debatable, but there are a lot of people who would judge a woman harshly for murdering her children regardless of the reason. I would suggest those people take into consideration what it must have felt like to be a slave back then, at least for the sake of literary novels.

*****SPOILER ALERT*****SPOILER ALERT*****

In reality, a woman who did that would have to override her maternal instincts or be mentally ill, but that’s not the issue in Beloved. The big issue is the after effect, where her daughter, Beloved comes back to haunt Sethe and Denver, effectively causing Sethe’s boyfriend, Paul D, to leave because he can’t cope with what’s going on.

Beloved comes back to Sethe and Denver via the body of a young woman with a cut across her throat exactly where Sethe’s daughter was cut and bled to death. Despite being a young woman, Beloved appears to have the mentality of a little girl, and one with a malevolent intent. Not only is she spoiled and entitled, it looks as if she’s intent on destroying Sethe from the inside out as revenge for being murdered.

It’s as if the child inside Beloved desperately wants and needs Sethe’s motherly love, yet she wants to punish Sethe for that very love . Maybe because that love is ultimately what cost Beloved her life? Perhaps. What’s so frightening about all of this is that Beloved describes where she comes from and where she dwelled this whole time she’s been dead, and it’s reminiscent of some creepy underworld where lost souls dwell. I cringe at the thought of a little girl existing in a place that cold and dark.

Oh, and what’s going on while Beloved lives there is enough to make a sane person shake their head in disbelief. The home is in disarray, they’re on the brink of starvation, and they’re completely isolated from society.  Sethe overcompensates with Beloved at the expense of poor Denver, just so she can try to justify her actions toward Beloved. But see, the real problem is that Sethe believes deep down inside that murdering her Beloved can not truly be justified, that she doesn’t deserve forgiveness, and that’s why she has a complete break down. It was heartbreaking to read, despite how I felt about her actions.

**I don’t want to leave Denver out of this review, because she’s sometimes downgraded to a side note, or even worse, left out altogether, and that’s not fair. Denver is a big part of the undercurrent of the story. How she survives the haunting is nothing short of a beautiful coming-of-age story. **

Moving on to a couple of small issues. They weren’t enough to warrant a drop in 5 stars, because the beautiful writing more than compensated for them. But nevertheless, they still exist imho.

One is the breast milk issue. Reading about how the four men stole Sethe’s breast milk while they raped her was…oh geez, there’s not even a word that sums up a convoluted feeling like that. With that being said, I don’t get it. I probably missed the point of it somehow, but why did they do this to her and why would this prevent Sethe from bonding properly with her unborn daughter Denver?

Another is the issue of the age of Beloved. Yes, she’s the age of Beloved had she lived, but she didn’t live, she physically died. So if this isn’t supposed to be an allegory of a psychological haunting, then how could Beloved describe the dark spirit world in which she dwelled if her flesh continued to grow?

*****END OF SPOILER*****END OF SPOILER*****

Ok, deep breath….the last issue is one that really has nothing to do with the story itself, it’s just something that I’ve noticed is prevalent in a lot of books about slavery written from a woman’s pov.

It’s rape.

A large percentage of women today are raped, regardless of where they live and their skin color. This crime against femininity is nothing short of a silent holocaust. And yet, it’s almost trivialized in regards to slavery.

Must every book written from a female slave’s pov include rape, and the awful and jealous way the slave owner’s wife, aka The Mistress, reacts to it? As if the beautiful, victimized slave girl is irresistible to the slave owner, and the ugly white Mistress seethes with jealousy.

I have no doubt that many, many women and children were raped by slave owners, farm hands and God knows who else, and I’m sure if we use our imaginations we can start to see some of the other horrific things that went on during those days.

But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s unoriginal to keep churning out books based on this. It’s impossible that every slave was raped, just as it’s impossible that every single slave owner was a rapist. It’s nonsensical and silly to keep writing from this perspective. Just my .02

~Rebbie

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6582211-rebbie

Defending Jacob

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Truth. That’s the premise of this book. It’s not just the central question: Did he or didn’t he?  Innocent or guilty?

No, it’s so much more than that. It’s truth as the characters see it, specifically his parents. It’s not just how well they can see the truth for what it really is, but how well they can handle it.

Ahh, but then William Landay gives us something special that most books don’t have. In fact, I’ve seen it in the Q & A section of Goodreads as well as in the reviews themselves.

It’s variation of truth. What we see in the ending depends a lot on who we are and where we are in our lives. Some people have a hard time facing reality, preferring a cookie cutter ending, a successful rescue mission, be it from the perfect guy or an unconditionally loving parent.

But let’s be careful with this idea, because it’s a slippery slope. How far are parents willing to go to protect and believe their kids? The answer to that question is visible all around us. Even on Facebook, I see delusional parents who have no idea who their teenagers really are. It’s obvious to the rest of us that their little Snowflake is a thief, a slut, etc., but for the parents, their eyes remain aglow with love and pride, and they defend, justify, even fight to preserve their brat’s “feelings” and “innocence” even in the face of undeniable evidence.

Sadly, this isn’t just for teens and their parents. I’ve seen a mother go off on an elementary school teacher when the teacher said that the woman’s son had cursed her out and called her the B word.  Yeah, and guess what the mother’s response was? “F this, F that, as far as I’m concerned, I’m just glad my son has a new word in his vocabulary.”

All I could do was

then

I’m not done. Then I weeped for the destruction of all that is holy. Or even just mildly rational:

I’m not a man, but you get the point.

Back to the book.

It’s interesting to see how varied the responses are. That’s great and everything, but I do believe Landay was trying to give readers a cautionary tale about how far down the rabbit hole we can go if we don’t acknowledge the truth, no matter how much it hurts.

“But then, we all tell ourselves stories about ourselves. The money man tells himself that by getting rich he is actually enriching others, the artist tells himself that his creations are things of deathless beauty, the soldier tells himself he is on the side of the angels.”
William Landay, Defending Jacob

~Rebbie

 https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6582211-rebbie

Sophie’s Choice

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“Someday I will understand Auschwitz. This was a brave statement but innocently absurd. No one will ever understand Auschwitz. What I might have set down with more accuracy would have been: Someday I will write about Sophie’s life and death, and thereby help demonstrate how absolute evil is never extinguished from the world. Auschwitz itself remains inexplicable. The most profound statement yet made about Auschwitz was not a statement at all, but a response.

The query: “At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?”

And the answer: “Where was man?”
William Styron, Sophie’s Choice

I don’t know what to say. This is not an understatement, because I’ve been putting off this review for over a month, hoping the right words would come to me. But they haven’t. I can’t show how this book makes me feel. I can’t find the proper words to say how evil, how tragic beyond words the Holocaust was. I realize now that I can’t find the words because they don’t exist.

The only thing I can say is that we can never forget the horrors that humans can perpetuate on one another. There is no excuse for letting this happen, we all know that. So now what do we do, write about it so people can try to feel the heartbreak? I don’t know if there’s really an answer to that question, so I’ll just say that William Styron did a superb job trying to get us to pay attention.

He crafted the book in an old-fashioned Southern inspired way, slowly starting the novel like it was written to read while lying on a hammock during a hot summer afternoon in the deep south. We don’t even meet Sophie until about page 70 or so, and when that happens you might feel as I did: that there’s something breathtakingly beautiful in her raw pain. She’s not hard or jaded; she just is who she is and the only way we can see the real effects of the emotional turmoil of her “choice” is to take a good, hard look at the abusive relationship she’s in with Nathan.

Styron is brilliant at being subtle in showing readers the why behind the what. Sophie felt she deserved the abusive treatment she received from Nathan, of that there’s no doubt, and we know it’s because she thinks she doesn’t deserve happiness because she must be a monster. What kind of mother does what she did, that’s what she must have been thinking. Styron never comes right out and says this though, instead he preferred to give readers the space they need to let the book lay out for them on its own.

It’s almost flawless.

However, towards the end of the book we see the convergence of the narrator’s voice of Stingo, and the author himself. This is where certain thinks might leave perceptive readers scratching their heads in disbelief, because some of what happens between Sophie and Stingo doesn’t seem like something she would do. At least not at first glance.

Which leaves me wondering if Styron actually knew someone similar to Sophie…

Oh God, I hope not. I want to keep pretending and go on believing that this did not happen to a single person. But it probably did, right? That and so much worse. And why? For cruel amusement? I honestly don’t understand the hatred. I’ve tried to look on forums where white supremacists dwell, and read their wretched posts while I tried not to puke. They simultaneously put Hitler up on a pedestal while denying the Holocaust. They can’t have it both ways and the least they can do is own up to the truth.

Maybe they can’t admit it out loud because deep down they know it’s wrong. Otherwise they would be shouting from the rooftops about how proud they are that Nazis treated human beings worse than most people treat the worst violent criminals in the history of mankind.

“Let your love flow out on all living things.”
William Styron, Sophie’s Choice

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/6582211-rebbie