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

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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

Uprooted

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I’m really suspicious when I read a book, realize that it sucks, only to see that it has 4 and 5 star reviews from people who received a free copy. How can anyone trust a review if people stop being honest? You can’t, that’s the problem. It’s possible that some of these high reviews are legitimate, but definitely not all of them, especially from a book written this poorly.

And the worst part is when the review is filled with drivel like, “LOOK AT ME!! GO BUY THIS BOOK! BUY IT RIGHT NOW OR YOUR LIFE IS NOT WORTH LIVING FOR REALZ! NO RILLY, DO IT CUZ I SAID SO.”

Ummm, no.

What do you think, that people have the IQ of a potato? Really? It’s insulting.

Back to my point. This book blows big time. It’s about a rich, uppity wizard named the Dragon (or Sarkan) that picks a poor, seventeen year old peasant girl every ten years to be his servant. When she’s finished with her 10 year mark, he goes back to the village to pick another teenager. Why? Well, who cares? It’s stupid.

Anyhoo, he picks a girl named Agnieszka, a messy, unkempt girl with an attitude. Perhaps a modern day Miley Cyrus comes to mind? Except she doesn’t stick her tongue out or hump inanimate objects. At least not that I know of.

The village thought he would pick the beautiful Kasia, but he didn’t.

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

Bing bang boom, it turns out that Agniiewwssshhkeea or whatever her name is, is a witch, and is inevitably trained by the short tempered, semi-feminine Sarkan. Oh yeah, and he’s downright abusive, with his constant name calling and nasty remarks about how ugly she is. But dontcha know, that’s like, totes romantic because she ends up going to his room and giving him her virginity.

Oh yeah, and she does it while she’s on top! Now isn’t that realistic? Because every girl does it like that, who knew? She loves him, despite the endless tirade of insults and abuse, and she’s as bold and brassy as a Newark stripper, despite the fact that she’s a poor peasant’s daughter raised in a village that’s reminiscent of the Napoleonic era.

The book is 438 pages long, and that’s about 338+ pages too long, In my humble opinion.

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

Middlesex

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Yes, you see that right. 5 STARS!!!

Rarely does a book move me this much. You want to know something interesting? I didn’t even think I would like it. I opened the book, sighed heavily, and plunged through the first 80 or so pages before I even realized I had gotten that far into it.

It’s a fairly hefty book (depending on how much you like to read), ending at 544 pages. And I wanted 544 more. At least.

I could not get enough. It was almost a multi-generational journey, told from the point of view as a hermaphrodite named Cal.

His journey begins before he’s even born, from his incestuous grandparents paving the way for him to be born with the hermaphrodite gene.

It’s so unpretentious, so matter-of-fact, so…perfect. 🙂

Cal doesn’t take himself too seriously, despite what he’s been through, which is a lot more than what most of us have to face. We know who we are and never have to question it. But people like Cal, or transgendered people face a reality that we can’t possibly understand completely unless we go through it.

The author, Jeffrey Eugenides, tackles this rarely discussed subject with respect and grace, I must say. It’s so refereshing to read words written by a man that are so compassionate and realistic, so compelling, especially from the pov of a hermaphrodite from childhood to adulthood. I’m sure that must’ve been quite a challenge. How do you research it? How do you get in the minds of someone going through that, and take into consideration the difference of personality, gender confusion, or even time period? It’s genius, to say the least.

The only thing I wished for was something different for Cal’s father. But I fully accept that life isn’t perfect and we should face this head-on, even in novels.

Oh yeah, and it was heartwarming and lovely to read about Cal’s first love, and his love life and desire to be loved in return, especially as an adult. How beautiful!

Please give this book a chance if you have the time to read it. It’s definitely worth a go.

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

We Are Water

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I honestly don’t even know where to begin with this book. There were times I thought for sure I would give it 1 or 2 stars, when I could barely get through it, but I gritted my teeth and plowed through. And now I’m glad I did, because I’ve had time to reflect, and now feel that Wally Lamb’s stream-of-consciousness writing is done so perfectly that he merits three stars. But only for that reason.

The blurb on the jacket of the book is deceiving; it’s supposed to be about a middle aged woman who leaves her husband after 26+ years of marriage for another woman, their subsequent wedding, and how her family copes with it. But it isn’t about that at all. At least not for the most part. Oh, Annie does leave her husband. And she does marry her fiancé Viveca (the wedding is very near the end of the book). And her family does cope with it, just not in any sort of realistic way.

*The wedding isn’t a spoiler; it’s right there on the jacket of the book.

You see, it was sort of ass backwards. Her three kids, the twins Ariane and Andrew, and their youngest daughter, Marissa, each cope with the shock of their mother’s exit from the closet differently. But to me, it seems that some of it was a bit negative. In reality, young adults tend to be more liberal than their parents, with each generation becoming just a bit more tolerant of change than the previous generations. That’s just the way the world spins.

Of course, there are exceptions to this, but what’s unfortunate about the way that Wally Lamb (excellent name, btw) has chosen to explore the only conservative character in his book is to turn her into a caricature of a real person. How unfair and disappointing. It’s obvious that Lamb is a liberal and takes that pov in his books, which is totally understandable and acceptable; it’s his right to do so. But that doesn’t mean it’s right to turn Casey-Lee into a hateful, close-minded little troll either.

Not all Texans or conservatives are like that, and this generalization is a big reason why both sides can’t see eye to eye. Maybe it’s natural to fail to see the points of other people, and to trivialize their better parts of their nature just because we don’t agree with their philosophies.

However, when it comes to reading novels, I expect a certain amount of enlightenment from the author. After all, they believe they know enough about human nature to create realistic, believable characters from thin air, and they expect to be paid for it. In return for my money and attention, I expect at least that much from them, but unfortunately it was a Big Fat Fail with Casey-Lee, Andrew’s fiancé.  What makes it even worse is that Casey-Lee is the only character who is this poorly written. Even Kent Kelly is written superbly, and I’m sure that was no easy task.

Another point I’d like to make is regarding Orion Oh, Annie’s ex-husband. Judging from his and Annie’s sex life, we’re supposed to deduce that Annie was in the closet during her entire marriage. Not bisexual, but a lesbian. Due to this, I take issue with the fact that Orion Oh’s reaction to this was much too mild.

I’ve known people who have been left out of the blue like this. Their husband/wife came out of the closet and left them for another man/woman. Like it or not, it hurts differently and worse when that happens, partially because the injured person feels like they were lied to for most of their lives. I’m not saying people shouldn’t be happy and stay true to themselves, but if you’re going to write about a sticky subject like this, then you need to be honest and not sugar coat things. This is a much trickier and messy situation than a lot of things that can go wrong in a marriage. Being politically correct or having wishful thinking has no place in a story like this.

Strangely enough, the biggest issue I have has nothing to do with any of that. It has everything to do with Annie and what she did to Andrew. That was  a much bigger deal than it was made to be in the book, and unfortunately, it felt as though it was being swept under the rug, trivialized, and not properly dealt with by Annie. Sorry, but I just can’t ignore that and focus on her gay wedding like it’s a small matter that can be overcome easily. It’s too big of an issue; in fact, entire books have been written based on this one thing alone, so it’s preposterous to expect readers to go along with the way it was written.

And now I understand perfectly why Andrew did what he did (don’t worry, I won’t spoil it). He was looking for someone to blame and possibly express his rage to, and hasn’t even begun to deal with the real reason: his MOTHER.

Now that’s a worthy sequel. Just as long as Lamb is willing to approach it honestly.

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

Their Eyes Were Watching God

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“Classic.” “The first feminist novel.” “One of the best books of the twentieth century.” These statements and so many more have been written about this book, and you could say they’re all accurate, depending on your perspective.

I say it’s a beautiful coming-of-age story that was written when a woman’s choices were limited in life, especially for an African American woman, or any other minority for that matter.

Yes, I did think Janie was being a little foolish and ungrateful for skipping town on her husband to go be with a man she had only known for a couple weeks.  I do not like that behavior, and won’t excuse it unless there’s no other option to run, such as abuse. The good news is we get to see Janie’s metamorphosis beyond her youthful decisions because this book ventures through all three of her marriages, and does a wonderful job of showing that above all, happiness lies within, and we deserve to have it as equals.

It’s so sweet it makes me want to start hugging everybody.

Not that it’s important. but it’s possible that I took off the half star for Janie running off with Jody because I’m not a feminist. Someone has to point out that it’s not right to leave your husband because you don’t want to be a farmer’s wife, and want romance and fur coats, blah blah. I say people get back what they put in, and that’s worked for me so far. It’s important to consider other people’s feelings before we make selfish decisions.

Okay, back to the review.

Zurston’s dialect is written in a way that can make it difficult to read in a nice, easy flow. Yes, hearing the words sounded out makes them feel authentic for the time period and culture, but in my humble opinion, perhaps some exceptions could have been made to make it a teensy bit easier to read.

Not to mention that Hurston does something in her book that befalls some writers. She chooses to tell her story from the perspective of Janie talking to her friend Pheoby, from childhood up through her third marriage. That’s all fine and dandy, until you get to the parts where we’re reading about other people’s conversations that Janie knows nothing about. This might seem like a small matter, but really it’s a glaring issue. Willing suspension of belief should be reserved for things like comic book movies or screwball comedies, not amateurish mistakes that could easily be remedied if the writer makes adjustments.

Overall, it’s a good book, and I can see why it’s become a classic.

~Rebbie

p.s.,

I would never go out with a guy named Tea Cake, no matter how much his youth validates my insecurities. But that’s just me.

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