The Winter People

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The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon


Summary

In 1908, Sara Harrison Shea and her husband Martin were found dead at the edge of the woods behind their home. This is the beginning and end of their stories.

Meanwhile in the present, Ruthie wakes up one morning and discovers her mother has disappeared without a trace. With the responsibility of an entire farm to run and two young daughters to look after, Alice’s disappearance is shocking and uncharacteristic. While Ruth and her younger sister look for their mother, we meet another woman named Katherine who is still recovering from the shock of discovering her husband, Gary, has been killed in a fatal car accident not just two months after their son’s death. As she sorts through his lasting memories and oddly enough, bank statements, she notices a bill for a meal at a restaurant hours away from her home. Immediately she senses something is wrong. As Katherine seeks the truth of Gary’s whereabouts before his death, she too, becomes woven into the fatal tapestry of Alice’s disappearance.

Set in wintry Vermont, The Winter People, jumps in time and shifts between three main narrators who separately explore the chilling prospect of life beyond death.


Memorable Quotes

“Madness is always a wonderful excuse, don’t you think? For doing terrible things to other people.”

 

“If snow melts down to water, does it still remember being snow?”

“She was his great adventure; his love for her had taken him places he’d never dreamed of going.”

“I think people see what they want to see… But think about it: if you’d lost someone you love, wouldn’t you give almost anything to have the chance to see them again?”

“We all do what we think is best. Sometimes we make terrible mistakes, sometimes we do the right thing. Sometimes we never know. We just have to hope.”


Thoughts

I picked this book up on a whim back in January. I haven’t read many mysteries/thrillers/horror novels, (I would think this book could fit into all three categories) so I decided to give this book a shot. Given the title and the nature of the plot, I immediately decided it would be a perfect book to read in the gray months of winter. While I wasn’t wrong, I also didn’t really finish the book until February. (It seems my lack of apt scheduling has done me in once again. And yes, this review is out of order and very late. Not quite sure what happened to my queue, but I’ll go along with it.) 

In the beginning of the book the biggest inconvenience is the constant shift between characters and it’s something I would do myself while writing. When you are just starting to read and are not quite situated into the plot, it can be difficult to keep track of who is who. I know I complained about this in my last review, so at least I’m being consistent. However, if you encounter this issue, I would encourage you to just keep reading. It may take awhile, but (if you’re like me) you will become more aware of the characters and have an easier time keeping track of what’s going on within thirty pages or so.

There were no characters in the book I was drawn to or found myself thinking about after I finished, and I think this is the book’s weakest point. However, I appreciated that the story itself was spooky, but nothing so horrifyingly awful that I couldn’t sleep at night (which is a definite plus in my book). The plot is entertaining and will keep you reading. There’s lots of suspense and twists, but there are parts that seem pretty improbable so it’s best to keep an open mind while reading. Likewise, there are still some questions that remain unanswered in the end which can be slightly disappointing for some readers. Overall, I would give this book three stars. Fairly entertaining plot, but not the best horror/thriller novel of the year.

(I cheated a little by meshing a part of my review from Goodreads with the review I wanted to write on here… sorry not sorry. To anyone reading, thank you! Hopefully I’ll have a new post up by tomorrow or the next day. I just finished a Murakami novel a couple of days ago and I’m still sorting out my feelings about it so I can finally write a review.)

If We Were Villains

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If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio

“If We Were Villains is written with the intention of paying homage to William Shakespeare—who has had more than enough defamers, detractors, and deniers. (Lord, what fools these mortals be.)”


Summary

Oliver Marks is finally getting out of prison. For what, we don’t know. What we do know is that in the September of 1997 Oliver roamed the halls of Dellecher Classical Conservatory with six other thespians, friends, and fellow lovers of Shakespeare for the fourth and final year. Through intensive classes, grueling rehearsals, and long study sessions, the seven spent nearly every waking moment together. But as they prepare for their upcoming performance of Julius Caesar, something in the group’s dynamic begins to slowly shift.

Through Oliver’s captivating narration the reader follows the lives of Dellecher’s top theatre students as they navigate their roles on and offstage. But when the drama begins to follow its way offstage, the curtain call is only the beginning.


Memorable Quotes

“The number of auditions under my belt didn’t matter; the anxiety never left me,” (page 14).

“I, on the other hand, was average in every imaginable way: not especially handsome, not especially talented, not especially good at anything but just good enough at everything that I could pick up whatever slack the others left,” (page 16).

After a slightly awkward pause in which I exchanged quick baffled glances with Filippa and Alexander, Meredith said, ‘Did that just happen? For God’s sake, it’s just a play.’

‘Well.’ Frederick sighted, removed his glasses, and began to polish them on the hem of his shirt. ‘Duels have been fought over less,'” (page 52).

“There had always been small rivalries between us, but never such an open display of hostility. With a sip of tea I persuaded myself that we were all simply overreacting. Actors are by nature volatile—alchemic creatures composed of incendiary elements, emotion and ego and envy. Heat them up, stir them together, and sometimes you get gold. Sometimes disaster,” (page 53).

“Silence settled, and I was struck by the senseless idea that we and everything around us were made of glass. I was afraid to breathe, afraid to move, afraid something might break,” (page 77).

“The lake, the broad black water, lurked in the background of every scene we played after that—like a set from a play we did once shuffled to the back of the scene shop where it would have been quickly forgotten if we didn’t have to walk past it every day. Something changed irrevocably, in those few dark minutes James was submerged, as if the lack of oxygen had caused all our molecules to rearrange,” (page 79).

“Though the timeline is clear in my head, explaining it to someone else is a curious task, simple in theory but painstaking in practice, like assembling a long line of dominoes. One event inevitably leads to the next,” (page 145).

“I gaze across the lake at the top of the Tower. A large bird—a hawk, maybe—soars in long lazy circles over the trees, an elegant black boomerang against the silvery sky,” (page 147).

“She folded her arms and said, ‘I’m going to bed unless you’ve got something to say.’

I didn’t. I desperately wanted to, but my mind was blank. For someone who loved words as much as I did, it was amazing how often they failed me,” (page 211).

“‘Anything can feel like punishment if it’s taught poorly,'” (page 267).

“I shifted and my shoes squeaked on the mirror, James turned and caught my eye. But I stayed where I was, afraid to move toward him, afraid I might lose my footing on solid ground, detach from what had anchored me before and drift out into the void of space—a vagabond, wandering moon,” (page 305).


Thoughts

My boyfriend bought me this book for my anniversary and I don’t think he could have done a better job. Usually he’ll buy a book I’ve talked about, but this time he decided to find something new and I was pretty impressed by his choice. I’ve read quite a few Shakespeare plays, although I’m no expert by any means, so he figured I’d enjoy the way Rio integrates lines from various plays into the text. He was very right.

From the very beginning, I was hooked. From the way the characters use Shakespeare’s words in their everyday conversations to the fast-paced plot, I couldn’t stop reading. The characters are witty and fun to follow, but also extremely intelligent and cunning. In addition, their use of conversational Shakespeare not only helped characterize them, but it was incredibly fun to read. And again, the book overall is M.L. Rio’s tribute to Shakespeare, so expect to see lots of lines, quotes, and small easter eggs throughout the story. However, if you’re not a Shakespeare buff, don’t worry. I think as long as you’re willing to step into the minds the young actors you can catch on fairly quickly.

I appreciated the extent Rio characterizes her leading characters. There were a few I thought remained somewhat underdeveloped, but the majority of the characters are distinctly illustrated from their physicality to their innermost thoughts. The book is narrated by Oliver which only gives us a narrow perspective, but there are many ways in which we are able to get a deeper look at the other characters’ fears and motivations. Oliver himself is at times mysterious in his intentions, but overall he’s an insightful narrator as he’s the most removed from the group of friends.

This last semester I took my first fiction writing course as I’m an English major (and in the Dual-Degree Teaching Program at my university) with an emphasis on Creative Writing. The reason I mention my class is because I noticed myself reading this book through the lens of someone who wants to be a writer. My professor consistently advised us that when we read books we should search for what appeals to us and what doesn’t because it can be extremely useful when we begin writing. While I was reading If We Were Villains I couldn’t help but notice all of the beautiful metaphors. I included a couple of ones I loved in the memorable quotes section, but there were so many gorgeous lines scattered throughout the book. M.L. Rio’s writing is not only very meticulous and engaging to read, but her way of describing landscapes and characters is very three-dimensional. I could see the lake at the school and the characters seemed to jump off the page.

To sum it up, this book was a joy to read. When I thought I knew where the plot was going it twisted and kept me reading. I became invested in the characters, and I grew to love theatre even more with each page. The book hits so many marks because it’s hard to write a great plot with quality writing, but Rio checked off every box.


Extra Resources

If you’re interested in learning more about the author, I’ve included a link to her website and Goodreads page below.

https://mlrio.com/

http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/14954351.M_L_Rio

The Circle

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The Circle by Dave Eggers

(Title image credit goes to The Daily Beast.)


Summary

Mae, as many twenty-somethings do, finds herself stuck in the mechanical ebb and flow of everyday life. With each passing day, she becomes increasingly troubled by her mundane office job and the overall lot she’s been given in life. One day, an old college friend named Annie contacts Mae and advises her to apply for a job at an up-and-coming tech company known as “The Circle”.  Mae is immediately taken with the idea of fully realizing her potential and quickly applies.

The Circle is a utopia in every way Mae could have ever hoped for. With dozens of passionate employees (known as “Circlers”) and a combined drive for world peace, Mae discovers a sense of solace in this new hub of progression. The Circle represents the best technology and an even more promising and innovative future with each new program it implements. However, the longer Mae works, the more unsettling the company’s ethos becomes. With eerie mantras promoting complete transparency over personal privacy, the Circle slowly transforms from a company of promises to one filled with secrets.


Memorable Quotes

“She couldn’t stand it. Every day of that job, the eighteen months she worked there, she wondered if she could really ask Annie for a favor. She’d never been one to ask for something like that, to be rescued, to be lifted,” (page 11).

“‘I like your voice,’ he said. ‘Was it always that way?’

‘Low and scratchy?’

‘I would call it seasoned. I would call it soulful. You know Tatum O’Neal?'” (page 35).

“‘You like bowl cuts.’

‘No. Your voice. So far it’s the best thing about you.’

Mae said nothing. She felt like she’d been slapped.

‘Shit,’ he said. ‘Did that sound weird? I was trying to give you a compliment,'” (page 35).

“‘Folks, we’re at the dawn of the Second Enlightenment. And I’m not talking about a new building on campus. I’m talking about an era where we don’t allow the majority of human thought and action and achievement and learning to escape as if from a leaky bucket. We did that once before. It was called the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages. If not for the monks, everything the world had ever learned would be lost. Well, we live in a similar time, when we’re losing the vast majority of what we do and see and learn. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Not with these cameras, and not with the mission of the Circle,'” (page 68).

“‘Mae, we would finally be compelled to be our best selves. And I think that people would be relieved. There would be this global sigh of relief. Finally, finally, finally we can be good. In a world where bad choices are no longer an option, we have no choice but to be good. Can you imagine?'” (page 292)


Thoughts

Truthfully I hadn’t heard of this book until I happened to see one of the first movie trailers for its film adaptation. I figured that I hadn’t read any dystopian-leaning fiction in awhile and the plot looked fascinating, so I was immediately drawn to the book and purchased it as soon as I could. This being said, before I even picked up the book I had a sense of the material I would be working with. I figured the layout would look a little something like this: Tech company looks great at first glance, a hopelessly naïve girl applies for her dream job, aforementioned girl is lured into the jungles of the company’s promises, and then everything suddenly turns sour in a matter of chapters until the girl realizes her first mistake working for the company. The magic of this genre, primarily paved by noteworthy novels such as 1984 and Brave New World, is that the plot’s ever-present anxiety and tension is built into the very foundation of the book just as much as it is in its text. This tension is a definite strength in The Circle. Dave Eggers does a wonderful job of suspending the reader in an atmosphere feels both hostile and warmly inviting. In my mind, this juxtaposition creates a thrilling electric tension.

In addition, one of the greatest characteristics about this book is how mysterious it is about revealing the company’s true intentions. As I was reading, I felt like I was running through page after page hoping to arrive at an obvious climax, but each time I became more ensnarled in the Circle’s web. The beauty and the insanity of this book is that you’re constantly presented with unfulfilled questions despite the spiking tension. In time, this either becomes enticing or frustrating depending on the reader.

Without spoiling anything I’ll give you a quick example. Mae’s job includes many components which seem ridiculous, but no one (not even Mae herself) ever confirms how ridiculous they are or questions why she’s being put up to all of this work. She starts off with two computer screens which seems somewhat normal, but then her manager begins adding one monitor after another. After that she’s answering surveys, conducting more tests, coaching newbies, and still completing her regular workload. The company also continually harasses Mae into staying late for events and clubs and interrogates her if she doesn’t comply. But again, this is left for the reader to gauge as the Circle is only as horrifying as the reader makes it.

In totality, I think the book’s biggest weakness lies in the fact that it somewhat trivializes the social commentary it hopes to invoke with over-simplified and reused technological cliches and criticisms. The message of The Circle is one the general public has already heard time and time again, so it’s really nothing new. (I like to think of it as more of a call to action rather than a direct claim about the way technology is integrated into society for better or for worse.) Furthermore, sometimes it felt like Eggers was trying too hard to write the next 1984 so that turned me off a bit. However, on the flip side I think there is something to be said for the pacing of the plot and the overall character development (**or lack thereof). The Circle is similar to many other dystopian movies and books in content and structure, but different as its conclusion leaves multiple questions hanging and challenges the genre in an interesting way. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this book is revolutionary, but it is an interesting read nonetheless.

Lastly, I haven’t seen the movie but if my sources are correct, there are many differences between movie and book so I think it’s definitely worth reading.

South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

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Summary

Hajime, currently a thirty-seven-year-old man, has an ideal life. Blessed with a beautiful wife, two young daughters, and no financial concerns, he is happier than most.

However, something is missing; something in Hajime is empty. The only caveat is… He doesn’t know what, why, or how to fill the void inside of him. Through Murakami’s achingly beautiful and alarmingly haunting writing, Hajime takes us back through the most meaningful relationships in his life in the hopes of discovering what he has lost in the process.


Memorable Quotes

“In the world I lived in, it was an accepted idea that only children were spoiled by their parents, weak, and self-centered. This was a given-like the fact that the barometer goes down the higher up you go and the fact that cows give milk. That’s why I hated it whenever someone asked me how many brothers and sisters I had. Just let them hear I didn’t have any and instinctively they thought: An only child, eh? Spoiled, weak, and self-centered, I betcha. That kind of knee-jerk reaction depressed me, and hurt. But what really depressed and hurt me was something else; the fact that everything they thought about me was true. I really was spoiled, weak, and self-centered,” (page 5).

“Second, no one around me-with the exception of Shimamoto, of course- ever listened to Liszt’s piano concertos. The very idea excited me. I’d found a world that no one around me knew-a secret garden only I was allowed to enter. I felt elevated, lifted to another plane of existence,” (page 11).

“‘There are some things in this world that can be done over, and some that can’t. And time passing is one thing that can’t be redone. Come this far, and you can’t go back. Don’t you think so?'” (Shimamoto; page 14).

“‘Now you’re able to think of a few things other than what’s under a girl’s skirt, right?’

‘A few,’ I said. ‘But if that’s got you worried, maybe next time you’d better wear pants!'” (page 146).

“‘You’re here,’ I continued. ‘At least you look as if you’re here. But maybe you aren’t. Maybe it’s just your shadow. The real you may be someplace else. Or maybe you already disappeared, a long, long time ago. I reach out my hand to see, but you’ve hidden yourself behind a cloud of probablys. Do you think we can go on like this forever?'” (page 170).

“‘ I told you I love you. What’s wrong with thinking about the body of the man you love? Haven’t you thought about my body?'” (page 182).

Probably is a word you may find south of the border. But never, west of the sun,” (page 196).


Thoughts

Funny enough, after telling my dad about the magical world of, After Dark, he purchased Haruki Murakami’s, South of the Border, West of the Sun, for me as a Christmas gift. And wow, I am so glad he chose this book in particular! If I had been choosing for myself, I may have chosen, Kafka on the Shore, or even, A Wild Sheep Chase.  However, after the first few pages (I say this a lot, don’t I?) I was hooked. Reading this book feels like looking through stained glass. The writing is irresistibly  impeccable, re calling the most minute details from the sounds in a crowded bar to a small fold in a woman’s skirt.

The plot of the book is fairly simple. With no science fiction or magical realism at hand, South of the Border, West of the Sun, presents itself as mundane. In fact, most of the book is about facing the mundane and mechanical realities of everyday life. Hajime is an only-child, (something that seems to plague him deeply) and spends most of the book ruminating about his life and closest relationships.

Hajime begins (which is ironic because Hajime also means, “beginning,” in Japanese) the story by describing his relationship with his childhood neighbor and close friend, Shimamoto. Shimamoto is introspective, shy, and also an only-child. Although she never mentions it herself, she is quite self-conscious due to a permanent limp she has in her left leg from polio. At the tender age of twelve, the two form what seems to be the very beginnings of a lifelong love story. However, everything goes awry when Hajime’s family moves.After being separated from his closest friend, Hajime is forced to begin his life anew. But despite the distance, for years after, Hajime constantly recalls on Shimamoto with fondness.

During his high school years, Hajime falls in love with the lovely Izumi. Timid yet curious, Izumi etches a fixed place in Hajime’s mind. Although he spends most of his time lusting after her, Hajime proves time and time again that he deeply cares about Izumi. However, like most things in Hajime’s life, everything about the relationship appears perfect, except there is a piece missing from each encounter they have.

This pattern continues on until Hajime is in his thirties and he happens to meet his wife, Yukiko. Then comes the house, the dream job, his two daughters, the happy life. But the images of what could have been… and what still could be, disrupt everything.

This novel features topic matter which should be mildly depressing to a sensitive reader such as myself. I tend to shy away from sad books due to the fact that when I read, I simply don’t want to be depressed. Sure, I love to think, but I don’t believe all intellectual musings need to be depressing. (This is why I disliked most of the readings I was assigned in high school. Can we please have some comedies once in awhile?) However, something about Murakami’s writing in, South of the Border, West of the Sun, comes off as distant. When Hajime describes events in his life, he seems to hold his feelings at arm’s length. I am not sure if this was intentional, but somehow, any emotion in the book is dulled down to the point where you may feel something, but it may not be as painful as you imagined it would be. And this is neither to criticize the book, nor Murakami’s writing; in fact, it is quite the opposite.

While reading, I felt as if I was in a trance. Time was passing by, yet reading about Hajime’s life is the equivalent of looking at colorful blur of light from a fast-moving car. This makes sense because a major theme in the book is the flow of time. The idea that you can only move forward, is prevalent throughout the entire book and expressed by each character. This theme definitely reminded of, The Great Gatsby, (one high school read I did enjoy) due to certain characters’ obsessions with nostalgia and reliving forgotten moments.

Overall, I truly enjoyed reading this book. I adore Murakami’s writing because it can make any situation feel extraordinary and magical. To me, Murakami’s writing is the equivalent of the Midas Touch; anything he writes turns to gold. The characters, the imagery, the themes, etc. However, another special feature of his writing is that is makes me think more deeply about the world around me. Not in a depressing way, but in a hopeful way. His style is calmly and patiently observant. Murakami writes as if he has seen the world, lived it, observed it, and discovered its secrets. The only thing left to do is for him to leave the clues for everyone else to discover its meanings on his or her own.

 

After Dark

After Dark by Haruki Marukami

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Summary

At the beginning of Haruki Marukami’s fictional novel, After Dark, we find ourselves immersed in a vivid, strange, and neon midnight world like no other. But before the rules and limits of this sprawling and ever-changing world can be processed, the narrator guides the reader into a simple Denny’s in one of Tokyo’s amusement districts.

Inside the Denny’s, we meet Mari, a college freshman. While the Denny’s is full of people chatting and eating, Mari is an outlier. She sits alone sipping coffee, smoking a cigarette or two, and concentratedly reading. Quick-witted but slightly stand-offish, she is absorbed in her book and somehow ignores the omnipresent noises around her. However, the course of Mari’s evening suddenly shifts when a young man named, Takahashi, strolls into the bustling Denny’s.

After Takahashi sits and leaves, the rest of the night’s events are all but mundane. With intriguing and mysterious occurrences around every corner, Mari soon realizes her idea of a peaceful night will all  be but shattered as embarks on a journey into the psyche of the people who live their lives from the darkest hours of midnight, to the wee hours of the early morning.

Hovering in the air like a humming electric pulse, Marukami’s writing continually suspends the imagination, spinning the reader in circles even after the pages end. The plot in, After Dark, truly tests the bounds of reality and puts forth many questions readers may never even think to ask. A fast-paced masterpiece, this novel is perfect for anyone looking to question our shared realities.


Memorable Quotes

“Eyes mark the shape of the city. Through the eyes of a high-flying night bird, we take in the scene from midair. In our broad sweep- the city looks like a single gigantic creature- or more like a single collective entity created by many intertwining organisms,” (page 1).

“‘Wow. I had awful grades, but I didn’t mind school all that much. If there was somebody I didn’t like, I’d just beat the crap out of them.’

Mari smiles. “I wish i could have done that…'” (page 68).

“‘Like, say, an octopus. A giant octopus living way down deep at the bottom of the ocean. It has the tremendously powerful life force, a bunch of long undulating legs, and it’s heading somewhere, moving through the darkness of the ocean. I’m sitting there listening to these trials, and all I can see in my head is this creature. It takes on all kinds of different shapes-sometimes it’s ‘the nation,’ and sometimes it’s ‘the law,’ and sometimes it takes on shapes that are more difficult and dangerous than that,'” (page 118).

“Mari thinks about what Korogi said. ‘I do feel that I’ve managed to make something I could maybe call my own world… over time… little by little. And when I’m inside it, to some extent, I feel kind of relieved. But the very fact I felt I had to make my own world probably means that I’m a weak person, that I bruise easily, don’t you think? And in the eyes of society at large, that world of mine is a puny little thing. It’s like a cardboard house; a puff of wind might carry it of somewhere,'” (pages 202-203).


Thoughts

First and foremost, I am truly sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted. One of my main goals for 2017 is to start updating this blog at least once a week because I need to start reading and writing more on my own time.

I decided to read Haruki Murakami’s, After Dark, after I picked it up in a used bookstore and read thirty pages right on the spot. Honestly, I am still training myself to be patient when finding new books to read. Many times I will give up reading a book in just a page or two if it does not catch my attention immediately. Whether or not that is a mistake, I was astounded when, After Dark, caught my attention right from the first paragraph. In addition, a few of my very  well-read friends have been raving about Murakami’s work for quite some time, so I wanted to find something intriguing, but shorter page-wise, to begin my descent into Murakami’s world.

Looking back at the quotes I chose to use in this review, I think it is really interesting that most of them are dialogue-based. Although they may be a tad bit obscure and out of context to a reader who is unfamiliar with Murakami or this book, one of the most notable characteristics of, After Dark, is its winding dialogue. Since the story is told in third person omniscient, dialogue is extremely important when the book does not exactly focus on just one character in particular.

Initially, Mari seems to be the main character, but in reality, I like to think of this book as quilt of characters. At first we are only introduced to one patch of the quilt, but as we read on, we begin to see the whole picture and how each individual character is sewn into the quilt and the story.

What I really loved about reading this book was how Murakami can take a seemingly dull situation and make it into an exciting plot. All we know from the beginning is that we are introduced to a woman, Mari, who is reading alone in a crowded Denny’s after midnight. It doesn’t seem like a super interesting plot, but the way Murakami writes about the Denny’s makes it seem incredibly unique and almost personal. He describes the scene as if there is something about to happen… only, we don’t really know what it is. And then, Takahashi appears.

When I met Takahashi, I assumed I knew where the plot was going. A loner and a nerd, standoffish Mari can’t help but be pulled into the smiling and joking vortex that is Takahashi. Under his guidance and boyish charm, Mari explores the night world and is pulled into adventure after adventure. However, After Dark, is not a love story, and Murakami is not a simple writer. In fact, Mari and Takahashi’s first encounter is incredibly brief as he must return to practice with his band. And when he leaves, the real fun begins.

A tall, blonde woman comes into the Denny’s looking for Mari. She explains that Takahashi has sent her because he reported that Mari can speak fluent Chinese, and she needs Mari’s assistance. It turns out the woman is an ex-wrestler who works at a love hotel, and on her shift, a customer beat up a Chinese prostitute. After she pleads for Mari to translate, Mari accepts and journeys to the love hotel.

If this plot progression seems wacky, just wait. While Mari goes to the love hotel, Murakami introduces the reader to Mari’s sister, Eri Asai. Astoundingly beautiful even in her sleep, the reader watches as Eri sleeps peacefully in her bed. However, something is wrong with her sleep. It is… too peaceful. As Eri sleeps, her unplugged tv flickers to life until it shows the image of a masked man sitting alone in an empty room. Although the tv would suggest he is in a separate world than Eri’s, the narrator alarmingly reports that the man seems to be watching Eri slumber. And it only gets weirder.

After Dark, begins as fiction and then slowly warps into a sci-fy, magical realism sort of story. It seamlessly blends existential concepts with the realities of everyday life, while simultaneously suggesting that people are connected and separated in unfathomable ways.

**SLIGHT spoiler: Ultimately, the plot and mysteries of the stories remain just that; mysteries. I think I would need to read this book again in order to grasp every single theme because it is just so complex. What I love about, After Dark, is that it is stacked with a multitude of themes and filters. You could read the book just admiring Murakami’s gorgeous writing, or looking at specific character relationships. Or, you could read the novel just looking at the philosophical sides of the plot.

The best and most frustrating part about, After Dark, is the simple fact that it is so open-ended. There are certain characters who appear a couple of times, only to be left out of the conclusion at the end of the book. You know they are important somehow, but not exactly how or why. In addition, I really couldn’t pin this book down to just one genre because it crosses so many unexpected borders. All in all, I read, After Dark and enjoyed the experience. Since there are so many layers to the story, it is hard to read it for the first time and try to analyze all of its elements. Therefore, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

The Glass Menagerie

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The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams


Summary

“The Glass Menagerie” takes place in St. Louis in the year of 1937. The play follows the  Wingfield family and explores themes such as memory, the past, The American Dream, guilt, and denial. The narrator, Tom Wingfield, lives with his mother, Amanda, and his sister, Laura. The play opens with Tom explaining the crucial role his memory has in the way the events of the play are presented. He clarifies that what is shown may not be acute reenactments of the past, but rather hazy scenes dulled and warped by time and personal attachments. Throughout the play Tom frequently breaks the fourth wall in order to justify his actions or explain the situations at hand.

Amanda is a concerned and over-bearing mother who is worried about her children. Despite the fact that both Tom and Laura are adults, Amanda feels compelled to micromanage her children’s lives. Tom is employed at a factory and works to support his mother and unmarried sister. Due to the dull work, Tom lacks excitement in his life and instead lives out his fantasies through adventure movies at the cinema. He dreams of mirroring his father’s actions and leaving his family, however, an ever-present guilt ties him to the lonely St. Louis apartment. Tom knows that if he leaves his mother and sister he will permanently scar them and they will be forced to grapple with life on their own. But Tom simultaneously realizes that if he doesn’t leave he will be chained to a life of obligation, misery, and boredom.

Meanwhile, Laura is a severely introverted and self-deprecating young women. Even with the loud presence of her well-meaning, but exceedingly controlling mother, Laura manages to continually evade life. She is painfully self-conscious because she suffers from Pleurosis, however, later events in the play suggest that perhaps her limp is not as noticeable as she believes and thus, she is self-conscious for no reason at all. This toxic tendency causes Laura to drop out of school only to hide and waste away at home. Laura’s escapism and naive denial is presented in the form of her glass collection, which Amanda refers to as the “glass menagerie.”

While her children struggle with issues of their own, Amanda lives in a world of the past. She spends the majority of her time dancing in youthful memories and recalling the times when her life seemed most promising. She dreams of finding a suitor for Laura and living a successful and happy life. She believes that if she pushes her children hard enough, success is bound to show itself. Unfortunately, her strong ties to past fantasies and unrealistic visions for the future often cloud any chances of success. In many ways, Amanda’s denial is just as strong, or stronger, than Laura’s.

The play deals with individual demons and the ways in which people turn to each other for solace when life becomes unmanageable. The biggest conflict in the play occurs when Amanda forces Tom to find a gentleman caller for Laura. What suddenly appears as a shot at well-deserved happiness suddenly becomes a spinning nightmare that crashes into, and obliterates the Wingfield family.


Memorable Quotes

(NOTE**: The edition I used to read this play does not include line numbers, so I will be using page numbers to cite quotes. This edition was published by New Directions Publishing Company and includes an introduction by Robert Bray.)

Tom: “But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion,” (page 4).

Tom: “The play is memory. Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic,” (page 5).

Tom: “But since I have a poet’s weakness for symbols, I am using this character [Jim] also as a symbol; he is the long-delayed but always expected something that we live for,” (page 5).

Amanda: “So what are we going to do the rest of our lives? Stay home and watch the parades go by? Amuse ourselves with the glass menagerie, darling? Eternally play those worn-out phonograph records your father left as a painful reminder of him? We won’t have a business career- we’ve given that up because it gave us nervous indigestion!” (page 16).

Tom: “After the fiasco at Rubicam’s Business College, the idea of getting a gentleman caller for Laura began to play a more and more important part in Mother’s calculations. It became an obsession. Like some archetype of the universal unconscious, the image of the gentleman caller haunted our small apartment…” (page 19).

Tom: “Every time you come in yelling that Goddamn ‘Rise and Shine!’  ‘Rise and Shine!’  I say to myself, ‘How lucky dead people are!’ But I get up. I go!'” (page 21).

Tom: “But here there was only hot swing music and liquor, dance halls, bars, and movies, and sex that hung in the gloom like a chandelier and flooded the world with brief, deceptive rainbows… All the world was waiting for bombardments!” (page 39).

Laura: “I was out of school a little while with pleurosis. When I came back you asked me what was the matter. I said I had pleurosis- you thought I said Blue Roses. That’s what you always called me after that!” (page 75).

Jim: “People are not so dreadful when you know them. That’s what you have to remember! And everybody has problems, not just you, but practically everybody has got some problems. You think of yourself as having the only problems, as being the only one who is disappointed. But just look around you and you will see lots of people as disappointed as you are,” (page 76).

Amanda: “That’s right, now that you’ve had us make such fools of ourselves. The effort, the preparations, all the expense! The new floor lamp, the rug, the clothes for Laura! All for what? To entertain some other girl’s fiancé! Go to the movies, go! Don’t think about us, a mother deserted, an unmarried sister who’s crippled and has no job! Don’t let anything interfere with your selfish pleasure! Just go, go, go-to the movies!” (page 96).


Thoughts

“The Glass Menagerie” is vastly different from Tennessee Williams’ other well-known piece, “A Streetcar Named Desire” for a couple of reasons. First of all, it’s quite a bit shorter than Streetcar. Secondly, Menagerie has a lot more concrete symbolism. From Laura’s glass menagerie to the setup of the stage to emulate the presence of memories, “The Glass Menagerie” blatantly reveals the main symbols to the audience. In “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the streetcar makes its appearance a couple of times, but the play itself holds a lot more cards in its hands when compared to Menagerie. In Streetcar, Blanche’s age is a recurring theme, but it is not exactly something that is tangible. Lastly, Tom’s consistent narration provides clear insight into the meaning of “The Glass Menagerie,” whereas the themes in “A Streetcar Named Desire”are not as apparent and the key to understanding the play is much more dialogue based. 

I would love to see this play live because the way the stage is arranged plays a huge part in visually demonstrating the powers of memory and the past. I think that watching Tom step out of the scenes to narrate is something that would add to my understanding of the play. Reading “The Glass Menagerie” was an extremely powerful experience by itself, so I can only imagine how powerful it would be to see it live.

My favorite character in the play is Amanda because she is the hardest character to relate to. Perhaps it is because I have never been a mother, but I think it is something more than that. In my edition of the play, Robert Bray writes that the audience will either ” demonize Amanda or regard her as a misguided saint.” However, what Bray fails to note is that instead of simply feeling strongly one way, the audience’s opinion of Amanda may switch back and forth throughout the play.

While reading the play, my feelings for Amanda constantly shifted. At times I was irritated with her because of her overbearing nature. I tired quickly of her fiery attitude and her immediate distaste in her children’s choices. Yet in some scenes I sympathized with Amanda and pictured myself struggling along with her. How disappointing would it be to obsessively dream about a life oversaturated with love only to live the reality of one without? The day Amanda’s husband abandoned her was the day her life stalled and refused to move forward. Amanda sees herself in her children and yearns for Laura to find a companion so to avoid further abandonment. How frustrated would I be if my children refused to take life by the horns and truly live? I figure very. Despite her sweet nature, Laura is terribly frustrating and consistently her own worst enemy. This causes Amanda to spend all of her time spinning fairytale fantasies for Laura’s future, urging her that if she just takes a moment to step outside of herself, the world will shine for them both. Sadly, by the time the play ends and Laura actually does try to live, life has other plans.

Amanda claims to live in the present, but ever since the day of her family’s abandonment, she has been stuck in the past. Ironically, while Amanda is one of the most realistic characters in the play, she is also the most unrealistic. She tells her children to wake up and stop living in memories while she does exactly that. In the tiny apartment the family shares, all that is left are precious memories and pieces of broken glass. The future Amanda sees is one similar to Gatsby’s; a whirlwind of déjà vu moments that are devoid of originality and eerily reflect facets of past events. 

Laura is probably the most pitiful character only because Jim’s observations about her are so spot-on. Her inferiority complex completely stagnates her life. She is at the young age of twenty-four, yet she lives as if she is eighty-four. Like a child, she plays with glass animals and skips school because she is too afraid of judgement. The saddest part is that this is a reality many people face. People miss out on life because they are afraid of judgement and the possibility of failure. We tell ourselves that we are not, but like Laura, something as silly as indigestion can become a hinderance when it comes to living life to the fullest.

Tom is the most relatable character because like many people, he spends his life stuck in a job that he despises. He goes as far as to tell his mother that he envies dead people for God’s sake! If that’s not pitiful, I don’t know what is. But alas, Tom is a man who is unsatisfied. He dreams of scaling the highest mountains and breathing in the salty ocean air. The reality of his life is that he is chained to his dependent mother and sister. And although he works hard each and every day, nothing he does is truly enough for his mother. Despite his efforts, she still manages to guilt him into staying and home and thereby slugging through his soul-sucking life.

Each character in “The Glass Menagerie” paints a picture of the modern-day human condition as a result of societal pressures and industrialization. The family gets by, yet each member of it is trapped in a unique kind of hell. And worst of all, this quiet, never-ending torture is the most realistic kind of pain that people experience.

Another intriguing (and depressing) feature about this play is that apparently it somewhat mirrored Williams’ own life. According to Robert Bray, Williams had a mother and sister he felt entirely responsible for. This responsibility created a saddening weight for Williams along with a bitter taste of dry obligation. In the end, Williams ended up leaving his family in order to pursue his dreams of becoming a writer.

Overall, this play is extremely thought-provoking. It is a short read, but surprisingly it is a dense piece filled with tangible, yet heavy themes. The honest pain that is illustrated in the play shows that getting by does not mean actually living to the fullest. If anything, this play has inspired me to do one thing; and that is to live. 

 

Americanah

Americanah

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Summary

Ifemelu is a strong-willed and intelligent woman who leaves her native land of Nigeria to  attend university in America. Obinze is a kind-hearted and observant man who departs for London to begin a new life abroad. The two met in high school and quickly fell deeply in love, but are forced to part ways when their new lives take over. However, as time passes, neither has forgotten the other.

Ifemelu faces challenges adapting to American culture and struggles with the meaning of race and identity. As she chronicles her new life, she wonders about Obinze’s life and whether or not she made a mistake when cutting him off. Will they ever meet again? Will everything be the same, or will their relationship be completely changed after their time abroad?

Americanah explores both Ifemelu’s and Obinze’s journeys as as life abroad brings its waves of struggles and triumphs.


Memorable Quotes

“People were flattered to be asked about themselves and if she said nothing after they spoke, it made them say more. They were conditioned to fill silences,” (page 4).

“He [Blaine] taught ideas of nuance and complexity in his classes and yet he was asking her for a single reason, the cause. But she had not had a bold epiphany and there was no cause; it was simply that layer after layer of discontent had settled in her, and formed a mass that now propelled her,” (page 8).

“Other girls would have pretended that they had never let another boy touch them, but not her, never her. There was a vivid honesty about her,” (page 24).

“She kicked him under the table and he kicked her back, watching his laughing friends; they were all a little afraid of her and a little in love with her,” (page 25).

“He felt, looking out at the muggy darkness farther way, as if he could float, and all he needed to do was to let himself go,” (page 44).

“Her mother told them of a vision she had just had, a blazing apperance near the gas cooker of an angel holding a book trimmed in red thread, telling her to leave Revival Saints because the pastor was a wizard who attended nightly  demonic meetings under the sea.”

‘You should listen to the angel,’ her father said,” (page 52).

“It seemed so natural, to talk to him about odd things. She had never done that before. The trust, so sudden and yet so complete, and the intimacy, frightened her. They had none nothing of each other only hours ago, and yet, there had been a knowledge shared between them in those moments before they danced, and now she could think only of al the things she wanted to tell him, wanted to do with him,” (page 73).


Thoughts

This is a ground-breaking book about something not so ground-breaking in itself because Americanah exudes the aura of what it truly means to live. Adichie masterfully creates a convincing reality where life is not glorified and blown up to giant metaphors, but instead it is simply lived. A person’s situation and thoughts do not change in a day, and Americanah boldly demonstrates this slow-moving evolution. 

Interestingly enough, I stumbled upon it completely by accident and decided to read only because I had previously watched one of Chimamanda’s TedTalks for class. And wow, I am so glad I bought it.

As I have previously alluded, this is a book that I would (almost lamely) describe as “real.” Not real in the sense that the entirety of the book is one depressing look at life, but real as in a no bullshit approach in showing how the environment we grow up in influences the way we see ourselves and the world around us. It is beautifully colorful and descriptive, and sometimes lackluster and dull. This novel lives and breathes reality in every way possible. 

In life there is happiness, sadness, love, anger, jealousy, and overall confusion. There are moments of grandeur where the world seems to exist in vibrant technicolor, and there are moments when it dulls to a hollow black and white. Americanah is a book that not only points this out directly, but also thematically.

The main character, Ifemelu is a blunt and witty woman whose thoughts shift and expand as the world around her changes. From her homeland of Nigeria to the disorienting streets of America, Ifemelu guides the reader through different periods in her life. The beginning of the book takes place in the most recent part of Ifemelu’s life when she is living in America and planning to return home to Nigeria. Then the story jumps back to Ifem’s high school life in Nigeria, filling in missing details about her friends and family.

Throughout the novel the time constantly shifts back and forth between present time and the past, creating an interesting, but logical, storyline. In addition, the perspective switches from Ifemelu to Obinze, therefore consistently refreshing the plot.

The novel addresses themes such as race, displacement, first love, expectations, sex, adulthood, and the ways in which people confront life.

From the way it is arranged to the themes it brings forward, Americanah is a pleasure from beginning to end. I enjoyed this book because it reminds me that identity is not always who you really are because it is subjective to environment. When coming to America, Ifemelu goes from identifying as simply Nigerian, to becoming “African American.” 

Definitely a must-read for the occupational (or self-proclaimed) philosopher and any general person facing the daily woes of the human condition head-on.

The Name of the Star

The Name of the Star media

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson



Summary

Louisiana native, Aurora Deveaux (Rory for short) travels to the bustling city of London to start her senior year at Wexford, a premiere boarding school, whilst her parents teach at a university in Bristol. As she acclimates to her new life at Wexford with the help of her new friends, Jazza and Jerome, a series of brutal murders hit London. However, these murders are far from ordinary as each of the murders mirror the notorious Jack the Ripper murders, and the perpetrator continues to elude the ever-present eye of the CCTV cameras.

What starts out as far-fetched theory suddenly turns into mass hysteria, and no one in London is safe. Rory thinks nothing of the murders until the night that she returns to her dorm and she sees a man that Jazza claims not to. Suddenly, Rory finds herself twisted into the fabric of an elaborate game with no way out. As she is forced to confront the danger of solving the classic game of “whodunit,” Rory delves into the darker side of London’s past.


Memorable Quotes

“Fear can’t hurt you,” she said. “When it washes over you, give it no power. It’s a snake with no venom. Remember that. That knowledge can save you.”

“I decided to deflect her attitude by giving a long, Southern answer. I come from people who know how to draw things out. Annoy a Southerner, and we will drain away the moments of your life with our slow, detailed replies until you are nothing but a husk of your former self and that much closer to death.”

“Keep calm and carry on. Also, stay in and hide because the Ripper is coming.”

“The English play hockey in any weather. Thunder, lightening, plague of locusts…nothing can stop the hockey. Do not fight the hockey, for the hockey will win.”


Thoughts

I picked up this book while wandering around Face in a Book (http://www.getyourfaceinabook.com/) and decided that the plot seemed vastly different from anything else sitting on my bookshelf at home, so I figured that I would give it a whirl. I started reading while I was on vacation in Carmel, and I was quickly drawn into Rory’s life at Wexford and her adventures in new country. Ironically, I began to lose interest as soon as the plot began to take off. As I kept reading, my disdain for the book grew. Around page 300, I was praying for the end.

The problem is, the reader should never be praying for the plot to pick up or the book to end. I firmly believe that it is the author’s job to keep the reader enticed and wanting more. That being said, (or in this case, written) The Name of the Star will not be on my list of books that I would recommend.

My main issue with this novel is that the author did not seem to utilize the setting and characters to the best of her ability. I would have loved if she would have taken more time to describe the buildings of Wexford or the city of London. Heck, I would have even been happy reading more about the weather. For me, part of this book’s allure was that it was set in London; a place I have always wanted to travel and immerse myself in, and reading this book gave me no further insight into the streets of London aside from a pub here or there. I think that if the author would have set aside time to describe the impact the city had on the events, the plot would have been far more interesting and cohesive.

In addition, there was little character development to be found. Rory begins as an interesting girl from the south who I desperately wanted to know more about, but as the book progressed  I felt as though she became more and more closed off to the reader. Perhaps this was intentional or perhaps it was not, but either way, I found myself lacking an emotional connection to Rory which therefore made the story a little harder to read through. As the plot moves forward, Rory suffers through many horrific and strange events, however, she does not reflect on any of it, nor does she even act remotely bothered.

Overall, this book was extremely disappointing and a struggle to finish, however, I really was a fan of the ideas and setting within it. Although I do not plan on continuing the series, I would test out a couple of passages to see if it gets better.

Heist Society

Heist Society Media

Heist Society by Ally Carter



Summary

Katarina Bishop is no ordinary teenager; in fact, she comes from a family of well renowned thieves. However, she soon grows tired of partaking in her family’s misadventures and enrolls in a prestigious boarding school. A few months later, Katarina is  blamed for vandalizing the Dean’s car and is immediately expelled. Following her expulsion, Kat’s longtime friend W.W Hale V mysteriously shows up and Kat is convinced that her expulsion was no accident.

Hale informs Kat that five paintings have been stolen from the notorious Arturo Taccone and that her own father is the prime suspect. In a brave attempt to help her father, Kat is determined to not only retrieve the missing paintings, but to rekindle her relationships with her family and closest friends all while battling unknown criminals and breaking into the most well-secured museum in all of London with her rag-tag team of thieves.


Memorable  Quotes 

“Sometimes it takes an outsider, someone with fresh eyes to see the truth.”

“Can I see you outside for a second?” Kat glared at Hale, then walked to the patio doors and out onto the veranda.
As Hale closed the door behind him, Kat heard Angus say, “Ooh, Mom and Dad are going to fight now.”

“I’m the guy who happened to be home the night Kat came to steal a Monet.” -Hale

“Time, the greatest thief of all.”


Thoughts

Overall, I found this book to be witty and a nice read to relax me into the first few weeks of summer. The book in itself is not too terribly long (304 pages) so it is a fairly quick read for anybody who wants a mix of humor and all-around action. I chose to read this book because I am a huge fan of Ally Carter’s popular Gallagher Girls series, and I love the way that Allly Carter can make the woes of teenagers seem less cheesy and more intellectual and thought out. She has a writing style that does not suggest one genre, but many. For example, there are little drops of romance in Heist Society, however, the entire book is not bogged down by characters pining after each other. Moreover, there is just enough action as there is thought that goes into said actions, so that the reader gets a taste of many different elements without being subjected to too much of one.

All in all, I plan on continuing the series and would highly suggest any of the other Ally Carter series.