Into the Water

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Into the Water by Paula Hawkins


Summary

Like any small town, Beckford has its share of strange residents and even stranger secrets. When Nel Abbott is found dead in the river that intersects the town, her estranged sister Julia returns to look after her teenage daughter and pick up the pieces following her tragic death. However, while some residents claim Nel’s death must have been a suicide given her obsession with the historic part of the river known as the “Drowning Pool,” Jules is not convinced.

Why would Nel throw away everything; her daughter, her forthcoming book about the river, her life, just to become a part of the town’s gory history of drownings? Into the Water jumps between various perspectives of Beckford’s diverse occupants to paint a picture of a town haunted by misconstrued memories and monsters hidden in plain sight.


Memorable Quotes

“To the untrained eye, it might seem you were a fan of bridges: the Golden Gate, the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, the Prince Edward Viaduct. But look again. It’s not about the bridges, it’s not some love of these masterworks of engineering. Look again and you see it’s not just bridges, it’s Beachy Head, Aokigahara Forest, Preikestolen. The places where hopeless people go to end it all, cathedrals of despair,” (page 15).

“Opposite the entrance, images of the Drowning Pool. Over and over and over, from every conceivable angle, every vantage point: pale and icy in winter, the cliff black and stark or sparkling in the summer, an oasis, lush and green, or dull flinty grey with storm clouds overhead, over and over and over. The images blurred into one, a dizzying assault on the eye. I felt as though I were there, in that place, as though I were standing at the top of the cliff, looking down into the water, feeling that terrible thrill, the temptation of oblivion,” (page 15).

“But appearances are deceptive, for this is a deathly place. The water, dark and glassy, hides what lies beneath: weeds to entangle you, to drag you down; jagged rocks to slice through flesh. Above looms the grey slate cliff: a dare, a provocation,” (page 41).

“She insisted there was nothing wrong, that it hadn’t been an argument at all, that it was none of my business anyway. A bravado performance, but her face was streaked with tears. I offered to see her home, but she told me to fuck off,” (47).

“‘So, two women have died in that river this year?’ I said. ‘Two women who knew each other, who were connected…’ The DI said nothing, he didn’t look at me, I wasn’t even sure he was listening.

‘How many have died there? I mean, in total?’

‘Since when?’ he asked, shaking his head again. ‘How far back would you like to go?’

Like I said, fucking weird,” (page 50).

“I wanted to touch you again, to feel your skin. I felt sure I could wake you up, I whispered your name and waited for you to quiver, for your eyes to flick open and follow me around the room,” (page 53).

“Julia stood very still, turning her head towards the window as though she were listening for something. ‘What?’ she asked, but she wasn’t looking at me. It was like she was looking at someone else or at her reflection. ‘What did you say?'” ( page 57).

“Something about that image jarred, made me feel something I hadn’t felt in a while. Shame. The dirty, secret shame of the voyeur, tinged with something else, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on and didn’t want to,” (page 65).

“I could feel it [the river] pushing against the walls, seeping into the cracks of the brickwork, rising. I could taste it, muddy and dirty in my mouth, and my skin felt damp. Somewhere in the house, I could hear someone laughing, and it sounded just like you,” (page 66).

“Something got missed though, didn’t it? Like one of those con tricks, when you take your eye off the ball for a second and the whole game changes,” (page 97).

“Seriously, how is anyone supposed to keep track of all of those bodies around here? It’s like Midsomer Murders, only with accidents and suicides and grotesque historical misogynistic drownings instead of people falling into the slurry or bashing each other over the head,” (page 129).

A/N** I have a few more quotes I could include, but I didn’t want to risk including any spoilers as this book is still fairly hot off the press.


Thoughts

I’m not exactly sure where to start, but I will say I did have high expectations for this book and I think this alone really contributed to the way I read it. If you saw my post from earlier this year, you know I reviewed Paula Hawkins previous novel The Girl on the Train and loved the psychology that went into the consideration of the characters’ thoughts and motivations. I know in a lot of ways it’s unfair to judge a book by its previously adored sibling, but I ultimately couldn’t help wistfully thinking about Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train as I read Into the Water. 

From the first batch of reactions I saw online I expected this book to be different from TGOTT, but excellent in its own way. I read reviews claiming ITW was similar in style to TGOTT but further developed in both plot and character development. After reading I can say I strongly disagree with this sentiment.

Now let me quickly say (or rather, type) I am not writing this review to bash ITW. There were a lot of things I loved about this book and will mention later, but I can’t honestly tell you that it was my favorite book to read and if nothing else, my reviews are honest. When I started reading I was still in school preparing for finals, so I didn’t have much time to spend on anything other than studying and writing essays. However, there would be brief periods of time, whether on the bus or waiting in line at the cafeteria, I would crack open this book in hopes of being sucked away to the quaint little town of Beckford. The beginning was promising. A small town, a shady cast of characters, a history of mysterious deaths. What’s not to love? But for some reason, the more I read the more disenchanted I became. After some time I pushed ITW aside to finish If We Were Villains. When I had finished IWWV, I begrudgingly turned my attention back to ITW.

My lack of interest in Into the Water was disappointing because I really wanted to love it just as much, or more than The Girl on the Train. (Not to mention I payed $30 for a hardcover copy.) But alas, I guess some things in life are meant to be. So to make what I liked and disliked about this book a bit clearer, I’ve decided to ditch my usual format and compose my thoughts into a bulleted list.

What I Disliked

  • The constant switching between narrators—Although this complaint seems a bit silly given I usually love switching into the headspace of different characters, this book has over fourteen different narrators which can be somewhat disorienting. I got used to it by the end, but in the beginning I would have much preferred learning the plot through one narrator instead of five.
  • The simplicity of the plot— There were a lot of twists scattered throughout the book, but both the writing and the plot felt rushed. I didn’t feel the book was as carefully thought out as it’s predecessor.
  •  The overall resolution— Again, felt a bit rushed and awkward.

What I Liked

  • The use of the river as a character—The imagery of the river was absolutely gorgeous. As I read I could picture myself looking down into the dark water or watching the kids swim in the summertime. Overall, the river was the most interesting character as it’s an omnipresent force that propels the story forward.
  • The plot twists— This somewhat contradicts to what I said about the plot in the dislikes section, but even thought the plot was simple there were still some good plot twists. (I think the simplicity comes from the fact I was able to guess most of them early on.)
  • The cover— Yep, I’m really going there. Judge me as the aesthetic trash I am.
  • Family histories and complexities— I think this is a strong point of the book as the plot focuses on Beckford’s dark history which influences many of the families in the story.
  • Experimentation— Despite disliking the array of narrators, I admired Hawkins’ bravery in experimenting with something a lot of readers may not like, and I hope to follow suit as I embark on my own writing process.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Did any of you read Into the Water? If so, I would love to hear your thoughts. Did you love it? Hate it? Feel neutral? Are you reading anything else this summer? Let me know in the comments!

-L

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Summary

Rachel’s life is the epitome of mundane. Each day her biggest excursion  is commuting to and from work on the London train. But unlike the other passengers , what thrills Rachel the most about her commute is gazing at the stretch of cozy Victorian homes  mingling along the tracks. Her favorite house, number 23,  is home to a beautiful couple who Rachel nicknames, Jess and Jason. During the few minutes the train stops for construction on the tracks, Rachel watches the couple as they relax out on their terrace and live out the promises of domestic bliss.

Jess and Jason represent everything Rachel has lost; her husband, her home, and most importantly, her sanity. However, watching Jess and Jason also gives Rachel solace that happiness still exists in outside of her own shattered world. That is, until she sees something strange happening on Jess and Jason’s terrace the following day.

Without a warning, Rachel finds herself mixed into a world where her own fantasies blend into hard, cold reality. She becomes a witness, but an unreliable one at that. Struggling against a streak of heavy drinking and violence on her record, Rachel desperately attempts to warn the police of everything she believes she has seen from her small window on the train.

Constantly shifting narration between three of the novel’s main female characters, the reader is provided a glimpse into the web of lies we tell ourselves and the tainted realities we live. Each woman uses her own unique, yet eerily similar experience to illustrate the boundaries the human mind. More than anything, The Girl on the Train, begs one main question:

How far we are willing to go in order to grasp at our own corrupt fantasies?


Memorable Quotes

“There’s something comforting about the sight of strangers safe at home.” (Rachel POV)

“And I’ve just got to let myself feel the pain, because if I don’t, if I keep numbing it, it’ll never really go away.” (Rachel POV)

“I am not the girl I used to be. I am no longer desirable, I’m off-putting in some way. It’s not just that I’ve put on weight, or that my face is puffy from the drinking and the lack of sleep; it’s as if people can see the damage written all over me, can see it in my face, the way I hold myself, the way I move.” (Rachel POV)

“Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies, no one to play with, nothing to do. Living like this, the way I’m living at the moment, is harder in the summer when there is so much daylight, so little cover of darkness, when everyone is out and about, being flagrantly, aggressively happy. It’s exhausting, and it makes you feel bad if you’re not joining in.” (Rachel POV)

“It’s ridiculous, when I think about it. How did I find myself here? I wonder where it started, my decline; I wonder at what point I could have halted it. Where did I take the wrong turn?”  (Rachel POV)

“Who’s to say that once I run, I’ll find that isn’t enough? Who’s to say I won’t end up feeling exactly the way I do right now-not safe, but stifled? Maybe I’ll want to run again, and again, and eventually I’ll end up back on those old tracks, because there’s nowhere left to go. Maybe. Maybe not. You have to take the risk, don’t you?” (Megan POV)


Thoughts

First of all, I appreciate how engaging this book was right from the very first page. Even though I love reading, (I am an English major after all) sometimes I have a difficult time picking up a book and sticking with it. But with The Girl on the Train, I never encountered this problem. In fact, I began reading it while lounging around SFO at 3 in the morning! Despite being sleep-deprived and anxious for my trip, I was drawn into the crazy world of seemingly innocent train rides and man-made mayhem.

What I loved most about reading this thriller was experiencing the perspectives of the three very different narrators. Each woman is complicated in her own way; facing different, yet eerily similar, demons. Themes throughout the book range from abuse to motherhood, sexual power/politics to mental illness, and everything in-between. It is not a cheery novel for the slight of heart. In fact, it is a novel where the reader must be willing to get his or her hands dirty and, dare I say it, “take a ride on the wild side.”

Rachel is the main character and particularly unique one at that. She acts as both a passive and active force within the progression of the storyline as she transforms from watcher, into actor. When the reader is first introduced to Rachel, she seems somewhat normal. However, as  the reader becomes more and more acquainted with her stream of consciousness, it becomes very clear that Rachel has a conundrum of deep-rooted, complicated issues.

Rachel’s most notable characteristics are her alcoholism and  her fascination with watching people. So basically, Rachel is a voyeur and an alcoholic. Now, the only issue with describing Rachel as a “voyeur,” is that at first many of her watchful habits seem more innocent than the word suggests. In the beginning of the book, Rachel talks about simply watching the couple from the train because she wants their life. In that train of thought, what she is exhibiting is not voyeurism, but sonderism. However, as the story goes on, it is clear Rachel consistently straddles the line between being a voyeur and experiencing true sonder for the first time.

It begs the questions, what happens when we discover the tangled lives of others? Do we belong in their webs, or does each of us too stuck on our own paths to join another? Or we capable of fighting for the greater good, or are we too selfish to care? From cheating to murder and mayhem, The Girl on the Train, tugs at the very strings of humanity.

 

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.