CORAL GLYNN

 

Peter Cameron

Coral Glynn is a young live-in visiting nurse hired to care for an elderly terminal patient near Leicester, England, in the spring of 1950. Coral doesn’t realize, when she arrives at the Hart’s manor, that she is entering a strange situation. “Everything’s gone topsy-turvy after the war,” we are told. “Blame it on Mr. Hitler.”“The blond gravel on the garden paths had turned green, each pebble wrapped in a moist transparent blanket of slime, and one could not sit on either of the two cement benches that flanked the river gate without first unhinging the snails and slugs adhered to them.”

The dying woman screams out in her sleep for morphine, craving “the sudden gorgeous prick of it in her worn flesh.” Her son, a middle-aged man named Clement Hart, who also lives in the house, seems hardhearted. He tells Coral that he no longer attends to his mother because “we were through with one another a long time ago.” In the short time Coral inhabits Hart House, her patient, Mrs. Hart, dies, and the housekeeper tells the police it is Coral’s fault.  The Housekeeper has made it perfectly clear that she does not like Coral. But the son, Clement almost immediately proposes. When a young girl is hanged in the forest near the manor, Coral is also accused of that crime. As a stranger in a community where everyone has known each other for generations, she is suspect. Her past haunts her, too, when her former employer tries to frame her for theft.

Coral Glynn is a multi facetted jewel. Plan on reading it.

 

I AM DAVID

ANNE HOLM

David is a well crafted jewel that will touch your heart.  It was written for young adults but has lots to say to adults.

David is twelve years old. All his life he has lived in a concentration camp in Eastern Europe. It is a terrible place. David knows nothing of the outside world except those things his one good friend and mentor, Johannes, now dead, told him. He has no story, no memories to hold on to, he doesn’t know the names of his parents, or whether they are alive or dead even, what his religion is, or from which country he comes. It is not even clear to us, the readers, whether the camp is Nazi or perhaps post-war Russian. David knows only one thing: that he is David. It is not much upon which to build a life, is it? But it is all he has. And on the day that The Man, one of the camp guards hated by David, but one who has always been strangely protective of him, offers him a chance to escape, his name is the only thing he has to take with him. The Man has provided him with a compass, a bottle of water, and a bar of soap, David himself has only his name to bring.

He must go south to the coast, find a ship bound for Salonica in a place called Italy, and then go north, until he gets to Denmark. That is all he knows. And he is on his own, accompanied by only his determination to get to Denmark, his terror of being recaptured and losing this new, sweet freedom, and the confusion of his thoughts. For David, the world is not only a frightening place, full of danger and menace, but also an incomprehensible one. He doesn’t know what an orange is, what a sandwich is, or even how to smile. He has no concept of beauty or pleasure. He doesn’t even understand truly what colour is, and when he finds colour it is overwhelming: “David was familiar only with various tones of grey and brown, and of course the blue of the sky. Well, yes, he had once seen a little red flower that had strayed inside the camp wall. Apart from that colour was something he had only heard of… He did not know how long he stayed there on the mountainside, sitting motionless, just gazing… only when everything grew strangely misty did he discover that he was crying. Far below him lay the sea, a sea bluer than any sky he had ever seen. The land curved in and out along its edge: in and out, up and down, all green and golden with here and there the red of flowers too far off to be clearly seen. Beauty.”

A must read. It is a slim volume so doesn’t take much time.

INDIAN HORSE

RICHARD WAGAMESE

Indian Horse, a serious yet beautiful novel by Ojibway writer Wagamese, concerns Saul Indian Horse, a former hockey star undergoing treatment for alcoholism. Saul chronicles his life story as a means of identifying the source of his addiction.

Saul’s story begins in the northern Ontario bush where he enjoys a traditional life of hunting and fishing with his parents, grandmother and older brother Ben. The family hopes living far outside town will keep the boys from residential school. But government men hunt them down, and take Ben at gunpoint.

Saul’s devastated parents turn to alcohol. They leave the bush, moving from campground to campground in the rundown margins of towns. Ben’s return years later — he has run away from school — reignites the family’s hope. They return to the bush, this time heading much deeper in, to God’s Lake (Manitou Gameeng), which according to legend, is their spiritual home.

When Ben dies of tuberculosis, Saul’s embittered parents abandon him and his grandmother. He lands, inevitably, at St. Jerome’s Indian Residential School, where “education” describes a perpetual cycle of abuse. A degree of respite arrives in the form of Father Leboutilier. The young priest introduces the students to hockey. Saul develops a passion for the game and an uncanny, almost preternatural gift.

The residential school is a horror story. A nun viciously beats a boy who refuses to deny his father. A little boy routinely has his hands tied behind his back to prevent him from wiping his nose with his sleeve. The child hangs himself from the rafters in the barn. He is six years old. A little girl is placed in a box — the Iron Sister — for repeatedly wetting the bed. After she dies mysteriously, her sister stabs herself to death. There are no funerals for these children. They simply disappear.

But Saul escapes the horror by the grace of his hockey skills.

Read my review of Wagamese’s earlier novel RAGGED COMPANY. Another excellent novel.

This is a must read!

FICTION RUINED MY FAMILY

JEANNE DARST

Memoirs of severely dysfunctional families are a dime a dozen these days, Darst’s excellent writing skills have created a book well worth the read. Darst grew up with her parents’ alcoholism, social pretensions, delusional behavior and financial instability. She and her three sisters played peculiar games. (“You’re Patty Hearst, and we’re the S.L.A.”) She began drinking heavily herself and took temporary jobs (like hydrangea window-box gardener), failing at all of them. She watched as her parents’ marriage broke up and tried not to mimic their behavior.  The author’s father, Stephen Darst, wanted so badly to write and did write constantly but after his second novel was rejected never completed another project. Darst’s mother’s Social Register family status, shaped Ms. Darst’s childhood as surely as her father’s literary aspirations did. With a friend from the same Hamptons yacht club, she played a game they called the Weinhausers, about shunning a family of poor townies. (“Get outta my house, you lousy Weinhausers!”) She says that her father’s conversational style made it especially hard to make friends. A girl whom Ms. Darst met at the local Teen Center might find herself grilled by Mr. Darst as he drove them home: “Now, Shannon, who would you say, and I know it’s tough to name just one, but if someone had a gun to your head, who would you say is your favorite essayist?”

Fiction is well worth the read.

“As a kid I was absolutely terrified of clichés. My father forbade them in our home. It was like the way other people regarded cursing in their house. If you said, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” my father would go ballistic. Mom couldn’t control herself, apparently, because she violated this rule about every five seconds.

I was under the impression clichés could ruin you, ruin your life, your hopes and dreams, bring down your whole operation if you didn’t watch it. They were gateway language, leading straight to a business major, a golfy marriage, needlepoint pillows that said things about your golf game, and a self-inflicted gunshot to the head that your family called a heart attack in your alma mater announcements. Character suicide. Language was important, sexy, fun, alive, extremely personal, it was like food, you wouldn’t just pop anything into your mouth, why would you let anything pop out that hadn’t been considered and prepared for someone to enjoy? To ignore language was akin to ignoring the very person you were speaking to, rude, uncaring, unfeeling, cold. It was a way to connect and also to woo, to charm, to manipulate, it was a tool for love, for survival. Your words were you. To ignore language was to ignore Dad. To love words was to love Dad.

My father had extremely strong feelings about what was okay to read and what was not. I was completely intimidated by his literary standards and expectations and to this day it seems amazing and daring to me that other people will just read something without thinking much about it. “Oh, I found that book in my living room. I don’t know where it came from. My babysitter must have left it here.” Your babysitter? You just read whatever’s lying around? Are you crazy? You think you’re gonna make it to fifty living like that? My father asked in every conversation, “So what are you reading these days?” I always knew it was coming, I agonized over whether to lie or not.”

UNDER THE DRAGON: Travels in a Betrayed Land

ROY MACLEAN

“To us you tourists are like stars in the night sky. We hope a little of that light will shine on us.”

Under the Dragon recounts MacLean’s journey through Burma weaving together MacLean’s story with those of four women: a girl named Ni Ni, born with remarkably sensitive hands who, through revolution and upheaval , becomes trapped in Southeast Asia’s sex trade; Ma Swe, a reluctant government censor; Nan Si Si, mother of a hill-tribe warlord; and, naturally, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace laureate and elected leader of Burma, who has been held under house arrest for over a decade.

Along the way MacLean weaves in a remarkable range of subjects — Burmese history, philosophy, art, archaeology, ornithology and even magic.

Dragon evokes Burma is such a way that you feel like you’re there and, in light of the continuing struggles and tragedy in Burma, it feels every bit as relevant now as when it was first published ten years ago.

A must read especially for anyone with an interest in Burma.

MEMOIRS OF A EURASIAN


VIVIAN YANG

Eurasian is a mixed bag, both the story of Mo Mo’s life and a history of China from 62 to the 1990’s. This history aspect is the most interesting part, not that Mo Mo’s story is totally without merit. Mo Mo was born in Hong Kong but her single mother soon returns to Shanghai to teach piano at the music academy. Unfortunately Mao soon launches his Cultural Revolution and she ends up play the accordion. Mother takes all her frustration out on Mo Mo, blaming her for all misfortunes which in China come frequently. The reader sees Mo Mo endure the trials of the Cultural Revolution, the industrialization of the coastal regions and the transformation of Hong Kong.

Unfortunately the ending is weak. I enjoyed the overview of the historical times.

THE FAMILY FANG


KEVIN WILSON

Caleb and Camille Fang are performance artists who like to use their kids as human props for the nerviest, most chaos-inducing stunts that they can devise. They refer to the children, Annie and Buster, as “Child A” and “Child B.” Wilson explores the damage inflicted on children raised in an atmosphere that is intentionally confusing. They have been told that their parents do important things; they have been told that their own feelings do not matter. They have learned the hard way that either of them might be betrayed in an instant by parents who bring a lofty, arty, guilt-free approach to everything they do. So as “The Family Fang” begins, Wilson shows just how badly the adult Annie and Buster have been damaged by Fang ideas of fun. He also makes it clear that the senior Fangs can be amusing. And then, all of a sudden, they are not.

As adults wherever the Fang children go, they encounter situations that make them re-examine their parents’ values. Buster is a journalist, sort of. He has been working for a men’s magazine called Potent, for an editor who is seven years younger but still likes to tell him what “manly” means. “After two years of writing about skydiving and bacon festivals and online virtual-reality societies that were too complicated for him to even play, Buster was on the verge of quitting his job,” Mr. Wilson writes. For one assignment Buster had a two-hour argument with his editor about whether to participate in a group orgy that he had been assigned to cover. Annie has grown up to be a film actress. This, in her parents’ minds, means that she has become a willing participant in a lowly art form that is not worth her time. And Annie is a pawn to whoever gives her orders.

Annie and Buster don’t know what, if anything, about their own lives has actually been real. They now know that one of their most excruciatingly shared moments, in which Buster was forced to play Romeo to his sister’s Juliet at the last minute and had to kiss her in public, was just another one of their parents’ little tricks.

An interesting read despite the weak ending. It should have ended ten pages sooner.

INQUISITION

ALFREDO COLITTO

Inquisition is a medieval, medical mystery that has little to do about the inquisition except that one character is an inquisitor. In early fourteenth-century Italy, Mondino, a physician at the studiuum, receives an unexpected visitor in the dead of night. The visitor, one of Mondino’s students named Gerardo, drags a dead body into the studiuum and with it a compelling secret which puts both their lives in jeopardy. The dead man is a Knight Templar and his heart has been turned into iron. Gerardo finds himself as the prime suspect for the murder, but clearing Gerardo’s name is not Mondino’s prime priority, instead, he is desperate to learn the art of turning flesh into iron, which he believes is the Al-iksir (an alchemic preparation formerly believed to be capable of prolonging life). Gerardo and Mondino must find the murderer, but when two more bodies with hearts of iron are uncovered, the Inquisition begin to suspect Mondino’s involvement in what they consider to be acts of devil worship.

A better title would have been ” Elixir of Life and Death.”

Not a great read by any means. But an OK mystery. Needed a lot of editing.