Category Archives: Fiction

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The_Strange_Case_of_Dr_Jekyll_and_Mr_Hyde

Technically, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is public domain. So the fact that I paid any money for it (even if it was just $1.50) should perhaps not be considered a “bargain.” But, hey, it covers the printing cost, right?

I picked up this book in a normal college book store in the “thrift” section where all the public domain classics are reprinted for student reference. (Dracula, Hunchback, etc.) I was drawn to it after I studied abroad and got to spend a few days in Edinburgh, Scotland. Walking through the city streets, I stumbled upon a small “Writer’s Museum” chronicling the lives of famous Scottish writers. Really — it was only about Robert Louis Stevenson. Who didn’t even stay in Scotland — he travelled to the Pacific and spent time on the Hawaiian islands and then settling in Samoa. He even spent time on Molokai with Father Damien in the leper colonies.

I guess the truth is I didn’t purchase Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde because I wanted to read a good story. (Though, it was a perk.) I saw the book and I remember thinking about what I had learned about the writer and I wanted to know how his imagination worked.

In One Sentence: A doctor devises a chemical to expel himself of moral struggle.

Favorite Line: He was the usual cut and dry apothecary, of no particular age or colour, with a strong Edinburgh accent, and about as emotional as a bagpipe.” — p.3

Review: Only about sixty pages, this novella is interesting in how it wraps up the mystery of events and persons through telling the story through a limited perspective. The details focus on characters and their complexities, which makes sense when the big reveal is how these complexities are the driving point to why Dr. Jekyll seeks change. This is classic horror — tense, crying children, don’t go in a dark room, horror. So, read it if you haven’t. What this book does very well is establishing universal motivations in what would otherwise be despicable people. The main character, Dr. Jekyll’s friend and lawyer, wants to see Jekyll happy and rational. Jekyll struggles with his humanity and wants more than anything in the world to not struggle anymore. Isn’t that what we all want?

The Book Would Have Ended a Lot Sooner If: Dr. Jekyll had my chemistry skills. (aka NONE.)

Adaptation:

Like any classic, there are many adaptations that have come since. Here is one of my favorite “Mr. Hyde’s”.

From the film The Mask (1994).

What’s your favorite adaptation?

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Garden of Shadows

GardenofShadows

I was never really into Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, or any series associated with the modern revival of smut fiction. But, dangit, I do enjoy some V.C. Andrews. Even though the characters are melodramatic and the plot nonsensical, I’m turning the page.  What does that say about story? Whether you’re reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to a pitch — the most important response you can feel as an audience member is to lean forward, ears perked, wondering what happens next. 

I found V.C. Andrews’s Garden of Shadows in a discount library bin somewhere in Orange County. I used spare change from the bottom of my purse. I had already read three of the Dollanger series (first book being the infamous Flowers in the Attic) and knew with this novel there would be at least some guarantee of that infectious can’t-put-it-down-even-though-I’m-ashamed-to-be-seen-reading-it feeling

In One Sentence: A gloomy family in a gloomy mansion foreshadow the future incestuous genetic dispositions to the Foxworth ancestry. 

Favorite Line: “Chapter 15: The Blackest of Days. — ‘Mama, I’ve become a woman!'” -p.207

Review: This book is addicting, up until it becomes very clear the downfall of all prequels. I already know what is going to happen. There may also be some consequences to the fact that part of this book is actually ghostwritten by Andrew Neiderman after V.C. Andrews’s death. The novel focuses on the evil grandmother from Flowers in the Attic‘s perspective as she tries to raise a family despite her evil, cheating, lying, scumbag husband. The biggest frustration was rooting for a narrator who in the end you can’t root for! There were so many ridiculous turns that were even a bit out there for an Andrews series (incest, I can handle. But avalanches?!) I wanted the narrator, Olivia, to rise up and realize her own power over her husband but alas. The prequel serves to explain the progression of Olivia into the villain she is in the first book but I wanted her to fight against her own fate more. It could have been more tragic, more powerful, maybe less like a V.C. Andrews book… Ugh. I did this to myself.

The Book Would Have Ended a Lot Sooner If: people didn’t constantly WANT to be miserable. 

V.C. Andrews, What We Can Learn:

It took seven years of writing–some nine novels and nearly twenty short stories–before [V.C. Andrews’s] first sale. “I wasn’t persistent about sending my manuscripts out. If they were rejected once, I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a complete failure,’ and I would put them away and begin a new one. Momentarily, I would think that I wasn’t going to write anymore, but then I would go right back to the typewriter and do it again.

“I just kept right on going. Every time I heard from an editor–and I did hear from them, not just receive form rejections–they would say, ‘If you get gutsy, you’ll be sold. You’re not gutsy enough.’ And I really didn’t know what they meant, to get on the gut level, so I began to think about it. I thought, ‘Well, I guess I’m writing around all of the difficult things that my mother would disapprove of.’ So once I brushed her off my shoulder and got gutsy enough, I sold. I decided that I would have to be embarrassed and write these things. That’s how simple it was. Now I don’t feel embarrassed at all.”

The reason for her success, Andrews says, is simple: “I think I tell a whopping good story. And I don’t drift away from it a great deal into descriptive material. I wanted my new book to be published in hardcover, and my editor said that if I wrote in a more boring style, I would go into hardcover. When I read, if a book doesn’t hold my interest about what’s going to happen next, I put it down and don’t finish it. So I’m not going to let anybody put one of my books down and not finish it. My stuff is a very fast read.

Read the whole article: Face of Fear, 1985

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Slaughterhouse Five, or The Children’s Crusade

slaughterhousefive

This was my first dive into Vonnegut. There was another time, the year after college, when I sat outside of a library with a coworker handing out flyers and he read me a passage from another Vonnegut novel but I don’t think that counts because I can’t remember what it was or what was said except for the fact that it touched him deeply (the coworker, and probably Vonnegut too). I found a tattered 1960s edition of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s Slaughterhouse Five at a Goodwill. The yellow Goodwill sticker priced it at $2.99; inside from another thrift store was scribbled $3.00. Not much of a cut down if you ask me.

I wasn’t sure what it was about. Of course, I had heard of it, but it seemed to be a book you see more often on a reading list with no summary of plot, simply a detail of its notoriety in literary history. But, I’ve read it now, and all I can say is I understand why there is a whole school of writers studying Vonnegut.

In One Sentence: A writer tells the story of the Dresden Bombings through a man who has become unstuck in time after an alien abduction.

Favorite Line: “He did not think of himself as a writer for the simple reason that the world had never allowed him to think of himself in this way.” – p.150

Review: I didn’t expect to get as sucked in as I did. Such an interesting humor and perspective on people and the world. It begins with a writer, perhaps Vonnegut or maybe an unnamed Narrator, telling his friends about the book he is writing on Dresden. Then, we dive into the main story — Billy Armstrong’s story — as he travels through his own timeline full of war, death, and love after an alien abduction. The strange thing is is that this is not a science fiction story, not really. More precisely, it’s a story about telling stories as the reader feels Vonnegut circumnavigating the retelling of his own Dresden experience. And everyone who cares about reading or writing should pick this up.

This describes perfectly my feelings on this book:

nothinghurt

The Book Would Have Ended A Lot Sooner If: there were no survivors after the plane crash.

Actual Favorite Line: “She was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies. Men looked at her and wanted to fill her up with babies right away.” – p. 152

 

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The Giver

thegiver

Sometimes I need a book for a specific purpose and I’m forced to splurge. After college, I got a job tutoring writing for middle school students. I came up with prompts teaching techniques of literature analysis and went seeking a book that would hopefully inspire ideas and get them excited about the project. Okay, honesty moment? I bought Lois Lowry’s The Giver for five dollars at my favorite used book store “Book Off”. I used it a little in my tutoring, but ended up switching to The Hunger Games.

Even though The Giver has a slower buildup and payoff for a dystopian fable, I didn’t regret the purchase. I hadn’t read it myself. In sixth grade, my teacher read it to me but looking back this is absolutely the wrong book to read aloud. The transitions between past and present bleed into each other, and if you’re only half-listening it can get rather confusing. Luckily, rediscovering the young adult novel in my twenties gave me a new opportunity to appreciate the message of the story. Plus, catch up before the new movie comes out! (We’ll get to that later…)

In One Sentence: In a “perfect” new world, a young boy is assigned to become the new host for all of society’s memories.

Favorite Line: “I liked the feeling of love,” [Jonas] confessed… “Of course,’ he added quickly, ‘I do understand that it wouldn’t work very well. And that it’s much better to be organized the way we are now. I can see that it was a dangerous way to live.'” – p. 126

Review: Looking at dystopia through the eyes of a twelve year old is interesting because that time of your life is all about the transition from accepting the world as it is and questioning it. This book has a clear message on the importance of memory, that it is something to be treasured, but takes a different turn when it can only be harnessed by one person. Most of the book is just defining the rules of this world and the underbelly that the main character Jonas discovers to be less than perfect. Because it’s a complete new society, and a lot of the work is in integrating the reader into the world, I found the characters very awkward with each other. BUT as Jonas gained more wisdom, he became less awkward — less formal — more confident in lying. It’s an unlikely future, but begs the reader to think about ‘what if?’ The ending isn’t totally satisfying, but I recommend it as a Bucket List classic. Then, you can switch to Hunger Games.

The Book Would Have Ended a Lot Sooner If: Jonas’s father decided not to nurse baby Gabriel at home.

Coming to Theaters:

Thoughts:

1. Why is most of this movie in color?!

2. Jeff Bridges. Phew.

3. Did they just show a possible ending?

4. Prediction: the rules of the world will be like the book, but they’ll add lots more conflict.

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Love Story

lovestory

Before Nicholas Sparks’s The Notebook, there was Erich Segal’s Love Story: the tragic story about Oliver and Jenny. Tragic because Jenny dies. That’s not a spoiler. It’s the first line of the novel – What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl that died?” It’s almost comical how simple the story is. Boy meets girl. They fall in love. She dies. The end. BUT THE PEOPLE LOVED IT. You’ll never find this book as a major discussion point in any English class, but does its own simplicity have something valuable to say about story-telling?

I found a 1970s copy of the book at Goodwill for two dollars. The funny thing is the original price from 1977 was still printed on the front – $1.75. I guess not everything at Goodwill is a good deal. I hadn’t seen the film and though the story wasn’t very exciting for my tastes, the novel seemed like a quick read. Plus, the story of how Love Story came to be is quite interesting from a writing perspective. Erich Segal wrote the screenplay first. In hoping to market the film, Paramount wanted a novel to be released before the film. Maybe this is a lesson for all screenwriters today. Once you finish the original screenplay, create a backup novel version. I mean, what’s the last film you saw that wasn’t based on something else?

In One Sentence: It’s a love story.

Favorite Line: “She closed her book softly, put it down, then placed her hands on the sides of my neck. ‘Oliver — wouldja please.’ It all happened at once. Everything.” pg. 34

Review: The novel reminds me of Twilight. I liked it more than Twilight, it’s a better love story than Twilight, but it has the same literary lore of being a bit too sentimental and plot-less. I had a screenwriting professor who when her students bemoaned the success of the vampire series, she made us reevaluate the discussion. She said, “You don’t have to like it, but you have to understand it.” This seems to me to be the same strategy of how to approach Love Story. Even though I knew the ending, it was a page-turner. Even though the prose is short and to the point, lacking description and quite honestly written like a screenplay, it’s effective. There’s no fluff, besides perhaps what happens in the scenes. I read this over two days, and I enjoyed the pacing, but was left dissatisfied with the ending. Why was this book and film so successful? Because when we read it, we could relate to that feeling of loving someone so completely you can accept them for who they are. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is a terrible relationship lesson on the surface, but what it really means is that we can make mistakes and be ourselves and the point isn’t to never make mistakes, but to grow up through them and with each other. I recommend this book, not as a great work of literary genius or even much structural merit, but it won’t take up much time. Plus, even if you don’t like it, it’s important to ask yourself by the end – why did others?

The Book Would Have Ended a Lot Sooner If: Jenny and Oliver had never gotten coffee.

Let’s jam instead: I was going to mention the sequel Oliver’s Story, but this seemed like a more important find.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

absolutelytrue

There’s a reason why coming-of-age stories remain staples in literature. Whether it is through classic like Catcher in the Rye, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Outsiders or modern tales such as Youth in Revolt — we read these books early or late in life, and either way when we are finished they stay preserved on our bookshelves. They are the books you read, and you see yourself. 

Did you know there are Goodwills EXCLUSIVELY for books? No clothes. No VCRs. Just books. I drove by one with my family off of Foothill Blvd between the Walmart shopping center and a closed tavern. I found about four or five books that cost about ten dollars total. One was Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I had recognized the name from writer’s quotes and short stories, but had not read any of his novels.  It seemed like an interesting find – a funny novel filled with comics like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, except with more awards and, hopefully, poignancy.

In One Sentence: A junior high cartoonist leaves his Indian Reservation school for better opportunities at an all-white school.

Favorite Line: “It sucks to be poor, and it sucks to feel that you somehow deserve to be poor. You start believing that you’re poor because you’re stupid and ugly. And then you start believing you’re stupid and ugly because you’re Indian. And because you’re Indian you start believing you’re destined to be poor. It’s an ugly circle and there’s nothing you can do about it. Poverty doesn’t give you strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only teaches you how to be poor.” – pg 13

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Review: A young boy has to deal with the natural struggle of identity but with the added complications of being the only Indian in an all-white school. He becomes the outcast not only in his new school, but also to his friends back home who see him as a  “part-time Indian.” Hilarious. Hard to put down. Totally inspiring in its ability to make you laugh and cry at the same time. This novel is all about voice. It masterfully captures the voice of the narrator and main protagonist, Junior. “Literary fiction” usually sets a certain expectation for a caliber of language, but there is also so much control and craft in a writer’s ability to create a convincing voice. Part of this success in Sherman Alexie’s novel is due to his own admittance that much of the text is auto-biographical, from his experience growing up on an Indian Reservation. I’ve come to discover that the best forms of art are not necessarily about a central theme or overall impact on society, but about honesty. Even in fiction, if I can feel a writer’s true intention and honesty – I’ll likely remember that book for the rest of my life. Everyone should read this book. Most importantly at schools where, unfortunately, it has been banned.

The Book Would Have Ended a Lot Sooner if: People were more willing to look for things they had in common, rather than what made them different.

Banned: Throughout the country this book has been introduced into middle school curriculum, cursed by parents, and then swiftly banned (sometimes removed as required reading, other times taken out of libraries all together.) Why? The narrator, as a prepubescent boy, talks about masturbation. Watch Sherman Alexie’s reaction:

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-book

If a book has mass amounts of hype around it, there is one guarantee. In a year’s timeit will be in Goodwill or a thrifty used book store with five duplicate copies. I had friends, relatives, and Entertainment Weekly toting the quality, addictive-ness, and tension working like magic in the “Millennium Trilogy.” While I wasn’t as much interested in the series at the time, when I saw a few copies in Goodwill (it was nice to be able to pick the book with less tattered pages) I thought, why not?

The awkward thing about loving to read is that many times, when speaking with another reader, you end up in a back and forth of: Have you read this? Have you read this?  searching for where your explorations diverge. Books aren’t like movies or TV shows where with one sitting you can catch up and join in on water cooler conversation. Hopefully, by finally catching up on Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I’ll have more in common with my fellow reader.

In One Sentence: Ruined reporter/editor sent on an investigation into a family mystery, gets a cool sidekick, and drinks lots of coffee.

Favorite Line: “She was perfectly content as long as people left her in peace. Unfortunately society was not very smart or understanding; she had to protect herself from social authorities, child welfare authorities, guardianship authorities, tax authorities, police, curators, psychologists, psychiatrists, teachers, and bouncers, who (apart from the guys watching the door at Kvarnen, who by this time knew who she was) would never let her into the bar even though she was twenty-five. There was a whole army of people who seemed not to have anything better to do than to try and disrupt her life, and, if they were given the opportunity, to correct the way she had chosen to live it.” – pg 393 – 394

Review: As a first book in a series, it’s satisfying enough to enjoy without needing to continue. I may continue, but the point is that it isn’t necessary. This book is more or less a great episode of Law and Order: SVU. It had a slow start, but once the mystery was presented I kept turning the pages until it was solved. While I thoroughly enjoyed the pacing, I was disappointed with the character relationships and I don’t see this book as being a very good re-read. Don’t get me wrong. The characters are interesting (though I did have to refer to the family chart a few times to keep track of everyone) but as they delved deeper into relationships or severed ties, it became easy come – easy go. No one does any work. All of the bonds are created through circumstance and not challenged beyond that. Maybe it changes in the later books; I may never know. This is a great one-time read, but I would recommend Tami Hoag’s Dark Horse as an alternative to get both the gripping mystery and lasting character bonds.

The Book Would Have Ended a Lot Sooner If: There had been a coffee shortage on Hedeby.

Seriously.

Why so much coffee.

It actually became a part of the plot.

Actual Favorite Line: He had drunk more coffee during the past twenty-four hours than at any time in his life, but by now he had learned that in Norrland it was rude to say no.” – p. 365

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