Spoiled Books are listed alphabetically by title.
I finished Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield with a lot of questions. Setterfield did a good job, and created a book worthy of book group discussion, so I think that most of the questions that I have were deliberately left unanswered. To begin with, do you think that Bellman ever realized that Black had anything to do with the rook that he shot? It seemed to me like he never really made the connection, even though he recognized the trajectory, and though Black appeared when he saw a rook at the end. It might have been more of a spooky story if he had made the connection, counted the deaths of the friends who were there, realized that just he was left, and worried about Black's revenge. Instead, he seemed to be worried about disappointing Black, but felt more anxious than fearful.
Next, I almost feel like Black wasn't a ghost, but a soul. Is there a difference? I'm not sure, but it felt different to me. If Black was the rook's soul, then did Bellman trade his soul to keep Dora alive? After Bellman made the deal, he seemed not to have any feelings anymore. He just had this strange desire to work, build and earn, which had nothing to do with greed. He rarely visited Dora, and didn't care at all about Fred, even when he knew he was about to die. But it didn't seem like Black became more substantial as a result of the trade.
When we have a sick daughter named Dora, should we consider Freud's famous patient?
What about Bellman's father? Why would he not have been a more important part of the story? Could there be any connection between him and Black? Bellman never really seemed afraid of Black, but was constantly working in order to impress him. Did Bellman see Black as a father?
Lots of questions...I guess I'm going to have to get some of my friends to read this one so we can come up with answers.
Of course, I had to talk about some of the details in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, which I wouldn't want someone who hadn't finished the book yet to read. So here we go. The end. I know, everyone hates the end! We are supposed to. I have to think that if Flynn had tied the end up neatly with all of the people who Amy framed testifying against her, we probably wouldn't be talking about the book. My feeling is that Nick became co-dependent on Amy, and needs her psycho ways to thrive. I think that he is something like an amateur lion tamer. He knows he'll probably get bitten sooner or later, but he thinks he has control of Amy for the time being. He'll just have to sleep with one eye open for the rest of his life.
So, do you think that Amy's parents really needed money from her? That was only mentioned in her diary, so I wonder if she put that in to make them look worse. What about the "conception"? I wonder if she was really on birth control when they were "trying" to get pregnant, and then had Nick go and store some sperm so she would always have easy access to it if she needed it in the future.
Amy and Flynn really thought of everything, so why didn't she plan better to store her money in a secure place? Even if she had just kept some of it in her glove compartment she would have been better off than with her money belt. Amy kept jumbling her lies while she was on the run, which seemed strange. The Typical Book Group decided that was because she assumed that the people she was coming into contact with were all too stupid to bother worrying about. What she didn't realize is that they lived by scheming, and didn't just do it for fun, so they were really the experts.
I loved Great House by Nicole Krauss! I know, I know, I've said that already, and you may not get it. Right now my sister-in-law and one of my best friends are reading it, and they are not giving me any feed back, which makes me think they are not liking it as much as I did.
I would like for all of the characters in Great House to have logical connections to at least one other story, and to the desk. As such, I have concluded that Izzy must have been at the dinner party that Nadia went to at the dancer's house. I know that's a leap, but it seems to me that the two single women from New York must have had some connection that I missed. I've also decided that the story of the shark that takes on the sleepers' nightmares is in the locked drawer. Perhaps even bound and dedicated to the author's father.
What about the connection between Daniel and Lottie? I'm thinking that Daniel must have been a child of one of the Kindertransport kids. Daniel is born in 1949. The Kindertransport was in 1939. Any child 7 or older could have given birth to Daniel 10 years after the transport.
Was it Lorca's desk? Unlikely. Lorca died in 1936. Mr. Weitz remembers the desk being in his father's study in 1944, and the implication was that it had been there for a very long time.
The question of who was Lottie's Baby-Daddy seems important, and I think that the answer may be in there somewhere. It was a lawyer who arranged the Kindertransport. The Baby-Daddy had black eyes. Did the lawyer send a treasured desk with the Kindertransport? Again, unlikely. The desk was in Belgium, and Lottie left from Germany. I think that there must be more clues to this one that I just missed.
When I started reading In the Woods by Tana French, I loved it. I was especially interested in the story of Rob (Adam) Ryan, and how two of his best friends were abducted and likely killed while they were playing together. You see, I grew up in Oakland County, Michigan, in the 1970s. "So what?" you say? "Oakland County Child Killer" I say.
In 1976 and 1977, four 10 to 12 year old children were abducted in Oakland County, held for days, and then their bodies were found. If you can believe what you read, one of the bodies was actually still warm when they found it. My friends and I were scared to death! We all ran from blue Gremlins, since that was the car that the child killer was rumored to drive. "Helpful" neighbors had pictures of a helping hand in their windows, and we were supposed to run to a house with a hand in the window if anyone tried to grab us. But I always wondered, wouldn't the child killer himself have a hand in his window? I was only 6 or 7 at the time, but I looked big for my age, which made me feel more vulnerable. I mean, how would the killer know that I wasn't in his age range? Suddenly the killings stopped, and the child killer was never found. There are all kinds of theories. Maybe he committed suicide. Maybe he was in jail. Maybe he had wealthy parents who paid to have him sent away. Every once in a while, a new tip comes in, and I'm glued to the TV.
So, when I started reading about Rob's friends and the newly discovered evidence, I was hooked. The kids were the same age as the Oakland County kids, and like the child killer, the killer in the woods took a boy and a girl, which is said to be unusual. I had never even met any of the families of the children who were taken near me, and I'm obsessed with the story. How could Rob stop before the mystery was solved? But, like all the leads in the Oakland County Child Killer investigations, the new leads in the woods went nowhere, and the case remained unsolved.
On behalf of the people of Oakland County, that sucks. We don't need two more unsolved child deaths. I don't care if it took another 200 pages or a sequel. If you are going to give me abducted and probably murdered children who have been missing for 20 years, you have got to solve that case. Oh and BTW, I knew Rosalind was behind the new murder from the meeting with Jessica and Rob. So there.
So, what should the reader think when presented with a character named "Pig"? Clearly that character is not long for this world. As soon as Will, the main character in The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy, said that he wished that Pig had died in Vietnam, I started trying to guess why, and was immediately reminded of Lord of the Flies by William Golding. In that book a character named Piggy was killed by his peers. It has been years since I read Lord of the Flies, but I can't think that the name of the character is accidental, especially when the title of Conroy's book is so similar to the title of Golding's. I took a look at the Wiki page for Lord of the Flies when I was thinking about the coincidences to see if there was a character named Will, but I don't think that there was. One thing that I had forgotten about LOTF was that the story ended when a military official stepped in and restored order. In Conroy's book, he is clearly questioning whether military cadets are entitled to the perception of being capable of maintaining an ethical and honorable society.
One thing that I didn't like about The Lords of Discipline was that in the end, Will didn't do anything to end the reign of The Ten. There is no reason to believe that they won't be up to their old tricks the next year, when Will is not there to interfere. There is also little reason to believe that The Ten wouldn't come after Will after graduation, if they are really as powerful as Will believes them to be. The one trump card that Will holds is that he threatens to write a book exposing The Ten. I think that the reader is supposed to wonder if that is exactly what Conroy did. Apparently, the Citadel and their alumni were furious with Conroy for years following the publication of The Lords, which actually makes it seem more like the story is close to the truth than if they hadn't reacted at all.
I was furious with Julian Barnes in the last 10 pages of The Sense of an Ending. It was at this point that Tony was feeling that his words in a letter had some how caused Adrian and Veronica to have a defective child. The child, who is also named Adrian, seems to be a relatively well adjusted cognitively impaired adult. He goes out, he shops, he has a drink in the local pub. Yes, he has a care giver with him, and he lives in some sort of a group home. But could he be considered a punishment or a curse? It seemed that Barnes had not spent much time with anyone in the condition he describes child Adrian to be in, because if he had, he would have seen him as more than a burden. Did you notice that I am blatantly blaming Barnes and not the character, Tony, who was expressing his opinions? That's not quite fair, is it? But the child, Adrian, is said to be a reason why Veronica would have messy hair. Tony imagines Veronica feeling "loss, the sense of failure, the guilt". And he is thankful for his daughter's "normal" brain, quoting a poet saying "may you be ordinary" as the wish for a newborn baby.
Guess what? Parents of different learners do feel loss, failure, and guilt. They do wish that their kids could be ordinary. They do have messy hair more often than they should. But they also laugh, and see growth, and find the bright side. I'm lucky. My kids are easy. They will have the same chances as anyone else to find love, live independently, have babies, and make careers for themselves. But it would never occur to me that someone whose child faces more challenges is cursed.
On the other hand, when my husband and I were first married, we had a kooky neighbor who wanted to read our palms. Long story short, she said that our third child would not be "normal", and that the problem would be my husband's fault genetically. I can't say I didn't consider that prognostication when we were deciding whether we should try for another child or not. So maybe I believe in curses affecting a child's development more than I would like to admit.
In the last few pages, when I realized whose child Adrian was, and the true effect of the Tony's letter, I forgave Barnes. Perhaps I should even give him credit for knowing what parents of different learners think on the bleakest of days, but try not to say out loud. We just don't want to hear it from an outsider.
After posting about Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta, I still have so much more to say! Although what I'm saying here isn't exactly spoiling the story, it's more than I would want to give away to someone who is enjoying reading the book.
About Nik: Is he a rock and roll legend in his own mind? I don't really think so. It seems like he can see the bright line between The Chronicles and truth, but that he likes to try to blur it for Denise. Nik has created The Nik Worth Museum, only to find himself trapped under its weight. What a relief it must have been when Ada stepped in and he could train a new curator. Why couldn't Denise be the curator? She is the museum's visitor, not it's director.
Where did Nik go? I have no idea, but I feel like he did go somewhere (as opposed to committing suicide), where he can try to create music, without the self imposed obligations of The Chronicles and the Ontology. He took his guitars, which he would have left in his museum if he hadn't needed them. Maybe he will try writing for other people. Maybe he will dabble on the Internet. YouTube would be life changing for Nik, if he would just take the time (what? 5 minutes?) to learn how to use it.
Stone Arabia teases with the idea that Nik may have topped out when he was 20, and been too old to do anything worthy of acclaim by the age of 25. However, through out the novel, there is an underlying sense of optimism, that maybe the best is still yet to come. This is another way in which Stone Arabia mirrors A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. In Goon Squad, the well seasoned (read: old) rock and roller finds a new audience, and more fame than ever when he strips down to the bare basics, and markets to "the pointers" (babies who point to what they like on Ipads or other tablets) and their parents. Wait. Was that old rock and roller's name Nik Worth?
No. But I wish it was.
When the Typical Book Group met to discuss Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, someone mentioned something that I hadn't thought of - isn't it curious that Finn built Toby a new jail? When Finn and Toby met, Toby was in jail. Then, years later when they are living in New York, Toby goes down and stays in the basement storage unit for hours at a time while June visits. The storage unit is described as being fenced in, with a lock. Finn tried to make it nice, with floor to ceiling curtains for privacy, a couch, and other comforts, but really, it was a jail. It seems like there were so many other options instead of making Toby hide. Finn could have met his sister and her kids at their house, or at a restaurant. Even better, he could have introduced them to Toby. I know it was the 80s, but still.
I also found it really touching that Toby revealed to June that Finn was his only lover. In June's mind (and in mine too) that made it clear that the AIDS was Finn's "fault", if anyone is to be blamed. It was really unfair of Finn to let Toby take the blame for making him sick. I have to think that if the roles had been reversed, Toby would never have treated Finn as poorly as Finn treated him.
I really enjoyed The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova, but I was disappointed in the ending. My feelings are best summed up by the question: "Why, why, why?". Why would a hidden masterpiece that Robert Oliver may or may not have seen explain Beatrice's decision not to paint? Why was the reasoning behind this decision found in a letter conveniently hidden in a public place 100 years later? Why doesn't Gilbert Thomas have a greater role in the story? Why would a Sisley painting bring together the whole story? And the biggest question of all, why would Robert be so interested in Beatrice?
I think that there was a lost opportunity. We were told that Robert's mom was French, and that she was still alive, because she was helping his ex-wife pay the expenses of his commitment. Why would Marlowe not want to talk to her? And why would she be French, unless there was a reason? The only explanation that makes sense to the story is that she is Esme's daughter, and that she knew the secret and told it to Robert. That would explain his obsession, and give the story some lacking link.
Robert got better as soon as he read the last letter. Really? Sounds like insurance fraud to keep someone in an institution only to let them out on their word that they are fine, with no therapy at all.
I know - it sounds like The Swan Thieves was awful, and it really wasn't. It was a great story that I loved reading, but the ending just doesn't work.
After reading The Tale of Halcyon Crane by Wendy Webb, I have some questions, for which I don't really expect answers, but I want to put them out there . . .
1) Why is the main character named after two birds (Halcyon and Crane)? To imply that she flies away? That doesn't seem fair.
2) Why doesn't Hallie ever question if her father's family is still alive? She doesn't seem open to the possibility that she may have family members on that side too.
3) Why doesn't it ever occur to Hallie to go home and go through her father's things for answers?
4) About the ending. Wouldn't it have been more powerful if Hallie just stumbled upon Iris' grave and realized that she had been talking to someone who had been dead for years?
Ok, so The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve was not my favorite. The stilted language, which I discussed on my home page, is part of the problem. But I also question why Shreve created an incestuous affair between Maren and Evan. And then Maren had to sleep with his wife too? Was Shreve just trying to titillate us? Did people in the 1800s actually suspect Maren of the crime, or is this Shreve's invention? I have to wonder if history supports the tale that Shreve tells, or if she just took liberties in order to spice up the story. Unfortunately, although I am generally interested in potentially unsolved crimes from the past, I just don't care enough about these characters to look into what is fact and what is fiction.
I really liked Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple, but there was one part of the story that I thought would end differently. Specifically, I found it hard to believe that Elgin was buying a house for Soo-Lin, after she had been pregnant for 20 minutes. I could see if they were at the end of the first trimester and he was accepting responsibility, but they were supposed to have had sex the night before the intervention, which took place on December 22, and she told Audrey that she was pregnant on January 16. At that point they were already in the process of buying the house. I kept expecting Soo-Lin to TORCH herself and admit that she wished that she had had sex with Elgin and that he was buying her a house. Or better yet, to admit that the night in the hotel ended with Elgin falling asleep, and Soo-Lin hooking up with his brother, Van, who served no other obvious purpose in the story. There were so many twists and turns in the story, that it seemed strange that Semple played it straight with no surprise ending to this storyline.
At one point, when I was listening to Zeitoun by Dave Eggers on my way to work, I almost turned around and went home. My stomach was so queasy that I thought I was getting sick. Then I stopped and asked myself if it was possible that I was just worried about Zeitoun. I listened a little longer, learned that he was alive, and felt much better.
I am just appalled by how the security forces "helped" in New Orleans. They were looking for a war zone, so they turned New Orleans into one. The whole idea that Zeitoun could have been arrested for simply being in a home that he owned, and held for weeks without any charges being filed against him was upsetting. That he was held in a makeshift Guantanamo Bay was repulsive. Why in the world did the bureaucrats decide that the first priority was to build a prison at a bus station? Eggers notes that this is the one task that they completed efficiently and quickly. The story of the man who seemed to have autism being treated like a maximum security felon was just shocking. Who could treat another person like that?
It was important for Eggers to write this story. We need to know what really happened. But we also need to think about why the security forces acted like they did. Why would a person have a gun pointed at them for approaching a hospital to ask for help? Why would a wife be told that the location of her husband's court date is private information that she can't have? There have to be some lessons learned here so that we can respond effectively and compassionately the next time.