Friday, July 25, 2014

Slow Days in July

Just a few random pictures I took with my phone over the week.  My best friend and I were downtown eating and trolling through the open-air market and other historical sites when we remembered that we hadn't taken any pictures.  Combine that with my forgetfulness for writing this week's events down in my journal, and I decided to just post a few pictures on the blog as a means of cheating.

These lofts are kind of a dream home of mine.  I have a vision board, but this place isn't up there yet.  Nonetheless, it's at the forefront of my desires.  If PCH sent me a check (or I made good money from doing what I love), I would vouch for a top floor corner unit facing West.  Lots of natural air and light.

I always tell people that staying here would be the one reason to keep me in town while my heart sings to move Westward or three hours East (again).  Still, I really am fond of this dream I have of staying in this place.  For at least a year!

While it is terribly small and slow, I love my city's downtown area.  It's filled with not only historical homes/buildings, but also little alleyways and nooks perfect for exploring on foot.  Not to mention areas of cobbled road.  Oh, and ghosts!  Nevertheless, the area is growing every day.  The detective story I started writing two years ago takes place in a fictional downtown inspired by my own.

The building on the right was built in 1821 for cotton traders.  It's now a restaurant where you can get crispy skinned gulf red snapper for $31.  Needless to say, I just admire the building as I walk along.

A small area of historical homes and stores preserved as a museum and touring location.  If you're from here, chances are you took a field trip out here in the third grade.

The building we're standing on is where in July of 2004 (ten years ago exact) I went to apply for a job as an extra in a movie that was filming in our city.  For two long days I worked toward my screen "debut" as a military man waiting to board a train.  I got sprayed with a hosepipe as a form of rain, and ate Salisbury steak underneath a tent separate from the leading actors–which included Gabrielle Union and Billy Dee Williams.  That was super cool!   

A month or so later, I got a $110 check for my work.  It was a check that I desperately needed at the time because I didn't have a job.  In any regard, being an extra in a movie was a great and treasured event.

That's all I got for now.  Thanks, everyone for stopping by.  I really didn't want to let this pictures stay tucked away in my phone. (^_^)

A Little Gladstone

Book three in Max Gladstone's The Craft Sequence series (I'm hoping his publisher offered him another contract) has finally arrived at my doorstep! Yippee! Right on time, because I'm more than halfway done with book two, Two Serpents Rise.  (Update: I'm done with it.) Thinking today is a good day to relax and finish it, especially after another day at the 9-5. However, I don't think I'm going to go right into Full Fathom Five afterwards. I want Gladstone's world to simmer for a minute.

You know... it's really interesting. The reason I picked up Gladstone's first book [Three Parts Dead] was because the cover featured a woman of color. Mix that with the genre he writes in (which is a blend of sci-fi and fantasy... among further genre-blending), and I was sold. Immediately, I became determined to get to know him and his work. With the passing of Octavia Butler and L. A. Banks (to name a few), it's not common to find this kind of diversity in sci-fi/fantasy novels. At least not to the extent that the lead character is of an ethnic flavor. Nonetheless, the reason I mentioned diversity and covers is because Full Fathom Five features an Asian woman alongside a black woman–my definitive fantasy combination. Which is no surprise when you consider how Toni Morrison and Amy Tan are my absolute favorite authors! Funny, eh?

First book in Gladstone's Craft Sequence series.  See the cover?  That's Tara!

Happy Reading, everyone!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Unbox Me

Here we go.  Time to unbox the latest batch of BookOutlet books.  I suppose I can't resist a deal, and saving $10 when you spend a total of $30 is too good a deal to ignore.  Especially when the books are less than $7.  So you can look at it two ways: either you're getting free shipping or a free book.  Makes no difference.  You must indulge yourself!

Freshly opened and free of packing paper (and mysteriously missing a packing slip).  I'm already super excited at this point.  I like how BookOutlet always makes it seems like there are less books than you actually ordered.  But still, I can already tell I'll need to rearrange my bookshelves again.  Including placing the remainders of my last order off my desk and somewhere appropriate until I find the mood to read them.

As I mentioned in a recent POST, I finished the first book [Hotel Paradise] in Martha Grimes's Emma Graham series.  Immediately, I just had to have the remaining three books in Emma's series.  Like... it was that serious.  So I'm happy I found them all in one go!  The series order goes as: Hotel Paradise, Cold Flat Junction, Belle Ruin, and Fadeaway Girl.  Still, I'm going to wait before I jump into book two.  I have to catch up on another author first, then it's back to Emma Graham's world.

Two copies of Sue Grafton's A is for Alibi suddenly popped up on the BookOutlet's listings.  They're the original hardbacks–which is extra, extra cool.  And made for a quick, compulsive snatched.  The original hardbacks have tons more character than the current paperbacks (speaking about the covers).  So what better way to start collecting them in this form than with the first book in the Kinsey Millhone series?  A Mind to Murder is book two in P. D. James's Adam Dalgliesh series.  After reading the first book, Cover Her Face, finding book two screams WIN!

Max Gladstone's Two Serpents Rise is the second book in his Craft Sequence series.  Released in October of 2013, I've waited this long to finally pick it up.  Why?  Because book three, Full Fathom Five, just released and I'm behind.  Basically, I have to catch up.  Max Gladstone is great.  Like Steve Bein, I'm starting to notice that I like male urban fantasy writers more than female–which is very unusual.  But it has to do with how the romance aspects are mostly snuffed off by male authors.  That's just the damn truth.  Give me the great characters, the world-building, the unique plotting.  Leave all the sex chat and werewolf gazing out.  

Nonetheless, Gladstone's series reflects the democracies of corporate America (but not necessarily American) inside urban fantasy, extreme world-building fantasy, and a few other genre-bending elements.  As I await my copy of Full Fathom Five, I'm sinking my teeth into this one.  I'll be back Emma Graham.

Thanks, everyone.  Do you love BookOutlet?  And what're you reading this summer?  Share in the comment section below!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Paradise & Old Murders

"Life was hard, but I was resolute."
~ Emma Graham, Hotel Paradise

I missed the voice of twelve-year-old Emma Graham the second I finished Martha Grimes’s Hotel Paradise.  And lucky me, BookOutlet had a $10-dollars-off-when-you-spend-$30 deal happening.  Even more thrilling, the remaining three books in Emma Graham’s series was in stock.  SOLD!  I packed my e-cart then went about my gleeful business.  As I write this–days after reading Hotel Paradise–I have yet to find myself lost in another book.  I'm currently struggling through Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women, because it’s apparent that what I really want is more Emma Graham.  Crazy, right?  Has this ever happened to you?

Emma Graham reminds me of myself when I was twelve, and on forward.  She pays close attention to adults.  She asks questions without much regard.  Sometimes those questions are attached to requests for favors.  She also speaks most of her mind to adults, but knows when to hold back for her own, stealthy advantage.  She’s the definition of precocious and brassy, but never to the point where she becomes an unlikable smart-ass.  Tack on how hilarious and perceptive she is, and not once did I feel any dislike for her.  

Most of that is probably because I understood where she was coming from.  She and her family resides and works (she waits tables) in a lakefront resort hotel called Hotel Paradise.  They somewhat inherited it through Emma's father, but not quite with Emma's biting great-aunt hanging over the place from her fourth floor bedroom.  Nonetheless, Emma's mother is the busy head chief at the Hotel Paradise (my mother was always busy and left me to my own devices sometimes); her brother is a charming prankster who is best to avoid (my younger sister got away with murder); and her father has long passed (yeah, well not mine).  Like myself Emma kind of has herself, her intrusiveness, and her imagination.  With the exception of a handful of townies to help her along the way, she stood on her own resolve.  And it was Emma’s imagination, intrusiveness, and resolve that affixed her to the forty-year-old "accidental" murder of a woman named Mary-Evelyn.  See, many moons ago a local resident named Mary-Evelyn climbed aboard a small boat that lead her out onto the lake adjacent to the Hotel Paradise.  She never came home alive.  This is where Hotel Paradise takes off... but never quite lands...

Martha Grimes
There are several things that you have to kind of take note of before you begin reading Hotel Paradise. The first is that it’s not your conventional mystery at all. Apparently, Martha Grimes gets a little flack for this from some readers, and even I had trouble kind of calculating what she was attempting to do with the spread of her plot. So with that said, do not go into Hotel Paradise thinking this is a case of page-turning suspense. Not quite. Even with two murders for Emma to break her sleuthing teeth on. The book is leisurely. The investigation process is leisurely. The town(s) Emma tromps through is leisurely. However, what’s not leisurely is Emma’s wit and commitment. Nor is Grimes’s rich characterizations of the other townies, Emma’s nemeses, and the interesting theories surrounding her investigation. Those elements are opulent in details, and makes up the bulk of the book.  As they should, because even toward the end not a damned thing is resolved. Everything–and I mean everything–is up in the air. And you know what? I loved it like that!

Another aspect about this book that you should probably consider is that Hotel Paradise doesn't have a set location. You'll quickly realize that it’s a small town somewhere in America, even if it comes across as somewhere in the United Kingdom. Or some place specific like Keswick, Cumbria. But no. You’ll realize that it’s American, and mostly through the attributing dialogue. It still doesn't quite cover the feel of the story, though. Which brings up another allure within the book: there is no definition of time and/or age. The book was published in 1996. However, that doesn't mean a thing when it reads a touch like something Frances Hodgson Burnett [The Secret Garden] wrote in the early 20th century. It’s both a funny and haunting thing; and all part of Emma’s voice and the magic of a narrative that draws you into its world.

In closing, Hotel Paradise is not for everyone. Part of me wants to push recommending it, and another doesn't. What I can say is that if you like the traditional mystery set up, then you just may want to stay away. However, if you got time for a slow book with a great leading narrative (who is at her best because of her age), then Hotel Paradise just might work for you. Anyway, I can’t wait for book two, Cold Flat Junction.

Some of Emma

"...Why make a fuss about such a little thing? is always my mother's fuming response as she bangs around the pots and pans preparing to shut down for the night.  All she wants is some peace and quiet.  Well, I say, all I want is some white meat of chicken."

"I kept the butterfly box, which I'd made from a small carton that once held Hunt's tomato sauce, for I had gone to a lot of trouble making the plastic-covered window, and I might be able to use it for something else."

"I stood before the candy-display case looking at the lineup of Butterfingers and Necco wafers and keeping my own ears open.  When I left the kitchen, I remembered I'd want some money, so I crossed the grass to the other wing and went up to my room to collect some of my tips.  I took a dollar in change along, which I jiggled in my fist whenever Mr. Britten looked my way, just to let him know I was here on business and not to loiter like some other people I could mention."

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


So, I can not finish writing about Ha Jin's The Crazed without sharing one of my favorite "ramblings" from Professor Yang.  I found the preceding passages too thought-provoking to ignore, as it asks a great question regarding Western and Eastern poetry voices and mechanics.  It also reflects one of the overall arguments of the novel.  

"He lifted his face and began lecturing in his normal way.  'Comrades, when we analyze a Western poem, we should bear in mind that the speaker and the poet are rarely identical.  The fundamental difference between Chinese poetry and Western poetry lies in the use of the persona.  In the Chinese poetic tradition the poet and the poetic speaker are not separate except in some minor genres, such as laments from the boudoir and folk ballads.  Ancient Chinese poets mostly speak as themselves in their poems; the sincerity and the trustworthiness of the poetic voice are the essential virtues of their poetry.  Chinese poets do not need a persona to alienate themselves from their poetic articulation.  By contrast, in Western literature poets often adopt a persona to make their poetry less autobiographical.  They believe in artifice more than in sincerity.  Therefore, when we read a Western poem, we must not assume that the poet speaks.  In general the speaker is fictional, not autobiographical.'"

"'The essence of Western culture is the self, whereas the essence of the Chinese culture is the community.  But poetry in both cultures has a similar function, that is, to express and preserve the self, though it attains this goal through different ways.  In Chinese culture, poetry liberates and sustains the self despite the fact that the self is constantly under the overwhelming pressure of the community.  Thus Chinese poets tend to speak as themselves, too earnest to worry about having a characterized voice to conceal their own–they desperately need the genuine self-expression in poetic articulation.  In other words, the self is liberated in poetic speech, which is essentially cathartic to the Chinese poet.  On the contrary, in Western culture poetry tends to shield and enrich the self, which on the one hand is threatened by other human beings and on the other hand has to communicate with others.  Therefore, the persona becomes indispensable if Western poets intend to communicate and commiserate with others without exposing themselves vulnerably.  In this sense, the persona as a poetic device functions to multiply the self.'"

Seeing that Ha Jin is a poet himself, he must've been channeling himself through Professor Yang intensely during this moment/scene from The Crazed.  Nonetheless, I have to say that I need to familiarize myself with more poetry by Chinese poets to even construct a decent response.  Nevertheless, it all bears a thought.  However, what I will say from a cultural and societal standpoint is that I can most certainly see how Eastern cultures focus on the community/country as a collective; whereas in the West we do lean toward many of our inner, personal philosophies and identities as individuals.  If this is reflected between–say an American poet over a Chinese poet–then I wouldn't be surprised should I come to that conclusion after exploring each.

So what do you think?  Is there some reality behind Professor Yang's thoughts in relation to poetry and cultural differences?

As a minor sidenote, this whole post/subject kind of makes me think of those moments where I'm screaming at whatever current Korean drama I'm watching.  Watching a character bow, move, get slapped, and honor abuse to save face for him or herself, as well as to not embarrass or make another character uncomfortable, often gets to me and my Western way of thinking.  But that's neither here nor there.  It just is what is is.  I understand it completely, while knowing that if I were in that situation it would take every bit of me to hold myself back.


Could you live the questionable life of a Chinese scholar?  If so, would you have protested in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, after years underneath the suppression of Maoism and the Cultural Revolution?  Would you have survived the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre?  Or would you have not bothered to attend, content with not mixing your passion with your country's political system?  Among all the questions that surfaced out of the 323 pages of Ha Jin’s 2002 The Crazed, these were a few that I walked away wondering.

China, 1989.  The Crazed follows the discordant (literary-not-technical) narrative contemplations of a young Chinese graduate student named Jian Wan.  When Jian Wan’s mentor, and esteemed university scholar, Professor Yang, suffers from a sudden stroke, Jian Wan takes up the mantel as his part-time caregiver.  Furthermore, Jian Wan is engaged to Professor Yang’s daughter, Meimei.  However, Meimei's currently studying for her Ph.D. entrance exams away at Beijing University.  As for Professor Yang’s wife, Mrs. Yang, she's in Tibet on a veterinary expectation.  Therefore, Jian Wan is Professor Yang’s proposed immediate family.  So Jian Wan fulfills his duty of treating his ailing future father-in-law, even though he's not too great at it (a visit from the scornful Meimei shows as much).  The task proves to be anything but easy as Jian Wan watches his mentor succumb to his stroke in the form of demented outbursts, and the unconscious liberation of long lost secrets.  Nonetheless, it's through the sparsely coherent moments that Professor Yang attempts to urge Jian Wan to abandon his future in Chinese academia, and to even flee China.  At one point Professor Yang expresses lucidly, outside of the aftermath of his stroke: “’The more you know, the crazier you’ll go, like me.  Intellect makes life insufferable.  It’s better to be an ordinary man working honestly with yours hands.’”

And when you consider the time, country, and culture, there may be a sense of truth to Professor Yang's concerns.  

Nevertheless, much to the disappointment of the ever emotionally vacant ice princess, Meimei, and Jian Wan’s friends and superiors, Jian Wan begins to acknowledge the words of his rambling mentor as a possible embodiment of rational and political truths.  He questions the direction he chose to take his life in.  But can he really walk away from his path and passion?  Or is Professor Yang just schitzy in his paranoia, and shouldn't be taken seriously?

Writing & Background

I have to start with how drawn and captivated I became with The Crazed, and not only through the noted ramblings of Professor Yang.  Though those ramblings were entertainingly strange, poetic at times, and genuinely worthy of attention.  Nonetheless, it was through Ha Jin’s writing and storytelling that hooked me–almost trance-like.  The minute I glided to my bookshelf to find something to read, I picked up The Crazed and did not want to let it go.  I was absorbed in Jian Wan's personal story and narrative flow.  

As always, there is something precise and vigilant about Ha Jin’s writing, and that may be because English is his adopted language; furthermore, he, himself, is an adopted scholar and English professor in America.  Ha Jin is from Liaoning, China.  He joined China’s People’s Liberation Army (which is very present in The Crazed) when he was fourteen.  While Ha Jin earned his Masters in China, he ultimately (in 1986) arrived in the US to further his education at Brandeis University.  Eventually, he studied in Boston University’s Creative Writing Program, which completed his educational pursuits.  I assume that somewhere between his educational journey that he established his citizenship within the US, making America his home.  While knowing this tidbit of background information kind of fueled my personal appreciation of Ha Jin’s prose, it also reveals how his background is demonstrable to the material in his writing.  Or more precise, the inspiration behind The Crazed.  He—probably in more ways than one—is his character, Jian Wan.

Politics & Academia

Now on to some of the political elements within The Crazed.  As mentioned, Professor Yang sometimes leaps out of the dementia given by his stroke to discourage Jian Wan from embracing the life of a Chinese scholar.  Professor Yang’s argument is that it’s a needless career path, as long as China remains a Communist and retrogressive country that is anti-Western.  The further China balks at foreign notoriety; the further Chinese scholars extend their philosophies, credo, tenets, etc. in small circles among one another.  So what use is it to carry their ideologies without others to contend them with?  It is better to put aside those thoughts and instead push China toward a democratic shape by playing an "active" role in China‘s change?  Or is it better to sit still and continue to honor conformed roles?  (Incidentally, with all the novels, poetry, and short stories Ha Jin has written, only one is currently available in China.)

Those political-based thoughts are probably the main argument of the overall book, and not just the keystone to Jian Wan's sway.  Jian Wan weights Professor Yang’s concerns, moved by both the professor’s words and the apparent "consequence" of forging a life of closed academia.  And with that weighting, Jian Wan finds himself heading toward Tiananmen Square to take part in the country’s historic pro-democracy demonstrations that led to The Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989.  However, even toward the end you'll wonder which direction Jian Wan will choose?  Or is he brave enough to choose one?  Or even if he'll make it out alive to celebrate his choice?  

From its opening to its end, The Crazed is an intimately eye-opening book.  It's one of those stories that really took me through the speculative mind and musings of an individual I would love to sit down and learn something about life and choices from.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Thinking About Kinsey

“Grafton is a leader for changing the genre, then, because she creates an entire world that is credible, thought provoking, and amusing.  We believe her creation of complex Kinsey Millhone and we accept the validity of the world in which Kinsey operates.  We can see ourselves reflected in Kinsey and our fears embodied in her world.  In Grafton’s detective novels of humanity and complexity, we like being puzzled and frightened and then escaping unscathed; we like being teased--not pushed--into thinking; we like being challenged to find our own strengths; and we just love being verbally tickled into laughing out loud.”

“G” is for Grafton: The World of Kinsey Millhone

Ah... Kinsey Millhone...

This post had to be delivered eventually, as I’m obsessed with Grafton’s vulnerable, witty heroine solving murders under an 80s-style California sun.  Grafton was one of the women authors (along with Paretsky) to break the literary female detective away from the likes of Christie’s Miss Marple.  See, Kinsey was young, spunky, a business owner, and American; and somewhat on a different spectrum than Miss Marple and other English female sleuths.  Nevertheless, that wasn't all Grafton did when she created Kinsey, and subsequently saw the release of the first book in her series [A is for Alibi] in 1982.  She also grinded and molded her protagonist into a private investigator that was just as (if not more) self-sufficient and capable than her male counterparts.  

I can't remember what introduced me to the series specifically.  It’s always been a familiarly unexplored type of relationship.  Something about a casual bookstore browse, and an omnibus book containing the first three books in the series, comes to mind.  Nevertheless, it wasn't until I wanted a new female voice– other than the likes of Cornwell’s Scarpetta and Gerritsen’s Isle–did I finally pick up a copy of A is for Alibi.

Should I lay out all the reason why I'm so in love with Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone next?  Or should I keep it quick?  The first and obvious factor is because she’s a woman, doing what is traditionally (while I hate to point this out) a job held by men.  Secondly, I identify with her—almost on a root level.

I found that the above quote kind of says most of what I want to say, or at least put it in better words.  So I'll leave it at that for now, while filled with the temptation to re-read the series as I anticipate the reveal of the 24th book in the series.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Book Issues: Do You Write in Books?

Ah, how wonderful.  Looks like a clean, nicely used copy of Chinua Achebe's No Longer at Ease.  However, it really isn't clean, but it's definitely used.  I bought this book for a class years ago, and have never read it in or outside of the classroom.  For starters, a tornado came spinning through the city the semester I bought it.  Consequently, the semester ended early due to citywide damage.  Damage that almost resembles this ruined copy of No Longer At Ease, in my opinion.  Still, I held on to this book.   I knew eventually I would gather the spirit to read it.  Or swallow enough contempt to get past the extraneous ink populating the margins, potentially clouding my own methodical musings.  So if you haven't figured it out already, someone (previous owner or before) had marked up the book.

The book sat on a shelf high in a hall closet for some time.  Out of sight, out of mind.  Until, recently I wanted something good to read.  Totally ignoring the books I already had available for the pickings (in which Martha Grimes's Hotel Paradise won and is fantastic as of now), I went looking in that closet and pulled No Longer at Ease out for a refreshed glance.  Maybe the markings weren't as bad as I remembered.

I flipped a few pages; found my left eye twitching with irritation.  Back into the closet the book went.  Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if I had made all of those marks and notations myself.  Actually, I know it wouldn't be bad because I don't write in books, and am almost horrified at the thought (the one exception is my copy of Rene Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy for good reason).  Nevertheless, I do understand why people do.  Especially when a book is required reading for a class.

To be clear, as it pertains to this post, I didn't know the state of this book when I bought it.  I just knew it was used (hint, hint) and that it was required reading for the later half of the semester.  So I did a grab and go.  Also, I've bought used books before related to school, and can't recall ever obtaining a copy this marked up.  Dogeared pages?  Maybe.  Nevertheless, the previous owner obviously had—and used—the book for a class also.  Passages highlighted in pink and yellow marker.  Personal annotations scrawled across margins.  Mark ups gone wild.  He or she had to have landed a decent grade, judging by their streaming interpretations of the text.  Still, how was I then and now going to approach this book with myself?  Without peeking at someone else’s ideas?  And why did I hold on to the book as if I’d ever get over someone else’s handwriting and flourishes decorating the text?

I suppose it was all necessary.  Required reading and all.  But still… I wish I’d paid attention instead of trying to hurry and get my books for class.

This is all not to say that I discourage marking up your books.  That’s a personal choice.  It’s just that as someone who usually doesn't do so, I've once again realized why I avoid doing so.

Do you write in your books?  I could image that those who do do so to contain the reading experience, as well as those little scholarly moments churning out of the text.  Or do you find it discouraging to follow someone else’s personal musings and annotations interrupting your reading experience, should you run across a marked up used book?  Or maybe it doesn't bother you at all?

Or does it never occur to you to mark up your books?  I can say that one reason I don't write in my books is because I'm just meticulous about keeping clean the things that I treasure.  When I lend a book out and it comes back in tatters, I do make the borrower buy me another copy.  Ask the cousin who spilled juice over my copy of Eric Jerome Dickey's Thieves Paradise.  And listen, I clean used books with sanitizing wipes and smudge them with Native American smudge sticks.  One is to clean away dust, sticky residue, and to polish the book some.  The other is to detach any lingering spirits, should the pervious owner be as "attached" to his or her books as I am to mine as a currently living person.  You may laugh, but this is all true.  (^_^)

And don't let me get started about booklice!


Do you mark up your books?
Hell yeah! Gotta keep up!
No way! Do I look crazy!?
Sometimes... maybe for school... free polls 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cover Her Face by P.D. James

“Coincidences happen every day.  An average jury will be able to think up half a dozen instances in their own experience.  The most likely interpretation of the facts so far is that someone known to Sally got in through her window and killed her.  He may or may not have used the ladder.  There are scratches on the walls as if he slid down by the stack pipe and lost his hold when he was nearly at the ground.  The police must have noticed these, but I don't see how they can prove when the scratches were made.  Sally may have been admitting callers that way on previous occasions.”

Cover Her Face starts off at Martingale manor, a home owned by a wealthy English family known as the Maxie family. Within the opening of the book, the family prepares to (once again) host a church-related event on their wide property.  This annual event raises money for charity, complete with re-establishing the influence of the Maxie family. 

Eleanor Maxie, family matriarch and wife of the bedridden Mr. Maxie, sends for family and friends to assist her with the charity event.  This includes her son Dr. Stephen Maxie and, family friend and socialite, Catherine Bowers. Additionally, within Mrs. Maxie’s household comes her daughter Deborah Maxie and, her introspective potential boyfriend, Felix Hearne. With a full staff of volunteers, Mrs. Maxie feels reassured that success will follow her upcoming charity event.

Then one evening (after the success of the charity) her son approaches the crowded dinner table to announce that he is engaged to Mrs. Maxie’s newest parlor maid, Sally Jupp.  Sally has a deep and strong history of rebellion and willfulness.  However, that has never deterred Mrs. Maxie from recognizing how knowledgeable and helpful Sally is as a maid.  Heck, Mrs. Maxie even allowed Sally to keep her toddler in the manor.  Nonetheless, the endlessly patient Mrs. Maxie cannot bless Sally and her son's engagement.  Her reservations of Sally can only lie aside for so long.  And while that may be one grievance Mrs. Maxie may have over Sally, it doesn't help that the majority of Mrs. Maxie’s family and friends do not like the girl almost by default. So when Sally Jupp turns up dead behind the bolted door of her room inside of the Martingale manor, the list of suspects appears close and boundless.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What Happened to Billy?

How in the world can I put the experience of reading this book into words? Maybe I should step back and do what I always do in the process of finding the right words, which is talk about how I've come across a particular book. For starters, I'm never one to turn away from contemporary African-American literature that pre-dates the Civil Rights era (though I always go beyond).  And although I spotted the book online, that didn't deter that near cosmic whiff I've gathered for sometimes nailing a darn good book via the Internet—as opposed to settling with the first couple of chapters within the bookstore.

I've never heard of the author of Billy, Albert French.  Post-Billy, I did a little research and realized that his catalog of available titles are sadly sparse.  This may attribute to me not knowing who he was, and why I haven't heard of him.  Or heard of his debut, Billy.  That’s discouraging, really.  I found French is an amazing writer, and one who really took me there with the rawness of Billy.  So with that being said, to read more of his biography, click the link HERE .  You'll find that French's personal story is inspiring, and that’s besides him penning Billy in six weeks.  

Those six weeks read more like six months of work.

Except for a slight adjustment in the omniscient narrative taking place in the beginning of the book (French‘s use of old, rural Mississippi parlance to illustrate the setting and characters eventually dials down), Billy was truly an outstanding (as well as a literarily upsetting) journey into the extreme justices that took place over blacks pre-Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s (I should actually mention that the NAACP begin the anti-lynching campaign in the 1930s, which has a slight correlation to the choice of events that took place in Billy). It’s an example the likes I've never really seen in literature, considering it involves a ten-year-old boy with anything but murder as his intent when he accidentally stabs a fifteen-year-old white girl named Lori. With that said, I kind of want to get away from French’s coherent forms and language/word choice and focus more on the social discussion surrounding Billy.

The tragedy of the story happens during an unsettling altercation between Lori and Billy. Billy and his best friend, Gumpy, crossed a bridge of railroad tracks out of segregation and into the white community of their town. Hopping along, they come across a pond (enthused to collect redbacks from within it) on a patch of private property farmland.  Instead of catching redbacks (a type of salamander) they find themselves in an inhospitable and violent confrontation with two girls, Lori, and her cousin, Jenny. The two girls attack; Jenny jumps Gumpy while Lori takes on Billy as he emerges from the pond.  The prideful Billy, having his face snubbed, beaten, and spat upon in the mud by Lori, eventually ends up escaping his assailant. Nonetheless, the event becomes increasingly deadly when Billy chooses to follow a fleeing Gumpy with Lori's aggressive taunts following his backside.  And because he doesn't react any further, it’s then that Lori (just as prideful and fiery as Billy) decides she hasn't had enough of him.  With Lori closing in for another attack, Billy stands prepared in his misguided self-defense and ends up puncturing Lori’s heart with a switchblade.

While she is a by-product of segregated views and societal entitlement, Lori was older than Billy, bigger than him, stronger than him, and very much in control than Billy.  Whereas Billy is from a community who couldn't fight back without the onslaught of further terror and deepened segregation, something that took place to the harm of Billy's community after the events.  In many ways, Billy and Lori seemed a touch alike, both seemed injudicious in their own way as children during that time.  However, the obvious difference lie in the fact that if the events have been reversed, Lori would hardly find herself tried as an adult facing first-degree murder. She would not find herself before a jury, slapping her with a death sentence in a guilty verdict that took less than twenty-four hours to "sinuate"—so to speak.  And most assuredly, it wouldn’t have been Lori strapped to an electric chair screaming for Jesus and her mother as those chilling last pages illustrated Billy’s death without a single syntactic wince. Well, frankly, nothing in this book was winced. It was all there. Front and center. Vivid and clear. Nothing fading to black. Only prevailing details that shaped the characters and setting, as well as the social focus, racism, and the ugliness of capital punishment for juveniles during a time (maybe some questionable cases in today’s age) where there were no civil rights for blacks to challenge those in authority.

Before I even read Billy, I remember telling myself that I hope this book didn't make me mad—didn't upset me. It did, but it didn't, until the final chapters when you watch Billy suffer up toward his death. That part was the painful part. And while I did feel for Lori, it can be said that Billy's story drew out a range of emotions unexplored from a book addressing this period.  As I mentioned, probably because it involved children.

So with so much of that said, should you ever find yourself looking for an author outside of Morrison, Wright, Ellison, or Gaines, please pick up Billy.

The following passage is taken from the book.  It's a reflection of one of the older members of Billy's community, Patch.  Here, she monologues how her age has caused her to see many tragedies within the community, and how Billy's approaching troubles are partly one on a long list.

"Old Patch folks just kept sitting.  Reverend Sims told them everything would be all right.  Them real old ones that done seen some time, knew them days Mister Pete talked about, had sad eyes.  Netty Lou Moore remembered things Mister Pete forgot.  She could remember before them Yankee soldiers come; she could remember belonging to them Hatchers too.  She told Reverend Sims, 'Ah done seens some bad times.  Wasn't nothin be back here.  Ya has ta wades in the Catfish ta gits back in here.  Ah remembers.  Its was right ups there.  Ya sees where the roads be now.  Its was right theres they comes.  Never forgits.  Theys come and gits that boy.  Ah remembers.  They comes and gits him.  His name was Elijah, that's what his name was.  Theys come down on thems horses and gits that boy.  Says he was stealin and doin too much lookin at thats white man's woman he was doin for.  Theys comes down here on thems horses and drags thats boy.  He sayin he ain'ts dids it, but theys drags him away and theys hang him rights down theres where the roads goes over the Catfish.  Thems were bad times.  Ya all can'ts remember.  Wern'ts born yets.  Thems were bad times.  They's comin agins.'"

~ Billy by Albert French

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