30 June 2011

Post 398: Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. ISBN: 9780307271341 (eBook).

Note: Spoiler alerts, but honestly, this is one of those books you have to experience for yourself anyway. Just revealing plot points to you isn't going to change your enjoyment of the book... unless you let it.

Those of you who follow my Twitter account may think I didn't like this book because I mostly mentioned the graphic descriptions of the surgeries. This is far from the case. Once I got over my general squeamishness, it was actually really interesting. I found the surgeries to be an intriguing narrative device. It would only make sense that a family of surgeons would be pieced together and focused around various medical procedures, both the ones they performed and have had performed.

In a way you can see the progression of the story as the surgeries move through each body. There are mentions of various ailments, and there were several major surgeries that were indicative of the place of the story and the completeness of the main character, Marion. For instance, we begin his story with birth, the birth of his twin brother, and the death of his mother. The pregnancy itself held complications, not only in circumstance, but also physical. Then it required the separation not only of fetuses from womb, but fetus from fetus as Marion and Shiva are conjoined at the head. After the surgery, Thomas Stone, the father of the twins, also removes himself from the family, unable to accept that the complications of the pregnancy along with his own panicked surgical actions resulted in the death of the woman he loved. The very symbolic nature of birth as a separation was very strongly represented by this surgery. But rather than bringing a family together, this birth literally tore people apart.

However, Marion and Shiva are adopted by two other doctors working at the Missing Hospital and live out fairly normal and active lives in Ethiopia. This portion of the narrative is littered with the surgeries of other people that both Marion and Shiva observe and how each reacts and learns. It is not until their sexual awakening that another major surgery takes place. Once again the surgery is a mirror to what is happening in the story. Shiva has sex with Genet, the girl Marion wants to marry and has already professed his love for, this results in Genet's mother arranging for a female circumcision. Although Shiva's actions do not prevent Marion from loving Genet, it obviously complicates things, much as the female circumcision will complicate Genet's gynecological and sexual health. Again, the surgery is a clear indication of the perversion of what should have been a natural and healthy relationship between Genet and Marion (at least according to Marion).

Then we have a long bit of surgical mentions and procedures regarding the liver. This is near the end of the book and Marion has reunited with his father. They are still on rocky terms, but if you think of the function of the liver, this is again an excellent symbol. The liver's job is to detoxify to body, and it is during this time where Marion learns to detoxify his relationship with his father and all of the hangups and abandonment issues involved with that. The final medical issue involved in the book results in Marion completing his journey to become a whole person. Meaning he finally accepts his past and accepts that his future requires a balance between his family, work, love life, etc.

As Verghese says,
"I am forced to render some order to the events of my life, to say it began here, and then because of this, that happened, and this is how the end connects to the beginning, and so here I am." Pg 19.

Just as surgeons are forced to render order in the chaos of the body, Verghese has found a means of determining where the beginning of the story is and how it connects to all the other plot lines. It only makes sense that Verghese would choose surgeries to connect the various parts of his story together. If we were all able to relate our passions back to our lives in such a way we might all get more out of it. An unexamined life and all that.

The Book Diary has a good short review, although I disagree with the need to shorten the book. Cats and a Book does a pretty good job of summarizing the story, but is very light on the review part.
LibsNote: Library copy via Overdrive Media.
*I really wish now that I had kept a running list of the surgeries and what was going on in the story so I could analyze this further. This might be a case of unintentional genius; otherwise, Verghese is even more of a master storyteller than he is given credit for.

27 June 2011

Post 397: Feast

Feast by Merrie Destefano. ISBN: 9780061990823 (eGalley - publishes June 28, 2011).

Oh Readerlings, I do this to myself. Occasionally I will volunteer to read a book that I know, I know, is not going to be good. Why do I do this to myself? What sick satisfaction do I get from reading something I know I won't like?

Blah, blah, blah, something about expanding my experiences and being able to know when this happens: "Hey, you got good writing in my bad writing." "You got bad writing in my good writing!" This is not a great taste, but sometimes you just swallow it because you need to know what happens next and the only way to do that is to let it go through your literary digestive tract. Mmm, pulpy.

This is a book that has a tiny bit of good writing in a lot of bad writing. No, let me take that back, it has a lot of good imagination in slightly more bad writing. The pacing was wrong, there was no build up to the big monster reveal, and I couldn't tell if the monsters were supposed to be sympathetic bad guys or bad sympathetic guys. Also... omg the pity party. This book has more emo-fest packed into it than my last year and a half of unemployment and being in a long distance relationship and the fact that I feel totally worthless that I can't provide for myself and no one wants to take advantage of all this sexy, sexy librarian brain meat I have goin' on.

But... the Darklings are interesting. And now it is time for some advice to writers. The problem with creating and writing mythical creatures is knowing where to draw the line about how much to reveal to the reader. It's okay that you have all these facts and what not that you've come up with about them, that you have built centuries of legends around them, but unless you are going to tell us that story, we might not need to know every detail. Part of the fun of reading about imaginary creatures is thinking about what they might be able to do, rather than what we already know about them. That's what's so fun about the influx of paranormal. We have this excellent baseline of knowledge about the creatures already, but then we get to see what someone else has done with them. With something like the Darklings, it's either necessary to build up the myth slowly or give just enough exposition and world building so that we aren't stumbling through the first 50 pages or so trying to piece together what it is we're reading about. I would go ahead and tell you, readers, what a Darkling is, but if you have any interest at all in this book that might just ruin it for you.

Do you have a favorite monster or imaginary creature? Have you made your own? How do you like your monster stories? Do you prefer having a bunch of world building/back story or a big reveal at the end?

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Free review copy provided by NetGalley.

25 June 2011

Post 396: a general update

Oh man, I almost forgot to do a general update again. I think I got a little overwhelmed by all of the offers I've been getting by email recently from publishers. Here's a small hint if you want me to accept your title: at the very least include the name of my blog. I am aware I'm a nobody, but come on, the title of my blog is in big, big letters at the top of the page. Take a look at my About Me page, chances are you will learn exactly what my blog is about. If you ask me to put a "review" on my blog for your book, I know you haven't read my About Me page. This is a little different than your average book blog. Oh, and if you're new to the blog, check out that page too. It will explain why I link to my reviews on Goodreads and/or from other sources, and yes they are different. Double the content, double the headaches, for me at least. The extra step, I have taken it.


Feast by Merrie Destefano.
I actually finished this on the 24th. There were problems, but I was not overly surprised that there were. The cover, it whispered things to me. Speaking of the cover, why is there an early twenty-year old when Maggie has a 9-year old? Marketers, you frustrate me with your choices.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.
I saw someone reading this at ALA 2010 on the subway and I wanted it. I had no idea what it was about, but I knew I wanted to read it. Sometimes there are titles that are like that, plus I think the woman was very involved. Have you ever watched a person read a book and they looked like they were enjoying it so much you just knew you were going to go out and find it at some point? Well, okay, so I'm weird, but that's what happened.

I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confession of Google Employee #59 by Douglas Edwards.
Google is interesting. Because it is Google. Also, maybe I am hoping for more search hits from Google because I will be mentioning Google a lot in that post. Also in this one, Google, Google, Google. Bing. Oh, wait, that last one I was channeling Colbert. Sorry, Google. Where's my $2500 per mention? What? I don't have a million viewers? Well... poop.

Thoughts Without Cigarettes by Oscar Hijuelos.
I won a book, hooray! Thanks to the Goodreads Firstreads program, I was sent this book by the publisher in the hopes that I would read and review it. Since I'm a book blogger, that will actually happen. Why did I want to read this? I liked the title and my focus as an undergraduate was in American immigrant history (that's immigrants to America). I know nothing about Cuban immigrants, or their culture, so we can tally this one on my professional development board. Bam.

Kiss Me Like a Stranger by Gene Wilder.
I can't remember where I first saw/heard about this book. It's Gene Wilder. I love Gene Wilder. Gene Wilder is practically my daddy. I have seen more of his movies in the past year than I have seen of my father in the past five. Also, did you know he's older than Christopher Lloyd? How messed up is that? He and Mel Brooks, in my opinion, are pretty much the only stand-up guys in Hollywood. That town will suffer a severe vacuum of morality and all-around goodness when we lose them, and that town already sucks. (Note: I am generalizing, there are definitely a few other Good Guys out there, but Come On! Also, come to think of it, I'm pretty sure Brooks lives in New York.)

23 June 2011

Post 395: The Third Rail

The Third Rail by Michael Harvey. ISBN: 9780307473639.

I am sure this is an excellent example of a crime thriller, which is probably why I didn't much care for it. I know I've discussed before why I don't like mysteries and their relatives. The "hero" of the story is your fairly typical former cop turned detective with hot girlfriend and somehow manages to find the bad guy with the help of a plucky sidekick, some good/bad luck, and the fact that the bad guy is stalking him for reasons unknown until finally revealed; oh, what a twist. It's not badly written. I have no real problems with it other than the fact that I didn't much care for Michael Kelly, who seemed a bit too into himself and his job to the point where he put everyone around him at risk. This is interesting when it's Batman or Spiderman who have and openly display their fucked-up-ed-ness, but not so much when you have a character who believes his balls drag behind him on the asphalt... and that this is a good thing. I tend to roll my eyes at that kind of behavior, but some people like the overly macho thing in their literature.

Anyway, there was one poignant passage in this book that I think is worth mentioned and reflecting on. During a sniper shooting of people in several cars, Harvey describes what people have lost along with their lives (or due to their injuries). This includes the good and the bad. We see people who never find out they have a tumor, or their wife has been having an affair, or that they got into law school, or that they would have been a famous athlete. I liked this because it recognized not only the horror and destruction of the violence itself, but also the prolonged effects.

A violent act isn't only terrible for the violence or the lives lost, but for all of the potential lost. Even though the person who had a tumor at least didn't have to suffer through all of the pain that kind of diagnosis involves, he also didn't have the opportunity to say good bye to his loved ones, or to set up a scholarship fund, or amend his will to donate most of his resources to charity. But violence is especially horrible because it is ultimately something that could have been prevented. Violence may feel like a force of nature, but isn't the point of being human to disassociate ourselves from our instincts? To not react based on our emotions and baser desires? There are enough terrible things happening in the world that an act of violence is obscene because of its very unnecessariness. There is absolutely no reason to behave violently short of mental illness, and we ought to be doing everything we possibly can to treat even that.

It is so unfortunate that this is the only real moment of reflection we see from the narrator/author. It would have made an interesting counterbalance to an otherwise generic testosterone filled thriller.

I couldn't find a review that agreed with me on this one, and the only reason I really disliked it were for reasons I mentioned in the post. It just didn't seem necessary to write a review as well.
LibsNote: Copy provided for review by publicists.

20 June 2011

Post 394: The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. ISBN: 9780062041265.

I was wrong in my general update when I said this was a mystery. What I meant was, this is some kind of weird noir-ish Western with vague hints of film serials. But for me, this is part of the fun of writing the general update. I get to see exactly what I thought I was getting myself into before I started a book and see how accurately I judged the book while knowing little to nothing about it (or everything with the more hyped or classic books).

Anyway, I liked this book, despite the fact that there were things I very much did not like about it. That sounds more contradictory than it is. Let me explain. There was a lot of mindless violence, there was a lot of machismo and treating women like objects, there was a lot of drinking and drug use, and there was very little to keep my interest in the way of plot... except... Except there's Eli Sisters.

He starts of being kind of strange, not the kind of outlaw gunman you would expect. In fact, when I started reading it my first thought was, "Autistic cowboy, what?" Eli very much displayed some of the same behaviors as my mostly autistic in-laws-to-be. But the further I read into the story the more I realized he was the more sane of the two Sisters Brothers and the more thoughtful. Rather than the mindless killing I had assumed was taking place, it was instead very calculated on Charlie's part and more reactive on Eli's. Watching Eli gain a certain amount of self-awareness regarding his professional and moral decisions was fascinating. I have rarely seen a more aware character in such a violent novel, and it was a nice change of pace.

Too frequently I think we are treated only to the reactionary nature of characters thrown into violent situations, whether through their own doing or not. It was wonderful to see Eli step back from the situation and realize why he was involved with the Commodore, why he kept falling in love with women he barely knew, and how that affected him.

Do you know of any other self-aware characters like this? I'd be interested in reading more or at least exploring some titles.

While I don't think I liked it quite as much as Mike from Goodreads, I did really like his review. Kirkus gave this novel a limp handshake, and while on some level I can understand why, dude, that's harsh.
LibsNote: Received from publisher for participating in #fridayreads. For those of you who say nothing good comes from being on Twitter, HAH!

16 June 2011

Post 393: You're Next

You're Next by Gregg Hurwitz. ISBN: (advanced copy - US release July 5, 2011).

Although this is a fairly typical example of a mystery thriller, there are some things I think Hurwitz does rather well. The first is tracing Michael Wingate's transformation from loved child to abandoned foster care kid to hooligan to respected citizen and family man to suspected terrorist. With all of these different personalities and perceptions at play, Hurwitz made the changes seem, if not smooth, then at least in line with Wingate's reasoning.

What I was more impressed with was how well he wrote Kat, Michael's precocious 8-year old daughter. I have seen so many poorly constructed young characters in adult literature that this was a very nice change. Not only that, but Kat was actually enjoyable. Rather than being constantly whiny or in the way, Kat behaved like a child. She was occasionally whiny or difficult, but that was not her modus operandi, she had emotions just like you would expect anyone her age and in her circumstances to have. She was also presented as someone who didn't know what was going on only because no one bothered to explain to her what was happening because they assumed she wouldn't understand. Almost as soon as Michael made it clear what he was doing and why, she got with the program. She didn't always like it, but eight is about the right age where they start questioning parental reasoning, without getting to the point of actually questioning parental authority (usually).

Yet she's also at that age where she is testing. I especially enjoyed an exchange of dialog where Michael states that Kat's sandwich isn't going to eat itself, and she says, 'But if it did, that'd be really cool.' This is more or less the exact response I would expect from an eight year old acting up. It is borderline enough to be cute and lippy without going overboard. I made me smile without also wanting to throw my hands up and walk away because it was too cute.

I imagine that children are especially hard to write because it's easier to have children behave a certain way all of the time. So often we forget what it was like to be a child, or even be around them. When you get to be a certain age, it seems that you have no contact with children until you have some of your own. If you don't have your own... well, then you're kind of that awkward aunt or uncle at the part that slowly stops getting invited to parties because everyone else is talking about diapers and you just bought a new gaming console. For yourself. I would love to know how Hurwitz pulled this off, because there are quite a few writers who could benefit from his knowledge.

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Advanced copy of the US version provided by publicist.

13 June 2011

Post 392: Hell at the Breech

Hell at the Breech by Tom Franklin. ISBN: 9780688167417.

How much are we ethically influenced by our jobs? How often do we do things in our work that we might not do if we had a "choice" of doing them versus keeping our jobs? This question is raised by Sheriff Billy Thwaite when he has to make the decision to uphold the law as it's written or break it in order to serve and protect his people, as he has been hired and is expected to do by his community. Franklin (through Thwaite) states it best here,

"His goddamn badge. Its weight inside his coat was a thing he'd grown accustomed to, a thing he wasn't aware of--like some internal organ going about its silent duty. And like some silent dutiful organ it operated a part of him, did for him certain things he'd not have otherwise done. As if his conscience had become grown about the badge and shaped around it like trees he'd seen with bark grown over metal signs nailed to their trunks, the sign as much a part of the tree as leaf or root." Page 170.

Most of you might be thinking to yourselves that you don't have a job where your personal morals, ethics, whatever get in the way of doing your job. Well, either you're very lucky, you own your own small business and treat your employees extremely well (are you hiring?), you have never thought about it, or you are so corrupted you are not certain where your true values lie. Think about even the lowly line cook. Surely s/he knows that the meat being served at the restaurant is probably not quite as good as the restaurant claims. At the very least s/he is forced to cut corners in order to meet quotas or fill orders within a certain time frame so that the cashier doesn't get yelled at by some asshole customer who can't wait the extra three minutes it would take to make absolutely sure his kid's burger doesn't have live tapeworm eggs.

Even in the library field we run into ethical dilemmas. In fact, I may have run into them more than at any other job I worked, because it is the one profession I've been trained for where they are almost more obsessed with ethics than doctors and philosophy students. We have privacy issues, we have issues of freedom of speech, we have access issues, have to deal with the homeless, the potentially homeless, the mentally ill, the physically ill, various levels of mental capacity and use, various levels of technological abilities, and the issue of which really useful service or staff member to cut in times of budgeting crises (which has been pretty much all the time).

Possibly the least challenging ethical question I was faced with during my day as a graduate reference student: "This student is in a hurry, do I try to show them how to do this on their own, or do I assume they won't pay attention anyway because they're too busy thinking about getting to their class across campus in five minutes?" Some days that question was easier to answer than others and some days I had harder questions, such as, "Do I email this article to someone from one of our databases even though I know it violates copyright law, but gee, our vendors have been steadily raising the cost of electronic journals and well, if they've taken a hefty chunk out of our asses..."

These may not sound like life changing moments, but when you think about how much time we spend at work making those kind of decisions, it can't not affect who we are as people. Some of that ethical fortitude is going to seep out into our "regular" lives and our interactions with family, friends, and strangers on the bus or at the Starbucks. The question is... Should it be allowed to? And if not, how do we even begin to change how businesses are run so that people can maintain their integrity and still do their job without causing too much chaos for business owners? Or do we all agree that leaving our integrity at the door when we sign up with HR is the best possible thing for god and country?*

This review from the Book Reporter was pretty accurate. I still found Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter to be the superior novel, if only for the lyricism of the prose.
LibsNote: Borrowed from a family friend.
*However you choose to define them.

09 June 2011

Post 391: The Girl in the Garden

The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair. ISBN: 9780446572682 (eGalley - publishes June 15, 2011).

I'm sure most of us have overheard some conversation between a couple of kids along the lines of, "My dad can beat up your dad." "Nuh-UH!" But how many of us remember being the kid to say that? Or at least something along those lines. Do you remember the moment you realized your parents were just average people who made mistakes?

The Girl in the Garden actually depicts this particular right of passage for a young second generation American named Rakhee. The girl obviously idolizes her mother and father, as well as their relationship. She is convinced that no two people were ever more in love, until it starts falling apart. Rakhee, being only 10 and 11 years old in the story, believes she can fix her parents' marriage, but of course in the process learns that they are not the people she thought they were.

I think this transition was handled well throughout the story. We definitely get an appropriate sense of reverence from Rakhee regarding her mother and father which slowly deteriorates throughout the story as signs of her mother's depression begin showing and then other secrets are revealed. Her reverence for her father is especially interesting since he is more remote, yet there is still the desire to prove herself to him, to be "grown up" enough to go to the lab with him and watch his work, etc. Rakhee's eventual understanding of her parents' humanness is something we can all relate to, even if we did not go through such drastic family drama, and Nair selected the perfect age for this transition to occur.

I recall my own Human Parent* moments at about that age. It occurred first for my father who was often unemployed, but up until I was about 10 he still behaved as a father should. He would make sure we had snacks after school, he cleaned the house, at the very least he asked us how our day was. After I turned 10 (and hit puberty early and hard), things started to change. He became moodier and less interested in being part of the family. He had more trouble finding and keeping work (when he even bothered to try), and he not-so-slowly became completely disengaged from us. By the time he was ready to be hospitalized for mental illness, I had already come to the conclusion that parenthood did not equal perfection, and therefore the life choices and moral codes of my parents were not necessarily The Right Ones.

It took me a little longer to realize this with my mother, but once again, around the same time. Part of this was her struggle to balance her military career with her family life. She practically had no social life or hobbies during the time she was trying to make first Captain and then Major (Air Force). This didn't matter so much until my father began to withdraw and we really started noticing her absence as well. The increased pressure caused her to anger more quickly and occasionally lash out verbally, yelling and/or cursing. Not to make excuses for her, but I understand her behavior and how difficult it must have been to feel like she was not only providing for a family by herself, but also raising one alone. While I was not the problem child in the household, I did on occasion try to hold her accountable for my brother's lack of discipline, especially when it directly affected me. Because this was not supposed to be my role in the family, it became much harder to respect her as an authority figure, and so my mother too was subjected to the Human Parent moment.

Does anyone else have a moment where you can clearly remember seeing your parent as human for the first time?

My review can be found on Goodreads.
LibsNote: Review copy provided by NetGalley.
*I pretty much pulled this term from thin air. It's possible there's a more widely accepted term somewhere else, but I do enough research and whatnot for this blog as it is. So there.

07 June 2011

Post 390: a general update

I'm a little slow with this general update. Whoops. I had a huge buffer there for awhile, but if you're following my Goodreads and/or Twitter account, you might notice that I've been reading books I haven't been blogging about. Part of that is because I feel it is healthier for me and more productive for this blog if I am able to read without worrying about what I'm going to write about. The other part is because with the current schedule I'm on I sometimes manage to get the previously mentioned huge buffer. This is good in some ways because it means I am less reliant on guest bloggers, but if I get too far ahead I will be posting information that is very, very, very outdated about my personal life. For instance, that Bookstore job I mentioned? Yeah, I didn't get that. So, I'm still unemployed. I've pretty much given up at this point. I don't know what that means for me, but it probably means I will never be a librarian and now I have to figure out what the hell else to do with my life.

Anyway, that's what's going on with me personally. I keep it short, because who cares, right?

Books! Somehow I got a lot of mystery novels in here, ya'll.

The Girl in the Garden by Kamala Nair.
Saw this title on NetGalley and love, love, loved the cover design. Sometimes the cover really does sell the book. You'll see what I mean when it posts, it is beautiful. This is about a second generation Indian American named Rakhee. She and her mother go back to India while her mother's marriage falls apart and she learns secrety secrets about her family. However, since this is told as a frame tale, it is within the context of Rakhee keeping this very story secret from her fiance. It asks the question of how much our future spouses need to know/should know about our families and whether we can live with ourselves if they don't know and love us, or if they do know and decide they don't.

Hell at the Breech by Tom Franklin.
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter was SO good that I ended up recommending it to a family friend, who apparently loves Tom Franklin, but didn't realize he had published a "new" novel. Anyway, said friend lent me this a while back, but I had a slew of library books I needed to get through first. I'm sure after a month or so that just about anyone would want their book back already.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt.
I was gabbing with some people at the local indie bookstore and they mentioned that this was a great read. As always, I am kind of meh about mysteries, but then I magically won this by participating in the #fridayreads hashtag. This is where people all over the interbutts tell you what they're reading. Twitter is kind of amazing like that. If you don't participate in the hashtag yet, you should, it's loads of fun. Anyway, excited to have the opportunity to read a book I probably wouldn't have picked up on my own.

The Third Rail by Michael Harvey.
This and the next book were offered to me by a PR person from the publishing house. I kind of love getting offers like this because it makes me feel like I have Made It as a book blogger. This is stupid of course, because I have so few readers, but I like to think I have quality readers. You guys are awesome. What's this book about? Chaos in Chicago! Riots on the Rails! Sickness in the Subway? Menacing Mystery Men? Okay, enough of that, it's getting silly.

You're Next by Gregg Hurwitz.
Mike was raised in foster care, but now he's fairly successful, has a daughter and wife when SUDDENLY MYSTERY. He remembers things from his past that he had forgotten and now they are back to haunt him and threaten the life he has built. Reviews on Goodreads seem to be generally positive, with the occasional naysayer thrown in. We shall see. Keep in mind, I am already kind of meh about mysteries.

06 June 2011

Post 389: Cinder and Ella

Cinder and Ella by Melissa Lemon. ISBN: 9781599559063 (eGalley - publishes November 8, 2011).

Families are difficult sometimes. We don't always support our families the way we should and vice versa. This happens for a number of reasons: divorce, job loss, or even just moving to a new city can change the family dynamic so that family members become focused more on their own problems, needs, and wants. Occasionally that leads to such a toxic environment for one or more members of the family that it becomes impossible to safely and/or sanely live and when that happens, sometimes the best thing to do is leave.

Faced with this situation when their father becomes corrupted by Prince Monticello and leaves the family, Cinder and Ella both escape the deteriorating family life. Both have good reasons for doing so, but I feel that Ella actually made the most of her leave of absence. While Cinder goes to the castle to seek work in order to support herself, Ella flees her family altogether and builds her own life and finds her self worth without the aid of her family. She gains a sense of self-confidence and self-esteem that I don't think she would have found being constantly compared to the "more generous and accommodating" Cinder.

Too often society insists that we must remain loyal to the family group, even when it is detrimental to do so. While both young women leave that environment, Ella leaves all of her obligations behind (at least initially). I think she made the right choice, and here's why:

Ella initially had no identity on her own. She suffered severely from middle child syndrome, namely being somewhat lacking in any sort of identifier to set her apart from her siblings, and so felt she had no role in her family to begin with. This was lessened by the fact that she was her father's favorite, but once he leaves, not only is Ella's Purpose in the family removed, but her mother even begins to meld her together with Cinder (hence she and Ella become Cinderella). The family itself has declared her obsolete and, regardless of whether or not that is true, by refusing to recognize her contributions, the family loses all rights to demand them.

Ella does eventually return to the family and this is also an acceptable turn of events for both her and people who have faced this sort of situation. However, she does not return before she is ready to do so on her terms. She learns not only that she can contribute in her own way (by meeting and working for another family), but that she can also make friends and family outside of the one she was born into. This is sometimes a necessary experience as it gives those of us who may not have a strong Birth Family the option of supporting and being supported by an auxiliary network during times of great joy, sorrow, or anxiety. There is no shame in leaving your family to become your own person, to become a stronger person, especially when there is so much at stake in terms of losing yourself in a harmful situation.

My review can be found on Goodreads. 
LibsNote: Review copy provided by NetGalley.

02 June 2011

Post 388: The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale. ISBN: 9780446571579.

Well... in my general update I promised to tell you if this book went too far with the sex thing. The answer is yes. And no.

Hale's decision to include the sex, the kind(s) of sex, and the abundance of sex is brave and shocking and uncomfortable. It is only natural for us to be discomforted by the idea of anyone having sex with an animal, but the entire premise of the novel is How Animal is Animal?

If Bruno truly has the capacity to reason and communicate on the level of a human, then if we are good and just people we would have to recognize him as a sentient being with all the rights of such. One of those rights would be the opportunity have a romantic and physical consensual relationship with another being of similar capacities. I am not talking about sex between animal and human, but between sentient being and sentient being. The fact that Bruno happens to be an ape is a misfortune of birth and to deny him a full life based on that circumstance alone is uncomfortably close to other denials of personhood. Just because we have a specific idea of what a person is now, and that idea does not include apes, does not necessarily make it the right idea forever.

That being said, while I can accept this concept on an academic level, if confronted with a sentient animal-human pairing I would probably not take it very well. There has been enough conditioning over the millions of years of evolution for this to carry a great deal of ick factor in even the most liberal of people. But when I posed the question in terms of extraterrestrials, I realized I didn't really have a problem with the idea of humans forming interspecies relationships. I am simply not wired to see nonhuman terrestrial animals as sentient beings, at least not on the level capable of having consensual sexual relations with humans.

I don't think I would personally ever be able to have that kind of relationship with a sentient terrestrial animal, but I am not sure I would want to deny them the right to have a relationship with another sentient being just because it freaks me out. It's sort of one of those things I never want to have to deal with, but I am thankful that I have been exposed to the idea of it, because it makes it easier to reevaluate why I feel a certain way about the theoretical situation. Sometimes knowing how personal moral stances were built makes it easier to see why they were established and if they should remain in place or be adjusted to meet new circumstances.

The Bookmarks Magazine artfully dances around an uncomfortable review over at Goodreads. From the blogging world What She Read pegs some of the pitfalls of the book a Littlemore (ha.ha.) directly without doing a disservice to the good aspects of the novel.
LibsNote: Library copy.
*I am not condoning the rape of animals. I am saying that if there were animals capable of reasoning on a similar level as humans and of consenting to a relationship with a human, that I would not automatically say that it was Capital W Wrong.
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