Book Three: Fangland

Fangland, John Marks

This book started out with all the potential in the world. Evangeline Harker, an associate producer for a 60 Minutes-type show, travels to Romania, and then goes deep into the mountains of Transylvania, to suss out a potential interview subject who is an elusive, yet notorious, Eastern European criminal. The first half of the book, told mostly from the perspective of Evangeline, is one of the creepiest things I've ever read. After the crime boss, Ion Torgu, takes her back to his "hotel" in the mountains, it becomes so scary I couldn't bear to be alone in the dark the last few days. But then... well, then we go back to New York City to the offices of The Hour, where some mysterious video tapes have arrived and things start to go all wonky, the staff either start dying or start looking like the living dead, and everyone is hearing "voices" that seem to be whispering something truly evil that no one can escape.

For me things really started to fall apart here. All of the tension from the first half dissipates, and then the most insane ending comes! If anyone who has read this book can explain the ending to me I would be most grateful. I mean, I get most of the general themes, and I appreciate them to a certain extent and think they could have made for a really interesting vampire book, but then... It's like John Marks (who, incidentally used to be a producer at 60 Minutes) throws a bunch of shit out there (including the entire history of death and torture and murder, September 11th, Dracula and vampires [though those names are mentioned only once or twice], technology, the media, feminine power over men), and then tells me, the reader, that it's my job to make any kind of sense of it. I don't mind using my noggin when I read, but I'd like at least some semblance of cohesion from my books.

To be fair, I haven't actually ever read Dracula, which this book apparently heavily borrows from and/or references. I wonder if that would make it make sense? It's on my list of books to read this year, and let's hope it's a better read than Fangland.

Book Two: The Fountain Overflows

The Fountain Overflows, Rebecca West

I could choose any page from this book, open it at random, and write it here and that anything would be one of the best things I have ever seen written. However, this is my most favorite passage in the whole book. When I first read it, I went back and read it five or six more times, just to relive the moment, and I've gone back to it several times since then.

We never had a better Christmas, up till four o'clock. We woke up quite late, of course, because we had been so long in going to sleep, and found the stockings at the ends of our beds. But before we could see what Papa and Mamma had put in them, Richard Quin staggered in, holding in front of him the big stocking Mamma had lent him because his socks were too small to hold anything. He could not bear to look into it for fear of his own delight. He asked hoarsely, "Would there be soldiers, do you think?" He always wanted tin soldiers, for Christmas and birthdays, and whenever anybody gave him any money to spend. We told him there certainly would. But he could not bear to deal with the stocking, he was all to pieces at the prospect of exquisite pleasure piling on exquisite pleasure, all day long. We urged him to be a man and start taking out his presents, but he sat down on Mary's bed and rocked himself and gasped, his eyes glazed. "And there are better presents downstairs, aren't there?"

We told him that there would be in the sitting, room, where the Christmas tree was, the same as there had been last year in Edinburgh.

"Then why," he panted, "don't we go downstairs and get those in case anything happens to them and then hurry back to these?"

"Why should we do that?" asked Mary, cuddling him to her. "There's all the time in the world." It was a phrase that my mother often used when we hurried a bar.

His face grew piteous and he cried, "There's not, there's not."

Mary hugged him close and they rocked together, tic-toc, tic-toc, while she sang, "There's all the time in the world," and he sang back, "There's not, there's not, there's not," his downy face easing into unmalicious mischief, his grey eyes sending coquettish glances under his black lashes at his three sisters.

Cordelia and I went and knelt before him, and she kissed his left foot and I kissed the right, while Mary went on singing, "There's all the time in the world," and he sang back, "There's not, there's not," bubbles of laughter forming on his lips, which were a pale but very bright pink. We all wished the moment could last forever.

I had never heard of this book before, though I'm aware it's well known. It was another NYRB Classic that I found on the shelves of the bookstore, and couldn't resist the review on the back cover that called it "a real Dickensian Christmas pudding of a book." Of course, it's not all Christmas, though we do get a few of those as we follow the Aubrey family through several years of their childhood. There are four Aubrey children: Rose, the narrator, is one of two daughters in the family who seem to have inherited their mother's talent for playing piano; the other daughter Cordelia appears to have no talent, though she insists on pursuing a career as a professional violinist; and the fourth, a son named Richard Quin is loved for his unique ability to make things right with everyone. Yes, there are ghosts and murders and debt and an abundance of music, tea, cakes and food, but this is really just a book about family and childhood and friends and love.

Book One: The Sparrow

The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell

My first book for 2009 turns out to be a re-read. I recommended this book for my book club because it's one of my favorites and it makes for interesting discussion. All this talk about God and faith and religion and human (plus human-alien) relationships wrapped up in what appears on the surface to be strictly a sci-fi book. Though, as one book club member pointed out, that observation sounds like a huge kick-in-the-kidneys to sci-fi, and as someone who has never read sci-fi I'm not really one to judge, no? But what I really mean by that is that just because you don't read sci-fi doesn't mean that you won't love this book. (Do three negatives equal a positive or another negative?)

My confession to you: I think I may be obsessed with God. Just the idea of God. And why it is so common to believe in God. Who are these people and what makes them tick? That's why I love the Mormons. I mean, on top of believing in personal revelations and some angel named Moroni, they also believe in God? Who are they kidding?! How does one get to this point? I think that The Sparrow does an interesting job of broaching these questions. And didja know that there's a sequel? Or that Brad Pitt owns the movie rights? My hot tip: go buy and read this now before all the books on the shelves are either stamped with a giant "In Theaters Now!" sticker or, worse, have a movie poster shot of Brad Pitt decked out as a diminutive Puerto Rican Jesuit with a conquistador beard gazing into the double-irised eyes of an alien. I kid you not.