Monday, July 11, 2011

One Weekend... Three Books

I finished one novel and read two other books this weekend... ranging across the spectrum from an inspirational based-on-true-life story of forgiveness and love to a YA novel set in modern-day England revolving around the taboo subject of.... um... incest. But first:

I finished Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. This book was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2002, which is why I read it; the winner that year was Life of Pi, which is also on my to-read shelf. Set in Victorian England, the title is derived from the slang term for pickpocket. The plot revolves around a den of pick-pockets, baby-smugglers, con artists... Who can you trust? Who is conning who? A well-written book that gives a vivid portrait of the times, it dragged on a bit too long for me because I lost interest in all the cons going on.

A writer's power is one of influence and seduction. It is in her power to create in the reader an emotional attachment, a visceral reaction to characters. Whether a character is morally corrupt, sinister, criminal, or possesses any other repugnant quality, if the web of words is strong enough, the reader can be caught--rapt, bewitched, connected--just as the writer intended her to be. But Fingersmith didn't snag me up in any silky web; I felt no emotion for the pickpockets and con artists, and not because of their trades. I didn't care what happened to them, simply because the author didn't make me feel for them. But in the last book in this post, I was caught up in a web of emotion, connected to characters with a shortcoming even more corrupt than picking pockets...

The Heart Mender by Andy Andrews is an unbelievable story about redemption and new love set on the Gulf Coast of Alabama in WW II. In the 21st century, the author digs up the stump of a tree on his small island off of the Alabama coast and finds a metal can filled with Nazi buttons, rings, artifacts, and three photographs. He sets out to solve the "mystery" of the can and its contents. In the 1940s, a woman, widowed by war, encounters a wounded man washed up on the Alabama beach in front of her house. Who is he and where did he come from?

These are some crazy historical facts I learned in the reading of this book:

-Nazi submarines infested the waters of the eastern US and the Gulf of Mexico, sinking freighters and ships transporting food and supplies to our troops. The sinkings and bombings rarely made US newspapers. I had no idea they were ever this close to American soil.

-When US troops captured and boarded one Nazi submarine off of the Gulf Coast, they found fresh veggies and empty Campbell's soup cans onboard. As one character in the book said, "Well, they aren't going back to Berlin every few days to refuel, now are they?" Even more eerie, found in the pockets of several of the German sailors on that captured submarine: ticket stubs from a New Orleans movie theatre.

At times the story reads like a hokey Hallmark movie when the author is really trying to impart his life lesson of "forgiveness" through the story. It might have been better served to let the story speak for itself and to allow the reader to interpret how she may.

The third book, Forbidden, by Tabitha Suzuma, piqued my interest when I watched my friend Sara’s video chat on her blog, I have never read anything about this subject [consensual incest], so I: a) wanted to see how the author handled it; b) see how it reads, classified as a YA novel; and c) let's face it, I was curious.

This book illustrates well the power that a skilled writer can have over her readers. By the end of this story, I sympathized with Lochan and Maya, I even rooted for them, I dreamed of ways they could escape their life, change their names and live happily-ever-after. Disgusting, you may think, and it is, but I can truly see how this forbidden love became their coping mechanism, their means of surviving and enduring.

Lochan and Maya have three younger siblings that they are entirely responsible for, and have been since they were 12 and 13, when their dad left and their mom became an absent drunk. Lochan and Maya raise the kids, balance the checkbook, do the chores, cook dinner, make sure everybody does their homework, and try to be teenagers themselves in the midst of the chaos. They have been forced, by circumstances out of their control to: a) become adults at an early age and b) work in tandem (as partners) to manage a household and raise siblings. Because of the neglect and abuse by their parents, they have adopted an “us against the world” mentality. Slowly, their relationship comes to mean more to them than just mere friendship. Most readers, I assume, begin the book, as I did, finding this love to be incomprehensible and disgusting, but by the end, they may be surprised to find that while it still makes them squeamish, the main thing they feel is sympathy for Lochan and Maya. Life has knocked these kids down over and over again. They have nothing but each other

Bottom line: This book ravaged me emotionally. I didn’t think that I would be swept up in their plight and actually actually root for them. But I did. And you feel the whole time, you just feel the book barreling toward disaster… tragedy awaits. I can’t say that I “liked” this book. Can you say you liked a book about a romantic relationship between a brother and his sister? But I was intrigued by it, it was well-written, the voices of the two kids were so compelling that by the end I understood the inevitability of their love; the angst, the pain, the fear, the joy the relationship brings to them. However, I do not think I would classify this as YA literature. I think it’s a book for adults about teenagers.