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LaurenBDavis

LAUREN B. DAVIS

Author of AGAINST A DARKENING SKY, THE EMPTY ROOM, OUR DAILY BREAD, and others. Find out more at www.LaurenBDavis.com. I read as if my sanity depended upon it.. . . oh, wait, it does! Snort.

People of the Whale - Linda Hogan

This is one of those books I'm going to re-read. It's just so RICH. The writing is astounding, and the story is compelling. Such wisdom and healing - wide and deep as the sea, and the whales and the people who live in profound harmony with their environment. 

 

A couple of quotes: "

 

“He wakes up and he is not a halfhearted man and he can’t remember why he wakes this way, except that he hears the sound of birds and it is as if behind the human world something else is taking place. "

 

and: 

 

“Like the water, the earth, the universe, a story is forever unfolding. It floods and erupts. It births new worlds. It is circular as our planet and fluid as the words of the first people who came out from the ocean or out of the cave or down from the sky. Or those who came from a garden where rivers meet and whose god was a tempter to their fall, planning it into their creation along with all the rest.”

 

Marvelous. Hogan is a literary priestess. 

Every Man Dies Alone Publisher: Melville House; Reprint edition - Hans Fallada

An extraordinary novel I am embarrassed to say I was not aware of until Melville Books (bless them) sent me a notice about it. Where the hell have I been?

 

Primo Levi called EVERY MAN DIES ALONE "The greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis."

 

The Montreal Gazette said, "It is no wonder the work's reception in the English-speaking world has been the journalistic equivalent of a collective dropped jaw."

 

It is not only politically important (dare I say, especially in these times?), but it extraordinarily readable. Riveting, in fact. Every character crackles with vibrancy, every decision is perfectly credible. There isn't a speck of cliche. It is heartbreaking, sometimes very funny, thrilling, exhausting, beautiful and ironically life-affirming. The small man/woman, going about life. Being brave beyond measure, even in the face of . . . well, you know.

 

You may be thinking you've read quite enough books about WWI. May I humbly suggest that unless you've read EVERY MAN DIES ALONE you need to read just one more.

I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Penguin Essentials) - Patrick Süskind , John E. Woods

How I loved this book! The writing is magical and so inspiring, and the story's pretty damn good as well. When I first read it, years ago, I remember thinking I had never read anything quite like it. What a tour de forces. I suggest my students read it to understand what can be done when writing deeply from the senses. 

Since We Fell - Dennis Lehane

Although I like Lehane's work generally (loved Mystic River), this isn't his best. The pacing is slow and the stakes don't seem high enough, even given that we are told the protagonist shoots her husband in the preface. In fact, the preface reads a bit like an afterthought, as a way to persuade the reader something interesting will eventually happen. When things DO happen, they are utterly beyond credibility. I can't quite figure out what Lehane was thinking with this one, unless perhaps he wrote it to satisfy a publishing deal. 

 

My Sunshine Away A Novel - M.O. Walsh

A truly stunning and endlessly surprising novel. Beyond the beautifully plotted and paced story, with just the right about of subtext and perfectly timed reveals, I'm struck by Walsh's prose in particular. Although never overly showy or self-aware, it's lyric in all the right ways. (Chapter 32 is something of a masterclass.) The word choices are precise and delicate and delightful, and I could have gone on reading for a long time. He manages to find the perfect balance between elegy and suspense, meditation and mystery. It is at once deeply psychological and completely irresistible.

 

Highly recommended.

The Good Girl - Mary Kubica

I might have given this book one star, but for the sections with the British-born mother. Those passages are, for the most part, at least credible, and the emotional depth is appropriate. The other sections, however, those of the detective and the criminal, were desperately in need of an edit. The voices are cliched, so much so that the detective sounds like a parody of 1940s noir literature (and not a good one at that). The criminal is the same, only without the occasional unintended giggles. On top of that, the plot is predictable and slow moving. How I wished for more. 

The Outward Room - Millen Brand, Peter Cameron

Madness. Wholeness. Healing through the tiny details of a life lived among others who care for us, and the terrible fragility we all navigate. This is a classic. So much larger than can be contained within its pages.

 

THE OUTWARD ROOM is the best kind of philosophical book: one rooted in story, in character, and one in which the word 'philosophical' never appears, and yet it asks all the important questions, and does so brilliantly, in a mere 230 pages.

 

Reward yourself. Read this book.

Chocky - John Wyndham, Margaret Atwood

Wyndham. What a visionary. And this is a wonderful story, in part mystery, in part psychological thriller, in part family story, in part sci-fi, and in all ways, utterly hopeful, well, almost utterly.

 

And did I mention timely? Given the threat we pose to the planet, this book remains pertinent.

No Beast So Fierce - Edward Bunker

I'm sure this was groundbreaking when it first came out, but now it feels sadly dated. Or perhaps I've just read too many of these sorts of memoirs, or... known too many people like this. 

To the Wedding - John Berger

A stunningly beautiful meditation on love and death told in multiple voices, like a choir. The sensual details are intoxicating, as is Berger's tenderness and hope for us frail humans, even in the face of a terrible, unchangeable fate. 

The Wreath - Sigrid Undset, Tiina Nunnally

A wonderful medieval romance, written by a Nobel Prize winner in 1928. It's said that no one writes about the medieval world as Undset did, and I can well believe it.

 

A love story, as well as a story about obligation, pride, honor and sin, it has a little something for everyone. The first of three books centering around Kristin Lavransdatter, this one chronicles her life from birth, through tempestuous first passion, to her marriage.

 

She's quite the classic heroine, willful and strong, determined to live for love in spite of the traditional strictures of the time. It's impossible not to cheer for her and wish her well. 

The Development of Moral Theology: Five Strands (Moral Traditions series) - Charles E Curran

A significant contribution to our understanding of the development of moral theology. Accessible and enlightening, this is a useful book for anyone seeking to understand what differentiates Catholic moral theology from the rest of Christian ethics. 

The Girl in the Red Coat - Kate Hamer

A solid and readable novel about a child, Carmel, who goes missing. Not a mystery, since the book is told in alternating short chapters, one from Beth, the mother's POV and one from the child's. The reader's interest is held by wondering how both will cope and what Carmel's ultimate fate will be. And perhaps that's where the tension lagged someone for me. I was far more intrigued by the Carmel's story than the mother's.

 

In Beth's chapters I kept waiting for her to be haunted by the images of what might, indeed, have befallen Carmel. Murder? Abuse? Slavery? But, while Beth is understandably gutted and obsessed with finding her daughter, she dwells more on her own possible complicity and what's actually happening to Carmel doesn't enter her mind. That felt off to me, unless the author is implying she's a narcissist.

 

There are come gaps in the narrative. For one thing, the child ends up on another continent and yet we are never told how she gets there, although she was clearly drugged. No one on a plane or boat, train or customs office thought to question this odd 'family' of little means and obviously-mixed parts? How did they afford fake papers? Birth certificate? Passport? Was she smuggled in a container? It felt as though the author simply couldn't figure out a way to do it, but wanted the religious sect that kidnapped Carmel to be based in the US. Very odd.

 

Then too, Carmel never felt in any serious danger. A tough and unpleasant and sad and awful spot? Sure. But not enough for thriller material, and not psychologically deep enough to stand up against similar books by other writers such as Ian McEwan's CHILD IN TIME, for example.

 

But, it's a quick afternoon read and this is the season for such things.

Norse Mythology - Neil Gaiman

Lovely read. Nail Gaiman's the perfect author to breathe fresh life into the Norse tales of badly behaving, violent, tricky, lustful, flawed, and complicated gods. 

The Moor's Account: A Novel - Laila Lalami

Although I can appreciate the importance of this book's subject matter and admire the scope of Lalami's research, I found the protagonist lacked depth and the narrative dragged in places. I was more caught up in the story of Mustafa's life as a young person, prior to his enslavement, than in the episodic adventures of his journey among the Indigenous peoples of America; he seemed much more of a complete person in these sections, whereas in the present-tense of the book he felt like little more than a vessel for the tale.

 

Perhaps if I wasn't already aware of the horrors of early contact I would have been more engaged and certainly, if this perspective on history is new to you, you'll find it worthwhile.

Silence - Shusaku Endo

An extraordinary novel about the conflicts of faith. Endo examines personal faith, the silence of God, the dissonance of faith versus experience and what it means to be good. Of course, he also examines the cultural clash between Japanese Buddhism and 17thc Portuguese Christianity. And it's a bloody, gruesome, violent clash full of torture, cruelty, and martyrdom. So, what does it mean to be Christian in the face of such suffering? What is our responsibility to God, and to our fellow human beings?

 

The narrative lives in the intersection between belief and questioning. In the preface to the edition I have, Martin Scorsese writes: "It's this painful, paradoxical passage — from certainty to doubt to loneliness to communion — that Endo understands so well, and renders so clearly, carefully, and beautifully in SILENCE." He goes on to say that SILENCE is "the story of a man [Father Rodriguez] who learns —so painfully —that God's love is more mysterious than he knows, that He leaves much more to the ways of men than we realize, and that He is always present . . . even in His silence."

 

It is also the narrative of Judas, that great and wretched betrayer. Here the spirit of Judas is inhabited by the cowardly and craven Kichijiro, although perhaps not only by him. That is for the reader to decide. Endo forces us to confront one of the most disturbing questions in Christianity. Who was Judas? What was Christ's response to Judas and what did it mean? As Scorsese points out, with the discovery of the Gospel of Judas, "these questions have become even more pressing."

 

The writing is more distanced — particularly in the first part of the novel, far less in the later sections — than might be comfortable for contemporary Western readers, by which I mean more summary than scene. However, if one perseveres, the rewards, at least for this reader, are significant.

 

I will be thinking about and re-reading this work for some time. There is so much to mine here, especially in the last section, where the philosophical and theological questions come into sharp, and agonizing relief.