BookRiot’s Read Harder Challenge: A True Crime Book

So, as I said in my last post…I have a hard time resisting a book list.  We had our summer reading challenges in high school and while that booklet of doorstop sized titles could be daunting, I liked going through it to see what I was going to read.  It is also how I chose Pride and Prejudice for the first time.

As the summer goes on it is more difficult to resist the pull of ticking things off my BookRiot list.  The last four months of the year go by fast and I like to have things done ahead of time.

BookRiot’s true crime category was more a question of choice than of desire.  True crime fits right into what I do every day:  trying to make sense of something outside the norm.  Trying to appreciate it from another angle rather than coming from a place of judgment. Which is a luxury of mine: the chance to be objective.  I don’t expect the people who these crimes affect to be objective, but I try to expect myself to be.

It also was a question of choice because my library has a ton of true crime available on audio, it seems. I have not compared this count to other forms of nonfiction available, so maybe it’s just that they get more borrows on nonfiction audio, but I was astounded at the choices I had.  If they tend to have more audio of true crime than other nonfiction works, why would that be?  Does the level of drama lend itself better to audio?

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The Spider and the Fly:  A Writer, a Murderer and a Story of Obsession, Claudia Rowe

I chose this one because I felt a reluctant ability to relate to the blurb from the library website.  A young woman looking to make sense of a terrible thing, set in Poughkeepsie, New York.   I knew I would be able to relate some to the setting, as I worked in the state hospital for a year in Poughkeepsie to complete my doctoral hours.  In fact, one of the people in this book also worked for the hospital and with the mentally ill there.   So I had been there:  the country setting just a reach away from the city.    I knew where she was talking about when she talked about what it was like down Rte 9.  I was there more than ten years after she was, so I didn’t know as much about how the downtown had been abandoned to favor the growth around the arterial, but I had stomped where she had stomped.  I drove through downtown to get to the hospital daily.

What struck me when I started to read this was all the trauma on all sides.

The writer’s trauma isn’t revealed until later on but was apparent to me pretty quickly, as one only becomes obsessed with something like a serial murderer when they are looking for their own answers.  There were some skeletons urging her on from her closet too, urging her into trying to make ends of a random and senseless crime. She could relate to all the pieces: the killer, the victims, the setting, the period of time.

I think what makes it even more compelling is that the killer’s trauma is much more subtle.  I have worked with people with the propensity or even history of killing and abusing others and usually the reasons are straightforward: abuse, severe neglect, trauma, psychosis.  This killer, Kendall Francois, appeared to have none of these, his family presenting as completely normal on the outside, even a black family blending into the white section of town.  Other siblings who for all intents and purposes seem to be functioning and contributing members of society.  The inside of his home is a decrepit mess due to hoarding, so there is some illness there, and I have my own theories of what Kendall’s diagnosis could have truly been based on the author’s spin on things, so there is a shade of dysfunction, but there are plenty of harmless people in the world who struggle with hoarding.  Who do not hoard rotting murder victims above their families.

When dysfunction is difficult to see, the press for answers can be more consuming, more challenging.  Pieces need to be put together as they emerge from the mist, subtle in and of themselves.  The pieces of his trauma line up with hers, in that they both come from families that look good on the outside but have their secrets on the inside.  Her trauma matches up with the lives of his victims as well, women who turned tricks due to their own damage that wasn’t addressed.  Of course I would want to read all this wreckage. I make my living sifting through wreckage!

But the author does grow and change from the experience, and that’s what we all want to see when there is wreckage.  Healing. So there is meaning in it in that it helped her figure out some things for herself and move on with the usual adult milestones.

As I said in the beginning, there were many contenders for this one, and if I was not noveling, I may have read more than one for this. Helter Skelter, In Cold Blood, The Devil in the White City.  All classics whereas this one is not as canonical.  Clearly the rest will sit on the TBR for now, and when I get to them, I am not sure they will resonate with me as much as this one.  I was once a young woman too looking for answers and dealing with extreme illness in Poughkeepsie, and in an even weirder parallel, the author and I both had boyfriends at the time who we did not end up with.  And that was a good thing.  So many connections on so many levels.  I’m not old now, but I am certainly no longer the woman I was when I was finishing my doctorate, and neither is she when she finishes with her journey with Kendall.

Comments/likes/Shares?  I’ll be reading harder (in addition to the copious other projects) as we slide into the cooler season…

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Jane Eyre Repurposed

I have to keep reminding myself that I crave summer all the other months of the year when the unrelenting heat rolls in.  Most of the time it’s not difficult to love every moment of the season, even on the comforting rainy days, but when it feels sweltering day after day even I start craving the cooler weather again, and that is saying something.

Also of note:  took advantage of the Prime deal of buying almost any ebook and getting thirty percent of the cost of that book off another book.  I got Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami in tight runnings with The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood or The House at Riverton by Kate Morton.  Feel free to comment on my choices.  With my credit I found a book on my wish list on that magical deep amazon discount and got it for nothing!  It’s a scary book and I am contemplating if I need to do a third year of scary book posts so that identity shall remain hidden.

Today’s book is like last week’s book:  not so much a re-telling, but more a repurposing of characters.  Kinda like upcycling, but the original hasn’t exactly been discarded.  And, speaking of upcycling, a stand that I sanded and painted and put other handles on to make into a nightstand fifteen years ago has found a home in my she shed, all over again.  She shed could also be ready for blog show off.  My husband has to put out the electricity but that won’t change the aesthetics of a pictures!  The heat has made me spend less time out there than I would, too, as I don’t have a way to turn on the ceiling fan.  Yet.

But repurposing.  Jane Eyre was also repurposed in Texts from Jane Eyre, which is entirely a hilarious creation of imagined text conversations between famous literary characters.  She’s pretty easy to repurpose, being strong in her principles and very clear as to have survived all these years as a literary heroine.  She lends herself well to a new coat of paint, commenting on a current social situation that you well know her principles would not allow her to either be neutral about or keep quiet.  Like, who wouldn’t want her blogging about the president right about now?  Epic.

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The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde

This was a re-read.  It was a gift in graduate school and I read it on a solo flight to Iowa to interview for an internship.  I had read Jane Eyre by that point, but this book has a lot going on in it past the Jane Eyre part and I felt back then, in 2007, that it would need another go round.  And it did, even though it was ten plus years later.

This novel takes place in a world where there is still a war being fought with England and characters can come in and out of books, people can slip in and out of time spaces, and just a magical realism sort of world in that magical occurrences are just accepted to be the way of things.  Kind of sci fi with the being able to mess with time and jump into the dimensions of the plot lines of novels or pages of poetry.  Amazon says it’s more alternative history and satire, which, I could see that.  It’s just as I was writing this I was wondering if I shouldn’t have included it with some pending sci fi posts I have on the burner.   But, it is for my re-telling/re-purposing theme and there it will stay.

The protagonist actually has more doings with Rochester than Jane.  When she initially falls into the manuscript at a young age, it is the scene where he meets Jane that she falls into, and he has a lot of time in the book where he is not featured so I guess he has time to step out of the book and get involved in events of this world, like a show down the protagonist Thursday has with the villain Acheron, who is stealing characters out of manuscripts with which to otherwise manipulate the world.   She has more direct talks with him during scenes that he isn’t involved with. I do like that their actions change the end of Jane Eyre and having read it I was interested to remember how they did it.  I thought that added something to the book other than Thursday just trying to defeat the challenging and taunting villain with all sorts of powers and abilities as well as trying to get her own life straightened out.

The book can get a little complicated with political discussions, time/space issues, characters in poems and novels, rules of the magic, silly inventions and a tangly past romance.  There isn’t a wonder that I thought I needed another go round after 2007, but most of the best novels are like that.

I thought this would have more literary references that I would understand better now, but the bulk of the references are Shakespeare, and I have never liked him and I have never grown an appreciation later on as an adult. I still feel like these works intended for common and base entertainment are being upheld as real literature.  Like if people hundreds of years from now found episodes of Jersey Shore or Flavor of Love and made all children familiar with them as part of compulsory education.  That’s what it feels like to me.  But I did like the debate over if Shakes really wrote all these plays.

But it needed a revisit and I am glad I did.

She shed pictures to be revealed soon!  As well as more BookRiot categories.  I like the re-tellings but I can’t help myself when there is a reading list.  I just can’t.

 

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The Bronte Sisters and the Usual Suspects

Okay, so it was only supposed to be every other week, not a whole month between posts.  In my defense I have been reading relevant to my novel, so it was still noveling that got in the way of the posts, even though it was the reading part of noveling.

So I am drinking a beer during Independence Day after talking my husband into taking us to the beach first thing in this heat wave, before the beach turned into the inevitable crap show and we went home to sit in front of movies and AC.  Holidays are for breaking a long silence on my blog, yes?

Oh, and Happy Birthday to America, of course.  I found sparklers this year which I haven’t gotten to use in YEARS.  My beach going, treats eating, movie watching sadly deprived son will get to see the magic tonight.  Because I like having a little magic in my son’s childhood.  I enjoy adulthood but even I can’t say it isn’t a bit anti-climatic at times.

I thought the book I was reading for this post was a re-telling of Jane Eyre.  I decided to commit to it anyway after I discovered that it wasn’t exactly a re-telling, to go with my theme. It’s not even a BookRiot category.  Seriously, I am a mess this summer.  But since I have read Wide Sargasso Sea, which I loved, I am not sure any other Jane Eyre re-telling would get a fair shake compared to that.    I also read and reviewed Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye, which is somewhat of a re-telling, and I thought that was hilarious. I have the newest Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker, but I thought of that too late.

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The Madwoman Upstairs, Catherine Lowell

Like I said, this is not a Bertha Rochester special, although she does get some time in the narrative.  But so does Agnes Grey, Helen Graham, Heathcliff, Cathy, Jane and Mr. Rochester.  This is about a young scholar trying to find her eccentric father’s inheritance through their shared relation to, and study of, the Bronte sisters and their works.  She is an American at Oxford and is studying one on one with a professor.

I have read all the Bronte novels save for Shirley and The Professor, which didn’t feature as much in this book, thankfully, as the other ones I read. I was going to do a Bronte blog entry once I get through those last two gems of Charlotte’s, and I still will, but I was glad I went into this having read as much Bronte as I had.  This one started off slow, and without the context of what I had already read, I might not have continued with it.  There is a lot of academic banter, and remembering that time in my life I could relate to it, but aiming the book toward someone who has been an academic as well as some familiarity with Bronte novels would limit the audience to whom it would appeal.

Once it did pick up into the meat of the mystery and the narrative, I did enjoy it, even though it was talking about Anne’s novels not being the best ones, when I might like Anne the best because shallowly I like her endings.  Charlotte’s Villette and Jane Eyre end entirely in an unsatisfying manner, which may be why I have not tackled her last two, despite having them even on audio. I worry I will press through them just to take issue with how it all ended up.  As much as I enjoyed Jane Eyre I didn’t like that she only truly captured Rochester after he was damaged goods.

I liked the way this one ended and I am surprised that I liked it, because usually I don’t go for that sort of thing.  I can’t say what it was in case a fellow reader decently versed in Bronte and doesn’t mind literary criticism talk reads this post and wants to check out the book for herself.  Other strong points were the description and the language, beautiful and poetic metaphors, and the sarcastic tone.  The audio narrator captured this sarcastic tone well and the tone was fitting the point of view character, a young academic who wasn’t so young as to have evaded enough sadness and disappointment to be a little cynical herself.  I liked also that it was not just about the Bronte novels but who the sisters were behind them and what ‘madness’ really meant in their context and is not quite the ‘madness’ that I have known in my professional life.

I don’t mind being part of a niche.  I would like to think I don’t love white people problems the most as a book topic, but I do.  I am looking forward to reading more literature with nonwhite or nonwestern characters, I really am, but I can get sucked right into the problems of the privileged.  Not super super privileged, as I lose patience with those people and saccharine plot lines fast, but women who are able to get educations and have careers are my jam.

I can’t tell you where this blog will go next, if I am going to do something like re-read Jasper Fforde’s Eyre Affair, which might be completely different now that I have read many of the novels that it references and I hadn’t back in 2007 flying across the country alone, or go for another re-telling, or go back to Book Riot, or take my readers on a tour of the most epic she-shed of she-sheds, which is nearing completion in my yard. I am into another round of revisions after meeting with my excellent instructor and I have started to read more Anthony Doerr to punch up my poetic language, but I don’t know if that goes with my current blog-tastic themes.  But it’s better than not posting at all.  Reader, you will have to stay tuned.

Comments/likes/shares are always a thing!

 

Re-tellings continued: Austen Project #3

I can hardly believe that I have arrived at the end of my son’s kindergarten year.  It felt like eons before he could even enroll in public school, even though I did so as soon as he was old enough, on the cusp of turning five with some behaviors that were equally on the cusp.  I had a few weeks of concern over his adjustment, but then, after he turned five, he was magically fine.  Something clicked.

My son appears to experience distinct leaps in growth.  The first one involved two night terrors a night apart, after which he emerged sleeping through the night, walking, and never having another night terror at fifteen months.  Every August I feel that he has turned the next age in his maturity, when his birthday hovers around Halloween.   Facebook reminds me every year with bringing back posts on different years where I captioned, “a lot of growth this month!”

And now here he is with a kindergarten musical this upcoming Friday and here I am talking about the Jane Austen re-telling that I feel is the most about growing up than all her major novels…

 

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Emma (The Austen Project #3), Alexander McCall Smith

I really liked this one. Emma might be my favorite Austen novel now.  I loved Pride and Prejudice first, once I had gotten enough understanding of the plot. At the time in my life I fell in love with the story I was hoping for some secret rich guy to fall in love with me from the wings.  I needed it to happen back then before I met my husband when I was floundering around in relationships that were frustrating and confusing in the impecunious years of youth and school and very little stability.  Pemberley?  Just because I am my feisty self?  Whaa?  I watched my favorite Pride and Prejudice movie after I got married and it didn’t give me the same hope.  Because I didn’t need it anymore.  I had created my own stability.

Anyway.

The author beat me to the punch on this one with the age difference.  Mr. Knightley is is established early on as being already established in the world and a bachelor to boot, but he specifically discusses how a fourteen year age difference didn’t impede the couple’s growing regard.  He talks about how they care about each others opinions and slowly begin to find the other interesting. I think them ending up together was less of a surprise in this one than in the original.  Also, with my own writing instruction and my love of  and familiarity with this plot, which extends to the movie Clueless, I could easily spot the setup in the conversations Emma had with her governess that set up the growth that she was about to experience through her actions in the rest of the novel.   Maybe it isn’t that I am better at picking these things out, it might just be Smith’s artistry.  But I liked it.

This one felt truly modernized, not just the same plot with some cell phones, texting and social media tossed in there, like Sense and Sensibility felt like.  There was the classic useless parent, this time a father, who doesn’t move her growth along nearly as much as her governess.   I like that she makes the active choice to stop being idle and trying to arrange people’s lives from her pedestal and learns that truly helping others more than just telling them what to do is the true fulfillment. This combined with having her own occupation and contribution also helped make it seem more modern to me.  Her contribution in the original one is just to get married, which a happy marriage is the highest they can aspire to back then, but with her choosing a real direction with her life was much more modern and satisfying.

So, Emma grows up, and my boy is at a milestone.

I don’t know where my next post is coming from. I need to re-read a classic for my novel and I have a BookRiot book post waiting for use, but neither of those go on my retelling streak and I have not completed all my books that are re-tellings of classics.  So, I am not sure.  And being that it is summer, I need to start posting every other week again, to give me time for other writing.

Comments/Likes/Shares!!

Two Retakes on Sense and Sensibility

I think it is safe to mention at this point that my husband almost has my she-shed finished.  It will still be a few weeks before I am ready to post pics, as he wants to do more of a wrap around porch and more of the outdoor stuff, and he hasn’t finished the electrical and what he wants to do with the kitchen counter, but it is fixing to be magical.  I want to check out some antique stores to see if they have any metal chairs I might want for the kitchen around the table that can be out or in.  This will be the third summer and I will have my retreat and I will post on it and my heart will be joyful, so stay tuned.

Sense and Sensibility was a super early foray into the classics for me. It happened actually the summer after my first year in my doctorate, the same summer I read Jane Eyre.   I only read in grad school in earnest on winter and summer breaks, as the rest of the time I didn’t have the brain space for it.   And it usually wasn’t classics, it was Nero Wolfe novels, which were classics in themselves.

I liked classics and Nero novels at that time too because the emotional investment in them was low.  The characters and their situations were not so hand wringing-ly familiar.  I have noticed changes in my brain since I was in early adulthood, one of them being I don’t as often have such intense emotion, so it’s easier to widen my scope for reading as I am older, but in my early 20s, when everything seemed stressful and up in the air constantly, including a relationship that was on and off and completely unwieldy, I didn’t need some book playing with my emotions on top of it.  I didn’t need to step into another stressful world to get away from my own.   The only exception I remember making for this was when the Harry Potter books started coming out again.  I did read them when they were fresh.

I’m still like this with TV but that’s another post on another blog far, far away.

But, Sense and Sensibility.  Read too long ago and didn’t particularly move me.   So I was looking forward to the two re-tellings I review today and as any decent re-telling it helped me with a newer and more decent appreciation of this one.

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Sense and Sensibility (Austen Project #1), Joanna Trollope

I will repeat that I can appreciate the challenge of this project.  No one is asking me to rework a beloved Austen classic.

That said, my review of this was mixed.  If the goal was to hold pretty close to the original, I believe that this work does it.  Granted, the original was not refreshed in my mind like Northanger Abbey was first, but the ties to the original were pretty clear based on what I know of Austen novels, that I have read all her full works at least once.  Sisters, a useless mother, misfortune, lucky connections in love in the end.  I have noticed that many of Austen’s books feature useless mothers, but maybe this is just a plot device for them to stay out of the way of the true story between the sisters, who are always afforded significant freedom due to their mother’s uselessness.  Same with distracted parents in YA novels.

If the goal was to increase relatability, I think it still misses the mark.  There is social media added in, true, but there were still the holidays where girls stay with other family members in different places for weeks on end, something I don’t see in modern novels, something that I have not seen done in my regular (American, upstate New York middle class) life. Also there is that creepy age difference again, this one the most heinous yet with Colonel Brandon being 35 and Marianne not even be legal.  I don’t know why this age difference has to be preserved in these stories.  Admittedly, she doesn’t end up with him, there is no defined exclusive relationship with them at the end, but there is still a man in his mid thirties pining over a sixteen year old who, through most of the novel, has made a total idiot of herself over her first love. Why that is appealing to a man nearly old enough to be her father who should have even less patience for her naivete due this experiences serving overseas I know not.  She is arrestingly beautiful and that’s fine, but a man falling in love with a woman mostly due to her beauty has an unappealing immaturity himself.  It’s not heroic and romantic, it’s weird and infantile and depressing.

I liked how the women all grow and change in this book, and while they miss their old home, their idleness there and lack of responsibility seemed to arrest all of their developments and they get back on track with the challenges they face in finally finding their own way.  The mother even reduces her uselessness.  I don’t know what she does all day with no job and without really parenting her children, but even she stops making Elinor deal with things all the time that she doesn’t want to deal with.  I might have to watch the movie of the original again.  I see there is a 2008 miniseries of the novel, the first three episodes free to Prime members.  Hm.  Looks like there is only one season though?

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Jane Austen Goes to Hollywood, Abby McDonald

BookRiot posted on retellings of Jane Austen novels, which were ferried into my wish list on Amazon to stalk prices and availability, and this was one of them.

This one might make true Austenites cringe, but it is much more relatable than the Austen Project version.  Considerably.  I think whether you like these depends on how much you need them to remain true to the original or how much you need the story to morph into a part of the modern world.  All stories have been told and retold to fit the times, and I like a story I can pick out despite it’s modern trappings.

I really liked this one.  It had the same elements, which were easy to recognize due to Trollope’s version, but done a different way:  the girls are mixed race, Dad abandoned them to an affair before he died and the new wife got the house.  Mom is an artist so she is doing something at least but consumed elsewhere.  Hallie (Marianne) is trying to make it in Hollywood, which is a flighty and ambitious goal, but their setting of L.A. doesn’t make it impossible, and the world of the rich is updated to really hit home the level of money and privilege in the world of these girls, as well as the ever changing social scene. The younger one is the more sensible one this time and working on finishing school and getting ready for college, pining quietly for her own love while her sister makes a world of dramatics over her breakup over a boy in a band who leaves her to make it big in New York.  Hallie does not have a life challenging condition like Marianne’s severe asthma to complicate things and increase the drama.  Hallie is pretty dramatic on her own.

Also, Colonel Brandon is in his early/mid 20s and he is into the 19 year old Hallie, much better, and his darkness from serving in the war creates a connection point between Hallie and him.  The attraction on his end still is a little immature, as there is still the whole dazzled by her beauty piece when she has barely seen the world and he has psychological implications from his service, but it is workable.  The relationship between the other sister and her guy is much less skeez in any version, and it was cute here.

But, as I said, considerably more relatable and readable.  I might have been more willing to tackle the original as a teenager if I had read this version when I was one.  I’m sure I have mentioned in the past that my first slog through Pride and Prejudice was the summer I turned fifteen and I read it but I could barely reach it and the implications.  I was completely turned off with no context to help me through it.

The summer of re-tellings continues!  And so does noveling!  I am doing some exercises this month to work on my pacing and reverberation.

I am considering again posting every other week over the summer, to make room for more creative writing in different veins.  I am back to training, which cuts my writing time, which requires some sacrifices if I am going to meet the goals I have for myself.

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Re-Tellings, Continued: The Austen Project #2

Happy Memorial Day weekend!  The unofficial kickoff to summer! The green of the brand new leaves in May is my absolute favorite green.  It’s invigorating to see it in all the trees.

And, because I am married to a vet I’m not losing sight of the reason for the season, which is to honor the fallen.

I usually spend Memorial Weekend with my parents because they are up for the summer, and I get another writing instruction session Monday morning because I have the time and its not actually a holiday in South Africa, where my writing instructor lives.  I need that time with her, as I hammered out a second draft in a month and there are lingering pot holes that I thought of after I emailed it to her and she said let her see what she can do.  Because writing instructors are wholly magic people!

This week’s classic retelling is not a book that needed any redemption.  Not only due to how I read it the first time, but it deserves mention: I have the Jane Austen omnibus from Barnes and Noble, back in the pre e-reader days when I was collecting classics and actually paying money for them.  The giant book with the tissue thin pages with the eensy print to fit it all on the pages.  I read this one on my loveseat on a second story glassed in porch during a rainy spring weekend and reveled in my solitude.  I was renting two rooms in a house in Poughkeepsie, I was in my graduate internship, I was not constantly hammering out graduate work nor tending to a long term relationship in my immediate space.  I just read a classic novel over the weekend, because I could.  It was the beginning of a glorious space in my life where my time was neither consumed with endless graduate work or the wonderful but endless responsibility of motherhood.  When I need time to myself I look wistfully back on that weekend as the paragon of what I once had. That and there was also a funny day trip to Ikea with my close friends where we spent hours in the store and were so tired when we were leaving that we laughed uncontrollably when we briefly lost the driving friend in the parking garage and couldn’t really understand why it was so funny.

But the book…well, I guess the book was good too.  *insert tongue in cheek here*

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Northanger Abbey, Val McDermid (The Austen Project #2)

Like I said when I reviewed Eligible, it is a tall order to ask established writers to go in for a Jane Austen retelling, and not only that, to make them more accessible to today’s teens.  The ratings suggest that this is another layer people just won’t go in for.  I can’t even find a suggestion of Persuasion or Mansfield Park even having authors chosen for them online, the last Austen Project updates I can find being for Eligible in 2014/2015.  There’s no hard evidence that the project has been canned, but I am losing optimism that it will be completed.

Also, I cheated a little and listened to the radio dramatization of the original first just to freshen up on major plot points. I remember the rain and the love seat and the paper thin pages and a couple of my beefs with the story but I felt I would do better with the retelling with a rehash first.

So, I liked this.  I liked that she is going to Scotland to be in the theater and social scene there.  It is more fun than the original.   I wanted to know how she was going to pull off the Gothic novel obsession in a modern context and I almost thought Catherine would be really into TV,  but I felt her choice of vampire novels and then comparing the Tilneys to Edward and his clan in Twilight (although she is never that explicit, I read Twilight to catch every reference) was a good one.  Especially since the few minutes of the movies that  I have been able to sit through have been kind of atmospheric in a Pacific Northwest kind of way which could be similar to Scotland’s, although I have been neither place.  Sadly.  So, well done.

(A brief sidebar:  Someone put the collection of the original Gothic novels mentioned in Northanger Abbey on Amazon, Northanger Horrid Novels, complete with Radcliffe.  I read The Mysteries of Udolpho because of this book and someday I will read the other Gothic novels in the collection.  You know how I love my Gothic reads)

I also liked that the reason Catherine gets randomly cast out makes more sense in the modern world and is more fitting to a teenager’s understanding. There are fortune hunting characters but we are not such in a fortune hunting world anymore.  Parents have considerations for their children that can extend past money and I am glad she did something else with that.

I wish that Catherine Morland had been made a little older, as seventeen was a respectable age to get a husband back in the day but now it’s just barely legal for consent (at least in NY) and the age difference between couples at this age needs to be smaller to not be creepy.  Like, who can’t love Henry Tilney, but I don’t know anyone who is getting started after law school that would develop more than friendship feelings for a 17 year old who really knows nothing of the world.  They would not have enough in common to really develop a relationship. We are no longer in that time period where being completely naive is an attractive quality in men looking for a life partner and an equal rather than a wife.  I know she has to be naive in the story to make it work, but there can be too much in order to make the couple seem implausible, which is what is happening here.  I guess maybe I also spend more time with 17 year olds than many other people.

But there was one change to the relationship that she made that I did like.  It still eludes me why Jane Austen saw fit in the original to comment that Henry only marries Catherine out of gratitude and because she loved him first.  I don’t know why they couldn’t just love each other.  I felt badly for Catherine in the end because she was being married somewhat against the Captain’s wishes and then only because her husband was grateful.  In this one they really do just love each other, even though I feel that she should have been made a little older to help.

Like I said, it is a tall order to work on the Austen Project and the more I read them the more this becomes apparent.  I can better respect the challenge that McDermid was up against.

So, I am reading more retellings, because I love them, mixed in with the BookRiot challenges.  Rolling into summer and seeing if I need to space out the posts like I did last summer because I am busier in the season I can actually go places.

And the second draft of my novel is done?  I started writing in late January.  I feel good about that, even if my brains are on the blink because I am making them do all the things.

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Alice Hoffman Redeems a Classic

I think I might have posted on Wuthering Heights forever ago when I started this blog,  probably in my short guide to how to start reading the classics.  For anyone who has not memorized all of these posts, I recommended not to start with Wuthering Heights.

I don’t remember all the details of that post, but I do remember picking the book up in my second year of the foray into classical literature.  When I came back to reading but in full force, picking up the books that culture referenced over and over again.  I almost didn’t make it through the first 25-50 pages of this book because it was so depressing, and then it got less depressing, and then the characters were terribly abusive when I thought this was supposed to be some sort of love story and then I was disgusted, wondering why this was some sort of paragon of love.

Now I don’t think that it is held up as a great love story, but it is lots of drama and scandal written in a time that those things were secretly craved by readers (as opposed to openly craved now).

Regardless, I was like, “what the frig is this?” especially after having my first foray into the Brontes being Jane Eyre by Charlotte, which was also depressing and the love story is off and a little disturbing, but not to this degree.  As of this writing my favorite sister might be Anne.  But I haven’t read the rest of Charlotte’s stuff, which is a goal of mine.  Anyway.

An Oprah’s Book Club pick:

 

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Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman

I am assuming that BookRiot added an Oprah’s book club pick because she picks intense and eye opening novels, which BookRiot also challenges you to do.   Books that push you into other perspectives and hopefully a better understanding of them.  I have actually read a decent amount of her picks because my mother was into them for awhile, because she liked the hottest new read.

The fact that Here on Earth is a retelling of Wuthering Heights made me more likely to read it, not less.  I love Alice Hoffman.  I would love to be able to pull off her magical realism, her historical fiction, her characters, her productivity as a writer (although I know I couldn’t write like she does as well as have my job).

I wanted to know how Hoffman was going to pull of Heathcliff, in this book Hollis, a one name character while everyone else had two names anchored with family.  I wanted her to make him better but then I didn’t. I didn’t want her to write a character in a way to justify his crappy attitude and treatment of others.  She made his attachment issues and subsequent abusive thought processes crystal clear without asking the reader for sympathy.  You could understand his abuser’s mind from his long history of being the underdog, but you aren’t asked to forgive him.  Like everyone, we are all responsible for how we act when the past is over and we are in a position to make our own future.  Hollis/Heathcliff are deeply damaged and only try to help themselves by controlling more and more of the outside world, which does nothing to heal the broken and unloved little boys inside them.  At least how Hoffman writes Hollis, he loses any charming vulnerability he once had as a child, the vulnerability that March saw and fell in love with at one time.  A boy who disappeared long before March returned and who March thought was still there when she got sucked back into his orbit.

I also thought the Coopers (Lintons) were well done.  The benevolent and naive family that gets pulled into the dysfunction of Hollis and March, who deserve so much better than them and who love and wait for them and allow themselves to be abused and killed off by the dysfunctional force that is Hollis and March.

I had to go back for a wikipedia refresher to remember the role of Nelly Dean.  I remembered that she narrated the story to the traveler in the original, and in this one the housekeeper’s death is what pulls March back to the area, so she continues to be somewhat of the focus even though she is dead.  Nelly Dean has been credited by some as the unreliable narrator, whereas Judith Dean in this book is also disappointed by love similarly to March.  She’s one of the centers who doesn’t even get to tell her own story, but is part of everyone else’s.

The one thing I wasn’t as sure of was how March was created.  Catherine Earnshaw in the original is wild and needs a decent amount of civilizing, which pulls her away from Heathcliff, which is why he gets himself more civilized in the first place, to be able to marry her.  March was in love with Hollis from a young age, which is so impressionable, but I think the original Cathy was more of a wild child.  March just goes through the motions of her comfortable and safe marriage and then when she submits to Hollis, she  enters a dream state and dissolves.  The love chemicals in her brain that are back from when she was a teenager puts her in a trancelike state and disconnects her from her awareness of consequences.  For awhile, she is completely consumed and in a dream.

I think this one sucked me in because it was so psychologically juicy.  I think it helps me understand the appeal of the original Wuthering Heights.  Hoffman’s characters maybe aren’t so savage, have more relateability than the original.  And I have had time to digest it and I must have liked the original somewhat because I wanted to read someone else’s spin.

It has started a tide of my wanting to get to work on my stash of re-tellings, so if you like them too, stay tuned for next week.  I am working on a new one right now.

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