29 October 2014
Coming soon: All Saints Day and All Souls Day.
These creative designs come from Biscuit Box:
Feliz Dia de los Muertos!
20 October 2014
Nathan Dylan Goodwin. The Lost Ancestor. www.nathangoodwin.co.uk, 2014.
Goodwin's novel is a dilly that sucked me right in, not an easy thing to do with my predilection for Scottish noir and Swedish perverse. It's the second book after Hiding the Past in a planned series. Based in East Sussex, England, forensic genealogist Morton Farrier gets a dream job: find out what happened to the missing sister of an ancestor one hundred years ago. Mary Mercer was learning the ropes as third housemaid in an upper-class mansion (Downton Abbey fans will love the minute details of service life); she suddenly disappeared, leaving a hole in a family tree. It's hard to avoid spoilers, so let's just say this is a lively romp through Edwardian times and someone (or two?) is prepared to kill Morton to stop his research meddling.
Identity is a major issue as a twisting, strange scenario unfolds. Technicalities of the genealogical research are not intrusive for a non-family historian reader, quite the contrary. You might say certain unusual documents coincide rather conveniently to drive the plot, but Goodwin skillfully builds credibility. Even better is how the author carefully parallels Morton's progress with Mary's own story, a challenging device handled admirably. Dialogue and characters integrate naturally with just the right touch of our hero's own family problems. One quibble: overly-long paragraphs can be a drag. Nevertheless, The Lost Ancestor is a winner in my books.
Her mother's words and a flashback of a visit to see her granny in the Rye workhouse filled her mind. Now she understood why Granny, spirit and body broken, was dead and buried in a pauper's grave at the age of sixty-two.
The chunks of willow in the grate had all but disappeared when sleep finally came for Mary. She had cried for what seemed to her like an eternity: she cried for the pain in her body; she cried for her granny; she cried for her sister, Edie; she cried for the life she wanted; but most of all, she cried for the life to which she had given herself over. (53)
Whilst he was alone in the room, Morton stared at the wall that Juliette had dubbed haphazard. It might look chaotic, but each little pin, Post-it and string connection made sense in Morton's head. At the centre of it all was the photo of Mary. The last known picture ever taken of her. He sent the latest email from the Nova Scotia Archives to the printer and added the information to the wall then emailed Ray Mercer asking if he knew when his grandmother divorced. (178)
Friend speaks to unfriendly archivist:
"You know, we really must meet up for dinner sometime."
"Well, I'm free after work today if you'd like?"
"I can't today, I'm afraid―I came in Morton's car." She turned to Morton. "Unless you'd care to join us?"
Morton waited for his life to flash before his eyes. This had to be a near-death experience. Dinner with Deidre Latimer would be one of the worst tortures imaginable. At the moment, he could not think of a single thing that was a worse idea. He tried to disguise the look of horror on his face. (203)
[Paperback copies of The Lost Ancestor can be ordered on the website; the Kindle version is currently only available in the UK and the US.]
Jonas Jonasson. The Girl Who Saved the Swedish King. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2014.
Um, I have to say a little disappointing. Perhaps not unusual in a second novel, but not matching the lighthearted and (what I consider) exquisite The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Take an illiterate Soweto girl, an addled engineer, a pair of unlikely-named twins, Mossad agents, and a variety of time-warped hangers-on: stir briskly to see what floats to the top. Our protagonist Nobeko is something of a prodigy, rising from South African slums to advising international heads of state. She spends a long time locked up in the Pelindaba nuclear facility where she is treated no better than a stick of furniture (ten years of being called whatsername). Then she meets the king-obsessed twin just as her Chinese friends commit a huge blunder with the diplomatic mail ― and the plot truly takes off.
A potato truck, an atomic bomb, and some volatile activists in Sweden become central to much of the book. Yes indeed, another Jonasson screwball comedy but with political intrusions more polemically spiteful than his usual brand of black humour. Maybe that's because they can't mask the disenfranchised poverty in African history. The more I read, the more I felt a lot of strain going on here to maintain an effortless whimsy that evaporated along with some of my attention. At the the end, the characters became strangely repetitious; did they (or the author?) run out of steam? Not to kvetch further; The Girl does have redeeming moments.
Word: Klipdrift – An honest-to-gawd South African brandy (I thought he made it up) apparently favoured by Australians and nuclear scientists.
South Africa's prime minister Vorster:
He was very busy from early in the morning to late at night. The most pressing matter on his desk right now was that of the six atomic bombs. What if that obsequious Westhuizen wasn't the right man for the job? He talked and talked, but he never delivered.
Vorster muttered to himself about the damn UN, the Communists in Angola, the Soviets and Cuba sending hordes of revolutionaries to southern Africa, and the Marxists who had already taken over in Mozambique. Plus those CIA bastards who always managed to figure out what was going on, and then couldn't shut up about what they knew.
Oh, fuck it, thought B.J. Vorster about the world in general.
The nation was under threat now; not once the engineer chose to take his thumb out of his ass. (44)
The angry young woman:
Nombeko sat down in the angry young woman's kitchen and said there was probably an awful lot of lying in every country. And then she opened the conversation with a simple and general question:
"So how are things with you?"
The angry young woman turned out to be angry about everything. She was angry about the country's continued dependence on nuclear power. And oil. About all the rivers harnessed for hydropower. About the noisy and ugly wind power. About how they were going to build a bridge to Denmark. At all the Danes, because they were Danes. At mink farmers because they were mink farmers. At animal breeders in general, actually. At everyone who ate meat. At everyone who didn't (she lost Nombeko here for a moment). At all the capitalists. At almost all the Communists. At her father because he worked at a bank. At her mother because she didn't work at all. At her grandmother, because she had some noble blood. At herself because she was forced to be a wage slave instead of changing the world. And at the world, which didn't have any good wage-slavery to offer. (169-170)
Swedish history, by Gustav Adolf IV:
It all started when his father was shot at the Royal Opera House. The king's son had two weeks to get used to his new role while his dad lay there dying. This turned out to be too little time. In addition, his father had succeeded in hammering into the boy that the Swedish king was given his post by the grace of God and that the king and God worked as a team.
A person who feels the Lord watching over him finds it to be a minor thing in order to defeat both the emperor Napoleon and Czar Alexander―all at once. Unfortunately, the emperor and the czar also claimed to have divine protection and acted accordingly. Assuming they were all correct, God had promised a little too much in too many directions at the same time. All the Lord could do about that was to let their true relative strengths settle the matter. ...
"Well, look at that," said Holger One.
"I'm not finished yet," said the king. (338)
14 October 2014
Tom Rob Smith. The Farm. New York: Hachette Group/Grand Central Publishing, 2014.
On reading this after a published review recommended it, my question: is this book basically an English nightmare of Swedish noir? Keep in mind that yours truly is a fan of fairly hard-boiled crime fiction. This tale is something else; Daniel has to make decisions about which of his parents is either lying or "disturbed." His Swedish mum and English father retired to a modest farm in Sweden. She starts seeing threats everywhere. Old gossip takes on new meaning. Trivial, commonplace gestures, even from her husband, become sinister. Her appearance deteriorates. She's institutionalized briefly. She runs away to her son.
Narrator Daniel finds himself in the position of coaxing the real story from his mother Tilde in her own words; but is it the truth? Tilde has secrets in her past; one or two dead bodies may be involved. The book has a differently-structured format calculated to build suspense, but the stretching out of mum's experiences soon palled. Long paragraphs, i.e. mum's carefully recited suspicions, become tiresome ... and so does the aimless Daniel. As she talks-talks-talks in oddly formal style, I'm asking will the woman ever get to the point? Daniel needs to visit Sweden for himself. Who exactly is nuts or not is the obvious underlying question. Stick it out and you'll see.
Daniel to himself:
I have no brothers or sisters, there are no uncles or aunts, when I speak about family I mean the three of us, Mum, Dad, me―a triangle, like a fragment of a constellation, three bright stars close together with a lot of empty space around us. The absence of relatives has never been discussed in detail. There have been hints―my parents went through difficult upbringings, estranged from their own parents, and I was sure that their vow never to argue in front of me originated from a powerful desire to provide a different kind of childhood to their own. (4)
Tilde to Daniel:
Let me quickly remind you that the allegation of being mentally incapable is a tried and tested method of silencing women dating back hundreds of years, a weapon to discredit us when we fought against abuses and stood up to authority. That said, I accept that my appearance is alarming. My arms are wasted away, my clothes are tatty, my nails chipped, and my breath bad. I've spent my life striving to be presentable, and today you looked me up and down at the airport and you thought―
Wrong. I'm thinking more clearly than ever before. (25-26)
Lars Kepler. The Sandman. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2014.
Originally published in Sweden in 2012, that's how long I've been waiting. It's the fourth in the series with detective Joona Linna from the unsurpassed writings of Lars Kepler, now known to be the real-life husband-and-wife writing team Alexandra and Alexander Ahndoril. Ghastly human discoveries in a forest are the signature of the psychotic Jurek who's been locked up in a secure psychiatric facility for years. Then panic starts building to find and save a potential survivor. So many dead ends, so little time. Joona's police colleague Saga Bauer volunteers to masquerade as a psychiatric patient; her experience will keep you riveted. Joona has a personal stake in solving the mystery; his wife and child were targeted by Jurek long ago. A quick trip to Moscow adds yet another element for the reader's imagination to picture.
The author(s) have faultlessly constructed an intricately contrived plot. They portray the struggles of various characters to master their fears or darker instincts: among them, the elfin but highly trained Saga has unresolved childhood guilt; grieving Reidar, father of some victims, lives only to rectify his deepest regret. Some of the developing scenarios and sudden action kept me breathless. Reviews of the book have received such universal praise, this amateur has nothing to add ― but if you are a fan of crime fiction thrillers and/or psychological suspense, introduce yourself to Lars Kepler! Personally I always like to start at the beginning of a series, in this case The Hypnotist, then The Nightmare and The Fire Witness.
Who will interview the psycho?:
"No, I can't," says Joona.
"Because I'm frightened," he replies simply.
Carlos looks at him uncertainly.
"I know you're only joking," he says nervously.
Joona turns to face him. His eyes are hard, and as grey as wet slate.
"Surely we've no reason to be scared of an old man who's already locked up," Verner says, scratching his head slightly nervously. "He ought to be scared of us. For God's sake, we could rush in, pin him down on the floor and scare the shit out of him. I mean, seriously fucking tough."
"It won't work," says Joona.
"There are methods that always work," Verner goes on. "I've got a secret group who were involved in Guantanamo."
"Obviously, this meeting has never taken place," Carlos says hurriedly. (143-144)
No means no:
Saga is still consumed by rage, holding him in the blind spot and hitting him with another right hook. The blow is extremely hard. His head is knocked aside, his cheeks flap and his glasses fly off to his left.
Bernie sinks to his knees, his head hanging as blood drips onto the floor in front of him.
Saga pulls his head up, sees that he's on the point of losing consciousness and punches him on the nose once more.
"I warned you," she whispers, letting go of him.
... Saga has time to think that she's ruined everything as she walks past Jurek to her room. (262)
A chase begins:
Snow is blowing across the windscreen and she slows down, switches the wipers on and brushes the light snow away.
In the distance a large piece of machinery resembling a scorpion stops in the middle of a sideways movement: it's holding a red container quite still, just above the ground.
There's no-one in the driver's cab, and the wheels are quickly being covered by snow.
She starts when her mobile suddenly rings, and smiles to herself as she answers.
"You're supposed to be asleep," she says brightly.
"Tell me where you are right now," Joona says, his voice intense.
"I'm in the car, on my way to―"
"I want you to skip the meeting and go straight home." (427)
A chase continues:
Joona is driving too fast when he turns left at the roundabout, the front bumper thuds up into the banked-up snow, the tyres rumble over the packed ice. He wrestles with the steering wheel as the car slides sideways, then puts his foot down and the car leaves the pavement and carries on along Lindarängsvägen without losing much speed.
... He overtakes a bus on the straight, hits one hundred and sixty kilometres an hour, and flies past yellow-brick blocks of flats. The car slides between the edges of the deep tracks through the snow as he brakes to turn left towards the harbour. Snow and ice are thrown up across the windscreen. Through the tall wire fence surrounding the harbour he can see a long, narrow ferry being loaded with containers in the blurred light from a crane. (429)
03 October 2014
Denise Mina. The End of the Wasp Season. Toronto, McArthur & Company, 2011.
Mina has a unique way of approaching the events and fallout from a crime scenario. There's a sting here, and not from the wasps that curl up and die after their natural span, as observed by a disturbed juvenile. DI Alex Morrow ― a Mina regular ― is called to investigate a particularly brutal murder; we are confronted first thing with puzzling elements of the scene. The narrative switches between the police investigation and the dysfunctional family of one miscreant, preparing for a funeral. Whether Morrow can connect them, and when more violence might take place, is at the heart of this suspense mystery.
It's a bit annoying not to understand the initial cryptic scenes that are almost a trademark style for Mina. She develops her characters with deceptively light but consummate touches ... the turn of a head, the querulous non sequitur, the daydreaming stare that hides confusion and ugliness. Family complications increase one after another; Lars and Moira were absent parents for their troubled children. Good thing Morrow's pregnancy (with twins) has made her more amenable to teamwork, in spite of an aggravating boss. Also, a childhood friend ultimately adds some needed warmth to Morrow's own tough background story. I'm hooked on Mina now.
Word: oxter ― the armpit, as used in Scotland and northern England (167)
Thomas is told his father died:
Abruptly Thomas slapped the wet off his face. He stood up and looked at the two men.
"My father came here," he said, looking down at them, not saying what he meant: when my father came here there were religious brothers running this school, monks ran this school, not just fucking teachers who couldn't get another job or work in industry actually making things and doing things.
"You're teachers." And my father paid for the fucking extension to the sixth form halls and the computer lab and you couldn't do that because you're just fucking teachers, so don't look down on me as a sad, lost fucking kid whose own fucking mother won't bother phoning ...". (53)
Morrow has soft moments:
Her hand stroked her stomach and she smiled faintly to herself, allowing herself another stroke and a smile before she set off. Four months pregnant and no miscarriage and the scans said both were growing and all was well. She felt happy, content for them all three to stay here for ever on the cusp of disaster and worry and sleeplessness.
She looked again at the green floor, at the scuffed walls of the corridor where terrified and half mad men and women had been dragged to interview rooms, angry, sad, kicking against officers, pathetic and passive or swearing revenge. The walls were lined with grief and fright and worry and she felt suddenly that she might be the only person in the short history of the building to find such a measure of absolute contentment there.
Knowing how few of these moments there might be, she shut her eyes, committing it to memory, before she blinked away her mood and moved on. (118-119)
New understanding dawns:
... Ella dissolved to the floor, arms in front of her. He looked down. Her wrists were scarred, badly scarred with long scratches up and down them.
He tried to pick her up. She flopped onto the floor again and curled around his ankle, sobbing, tears rolling into her yellow hair at the temple, her cheek maddened by the slap.
... Suddenly he understood the worried calls from the school over the year. This was why Lars and Moira went to visit her so much more than they went to see him. This was why they dropped their voices when they spoke about her. This was why they kept them apart. She had been ill for a long, long time. (311)
Ridley Pearson. Killer Summer. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2009.
With all due respect, this tale starring Sheriff Walt Fleming is no match for the adventures of detective Lou Boldt of Pearson's Seattle series. In my opinion. Even with an end paper map, the complicated treks through Idaho's daunting mountain country ― by more than one party ― are difficult to follow. Walt was enjoying an evening of fishing with his nephew when emergencies call him away, but for some time he can't tell if he's facing a bold heist, a complex extortion, or a kidnapping. Would you believe a character called Summer Sumner? I didn't ... a spoiled, entitled, teenage brat who precipitates at least half the action here. Summer is perhaps the best-developed of the rather superficially drawn players in the plot.
Nephew Kevin also gets swept into the action, along with Summer's father, Walt's father, a cowboy recluse, and a trio of calculating lowlifes. The plot is satisfactory but I felt a certain choppiness in sequence does not create a good story flow. Like many another big strong hero, Walt's inner feelings are hard to articulate, but his clumsy dialogue seems more stilted than credible. By the time the end came around, I didn't know or care who pulled off a shot, who missed, or who mis-fired. Shall I mention how many times I read "off of"? Pearson is not quite the author I remember; nevertheless, Sheriff Walt probably deserves another go, since he has his own series too.
You gotta learn to strike a balance between your pecker and your brain, boy. (297)
Sometimes his own staff treated him [Walt] like he didn't understand his own requests. (288)
[Kinda summarizes my comprehension ...]
An inexplicable moment:
The pilot was stocky, with an Irishman's florid cheeks and the kind of handsome that found its way onto the labels of soup cans. (254)
A platitudinous moment:
Mistake number one: don't ever expect a woman to do what you think she's going to do. Mistake number two: don't ever tell her what to do because that's a surefire way of making sure she doesn't. (295)
How I felt too, Walt:
"You do go to the movies?" Remy asked.
"Apparently not often enough."
"Christopher Cantell," Remy said. "That movie. Italian Job? No, that was a different one. Mark Wahlberg, right? Was it that one with Hanks? No, no, that was a con man, I think ... I don't know, I forget ... But they made a movie based on this guy Cantell. a heist movie. Above average, nothing great. But I remember the press: they played up the real-life side of it ... That's as much as I know about him."
"A movie," Walt said. He felt the rug going out from under him. (269-70)
23 September 2014
Martin Cruz Smith. Tatiana. New York, Simon & Schuster, 2013.
I couldn't wait, could I (after December 6) ... soon Smith's latest novel arrived at my local library. I'd say it's not one of his best in terms of action or drama, but Senior Investigator Arkady Renko of the Moscow police plunges ahead in his cynical way. Even more than usual, he sets his own agenda without, this time, any noticeable hassle from his prosecutor superior. A Russian mafia boss has been executed but Arkady finds more interest in the coincidental suicide of a journalist called Tatiana who fearlessly pursued and exposed fraud on many levels of society. Listening to her stored tapes, he falls in love with a ghost. Did she go out of her way to become a martyr?
The scene shifts to Kaliningrad, "Russia's most corrupt city." Surprises await our weary hero there. A cryptic notebook is the only clue to finding a covert meeting scheduled for the biggest illicit subversion yet of government money. An international translator has already been killed in the process. Arkady's erstwhile adopted son Zhenya might be able to decode the notebook but he has some extortion of his own in mind. His partner, the faithful Sergeant Victor Orlov, is on the job when he's not on the vodka. This is modern Moscow ― modern Russia ― seen through jaded eyes. Or is it jaded Russia seen through modern eyes? Little bloodletting, satisfactory ending. More Renko, please!
One-liner: "Her favourite targets were the former KGB who dwelled like bats in the Kremlin." (20)
A cross-section of society?
The funeral party was similarly mixed. Arkady spotted billionaires who had their arms around the nation's timber and natural gas, lawmakers who were sucking the state treasury dry, boxers who had become thugs, priests as round as beetles, models hobbling on stiletto heels and actors who only played assassins rubbing shoulders with the real thing. (10-11)
The modern army:
"You don't think I would make a good soldier?"
Arkady thought Zhenya would make a good punching bag for soldiers.
"It's not that."
"You were in the army. Your father was a general. I read about him. He was a killer."
"It's a different army now."
"You don't think I can take the hazing?"
It was more than hazing, Arkady thought. It was a system of brutalization at the hands of drunken noncoms and officers. It was daily beatings with fists and chairs, standing naked in freezing weather and the least sign of intelligence stamped out. It was a system that produced soldiers who went AWOL, strung themselves up by their belts or traded their weapons for vodka. (63)
Whenever Arkady visited the university, he could not help but measure his progress in life against the precocious student he had been. What promise! A golden youth, son of an infamous general, he had floated easily to the top. By now, he should have been a deputy minister or, at the very least, a prosecutor, ruler of his own precinct and feasting at the public trough. Somehow, he had wandered. Almost all the cases that came his way were fueled by vodka and capped by a drunken confession. Crimes that displayed planning and intelligence were all too often followed by a phone call from above, with advice to "go easy" or not "make waves." Instead of bending, he pushed back, and so guaranteed his descent from early promise to pariah. (79)
Michael Connolly. The Gods of Guilt. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.
The Lincoln Lawyer is back. Mickey Haller, half-brother of detective Harry Bosch, has a new but unsavoury client who was framed by a complex conspiracy. Mickey is full of guilt from past experiences, and in this case more so because he knew the murder victim. Or he thought he did. Maybe he himself was framed; an attempt to kill him is another mystery to solve. Collaboration with some sinister types is necessary to make a courtroom case that exposes hidden drug activities. It's almost hard to believe the judge accepted some of the defence evidence, but the twisted chain of events finally becomes clear. Written in the first person, Mickey is not the easiest boss for his little team to work with. In fact, he does not start out as the most sympathetic hero but we are cheering for him well before it's over.
Emergency team meeting:
"I can put a guy on the place―twenty-four-seven," Cisco said. "Might be worth it."
"And what money do we use to pay for all of this?" Lorna asked.
"Hold off on the guy, Cisco," I said. "Maybe when we get to trial. For now we'll go with just locks and cameras."
I then leaned forward, elbows on the table.
"It's all one case now," I said again. "And so we need to take it apart and look at all the pieces. Eight years ago I was manipulated. I handled a case and made moves I believed were of my own design. But they weren't, and I'm not going to let that happen again here." (155)
Robert Galbraith. The Silkworm. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2014.
Private detective Cormoran Strike is hobbling worse than ever, this time through the literary world of writing, editing, and publishing. I really thought we'd see him in hospital again nursing his aching, damaged stump. Thankfully, business is good due to publicity regarding his previous case (The Cuckoo's Calling). Hired to look for a missing husband, he meets vain and/or rude characters one after another, any of whom may have staged an ultra-gruesome murder; the scene replicates the murder description in the victim's unpublished manuscript.
In following Strike's lead to find the real killer (naturally, there are red herrings), remembering who said what to whom is a good test of the reader's acuity. It's encouraging to see Strike's assistant Robin stepping up to the plate, but she just won't get rid of her pompous, humourless fiancé. Almost, not quite, as captivating as the first book.
Lucy appeared with the homemade cake, blazing with thirty-six candles and decorated with what looked like hundreds of Smarties. As Greg turned out the light and everyone began to sing, Strike experienced an almost overwhelming desire to leave. He would ring a cab the instant he could escape the room; in the meantime, he hoisted a smile onto his face and blew out the candles, avoiding the gaze of Marguerite, who was smoldering at him with an unnerving lack of restraint from a nearby chair. It was not his fault that he had been made to play the decorated helpmeet of abandoned women by his well-meaning friends and family. (111-112)
Galbraith's real message:
"You were still friends at this point?" Strike clarified.
"When he started the book we were still―in theory―friends," said Fancourt with a grim smile. "But we writers are a savage breed, Mr. Strike. If you want lifelong friendship and selfless camaraderie, join the army and learn to kill. If you want a lifetime of temporary alliances with peers who will glory in your every failure, write novels." (397)
18 September 2014
09 September 2014
Herman Koch. Summer House with Swimming Pool. New York: Hogarth/Crown Publishing Group, (translation) 2014.
Koch has done it again (since TheDinner): purposely presenting us with a less than amiable narrator: Dr Marc Schlosser is a general practitioner with rather odd professional standards. The initial scenes create antipathy but soon the author has us following the tantalizing thread of what led to the introductory situation. Schlosser's ordered life unravels in suspicion and paranoia upon socializing with a celebrity patient, Ralph Meier. They do like to party. Their families get along swimmingly. Then Ralph dies.
Summer House is a mystery but not really a crime novel. Privy to the doctor's thoughts, we clearly see his love for wife Caroline and daughters, but we also see his subterfuge and hangups about human physicality. Schlosser's fantasies of destruction and bloodbaths, while examining his patients, are bizarre, yet have a comical element. Above all, Koch is a master of nuance, of unspoken motivation. Watching his people reveal themselves is a writer's model of character development. On the other hand, you may never trust your family physician again.
Ralph in lust:
It took a couple of seconds before I realized that Ralph was no longer listening to me. He was no longer even looking at me. And, without following his gaze, I knew immediately what he was looking at.
Now something was happening to the gaze itself. To the eyes. As he examined the back of Caroline's body from head to foot, a film slid down over his eyes. In nature films, you see that sometimes with birds of prey. A raptor that has located, from somewhere far up, high in the sir, or from a tree branch, a mouse or some other tasty morsel. That was how Ralph Meier was regarding my wife's body: as if it were something edible, something that made his mouth water. (47)
Marc in lust:
I said nothing. I walked a little closer to her, so that our forearms touched. I smelled something vague: sea air mixed with a hint of perfume or deodorant. It was only a matter of time, I knew. Or rather, a matter of timing. To grab her around the waist already would be taking things too fast. I estimated the distance to the beach club. Ten minutes. Within ten minutes she would be all mine. (242)
Chopping a giant swordfish for BBQ:
He was down on his haunches and had kicked off his flip-flops. I looked at his bare feet: from time to time the hatchet came awfully close to his toes on the tiles. I looked on as a physician. Just to be safe, I tried to work out what I would have to do first. If kept cool, toes and fingers could be put back on at the hospital. If Ralph planted the hatchet in one or more of his toes, someone would have to keep a level head. There was a doctor in the house. It would be up to the doctor to stanch the flow of blood and wrap the toes in a wet towel with ice cubes. Women and children might faint; the doctor was perhaps the only one who would be able to keep cool. Judith, ice from the freezer! And a wet towel! Caroline, help me apply a tourniquet to his calf―he's losing too much blood! Stanley, start the car and fold down the back-seat! Julia, Lisa, Alex, Thomas, go inside, you're only getting in the way. Leave Emmanuelle where she is. Just put a pillow under her head―she'll come around in a bit ... It would be my opportunity to shine in a leading role, the role for which I was perfectly suited, but the hatchet came down only once within a fraction of an inch of Ralph's big toe. (191)
Claire Cameron. The Bear. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2014.
Prejudice here: I liked Cameron's first (mystery) novel The Line Painter very much and I've been associated with her mother for some twenty years. But then I thought to myself: I am so over having toddlers, can I really get into the skin of a pre-schooler? Because once begun, The Bear is just that ― narration by a five-almost-six-years-old girl whose parents are savagely killed by a marauding bear in a wilderness park. Little Anna and her even younger brother Alex (whom she calls Stick) were saved by their father's last desperate action to hide them. Anna's limited frame of reference deals with the devastation by allowing her to see only what makes sense to her.
It's quite magical how Cameron captures Anna's fertile imagination, the natural jumps in attention span, the childish logic. How will these small children survive? Will they ever be found? Will the bear return? Anna's memories help sustain her; one of them turns her to a game only she and Stick share. It's brilliant how the author makes Anna's character internalize the idea of bear. I don't want to give away the suspense but later events contrast the innocent inner life of a child with how wrong we can be about it. I'd say Cameron has talent to burn. But then, I'm prejudiced.
The campsite from the canoe:
I look at Daddy's broken paddle on land and worry drips into my heart. I don't see Daddy. Momma said to take Stick in the canoe and wait. A little puddle of black sits in my heart too and I know Momma said to wait. I am supposed to get Stick in the canoe and wait and now I am going back. I am bad. I want to be good girl and Daddy will come back again and my family will be four. (59)
I think Stick has English inside his head and he doesn't make it come out loud so much even when it comes out the wrong way or backwards like my name Nana. His words are in his head and they get stuck when they swim around inside. This is because I saw a picture of a brain and there are little squiggly paths that wind around like worms and English has to travel through the squiggles that are like tunnels for worms. A baby can't push their thinking because there are so many worms. Stick isn't a baby any more but he still is wormy gross and I tease him about worms and get in trouble when I put them in his face. I have to put them back in the dirt to let them have a nice life again. (74)
"Sticky! Stick!" I stand up and the rain hits me on every side of my body and I shout both his names over and over and my throat has claws that are ripping me and I am so scared and my kneecaps wiggle so much they will fall and my tummy heaves and I have a little barf and my arms are so bubbled and red and my face is hot and might fall off but I have to keep calling and I shout for Stick for the longest time I can. And finally I can't shout because my voice isn't making noise out of my throat. My legs fall down and I am on the ground and my heart has shaken loose and rolled away. I can't open my eyes. All I see is my lids and black and I can barely feel the rain but the itchy black is eating up my skin from the outside and crawling all through my blood. I want to get up but I can't. Only my brain can think so everything is black and I can't move. (144)