Sunday 24 September 2017

Book talk on an incredibly hot, record-breaking Sunday morning...

I’ve had to juggle my plans for today.  I normally get up in the morning, cook and/or bake, as required, settle down to write my post, then go for a long walk in the early afternoon, but this weekend has been so hot and humid that today I got up and went for a long walk first, while it was still a bearable temperature, then cooked, and I’m only now getting to this post.  If I seem a bit off, it’s because my routine has been disrupted… grrr, I hate when that happens!  I can’t wait until the end of the week, when we are back to seasonal temperatures.

My “Friends” book group met on Monday night to discuss The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls, author of the bestselling memoir, The Glass Castle.  There were a few people who couldn’t make it, so we were a small-ish group, and our discussion seemed unusually subdued, perhaps because of the unseasonably warm weather, or maybe we were all tired out at summer’s end.  I don’t think it was due to lack of interest in the book, because it was the first book in quite some time that we all enjoyed reading!  This novel, set in the early ''70s, tells the story of two sisters, twelve-year old “Bean” and fourteen-year old Liz, whose mother abandons them in search of fame and stardom in the music scene in California.  She leaves enough money for them to try surviving on chicken pot pies, but after a certain amount of time, the authorities come sniffing around and the girls, fearing removal from their mother’s custody and placement in foster homes, decide to take a bus trip in search of their elusive Uncle Tinsley, their mother’s brother, in a small town in Virginia.  Despite his initial resistance, he accepts his new charges and even thrives in their company. After settling in and making a place for themselves in Tinsley’s house, the town and their new school, they discover many things about their past and the reasons their mother left this place and never wanted to return.  While Bean has an easier time fitting in, creative, artistic Liz struggles to find a place for herself.  When something terrible happens to her, the family and the townspeople must band together to support and protect her while she attempts to seek justice for herself and others who have also suffered at the hands of a manipulative, cruel, power-hungry bully of a businessman.  This is a work of fiction, but as we learned at the meeting, Walls’ own parents were less-than-responsible, taking them off on long road-trips in a caravan and experiencing periods of homelessness.  We all enjoyed reading the book, and agreed that the children in this story were far stronger, better-adjusted and more responsible than the adults.  We felt that Uncle Tinsley, while eccentric and strange, turned out to be supportive and wise, and was more reliable than just about anyone else in the story.  The nasty businessman, Maddox, was too obviously a symbol of evil, and the emus were too obviously symbolic of the girls, particularly Liz, as they had to work hard to earn their trust, and even though they seemed strange at first, when they really got close to the birds, they discovered how weirdly beautiful they were.  We commented that the 1970s were a different time, that no kid today would be allowed to take a bus on their own these days.  We commented on the parallels between Liz and her mother, their artistic natures and creativity, which often goes hand-in-hand with a tendency towards mental health struggles. We discussed the changes in Liz’s and Bean’s characters and personalities over the course of the novel, and noted that they had to remain self-reliant throughout their adventure, that despite seeking help from various adults, they could only really depend on each other for support on a consistent basis.  All-in-all, it was a great book club selection and an interesting read, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys domestic fiction or books about dysfunctional families.

And I read another Japanese thriller last week, Shadow Family by Miyuki Miyabe.  Most of the story takes place in the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Station interrogation room and observation room, as the detectives strive to discover the identity of the person who is responsible for two separate yet related murders.   A middle-aged businessman, Ryosuke Tokoroda, is found murdered at a residential construction site by a neighbour, and the detectives on the case uncover threads that link this man to an earlier murder, that of a college-aged girl at a nightclub.  (I will not use proper names for any other characters, as they are all Japanese names which I would probably either spell incorrectly or mix up with other characters' names.)  They discover that, along with a wife and daughter, Tokoroda had a cyber-family, a “shadow” family that consisted of a daughter, a son and a wife. These people communicated via chat rooms and online board posts, although they did meet in person once.  This idealized “family” contrasts starkly with Tokoroda’s real family life, where he is less-than-faithful and more than a little unreliable.  But could one of the members of Tokoroda’s “shadow” family have been envious enough of his real family to kill him?  Or did someone from his real life find out about this alternate family and want him dead?  This novel, based more heavily on dialogue than on action, kept me turning pages until the mystery was solved and the murderer’s identity revealed.  In my last post, I wrote about another Japanese police procedural, The Salvation of a Saint, by Keigo Higashino, and I commented on the “mainstream-ness” of the story, that it could be set anywhere, and that, while it was a well-written novel with an interesting story, it lacked what I referred to as “authentic Japanese style”, which I could not identify but I thought I would recognize it if I saw it.  Well, this book demonstrated this “authentic Japanese style” in that it offered a glimpse into  contemporary Japanese family life.  It presented what I felt was a convincing look at Japanese culture and family, especially relationships with and between young adults, that was different from the kind of portraiture you might find in, for example, a British or Canadian mystery.  The relationships between detectives on the police force, too, differed from the ways British or Canadian police are described as interacting.  I enjoyed this book, and would be interested in someday reading other mysteries by this author.

OK, that’s all for today.  Stay cool and keep reading!  Oh, and Happy First Weekend of Fall, everyone!!

Bye for now…

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