AMWAP Book Review: The Light Between Oceans

Note: What is an AMWAP review? It’s a thing I made up. It stands for “As Many Words as Pages.” My AMWAP book reviews are uniquely crafted towards a specific word count. It’s my little way of keeping things snappy (and driving myself crazy).

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The Light Between Oceans

by

Pages:343

      The following book review is 343 words.

With The Light Between Oceans (2012) M.L. Stedman wrote the “first novel” which only exists in most writers’ daydreams. The story reads like a classic, and maybe it will considered as such one day. Meanwhile, it’s already a New York Time’s Bestseller, an O Magazine favorite, fodder for book clubs everywhere, and the basis for a 2016 film with an all-star cast.

Like I said: not bad, Stedman, not bad.

When a stoic WWI veteran (Tom) sets off to become the lighthouse keeper of uninhabited Janus Rock, he meets a passionate young woman who steals his heart (Isabel). The two marry and are happy in their own little world on the island—until Isabel’s series of miscarriages begin. Wracked by grief and loneliness, Isabel believes it is a miracle when an infant washes ashore in a boat. The little girl-Lucy- will draw them together as they become a family, and pull them apart as the truth struggles to become known. Meanwhile, a woman named Helen is haunted by the disappearance of her husband and baby daughter…

Some things about this story read like a fairytale: the idyllic setting of Janus and the coastal town of Partageuse, in which the author’s familiarity with her birthplace of Australia shines through. Other elements are more fable. The story is driven by consequences of the characters’ actions and questions of right and wrong. However, I found the most prominent thing about the novel to be the realness of the characters’ emotions: Tom and Isabel’s complicated love for one another; Isabel and Helen’s maternal grief; the rage of betrayal; the quiet emptiness after an internal storm.  Stedman expertly conveys the many facets of human emotion which are woven through every important relationship which can exist between two people.

Loss is real in this story. Love is real. Right is real. Wrong is real. Perhaps, more real than anything, is the idea that the lines between these experiences are not clearly marked—not at all.

This exquisitely written page-turner had me underlining sentences while soaking them with my tears.

AMWAP Book Review: Here on Earth

*Note: What is an AMWAP review? It’s a thing I made up. It stands for “As Many Words as Pages.” My AMWAP book reviews are uniquely crafted towards a specific word count. It’s my little way of keeping things snappy and driving myself slowly insane.For instance…The following book review is 309 words long.

Here on Earth

Pages: 309

Last night I finished reading Alice Hoffman’s Here on Earth (1997).  In case you are unacquainted with her, Hoffman’s got this raw-but-lyrical quality that leaves you feeling like you’ve been emotionally stripped bare at some kind of intervention, but that (somehow) you were thoroughly enchanted by the entire experience. It’s fitting that she often writes about magic, because her stories are spellbinding.

Recently, Here on Earth caught my eye. I read a New York Times Book Review that called it, “a Wuthering Heights . . . profound.”  Sadistic though it may be, I’ve always loved Emily Bronte’s twisted love story and the way it makes prickle with goosebumps of anger, passion, and regret.

And that’s pretty much the exact same effect of Hoffman’s Here on Earth.

5159The story successfully carries the haunting themes of Wuthering Heights into a setting of 1990s America as it follows the return of March Murray to her small hometown.  When March re-encounters Hollis, the childhood love she never let go of, the passionate bond between them grows.  As their relationship illuminates the ghosts of their common past, it also begins to cast a destructive shadow over their lives.  Despite the absence of Bronte’s moors, the rural Massachusetts setting of Here on Earth carries a ghostly mystique of its own.

Though I openly recommended this book to everyone while still in its early chapters, I would be more selective in my recommendations having finished it.  Literary triumph? Definitely.  Disturbing? Definitely.  Just don’t tell your teenager to read this alongside Wuthering Heights, okay?

Overall, Here on Earth is a choice autumnal read for those who know what they are in for:  a dark and compelling re-imagining.  It poses some pretty interesting questions about romantic possession, redemption, revenge and what might have happened if Catherine and Heathcliff had gotten a chance to be together, “here on earth.”

All the Light We Cannot See: Doerr Illuminates the Heart in WWII Saga

The brain is locked in total darkness . . . yet the world it constructs in the mind is full of light. It brims with color and movement. 

These words crackle over an old radio in Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer-prize-winning novel, All the Light We Cannot See (2014). They represent a significantly fundamental idea to the novel’s main characters and to the reader’s experience of the book. Doerr’s World War II saga conveys the war’s beginnings through its aftermath via the alternating perspectives of a Nazi boy and a blind Parisian girl. Written in a sparse yet lyrical narrative, All The Light We Cannot See is a nuanced portrait of the oppressive darkness which reigned during this time in history, as well as the flames of humanity- and love-which managed to outlast it.

The (spoiler free-ish) story:

Werner Pfennig grows up in a poor, German orphanage with his beloved sister, Jutta. They live in a town where boys automatically become men who are condemned to a life of  mining as soon as they turn fourteen. When Werner is thirteen years old,his greatest fear is being sent into those mines, the same ones where his own father died. But another opportunity finds him first.  People whisper about the “big things” coming for Germany under Hitler’s leadership. While Werner doesn’t know much about the Reich, he does know that he has a burning desire to understand the world and a rare talent with mathematics and technology. His intellect- combined with his white-blond hair and blue eyes- secure him a place at the National Political Institute of Education where his skills are immediately put to use for Nazi warfare. Werner begins to learn other, non-academic, lessons as well: that being different is dangerous, that his intelligence makes him both valuable and captive, that life would be easier if he could only trade in his own thoughts and sense of morality for that of those around him.

As Werner struggles to accept his role in Germany, a blind girl named Marie-Laure is being raised by her father in France. Whereas Werner must reconfigure himself for the new world he has been placed in, Marie-Laure’s world has, for most of her childhood, been lovingly constructed around her. Her father teaches her to use her senses, to memorize models he has built of streets and buildings, to read Braille, to dream.   When Paris is bombed, Marie and her father flee to the home of her great uncle in Saint Malo, an eccentric man with a fascination for stories and radios. As Marie-Laure is exposed to her own losses and a world outside of comfortable bubble in Pairs, she becomes more curious and imaginative about the world around her. Just as the events of the war push Werner to become one of many, they also force Marie-Laure to become more independent and brave.  For most of the novel, Werner and Marie’s stories remain separate, though interwoven in numerous ways that they have no way of knowing.  The two characters finally converge in a powerful way at the story’s most climatic point.

Doerr spent the greater part of 10 years entrenched in his research, stating that it was his greatest delay in finishing the book.  And his attention to detail does come through in All the Light We Cannot See in a sensory-rich feast.  However, while this book may be seen as a memorial to WWII, it does not contain a straightforward account of historical events. This is not a book of linear facts. Instead, Doerr’s details tell about the horrors of the war solely through the characters’ experiences of them: a forbidden book of birds painted by an American illustrator, the measuring of noses done prior to entrance in Hitler’s academy, bulging bags of ownerless weddings rings to be sorted by a Nazi jeweler.

One area in which Doerr’s descriptions are particularly exceptional is when he describes things from Marie-Laure’s perspective.  The way her blindness impacts her perception does not give her a limited narrative, but a striking one. When thousands of fliers are dropped over the city of Saint Malo with orders to evacuate, Marie first hears the paper rattling in the wind, then finds one with her fingers and notes that it smells like fresh ink and gasoline.  Though she cannot read the words printed on the paper, she understands the meaning. Often, the characters in All the Light We Cannot See never learn the significance of what is occurring around them; many of these historically significant details are tucked away in the text purely to give the modern reader goosebumps.

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Doerr’s story is compelling in its focus on the inner-workings of his characters as they experience the war.  The author artfully conveys the fear that comes from making choices with dangerous and unknown repercussions. He shows hope in the friendship that grows between Marie and her uncle, Etienne.  He depicts the weight of personal, senseless loss through the events that befall one of Werner’s best friends, Frederick. He conveys the feeling that so many people had after WWII: a lifetime of answerless questions.

In this manner, All the Light We Cannot See is a story with two kinds of truth.  First, it is true in the well-researched details of its setting and history. However, and much more profoundly, it is true in the same way that all great stories are true; it makes us, the (you know, readers) understand things we didn’t understand before, ask big questions, and feel full of a broad spectrum of human emotion. If I’m being completely honest, I had to lie awake for awhile when I finished this book a couple of nights ago, sinking into a trembling puddle of feelings–an understanding of times and places that I will never understand fully, but that this novel has given me a sense of.

Doerr’s  lyrical writing style will probably attract  readers who enjoy poetry and fantasy; in many ways this novel often reads like it should belong to a different  genre than historical fiction. Reader who love fairy-tales and poems will likely think this author’s writing is exquisite, whereas those who are expecting a more traditional or straightforward war narrative may find it jarring.

However, given the descriptiveness of the novel, it has much easier readability than one might expect. In part, this is due to Doerr’s habit of “showing” (and hardly ever “telling”).  Another, more obvious, structural statement of this novel which impacts readability is that its chapters are never more than a few pages long, each with its own self-contained theme and perspective.  Meanwhile, the plight’s of the characters and the non-linear storytelling keep the pages turning quickly. While this structure is unusual, and may not appeal to all readers, it certainly has benefits. Doerr said that he started writing the novel when he was a new father, with very short spaces of time available for writing. From my personal experience, the novel is likewise well-suited to busy readers.

The structure of All the Light We Cannot See makes it feasible to pick up and read for only three minutes without getting lost . . . but I’m betting you are going to want to read it for more than 3 minutes.

 

 

The Beauty of Blockbuster

Growing up,  my mom and I would often hit the local Blockbuster after school. I’ve got this clear picture of the event: me in my school uniform, rain dripping down on our green van. It’s probably a Thursday afternoon. Thursday afternoons are the best time for Blockbuster. It gives you weekend movies and Friday-flourescent-light-daydreams of vegging out.

We didn’t just go when a new movie was out on DVD or (gasp) video, either. We went when we were in a mood that needed to find resonance at a cinematic level.

It’s the same mood you have when you venture into the library or into a bookstore. You don’t know where you are about to go, but you know there is some kind of journey ahead. It’s a journey that involves walking down aisles that are stocked with possibility, each containing a world all it’s own.

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Then, gradually, then quickly, life changed. We became the instant age.

Remember when Netflix first arrived and you just put a whole bunch of things in your online cue, but you didn’t know what they might send you? It was a new surprise each time, and it was the hippest Russian Roulette to date. Then came the days when you could watch Netflix from your laptop (if you were really cool).

Today, pretty much everyone has Netflix available right on their TV screen (and by that, we  mean what used to be known as “instant watch”). It’s nice, I mean, it’s convenient and yes—it’s perfect for chilling. Heck, there’s a whole layer of Millenials (not my layer, but the younger ones) who base their social lives around the phrase, “Netflix and chill.” (Yes, I know, that’s not actually what that means…and this post is just gonna dodge that bullet.)

I’m not saying Netflix is bad, not at all. I love my Netflix, especially now that they are coming out with these amazing original series (Daredevil, anyone?). All I’m saying is that now, Blockbusters are no more. One day, I will have to explain to my children and grandchildren that – back when I was a kid – we used to have to go to a store and pay to borrow a movie that we wanted to watch. It probably will sound terrible to them, maybe their little eyes will widen in horror. Is this the future equivalent to walking “six miles in the snow?”

But I don’t know if there will be a way to explain it. The process of taking time, the physical act of pacing, picking choices up, putting them down. What mood are you in? What kind of weekend will it be?

I don’t know if I will ever be able to tell them how such a simple act had the ability to slow down dull, rainy Thursday afternoons, how it provided the therapeutic ability to process, analyze and make mood-oriented cinematic choices.

But there it is, the long-lost  beauty of Blockbuster.

 

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: An AMWAM Review

We had a date-night last night. Our movie of choice? Pride Prejudice and Zombies. It’s been awhile since I did one of these, but here follows my AMWAM (as many words as minutes) review!

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

Rating: PG-13

Movie run-time/word count: 108 minutes/words

The book we’ve all contemplated buying as a gag-gift for the literature lover in our lives is now devour-able at the big screens.

Don’t go see this one if you are the hardcore, A&E, Colin-Firth-all-the-way kind of person (you know who you are). This is the movie for Austen fans who aren’t too serious. This is for the loyal boyfriends who have sat through every re-telling, wishing they knew what the big deal was about.

Also, pretty sure Lily James is the new “it girl.”

More comedy than anything, this film is like having a bizarre, hilarious dream after  back-to-back Downton Abbey/Walking Dead marathons.

I’d watch it again.

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Redeemer of my Heart

Just a very short post today, because I’ve got to be heading out the door soon.

Today, here’s where I am: aware of my need of redemption.

We sing about redemption a lot in church; it’s part of the Christian lexicon. This is as it should be, the word is important in the Christian faith…but man, sometimes I think the power of the term goes unrecognized and it takes some broken-heartedness to remember it.

Biblically speaking, the title of “redeemer” goes back to the Old Testament, referring to a “kinsman redeemer” who was able to act on behalf of another to save  them from trouble, whether this is making them good in the eyes of the law or literally rescuing them. The kinsman redeemer is kind of the white knight who brings things back where they need to be. In the New Testament, this term is fulfilled by Jesus, the ultimate kinsman redeemer.  I think a lot of times we accept this as a part of Christianity–that, in order to be saved, we need redemption from our sins.

We know that part is key, but I think we forget sometimes that it’s not a one-time deal. Our hearts wander constantly, and we’ll require this saving re-direction as long as we live. We are like kids who really, really want to touch the thing we’re not supposed to (I type before re-navigating Kora away from underneath the recliner).

The past week has been rough for me. Not rough on the outside, or in anything that happened particularly. The problem has been on the inside. I am struggling with myself–with my own unrealistic expectations (INFPs understand), over-sensitivity, doubt, worry, sadness, selfishness of perspective. I’ve felt lonely, with no one to share these private thoughts and feelings. There’s no one who can understand my soul, and no one can help resolve the troubles of myself (the Hebrew word for self, “nephesh”, is appropriate here, encompassing, body, mind, soul, self-ness…) Not even my husband can fully get me or fix me: as wonderful as he is, he is just a person, too.

The problem with trying to dump your heart’s brokenness on any other person is that we are all a bit broken-unable to carry the weight of our own problems, let alone understand or solve someone else’s. I’m not saying don’t rely on people, I’m just saying that ordinary people can’t offer real redemption of the heart. Ordinary people can’t keep bringing you back to a place of peace, no matter how far away you feel from it. Only God does that.

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“For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”-Isaiah 41:13

My prayer today is that God will bring my brokeness back to Him and love me again. I don’t need saving once and for all–I’ve already received eternal salvation.

And yet….

I DO still need saving, each and every day. I need redemption every day. Please redeem my heart, today, Lord. Bring it back to where you want it to be.

“Wonderful, merciful Savior
Precious Redeemer and friend
Who would have thought that a lamb could
Rescue the souls of men
Oh, You rescue the souls of men

Counselor, Comforter, Keeper
Spirit we long to embrace
You offer hope when our hearts have
Hopelessly lost the way
Oh, we hopelessly lost the way…”

-Wonderful, Merciful Savior (Hymn)

 

 

 

Write Where You Are: What does that mean?

First of all, I apologize that I haven’t been a good, consistent blogger lately. I’m going to re-commit to putting out something-even if it’s short, or not the best-several times a week. At this point, I’m also kind of wanting to refocus on the purpose of this journey in writing. While I’ll be looking for a little bit more of a cohesive feel to future posts in terms of format, at least, I still plan to write about whatever strikes me at the time. Here’s why.

My site is called “Write Where You Are,” for a reason. I know it seems like a cop-out—like—oh she can just write anything on here if she calls it that. And that is sort of the point. But it actually has always been very intentional, to the point of HEY, I am NOT one thing.  YOU aren’t either. For another good post on this topic, and just a good blog, check out my friend Corinne over at: https://owanderingfolk.wordpress.com/

Here’s the thing, for me anyway. I could write on my description that I’m a  “homemaker,  wife and mom,” which I am. But if that’s my “theme,” then that shapes the whole impression  people have of me, the way I look at myself, even. And I’m not really aspiring  to define myself only by those terms, as noble as they are (also I totally suck at laundry, among other household tasks). Or I could say, “I am an academic, a bookish old soul and introvert.” Also somewhat true, but that’s not me completely either (although that sounds like someone who would own a rockin’ tweed jacket, which is on my bucket list. Elbow patches please.)  There’s the good girl who never got grounded, never had a rebellious phase, did everything I was supposed to do, in the right order. Those are all ideals, categories I sort of aspire to fill, but not really me.

Hey, then there are my failures: there’s the flake that I can come across as a lot of times, who never knows what to say in person, who gets flustered easily in uncomfortable situations and breaks virtually any nearby technology with a single glance. There’s the temper most people don’t know I have. There’s the part of me that always feels like an imposter, not good enough. There’s the part of me that’s a selfish brat. The part of me that’s incapable of understanding certain concepts or remembering to do certain things.

 Or-to be a super-confusing person-I could label myself as happily, productively, ADD. I could reference the silly, extroverted  Zumba instructor that I am several nights a week, or I could place my identity in the fact that a lot of times I dance and sing like a crazy person in my house to Bollywood while being a multi-tasking hoodlum and caffeine junky. Did you know Gilmore Girls is my favorite show? Because it is. Oh yeah, I’m a health freak by the way….BUT I also love cheese and red velvet cake.

I could call this a “Christian blog,” but I feel that would be unnecessary, too (and maybe a let down for the theological blog-readers out there). Because my content is everywhere, and my faith infiltrates my perspectives– my hope would be that my faith is transparent here, regardless of topic.

You get the point? I feel as though any label I could choose would be, to some degree, counterfeit in its simplicity, it’s in-completeness. I feel like that’s unavoidable for social media like Facebook, but no, not on my blog.

Here’s the other thing–Really I started writing more when I was heavily grieving the loss of my mom in 2013. I guess I found it necessarily to somehow bring together the part of me that people saw on a daily basis (the one who could function and teach and smile) and the part of me that frequently screamed at the top of my lungs in empty parking lots because I couldn’t handle the stuff my heart was feeling. Writing became a way to discover about grief and love and the reality of the way that the world-and you-grows over these ugly wounds to make something new. I tried to be honest, and I shocked some people I think, because my voice is most real in these typed words….much more real than the little voice people hear when they speak with me.

So here’s my angle: We spend enough of our lives worrying about fitting into boxes and not enough of them finding our voice. Really, that’s what I want “Write Where You Are” to be about. It’s a one-woman stand against turning labels into restrictions…Because the temptation to fall into a category is very high-pressure. More than that, it’s my way of finding my voice, and maybe encouraging others to do the same.

Ultimately,  you not one thing; I am not one thing.   You can be smart and a flake. You can be hilarious, fun and depressed. You can be an introvert who’s good at fake extrovert-ing.  You can be the cool person who is a big nerd on the inside. Or the nerd who is a cool person on the inside. You can be a loving husband or wife and let down the person who cares about you the most. You can be a good friend who forgets to do the stuff good friends always do. You can doubt and have faith. You can be in pain and be full of joy.

You are much more than each category, or the sum of their parts, or even the differences between them. And that voice that represents the real you, when and if you can find it, is worth putting to paper. The best way to start is simply to write where you are.

 

#NoFilter…The Facebook Evolution

No Filter Facebook

Let’s talk about social media, in particular Facebook.

Usually when people talk about Facebook they do so with emphasis on the fact  that social media gives you the ability to redefine yourself or create an entirely new identity altogether. They talk about how you can post statuses or that say what you want people to know about your life-maybe it’s flawless or maybe it’s quirky or angst-ridden or hipster. Whatever view of yourself you’d like to promote, you can do it with little effort.  If you use Facebook (actively), you do this. I do this. Regardless of whether or not it’s deliberate, it is inevitable: you can’t see a whole life from a single, subjective perspective. Continue reading “#NoFilter…The Facebook Evolution”