Rewind ~ “Mr. Holmes” and “The Final Solution”

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I’m on vacation in Omaha this week! In light of the recent release of Mr. Holmes, here are my “Rewind” thoughts on the movie’s source material and Michael Chabon’s similar work.

Mr. Holmes by Mitch Cullin

Cover via Goodreads

It is 1947, and the long-retired Sherlock Holmes lives in a remote Sussex farmhouse with his housekeeper and her young son. He tends to his bees, writes in his journal, and grapples with the diminishing powers of his mind.

But in the twilight of his life, as people continue to look to him for answers, Holmes revisits a case that may provide him with answers of his own to questions he didn’t even know he was asking – about life, about love, and about the limits of the mind’s ability to know. (via Goodreads)

When I read this book in 2010, it was under the name A Slight Trick of the Mind, which I prefer, but I can understand the change. My thoughts at the time:

This Sherlock Holmes is 93 years old and dealing with slight dementia, an old body, and all the questions that might come at the end of a man’s life. Of course, Sherlock Holmes is supposed to be the man that has the answers when he asks questions. What happens when he doesn’t? This is a novel firmly within the literary “genre.” We’re examining the inner life of a character, not terribly concerned with discrete events of a plot. I liked this book; it will undoubtedly stick with me…

Of particularly Holmesian things, the novel does not have Watson, drug abuse, or Irene Adler. It does very much have an apiary. I’m noting this because I think it will be interesting what authors decide to focus on or not.

I was, in early 2010, reading all things Holmes. My next book that year was

The Final Solution by Michael Chabon

Cover via Goodreads

In deep retirement in the English countryside, an eighty-nine-year-old man, vaguely recollected by locals as a once-famous detective, is more concerned with his beekeeping than with his fellow man. Into his life wanders Linus Steinman, nine years old and mute, who has escaped from Nazi Germany with his sole companion: an African gray parrot.

What is the meaning of the mysterious string of German numbers the bird spews out – a top secret SS code? The keys to a series of Swiss bank accounts perhaps? Or something more sinister? Is the solution to this last case – the real explanation of the mysterious boy and his parrot – beyond even the reach of the once-famed sleuth? (via Goodreads)

My thoughts from March 6, 2010:

There are many similarities between The Final Solution and Mitch Cullin’s A Slight Trick of the Mind. Both deal with Holmes in his twilight years; a Holmes with physical maladies that frustrate his ability to function. Chabon’s Holmes has less mental problems. Both have retired from public life and intend to spend the remainder of life quietly keeping bees. Both novels have small boys that become important to Holmes. Both novels deal with the experience of the World Wars; Chabon’s novelette set before/during WWII and Cullin’s after. Neither include Watson or the notorious drug abuse. The primary difference is that Chabon’s novel is more direct detective story. A crime occurs; Holmes solves it. Nevertheless, The Final Solution is still a “literary” novel (though Chabon takes some exception to the label). The story does have a serious and poignant historical overlay which is presented more subtly than in Cullin’s book. It’s a lovely, quick read.

Deal Me In, Week 31 ~ “The Monster”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Monster” by Lidiya Zinovyeva-Annibal

Card picked: Queen of Hearts

From: The Tragic Menagerie by Lidiya Zinovyeva-Annibal, translated by Jane Costlow

Thoughts: Ten year-old Vera catches a monster in her net. The monster is only a quarter of her pinkie finger long, but it has claws and “armor.” Both intrigued and disgusted by it, Vera puts it in a jar with some bog water that includes frog eggs. Over the course of a few days, the frog eggs hatch in to stubby, comical tadpoles…which is a perfect buffet for the monster. Vera is upset by this, but her older brother tells her

“That’s nature. … A normal person gets used to nature. … Well, but people sometimes want to live in ways they can’t. That means making things complicated, understand, and not even obeying God, understand, God!?”

Vera’s teacher subtly disagrees. Tadpoles and a monster (maybe the larva of a water beetle?) in a jar is not natural. She suggests that Vera dump her pets back into the bog. Vera feels that this will only prolong the life of the tadpoles/young frogs which would be even crueler than their current arrangement. Eventually, it comes down to the monster versus one frog with Vera as the capricious God watching over them all.

About the Author: There’s not a lot of ready information about Lidiya Zinovyeva-Annibal. She was part of the Silver Age of Russian literature. She hosted a salon with her husband Viacheslav Ivanov. She had been married previously and had a daughter named Vera from that marriage (whom Ivanov married after Lidiya’s death at age 40). She also known for her short novel Thrity-Three Abominations which openly discusses lesbianism. What I had assumed might be political allegory in “The Monster” (a pretty good guess when dealing with 19th century Russians) is probably more about sexual mores.

#ROW80 ~ July 22nd Check-In

Update

I’m calling a mulligan on the beginning of this round.

Did I hit my 20K goal on the Abbott project? Not so much. July always sucks; too much heat and too much daylight.  My mood has been scattered. We were between trips and the two weeks of productivity I wanted never quite materialized.

Tomorrow, we’re headed to Denver for a weekend ultimate frisbee tournament, and then we’ll head to Omaha for a week or so. I’m not even going to pretend that I’ll get work done while I’m away, but here’s a few things that are work-appropriate that might happen:

  • Read The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick by Peter Lamont. I read Lamont and Wiseman’s excellent Magic in Theory a while back. I’m not sure I can have too much magic history.
  • Visit the Durham Museum.
  • Free write daily flash fiction pieces centered around separate magic tricks.

I imagine I’ll be back before the August 5th check-in and I plan on rededicating my goals then.

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Summer Reading, July 20th ~ The Manitou

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I’m appropriating Mondays for short reviews of my summer reads (I’m behind in reviewing all the books I’d like to review) and my weekly preview.

What I’ve Read

The Manitou by Graham Masterton

Cover via Goodreads

It only grows at night. Karen Tandy was a sweet and unassuming girl until she discovers the mysterious lump growing underneath her skin. As the doctors and specialists are puzzling over the growth, Karen’s personality is beginning to drastically change. The doctors decide there is only one thing to do, cut out the lump. But then it moved. Now a chain reaction has begun and everyone who comes in contact with Karen Tandy understands the very depths of terror. Her body and soul are being taken over by a black spirit over four centuries old. He is the remembrance of the evils the white man has bestowed on the Indian people and the vengeance that has waited four hundred years to surface. He is the Manitou. (via Goodreads)

The Incredible Erskine is by his own admission a fraudulent medium. He makes a very good living “reading” tarot for little old ladies. When Karen Tandy visits him to find out about the nightmares she’s been having and for reassurance about her upcoming surgery (to remove a strange lump on the back of her neck), his quiet con becomes spookily real. It’s in this early section of The Manitou that the book shines. As readers, we’re on board with regular guy Erskine as things turn personally creepy. Unfortunately, once Karen is in the hospital, the story becomes less and less personal to Erskine as more and more doctors and real psychics are brought in to confer on the case. The ending veers into cosmic horrors, which I’m finding to be my least favorite flavor of the genre.

The Manitou is part of the Obscure Literary Monster list, but again I kind of wonder at JW McCormack’s summary:

Misquamacus is an Indian spirit…that takes possession of a fetus so as to exact vengeance on the white man; so far, so good but the problem is that Misquamacus doesn’t wait to grow up, but just goes for it after charging out of his mother-host’s uterus. A truly malevolent fetus, his rampage doesn’t get much farther than the nursery but deserves massive points for effort.

A fetus “charging out” of a uterus and wreaking supernatural havoc is an unsettling concept, at least to a woman. But even according to the Goodreads still-not-very-accurate blurb, that’s not what happens in this book. Written in 1975, the book full of smoking in hospitals and references to the Red Indians. It’s alternately cringe-worthy and chuckle-inducing. Oh, the 70s…

SmallAce

What I’m Reading This Week

I’ve been itching to get back to some magic-oriented reading, but the thought of Linking Rings on the 10 Books of Summer list was not enticing to me. Instead, I’m switching it out for The Rise of the Indian Rope Trick by Peter Lamont. That, along with Girl Meet Class by Karin Gillespie and more of the Best Horror of the Year.

We’re heading to Colorado later this week for an ultimate frisbee tournament and then on to Omaha for a week. I have some posts planned and hopefully I’ll be back, ready, and refreshed  in August.

10-books Illustration for Edgar Allan Poe's story "The Man of the Crowd" by Harry Clarke (1889-1931), first printed in 1923.

Summer Reading, July 13th

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I’m appropriating Mondays for short reviews of my summer reads (I’m behind in reviewing all the books I’d like to review) and my weekly preview.

What I Read Last Week

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Cover via Goodreads

Biographer Margaret Lea returns one night to her apartment above her father’s antiquarian bookshop. On her steps she finds a letter. It is a hand-written request from one of Britain’s most prolific and well-loved novelists. Vida Winter, gravely ill, wants to recount her life story before it is too late, and she wants Margaret to be the one to capture her history. The request takes Margaret by surprise — she doesn’t know the author, nor has she read any of Miss Winter’s dozens of novels.

Late one night while pondering whether to accept the task of recording Miss Winter’s personal story, Margaret begins to read her father’s rare copy of Miss Winter’s Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation. She is spellbound by the stories and confused when she realizes the book only contains twelve stories. Where is the thirteenth tale? Intrigued, Margaret agrees to meet Miss Winter and act as her biographer.

As Vida Winter unfolds her story, she shares with Margaret the dark family secrets that she has long kept hidden as she remembers her days at Angelfield, the now burnt-out estate that was her childhood home. Margaret carefully records Miss Winter’s account and finds herself more and more deeply immersed in the strange and troubling story.

Both women will have to confront their pasts and the weight of family secrets… and the ghosts that haunt them still. (via Goodreads)

Back in October of 2013, I read an ARC of Bellman & Black. I was entirely unfamiliar with Diane Setterfield at the time, but very quickly learned that expectations were high for the sophomore book. While I hadn’t heard of it, everyone loved her debut, The Thirteenth Tale.* I, in fact, liked Bellman & Black a lot. It was one of my favorites of that year. But as reviews came in from The Thirteenth Tale fans, it turned out that most were pretty dissatisfied with B&B. Was it expectations? Were the two books very, very different?  It was a question I was mildly interested in answering, but it was The Thirteenth Tale‘s inclusion on many gothic literature lists that led to my reading it.

Being somewhat a book about books and reading, Setterfield is definitely aware of the story’s gothic pedigree. Not only is Miss Winter’s childhood home of Angelfield a presence in the book, but so is her current estate (and its gardens) and the Lea’s bookshop. In both the present story and Miss Winter’s past, servants and employees are pretty much the most powerful characters. The family secrets are salacious. While I was slow to get into it, I enjoyed plowing through the second half on Saturday.

Surprisingly, though, I find I like Bellman & Black more. While gothic elements make for a generally approved format, I liked that B&B was a bit different; if not in tone, but structure. I can see were some readers might have been disappointed with its sort of incorporeal story, it’s lack of twist, but I that’s what I liked about it.

* That I hadn’t heard of it is indication of nothing. I live under a rock. It’s a cozy rock.

SmallAce

What I’m Reading This Week

I need to make some headway on The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 7, but I think I might start Girl Meets Class by Karin Gillespie this week for something completely different. This week’s Deal Me In story is “Bobok” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

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#ROW80 ~ July 12th Check-In

Update

Writing

Between rewriting and having an unmotivated week, I didn’t get much forward progress. Did finish some research. My goal for this week is going to be the same as last week’s:

  • Add 5K minimum reach 18K on the Abbott Project. (Edit: This goal is changing to effectively be 20K on the manuscript before we go to Colorado/Nebraska.)

Publishing

Ran Model Species promo yesterday. Downloads for all our promos have been pretty lack-luster lately. Martian Engineer’s got a few sales and page reads, so that’s cool. Probably won’t be planning any promos until we’re back from our trip.

Complicating Factors in July

A.k.a., what else do I have going on:

  • #24in48 Readathon is happening right now. I should be working, but instead I’m reading…
  • I dumped the second half of the Intro to Interactive class. July was looking just too busy. I’ll catch it in September.
  • EverQuest2’s new progression server opened in Beta this week. It ate time.
  • Our trip to Colorado later in the month will probably be extended to include our yearly Omaha trip. This is good. I don’t do well with interruptions of schedule and yet another trip in Sept/Oct was going to be that. It’s not a completely solid plan yet, but it’s likely.

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Deal Me In, Week 28 ~ “The Bees”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Bees” by Dan Chaon

Card picked: Four of Clubs

From: Thrilling Tales, edited by Michael Chabon

Thoughts: Gene has a good life. His wife, Karen, is in nursing school and his little boy Frankie is about to enter kindergarten. But Gene has a dark past too. Over a decade ago, during the worst of his alcoholism, he abandoned a girlfriend and young son, just about Frankie’s age. Now sober, he’s tried to find them to make amends, but they’ve disappeared. Or maybe become part of the nightmares that he and Frankie have been having…

There an interesting premise here and some moments of genuine creepiness, but the ending came out of nowhere for me and didn’t feel very connected to the rest of the story. After stumbling on a review of it from a subsequent publication, I find I may have missed a subtlety.

About the Author: While a notable Nebraska-born author, I have no familiarity with Dan Chaon. He seems a “literary” sort, though Wikipedia tells me that he once wrote a fan letter to Ray Bradbury which became a regular correspondence for some time.