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.

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…

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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.

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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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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.

Deal Me In, Week 27 ~ “The Tale of Gray Dick”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

“The Tale of Gray Dick”  by Stephen King

Card picked: Ten of Clubs

From: Thrilling Tales, edited by Michael Chabon

Thoughts: So, I spent last Saturday playing ultimate frisbee. If you’re not familiar with the sport, it’s played with a 175gm plastic disc which is thrown in several different ways in hopes of your receiver catching it. Surprisingly, this week’s Thrilling Tale has a disc throwing connection, kinda-sorta.

The Tale of Gray Dick is an illustrative legend within this short story. Gray Dick is an outlaw. After he murders the father of Lady Oriza, she invites him to dinner. To assure him that no foul play is intended, she offers to have dinner with him alone, naked, and to stay at her end of the table. Since she’s a rather good looking woman, Gray Dick agrees. He’s arrogant enough to not consider sharpened tableware as a possible weapon. Lady Oriza beheads him by throwing a bladed plate.

And so begins the Sisters of Oriza, a group of women who band together to quilt, cook, gossip, and throw the plate. They are a part of Stephen King’s Dark Tower world, which I know absolutely nothing about. This story touches on Margaret Eisenhart, an outcast from her native people, who can throw the plate, but also rightly fears the need.

About the Author: I’ve read Stephen King here and there, but I haven’t delved into his Dark Tower series. Probably because I like King best when he’s working on a smaller canvas. With “The Tale of Gray Dick,” I didn’t worry about references I didn’t understand. I just went with it.

Other: Not surprisingly, the University of New Hampshire’s women’s ultimate team is known as Sister of Oriza. Considering the fairly geeky nature of ultimate, I would have been disappointed if a team hadn’t claimed that name.

If you’ve gotten this far, you may have googled ultimate frisbee videos and thought, “Jeeze, Katherine does *that*?” No, not really. The video below is from our local recreational league, from six years ago. My team in white is near the end, but these are the people I play with and against all the time. It’s a little slower and a little messier than most ultimate you might find online.

(In fact, at 29:05 you can see me in strippy socks and a hat. I dump the disc to Dave Abdoo who throws a perfect forehand to me in the end zone. Glory! Of course, I get scored on the very next point…)

Deal Me In Lunar Extra ~ “When it Ends, He Catches Her”

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Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis

This is a Lunar Extra edition! I’ve picked a card on each full moon and read the corresponding dark fiction story written by a female author.

“When it Ends, He Catches Her” by Eugie Foster

Card picked: A deuce, and deuces are WILD!

From: Available online on Daily Science Fiction

Thoughts: Eugie Foster is one of my favorite spec-fic short story authors. Her writing is beautiful and she often approached stories from a fable/fairy tale angle, which I’m a sucker for. “When it Ends, He Catches Her” is a story outside of that purview, but blends the arts, in this case ballet, with a dystopian zombie-filled future. Not my thing, but it’s a small dose and well done. Aisa, once a prima ballerina, dances when she can with no audience and only to the music in her head until her partner Balege returns and changes her world.

About the Author: Eugie Foster was one of the first people I knew on the internet. That sounds odd, but it was a long time ago, on LiveJournal, and the internet was a smaller place. I loved seeing her stories get published because she was so good. Eugie died in 2014 at age 42 after a year of being treated for cancer. Each story of hers that I haven’t yet read will only be new once. I’m at a loss on how to properly savor each one.