Monday, October 13, 2008

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Despite a perfectly creepy title, Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle isn't really very creepy. The book follows the three surviving members of the Blackwood family, all of whom are varying levels of crazy. Uncle Julian is the eldest surviving Blackwood, he spends most of his days trying to remember every last detail from the day the rest of the Blackwoods died (arsenic in the sugar bowl). Weakened from the poison, he is confined to a wheelchair and is often confused. Sometimes he thinks Constance is his late wife, Dorothy, and sometimes he thinks Merricat is dead. Constance is a very quiet girl who never goes too far away from the house (never past her gardens). Since she didn't have any of the sugar, she was accused of killing her family members, but was later aquitted at trial. She avoids leaving Blackwood Estate because she knows the town still thinks she's guilty. Merricat (Mary Katherine) is the narrator, and is the youngest Blackwood, 18, and she is the only member of her family that goes into town. People in the town stare and whisper, and young boys tease. Merricat is clearly a little crazy, and seems to not have matured passed the age of 12.

The book is subtle, a lot happens but it's not really a plot driven book. It's really mostly a character study of these three people, the lives they lead after a terrible tragedy. It's not really a mystery, it's fairly obvious who the murderer was, but it's a decent read. And, at 214 pages, it's a nice quick read. But, if you want to read something by Shirley Jackson, I recommend The Haunting of Hill House, a much better and creepier book.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Spook by Mary Roach

-- Miranda --

I know. I really should be reading the Non-Required book. But I get the feeling I'm not the only one not sticking to the schedule, so I don't really feel all that bad about it.

Anyway, I'm just going to do a quick write-up here. Abby, this is the book I meant to leave with you, but that I left in the hotel room.

Spook: Science tackles the Afterlife is about author Mary Roach's quest to find scientific evidence that the afterlife exists. The most important thing to understand is this: She's not looking to debunk anything, she's trying to prove there is an afterlife. See, she really wants to believe, but she's burdened with a scientist's mind. Faith isn't enough, she wants proof.

Mary's travels take her all over the world. She looks at claims of reincarnation in India and a school for mediums in England. Most of it is very interesting, although the middle section lagged a bit.

Really the best part of the book is Mary's sense of humor. I bought this book for a quarter while out garage sale shopping with my mother and grandmother, and I was reading it in the car when I came across this passage on page 17: "He agreed to tell me the story, but he would not reveal his name. 'I'm better as your Deep Throat,' he said, forever linking in my head the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops with porn movies, a link they really and truly don't need." I literally laughed out loud, and then felt really uncomfortable when my grandmother asked me what was so funny. The book is filled with very witty quips and brilliant footnotes. Yes, I'm praising the book's footnotes.

It's a very good book, but the feedback I've read online gives me the impression that it's the weakest of Roach's three books (Stiff, about cadavers and Bonk, about sex). I'm actually glad that I started with Spook, because if what I've read is right, it's only going to get better from here.