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Book Review: Peyton Place by Grace Metalious

July 22, 2015 2 comments

cover_peytonplaceSummary:
Peyton Place appears to be a picturesque small town in New Hampshire. But over the course of the novel, the secret passions, lies, and cruelties of its various inhabitants are revealed.  From a single mother lying both about her daughter’s age and being a widow to the school janitor who drinks to dull the ache of his wife’s cheating to what exactly is buried in the sheep pen in the Cross’s yard.  Small town life is anything but simple and picturesque.

Review:
This book was first recommended to me on either LibraryThing or GoodReads for being similar to The Group (review), another book written in the mid 1900s featuring an ensemble cast.  I wound up ultimately picking it up because I read that it was quite scandalous when it first came out and it was the inspiration behind the first successful nighttime American soap opera of the same name (source).  Additionally, I grew up in Vermont but spent a lot of time in New Hampshire, since I grew up on the Vermont border with New Hampshire.  I even went to high school in New Hampshire (public school, my town in Vermont was too small for a high school so bussed us out to other ones nearby).  I was curious to see if any element of the book would successfully evoke New Hampshire to me.  I often find that books set in New Hampshire just don’t ring true with the New Hampshire I know.  What I found was a book that almost gave me chills at how well it depicted a typical New Hampshire small town, but also was nowhere near what I would in my modern mind describe as scandalous, although I can see why it was at the time.

The story explores the intersecting lives of many town folk in the 1940s and 1950s, but primarily focuses on Constance MacKenzie, her daughter Allison, and her daughter’s friend from the wrong side of the tracks, Selena Cross.  Constance is a frigid woman who has tamped down her sexuality in an attempt to raise her daughter who she conceived out of wedlock while having an affair with a married man in the right way.  She has gone so far as to lie about her daughter’s age and to lie about being a widow to help her daughter seem “acceptable.”  Allison grows up over the course of the novel, first having typical teenage angst, then moving away to NYC to become a writer.  Selena Cross suffers from a good-for-nothing stepfather, living in a shack, and living with a mother who is not all mentally there.  Through their eyes and lives we see snippets of the lives of many others in the town.

Here are the things that were considered scandalous when the book was first published: rape of a stepdaughter by a stepfather (you can probably guess who), abortion (which was illegal at the time), men locking themselves in a basement to go on a bender for weeks at a time.  Things that were probably also considered scandalous but to less of a degree: teenage sex, out of wedlock sex, middle school aged boy spying on a couple having sex, murder in self-defense.  I had to sit here and think for a bit to remember what was possibly deemed scandalous.  It mostly just seemed like a very eventful book to me, and honestly I was just a bit surprised that nothing more scandalous happened.  (Apparently, Metalious originally wrote the book with having a father rape a daughter, but the publisher made her change it because America wasn’t ready yet. Oh my how times have changed. Source).  The only part of the book that really bothered me at all in the way that perhaps people were once scandalized was the depicted of Constance’s relationship with her new boyfriend.  Basically she is frigid and he has to get her to open up and accept her sexuality in order to be her true self.  That’s a fine plot, but the way it’s done often verges on the border of “she said no but ignore it because she really means yes.”  I understand in the 1950s when this was written that it was progressive to have a woman character learning to open up and embrace her sexuality, so I shouldn’t be too harsh with modern critiques.  Certainly the character herself deems what occurred between her and her boyfriend as lovemaking.  But I definitely don’t think this portion aged well, and it soured my enjoyment of that particular chapter, and Constance’s plot as a whole.

I found the two abortion plots to be particularly poignant and important.  Even though abortion is now legal, a lot of the arguments for and against it in the book are still heard today.  I found the two abortions in the book to be an important reminder of why it’s important for abortion to be legal and also why it’s important to educate about safe sex at the same time.

What really made me enjoy the book though was its depiction of small town New Hampshire life.  It just rang as so very true to me, right own to the scandals.  I think too often people get this idealistic picture of small town life, and that is just not the reality for people who actually live there.  People in small towns are just as human as people in cities.  The real difference is that it’s hard to change your reputation in a small town.  Similarly, small towns are more able to be a law in and of themselves.  If the people agree on something, no outsiders can make them change their tune.  That can both be a blessing and a curse.  If you are interested in New Hampshire, this book certainly presents it in an unvarnished way.  From the scenery to the proximity of Vermont to the mills and the problems with the mills to the way the small towns block out those who aren’t from here.  If what the reader is looking for is a real representation of small town New Hampshire, they should certainly look no further.

One side-note: I find the story of the author’s life and how her book was received to be quite fascinating.  For instance, how it was mostly received as chick lit, in spite of the fact that if the same story had been written by a man it would have been considered serious literature.  I also find how the author found the information to inspire the story, as well as how she reacted to fame to be fascinating.  If you want to read more about the former, I recommend picking up this edition of the book, as it has a great foreword talking about the history of the book from a women’s studies perspective.  If you’re interested in the latter, I recommend reading this article from Vanity Fair about her life.

Overall, it is easy to see how this book was scandalous in its time, although it mostly holds no shock value today.  Readers interested in small town New Hampshire life with a side of multiple overlapping juicy plots will not be disappointed.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Book Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King (Series, #2) (Audiobook narrated by Will Patton)

February 13, 2014 3 comments

Red-tinged image of a face with the author's name and title in smoke-like white letters over the top.Summary:
Danny Torrance didn’t die in the Overlook Hotel but what happened there haunts him to this day.  Not as much as the shining does though.  His special mental powers that allow him to see the supernatural and read thoughts lead to him seeing some pretty nasty things, even after escaping the Overlook.  He soon turns to drinking to escape the terror.  But drinking solves nothing and just makes things worse.  When he sees his childhood imaginary friend, Tony, in a small New Hampshire town, he turns to AA to try to turn his life around and learn to live with the shining.

Abra is a middle school girl nearby in New Hampshire with a powerful shine.  She sees the murder of a little boy by a band of folks calling themselves the True Knot.  They travel in campers and mobile homes, seeking out those who have the shine to kill them for it and inhale it.  They call it steam.  They’re not human. And they’re coming after Abra.  Abra calls out to the only person she knows with a shine too, the man she’s talked to before by writing on his blackboard.  Dan.

Review:
A sequel that takes the original entry’s theme on overcoming your family origin and ramps it up a notch, Doctor Sleep eloquently explores how our family origin, genetics, and past make us who we are today.  All set against a gradually ramping up race against the clock to save a little girl from a band of murdering travelers.

The book begins with a brief visit to Danny as a kid who learns that the supernatural creatures exist in places other than the Overlook, and they are attracted to the shine.  This lets the reader first get reacquainted with Danny as a child and also establishes that the supernatural are a potential problem everywhere.  The book then jumps aggressively forward to Danny as a 20-something with a bad drinking problem.  It’s an incredibly gritty series of scenes, and it works perfectly to make Dan a well-rounded character, instead of a perfect hero of the shine.  It also reestablishes the theme from The Shining that someone isn’t a bad person just because they have flaws–whether nature or nurture-based.  That theme would have been undone if Dan had turned out to be an ideal adult.  It would be much easier to demonize his father and grandfather in that case, but with the way King has written Dan, it’s impossible to do that.

The way Dan overcomes both his drinking and his temper, as well as how he learns to deal with his shine, is he joins Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  In contrast to his father who tried to quit drinking on his own, Dan attempts it in a group with accountability.  This then shows how much easier it is to overcome a mental illness with community support.  I appreciated seeing this.  I will say, however, that some of the AA talk in the book can get a bit heavy-handed.  Some chapter beginnings include quotes from the book of AA, and Dan can sometimes seem a bit obsessed with it when he relates almost everything to something he learned or heard there.  AA definitely plays a vital role in many people’s recovery from addiction, and it’s wonderful to see that in a work of fiction.  However, it would have been better for the reader to see the role of AA more than to hear quotes from AA so often.

The big bad in this book is a band of supernatural creatures who were once human and still look human.  But they change somehow by taking steam and go on to live almost indefinitely.  They can die from stupid accidents and sometimes randomly drop dead.  The steam is acquired by torturing children who have the shine.  The shine comes out of their bodies as steam when they are in pain.  They call themselves The True Knot.  This troop is a cartoonish group of evil people who try to look like a troop of retirees and some of their family traveling in a camper caravan.  The leader of this group is Rose the Hat–a redheaded woman who wears a top hat at an impossibly jaunty angle.  I was pleased to see Rose written quite clearly as a bisexual.  Her sexuality is just an aspect of who she is, just like her red hair.  Seeing a bi person as the big bad was a delight.  Her bisexuality isn’t demonized. Her actions as a child killer and eater of steam are.  She is a monster because of her choices, not because of who she is.   I alternated between finding The True Knot frightening and too ridiculously cartoonish to be scary.  I do think that was partially the point, though.  You can’t discredit people who seem ridiculous as being harmless.

How Abra is found by The True Knot, and how she in turn finds Dan, makes sense within the world King has created.  It doesn’t come until later in the book, though.  There is quite a bit of backstory and build-up to get through first.  The buildup is honestly so entertaining that it really didn’t hit me until after I finished the book how long it actually took to get to the main conflict.  So it definitely works.  Abra is a well-written middle school girl.  King clearly did his research into what it’s like to be a middle schooler in today’s world.  Additionally, the fact that Abra is so much older than Danny was in The Shining means it’s much easier for the reader to understand how the shine works and see a child, who understands at least a bit what it is, grapple with it.  This made Abra, although she is a child with a shine, a different experience for the reader who already met one child with a shine in the previous book.  Abra is also a well-rounded character with just the right amount of flaws and talent.

There is one reveal later in the book in relation to Abra that made me cringe a bit, since it felt a bit cliche.  It takes a bit of a leap of faith to believe, and I must admit it made me roll my eyes a bit.  However, it is minor enough in the context of the overall story that it didn’t ruin my experience with the book.  I just wish a less cliche choice had been made.

The audiobook narrator, Will Patton, does a phenomenal job.  It was truly the best audiobook narration I’ve heard yet.  Every single character in a very large cast has a completely different voice and style.  I never once got lost in who was speaking or what was going on.  More importantly to me, as a New England girl born and raised, is that he perfectly executes the wide range of New England accents present in the book.  Particularly when he narrates the character, Billy, I thought I was hearing one of my older neighbors speak.  I could listen to Will Patton read a grocery list and be entertained.  Absolutely get the audiobook if you can.

Overall, this sequel to The Shining successfully explores both what happened to Danny Torrance when he grew up and a different set of frightening supernatural circumstances for a new child with the shine.  This time a girl.  The themes of nature, nurture, your past, and overcoming them are all eloquently explored.  There is a surprising amount of content about AA in the book.  It could either inspire or annoy the reader, depending on their mind-set.  Any GLBTQ readers looking for a bi big bad should definitely pick it up, as Rose the Hat is all that and more.  Recommended to fans of Stephen King and those that enjoy a fantastical thriller drenched in Americana.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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The Shining, review

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Friday Fun! (June: Let’s Talk About Motorcycle Racing Because That Was the Best Part of June)

Motard burning out for the crowd on his cool-down lap.

Motard burning out for the crowd on his cool-down lap.

Hello my lovely readers!

Well, July just snuck right up on me.  I even accidentally tried to use my old monthly pass on the T.  June was so busy, it just flew right by!

The most exciting thing I got to do this month was I got to take an extra long weekend and go see my boyfriend race in the 90th annual Loudon Classic at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway!  Of course, I got to see all the other races too, but the best part was finally getting to see him race and be his umbrella girl and pit crew. 🙂  The racers generally camp at the track, and when we got there, they let me in as family of a racer, which made all of my insides squee, since that was the first time we were called family.  I helped him set up the camp and met his racer friends.  It’s incredible. Everyone is so competitive on the track but the direct opposite in the camp.  Our neighbors gave us coffee every morning, and we shot the shit around the campfire every night.  When our neighbor had a crash (very common in motorcycle racing), my bf immediately gave him tools and various other things to help fix it, and I knew that everyone would do the same for him.

So what did I do as pit crew?  Mostly I helped him put the tire warmers on the motorcycle and helped him get the bike on and off the stand.  Also I was the pep talk and cheerleader, obviously.  Tire warmers are these blanket like things that you put on the wheels of the motorcycle to keep the rubber warm.  Warmer rubber makes for better traction.  You have to pull them off right before going to the pit to grid up.  (Frankly, I thought they looked like wheel condoms.  Yeah, I said it).  Also, track bikes don’t have kickstands, so you have to put the bike on this lever-like stand separate from it (see one here), and it’s much easier for the racer to be on the bike already and have someone else release it from the stand.  Someone else would have helped him if I wasn’t there, but it was fun to get to do it for him.  I also got to fulfill one of his lifelong dreams and be his umbrella girl.  When the bikes are waiting in the pit to enter the track, it can be really hot, since they are in full gear in direct sun.  So some racers have “umbrella girls” (who can be either gender, actually) to hold an umbrella over them to keep them cool until it’s time to enter the track.  So I got to meet up with him in the pit grid and do that, and it was really fun to be that close to the actual track and talk to him right before his race.

Since this was the 90th annual Loudon Classic, there were a couple of special events.  There were sidecar racers, mini cars that ran on motorcycle engines, and a motard race.  The sidecar race is incredible.  In order to go at track speeds with a sidecar, the person in the sidecar, called a monkey, has to throw their body weight around from left to right to help with the corners.  It is incredibly difficult to explain, so just watch this video if you want to understand why it’s so badass.  Motards are dirt bikes outfitted with street tires.  The motard racers got to go off the track onto the grass, through the trees, and use a jump.  You can see one of the racers burning out in the photo above.  A lot of racers will do tricks during the cool-down lap at the portions of the track where there are spectators.

I learned so much by going to the track. I learned that crashes on the track are usually not that big of a deal because the racers are wearing full gear.  Our neighbor was in two crashes, one was a 5-bike pile-up, and all he had wrong with him was a cut on his pinky and a pulled shoulder.  I also learned that racing isn’t the crazy, testosterone-filled sport it’s thought to be.  It’s a fun, low-key, supportive environment.  Although, that doesn’t take away from its sexiness.  If anything the camaraderie of the racers makes the whole thing sexier.  It’s all the sexiness of motorcycles mixed with some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet.  Kind of the direct opposite of your typical Harley crew.

Oh, I also learned that partners of racers are called “racer chasers,” and I am deeply amused by the fact that you can now call me that.  Amanda. Writer. Blogger. Racer Chaser.

Also, I’ve officially told my bf that I want to learn to sidecar race, and we’re planning on building a mock practice sidecar to practice on this winter in the garage. So hopefully one day you can add sidecar monkey to that list. 😛

Friday Fun! (Happy Birthday To Me! Ok, Ok, and America)

Hello my lovely readers!

This was a very busy week for me because: a) I turned 26 b) 4th of July (aka America Fuck Yeah) c) I had a 4 day weekend d) I road tripped with my bestie to New Hampshire/Vermont to visit the fam.

Whew! I’m exhausted just typing that!

I’m like super old now at the ripe age of 26. (I tease. I had my quarter life crisis last year. 😉 ) My daddy made me birthday pie (strawberry-rhubarb, my favorite), because I prefer pie to cake. PIE TOTALLY WINS SHUSH.  I also got (from family and friends): cooking gear, a window-mount birdfeeder to provide cat tv, cat toys, photoshop, and an itunes gift card. You guys are the bestest! I feel so loved. 😀

I, unfortunately, caught some sort of stomach bug so I spent most of my holiday weekend sick. Epic. Sad. Face. I have an intense love for Independence Day, so that was a bummer.  I did discover, however, that I can see most of the Boston fireworks from my couch, which is awesome.  Also, I had already set off fireworks in NH so admittedly I’d already had some crash bang.

Luckily I was better in time for work, so I didn’t miss any of that.  I did miss the gym whilst I was sick though. I’ll be returning tonight.

Happy belated 4th! Happy weekends!

Indie Bookstores: Violet’s Book Exchange (Claremont, NH)

December 14, 2009 2 comments

Since I am known for meandering into any indie bookstore that I happen across, I thought it might be fun to highlight ones that I visit on my blog.  Obviously this will be a totally random recurring post.

As you all know, this weekend I was in Vermont (right on the border of New Hampshire) visiting my family.  My dad, knowing my perpetual love of books, suggested we stop in one of only two indie bookstores in driving distance of them–Violet’s Book Exchange located in Claremont, New Hampshire.

I had been there before, but not for a while.  When she started the business, Violet had a few bookshelves and an excellent store credit for books policy.  To my recollection, she didn’t have any new books.  Now she has two floors, a children’s room, and a wonderful mix of used and fairly priced used books.  She also features arts and crafts handmade by local people on one shelf, which is an excellent way for an indie bookstore to be connected to their community.

It’s not really surprising to me that this bookstore has taken off, as the library situation in that area of Vermont/New Hampshire is dire.  There is one medium-sized, up-to-date library located in Claremont, but most of the people in the area do not live within the district that would give them access to free library cards.  This is a predominantly poor, working class area of VT/NH, and most of the people can’t afford the exhorbitant library fee.  With often bad, still *wired* internet access, there is little to do.  Violet’s cheap used and new books with an excellent rate on books you yourself bring in for store credit really helps to fill that gap.  Violet clearly has business acumen, and I salute her for filling a much-desired need in the area.

While I was there, my dad picked up a cookbook (which I would totally provide a cover image for if I could remember what it was), and a book for me.  I present to you: The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story by Lemony Snicket.  Seriously, what better Chrismukkah title is there than a Christmas story about a latke?  None that I can think of.  Also, it was only $7.50 for a brand-new hardcover book.  People, this is amazing.

To top it all off, the clerk asked us if we had any store credit.  I honestly answered that I used to, but I had thrown away the card after moving permanently to Boston.  (Yes, I should have given it to my brother, but I was being dumb and didn’t think of that).  Anyway, apparently in the meantime they’d computerized and lo and behold she found my store credit and we got to use it.  I was seriously impressed at this level of organization.

If you can visit Violet’s Book Exchange in person, I highly recommend it.  If you can’t, you can at least check out their website where you can get books shipped to you.  I encourage you to consider it, because this bookstore is vital for these small towns.