Sunday, May 16, 2010

STILL MISSING by Chevy Stevens

I read Still Missing by Chevy Stevens in one day. That’s not too surprising for me, I often do that. What is surprising is that a friend gave me the book at about 11am, I started it on my first 15 minute coffee break, my 45 minute lunch and when I left work at 8pm, after an hours drive home I stayed up to finish it.

Gripping. The word is gripping. I was mesmerized by this story. We have all read a similar headline: a woman realtor goes missing from an open house. Despite a massive search attempt, she is never found. Her family and friends have to go one with their lives.

And one year later, she reappears.

Annie has been held by a madman in a remote cabin for a full year. Waiting for rescue, unable to escape, dependent on only her wits for her survival, she has stayed alive, borne her captors child, and waited for her chance. And when she finally takes it, she comes back to a world where in many ways, she is, still missing.

Her trial has just begun. How do you come back from an experience like that and start to live a normal life? Her captor has so brutalized her that she can’t even urinate when she needs to, she has to wait for the bizarre schedule he set for her. She sleeps in the closet more often than not. Surrounded by well-wishers who have no idea what she needs or wants, she is adrift in a sea of rage, despair and grief. They want her to “get on with her life” and she is unable to move, paralyzed by fear.

The story is told first person, Annie to her psychiatrist. Stevens perfectly captures the “who gives a damn” of a depressive to the “I don’t need anybody” rage of the desperately alone and frightened. Like a shell-shocked war veteran, Annie is unable to escape the war already won. Or the ghosts of the already dead.

This is Chevy Stevens debut novel, and I am looking forward to more. Her characters are complex, fascinating, unusual, and gutsy. I really liked Annie. She is a heroine to be proud of.

Publisher: St. Martin's Press (July 6, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-0312595678

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Once A Runner

Once a Runner, by John L Parker, Jr. is one of those books that has taken on a mythos of its own. Originally self-published by the author, and sold out of the trunk of his car at meets, it gained a cult following and tattered copies were passed from hand to hand. Out of print for years, Simon and Schuster has reprinted it as an introduction to Parker’s new book: Again to Carthage. My friend Tim, aka Book Dude at (there ya go, Tim!) who kindly lent me this copy, told me this was the one book he was unable to find for one of his customers who requested it. When he finally found a battered copy, the price tag was $237.00. So I’m sure this book is going to be greeted with jubilation in many circles.

The book is written by a man who clearly loves his sport and the discipline that goes into training. But the protagonist, Cassidy, is no mere jock. He and his cohorts address each other in a courtly manner, and engage in sophisticated pranks. This is a group of men who considers sports to be a “gentlemen’s” arena; there are rules of conduct; of, dare I say it? of sportsmanship. Running is a philosophical pursuit, as much as a physical one. It is a refreshing change in a day of overhyped, egomaniacal, commercial “products”.

As one quick glance at my physique will tell you, I am no runner. Yet I was completely caught up in this young man’s heroic struggle towards excellence. And that is how the author sees these athletes…as the decedents of the warrior/messengers of old. And they train like warriors. These are the elite runners, the milers, the two-milers who routinely run 18 miles a day, and measure success in a second shaved off their time over the course of a year.

“Why would anyone do that?” is, of course, the question. The pain; the schedule; the lack of social life; the single minded pursuit: all for a race that takes less than five minutes. This book gives us a glimpse into the reasons why, and they are beautiful. I will never look at a runner the same way again.  I await Again to Carthage with great pleasure.

Simon and Schuster, April 2010

IBSN 978-1-4165-9789-6

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Where' My Wand?

Where’s My Wand? By Eric Poole is subtitled: One Boy’s Magical Triumph over Alienation and Shag Carpeting. This should give you some insight into the charm, wit, and pathos of this novel. There is any number of creative- kid-triumphing-over-nutty-parents-school-bullies-and teenage angst, but this one has a number of things going for it: 1) an adorably goofy protagonist, 2) a mother who irons the tongues of tennis shoes, and 3) magic!

The author/protagonist of this memoir is Eric Poole, and a more likeable kid would be hard to find. He lives in a world dominated by a mother who gives Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder a bad name. A few of her quirks: waxing the garage floor, Ajaxing the patio, alphabetizing the Christmas ornaments, and ironing the bath towels. Although Eric’s father is kind, he is totally dominated by this virago, and tries to keeps the peace at all cost. Eric and his sister live in a constant state of fear that they will either die at her hand (perhaps for walking on the freshly raked shag carpeting), or of embarrassment.

Eric is also the target of every school bully ever minted. One suspects they are actually bussing them in to make his life miserable. He is poor at sports, sensitive, good at color coordinating, and spends a lot of time on his hair. See where we are going with this? Eric is so sweetly na├»ve (and sternly Baptist) that he is the last to suspect that he may be gay. An hilarious “exorcism” results.

Eric’s attempt to control his world takes the form of using magic. As a fan of the TV Series “Bewitched”, Eric sees people who can actually manage life, instead of being pummeled by it. He chooses the mother on the show, Endora, as his model, partly because of her cool caftan, and partly because of her dramatic hand gestures. See where I’m going with this?

Hidden in his basement world, draped in an old bedspread, Eric practices his flourishes and his magic. And it works! Flushed with his success, Eric achieves some sense of order in his world. He is befriended by an armless girl, who literally kicks the shit out of his bullies (oh, were that a metaphor!), saved himself from some trouble at home, and learned to play the trumpet. The magic gets away from him though, when he thinks he may have given a family friend cancer, and he is eaten up with guilt.

He later realizes that the magic of his youth was in reality God’s power working through him, which gives us some delightful moments as a Royal Ambassador for Christ. He ultimately grows into the knowledge that he has the power he needs within himself, and always has.

Part of the fun of this book is all the seventies references. I had forgotten so much of the day to day minutiae of growing up in the seventies: Sun-In, Fresca, Ironing my hair, Platform shoes. I was enchanted at how innocent and fun it all seems now, regardless of the fashions.

Mr. Poole is to be congratulated on this gem of a book. I wish I could sit next to him at a dinner party. He must be a most delightful companion. I can’t wait for his next offering.

Putnam Adult
27May 2010
ISBN 9780399156557