Into Bones Like Oil by Kaaron Warren (Review of a fascinating novella for Novellas in November)

He wore cursing as his garment; it entered into his body like water, into his bones like oil. Psalm 109:18 (NIV)

It is this verse upon which Kaaron Wasser has built her novella, an interesting and strange book about people coming to The Angelsea for respite.

“So you’re running a rooming house?”

”You know it’s more than a rooming house. You wouldn’t have come, otherwise. You need help to sleep. Everyone does who comes to me. You will sleep well here at The Angelsea. No doubt about that at all. It’s my little contribution.”

The houseguests need help to sleep, to be sure, but they are also searching for answers. When the doctor gives them an injection, they fall asleep, but other inhabitants of the house listen carefully to the ghosts who are channeled to speak through the sleeping person. 

Dora curled up in the big armchair in the lounge room. The painter was there, humming to himself, creating, and she loved spending this quiet time there. This empty, thoughtless time, this interim, this hiatus, before she had to face what she now knew. 

If there was an afterlife, she would have to atone.

Dora mourns her two daughters, struck with guilt that she could have been a better mother. She longs to hear them say that they love her, even if it is through a ghost’s mouth that they must speak.

“You’re smiling,” Luke said. “Good to see. We’ve all chosen the compromise here. We’re all thinking life will improve. We’re clinging on to the last hope, keeping a roof over our heads, as crappy and leaky as the roof might be.”

There must be some comfort in being together, an assortment of people who have little money, but much remorse. They have compassion on one another, seeming to carry each other’s emotional burdens in an effort to alleviate the pain of them all.

She made him leave the room while she pulled the dress on. It seemed to settle on her like a curse: she could feel it clinging to her, seeping into her bones like oil.

When it is Dora’s turn to sleep, and thus to speak, she mutters curses that specifically address the man who runs The Angelsea. And then, they sit on the veranda, the lucky ones. The survivors.

(Thank you to Meerkat Press, for the opportunity to read and review into bones like oil which is published today, November 12, 2019. This novella is also an excellent choice for Novella’s in November.)

BUY LINKS:  IndieBound | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kaaron Warren has been publishing ground-breaking fiction for over twenty years. Her novels and short stories have won over 20 awards, from local literary to international genre. She writes horror steeped in awful reality, with ghosts, hauntings, guilt, loss, love, crime, punishment and a lack of hope.

AUTHOR LINKS: Website | Twitter | Goodreads 

A List of Possibilities for German Lit Month this November

from Peirene Press
from nyrb
from Scribe
from Penguin Random House

Several exciting reading events are planned for November. I believe it is Nonfiction November, and Novellas in November, but my heart will always lean toward German Literature Month.

The four novels pictured above are on my radar for this “challenge”, and I own all but All For Nothing which, amazingly, was found in our local library. (Click on the caption under each cover to take you to the publisher’s page for more information about the novel.) I do not know if I will have time for all four, especially as The Eighth Life is approximately 900 pages, but I do hope to read them before 2019 ends.

And you? Are you planning to read for German Literature Month?

from Lizzy and Caroline

The Virgin and The Gypsy by D. H. Lawrence for 1930 Club

I probably wouldn’t have picked up The Virgin and The Gypsy if it hadn’t been for the 1930 Club. After all, I have owned this novel for many years after reading an insightful review somewhere, quite some time ago, which convinced me to buy it. Perhaps I became discouraged by the cover alone; it looks ridiculous, frankly, with its 1970’s cover on a 1930’s book.

Yet within this slim volume, of only 120 pages, there seems to dwell a passion which is hard to duplicate by any other writer than D. H. Lawrence. He brings the sensual to life, the innocence of Yvette contrasts starkly with the married gypsy man whose frank stare pierces her heart.

The little Jewess gazed at Yvette with great eyes of stupor.

“You’re not in love with that gipsy!”she said.

”Well!” Said Yvette. “I don’t know. He’s the only one that makes me feel – different! He really is!”

”But how? How? Has he ever said anything to you?

”No! No!’

”Then how? What has he done?”

”Oh, just looked at me!”

”How?”

”Well you see, I don’t know. But different! Yes, different! Different, quite different from the way any man ever looked at me…as if he really, but really, desired me,” said Yvette, her meditative face looking like the bud of a flower.

And there, in its simplest form, is the essence of the novel. It is instantly meaningful to any one who has ever been looked at in that way.

(Thanks to Simon who co-hosts this event with Karen, for the impetus to read this little volume published in 1930.)

A Starless Sea by Erin Morgernstern Read-Along With Me

(the UK edition printed by Harvill Secker)

I have been awaiting the arrival of Erin Morgenstern’s latest book since I met her several years ago when she signed my copy of The Night Circus. Now, the publication of A Starless Sea is imminent; it will be in our hands on November 5, 2019.

This morning I received an extract of the novel from Penguin UK in my mailbox. You can read it here. Or, the beginning of the excerpt here:

Back in his den with the cocoa he settles into the beanbag chair bequeathed to him by a departing student the year before. It is a garish neon green in its natural state, but Zachary draped it with a tapestry that was too heavy to hang on the wall, camouflaging it in shades of brown and grey and violet. He aims the space heater at his legs and opens Sweet Sorrows back to the page the unreliable library lightbulb had stranded him on and begins to read.

He wonders if it will return and loop back to the previous part. Then it changes again.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins’s hands begin to shake.

Because while the first part of the book is a somewhat romantic bit about a pirate, and the second involves a ceremony with an acolyte in a strange underground library, the third part is something else entirely.

The third part is about him.

(the US edition published by Penguin Random House)

I wonder if any of you would like to read this book along with me in November. I will start as soon as it arrives in my mailbox. (I have ordered the American version, autographed by Erin, here.)

I won’t have a schedule, per se, as some of us may stay up the whole night reading it one go. But, I will have posts for each week in November about the book, and I will link to any posts on your blog, as well as welcoming your thoughts here as you read.

Shall we embark on The Starless Sea together?

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson, my first foray into the Longmire series

I have long been enamored of Robert B. Parker’s character, Spencer. His combination of strength, determination and humor are three of the traits I most admire in men. And now, I can add Walt Longmire to this category.

Longmire is the sheriff of Absaroka County in Wyoming, an unconventional man who gets things done. His way. Snowstorms and mountains, huge snarling dogs and upstart young men are no match for Longmire, He takes them on and defeats their efforts to defeat him.

Tied in with this novel are the Native Americans of the Cheyenne Tribe, a group of people which Craig Johnson portrays as vividly as if they were living in my own town in the Midwest. Their bells, and the fringe on their clothing, their weapons and black eyes, are symbols of strength which Longmire accepts with the greatest respect.

I don’t think that the plot of this novel matters as much as the things that I have mentioned above; my greatest take away is the feeling of being in snow covered Wyoming with the bravest of men. But, if you should wish an inkling of the plot I will tell you that it involves the mistreatment of a fetal alcohol syndrome girl, and the repercussions to those who have done her wrong.

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

The Whisperer by Karin Fossum (a most excellent mystery, translated from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson)

“The voice is a powerful tool,” Sejer said. “And you’ve lost yours. I used mine for all it is worth” (p. 208)

How is it I have never read Karin Fossum before? She has won the Glass Key Award for the best Nordic crime novel, an honor shared with Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo. Her Inspector Sejer series has been published in more than forty countries, and this is the first I’ve ever heard of him.

One of the things that compelled me about this book is the amount of compassion I felt toward each character. Ragna Reigal lives alone in the home she lived in as a child. Her parents are dead. Her son has moved to Berlin. She is all alone without a voice because surgery on her throat went awry, and all she can do is whisper.

She had the bag in her left hand, and with the right she opened the mailbox. Took out the local paper and church weekly, a brochure advertising furniture, and a very ordinary envelope. It was not often she got letters. Her surname was on the front fo the envelope: RIEGEL. Written in capital letters. She put her bag down on the ground. No address. No stamp. No sender. She stood under the street lamp and turned the envelope back forth. The paper was coarse, maybe recycled – it was thinner and grayer than normal paper. Goodness. A letter with no sender…she opened it and pulled out a folded sheet of paper with a short message.

YOU ARE GOING TO DIE.

How very alarming to receive such a message, which is only compounded when more of the same appear in her mailbox.

IT’S NOT LONG NOW.

I’M WATCHING YOU.

Interspersed with these messages we learn of her job at the Europrix, and her son, Rikard Josef, who does not live in Berlin after all. Nor does he manage an extravagant hotel as she has believed.

The most tender part is the way that Inspector Sejer questions her, gently helping her open up and reveal her story. Until he is not gentle anymore, but firm. She senses the change in his demeanor one day, and it is undeniable. Their relationship has taken on a suspicious edge.

I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this novel. More than a mystery, it was written with a fabulous ability to bring characters to life, to create an aura of compassion, to gradually build the tension from a whisper to a scream. It is the second book I have read for the R.I.P. XIV, and it is well worth looking for and reading as it has none of the typical American drama or anticipated conclusion.

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

The FBI are professsionals, but the woman holding her daughter isn’t afraid of the criminal justice system; she’s afraid of The Chain. The person above her on The Chain has her son. And if Rachel is perceived as a defector, this woman’s instructions are to murder Kylie and select a new target. The woman is sounding increasingly on edge. Rachel has no doubt she will do anything to get her son back… (p. 63)

I read this book in two days, something I have not done in weeks. “Are you coloring now, instead of reading?” my husband asked, because I seem more enthused about the pages I’ve finished in Johanna Basford’s Magical Jungle than I am about what I’ve read. Which isn’t much of anything, lately.

The premise of The Chain is much as is described in the quote above: parents must kidnap a child, and pay an exorbitant ransom, in order to get their own child back. It involves technology and spyware to a terrifying extent, and worse yet, explores what a person might do which is against his or her principals. In theory.

I read breathlessly until the end, which seemed just a little stretched; yet, I had to know how it would turn out.

There is the now-typical strength of a female protagonist, a strength I never doubted women having especially when it comes to mothering. But, what truly fascinated me was the author’s note at the end. Having grown up in Ireland, whose people apparently hang on to superstitions, he remembers his fifth grade teacher asking her students to bring in anything that frightened them. What he brought in was a chain letter, and the teacher burned these items from her students, effectively destroying whatever power they imagined was held over them. The seeds for The Chain were planted with the chain letter, and I found that background fascinating. Especially the teacher’s role, in helping her students conquer their terror.

The Chain was an interesting psychological thriller, with an original idea, which kept a fast pace. I read it for the Readers Imbibing Peril Challenge XIV.

SPOILER: The woman who masterminded the Chain with her twin brother was raised in a commune type of place, surrounded by drug addicts. It didn’t bode well for their emotional well-being. She discovered the negative power of a chain letter in school, using it to manipulate her classmates. As an adult, she and her brother formed the kidnapping chain largely for money, but also for power and control. Our protagonist, together with her brother in law who was in the Marines, work to beat the Chain and get her daughter/his niece back from the kidnappers. Which they do, but of course there is emotional residue from which one can barely recover…untold fears and nightmares keep recurring. Ultimately, with the help of another victim of the Chain, they locate the twins and bring them down.

Moby Dick: Chapters 61-70

Chapter 61: The red tide now poured from all sides of the monster like brooks down a hill. His tormented body rolled not in brine but in blood, which bubbled and seethed for furlongs behind their wake.

Chapter 62: No wonder, tsking the whole fleet of whalemen in a body, that out of fifty fair chances for a dart, not five are successful, no wonder that so many helpless harpooneers are madly cursed and distracted…no wonder that to many ship owners whaling is but a losing concern.

Chapter 63: Furthermore: you must know that when thr second iron (harpoon) is thrown overboard, it thenceforth becomes a dangling, sharp edged terror, skittishly curvetting about both boat and whale, entangling the lines, or cutting them, and making a prodigious sensation in all directions.

Chapter 64: Nor was Stubb the only banqueter on whale’s flesh that night. Mingling their mumblings with his own mastications, thoisands on thousands of sharks, swarming round the dead leviathan, smackingly feasted on its fatness.

Chapter 65: The fact is, that among his hunters at least, the whale would by all hands be considered a noble dish, were there not so much of him; but when you come to sit down before a meat-pie nearly one hundred feet long, it takes away your appetite.

Chapter 66: When in the Southern Fishery, a captured sperm whale, after long and weary toil, is brought alongside late at night, it is not, as a general thing at least, customary to proceed at once to the business of cutting him in. For that business is an exceedingly laborious one; it is not not very soon completed and requires all hands to set about it.

Chapter 67: The ivory Pequod was turned into what seemed a shamble; every sailor a butcher. You would have thought we were offering up ten thousand red oxen to the sea gods.

Chapter 68: Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it.

Chapter 69: There’s a most doleful and most mocking funeral! The sea-vultures all in pious mourning, the air-sharks all punctiliously in black and speckled…Oh, horrible vulturism of earth! from which not the mightiest whale is free.

Chapter 70: Do you not marvel then, at Stubb’s boast, that he demanded but ten minutes to behead a sperm whale?

I never expected humour (a meat pie one hundred feet long!) to be intertwined with sage advice (live in this world without being of it). Melville’s writing amazes me at every turn of the page.

A Long Story for a Simple Solution

My Nook Glowlight died the other day. I plugged it in, only to receive the message that my battery was dead, and it remained dead a full twelve hours later. So, I determined it was time to buy a new nook.

“You can’t read on any of your other devices?” my husband gently inquired.

“No,” I said. “I can’t.”

When I looked at the Barnes and Noble site I saw that their new and improved GlowLight Plus was almost $200.00. Their GlowLight 3 was $119.00. And, their Nook Tablet 7” was $49.99. That seemed the best option, as I seem to go through my devices like mints.

I bought the tablet at 1:00 p.m., as we have a Barnes and Noble within walking distance of our house, and had it plugged in by 1:30. Surely, I could have it set up by the time I needed to start dinner.

After it sufficiently charged, I attempted to log in to my wi-fi. I kept getting a message that there was a password error, and after many, many attempts I was told I was locked out. So, I called Nook Support, and was told by a person in a faraway land that clearly, the problem was with my service provider, and my memory, not Nook. But, since I had never registered my Nook, it was not possible for her to help me. I should contact Wowway, she said. Or, with whomever I held our internet agreement.

Thanking her for her no help whatsoever, I made dinner, and informed my husband of the situation. “It will be 24 hours before you can try again,” he said. “They lock a device for your protection, in case it gets stolen.”

Surely, I thought to myself, somebody at the physical store will be able to help me. So, I found myself standing once again before the counter at which I’d purchased my Nook seven hours earlier. The appropriate manager was called, and when he came he immediately began punching buttons.

“Hmmmmm,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this. Well, you get what you pay for.”

(My mother, upon hearing this story, suggested I mention to him that I was getting nothing, for which I had paid $49.99.)

After multiple attempts without success, he said he would replace this tablet with a new one, and went back to get a second device. He began filling in the paperwork for a return, or exchange, and I went back to standing there waiting, when he suddenly shoved the box under my nose.

“Demo,” it read, on the end of the box. I had been trying to get a Demo model to accept my password for almost an entire day.

Now, I’m curious. Is it my fault for not reading the end of the box? Is it the person in Asia’s fault who insisted I didn’t know the password to my own internet? Is it the clerk’s fault at Barnes and Noble who sold me the Demo in the first place? Is it the fault of all the thieves who made locking one’s device a necessity? All I know is that I should have followed my husband’s suggestion in the first place and used one of my other devices.

Like a book.

Moby Dick: Chapters 51-60

French engraving by Ambrose Louis Garneray

Chapter 51: ‘There she blows!’ Had the trump of judgement blown, they could not have quivered more; yet still they felt no terror; rather pleasure. For though it was a most unwonted hour, yet so impressive was the cry, and so deliriously exciting, that almost every soul on board instinctively desired a lowering.

Chapter 52: But in pursuit of those mysteries we dream of, or in tormented chase of that demon phantom that, sometime or other, swims before all human hearts; while chasing such over this round globe, they either lead us on in barren masses or midway leave us whelmed.

Chapter 53: Gam: noun – a social meeting of two (or more) whale-ships, generally on a cruising-ground; when after exchanging hails, they exchange visits by boats’ crews; the two captains remaining, for the time, on board of one ship, and the two chief mates on the other.

Chapter 54: ‘Now, as you well know, it is not seldom the case in this conventional world of ours – watery or otherwise; that when a person placed in command over his fellow-men finds one of them to be very significantly his superior in general pride of manhood, straightway against that man he conceives an unconquerable dislike and bitterness; and if he have a chance he will pull down and pulverize that subaltern’s tower, and make a little heap of dust of it.

Chapter 55: For it is one of the more curious things about this Leviathan, that his skeleton gives very little idea of his general shape.

Chapter 56: The natural aptitude of the French for seizing the picturesqueness of things seems to be peculiarly evinced in what paintings and engravings they have of their whaling scenes. With not one tenth of England’s experience in the fishery, and not the thousandth part of that of the Americans, they have nevertheless furnished both nations with the only finished sketches at all capable of conveying the real spirit of the whale hunt. (See an example of a French engraving at the top of this post.)

Chapter 57: With a frigate’s anchors for my bridle-bits and fasces of harpoons for spurs, would I could mount that whale and leap the topmost skies, to see whether the fabled heavens with all their countless tents really lie encamped beyond my mortal sight!

Chapter 58: That same ocean rolls now; that same ocean destroyed the wrecked ships of last year. Yea, foolish mortals, Noah’s flood is not yet subsided; two thirds of the fair world it yet covers.

Chapter 59: ‘What was it, sir?’ said Flask.

‘The great live squid, which, they say, few whale-ships ever beheld, and returned to their ports to tell of it.’

Chapter 60: As the least tangle or kink in the coiling would, in running out, infallibly take somebody’s arm, leg, or entire body off, the utmost precaution is used in stowing the line in its tub. Some harpooneers will consume almost an entire morning in this business, carrying the line high aloft and then reeling it downwards through a block towards the tub, so as in the act of coiling to free it from all possible wrinkles and twists.

I am intrigued by the references to the Bible which Melville so often inserts. “Noah’s flood is not yet subsided…” is one of them. They give a beautiful connection to me of the Old Testament stories and Melville’s tale. And, his observations on human character could apply to many circumstances, not only whaling. One man finding another to be superior, and then reducing his “tower” to a heap of dust? Isn’t that what all the cowboy stories from the West are about? It seems to me that man is constantly trying to prove his superiority over another man. Or, beast, as in the case of Moby Dick.