2008

I bought this novel last summer with the intention of balling my eyes out almost immediately. However, it took me until yesterday to actually pick it up and finish it. I started this book several times and couldn’t get past the few pages. Right now, after having finished it, I can not tell you why.

When I picked it up yesterday, I couldn’t put it down.

Spoilers to follow.

Where the River Ends is about the end of Abigail Grace’s life and how her husband, Doss, deals with it. She is the beautiful, wealthy daughter of a Senator from Charleston, and he is a struggling artist. The meet, fall in love, get married without her father’s permission, and then embark on a fourteen year marriage fill with many memories that ends in heartache. Abbie is diagnosed with cancer that spreads fast, and her four-year battle ends with a bucket list that takes her and Doss to the St. Mary’s river on the Georgia/Florida border.

In her final days, she requests to fulfill this list, especially “All the way from Montiac,” a desire to take the 130-mile trip on the river to the ocean.

This story is beautiful.

One of my favorite lines is when they are near the end of their journey, and Abbie expresses that she wishes they could finish her list. And Doss replies, “I wish I could take your place.” It’s beautiful and tragic. And anyone ever been in love agrees.

One of my favorite lines from a literary point-of-view is: “The bottom is an ugly place to be. Problem was, I had a few floors yet to fall before I reached the basement of us.”

Let’s just say I cried a lot. It is so beautiful to read the agonizing death of this woman from the point-of-view of her husband. It is agonizing, beautiful, and touching. I love the male POV here because it makes me feel like I am his wife, that I am the one dying, and I am watching him prove how much our marriage is worth, how far he would travel to be with me until the very end.

There are some downfalls, though, that distracted me at times. Some of the dialogue between young Abbie and Doss was a bit cliche and unoriginal. Not too much, though.

One of my biggest problems was with the plot. During their voyage, they encountered various characters that were trying too hard to be unique. The “action” along the way distracted me from the emotional story being told. It felt like a mystery/thriller at times when it shouldn’t have been. I wanted to delve deeper in Doss’s emotional struggle with his dying wife, than watch him fight the men who’d been following them for days. I know the backwoods of South Georgia can be crazy and weird and filled with all kind of folk; I’m from there.

The last problem I had with this novel was the ending. I loved Abbie’s passing; very beautiful. But the “tying of loose ends” with the Senator was rushed and unbelievable. The amount of rage inside that man could not have been resolved overnight with one letter from his dead daughter. I could read an entire novel following the reparation of the relationship between Doss and his father-in-law; the struggle and emotional battle that would be. Instead, it occurred over a couple of pages.

All in all, I loved this novel. Very emotional; very real at times in terms of what cancer is and how it destroys you. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who wants or needs a good cry.

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2005

After having seen the trailer to “Never Let Me Go,” an upcoming English film based on the novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, I told myself I had to read the novel.  I would love to see the film; but since it isn’t out yet, I settled for reading the novel.  And books are more often better than the movies upon which they’re based.

Sometimes, it is not good to embark on a novel with presuppositions.  And I definitely did.

Spoilers to follow.

I would like to preface this review by stating that I was under the assumption this novel had more science fiction in it than it actually did.  Now, looking back, I realize that it was obviously my own mistake.  I have read other Ishiguro novels… and he doesn’t strike me as science fiction-y at all.

The simplified plot of Never Let Me Go follows the life of Kathy, a “carer” having grown up in a boarding house.  Kathy, and all the other students there, were designed to be donors, having been genetically cloned, something akin to the movie “The Island.”  Throughout the progression of the novel, Kathy and the other students are gradually made aware of the purpose behind their creation.  I like the idea of cloning, and the psychology behind raising and rearing organ donors.  The students do not rise up against the establishment; they weren’t raised with the knowledge that what is happening is wrong.

This novel is significantly different from all the other novels I have read for fun.  Most of the novels I read have twists, challenges, and secrets that are unveiled at the end.  However, Never Let Me Go hides nothing from the reader.  The premise of the novel, the students being organ donors, is only gradually unveiled; so it could be argued that it is the novel’s secret.  But it is no twist.  There is no surprise.  The reader can determine from Kathy’s inner dialog and her interactions with the other characters that something is amiss.  And when it is revealed, we have by then pieced it together ourselves.  Even when Madame and Miss Emily, at the end, tell Kathy and Tommy that their donations cannot be deferred, we are not surprised.  The tone of the entire novel follows a melancholy that never recedes.  And even though I could expect the outcome, I was still intrigued.

I thought I wouldn’t like this novel because of it’s slow progression and lack of action.  However, it was very fluid and well-written.  Kathy’s inner turmoil with her life as a donor and a carer is a unique struggle to write about.

2007

After finishing The Pact by Jodi Picoult, I was ready to start another novel, which is usually the case.  I guess if I had a constant stream of good novels sitting by my bedside, I would never use the Internet.  Instead, it is very difficult for me to find books that I actually enjoy.  Lately, I have found books that are sad draw me in.  Out of the five books I’ve read in the last six months, three of them have been about child kidnappings.  Michelle Richmond’s The Year of Fog was much different from the other two.

Spoilers to follow.

Just because the child is found by the end of The Year of Fog does not mean that it is a happy ending.  I would have to say that Richmond played the safe route, but didn’t let us down too much.  The story is about Abby Mason and the disappearance of her fiance’s six-year old daughter, Emma.  The disappearance happens within the first few paragraphs, and the search takes up the rest of the novel except the final 20 or so pages.  Where Jake, Emma’s father, relies on the police investigation and the command post where he and hundreds of volunteers organize searches and flyer handouts, Abby searches on her own.  She drives through every neighborhood in the city, talks to thousands of strangers, and even follows a man through town for several hours in case he is involved.  Eventually, through her own research, and the help of a hypnotist, her search leads her to Costa Rica where she inevitably finds Emma on the beach with her captors.

Unfortunately, the buildup (the entirety of the novel, it almost seemed) was too large for the anticlimactic ending Richmond grants us.  Yes, I am happy Emma was found.  And though Abby’s search was desperate, took almost a year, and she almost gave up there at the end, I find it very convenient that she happens upon Emma only after she decides to head back home to the states.  I say that Richmond took the safe route because not only does Abby find Emma, but Emma has not been abused (or so she says) in any way.  Instead, she was simply kept by her captors (via her mother) in Costa Rica with promises that her father would come get her soon.

Abby of course is thrilled that she not only found Emma but that the girl was unharmed.  But, like I said, Richmond doesn’t entirely let us down.  Emma has changed.  She doesn’t care much for Abby anymore, and Jake no longer wants Abby to be a part of their family.  It’s difficult to watch and read the end without wanting something more.  Abby spent an entire year searching for Emma who was not her own daughter.  And, after finding her, she can not have a life with her.  Richmond leaves Abby to start her own life, to pursue surfing with a friend she met through her search, and I’m left wondering what she gained from her year of fog.

The Pact | Jodi Picoult

December 26, 2009

1998

On December 18th, Steven’s sister went into labor, so I grabbed two books and put them in my purse before we left the house.  He may have been under the impression that we’d be in and then out of the hospital in under two hours, but I knew better–and I was prepared.  The two books I took with me were The Pact by Jodi Picoult and The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond.  I had already started Richmond’s book, but something about The Pact drew me in while I was sitting in the waiting area of the maternity ward.

The Pact is about two families who are very close and the aftermath of the suicide pact that their children make.  A year ago, I started reading one of Picoult’s other books, My Sister’s Keeper, but couldn’t get through it because I failed to find interest.  However, The Pact captured me with very little effort.

Spoilers to follow.

One of the most frustrating parts of The Pact, but in a good way, was how Melanie Gold transformed after the death of her daughter.  It was fascinating to watch, but almost unbearable to just sit and not be able to scream at the poor woman.  I hope I am never in a position to fully understand what she went through, but I hope even more that I don’t fall apart in the manner she did.  Her daugher, Emily, grew up with and was very close friends with Chris Harte, the son of Melanie and Michael Gold’s friends, the Hartes.  They became so close that they eventually began dating, not to the surprise of any one of them.  However, something changes in Emily and she becomes suicidal, to which she only confides in Chris, and they form a suicide pact that ends with the death of Emily, but Chris still alive.  Because there is an investigation of it possibly being a homicide and Chris is the only suspect, Melanie gets it in her head that Chris killed her daughter.  Because of this, over the course of the investigation and trial, she pushes away the Golds, even though they were close enough to be family.

What is more frustrating, as the story continues, is that Melanie finds Emily’s diary, and in it she writes how she became pregnant, had never told Chris, and that she was sexually assaulted by a stranger when she was very young.  All of this leads to her eventual unhappiness with her life and her eventual turn to suicide, but Melanie is unwilling to accept it–and she burns the diary without showing anyone.  I am not a mother, so I cannot fully grasp the pain Melanie endured, and even the self-blame she endured because of being unaware of her daughter’s pain.

The unfolding drama that tears apart these families is very difficult to read, but very well-written.