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Thursday, December 08, 2016

Boy's Life--a book review

A few months ago my Aunt Becky recommended a book to me, Boy's Life by Robert McCammon. I popped over to (click here to buy the book) and bought it on sale for $2.99. Definitely a bargain. As I was reading it I made a mental note to thank my aunt, which I did. Then I made a mental note to recommend it to others, which I didn't, because by the end I decided that I had to push this book harder than a blurt on Facebook.

So I will link to this review from Facebook, where I will post a much, much shorter review and Amazon link.

But for you, my loyal Roblog readers, an excerpt. This is the last page of the prologue. The narrator is talking about his home town of Zephyr, Alabama.

          We had a dark queen who was one hundred and six years old. We had a gunfighter who saved the life of Wyatt Earp at the O.K. Corral. We had a monster in the river, and a secret in the lake. We had a ghost that haunted the road behind the wheel of a black dragster with flames on the hood. We had a Gabriel and a Lucifer, and a rebel that rose from the dead. We had an alien invader, a boy with a perfect arm, and we had a dinosaur loose on Merchants Street.
          It was a magic place.
          In me are the memories of a boy's life, spent in that realm of enchantments.
          I remember.
          These are the things I want to tell you.

I love this introduction: It freely gives away massively tantalizing hints without spoiling a bit of the story, and let's you know that the writing will be so rich and succulent that you will feel like licking your fingers after you put the book down.

There is something about his storytelling that reminds me of Stephen King, though with a much lower fatality rate. McCammon paints lovely, believable pictures quickly and efficiently, but not so sketchily that you get confused. As you can see above, there are times when he waxes lyrical, almost poetic, but with none of the pretension of poetry.

McCammon has a large body of work available in electronic form, so I can buy them easily for my Kindle, but I'm not going to rush into them: I want to take my time to digest each one, like a fine meal. You don't go out for an expensive steak when you had a Chinese buffet for lunch, and there are some bits of Boy's Life that will stay with me for years: the first day of summer vacation, the narrow escapes, the release from pain carried for so long.

This book reads like a memoir, but with elements of fantasy expertly woven in. It made me wonder if perhaps my childhood held similar miracles and terrors, memories later driven out and replaced by sitcom memories, long days in boring classrooms, the only magic left restricted to the silver screen.

Last summer I watched the movie "Selma" on t.v. Maxine watched some of it with me, and we had a couple of conversations about racism, and why someone would blow up a church, killing four little girls. My kids are aware of what it means to be different from everyone else, but I am very grateful that they do not face challenges like those.

Boy's Life is set in the late 60s. The civil rights struggle and racism of that time infuse the whole story, sometimes fighting in the middle of the stage, sometimes scratching around the edges of the scenery, almost never completely out of sight. I was born in 1970, so I didn't witness that era, but books like this help me to wrap my brain around what it must have been like. Yes, it is fiction, and yes, the author is white. I would not count on a book like this as a primary source, but it adds another viewpoint to my limited vision of where the United States of America has been, and where it is going.

I should also note that Boy's Life won the 1992 World Fantasy Award for best novel. It does not feel like a 15-year-old book to me, but then again I didn't feel like a 46-year-old after reading it.

If you've read it, I'd love to hear what you thought in the comments. 

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Well Earned Tears

First grade is hard the same way the ocean is wet. There is only so much newness that one can take in before one is overwhelmed, and the only response is to break down a bit. For example, today was a normal day, with our standard lesson and activities. One activity that I particularly enjoy is when our teacher sings to us. She has a beautiful voice, and I don't know about everybody else, but I always feel like she is singing for me.

Today when she started to sing, it was a new song for our class. New, but somehow familiar to me. At first I hummed along, without even knowing how I knew the tune, then an old door creaked open in the back of my mind, and the memory came spilling out: it was a warm, dark, safe place, with Mommy. She was holding me in her arms, and singing the same song. I remembered it so hard that for a moment I was there in Mommy's arms, without the words to express the joy I felt at falling asleep in this perfect place hearing this perfect song, that reminded me of an even more perfect place, hearing the song of Mommy's heartbeat and breathing, surrounded by her.

For a moment the memory was a perfect crystal, more beautiful than anything I've ever held. Then it melted into the here and now, and my cheeks were wet with the past. I realized that I was back in a world where sometimes I got to spend no time with Mommy. I could't remember the last time she had sung to me, and it sat on my chest like a gorilla. I sobbed, mourning the changes in my life this past year, and fearing what was to come.

My teacher asked what was wrong, and I told her that she had sung a song of my infancy, now further away than the stars, and even more impossible to reach. I asked her to hold me, and she did. It wasn't the same as being with Mommy, but it was okay. I sat on her lap and let my anguish flow until all that was left was the memory itself, now tinged with sadness.

I got up off of her lap and returned to my seat. I could see my pain reflected in the faces of my classmates. No doubt some of them were sampling their own bittersweet memories. Maybe some of them were reawakening to the blessings that they had tuned out due to familiarity. I saw no contempt, no mockery. We can be so cruel when we see our classmates in tears, especially when we believe they are unearned. That day all of them knew that I had earned my tears, and some of them joined me in weeping for the lost past. Then I noticed that same pain reflected in the eyes of my teacher. I realized at that moment that she loved me. All of us, really. Of course not as deeply as Mommy loves me, but with a real love. A love that is there every day, ready to pick you up and brush you off when you fall down, ready to wipe your nose, and willing to help you better yourself. But more importantly, she loved me even though a year ago she hadn't even met me. I realized that love can be found outside of those who have known you your whole life: it's ready to grow into any crack in your life.

Everyone says that I am too young to be nostalgic, longing for what has gone. I say that a lifetime ago is a long time, whether your lifetime is seven or one hundred seven years. Learn to love the time you are in now, but don't let go of your past. Rather, use it as an anchor as you search for the love that will inevitably be found in your future.

Quinten with a bear. Not his teacher.

[This story is third hand, based on what Horyon told me of a text message received from Quinten's teacher. As such, I have taken some liberties in imagining what happened at the time, and assuming Quinten's point of view, and expanding his vocabulary somewhat. I don't believe I am breaking any rules in this, but feel free to contact the authorities if you disagree.]

A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.