Thursday, June 30, 2016

Miss Peregrine's School for Peculiar Children: It's All about Timing

Readers may be as tired of hearing about my move as I am of the process itself, but the ongoing experience of unpacking and the discovery that results has provided opportunity to muse on certain life concepts. The biggest challenge centers first on what to keep, what to give or throw away; now, though, I am making decisions about what to leave stored in boxes and what to place within reach. I came across a Pampered Chef ice shaver I've had for years and used just once--just in time to entertain my grandsons who are visiting for the week.

Now that I have a few sets of book shelves installed in what can still be called "the box room," I have made the hard decisions about which books earn a spot. Do I shelve the ones I have read and loved, the ones to which I return as references, or the ones I hope to read next? I did a little of all three.

As I finished one book and selected another, in this case for a trip to the beach, I came across Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, a book that I've owned since its publication. I came across it at the NCTE annual convention, where I often discovered good books. I'll confess, I judged the book by its cover. I was drawn to the old black and white photograph of the little girl who, on close observation, appears to be levitating.

The book starts far from the home mentioned in the title, as Jacob, sixteen-year-old boy, responds to a frantic call from his grandfather and finds him in the woods behind his house the victim of a deadly attack. In the aftermath, Jacob suffers from nightmares and spends time with a counselor.  Going through his grandfather's collection of letters and photographs, he is drawn to visit the English island where the man had been sent as a boy escaping the Nazis.

Once he and his father reach the isolated island, he finds himself moving back and forth in time, meeting all the "peculiar" children who lived in the home with his grandfather before the man chose to leave to fight against the German forces in WWII. At this point, author Ransom Riggs moves back and forth between realism and fantasy as Jacob is drawn into the challenge facing the children who have been living and reliving the same day the island was bombed by Nazi forces.

The conclusion begs for a sequel, and since I waited to read the book, I don't have to wait for the sequel to be written. I particularly look forward to the photographs, which I learned at the end of the book, are real photographs from several collections. My first instinct is to start looking for this kind of photos at antique stores. But then I'd have to find somewhere to store them.

Monday, June 6, 2016

LaRose: Louise Erdrich's New Tale of Families Entwined.

Since it's already June, I plan to play catch up posting about my summer reading so far. I'm going in reverse (or random) order though because I can't wait to discuss Louise Erdrich's latest novel, LaRose.

I've read lots of Erdrich's writing--novels and short stories--over the years. Several of her stories were in literature anthologies I taught. She writes the kind of Native American literature, like Sherman Alexie, that remains true to the culture while touching such universal cords.

One of the benefits of living in Nashville is the frequency of author readings. The Nashville Public Library presents Salon@615 regularly, with special thanks to Parnassus Books, the wonderful store author Ann Patchett owns with partner Karen Hayes. In May Erdrich appeared with author Jane Hamilton, another favorite of mine. Their tag-team reading, discussion, and Q&A were such fun.

I had already started reading LaRose, and her reading from a later chapter made me eager to get back to the book. The book opens with a tragic hunting accident by Landreaux Iron, killing the five-year-old son of his neighbor Peter Ravich and his wife, sister to Landreaux's wife Emmaline. Following "the old ways," the Irons bring their own five-year-old son LaRose to the Raviches, a trade that separates the two couples but brings their children closer.

This book demands a slow thoughtful read, particularly by anyone interested in writing, because of the deft way Erdrich handles the chronology of the tale. She moves back and forth, bringing in the story of the first LaRose in the family, one of a long line of family members with special gifts. She also weaves in the many secondary characters--Romeo, a ne'er-do-well with a grudge against Landreaux from their childhood; Maggie, the surviving child of the Raviches, full of anger toward her parents mingled with a need to watch and protect; the children in the Iron household; the reservation's elderly, many cared for by Landreaux.

Throughout the novel, Erdrich gives an unblinking look at the best and worst of life on and around the Ojibwa reservation and even a shocking piece by Frank Baum (of Ox fame) calling for the annihilation of Native American tribes.

As Jane Hamilton noted, Erdrich can deal with such serious topics while using such lovely humor in her works. Even the story's antagonists had a redeeming side. Like the old Shakespearean comedies, I hoped they achieved repentance rather than destruction. (Hamilton also noted Erdrich's skillful sex scenes.)

Without over distilling, I have to say this is a story of redemption and family. Each character was so carefully drawn and revealed, their back stories making clear their present characters. What results is a haunting story worth reading--and reading again.