Monday, April 6, 2015

Late Riser?

I complained the most about people not taking the book club seriously and I'm late on this book. My apologies! I think I overestimated my skills as a reader and started another book earlier this month and ended up starting this one late. 

I really enjoyed this book. I thought it did a great job dealing with real issues while maintaining a sense of lightness and not spiraling out of control into full blown tragedy. Particularly, I really felt that I took my first steps into understanding what PTSD exactly is. I liked Luis’ narrative and how we were able to witness this irrational anger that he ends up feeling, probably as a result of PTSD. 

I think Neha was annoyed at Avis’ lack of action towards her son’s violence but I found myself wondering the whole time what I would do in her situation. I think it would be really tough to, at the first sign of abuse, decide to take steps that would undoubtedly end her son’s career as a law enforcement officer. It is a terribly delicate situation because I’m sure even if he went to a counselor not connected with the police department, there are probably some rules that would require the counselor to divulge this information since he may be a risk to the community. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that I do think that war veterans come back with very few options on how to conduct their lives and assimilate in society.  Of course, in retrospect, it is obvious she should have acted immediately but I think it’s pretty realistic that there was some part of her in denial and probably hoping that his actions were just this one time. 

I think a theme of the book is people pitying themselves due to their own dismal lives, then realizing that others have it worse,  and finally taking steps to  help another, which in turn, ends up helping themselves. Avis is depressed about her failed marriage but realizes how much more important it is for her to ensure Lauren’s safety and Nate’s mental health. Luis is distraught over Sam and the boy he shot but then realizes how unfortunate Bashkim is. Bashkim is upset about his mother but acts selflessly towards the end when he decides that he needs to be there for his little sister, Tirana, and will do whatever it takes for them to live together. 

I think what I enjoyed most was just the author's voice when writing as each character. I remember we read some book last time we started this book club where the child character's narrative was so unrealistic. Like, the author completely exaggerated the incorrect grammar of the child's dialogue and it was really grating. This author did a great job of simplifying language and ideas when writing Bashkim's character and when writing Luis, you could feel his anger and then the dissipation of his anger when he realizes he has no idea why he's so worked up about something. 

I actually didn't have many analytic thoughts while reading the book, which I partly think is a good thing. I just read it and came back with a sense of satisfaction. But I read through your posts and I'm enjoying thinking back on what I liked and analyzing what the author was doing. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

We are all called to Rise -- including you!!

Hey everyone!! What happened to our book club?? Kudos to Neha to being the only one who has 'risen to the call,' and posted her thoughts on the book. I'm curious as to what happened to everyone this month - either the book wasn't compelling enough, or all of our lives got busier and the book club just lost its priority spot!

I started the book a few weeks ago, and found it to be a really great, easy read. I really enjoyed the way the author spoke so truly to the voice of each character. It was really as if she were in their heads, and the thoughts seemed so seamlessly aligned w/the personality - does that make sense? When the book opened, I thought Avis was the main character - I found her marriage falling apart scenario so realistic and relatable. Not because I have a falling apart marriage (knock on wood, far from it) - but I do know that it's so very easy for couples to become consumed by the day-to-day that is life, and then to suddenly find yourself drifted miles from where you started -- and if you don't take the constant notice of it as it's happening, you'll be too far from shore when you realize it. Which is what I think happened to Avis. She was trying to revamp her marriage by going to her untouched lingerie drawer, but it was too late by then. And in regards to that one comment that her husband made (I really like the book club questions in the end) - that his girlfriend really "helped him think about things," and Avis wonders "What does that have to do with ending our marriage?" - I thought that was a really poignant statement. She, also, came into a relationship type situation with another man, who was there for her, fulfilling something that she was missing in other parts of her married life. But she didn't feel the need to explore that further - maybe she wasn't that disconnected to her husband at that point (her kids were much younger then) or maybe she valued her 'normal, all-American' life too much to ruin in. Avis' past was fascinating to me - the fact that she could be so relatively normal despite what she grew up with. I also liked how she didn't want to start over after the divorce, which is the advice everyone probably gives you at that time. She'd already reinvented herself so much living this life - she doesn't have the energy or desire to do it all over again. And that's fine.

When I first read the letter from Luis to Bashkim, I literally burst out laughing, because I couldn't believe someone would write such a thing down. And everything that ensued after that was totally believable - the kid throwing up, the principal's office, the fiasco with the parents. Bashkim's insight was my favorite part. One of the book club questions was "Do you find Bashkim's narrative of the novel's more serious events to be reliable? Why or why not?" It never crossed my mind once that his recollection of events was unreliable. If anything, he seemed to have far more insight into human politics & psychology than most of the adults around him. His family situation was so pathetic - and I have to say, I was REALLY irritated by the mom constantly saying "Let Allah kill me now!" How is THAT a solution to your f---ing problems?! Yes, she was in a pathetic situation, and there was really no out for her - but her DYING was not going to help - as we see in the end of the book. Btw, did anyone notice that Bashkim said he loves pepperoni pizza in the book - don't Muslims not eat pepperoni?

Nate & Luis - two parallel Iraqi war leftovers - each with anger & loathing repressed inside - but both deal with it in such different ways. Neha, reading your post really made me think about the PTSD thing, and how scary it is that people like these are actually being hired to be police officers. And how it makes sense when they are suddenly shooting unarmed black kids - bc we have NO idea what is going on inside their heads. My favorite part of Nate's story was when he had the outburst in front of his mom - and told him what it was like out there - and why he's so f---ed up. It made his otherwise one-dimensional character suddenly human for me.

I did find the ending a little to abruptly convenient. Not as bad & cheesy as our last book club book where all the killers ended up in the same place at the same time ... but I honestly didn't get a sense of the impetus for Abuela to adopt 2 children at this point in her life? My guess is that she figured that would be the only thing that would make her son feel good again. He kept saying he wanted to feel like a man, and having those 2 kids around would definitely do that.

Would love to hear other folks thoughts on the book. This is definitely a meaty book for a book club, bc there is so much you can talk about. I would also love to hear people's thoughts on why/how Las Vegas was a character in the backdrop of this film. I'm really bad at understanding subtext like that, so would love to hear how people interpreted that.

Looking forward to reading your posts!! And we need to choose a book for April :-)

Monday, March 30, 2015

My thoughts on We are Called to Rise....

So I wrote this on the plane a couple weeks ago and just edited it. It's by no means a complete analysis of the book, just things that jumped out at me. Enjoy....

I finished the book a few weeks ago - so it’s not as ripe in my head as it could have been, but as I think about it, it is beginning to come back to me. It was an interesting story and it was a great juxtaposition of the characters and issues in the book.

It was an interesting story that also brought about a lot of issues that are current in today’s world. PTSD, immigration and assimilation, over use of force by police departments and the classic ignorance is bliss solution to so many problems we have here at home. I’m not sure how I felt about the book to be perfectly honest.

The author did a wonderful job at portraying the balance between the two worlds in which Bashkim lived in. His resentment and need to want to fit in at school and the greater world he was a part of, while at the same time was torn between the way he lived at home with his parents and the stark differences between these two worlds. It was heart wrenching to read his story, your already so frustrated for him and then his mother is killed and that by a cop that shouldn’t have en been on the force in the first place - an event that was entirely preventable. I really appreciated how his relationship with Luis evolved and changed, I can only imagine how horrible the first letter he received from Luis made him feel.

Bashkim as the author portrayed just seems to have a beautiful heart that is wiling to give everyone a second chance regardless of what happened to him in his short life. Regardless, of the heartache in the book, I feel it couldn’t have ended in a better way - except for the fact that again like most cops across the country, they walk away without any consequences regarding their use of deadly force (sorry, I can’t help but be frustrated with the current system and current social conversation).

In the beginning I felt almost sorry for Avis, her life was falling apart around her and it seemed as she had no control over it, but as the story went on - the smoke signals were there all around her. She refused to do something about it and continued with her suburban life she worked so hard to maintain and be a party of, her fear of going back to life on the streets won out to her fear of the fact that her son could actually do something to harm someone. It was frustrating to see her continue to witness Nate beat and abuse his wife and her turn the other cheek. She tried to do something, but at the same time her own internal monologue confirmed her worst fears/suspicious. When Avis found out that Nate had shot Bashkim’s mother, she had the desire and the impulse to set things right, but as her husband or ex- husband said we’ll get him out of this. We have the means and the connections to make sure he isn’t head acceptable, but what happens afterwards. He continues on the force and his PTSD continues. It was interesting how the author juxtaposed two veterans in the story, one that was being haunted by the loss of his partner Sam and the innocent killing of a little boy and the other someone who was more careless, bold and angry as the days progressed. They were both angry and broken, but one was able to channel his anger in a more productive and less threatening way. I obviously have no sympathy for Nate and his family.

Roberta reminded me of a guardian angel to those that she works with. She believe in humanity and tried to help everyone that crosses her path. The fact that she thought outside of the box to find a solution for Bashkim, his sister and his father was pretty amazing.

I could go on, but in a way this book is ripe for book club discussion - which I’m sure some of you saw the book club questions at the end of the book, but I really want to know what the rest of you thought. Especially since some of the book is relevant to today’s social dialogue - and the fear that there are veterans that are coming back from war with issues and PTSD and doing into careers and jobs that they probably shouldn’t be doing. Sad consequence of war abroad is the militarization of our police force with all the equipment that is decommissioned or no longer needed. And our anti immigration mindset, which I believe creates situations where newly immigrated families don’t know that they can ask for help or even where to ask for help and become isolated as Bashkim’s family had.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments on the book. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

**Spoilers Inside**

I finished the book early in the month, but because of travel haven't had time to write down my thoughts.  This book was such a downer- each of the nights I would read it, when I'd finally put it down, I'd be in such a low place, much like Antara said in her post.  I also totally mirror Vaishali & Stephanie in that I really never got invested. Here are some of my thoughts on the book:

I think that Gillian Flynn had a lot of good ideas that were lost in their execution throughout the book.  For instance, I liked that she was trying to develop a "dark thing" that ran in the family: Ben's obsession with annihilation (the most dramatic), all of the negative things Libby did growing up, like killing the dog (“I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.”), finding out Libby's mom was depressed and couldn't get up in the mornings, Ben's daughter also being nuts, but I don't think that theme was well tied together and could have been a powerful statement on mental illness.  I also think Flynn wanted to show how things that start out small turn into a conflagration and become so huge: Ben's rebellion & teen angst as the biggest example, but also Krissi Cates who's life ended up falling apart after her lie and confession regarding being molested.  Each kid was trying to solve a problem in their own way and their solution grew into a beast that was much larger than either of them- resulting in lifetime consequences.  Again, this theme was there, but I felt like it's execution left me wanting.

I also think that the character development was weak and disjointed: like Vaishali mentioned, I didn't really buy Libby's transition from being monetarily motivated to investigate her brother, to suddenly caring about her brother.  I actually got really annoyed at the scene when she visited her brother in prison and internally was like, 'oh that's my darling brother, but no, he's a killer' back and forth- it just felt so unrealistic and contrived in the storytelling.  Libby was super young the last time she saw her brother, clearly only remembered what she was coached to remember (at the time of the scene), and Ben had been in prison for a very long time- its hard for me to believe that the mannerisms and things that reminded her of teenage Ben would (a) still be there after so many years in prison and (b) that she'd actually recall them and feel the sort of nostalgia & feelings she was feeling.  And speaking of mannerisms- I really hated that every time Libby put both hands down on a table, it'd be just like Ben- I think this was one of those devices that Gillian Flynn was trying to use to draw together both Libby & Ben and show their connection, but just wasn't well executed.

And then there are Runner and Diondra.  These characters were designed to make you hate them, to make you suspect them, and to make you crazy.  And that's all they were.  They were there as a plot device and an easy out- places to cast suspicion and a way to end the story (as was the Angel of Debt).  Runner was the deadbeat dad that only showed up when he needed money and was abusive and that's really all we learn about him.  Diondra was crazy and stayed crazy and we never got any insight into her craziness.   These characters just existed on the very fringe of believability and existed only to drive the story forward- basically plot devices, and not real people: Diondra got knocked up so there'd be a person for Ben to protect- we never really understood as readers what drives her to keep the kid etc.  Runner existed to be an obvious suspect and to motivate a lot of Ben's rage, but that's about it. 

I also think Flynn was trying to paint a bleak picture of the destruction of small-town, rural America with how she portrayed Libby's farm and it's demise, a lot of the towns she drove through (notably the arrays of dead malls, all the strip clubs, failing bars etc).  Again, I think this could have been a powerful theme, but it wasn't tied together and executed in a way that made the statement Flynn probably intended.

So, in short, I certainly hope this book was/is a stepping stone to Flynn becoming a bit better with all her ideas and learning how to really propagate the themes she intends and designing her characters better.  Everything was there- the idea and premise are so cool, but the execution was just not there.  Like Vaishali said, I'd like to read Gone Girl to see if Flynn gets it right!  I read this online: "The strength of Flynn's storytelling lies (at least partially) in lining up a series of events so that the plot falls down like so many dominoes." and I agree with that description of how Flynn set up this story, but in one too many places, she left the dominoes a bit too far apart and the reader had to knock a few down to keep the story going. 


My Thoughts upon COMPLETING "Dark Places" (Vaishali)

I really liked reading a lot of the analysis people posted. I actually think I’m probably going to be the harshest critic and could rant about what I didn’t like but I think the best way to put it really is that you can see in this book that Gillian Flynn is not a seasoned writer. I’m very intrigued to read “Gone Girl” now (after having seen the film), to see whether she’s worked through the issues I have with her writing. 

I agree with Stephanie that I honestly wasn’t too engrossed in the book. I’ll attribute that to the fact that, though Karen is right that none of these characters are likable, I honestly think that these characters were too black and white for me. I could probably talk about every character but I’ll start with Libby. 

I was disgusted by Libby's thoughts of jealousy when other victims were getting attention. I understand she tried to say “yeah, I know, I’m a bad person” but I didn’t feel that she was actually feeling any sort of conflict about her really mean thoughts. She was unapologetically a terrible person, in my opinion. Which brings me to the fact that I didn’t quite see the transition of her starting to care about the case. There was a line where she says something like “I would have gone to see [ someone ] even if they didn’t pay me.” I didn’t think it was realistic that she went from having only one motivation in life, acquiring money in the most lazy way possible, to saying something like “I would have done it for no money.” I’m not saying she didn’t develop a desire to find out the truth, I just think the writer did not subtly bring the readers to feel that she had grown. 

I think what makes “Gone Girl” so great (having only watched the movie), is that the storytelling is so on point. I think that’s exactly what she is working on in this book, but isn’t able to master. The face that earlier in the day, the axe and shotgun had been opportunely placed and then coincidentally, all the murders happen at once--I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. I actually think there’s more potential for the movie because maybe putting this in a visual context will work better, as opposed to “After chopping the wood, she placed the axe near the fire”. 

I have more to talk about and am looking forward to reading more of what people have to say. I think reading all your comments made me like the book better. Antara sometimes will describe the plot of a “really bad” movie she’s seen and I’ll be hearing it and say, “Actually, that sounds pretty good!” because she picks the interesting parts, tells me those, and embellishes. I think that’s kind of what your guys’ posts did for me!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Dark Places -- Steph's post *SPOILERS*

I agree with a lot of the posts here and agree the most with Karen's assessment-- namely because she used the term "deus ex machina" (yay for high school English!)

So compared to Gone Girl, which drew me in really from the start, I really struggled to warm to this book. It didn't suck me in and I didn't find myself really feeling interested in how these various storylines would come together until the 50% to 75% point of the book. My feelings nearer to the end of the book were this: "oooh, maybe it's THIS".... "oooh, maybe it's HIM".... "oooh, maybe THIS is the killer"... And then I was disappointed like nearly everyone here to learn "oh-- it's ALL of it... and at the SAME TIME"... It was too convenient and I agree that the catalyst being this Angel of Debt scenario and the many situations coming together during a single clusterfuck moment was a little bit too much to believe.

The one thing that I did think about after finishing the book was the idea of inertia and what it takes in our lives to pull us out of it. If you look at all the parallel story lines, there is a system in each character's life that pushes them into a standstill. For Patty, it's the weight of her failed life. For Libby, it's the depression and generally anxious mindset that she has had since her childhood. For Ben, it's the low self esteem that keeps him in these moderately abusive circumstances.

But in each case, there is something that is a spark that pushes each character over the edge and into action. For Patty, is it protecting her son and leads her to consider something as crazy as a staged death. For Libby, I don't know that it is any one thing-- maybe the Kill Club. But not just its existence but that glimmer of hope in what she had concluded was a dire situation in her life. And for Ben, it's the hope of providing for a child and in a way that his own father never had. And when the items he had purchased go missing, I think that's what makes him snap-- it's like he can't catch a break. Incidentally, the bag of clothes reminded me a lot of the trashy daughter in To Kill a Mockingbird-- how she had flowers at her trailer home and that's how we knew she wanted better in her life.

In this vein, it also made me think about the fight for life. In two cases-- Patty and Libby-- they are both ready for death but have this push for life in a moment where there is a reason. Patty is ready to die when she opens the door and the hired assassin plunges the knife into her chest. She is doing this to save her children (financially speaking). But the minute she has to save her child because she is about to become collateral damage, she has a reason to live and fights against what just moments before she has been resigned to. Same with Libby. She early on gives herself milestones prior to death. One month more. One month more (or something like that). She is down in the dumps and sees no value to being on this earth. But when she is being hunted by her niece and Diondra, she runs for her life. There is something interesting in the way of fight or flight that is interwoven throughout this book.

The movie could definitely be interesting but I hope that they change the ending b/c I feel like seeing the convergence at the end as it happened in the book would be really unsatisfying. Totally agree too that Charlize Theron is absolutely the worst casting for this. Given how I picture this character, I actually think Theron's Monster co-star Christine Ricci (who is small and childlike) would be the perfect casting for Libby.

This was fun!


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What's Goes on in Gillian Flynn's Head?!?!

So I finished this book a week ago and was not happy. The first few chapters were really engrossing and had you wondering what the F**k goes on in this author's head. Well I guess I'm still wondering that, but by the end of the book I was just annoyed. Maybe I was looking forward to a good thriller that was more in present time rather than the flashbacks, not sure, but there was something about this book that I could have stopped reading in the middle and been fine walking away.

All the characters annoyed me and  the fact that she introduced characters and never really developed them. It really annoyed me. The Kill Club, her aunt, Angel of Death, her Dad. Especially how they didn't develop her aunt's character. You think with the way she was described as a real go getter - Gillian would have developed her character a little bit better and made her more a part of the story. Helped Libby grow or solve the mystery and find out that she is a great aunt, but she is just MIA. Especially when Libby left a message for her on her answering machine your expecting some sort of character introduction/development, but nothing. Ben was just pathetic and basically did nothing but allow events to happen around him. Diondra yet again tries to take the life of another sister and he sits idly by protecting who? His daughter, so she turns out to be a killer like her mother??!?! WTF? I mean wouldn't you rather turn the mother of your child in and allow the one relative you have and love raise her? Your sister (I mean not when she was born, but between his Aunt and Libby, it was possible and poor Libby might have been an actual fully functioning adult (which she became at the end, but it would have saved everyone more grief)). Also, the fact that Libby went to confront/meet Diondra alone and wasn't the slightest bit creeped out by her place or the fact that she has a niece that was seven years younger than her? It seemed as if Libby accepted that a little too fast, even for her.

The angel of death was also another one of those characters. It is just touched upon at the Kill club and then here he comes to tie up all the loose ends in a nice little bow. She didn't do a good job foreshadowing that character in my opinion. While reading this you can tell that she is developing and working her characters out and hasn't quite got it figured out like gone girl.

I don't think I'll be reading her first novel after this one. I may still be interested in any future novels she may write, but I'm ok not reading her earlier work. Looking forward to reading what others have to say about the book!