Posts Tagged ‘Novels’

Early in the novel Mountains of the Moon, Louise Alder recounts how her teacher Miss Connor read Louise’s (Lulu’s) story aloud in class because Miss Connor “reckons I got a good way of putting things” (65).

Mountains of the Moon (2012)

Author I. J. Kay (a pseudonym) has a good way of putting things as well. But that good way of hers makes for no easy read. Though the first American edition of her debut novel appeared last July, it’s no beach book. Kay’s fractured narrative forces us to read carefully for shifts in diction and setting that signal the age and whereabouts of Louise (a.k.a. Kim, Beverley, Jackie, Dawn, and Catherine) through a parade of squalor that ends with her release from prison for a crime she may or may not have committed.

Confusing? Yes, but keep reading. Chances are, you’ll find yourself less confused. And more and more impressed with Kay’s achievement.

At thirty-one, after her ten-year prison stint, Louise travels to Uganda to see up close those mountains she first saw as a child in the pages of her book on Africa, a gift from her grandfather.

As a young teenager, she receives another book as a gift from a father figure. “The Velvit Gentleman,” as she calls him, a surreal sugar daddy—Professor Higgins and lover—gives her Lord of the Flies, which she slings across the floor of the psych ward after reading the death of Piggy.

“I wouldn’t have given it to you if I’d thought it would upset you so much,” Anton, “the Velvit Gentleman,” says. “Will you continue with it, though?”

“Seems rude not to,” Lulu answers. “Was a shock how bad I believed it. You said it was fiction, lies, but it int. It int.”

“Good,” Anton says. “That’s the point; stories tell lies in the service of truth” (287).

Kay’s own lies in the service of truth ring truer than those that shock her protagonist. Lulu’s no middle-class kid stuck on an uninhabited island. Donning a Masai’s red cloth and wielding a spear or not, she’s more warrior than any of Golding’s boys.

What makes her a warrior? The mountains (of the title) that dwell in her imagination, the ones she dreams of and writes about on wallpaper “wonky where the pattern is bossed” (87) to counter violence, poverty, and neglect.

Though flawed as all novels are—and undoubtedly some of its shortcomings escaped me—Mountains of the Moon shines with fresh language, Kay’s “good way of putting things,”  that invigorates Louise’s story, reminding us of what novels can achieve but rarely do.

Kay. I. J. Mountains of the Moon. New York: Viking, 2012.

Ashes to Water (2010)

Last night at the office of Richmond’s Frontier Project, on the corner of East Franklin and 20th Street, writer and actress Irene Ziegler  met with readers to discuss her mystery novel Ashes to Water:  the July-August selection for Richmond’s city-wide book club co-sponsored by Chop Suey Books and River City Reads. Rather than reading a long passage from her work–as many authors do–Ziegler alternated short excerpts from Ashes to Water and Rules of the Lake, its prequel, with reflections on writing and anecdotes from her life growing up in Pre-Disney, Florida.

As an author who is also an actress, Ziegler possesses an awareness of audience that many writers lack. When an author reads an entire chapter, even the best listeners are likely to lose their way. One image captures our interest, we linger with it, and never catch up to the narrative that’s unfolding. Ziegler encouraged the audience to write about what scares us and recounted how Francine Prose offered the same advice to playwright David Lindsay-Abaire. Following her advice,  he wrote Rabbit Hole, which received the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2007.

Read more about Ashes to Water in the blog post for August 9 and on Irene Ziegler’s website.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)

This afternoon, I met with several of my Focused Inquiry colleagues to discuss Phillip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the holiday reading that will bridge UNIV 111 and 112.  Though students won’t read the novel until December or early January, I will address it–at least briefly–when they study Art Spiegelman‘s In the Shadow of No Towers on September 13 and 15, following the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

I have taught In the Shadow of No Towers in the spring semester for the past two years but  thought it would be worthwhile to consider Spiegelman‘s graphic memoir of the days that followed 9/11 on the days that follow the tenth anniversary.

On page 7, Spiegelman writes: “My ‘leaders’ are reading the book of Revelations.  . . .  I’m reading the paranoid science fiction of Phillip K. Dick.” Why does Spiegelman want us to know what he was reading–and what our leaders were reading–in the days following 9/11? What does he want to tell us? Those are a couple of the questions I may pose in class on September 13 or 15–and perhaps again in January when we study “the paranoid science fiction of Phillip K. Dick.”

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is new to me–I have just begun reading it–so I don’t know yet how I will approach it in class. My tentative plans include  incorporating a study of excerpts from the graphic novel adaptation from Boom Studios and concluding the semester with a study of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott‘s film adaptation–or perhaps, more accurately, his re-imagining–of the novel.

Foreground: Pelican under repair; Background: Front porch, where I repaired to read Ashes to Water.

On vacation at Topsail Island, June 4 – 8, I read Ashes to Water, the July-August selection for Richmond’s city-wide book club sponsored by River City Reads and Chop Suey Books. Whenever I read a mystery–which I don’t often do–I’m impressed by the intricacies of plot. What appealed to me more than the plot of Ashes to Water, though, was the novel’s sense of place. Like Irene Ziegler‘s short story collection Rules of the Lake, the novel’s prequel, Ashes to Water presents in vivid detail central Florida’s lake  country with its “grove[s] of knotty cypress knees” (274). I look forward to hearing Ziegler read from Ashes to Water on August 18.