Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Hummingbird's Cage, by Tamara Dietrich [book report]

Had you asked me a week ago if I believed in magic, I'm not sure how I might have answered. I probably would have asked for clarification, such as your definition of "magic" or even your definition of "belief"--a stalling tactic, pretty much, to give me time to think.
Since then I've read The Hummingbird's Cage. I am now ready to answer.
For me a good novel is a ticket to ride. To journey to someplace unexpected. Reading a good novel is by no means a passive experience. But for me this does not involve reading with a critical eye. Before I can expect to enjoy a novel I must close that eye, open my mind and let the author's imagination in to play awhile with mine. And if our imaginations get along, they can take me to a world I'd never dreamed of.
And when that happens...magic.
 The Hummingbird's Cage opens amid a nightmare, or, more accurately, a nightmarish reality:
My husband tells me I look washed up. Ill favored, he says, like old bathwater circling the drain. If my clothes weren’t there to hold me together, he says, I’d flush all away. He tells me these things and worse as often as he can, till there are times I start to believe him and I can feel my mind start to dissolve into empty air.
Reading that paragraph—the very first one—started a sorrowful anger building in me that by the time I'd come to the end of it I already wanted justice to be done to that cruel, heartless bastard. The violence in word and deed he heaps upon his wife, Joanna, builds in tandem with my rage as Joanna narrates her heartwrenching story. She had me trembling with fury. I turned page after page as the evil grew.
The physical abuse and the crushing of her spirit oppressed me, as well. My feeling of helplessness merged with hers, with no relief in sight. And then...
With the encouragement of a wild and wily biker chick--her husband's former girlfriend--Joanna and her young daughter make their escape. Or so it seems.
I'm reluctant to tell you much more than I have, as I would hate to spoil the adventure your imagination can share in league with the author's. I can safely say this story has no modern comparison, for me anyway. I'm no professional critic with experience in any particular canon of fashionable modern literature. The Hummingbird's Cage has been mentioned in association with "new age." I've only a vague idea what that might be, and have no interest in venturing there. I don't do literary analysis, nor am I keen on what's in and what's not.
The only novel I've read that came to mind while I was immersed in The Hummingbird's Cage is James Hilton's Lost Horizon. And that's too old to be "new age."
I love fascinating characters, seductive writing and stories I can get lost in. When these three loves come together for me, it's magic. There are dreams one is glad to awaken from and others one resents having to leave behind. I found both in The Hummingbird's Cage.
You'd probably like for me to tell you what the title means. I was prepared to do just that when I started writing this report. I've since decided to let you find out for yourself. It's a humdinger of a title.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A House Made of Stars [book report]

"Grandma" is the hero of A House Made of Stars, a stunning debut novel by Tawnysha Greene. Grandma is also my new hero. A truly wonderful character, well beyond, I am sure, her depiction through the sensibility of a desperate, intelligent child. She's a literary marvel.

And the child! Her voice is perfect as we watch her reluctantly catching on to the horror around her—the cruel insanity of her father, the Old Testament submissiveness of an otherwise loving mother--hungrily embracing the hopeful glimpses she sees in others of a better life. The strength and savvy of her sister, another, subtly surprising grace that keeps us hopeful along with the narrator through their nearly unbearable awakening. 

Now we come to the narration itself, which is ingeniously artful in its apparent simplicity. The limitations of the children's view augmented by their aural disability gives us a gentle vantage of irony that obviates the precociousness too often appearing in such voices, when the clever adult can be seen behind the narrative curtain. The author's hand is occasionally glimpsed in House, but not awkwardly, and only near the end, quite in step with the girl's awakened consciousness.

This story feels so real I cannot but wonder at its source. Greene mentions “journals” in her acknowledgments, and so, along with the especially heart-wrenching authenticity of a scene in which the children are beaten, I am fairly confident this is based on true events, and this saddens me to the core. But if it is purely fictitious, Greene's imagination is unquestioningly a celestial gift.

Either way, if the fifty shades of fickle in the contemporary world of publishing allows room for justice, A House Made of Stars will become the standout success it fully deserves to be.