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Here Lies Daniel Tate: Book Review (spoilers)

Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin Terrill has a great plot: Missing kid turns up years later, but can’t remember much about his past. Bit by bit, he tries to understand his family and what happened at the time of his disappearance. My first thought was The Face on the Milk Carton for a new generation!

No. But it’s much worse than that. The real plot is something else. Con man fakes being a missing kid now in his teens in order to get out of trouble. The main character in the story is a liar. Usually, a story involving an unreliable narrator leaves you questioning everything you just saw or read. If this was what the author was going for in this particular tale, for me it fell flat. The first few chapters promised a roller coaster ride that never really manifested. I read about halfway through in one sitting…and then forgot entirely about the story for days before realizing, “oh, yeah, I never finished reading that.”

So what went wrong? First, I just want to say that All Our Yesterdays, also by Terrill is fantastic. That story had me transfixed. With Here Lies Daniel Tate, it seemed like a great idea that wasn’t executed well. The characters were always viewed from a distance by our narrator, and because of that an emotional link is missing between the characters and the readers. The swearing annoyed me, but most swearing in books and movies does. I can understand trying to be realistic, but for me, it just got in the way of the story.

All that aside, after page 100 or so, Here Lies Daniel Tate gets really boring. Nothing happens. Okay, he goes to school, that’s what happens. And for writers, this is death, your story dies if your readers lose interest. Finishing the book was torture, it was no fun to read the rest and I didn’t understand why a vital component was left out: Keep your audience on their toes. Always make things happen faster or before the audience thinks they should. This rule applies especially to modern audiences, many of whom, like me, have a short attention span. I think a good editor would have spotted this problem. A good editor would have also spotted that unreliable narrator set up at the beginning, never delivered the twist calling the whole story into question. An author that does twists extremely well is Ian McEwan of Atonement fame. For a case study in unreliable narrators, please read that book or even just see the film. Another wonderful unreliable narrator book is The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan, and I reviewed that a February or two ago. I’m not saying every unreliable narrator has to end the tale with, “whelp, I lied…or did I?” but it’s just so, so much fun when they do.

Here Lies Daniel Tate had potential that was never realized, and I sort of wish we could dump it in the time machine from All Our Yesterdays to rewrite itself and try again.

SJWsADD: book review

SJW. ADD. First of all, let’s just appreciate how well these acronyms go together. Is there a group that pays less attention to what’s happening in the real world around them? Is there a group less inclined to pay attention to details, facts, or truth?

Vox Day’s first book in this series, SJWs Always Lie, is an excellent opening primer to the thought processes of Social Justice Warriors and the tactics that accompany them. Every day it becomes more obvious that we are in a culture war. Blood has even been spilled in its name (yes Antifa, I’m looking at you), and the more power that is ceded to SJWs and their ilk in the public sphere, the more likely America is to see an actual Civil War II. One of the central points in winning a war is to know your enemy. If you know how they think, you are likely to know how they will respond in any given situation. Fighting in this culture war is not for the faint of heart. The battle is largely psychological, the attacks indirect, and the victim mentality in the enemy, strong. Anyone not dedicated to the unvarnished truth may hold out for awhile, but will ultimately be trampled. Kindness, compassion, sense of fair play–it will all be used against you, because SJWs are con artists with the very worst intentions, who parade them around as if they were the best.

I found SJWs Always Double Down to be an easier read than the first book. Maybe it’s because now that I’ve been reading Day’s blog, I understand his arguments better (when I began reading him, I kept thinking, “I like this guy, I like what he’s saying, but I don’t understand it!”). The writing and planning is more succinct in this book and the details about the whole Tor fiasco are left towards the end, which I think makes SJWsADD more relatable to the average Joe who understands something is going on but only gets his news from the MSM. In the introduction, Day explains the criticisms he’s gotten about using too many personal examples of battling SJWs, and, agreeing or not with that criticism, he was smart enough to put the most relatable examples first, those from the corporate and tech world. I like to write and inside stuff about how the publishing world works interests me, but even I got a bit lost with the telling of all the Tor drama–and it did come across as pointless drama at times. However, I now get that that is largely the point. SJWs create senseless drama because it helps them gain power. Few people relish conflict and will often give in to false cries and tears just to make them stop. Day and his posse didn’t just oppose the SJWs, they made them cry harder and longer than they wanted to by being even more committed to the drama than the SJWs, not to mention tiring them out. (For other examples of this, see Gamergate and any of President Trump’s scuffles with the media).

This is how the war will be won. It’s not for those who want to be nice (nice used to = stupid, if you keep that in mind, you’ll never be “nice” again.) Being committed to the truth is not “nice” in any respect today. The light of truth brings people’s own shortcomings up before their eyes, and no one likes to be confronted with their shortcomings. Sometimes when reading Day’s blog, I think, “can’t you just rip the bandaid off slowly today?” Nope, nope, nope. He wants to win the war, not waste time for the rest of us to collect our feelings. Our side can’t start to control the arena and the rules of the game if we’re hiding from the truth ourselves.

[i.e.: For a long time I wasn’t totally grasping what Day meant by his assertion that group identity is simply how the world actually works. It wasn’t until he started talking about the Tower of Babel that I really got it. God made the races, tribes, and nations and He made sure they would never build another tower again by scattering them across the face of the earth. Globalism is against God in every way, shape, and form. People are happier and safer living with their own kind, it’s just we don’t want to admit it today, even–maybe especially–among Christians.

Is God really happy when we disregard the welfare of our own neighbors in order to get a virtue boost by bringing over foreigners who don’t have the skills to succeed in this country and clog vital resources for actual citizens? And we don’t even care adequately for those foreign refugees! I live in Minnesota among many of them–and many are not able to work here, due to language and skill barriers, and what they are allotted in welfare in some cases barely covers rent. It all really is just virtue signaling, not actual virtue, and it’s hurting both sides. I’m sure that the powers that be in MN are determined to bring even more people over, not caring an ounce that they are selling their precious, formerly free country down the river. We know, they know, and the refugees all know they have to go back, but no one is making the first move. (On a positive note, this year I’ve seen a tremendous amount of American flags flying in Minnesota, not only outside homes and places of business, but quite a few stuck on pickup trucks, strategically placed to make those criers cry all the more!)]

The stories about a company soon to be converged were spot on. A couple of years ago, I thought I’d have to quit my job, I was so incensed they made us take an computer test to show us how “racist” we were, all the time claiming it was a voluntary test and then sending out passive-aggressive emails claiming our department or department head would get in trouble if we didn’t have 100% participation. I felt like I was in China again, with their “we happily invite you to this five-hour long mandatory meeting! We invite you to sing a song…for the Communist party!” Oh, and the test was rigged of course, trying first to get us to click certain races with certain words, then suddenly switching which side we were to click on so it would confirm their suspicions about our “bias.” Thankfully, I’ve only gotten small whiffs of convergence since then, and we haven’t had the “test” again, but it’s a big company with a lot of women and likely will be converged at some point. Fortunately, other companies who still understand their business purpose are waiting in the wings.

 

I also found the whole section on the Alpha-Gamma spectrum of, well, mostly males, to be very informative, especially the Gamma stuff. It explains a lot about the reasons behind people’s behaviors and what makes them attractive or not to the opposite sex. It explains a lot of the male SJWs in a sea of female ones.

SJWsADD will give you more ammunition in the fight against the power grab that is “social justice/political correctness.” I can’t wait for what will surely be the third book, SJWs Always Project!

Six of Crows: Refreshing

I’ve been a bit delinquent on posting, but I’ve been working on Trolls for Dust 2, getting out of a bit of slump. This summer has been crazy busy with work and family things, so I’ve struggled finding the time to let my brain slow down enough to be creative and also to keep up energy at the same time. More sleep helps, but takes up time. In between, I’ve been able to spend ten or fifteen minutes here or there reading the competition. YA fantasy/sci-fi lit right now is…well, I’m seeing a lot of sameness, something to take note of as I continue my own series.

It’s inevitable, something like Twilight or the Hunger Games becomes popular, so similar stories are pushed through and encouraged by publishers, authors, everyone all around, and pretty soon we are in a glut and a rut and feeling genre-ed out! In browsing the shelves, I see a lot of space fantasy/romance plots (speaking of which, I read the first book in one series that was good, a sort of Titanic in space with a space ship crashing on a planet. Sadly the name of the book escapes me. It is a series, but I didn’t read the second installment as it didn’t follow the same couple), a lot of fairy tale-inspired series, still some dystopian themes, and still some paranormal. A lot of the current series involve swordplay, and I like that, but nothing really stands out to me at the moment. Enter, Six of Crows.

Of Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha series, I only read book one, but enjoyed it, especially the world having a whole Russian feel to it, but I didn’t read the rest of the trilogy. At first in spotting Six of Crows on the display, I didn’t realize it was set in the same world. Now, as I’m finally getting around to reading it, I’m delighted to find it is set in the same world, and in a setting now resembling Amsterdam mixed in again with Russian and Finnish-inspired countries. Reading the book is a treat because it is an once fantastically strange and also unsettlingly familiar.

I’m only on page 120 or so, and Six has me hooked. I think Bardugo’s writing has improved greatly–not that it was bad before–and her metaphors are used appropriately and sparingly (at least compared to other YA books). Her characters are well-realized and are basically a bunch of ruffians and down-and-outers. The character piece is definitely Kaz, a Ketterdam gang leader with a bum leg who gets propositioned to commit a heist and rounds up the perfect team to help him. I know these days, we like to drone on and on about character, and I think Bardugo writers her characters well, but what stands out to me with this book is: The Plot. Yes, the plot. However Bardugo came up with the idea to set a heist in a fantasy world, I don’t know, but at this time in YA fiction, it’s genius. By only the plot, Six stands on its own, refreshing in its unique plot.  Any romance, any angst or tortured souls, are at best a side to the heist plot and I love it. This book gives me hope for the future of YA fantasy. The plot is clever, as is the dialogue, the world-building is fantastic, and the writing keeps you reading and wanting more.

It’s been awhile since I’ve liked a YA book this much. The last couple I liked were the Monster Blood Tattoo series by D.M. Cornish, and time travel thriller All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill, both of which stood out greatly from the other books on the shelf at the time. I can’t wait to see what Leigh Bardugo comes up with next and am even hoping she continues to use the same world.

Scythe: A Worthy Successor to the Hunger Games

For those who study their history, the fact that all-controlling government “utopias” prove to be anything but is no surprise, yet the youth are often schooled to believe that such utopias should be desired if only the “right” people are in power. Actually, this isn’t so much something the young need to be taught, rather than is a youthful belief that arises from the desire to change things for the good. This desire for positive change is something that makes the young so hopeful…and so stupid. As we grow older, we realize true positive change only comes with time, if it comes at all. Rarely is it instantaneous. And as we age we often become cynical about human-run institutions. Often, these institutions do more harm than good. Given too much power, governments tend to turn murderous on a jaw-dropping scale.

One of the ways to deter the young against eagerly campaigning for more government power over their lives, is to have them read and watch stories in which the true nature of such a “utopia” is revealed in all of its gory detail. Dystopian series such as The Hunger Games conclude that any side that has too much power should be considered dangerous to the common man. The Hunger Games is far more effective in showcasing this phenomenon than say the movie V for Vendetta. V showcases an oppressive Right-wing government, but fails to concern itself with the main problem, which is authoritarianism in the form of totalitarianism, an all-powerful, centralized government of any side that must not be questioned. The Hunger Games shows the true story, which is that both Right and Left can be authoritarian, and hints at a political truth, the scale is not R vs. L, but is collective tyranny vs. personal freedom.

Scythe, by Neal Shusterman, is only book one in his new series, so I can’t yet judge the series as a whole in comparison to The Hunger Games, but so far I find Scythe to be a worthy successor. First, there is the necessary government dystopia, masking itself as a utopia as usual. Humans have conquered death by superior technology. Imagine that. They are also run by an internet “cloud” of human knowledge that that records and catalogues everyone and keeps everyone safe. Secondly, despite having their needs cared for (in the Hunger Games this depends on which district you live in), the general populace lives in fear of being murdered by their government. Scythes are the de facto government in place of a president, king, and/or parliament, and they have given themselves authority over death. The reason for this is blandly stated that people must die sometime, but behind that lies the boogeyman of our current time, overpopulation of humanity is the worst thing that can happen to the world. Thirdly, teens are conscripted into the order of the Scythes to become licensed killers, not unlike Katniss and Peeta being forced to kill other kids in the Capitol’s Hunger Games. Both societies are essentially bored with their existence, and these killings are entertainment, both a reflection of the fights in the Roman Colosseum, and a beacon warning us of the dangers of our present society’s boredom and malaise.

A quick, straightforward read, Scythe cuts to heart of the issue in the journal writings of the longterm Scythe members. They live by a number of commandments, feel called to do their work, and are more akin to a religious order than an actual governmental body. The main characters, Citra and Rowan are recruited to be apprentices in the order precisely because they find killing people abhorrent. They soon realize that this abhorrence is not shared by all Scythes and that just as in the governments of old, human corruption and greed reigns in the Scythedom. Just as Katniss and Peeta have to think outside the box to beat the system, so do Citra and Rowan.

As a whole, the Scythe world seems a simpler world than The Hunger Games one, but the board is just getting set up. Scythe is superior in some ways–it’s told in 3rd person instead of 1st, has no love triangle, and makes the slaughters less a game and more of a mission, yet fails in others–at times the story and world seem too simple and non-emotive, and a love story is only hinted when it should have been fully realized. Glaring, is the existence of the Scythedom in the first place. À la The Giver, we get the feeling–or maybe we are just hoping–that there is a big reveal coming, both about the origins of the Scythes and the “cloud” god/government. The biggest similarity to both stories is the truth that when it comes to power, any side, no matter how sanctioned, can prove to be the wrong one when human life is at stake.

Along with believing in utopias on earth, the young often see freedom or liberty as doing whatever you want whenever you want. Grownups know that true liberty and true freedom require core values and adherence and discipline to them.  None of the main characters in these stories are hedonists. They believe in protecting the weak and even that they themselves have a duty to do so. They are unwilling to use violence and only use it if they must. They revere human life, and even the corrupt human institutions, only bringing down either or both if it becomes absolutely necessary for them to do so. These stories do not glorify anarchy, but hold life and liberty dear.

Scythe is setting itself up to be one of the more thought-provoking young adult series of recent years. Like The Hunger Games, it stands apart from so many of the others, most of which are purely fluff and fantasy. There is a silence behind the story of Scythe. It is as if humanity in it holds their breath, waiting for all of the pennies to drop, or rather, for the guillotine blade to fall. They have conquered death to no purpose and still run from it, quaking in fear when the very human grim reaper is at their door. They have thrown off religion and God only to make technology their god. No matter how hard they try, they can’t shake the truth: One day or another, somehow or another, everyone dies.

The Useful Idiot: The Circle

Absolute freedom and absolute tyranny both can be defined and enforced starting with the individual.  If the individual is not free, neither is society as a whole. If individuals are tyrannical without resistance, society eventually becomes tyrannical. Both the left and right sides of the political spectrum often use the term “useful idiots” to refer to those individuals who are fanatical to a fault in believing in the cause of their respective sides. These individuals are useful in the sense that without them tyranny would not gain a foothold and fools in the sense that they willfully ignore the truth and fail to anticipate the larger picture for the future.

The Circle by Dave Eggers (now a movie starring Emma Watson) tells the story of one useful, unthinking idiot, generally a progressive, but only in the sense that she wants to be part of the “in” crowd. The readers gets the feeling this twenty-something, Mae, would joyfully promote whatever was deemed to be popular and eagerly becomes part of and instigator in what can best be described as a “happy” fascism (see Hitler happy face on Jonah Goldberg’s bestseller Liberal Fascism). Her story instantly brings to mind the timeless quote by C.S. Lewis:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.”

I read The Circle in about a day and a half. The book consumed me and I think not unlike the unhealthy way that media in general can consume an individual’s attention. It is a horror story in the purest sense, relating our own eagerness to create hell on earth and highlighting that whatever technology humans create, there is always, always a downside. That Egger’s writing reels the reader into being able not to do much but read the story, he is genius in recreating the addictiveness of entertainment and the desire to “know.”

The Circle fits into two story genres for me, the first and perhaps more benign one of young people (often women) obtaining a dream job in which the company consumes their life, draining and using them up all for the almighty dollar. This story belongs alongside The Firm and The Devil Wears Prada as much as it also belongs with 1984. The second category, those stories of totalitarianism is what makes The Circle rise far above the first genre.  In reading the story, those who are well-read or have seen totalitarian films or movies will find instant parallels to 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Minority Report, The Giver, Antitrust, and thousands of other, similar stories.

Mae’s useful idiocy in The Circle is truly amazing. The Circle is a modern tech company with tentacles in every conceivable human endeavor, clearly symbolic of Google, Facebook, Apple, and the like. The story is so horrifying because the consuming nature of social media and modern technology has become evident to all. People spend thousands of hours a year (including myself) scrolling through news feeds, trying out new apps, liking and disliking, and commenting on topics we know little about. We see daily how our privacy is constantly infringed upon, whether it be yet another requirement in airport security or cameras installed (with or without our knowledge) in our neighborhood. This is presumably all to keep us safe, but leaves us more vulnerable than every to tyranny.

Useful idiots are hard to resist because together they make up millions and millions of people.  Technology makes it easy to become disconnected to reality. Just think of all the people rapidly accepting the Transgender movement without question. It’s easy to take on a cause online. One doesn’t have to think or research or actually comprehend the larger picture. With social media, it is also increasingly easy to think that “online” equals reality. Think of when Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of girls in Africa. What was our response?  The #bringbackourgirls hashtag for Twitter. The Circle parodies this perfectly as Mae “frowns” at a militant group terrorizing another country and then becomes concerned that the militant group will, first of all care that she is virtually frowning at them, and second of all, take steps to stop their behavior. Laughably, she also worries that they will physically try to target and attack her due to her one “frown” among millions of others.

To perhaps highlight just how unthinking Mae is, Eggers shows her as a young woman eager to sleep with almost anyone, even those she’s really not attracted to. This relates directly to the social justice nonsense that people are some how “-ist” (racist, agist, sexist) if they have preferences along race, gender and so on for romantic partners. Just as Mae feels bad if she doesn’t instantly reply to any message from anyone around the world in The Circle system, it’s no jump to figure she would feel just as bad rejecting any of the same people’s sexual advances. One of her partners seems to only use her for sex and then suddenly, inexplicably, relies on her to save the planet from tyranny. Mae isn’t the only useful idiot, just the one we happen to follow in the story.

The part where The Circle implements “instant democracy” is profound. Mae herself still can’t just immediately mark or voice her opinion. She (who has a lot of influence and power by this time) waits until others have given their “smiles” or “frowns” before she herself chooses the most popular option. If there was one thing I could change about modern education it would be to have a class clearly discussing and explaining to young minds just what democracy is and means. Pure democracy isn’t much different from mob rule and the only reason the young champion it is because they are young and are being taught by totalitarians. If all of one’s opinions match perfectly with those already in power, it is easy to think that pure democracy is a great thing. It’s easy to think that the governments have every right to force their citizens to speak or even to think a certain way.

The true horror of The Circle is that it is an all-knowing, all-seeing, mandatory participation system created and run by humans. If atheists think God is awful or should be disbelieved for demanding holiness, they should consider the alternative: humanity trying to be God.  This is the “god” that Satan would have for the world. In this Tower of Babel system, people have no chance to opt out, no rest from interference from their fellow humans, and perhaps most importantly, no forgiveness and no real love.  It is an evil that Boromir of Lord of the Rings would say “does not sleep.”

As harsh, or rather as just as God is, for love of us, He made a way out of punishment and eternal damnation. In Hell, there is no God and no forgiveness. Hell’s inhabitants have no relief from the evil they have done and that is the basis of their torment. We joke that everyone online is permanent, but it’s really no joke, and past information on people (especially of a political nature) is often used as a weapon against them and by all sides.

The invasive tracking of the individual in The Circle also brings to mind biblical prophesies like that in Revelation in which people are forced to wear the “mark of the beast” to buy or sell anything. The ironic thing about constant surveillance and tracking is that it is at the same time very inept. If the NSA tracks our every keystroke, in looking for the criminals, their haystack is impossibly huge. In addition, even though the information is in the “cloud” or “ether,” it still needs a physical space to be stored and itself uses a ton of physical resources. Talk about a burden on nature.

The Circle was so horrifying to me because it’s not so much telling the future, but telling what’s going on right now. The good thing is that people are becoming tired of social media. The bad thing is, once the next big social media site has a foothold, the obsession will start all over again. It’s at once great and also terrifying technology. People are peer-pressured into only sharing positive things online. People are increasingly (myself included) mistaken in the importance of their own opinions and thoughts. People are pushed into holding up only the popular or politically correct views and are more and more afraid of listening to any other views. In fact, young people especially, are starting to believe that any view that doesn’t conform with their own, or that of their college professors, is dangerous, and–even more remarkably–as physically dangerous to their person. This is where the “snowflake” accusation comes into play. We are attempting to make the world into a place where no negative or bad thing is spoken, seen, heard, or felt.  However, as any realist knows, this is futile. It is impossible to erase all of the bad things in the world and it is impossible to make utopia. This experiment is bound to fail in the long run, and worse than failure, will likely end with totalitarian oppression that must be overturned with physical violence. If one side will not listen to the other, if we “don’t use our words” as Stefan Molyneux often says, “we must use our fists.” This is no more clearly shown in episodes like that of the Berkeley riots against anyone on the “right” side of the political spectrum, and the rise of Antifa, purportedly a group against fascism, but fascistic itself and prone to physical violence against anyone who merely disagrees with them. Brave new world indeed.

See Also Murder: book review

As much as I love YA sci-fi and fantasy, adventure, and Regency-era romances, my all-time favorite genre is mystery. Nothing tops a good mystery, and unfortunately they are very rare. My favorite mystery series right now is the Flavia De Luce series by Alan Bradley. I’m reading his latest, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d at a snail’s pace in the hopes I can make it last until the next one is published. I also peruse my local library shelves periodically in the hopes that I will connect with another series. I may have found it.

See Also Murder by Larry D. Sweazy (love the name!) is subtitled “A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery,” so I hope, hope, hope that means there will be more of them. The sleuth is an indexer caught my eye. Once upon a time I worked as a proofreader (oh, how my grammar and spelling have plummeted since then!) and we also had an indexing department in the building. I was always a little jealous because the indexers had their own offices with doors, and aside from having to proofread their spelling and check occasional page references, I didn’t learn much about their job. According to the author of this mystery (a longtime indexer), not just everyone can be one, at least a good one.  Indexing takes a certain kind of mind that can notice key phrases and points in a work and correctly categorize them for future readers. It also might help to be a lister, or one who writes lists. That’s not me. I keep short lists and often either forget I wrote them down in a dusty day planner or typed them into my notes app. Weeks or months later when I open said planner or app in an effort to prove to myself I actually use them, I’m amazed to find these lists and somewhat embarrassed I wrote them down at all.

(Ah, organizing for the sake of organizing. There’s this great line in the movie The Jacket with Adrien Brody: “I’ve been approached by the Federal Trade Organization. … They have asked me to head up the Organization for the Organized!”)

So, one needs a knack for indexing. And Marjorie Trumaine has that knack. She quickly and easily categories and organizes people, ideas, clues and so on. See Also Murder is set in the North Dakota plains in the 1960s and the story is fully infused with the atmosphere and culture of that era. Readers who’ve grown up in middle states, or “flyover country” as it’s often called, will connect with the story in a way the “coasters” probably won’t.

As a mystery, See Also Murder isn’t so much a whodunit (avid mystery buffs will be able to spot the culprit fairly quickly) as it is a character study. Marjorie Trumaine lives a lonely isolated life and it becomes obvious that any threat to her or her husband could quickly become terrifying, especially if they find they can’t trust the few people they know.

I also want to give a shoutout to Scandinavian history and mythology. It’s not something I know a lot about and what I do know mostly comes from the Marvel Thor movies. Sweazy inspired me enough that my latest book purchase was Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. I come from half Norwegian, half German stock and once in a while I find it worthwhile to dig into my roots.

See Also Murder is a great, atmospheric read that will stick with readers long after the story has been closed and put away. Isolation is rampant even, and maybe especially, in our modern technology-filled times. Easily seen as both vice and virtue, isolation is a perfect setting for a ghastly murder.  Isolation is the “single effect” (as E.A. Poe would say) that defines the book.

P. Beldona

The Lifeboat: Can You Trust Yourself?

Few stories are more fascinating than those written through the viewpoint of an unreliable narrator.  This is one of the reasons why the book Atonement proved to be so good–that, and the setting.  The Lifeboat by first time author Charlotte Rogan has both elements, as well, the setting being the initial draw for those who like a good sea yarn and are interested in the ocean liner era in which the Titanic sank.  It is also a book that will keep you up all night.

First things first:  The cover art is amazing, showing a lone, half-full lifeboat as a bright spot in the midst of a gloomy blue sea and sky.  The picture is at once beautiful and haunting, immediately capturing the tale in the mind of the reader as one that will be highly affecting, both mentally and emotionally.

thelifeboat

That the main character and narrator of the story, Grace Winter, is unreliable, becomes evident from the first page of the prologue in which Grace, out to lunch with her lawyers, shocks them by standing in a downpour.  She states that they must think her crazy and from how she puts things, Grace herself seems to share their opinion.

Her tale begins similarly to that of the movie Titanic.  Grace is a young, formerly penniless woman who has won the heart of a rich man and they are sailing on the Empress Alexander to New York, where the two are to announce their marriage to his friends and family.  The difference in this story is that Grace loves the rich young man.  The ocean liner sinks, there aren’t enough lifeboats, and those that are filled are not all filled to capacity.  Men, women, and children, drown in the icy waters while the survivors look on helpless to save them, lest they too sink and be drowned.

The biggest part of the novel takes place on the lifeboat where Grace has been saved along with thirty-odd women and a few men.  Grace captivates the reading by tales of treachery, of heroics, self-sacrifice, and spiteful gossip.  Over and over again, she states that what they were all going through makes it nearly impossible to know if some events occurred or not.  Memory is faulty in the best of circumstances.  Add in physical, mental, and spiritual trauma that lasts for weeks and you have a recipe for a break from reality.

Why is Grace Winter now in the company of lawyers?  She and two other women who survived on the lifeboat are on trial for murder.  It is in the final court scenes that we as readers realize how truly unreliable Grace is.  A faulty memory and trauma, we can forgive her for, and we can even forgive her for being manipulated by stronger personalities aboard the boat.  But then, the mask slips a bit, and we see a glimpse or two of the real Grace, the manipulative Grace, and then, just like in Atonement, the entire story is called into question.

Add to that the inexplicable inclusion of some kind of jewel heist to the plot and the book becomes unputdownable.  The hints throughout the story of what is actually going on, are so subtle, that I wasn’t able to peace it altogether.  A smarter reader probably would be able to distinguish by the end just who is manipulating whom (ha, I think I used it correctly there!).

The Lifeboat is a fascinating read precisely because the narrator is unreliable.  The big question we are left with at the end is: just how unreliable is Grace Winter?  The themes of uncertainty of memory, questions others’ intentions, and the tendency of gossip to elaborate upon itself make this a story in which we as readers question ourselves.  Most of us have probably never been stranded aboard a lifeboat at sea, wasting away after days of hunger, dehydration, and lack of sleep, but who of us has not ever questioned our own memory of an incident?  Who of us has not ever had someone else question our memory of an incident?  Police reports abound with witnesses who saw multiple different things at the same time.  Are they lying?  Is their memory faulty?  Or did they all just see different things?

Can you trust yourself?  That’s the question the book presents as we inwardly debate Grace Winter’s reliability.  Are we more or less reliable than her?  If so, why?  We think we know how we might act in such a situation as hers, but we really don’t know until we’re put in that situation.  We wonder if our own character has flaws that will be embarrassingly revealed under pressure.  We desire to be tried and tested, but are afraid we, too, will be found wanting.

The Lifeboat is a book to read in one sitting, if you have the time.  One sitting is the closest way to experience what the characters are experiencing, a situation that they cannot leave or put down to come back to.  One sitting allows the paranoia in the story to grow on a reader so that by the end you are questioning everything, yet have this nagging feeling that that’s just what the author wants, and that you’ve fallen into the trap.  You have been manipulated, but not by Grace.  I look forward to reading further work by Ms. Rogan.  She has talent, and perhaps most importantly, genuine storytelling ability.