Sunday, June 20, 2010

Book 22: The Truth About Celia by Kevin Brockmeier

I am a huge fan of Brockmeier. I read his novel "A Brief History of the Dead" a few years ago, and have been hooked ever since. He's a gifted writer who draws you in with his vivid descriptions and makes you truly care about his characters. His books are the type that you find difficult to put down - you want to stay in his worlds and find out what happens next.

"The Truth About Celia" is one of the most beautiful and sorrowful novels I've ever read. It's also a book within a book - it's a collection of short stories written by a fictional author named Christopher Brooks. Christopher is a successful science fiction author who lives with his wife Janet and 7-year-old daughter Celia. One day, while he is giving a tour of their historical home, Celia, who was playing in their backyard, simply vanishes. Poof. Gone without a sound or trace.

The novel is Christopher's first work since Celia's disappearance. In the 7 years after, he has written several short stories that all revolve around that tragedy. One story recounts the events of that fateful day over and over, as if by doing so Christopher could find a new piece to the puzzle that explains what happened. Another story starts with one character and moves through the town, bouncing from person to person, showing how they have all been affected by Celia's disappearance, and ending in a ceremony being held by the townspeople to honor her memory. There are several pieces of fiction that try to give Celia a happy ending - in one, she has fallen into a different world; in another, she's grown up and is raising a son who wants to become a magician.

The novel is Christopher's way of coping with their loss. It's a horrible tragedy - I can't think of anything worse than simply losing someone. Even when you lose a loved one to death, there is a sense of finality - they've passed on and are at rest. With Celia, Christopher and Janet have no idea if she's dead or alive, if she's being tortured somewhere, if she's scared and missing her family. Christopher in particular has been unable to move on since that day, and has spent his time writing not only about that day but trying to give Celia's story an ending, in order to give himself one as well.

Like I said, the book is absolutely heartbreaking. But it is also one of the most beautifully written novels I've ever had the pleasure of reading, and so I wholly recommend it.

Book 21: Stardust by Neil Gaiman

"Stardust" is the first Gaiman book that I've read, and I enjoyed it. It's a short book, a trifle of a story about a boy searching for his destiny and finding love along the way.

Tristan Thorn is in love, and willing to do anything for the girl. When a star is spotted falling to Earth, he is tasked with the quest of finding the fallen star and bringing it back to his beloved in exchange for her love. With the help of his father, Tristan sets out into the land of Faerie in search of the star. What he does not know is, the star has plans of her own.

It's your typical fairytale journey, with various creatures that Tristan meets along the way, and it's infused with wit and humor. I've yet to see the movie version, but if it stays faithful to the story, then I'm sure I won't be disappointed.

Book 20: We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Imagine for a moment that your child has committed a terrible crime. Who is to blame - him, or you, as his parent? What led him to that moment - the way he was raised, or something innate that has been growing inside him over the years? Basically, is it nature or nurture that has led him to be a stone-cold murderer?

That's the question that Eva Khatchadourian has been struggling with for years, since the day her son Kevin walked into his high school gymnasium and killed 9 people, 7 kids and 2 adults. In a serious of letters to her husband, Franklin, Eva recounts not only the massacre but everything that led up to that point, beginning with when she met her husband through conceiving and raising Kevin and her younger daughter Celia.

Eva holds nothing back in her quest to understand what drove Kevin to kill. She discusses feeling ambiguous about being pregnant and even recounts a time when she let her anger take control and left toddler Kevin with a broken arm. Her unflinching introspection is at times difficult to read, but Shriver keeps the story moving. And there is a twist that I figured out after the first few chapters but is nonetheless heartbreaking.

The story doesn't have a tidy resolution - there is no black & white answer for why Kevin did what he did. If you're looking for an answer to the nature vs. nurture debate, you won't find it here. But you will find a realistic, engaging story that's bound to leave you with new questions of your own.