Homesick (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Carrot Ranch June 28 flash fiction prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write about home.

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Taken/Pixabay

Home.

Jane looks around at her basement hidey-hole, as clean as she can get it. Her only furniture is an old coffee table rescued from the back yard.

Her house! She feels the longing in her marrow. The overflowing pantry, Grandma’s worn wing chairs, glass-fronted cupboards showing off tea sets. The housewarming roses by the front door.

All gone. Job, savings, house — all lost. All it takes is one bad thing, and then it all goes, like dominoes.

She burrows deeper in her sleeping bag. Home is where the heart is, they say, but that’s a long way gone.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (Book Review)

The Red TentThe Red Tent by Anita Diamant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved this book. A caution may be well-given: If you do not like any kind of alternate reality applied to Biblical figures, particularly those of the patriarchal and heroic persuasion, you might want to give this one a pass. I see that some reviewers did not care for this version of Dinah and the destruction of Shechem mainly because it does not follow the Biblical version, but also because it casts the heroic Jacob and his sons in a decidedly dishonorable and ignoble light.

It may be important to know that I do not consider the Christian Bible to be the literal word of God or word-for-word fact. I do believe in freedom of religion, absolutely, and see the beauty and the similarities across many different faiths. I consider holy books to be myths, interpretations written by human beings, who all have unique experiences with the divine and, consequently, different interpretations of spiritual matters.

When we also remember that “the winners write the history books,” history, whether Biblical or not, becomes a rich vein to mine for fictional purposes. I am really only particular about accurate context. If a writer puts a shower into a 1920’s tenement apartment, I’ll stop reading the book as being poorly researched. But by all means, play fast and loose with who-said-what and other perceptual matters all you like. That’s why it’s called fiction.

And what historical fiction this is! I regret that it took me this long to finally read it. It is full-bodied and lush and one of the most engrossing historical novels I have ever read, placed in a time not often visited. Dinah and her mothers, Rachel and Leah, Zilpah and Bilhah, are fleshed-out real women, with Rachel and Leah displaying the power they held as wives of status. The gods and goddesses were very much present. I could see the shadow of Anubis, waiting in the corner of a birthing room washed in despair. I heard the malformed god Bes, laughing with delight as he watched over the children playing. I loved the superstitions and magic that were part of daily life, such as dropping a piece of rue and some bread to ensure a quick return home. I loved the community of women, the mothers and daughters and sisters and aunts and grandmothers who retreated to the feminine sanctity of the red tent during the dark of every moon, sharing love and lore and history. I felt immersed in the culture, as if I really had traveled back to Canaan two thousand years ago.

“[M]y mother and aunties spun a sticky web of loyalties and grudges. They traded secrets like bracelets. They told me things I was too young to hear. They held my face between their hands and made me swear to remember. “

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (Book Review)

Love in a Cold ClimateLove in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“When the loo paper gets thicker and the writing paper thinner it’s always a bad sign, at home.”

Absolutely delightful. The title would have one believe this is a romance, and I suppose it is, but it’s more like the Dowager Countess Violet meets Jane Austen, with rather a lot of naughtiness thrown in. Full of those fabulous bon mots only the English seem to be able to do really well.

“You are so fortunate not to be a beauty, Fanny, you’ll never know the agony of losing your looks.”

“Thank you,” I said.

Now that I’ve already read it, I see I should probably have read The Pursuit of Love first, that it would help me make better sense of the cast of characters. That’s all right, I’ll read it now, and if I’m then obliged to read Love in a Cold Climate over again, I’m perfectly fine with that, too.

The U-Haul Cometh

This post is perhaps more random than my usual book reviews and rants. We should have done this last year, but we are finally moving.

The Tominator picked me up after work yesterday so we could go meet our new landlord, do a walk-through, pick up the keys, and (most importantly, to them anyway) pay the oodles of money it will cost to move in to this place. We saw this as we pulled away from my office:

Stop Hammertime

I don’t usually notice this stuff because I commute via public transportation, walking to and from the metro stops. No idea how long this sign has been there. It’s an old joke but it’s still funny.

The walk-through went…okay. Carpets not cleaned, deck not repaired, the floor around the shower still not fixed. I’m not sure I have a great deal of faith in these guys to get this stuff fixed, either, and I kept hearing, “Oh, that’s been like that for two years, we won’t ding you for that,” and finally managed to put myself into a mindset of imperfection. Is this good enough, right now, as it is? Yes, this is. No, that’s not, so on to the punchlist it goes. There is something refreshing about not having to worry about one little ding in the paint when I move out, with a paint job that’s hardly perfect when I move in. And I’ll bitch about what’s not acceptable until it is fixed, if that’s what I have to do.

I will be so glad to see the last of this rabbit warren we’re living in now. It was a haven when we needed one, a much more pleasant place than the Armpit Arms we landed in when we first arrived in Seattle. But as the rent has gone up so as to be unaffordable, the quality has gone down to be un-put-up-with-able. I will not miss Mr. and Mrs. Warthog downstairs, he of the loud and badly tuned guitar and the loud and offkey singing voice, she of the caterwauling harmony (ahem!), they of the loud, drunken screaming matches. I will not miss the neighbors who use our stairs as their ashtray and bicycle parking. Seriously, who parks their bike in the middle of someone else’s stairs? I will not miss the lack of sufficient parking, the insufficient and therefore constantly overflowing trash bins, and I’m certainly not going to miss all the goddamned car alarms. I believe car alarms to be Tools of Satan, I really do. And I certainly won’t miss getting bitched out for putting decorative items on my windowsills. For what they’re trying to charge us every month, I’ll put plants in my windows if I damned well please.

The place we’re moving to is a duplex, the upper half of a house built in 1910 in a neighborhood of similar houses. Quite nice, but old. It will take some adapting, living in a house with a single power outlet in every room. No garbage disposal! But I like the eaved windows, the honeysuckle right outside the kitchen window, the small yard to ourselves, the huge, slope-ceilinged closet I would have wanted as my own little Harry-Potter-ish bedroom when I was much younger. And “oh, don’t worry about that bb-hole in the window” seems to indicate a more relaxed tone that will be far more pleasant than the almost military rigidness of where we are right now. That doesn’t mean I won’t photographically document the move-in condition.

I was so tired when we left. We’d started almost two hours late and I’d had one of my insomniac nights and there had been no place to sit and I’d just read an entire lease through, because I do that. Pounding headache, and anxiety was zinging through my veins like electric current. But as we merged back onto I-5, we got a message from Iris. It felt like a happy sign and I relaxed immediately:

Rainbow from Tacoma

It was nice to be threading my way through the labyrinth of boxes to bed, wonderful bed. And I slept! Now I just have to get all this packing done. Moving day is Saturday, and classes start back up Monday. Hammertime!

 

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory (Book Review)

The White Queen (The Cousins' War, #1)The White Queen by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This started out disturbingly like a trashy romance. (I saw another reviewer refer to this genre as Historical Harlequin, which is awesome.) It straightened out, thankfully, or I wouldn’t have kept reading. I loathe bodice-ripper and sappy-kissy stuff.

I also require a goodly amount of real history with my historical fiction, and Gregory has always come through on that score. This was an entertaining read although not on a level with The Other Boleyn Girl or her story of Kateryn Parr. Many passages seemed padded with a lot of repetition for dramatic effect, and I didn’t feel the urgency in this book as I have in others. Still, I enjoyed her characterization of Elizabeth Woodville, the ancestress of all British royalty for the last 600 years beginning with Elizabeth of York. There’s no Mary Sue here! I liked the addition of magic but I have to wonder that any woman would freely bandy the word “witch” about with reference to herself. Wasn’t that pretty much a death sentence? Her treatment of the mystery of the Princes in the Tower was different than the usual.

Not Gregory’s best, but it still did a good job of keeping me turning the pages.

Insomnia, Installment 16 (Six Sentence Stories)

She looks up from the phone screen, biting her lip, then thumbs the icon to read the message. “How long until you get home, honey?” with a heart sits next to a time display of 27:22. By her reckoning, the nightmare she’s just walked through has taken no more than about forty-five minutes, and even though she does use the twenty-four hour clock, what kind of time is 27:22, anyway? 

She might as well go somewhere, so she begins walking toward the diamond-studded water, noticing that without the bustling city blocks she’s used to, it seems a longer distance away. Nothing has been right since she arrived in this thrice-cursed city, if that’s even where she still is — miserable job, an armpit of an apartment, raging panic and insomnia. Her eyes feel like they’re about to pull completely back inside her head, she’s so exhausted, and she wonders how long it’s been since she’s slept.

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Mykl Roventine 2009, CC

This is a Six Sentence Stories installment. The cue was “long.” Notice how I got it in there three times?

Click here for Installment 15.

Click here for fun Six Sentence Stories from other writers.

Anti-Isms at Their Finest: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes (Book Review)

Me Before You (Me Before You, #1)Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

“So don’t read rubbish” is the line to take away from this book. Page 156. That’s all you need. Ignore all the other Facebook-meme-worthy pablum.

Following a bad landing after a skydiving cutaway more than thirty years ago, a good friend of mine spent some time in a wheelchair. We went to see a movie downtown (Christopher Reeve’s “Superman,” ironically and a wee bit synchronistically*) and that was quite the adventure, in the days before curb ramps and accessible entrances and smaller, more lightweight chairs that might have folded and fit relatively easily into a typical car. Even worse were the people who either talked to my friend like he was six or just looked over his head entirely. This book was a good chance to introduce massive amounts of readers to life from a wheelchair.

Hopefully that message gets through, anyway.

I had my doubts after the ridiculous racetrack scene, but kept going. I was almost halfway through, after all, and the thing had started with a Bridget-Jones-ish-ness to it that was appealing. But it went inexorably downhill, like a runaway wheelchair on a sloping driveway (or is it too soon?). Why is everybody so insulting to Lou all the time? Why is she such a beanbrain? Are those two questions a chicken-or-egg thing? Why should having a baby make a woman completely unattractive? How do you get to be a 26-year-old millennial and be utterly clueless about computers? Why does this wealthy and socially forward family have no access to anyone who can hook them up with tech like Stephen Hawking has?  And, what may be nagging at me the most, what government job and retraining center refers candidates for pole dancing? Maybe that was supposed to be a joke, but it didn’t seem to be written that way.

Because everything’s a plot device, that’s why, including quadriplegia and rape. The characters are offensively stereotyped even if it makes them glaringly contradictory, just to cobble a plotline together. Example: Our adorably klutzy heroine, after enduring a gang sexual assault, refuses to wear anything “that could be construed as suggestive” (to show how wounded and not-asking-for-it she is), but is later wearing a red satin dress that is “all cleavage” (to make Our Hero see how desirable and vulnerable she is) and voluntarily mouth-kisses a whole bunch of drunken soldiers she doesn’t even know in exchange for some muscle (to show what a plucky, resourceful, good sport she is). See the problem I have with this? Tropes, tropes, tropes, most notably the tired old falling-madly-in-love-after-the-hate-meet.

Bridget Jones is fleeting and false, but Galatea is right there. She doesn’t change her life because she wants to; she changes her life because a man tells her she should. Sexual assault is caused by revealing clothes. Girls are stupider than boys. If you want to be worthy and fulfilled you have to go to the symphony and read Literature with a capital L. Having babies makes you undesirable. You’re supposed to want marriage and kids for a fulfilling life. It’s OK to put up with being constantly put down and insulted if it’s men doing it. Ad nauseum. And that’s not getting into the classist and ableist stereotyping.

I notice that people who hate this book tend to hate it because of the ending, although that’s what I have the least problem with. I was expecting one predicable bit of emotionally manipulative sap, so I’ll give a couple of points back to Moyes for surprising me. Dying with dignity, even when you have people who love you and don’t want you to go before you have to — I get that. Different people decide to end their lives for different reasons; each of us will find different conditions acceptable or intolerable, according to our own viewpoints and experience. I just find it hypocritical and juvenile that the takeaway is the “it’s actually your duty to live it as fully as possible” blahblahblah, coming from a character who will not accept that “as possible” automatically includes the limitations each life has. So I guess “don’t settle” is the better motto — if you can’t have everything you want, then it’s OK to not be grateful for everything you do have and just chuck all of it. All of which is, admittedly, food for thought.

But by the time we go through all these considerations, the biggest problem I have is still the sophomoric improbability of the whole thing — that an educated, cultured, and wealthy quadriplegic with serious health issues can’t live in London for some vague reason, but can live alone in a small town and be left in the sole care of an untrained and uneducated doofus, who turns out to be the only person on the planet who turn him onto voice-command software and special seating for the wheelchair-bound. The whole underlying premise is silly.

The good news is, I may have finally learned that books with red/pink covers and/or titles in swirly-girly typeface are not to be read, under any circumstances, no matter how many good reviews there are. I want to say that people who like this book have the reading taste of troglodytes** but I suppose that’s not really fair. I read some trash too, but I read the good trash.

*And now I get a cookie, for making up a pretty cool word only to learn it actually is a real word. I love it when that happens.

**I get another cookie for using “troglodyte,” which is one of my most favoritest words ever.