Friday, August 19, 2016

Historical Fiction: The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay

I sought out Martin Seay's The Mirror Thief because of its interesting premise and its inclusion of three interwoven story lines that take place during three different points in history. When done well, this method of storytelling can make for an amazing and unforgettable novel, and I looked forward to putting pieces together and seeing where it all ended up.

The Situation: Curtis has arrived in Las Vegas to look for an old friend, Stanley. As a highly skilled former military man, Curtis was given this assignment because if anyone could do it, it was him. It seems Stanley has gotten himself into some trouble and needs to be found. And to make matters even more urgent, it seems Stanley may be seriously ill and may not have much time left. Then the timeline of the novel shifts to when Stanley was a young boy in California, making his own way by scamming unsuspecting tourists, while avoiding gang members he had angered, and also searching for the author of his favorite book, The Mirror Thief. The third part of the story follows Crivano, the mirror thief himself, in 16th century Venice as he attempts to fool local authorities at the risk of his own life.

The Problem: It becomes clear pretty quickly that the man who sent Curtis didn't tell him everything, and is holding back more and more information the longer the assignment goes on. There are more people involved than Curtis initially realized; the reasons he was given for hunting Stanley down were not entirely accurate; and the more people he runs into and interviews, the more he begins to think that he knows the least out of everyone. And if that weren't enough, his involvement in the situation now means he could be in trouble too. Back in the 1950s, Stanley managed to track down the author of The Mirror Thief, but the old adage about the dangers of meeting your hero turn out to be true, as Adrian Welles is not quite the man Stanley had hoped he would be. And, much to his growing frustration, the older man isn't able to give him the answers he wants regarding the book's hero, Crivano. Much like with Curtis and Stanley, Crivano is having his own issues pulling off his plan, and the chances of him coming out of it all alive seem to grow slimmer by the day. He may have very little to lose, but he would rather not lose his life. It may seem silly to people in our time that a government would expressly forbid mirror makers from leaving a country, but the Venetian fascination with the object as lead to exactly that, and Crivano is determined to help a couple of mirror makers escape Italy.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set in three different locations and times. The first one encountered takes place in Las Vegas in 2003, as Curtis is attempting to locate Stanley after an incident involving several casinos in Atlantic City. The second setting is Venice Beach in 1958, as Stanley and his sidekick Claudio make an existence out of grifting and scamming. And then in the 16th century Venice, Italy, Crivano is attempting to assist mirror-makers in leaving the country, an act that has been expressly forbidden. All three stories are linked together by The Mirror Thief, a book that Stanley loved, and whose main character is Crivano. In other words, it is incredibly meta, and often somewhat confusing. And the third person limited narrating doesn't much help in clearing things up. What is clear, however, is that in all three stories the main characters are missing key pieces of information. They often believe, or at least want to believe, they have all of the answers that will allow their plans to work, but it becomes clear fairly quickly that someone else almost always holds the cards, and no one is safe.

My Verdict: First of all, this book is nearly 600 pages long. And while there may be three different stories being told within it, it still felt like way too long. Near the end it started to feel as if the author didn't feel like he had enough material for three different books, so instead he simply fused them all together. I don't know if that is actually true or not, but that is how it felt. And even with those three stories to work with, while they all had their interesting and exciting points, I was mostly bored with what was happening and immediately eager to move onto the next story as soon as a new one picked up. Usually the links that bring different side stories together are exciting and fun to discover, but the link between these three felt tacked-on at times and not enough to hold everything in place. It's a long story with very little payout, and I think there is better historical fiction out there to enjoy.

Favorite Moment: When Claudio finally stands up to Stanley after he's been the victim of a vicious attack because of his friend's actions.

Favorite Character: Perina is a woman about to take up orders to be a nun when Crivano meets her. While she isn't crucial to his mission, or even part of it, she proves herself to be both useful and faithful.

Recommended Reading: I would recommend The Coffee Trader or A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Contemporary Fiction: Former.ly by Dane Cobain

I am always flattered when I am asked to review a book, whether the asking comes from the actual author, their agent, or their publicist. Normally I research books on Goodreads or Amazon and purchase them myself, or check them out at the library. Even if I decide not to cover a book, it is nice to be approached by someone who recognizes that this blog could be helpful to them and a good way for readers to find out more about their book. That is how I came about Former.ly: The Rise and Fall of a Social Network by Dane Cobain

The Situation: Dan has just accepted a job at a new social media start-up called Former.ly. The concept is simple: users sign-up, update their profile and add notes, videos, etc, much like with Facebook. But no one can see anyone's profile except the user themselves. The only time anyone's profile goes public is when they die. Former.ly is for the living, in that they are able to see the profiles of their loved ones after they've died. But it is also for the dead, as they get to cater their profile and put up anything they want people to see after they're gone. Dan has already been warned about the crazy long hours and extremely high level of commitment that will be required of him. He's sure him and his longtime girlfriend will be able to take the strain, plus he really needs a job. Fortunately, because of his coding skills, Former.ly really needs him too.

The Problem: The long hours are going to be only one of many issues Dan will have to deal with at the start-up. While his other co-workers seem nice enough and are all good at their respective jobs, his bosses and founders, John and Peter, are demanding, constantly on edge, often rude, and always secretive to the point of suspicion. Not to mention paranoid. From the beginning, working at Former.ly proves to be a trial and it affects every aspect of Dan's life, especially his relationship with his girlfriend, which he wrongly assumed would be fine. But even without difficult bosses and a neglected girlfriend, there is also the site to worry about, which is always under constant threat from outside, both online and physically at the office. Even with heightened security and heavily guarded servers, the site is vulnerable and needs constant protecting. But it also needs to grow if the small group is going to be successful and eventually make any real money. Deals are made and things are happening that John and Peter are very tight lipped about, and Dan can ignore that for the most part, right up until people start coming up dead.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set in present day England for the most part, but later shifts to Palo Alto in California. The entire story is told from Dan's limited point of view, so his knowledge regarding Former.ly doesn't amount to much at first, but eventually he uncovers more and more about the site, the founders, and what is really going on behind the scenes. Former.ly chronicles the birth of a social networking site almost from the beginning, and follows it up until the ultimate goal of the public offering on the stock market. Cobain illustrates the high tempers, long and stressful hours, strained relationships, and intense meetings that come with starting an Internet company, while also showing just how far some are willing to go to "change the world," which really only seems to be code for "get incredibly rich." 

My Verdict: Former.ly is a relatively short novel, coming in at under 200 pages, but there is a lot that happens, and it all happens fairly quickly. If I had one major bone to pick with the story it is that everything comes at the reader a little too fast. For me, it was like reading a long flash fiction story, which is actually great in that I was never bored or anxious to move on to the next thing. But ultimately I think that left some gaps that would have been worth taking a page or two to fill, while there were also some relationships between characters that I didn't quite believe because I couldn't see them developing so quickly. Now granted, I am coming off of reading The Shining, which is filled with the slow, masterful, suspense-building energy that only someone of Stephen King's ability could achieve, so maybe I'm not being entirely fair there. Even so, it is a fascinating story about a website with an equally fascinating idea behind it of leaving public profiles of the dead for their still living loved ones to see. Cobain certainly does not lack originality in his writing, and any reader looking for a good, quick, suspense-filled read will probably appreciate Former.ly.

Favorite Moment: I do appreciate that Dan was committed to keeping a written journal, a practise I truly believe is worthwhile for anyone, no matter what field they're in.

Favorite Character: It's hard to choose a favorite character since everyone involved with Former.ly makes a terrible choice at one point or another. Still, I suppose I will choose Felicity, who goes by Flick. She's smart, knows her stuff, and doesn't let herself get pushed around by the guys...too much.

Recommended Reading: For another quick read full of suspense, try the graphic novel Patience by Daniel Clowes, author of Ghost World.    

Friday, August 5, 2016

Horror Fiction: The Shining by Stephen King

Like anyone who appreciates a good scary story, I have become familiar with more than a few movies that are based off of novels by Stephen King. But for whatever reason, I have read embarrassingly few of his actual books. But thanks to a Christmas gift from a friend, I have finally tackled The Shining, the movie of which is often considered to be one of the scariest ever made, although I personally believe The Exorcist should hold the top spot. Either way, the movie is absolutely terrifying, and even if it is well-known that is differs greatly from the book, I still expected the same level of horror to come from the pages.

The Situation: Jack Torrance, a recovering alcoholic, has been given a second chance at rebuilding his life, and possibly a new career, as the caretaker for the Overlook Hotel. High up in the mountains of Colorado, the Overlook is closed for the harsh winter months due to the epic snowstorms that hit the area every year. After losing his teaching job due to unfortunate incident with a student, Jack receives the caretaker job and relocates at the Overlook with his wife, Wendy, and his five year-old son, Danny. The trio have had their share of trials over the years, mostly due to Jack's drinking, but he honestly sees this as an opportunity to turn things around, and also use the Overlook's seclusion as a chance to work on his writing. Wendy swings between general anxiety over the change and all out fear, while only Danny seems to know for sure that something awful is waiting for them at the hotel.

The Problem: After the Overlook is officially closed for the season and the Torrances are its only inhabitants, things immediately begin to happen that can't just be explained away as hallucinations, or as symptoms of Danny's always strange behavior. The young boy has always been prone to strange visions and fainting spells, but neither Jack nor Wendy can explain away how accurately he can read their thoughts, or know what has happened on the complete opposite side of the hotel. Soon the entire family hears things such as voices in the ballroom, and the empty elevator moving up and down. And the only thing more disconcerting than Danny's assertion that something bad will indeed happen, or their increasing isolation as the snow continues to pile up outside, is that Jack seems to be exhibiting symptoms he only has when he's been drinking, and their isn't a drop of alcohol in the entire place. Every attempt to escape or find a way out is thwarted in one way or another, and it appears the Overlook hotel is intent on the family staying until it does whatever it wants to do. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a horror story, one that isn't based on a real story or an actual place, like many horror movies and stories we hear today. Before page one, King writes that the Overlook and the people within it are all from his own imagination...although doesn't that make it even creepier to think about? In any case, almost all of the action takes place at the fictional resort hotel in Colorado. The Overlook has an incredible history full of murder, suicide, gang violence, jilted lovers, and dirty politicians. Despite its beauty and appeal, its long history is also full of stories of the many times it failed as a hotel, and its long string of closures. It has changed hands many times, and this only adds to the collection of ghosts and voices inside. Danny's ability to shine, a term used by the cook Dick Hallorann, who can also shine, makes him feel, see, and hear these voices more keenly the most, but they eventually make themselves known to everyone. Most adults would be crippled by such a thing, but the five year-old boy is able to withstand an incredible amount of abuse, which is fortunate as his parents are virtually no help at all. Jack may not shine, not like his son anyway, but he is affected by the hotel in a different, more sinister way, while Wendy finds all of her strength in her desire to protect her son. 

My Verdict: I don't have to say it but I will anyway: the book is better. For the most part, the general theme and story that Stanley Kubrick's movie tells is the same. But there are some key changes that were made and it's hard to understand why. So for those of you that haven't read the book and/or the movie, I will go ahead and issue a giant *SPOILER ALERT*, and say that you may want to just skip the rest of this section. First off, there are some brilliant bits with the hedge animals out front, as first it appears they are moving, maybe; and then they are moving, definitely; and then they are all out attacking and causing harm. Why Kubrick found the need to change that to an intricate hedge maze I'll never know, and I guess it doesn't matter. The man could do what he wants. If King could make a lion made out of hedges come across as terrifying from the page, surely Kubrick could do the same on film. But I also find it odd that he would have Hallorann be killed, when he lives in the book. And why leave the Overlook standing, along with the hedge maze, when both the hotel and hedge animals burn in a blaze of glory after a faulty boiler explodes in King's version? Finally, in the movie it's all about Jack going crazy and wielding an axe. In King's version, it is clear that the hotel has taken over and has its own agenda. If Kubrick kept that, it would have made for a different movie, sure, but still a terrifying and good one. And while it isn't explained exactly what the hotel is, the book's explanation of how things are happening the way they are actually makes sense and isn't terribly confusing or hard to follow. One thing many horror stories fail at is plausible explanations, next to decent endings. And The Shining certainly has both.

Favorite Moment: I just like the fact that ultimately the hotel was bested by a five year-old.

Favorite Character: It's near impossible to not love Danny's innocence, even though things would have been much easier for him and his mother if he were older and stronger. Those are the only two things that hold him back in any way. He's certainly smart enough, and has better discernment than most adults, which is maybe owing to the 'shine.' But it becomes clear pretty early on that if any one person from the Torrance family should make it out alive, if should be him.  

Recommended Reading: As I said, the number of Stephen King novels I have read is incredibly small, but a good horror story doesn't really get any better than The Shining. But I did really like The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero, as well as Night Film by Marisha Pessl.          

Friday, July 29, 2016

Door Stop: East of Eden by John Steinbeck

For whatever reason, I have decided to cover John Steinbeck's East of Eden, and eventually I will also revisit The Grapes of Wrath as well. Most of us who grew up in the U.S. were forced to read a Steinbeck novel at some point in high school. Usually it was Of Mice and Men, but for me it was The Grapes of Wrath, and unlike the majority of my classmates, I actually enjoyed it. Despite its considerable length, I was rarely bored with it and found the story to be interesting and emotional, so I hoped the same for East of Eden.

The Situation: On the surface, Adam Trask's life is fairly simple and straightforward. After being raised mostly by his father, Adam initially joins the military, and then wanders the country once he is discharged. After returning to the home where he grew up, which was then being run by his younger half-brother, Charles, he marries a girl he knows nothing about, only to be abandoned by her after they have moved to California and she has given birth to their twin sons. Now, with the help of a Cantonese servant named Lee, Adam does his best to raise his sons, and hopefully have neither of them repeat any of the mistakes he himself had made as a young man. He comes to be a respectable member of the community of Salinas Valley, California, and also quite wealthy due to the inheritance he receives after his father's death. With the assistance of both Lee and the Hamilton family, Adam raises his sons as World War I becomes harder to ignore and U.S. involvement becomes imminent.

The Problem: Unfortunately for Adam, his life is not really all that straightforward as a look at his overall family history makes it seem like they are all doomed to repeat the story of Cain and Abel, with one brother being jealous of the seemingly heavily favored brother, and eventually causing him great harm because of it. First it was Adam and his brother Charles; and then it seems it is his sons, Aron and Cal, who are going to repeat the story yet again. There are also the mysterious circumstances regarding Aron and Cal's mother, as the boys are told that she died, while the rest of the town seems to know the real truth, but it isn't spoken very often. This truth would most likely crush Aron, who grows up to value purity and righteousness, but Cal sees it as more of a weapon; something to be used at just the right time to cause someone great hurt and distress, most of all his well-loved brother. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel initially published in the early 1950s, set in the early 20th century, and eventually ending with the oncoming conclusion of World War I. Adam was raised on a farm in Connecticut, but will eventually move west to California with his wife Cathy. This is where he meets the Hamiltons, and Lee, and will live out the rest of his life. Steinbeck's primary inspiration seems to be the story of Cain and Abel, and there are many similarities between what happens in the Bible, and what Steinbeck writes in his novel. Not only are there similarities with the names (as Steinbeck stuck mostly with names that begin with either 'C' and 'A'), but both Charles and Cal end up being more violent than their brothers; they are both farmers in some capacity; and both feel rejected by their fathers, whether that rejection is real or imagined. But going beyond the parallels with the Bible, East of Eden also explores the themes of guilt, freedom, self-destruction, self-control, self-hatred, and even free will. Published in 1952, Steinbeck admitted to this book being what he felt like he had been practicing for all along. The public loved it, while critics weren't so sure about it. Either way, it is an enduring classic and is considered one of Steinbeck's best novels.

My Verdict: This book may be long, but there are books out there much longer. The thing about East of Eden is that it actually feels like it is 600 pages long, which is not something I could say for Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (though I know there are people out there who would argue with me on that point...Mom, I am looking in your direction). I enjoyed it a great deal and was not at all disappointed by it. Even so, I felt like it took forever to read. I even took a break from it at one point and read something else in between. But the struggle was worth it, and I recommend it to anyone looking to explore some of the classics. Just be ready to take a long and somewhat exhausting journey through early 1900s America.

Favorite Moment: When Adam confronts his estranged wife and finally sees her for who and what she is.

Favorite Character: Lee is one of those characters who automatically makes the reader feel better about a tense or awkward scene the moment they show up. His presence brings wisdom, peace, and understanding. And most of all, he is incredibly helpful and willing to tell the truth.

Favorite Quote: "There are no ugly questions except those clothed in condescension."

Recommended Reading: The Grapes of Wrath is still my favorite Steinbeck novel, but it is long. So if you are looking to ease yourself into Steinbeck slowly, I recommend Of Mice and Men.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Contemporary Fiction: Shelter by Jung Yun

Once again, a big thank you to Goodreads for letting know about Shelter by Jung Yun. Ultimately, books that really interest me are the ones that ask those hard to answer questions. In this case, the questions is what obligation, if any, does an adult have to the parents who abused him as a child, now that they need his help?

The Situation: Kyung and his wife Gillian are in a place they never wanted to be financially. During their five years of marriage, the couple have made a string of terrible decisions and their bad spending habits are finally catching up with them. And now that they are attempting to sell the house they really could never afford, the market is not on their side, and the house needs several costly repairs. Their financial troubles could easily go away if Kyung were to make one phone call to his parents, who only live a couple of miles away in the nicest part of town. But there is no way Kyung is going to call the father who used to beat up his mother when he was a boy. He has little contact with his parents as it is, and to take their money to cover his own mistakes is just not an option, no matter how much he needs it to continue supporting his own small family.

The Problem: The day that Kyung and Gillian have the real estate agent over to their house is the day that Mae, Kyung's mother, shows up in their backyard completely naked and covered in bruises. All plans regarding the house are immediately put on hold when it is discovered that both Mae and Jin, Kyung's father, were victims of a brutal home invasion, the details of which makes it one of the most scary and horrific crimes to happen in the area in recent memory. After their release from the hospital, Mae and Jin begin living with their son, but everything that happened when Kyung was little is not so easily forgotten. Even what his parents recently went through does little to soften how he feels towards them. Despite how good Jin is with his grandson, and his willingness to help with the finances, tensions remain high, causing Kyung's previously mediocre existence to tip over towards chaotic.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a fiction novel set in the present day New England area. The town where Kyung and his family live is the small community of Marlboro, which is near Boston. Kyung is the son of Jin and Mae Cho, two immigrants from South Korea who moved to the U.S. when Kyung was only four. After obtaining his Ph.D, his father became a professor in the U.S, bringing his wife and child with him. It is revealed fairly early on in the novel that Jin used to abuse Mae, who in turn would abuse Kyung. The abuse is a major factor as to why Kyung is the way he is: cynical, a bit aimless, bitter, judgmental, and generally unsatisfied with his life, even though he has a wife, child, job, and home. Kyung can never forget what his parent's did, which makes their presence in his house even more uncomfortable than most family gatherings tend to be anyway. Kyung oscillates between wanting revenge on the people who committed these horrible crimes against his parents, and wanting said parents to be exposed for the people they really are, not for the people they pretend to be. But almost as soon as Mae shows up in his backyard, Kyung cannot seem to do anything right, making himself the one everyone wants to shut out of their lives.

My Verdict: This is a story. Initially I was afraid that reading about the abuse and the home invasion would often be too uncomfortable, and while it wasn't exactly easy, Yun describes the events in such a way that made me want to know more. Not more details necessarily, but just more about the history of the Cho family, and what really happened in their house, and what caused them to act the way they did, and they way they still do. There is tension from the first page, with Kyung and Gillian confronting the situation with their finances. And then Mae shows up, and the tension continues to build as more information is brought to the reader, and to the different characters. With Kyung trapped between the awful events of the past and terrible events of the present, Yun is able to depict how all of that negative energy has nowhere to go, except onto the people close to him. I would be willing to call this a literary thriller, because even with the third person narrator, the reader has access to Kyung's thoughts, and the story keeps the reader guessing as to what really happened, even when we already know who committed the crimes.

Favorite Moment: When Kyung (drunkenly) stands up before the entire family and says exactly what everyone pretends didn't happen.

Favorite Character: Gillian's father Connie is probably the most level-headed and helpful person throughout the entire novel. He may not care all that much for Kyung as a son-in-law, but he makes sure everyone does what they are supposed to and is willing to help his in-laws as much as he can. He even keeps Kyung from doing some stupid stuff, and tries to keep him from doing others.

Recommended Reading: I actually recommend The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. It is a different kind of novel, sure, but the sense of suspense was close to the same, at least for me. And both books gives the reader a chance to be in the head of a main character who can't seem to do anything right. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Young Adult Fiction: Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach

Since I had picked up and enjoyed Tommy Wallach's We All Looked Up back in October, it was easy to decide to read Thanks for the Trouble. This time however, there would not be an immediate threat to the entire planet. And the only lives that may be in any sort of danger are the ones of the two main characters.

The Situation: Parker Santé is not a model high school student. In fact, on Halloween, where his story begins, he skips school and instead decides to hang out in a hotel where he will people watch, write in his journal, and most likely steal from an unsuspecting tourist. But despite his terrible grades, spotty class attendance, criminal record, and the fact that he doesn't talk, Parker is still applying to college, and the story we are given will serve as his answer to one of the many required essay questions, "What was the single most important experience of your life?" Of course that means the answer will go well over the 500 word count limit (by about 60,000 words or so), but what the admissions review board gets is an incredible story that all takes place during one incredible weekend. And it all starts when he meets Zelda, a silver-haired girl sitting in the hotel lobby.

The Problem: While Zelda may be incredibly pretty, outgoing, self-assure, and pretty free with the ridiculous wad of cash she is carrying around with her, she also has an unbelievable story about herself and who she is. And as soon as she receives an important phone call, she plans to jump off of the Golden Gate Bridge and end her life. Parker isn't sure he can believe her story, especially when she asserts that she is over two centuries old. And he definitely does not want to believe she will kill herself. But over the rest of the Halloween weekend, Zelda and Parker do more than talk about suicide plans, the death of his father, and the reason he can't talk. It is truly an unforgettable weekend that effectively changes the entire direction of Parker's life, and hopefully Zelda's as well.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult fiction novel set in present day San Francisco. Parker is a Hispanic high school student still dealing with the loss of his father, and the irrefutable fact that high school ultimately sucks. He hasn't spoken an audible word since the car accident that took his dad, but he manages to communicate by writing in spiral notebooks, and uses sign language with those that understand it. And while Zelda may look like she is around Parker's age, with the exception of the silver hair, she claims to have been born in Germany in the year 1770. She talks and acts like a much older person, and carries around a wad of cash. Also, for whatever reason, she decides to essentially take on Parker as a project - buy him clothes, accompany him to a Halloween party, buy his friends booze and a limo ride - and spend time with him until she receives her phone call. In other words, she is more or less your typical manic pixie dream girl, and Parker falls hard. From the start he is dubious about her story, but her energy and assertiveness keep him going along for the ride. Plus, he wants to do whatever he can to keep her from killing herself. 

My Verdict: I wanted to like this book much more than I did, mostly because I liked Parker so much and enjoyed watching him change as the novel went on. But Zelda's manic pixie dream girl act was just a little too much for me. And Parker, being a teenage boy, totally fell for the whole whimsical act of someone who is possibly delusional, definitely manipulative, and admittedly suicidal. Zelda makes inane but bold assertions that only manic pixie dream girls can get away with making, and she drags the hapless Parker all over San Francisco, altering his life in small ways at first, with new clothes and a night out, and then bigger ways, with an epic fight with his mom and applying to college. I just don't buy it. I also didn't care for how Parker's unique voice seems to fall away around the middle of the novel. But what I do like is how Wallach plays with the idea of Parker being an unreliable narrator. The guy likes to write stories, and is actually quite good at it, which Parker proves at various points in the novel. So who's to say that Zelda isn't another one of his characters, created as part of a story to tell to a college admissions review board.  

Favorite Moment: When Parker realizes his new skinny jeans actually fit Zelda quite well.

Favorite Character: I definitely grew to like Parker after the rough introduction we get of him as a truant and pick-pocket. 

Most Ridiculous Zelda Quote: "There are no bad guys. Only in bad movies." Yeah, she says nonsense like that.

Recommended Reading: I liked We All Looked Up a lot better. Then again, I have a weird interest in stories and movies where the world actually ends, so there's that.    

Friday, July 8, 2016

Not Looking for a Debate

“It is so easy to be hopeful in the daytime when you can see the things you wish on. But it was night, it stayed night. Night was striding across nothingness with the whole round world in his hands . . . They sat in company with the others in other shanties, their eyes straining against cruel walls and their souls asking if He meant to measure their puny might against His. They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.”
―  Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God


I'm not the most vocal person - never have been, never will be. In fact, often those that are incredibly and consistently vocal make me tired. And the kind of people who are always ready to talk politics or debate an issue, I often find exhausting.

Part of my preference for silence comes simply from not enjoying the spotlight or extra attention. But I also understand that words are powerful. And for whatever reason, when people like myself, or my mother, do finally decide to speak, people make often it a point to listen because it happens so rarely. So great power and great responsibility and all that.

But I will say this...

Law enforcement officials have a job to do, and the ones responsible for the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile did theirs poorly. Even though both men had guns on them, the situation should have been handled differently, and certainly should not have resulted in death. There are people who have committed greater offenses and have been granted infinitely more patience. And to those of you ready to defend the officials, not all of you are coming from a biased or malicious place. But please understand that for those of us with black fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, and sons, it is hard to witness someone defending these officials and not feel hurt and/or disappointed. It may not be entirely fair, but it is where we're at right now.

It is thoroughly senseless that there were five killed and more wounded in Dallas last night. The answer to death is not more death, nor hate to more hate, or violence to more violence. These snipers have solved nothing, and instead have made things unnecessarily worse. They took (from what I have gathered) a peaceful gathering for an already terrible situation and brought the whole thing even further back into a sickening place. To anyone wanting to defend these killers, there is no justification that makes any of this okay and I cannot imagine how someone could try to offer one.  

All of the guilty in both instances will be held accountable. I am not saying that all will be brought to justice by us here on Earth. Most of us know enough and have seen enough to know that may not happen to all of our satisfaction. But I believe they will ultimately be held accountable, which is why I started this post with the quote from Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. After hearing about Alton Sterling, I have been repeating John 14:1 to myself where Jesus says "Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me." The reality is that cops committing violence against black men isn't a new thing in the US. Because of camera phones and social media, there is just evidence of it that can quickly be spread to a large audience. So instead of being stuck in an unbearable heartsickness that is all to easily to fall into - especially while reading comments sections (which I do not recommend) or just general Facebook posts (it's best to be cautious with these too) - or just a general paralyzed feeling of helplessness, I choose to keep my eyes on God. He is certainly up to something, and he would not want those who choose to live in fear to steal the joy of those who refuse to.

Anyway, I think that is enough from me. As the great Daria Morgendorffer once said, "I'm not much for public speaking. Or much for speaking. Or, come to think of it, much for the public." So I'll go back to my books and journal now, hoping for a peace it is often hard to see coming.