Rebecca

A book I would like to rename “Becky with the Good Hair.”

Rebecca is a quasi-classic. I read it for book club and several of the other members had read it when they were in school. I had not. Because I knew it was suspenseful, I went ahead and read the wikipedia plot summary ahead of time. I am a person who doesn’t mind spoilers or knowing how things turn out, obviously. (Yes, I sometimes flip ahead to read the last few pages of a book too.) It helps me concentrate on things other than the plot, like the crafting of the story and the characters and the mood.

Rebecca, the book, made me SO ANGRY. First, it’s three separate types of book: the romance at the top, the psychological thriller in the middle, and then a more straightforward mystery at the end. PICK ONE. Second, the unnamed narrator is very ill-treated by ever single other character in the book – I mean, the author doesn’t even give her a name, which is to illustrate how mousy she is, but then why does anyone take any interest in her at all? But it totally undermines the romance at the beginning when her husband, Maxim, seems to love her, knows she’s out of her depth coming to Manderley, and then gives her absolutely no support? And because Daphne Du Maurier wants to drive home what a mousey non-entity she is, the narrator never takes the initiative on anything, preferring to let the staff do what they want or doing things the way Rebecca, Maxim’s dead first wife, did them. By the end of the book, I just didn’t care.

But we had interesting discussions at book club, talking about whenever Maxim really loves her, how the house represents Rebecca and her influence over the story, and how effectively creepy Mrs Danvers is despite not actually being in the book that much. So while I didn’t like Rebecca, I do appreciate the discussion it spawned and I’m glad I read it in a way that I got to talk about it with other smart people afterwards.

Carrie by Stephen King

Look, 2020 is a shitshow. This is not a revelation to anyone. The year started with Australia on fire and the US being belligerent towards Iran, and then the pandemic hit, squeezing into all of the cracks of US society, making all of our issues worse (or maybe just exposing them to everyone).

This leads me to: 2020 is one long spooky season. All the time. We are living through a slow motion, low grade horror movie. So a few weeks ago, I decided it was the perfect time to read some Stephen King.

Carrie was his first published novel, released in April 1974 (another disaster of a year, including the ongoing Oil Shock, Watergate, and Nixon’s resignation – at least Nixon had the grace to resign). If you know nothing else about Carrie, you know the scene of the emotional climax of the book: Carrie, on stage, having been crowned prom queen as joke, just so she could have pig’s blood dumped all over her; she is about to kill everyone in the room via her powers of telekinesis.

The full story is rather slim. The premise is that Carrie’s mother is a particularly over-the-top evangelical Christian, and even though telekinesis runs in her family, that Carrie should be ashamed both of her femininity and her powers. Carrie has been shunned by everyone in town because of her family and she has no self-confidence because of her upbringing.

When she is 17, she gets her period for the first time as she is showering and changing after PE and she has no idea what’s going on. She gets made fun of by every single other girl in the locker room; the teacher punishes them all. Afterwards, one girl feels guilty and persuades her boyfriend to take Carrie to senior prom as a way to make up for it. Another girl is angry about the punishment (and that her father is unable to get her out of it), and convinces her boyfriend to get some fresh pig’s blood and rig it up to fall on Carrie just as she is being crowned prom queen for laughs.

After she is humiliated again, she snaps. She uses her powers of telekinesis to kill everyone at prom, and then she walks through town, ending as much of it as she can.

The nihilism, the idea that the bad will win against the good no matter what, the constant bullying that Carrie has faced throughout her life; it’s all breathtaking. Truly, in this book, everything is terrible, the bad always wins, and all you can try to do is survive.

If there is a better metaphor for 2020 so far, I can’t think of it.

A companion novel

Time’s Convert is a companion novel to the All Souls Trilogy. In it, we follow the story of a young woman, Phoebe, as she becomes a vampire so she and her true love, Marcus (who is already a vampire), can be together forever.

It’s easy to look at that melodramatic premise and roll your eyes. Especially if you read the somewhat shaggy All Souls Trilogy it’s related to. (Which I enjoyed, but it’s a melodrama that is full of too many characters doing too much.) This is a tighter story, and is mainly about the combination of Marcus’ human childhood and his early years as a vampire. It’s contrasted with the journey that Phoebe is going through in the modern era. I can’t help but think that the author wrote this book so she had the excuse to revisit her favorite characters and share Marcus’ backstory.

Or maybe that’s just why I read it – I am here for Deborah Harkness’ strong women taking charge of their lives, and Marcus has a different journey as a vampire than the others of his clan. It happens to be one that allows the reader to explore the American and French Revolutions, as well as some early American history. It’s fun.

I would not recommend Time’s Convert if you haven’t read the other books in the series. The author spends little time explaining who is who and how they are related to each other. This one is for fans of the All Souls Trilogy.

Continuing Spooky Season

Truly Devious is the first book in a YA mystery series. Be forewarned that only two of the planned three books are out (the last one is scheduled for release in January 2020).

Stevie (short for Stephanie) Bell is a new student to the Ellingham Academy, a boarding school in Vermont that was founded in the 1930s. Shortly after the founding, Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and possibly killed. A culprit was found, but no one believes that he did it. Stevie wants to be the real Sherlock Holmes, and her mission at Ellingham Academy (in the present time) is to solve the mystery.

The past mystery is nicely mysterious, the setting of a secluded school without parents is handled in the best hothouse-for-bizarreness way, there’s a romance story that is very much not the point, and while there is also a current murder, it does get solved. So even though the past mystery is going to take three books to solve (probably), there is a sense of resolution and completeness to this book.

I enjoyed Truly Devious and have put the second book in the series on my hold list at the library.