BOOK REVIEW: The Double Bind

The Double Bind

by Chris Bohjalian

Laurel Estabrook is viciously attacked when riding her bicycle along a quiet road in Vermont. She survives and dedicates herself to working in a homeless shelter. She becomes involved in the legacy left by a homeless man, Bobbie Crocker, that included a collection of notable and valuable photographs he left behind. It is those photographs that turns the attention of the story to the characters and the story of The Great Gatsby.

As a rule, a rule that remains unbroken even with this book, I do not enjoy books that rely on characters from other books. In The Double Bind, we are introduced to Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan and the crowd early on. I read The Great Gatsby 50 years ago. Yes, I remember the story, great books stay with you. I felt tested, however. Would I remember enough of the details to make sense of The Double Bind? Did I really want to read another man’s embellishment to Fitzgerald’s great work? However, I was prodded by a fan of this novel to continue, and continue I did.

I had numerous problems with this book:

  1. Using characters from literary history.
  2. Portraying fictional characters as real.
  3. East Egg, West Egg – that was New York, right? Not Vermont, right? (It has been 50 years for me. Am I remembering incorrectly?)
  4. Laurel having been victimized in a brutal attack recovers quickly, and well – too well, in my opinion.
  5. The psychiatrist’s notes. These were interesting but I questioned their purpose.
  6. The title: What does it mean? What does it mean?
  7. The reader. My copy was an audiobook. The reading was slow and labored. I often felt that the reader was performing for a group of young children, not me.

All of these problems came together in the end. The ending was a real Wow! It tied the book together very nicely, very neatly. It was a stunner. I thought about reading the book a second time to pick up the clues, but nah. Once was enough. You be the judge.

What a Crock

Please understand…I was born in another century. It took me a while to move into the modern age. And so today I ordered my very first crock pot.

I did my research. I learned what to look for in terms of size, construction, manual dial versus electronic settings, brands, and price. I even happened upon some scary reports about lead leaching into the food. Having explored, pondered, questioned, and studied, I finally decided: I need it, I want it, and I shall have it.

Now to figure out what to do with it! Your favorite crock pot recipes are welcome. Please!

Hot Words

When my kids were in high school they spent a lot of time with “hot words.” Hot words, you see, were lists and lists of vocabulary words, words that were chewed up and regurgitated, in school and out, in preparation for the then upcoming SAT exams.

I remember sitting in our living room with Sir Braver, the daughter, and her at-the-moment boyfriend, all engaged in casual conversation when suddenly the daughter turned to her boyfriend and said, “You see, here is where hot words are actually used.” That memory pleases me.

I have a new hot word: amigurumi. From the Japanese, it describes the art of knitting or crocheting stuffed toys. It all begins with a ball, and so lesson #1: the ball:

And Ernie came out of hiding to see it. Ernie likes it!

Word of the day: amigurumi. You’ll see…it will come up on Jeopardy!

Dick Tatian

Typing on the iPad is cumbersome. Typing on the Mini iPad is more cumbersome. Typing on the iPhone is ridiculous! So I dictate. I press on the little microphone and I speak slowly, enunciating each syllable carefully. 

Dictating comes in handy in chat areas. I have an ongoing string of Words With Friends games going for a couple of years now. My partner (a friend I know only through Words With Friends) and I are not heavy into chatting. Occasionally we have something to say to each other, and it is usually a whine about bad letter luck.

Crash (that is my partner’s name) messaged me today. He complained about his lousy letters and his even lousier luck in swapping tiles. So I commiserated and dictated a response. 

I did not hit SEND. I tried to take a screen shot to show you, my gentle readers, the jocularity I experience when dictating on the iPad. Then I emailed the screen shot to myself in preparing to post it here. Apple is smarter than me, however. The iPad refused to capture the typing that it determined was incomplete unless I hit the SEND button, which I was not about to do.

So I ask you to trust me when I tell you that what I dictated was:

“That is a bit of bad luck!

And what appeared (until I fixed it) was:

“That is a big bathroom!”

The email I received contained the screenshot with only the corrected dictation, not the funny stuff. However, I had dictated the email, too. Notice the subject line of the email when it arrived in my inbox:

Giving Thanks

Bert has only recently decided the grandchildren are okay. He no longer shows fear; he no longer shows his nervous side. Now he is relaxed and constantly right in the middle of all the commotion. Ernie, on the other hand, is steadfastly in hiding.

This Thanksgiving, Bert remained in our presence every moment. He was underfoot, played nicely with his toys, and meowed a lot as if participating in the conversation all around him. He polished off a plateful of turkey while we all did the same.

When our condo returned to the usual quiet, Bert took to his bed. Our bed, that is. He has not moved in hours!

One very thankful cat!

Take My Queen, Please

He is not a bad player, statistically speaking; his current rating is 1277. He is far from Grandmaster, but a strong opponent for me. (My current rating is  1343.) As of this writing, he has played 1,752 games on alone. I was thinking hard and struggling with every move.

Then in chess speak, he said to me “Take my Queen, please.”

Bye bye, Black Queen.

BOOK REVIEW: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

by Chris Bohjalian

The image of young children being escorted from their school past a blood bath of innocents came immediately to mind when I saw the title of this book. Those were the instructions given to the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012 after the massacre by one deranged maniacal teenager. Those otherwise gentle words made me understand that this book would play out a cataclysmic event even before I opened its cover.

The story is told by Emily Shepard, a 16-year-old high school student in Northeast Kingdom in Vermont. Both of her parents work at a nuclear power plant at Cape Abernaki where her father is the chief administrator and her mother a communications specialist. A nuclear meltdown occurs and Emily’s parents are blamed. During the turmoil that follows, Emily is the target of the fear and the chaos that ensued. Her parents were dead, but the wrath of the community fell not only upon them but upon her, as well.

Emily tells of her flight, her fright, her homelessness, her entanglements, her desperate quest for survival. Her words are honest and direct, her emotions are raw and palpable. At 16, Emily’s life had been a struggle – with her parents, her teachers, even her friends. After the nuclear accident, those struggles could not hold a candle to what lay ahead.

Bonus:  This was an audiobook read by the author’s daughter Grace Brewer. She did a magnificent job. Following the epilogue, the author, Chris Bohjalian, and his daughter Grace are interviewed, giving a little insight into the writing and the telling of this story.

A must-read.