Tag Archives: Relationships

Review: The Children’s Crusade

The Children's Crusade
The Children’s Crusade
By Ann Packer
(Scribner Book Company, Hardcover, 9781476710457, April 7, 2015, 448pp.)

The Short of It:

This novel has normal written all over it and yet it’s the most unsettling story I’ve read in a while.

The Rest of It:

The story opens with the promise of young love. Penny and Bill begin their lives together. He’s a doctor, she’s an artist and the home they buy holds the promise of happiness to come. They have four children, Rebecca, Robert, Ryan and James. All should be golden but that last child is not like the other children and his behavior and presence is a constant reminder that you cannot control everything and for Penny, this proves to be too much. She moves out of the house and into a shed in the backyard. The shed, her “studio” becomes a home for her, a home away from her children and her husband and her responsibility as a mother.

What makes this story so unsettling is how they all react to it. Bill seems to know exactly what is going on but is in denial. The children, old enough to know that things are not right, talk about a crusade to bring her back. But how do you bring back a woman who wants nothing to do with who she is?

I had a really hard time with this one. Mostly, the subject matter is what did me in because the writing itself was really quite good. Penny, is a hard one to understand and Bill, oh man, I was so frustrated with Bill. As large families tend to do, they do come together in times of crisis but everyone seems to dance around James and all of his problems. As a reader, I didn’t feel as if we spent enough time with the children as children. They grow into adults quite quickly and so I was left with a sense of longing… lost childhood and all that. Penny was so elusive and odd and although I did manage to see another side to her towards the end, I felt that it came too late.

I didn’t love this story but this isn’t the kind of story anyone loves. It’s frightening to see a family in this light and Packer does an excellent job of throwing it all under the microscope. No one in this novel stands out as a hero. Everyone is flawed and unflattering in some way. It’s a book full of faults and if Packer intended for it to be that, then she succeeded in a spectacular fashion. How do the events of our childhood shape who we are today? Lots to consider while reading this one.

Overall, I didn’t care for the story or the characters in it but there’s something there that deserves to be pondered a bit more.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss
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Review: South of the Border, West of the Sun

South of the Border, West of the Sun
South of the Border, West of the Sun

By Haruki Murakami
(Vintage, Paperback, 9780679767398, March 2000, 224pp.)

The Short of It:

Success and happiness don’t always go hand in hand.

The Rest of It:

Okay, guys. My love for Murakami is approaching full-on creep level. If I could shrink him down and put him in my pocket, I’d carry him around all day long. Weird, huh?

I saved this book for a long time because it was the last translated novel that I had not read but when my father passed away and I was unable to pull myself out of bed, I reached for it and Murakami’s writing did what I expected it to. It soothed, refreshed, made me ponder life in a big way, and all of a sudden all these feelings were rushing through me again.

This is probably one of my favorite novels, ever. It’s right up there with Kafka on the Shore and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It’s a plain, simple story about a middle-aged man by the name of Hajime. He has a loving wife, and two beautiful daughters. He owns a couple of very successful Jazz clubs and enjoys the life he’s earned. But deep down, there’s something missing.

Not fully understanding this sense of longing, he’s reminded of a girl he knew in childhood by the name of Shimamoto. She was his everything but that was a long time ago. Is it possible that she even remembers him?

Memory plays a big role in this story and it’s beautifully handled. Murakami paints vivid, broad strokes when it comes to Shimamoto so it’s easy to see why Hajime is so taken with her. In childhood she’s this beautiful, delicate untouchable thing but when she walks into his club one rainy evening, Hajime begins to doubt his own existence and is no longer sure what happiness is.

This novel is full of romantic interludes but I hesitate to call it a romance because it’s much deeper than your typical romance novel. If you are familiar with Murakami’s writing at all, you know that his books can walk the surreal line. Some of his books are way out there, like Kafka and Wind-up but others are more subtle and this one is definitely one of the quiet ones but oh, how I loved it. That last page! That last line. Sigh.

If I want to try Murakami, which book should I read first?

Everyone always asks me which book to read first. It’s really hard to say. I read Kafka on the Shore first and it was like an acid trip. At page 50 I was about to give up on it and then something clicked. But that’s me. I like it when an author surprises me. But I think about 75% of you would run screaming from a room if you picked that one up first.

So then, to be on the safe side, I usually suggest After Dark, which dips into the surreal but not overly so but if you like excitement then that one might not work for you. Then, there are his short story collections. Some of you adore short stories and some of you don’t. But, I have to say that South of the Border, West of the Sun is the one I will recommend for first time readers from here on out. It’s beautifully written and well-balanced. Not too much of any one thing which makes it a good read for first-time readers of his work.

Just for Fun

Check out this cafe which became a hangout for Murakami fans. I’d like to live there.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.