Exit Ghost by Philip Roth

Title: Exit Ghost
Author: Philip Roth
Hardcover: 292 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Publish Date:2007
ISBN: 9780618975477

What surprised me most my first few days walking around the city? The most obvious thing – the cell phones. We had no reception as yet up on my mountain, and down in Athena, where they do have it, I’d rarely see people striding the streets talking uninhibitedly into their phones. I remembered a New York when the only people walking up Broadway seemingly talking to themselves were crazy. What had happened in these ten years fo there suddenly to be so much to say – so much so pressing that it couldn’t wait to be said? Everywhere I walked, somebody was approaching me talking on a phone and someone was behind me talking on a phone. Inside the cars, the driver were on the phone. When I took a taxi, the cabbie was on the phone. For one who frequently went without talking to anyone for days at a time, I had to wonder what that had previously held them up had collapsed in people to make incessant talking into a telephone preferable to walking about under no one’s surveillance, momentarily solitary, assimilating the streets through one’s animal senses and thinking the myriad thoughts that the activities of a city inspire. For me it made the streets appear comic and the people ridiculous.

-Exit Ghost by Philip Roth, pages 63-64

Nathan Zuckerman is man in the twilight years of his life. As an author, words and ideas have been his medium to work and creation, yet, now age seventy-one, senility and his growing “word salad” difficulty has begun is slowly robbing him of his ability to write. Once virile and in control of his destiny, a prostectomy has rendered him impotent and incontinent. And, after ten years of New England solitude, the hope of regaining some bladder control from a medical procedure has brought him back to the cosmopolis of his exodus, New York City, where he likens himself to Rip Van Winkle, returning from his twenty-year nap and finding the entire world changed.

In his week-long stay, he makes connections with three people who that threaten to irreversibly alter his chosen isolation and reality. With the first, he makes a rash decision to answer an add to swap homes and meets the young and seductive, Jamie Logan, who inspires a fantasy affair in Zuckerman’s mind and reawakens his all-but-lost desire for female company. His second, the serendipitous running into of Amy Bellette, the mistress of his literary icon, Manny Lonoff, reminds him of both his youthful past and his ever-creeping mortality. The third connection he makes is with Richard Kliman, an abrasive, tenacious wanna-be literateur, who believes he has discovered Lonoff’s “great secret” and wants to write his biography, exposing the author’s shameful “crime” in the titillating tell-all fashion of the modern biography, a genre of current writing that is more Weekly World News than World News.

Meeting these three people force Zuckerman to face and accept the realities that his isolation has allowed him to ignore: He is getting old, each day bringing him closer to his own life’s end, and after his death he will no longer have control of that life he lived, as some young writer wanting to make a name for himself may decide to write the expose of Nathan Zuckerman. In the end, he asks himself this questions: Once I am dead, who can protect the story of my life? How will I have failed to be the model human? What will be my great, unseemly secret?

************************************************

Exit Ghost  is my first experience reading Philip Roth, but I don’t plan on making it my last. Slow going at first, I wasn’t sure I would really be able to get into it. How can a mid-thirties, single mom understand and relate to a septuagenarian man? How can I, a moderate to conservative Republican from the mid-west, relate to a liberal Democrat New Englander? I’m a product of the Eighties and Nineties, he is a product of the fifties and sixties. I’m a W.A.S.P. and he a Jew. I am in the Summer of my life when all my body parts are where the good Lord put them, and work within normal parameters. He is entering the Winter of his, incontinent, showing the beginning of dementia, with a mutinous body. I’m aware death will someday happen, though not many I know have experienced it. Zuckerman is facing it’s certainty, many of his friends and contemporaries having already passed through that gate.

However, for all this lack of commonality, Roth manages the miraculous; for a time, a young woman in her prime became an aging man in his decline.

Winner of several prestigious awards, Philip Roth is a skilled, intelligent yet readable, wordsmith. He references Joseph Conrad (an author I have not yet read, but I do have Heart of Darknesson Mt. TBR) often in Exit Ghost, and I found his writing style to be reminiscent of Faulkner (not surprisingly, he has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times).

For it’s ability to transport the reader to a life completely foreign and unimaginable, as well as for it’s well-written and memorable passages that are sure to be included in quotable literature books, I give Exit Ghost by Philip Roth  five out of five stars.

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Congrats to Amy on winning a copy of Matrimony!

After a two week interruption in my home internet service, an interruption that forced me to suffer the limitted resources of the library’s computer (though it’s wonderful that we have such access in our town), I am finally back online at home.     !! \O/ YaY \O/ !!

So now, belatedly, I will announce the winner of Mt. TBR’s drawing for a personalized, autographed copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin.

Congratulations to Amy!  She has won the contest :-)

Thank you, everyone, for visiting Mt. TBR and be sure to come back!

Matrimony winner…

Because I have run out of time here at the library, I’ll have to wait until tomorrow to post the winner.  If you haven’t entered yet… get in!

The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis

Title:  The Last Battle

Author:  C. S. Lewis

Paperback:  767 pages

Publisher:  HarperCollins

Publish Date:  2001

ISBN:  0066238501

Miscellaneous:  The copy I have read is in a complete book.  There aren’t 767 pages in The Last Battle alone.

 

 

 

“Look!  What’s that?”

 “What’s what?” said Puzzle.

 “That yellow thing that’s just come down the waterfall.  Look!  There it is again, it’s floating.  We must find out what it is.”

 “Must we?” said Puzzle.

 “Of course we must,” said Shift.  “It may be something useful.  Just hop into the Pool like a good fellow and fish it out.  Then we can have a proper look at it.”

 … He flung it down in front of Shift and stood dripping and shivering and trying to get his breath back.  But the Ape never looked at him or asked him how he felt.  The Ape was too busy going round and round the thing and spreading it out and patting it and smelling it.  Then a wicked gleam came into his eye and he said:  “It is a lion’s skin…. We’ll make this skin into a fine warm winter coat for you.”

 …As soon as he was alone Shift went… into his little house.  He found needle and thread and a big pair of scissors… Then he came down the tree and shambled across to the lion-skin.  He squatted down and got to work…

 Late in the afternoon Puzzle came back.  He was not trotting but only plodding patiently along, the way donkeys do…  “Come and try on your beautiful new lion-skin coat,” said Shift.

 … The skin was very heavy for him to lift, but in the end… he got it on to the donkey… No one who had ever seen a real lion would have been taken in for a moment.  But if someone who had never seen a lion looked at Puzzle in his lion-skin he just might mistake him for a lion…  “If anyone saw you now, they’d think you were Aslan, the Great Lion, himself.”

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, pages 671-673

 

Thus begins the great deception and the beginning of the end of Narnia.  Shift the Ape manipulates and bullies Puzzle the Donkey into believing that Aslan himself wants them to go to the people of Narnia and claim Puzzle is really the Great Lion, and to rule the land through this pretense.  Puzzle has been used by Shift for so long (under the guise of “friendship,” though “servitude” might better describe the Donkey’s side of the relationship), that he is unable to stand up to the damn, dirty Ape (nod to Heston and “Planet of the Apes” hehe).

It is through this false-Aslan that Shift enslaves the land of Narnia, using the Animals as slaves and threatening anyone who dares to question his authority with the Wrath of Aslan.  “He is not a tame lion” is repeated over and over to fill their minds with terror, and, even when they know this new “Aslan” is the opposite of everything they’ve always been taught is the nature of the true Aslan, the Narnians are unable to throw off the Ape’s bonds and fight back.

Even when Shift brings in Calormene soldiers and announces that the Narnian Animals are to be sent to work, and all their wages are to be paid to “Aslan’s” treasury, for only “Aslan” can care for their true needs.  Compounding a lie with a lie, the Calormene Captain and Shift tell the Animals that Tash, the Calormene god to whom men are sacrificed, and Aslan are one in the same; two different names for the same person.  This new god is called “Tashlan,” the meshing of the two names.

When Tirian, the last King of Narnia, calls on Aslan to rescue his country, the Great Lion is silent, so Tirian, remembering how children from another world had saved Narnia in it’s darkest periods of history, calls on the friends of Narnia to come and save his land.  And, after a vision-dream of the seven legendary Friends sitting down to dinner and seeing the phantom of Tirian among them, he is surprised by the appearance of Jill and Eustace.  Along with Jewel the Unicorn, who is Tirian’s best friend, the two children and a Dwarf named Poggin, the stage is set for the last battle of Narnia.

 

In the shadow of the trees on the far side of the clearing something was moving.  It was gliding very slowly Northward.  At a first glance you might have mistaken it for smoke, for it was grey and you could see things through it.  But the deathly smell was not the smell of smoke.  Also, this thing kept its shape instead of billowing and curling as smoke would have done.  It was roughly the shape of a man but it had the head of a bird; some bird of prey with a cruel, curved beak.  It had four arms which it held high above its head, stretching them out Northward as if it wanted to snatch all Narnia in its grip; and its fingers – all twenty of them – were curved like its beak and had long, pointed, bird-like claws instead of nails.  It floated on the grass instead of walking, and the grass seemed to wither beneath it…. [They] watched it… until it streamed away… and disappeared.  Then the sun came out again, and the birds once more began to sing….

“I have seen it once before,” said Tirian. “But that time it was carved in stone and overlaid with gold and had solid diamonds for eyes…. [It was in] the great temple of Tash… carved above the altar.”

“What was it?” said Eustace in a whisper.

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, page 712

 

 The entrance of the Calormene god Tash takes this final fight into the realm of the supernatural, as it becomes the epic battle of the ultimate good, Aslan, and his antithesis Tash:  Life versus Death.

 The message of The Last Battle, I believe, is this:  We are not always meant to win the good fight, only to FIGHT the good fight.  Early on in the book we know this is a lost cause, the side of evil will prevail, and the heroes’ lives  will be forfeit.  But, even then, Aslan will have the final say.

 In The Last Battle, Lewis also addresses two major questions of Christianity.  First, how can a person who has known the goodness and greatness of Christ turn his or her back on Him, choosing, instead, their own will.  Second, what of those people who have never heard the Gospel and therefore had no chance to believe?  Will He condemn them to Hell?

 Missing for the Friends of Narnia is Susan, and somehow I knew this immediate when I counted eight helpers of Narnia, but only seven Friends of Narnia.  Somehow I knew the missing person was Susan.

 

“Sire,” said Tirian… “there should be another… Where is Queen Susan?”

“My sister Susan,” answered Peter shortly and gravely, “is no longer a friend of Narnia.”

“Yes,” said Eustace, “and whenever you’ve tried to get her to come and talk about Narnia or do anything about Narnia, she says ‘What wonderful memories you have!  Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.”

“Oh, Susan!”  said Jill.  “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations.  She always was a jolly sight to keen on being grown-up.”

“Grown-up indeed,” said the Lady Polly.  “I wish she would grow up.  She wasted all her shool time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste all the rest of her life trying to stay that age.  Her whole idea is to race on to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, page 741

 

Susan turned away from Narnia and Aslan and, instead, made vanity and things of the world her focus.  BUT, Lewis did not say she could not become a Friend of Narnia again.  Further, someone had to survive to tell The Chronicles of Narnia.

 As the Seven plus Tirian go “further up, further in,” they meet a Calormene who tells them of his meeting Aslan:

 

“Then I fell at his feet and thought, Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him.  Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him.  Both the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my fourehead with his tongue and said, ‘Son, thou art welcome.’  But I said, ‘Alas, Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.’  He answered, ‘Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service to me.’ Then by reason of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, ‘Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?’  The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, “It is false.  Not because4 he and I are one, but because we are opposites – I take to me the service which thou hast done to him.  For I and he are such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.  Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him.  And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.  Dost thou understand, Child?’  I said, ‘Lord, thou knowest how much I understand.’   But I said also (for the truth constrained me), ‘Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.’  ‘Beloved,’ said the Glorious One, ‘unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly.  For all find what they truly seek.’

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, page 757

 

 Honestly, it was impossible to review this book without incorporating the religious aspects of it.  That is not to say it can’t be enjoyed without being religious.  It stands alone as the heart-wrenching finale of a much loved and favorite literary classic series.  I couldn’t help but cry at the end; for the beauty, for the Friends, for all who had been were together again… and for Susan, who, by her folly, missed the train (if you’ve read this, or when you do read this, book you’ll get that reference).

 The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis is beyond words, and I sigh with a bittersweet happiness, as I have come to the end of my journey through Narnia.  I leave you with the last paragraph of the last book of Narnia:

 

“And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.  And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after.  But for them it was only the beginning of the real story.  All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and title page:  now at last they were beginning Chaper One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read:  which goes on for ever:  in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

 

-The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis, page 767

 

5 out of 5 stars.

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The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis

Title:  The Silver Chair

Author:  C. S. Lewis

Paperback:  767 pages

Publisher:  HarperCollins

Publish Date:  2001

ISBN:  0066238501

Miscellaneous:  The Silver Chair was published fifth in the Narnia Series, but was meant to be read sixth by Lewis.  The copy I have read is in a complete book.

 

After that all happened quickly.  There was a wild cry, a swishing, dusty, gravelly noise, a rattle of stones, and Jill found herself sliding, sliding, hopelessly sliding, and sliding quicker every moment down a slope that grew steeper every moment…  From the sharp cries and swearing of the other two, Jill got the idea that many of the stones which she was dislodging were hitting Scrubb and Puddleglum pretty hard.  And now she was going at a furious rate and felt sure she would be broken to bits at the bottom.

 Yet somehow they weren’t.  They were a mass of bruises, and the wet sticky stuff on her face appeared to be blood.  And such a mass of loose earth, shingle, and larger stones was piled up round her (and partly over her) that she couldn’t get up.  The darkness was so complete that it made no difference at all whether you had your eyes open or shut.  There was no noise.  And that was the very worst moment Jill had ever known in her life.  Supposing she was alone:  supposing the others… The she heard movements around her.  And presently all three, in shaken voices, were explaining that none of them seemed to have any broken bones….

 No one suggested doing anything.  There was so obviously nothing to be done.  For the moment, they did not feel it quite so badly as one might have expected; that was because they were so tired.

 Long, long afterwards, without the slightest warning, an utterly strange voice spoke.  They knew at once that it was not the one voice in the whole world for which each had secretly been hoping; the voice of Aslan.  It was a dark, flat voice – almost, if you know what that means, a pitch-black voice.  It said:

 “What make you here, creatures of the Overworld?”

 

-The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, pages 612-613

 

In The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, we accompany a kinder, more human Eustace Scrubb back to his school, Experiment House, which seems to be a topsy-turvy socialistic school where the bullies are commended for preying on the weak and the Bible, and anything found within It’s covers, is forbidden.  We also meet Jill Pole, one of the weaker ones and somewhat-friend of Eustace, who is crying after being tormented and hiding from Them.  In an effort to comfort her, Eustace takes her into his confidence and tells her of the world of Narnia.  Wanting to visit this other world, the two call on Aslan and ask him to bring them there.  Thus begins the adventures of this, the sixth Narnian book.

 After showing off and causing Eustace to fall from an unimaginable precipice, Jill is given the harder task of keeping the four signs that will help them on their quest to find and rescue the lost Prince Rillian, only son and heir to the now elderly King Caspian. 

 Right away, the two muff (as Lewis says) the first sign:  Eustace was to speak to the first person he saw in Narnia, who would be an old friend, realizing after his boat has left the harbor that King Caspian was with whom he was to speak.  Things continue to go wrong throughout their journey, as they are almost made into a dinner for a giant’s festival and nearly enchanted into forgetting Narnia entirely.

 In the fashion of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Silver Chair is a fast-paced adventure story with the sense of impending doom and close-call escapes.  Unlike the first book, though, there is no great battle in which Aslan himself defeats the evil.  Instead, it is through the unity of the four that gathers their combined strength, as well as the sacrifice of one, that enables them to overcome the evil enchantress.

 Like the previous five Narnias, The Silver Chair is a Christian Allegory, and second only to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in references.  From the four signs Jill is given, to meeting the beautiful Lady of the Green Kirtle with the lilting voice and musical laughter, to the piercing of Aslan’s paw that resurrects and rejuvenates King Caspian, the reader is shown the nature of a called life with a purpose given by the Omniscient, Omnipresent Ruler of all.

 The Silver Chair is by far my favorite Narnian tale.  It is perhaps the best written of the six I’ve read so far, and is the most exciting and inspiring of all thus far.  I love the Owls in this book, and find Lewis’s conversational voice given to them to be a delight that begs to be read aloud.

 

“Now,” said Glimfeather, “I think we’re all here.  Let us hold a parliament of owls.”

“Tu-whoo, tu-whoo.  True for you.  That’s the right thing to do,” said several voices.

“Half a moment,” said Scrubb’s voice.  “There’s something I want to say first.”

“Do, do do,” said the owls…

“… I’m the King’s man; and if this parliament of owls is any sort of plot against the King, I’m having nothing to do with it.”

“Tu-whoo, tu-whoo, we’re all the King’s owls too,” said the owls.

 

-The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, page 573

  And Puddleglum, part Marvin the Robot, part Eeyore, is a wonderful comic relief (and given the tension in this thrilling adventure, an exceptional one is needed), and is now one of my favorite literary characters.

 

“Why the dickens couldn’t you have held her feet?” said Eustace.

“I don’t know, Scrubb,” groaned Puddleglum.  “Born to be a misfit, I shouldn’t wonder.  Fated.  Fated to be Pole’s death, just as I was fated to eat Talking Stag at Harfang.  Not that it isn’t my own fault as well, of course.”

“This is the greatest shame and sorrow that could have fallen on us,” said the Prince.  “We have sent a brave lady into the hands of enemies and stayed behind in safety.”

“Don’t paint it too black, Sir,” said Puddleglum.  “We’re not very safe except for death by starvation in this hole.”

 

-The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis, page 650

 

Puddleglum is that sort of character whom we all know in our own lives:  The one who always thinks of, and points out, the worst of all possibilities.  He is a Marsh-wiggle, a people described as considering every terrible thing that could possible happen, then putting on a brave face in preparation of meeting it.  Those people who seem to almost enjoy spreading the doubt, fear, and negativity, and who “cry wolf” so often that when real danger comes along, they are ignored and their warnings blown off. 

 However, Puddleglum has as much courage and cheek as caution, and without him the quest would have failed time and again.  As Jill describes him, “Puddleglum!  You’re a regular old humbug.  You sound as doleful as a funeral and I believe you’re perfectly happy.  And you talk as if you were afraid of everything, when you’re really as brave as -as a lion.”

 For it’s thrilling drama, fraught with dangers and a wonderful cast of characters, and for the fantastically descriptive writing by Lewis, I give The Silver Chair 5 out of 5 stars, and highly recommend it as the best of the Narnias.

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The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis

Title:  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Author:  C. S. Lewis

Paperback:  767 pages

Publisher:  HarperCollins

Publish Date:  2001

ISBN:  0066238501

Miscellaneous:  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was published third in the Narnia Series, but was meant to be read fifth by Lewis.  The copy I have read is in a complete book.

 

“Don’t they admire you?” asked Lucy.

 “Oh, not me,” said the magician.  “They wouldn’t admire me.”

 “What was it you uglified them for – I mean, what they call uglified?”

 “Well, they wouldn’t do what they were told.  Their work is to mind the garden and raise food – not for me, as they imagine, but for themselves.  They wouldn’t do it at all if I didn’t make them.   And of course, for a garden you want water.  There is a beautiful spring about half a mile away up the hill.  And from that spring there flows a stream which comes right past the garden.  All I asked them to do was to take their water from the stream instead of trudging up to the spring with their buckets two or three times a day and tiring themselves out besides spilling half of it on the way back.  But they wouldn’t see it.  In the end they refused point blank.”

 “Are they as stupid as all that?” asked Lucy.

 The Magician sighed.  “You wouldn’t believe the troubles I’ve had with them.  A few months ago they were all for washing up the plates and knives before dinner:  they said it saved time afterwards.  I’ve caught them planting boiled potatoes to save  cooking them when they were dug up.  One day the cat got into the dairy and twenty of them were at work moving all the milk out; no one thought of moving the cat….”

 …now they were jumping in all directions and calling out to one another, “Hey, lads!  We’re visible again….

 “She’s caught the old man napping, that little girl did,” said the Chief Monopod.  “We’ve beaten him this time….

 “But do they dare talk about you like that?” said Lucy.  “They seemed to be so afraid of you yesterday.  Don’t they know you might be listening?”

 “That’s one of the funny things about the Duffers,” said the Magician.  “One minute they talk as if I ran everything and overheard everything and was extremely dangerous.  The next morning they think they can take me in by tricks that a baby would see through – bless them!”

 

 -The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, pages 501-502

 

With an opportunity for Mr. Pevensie to lecture in America for sixteen weeks, it is decided that Susan will go with her parents, while Peter prepares for his exams with Professor Kirke, and the two youngest children, Edmund and Lucy, will spend the summer at their Aunt Alberta’s house.  This prospect is made miserable by the fact they will be forced to spend time with their beastly cousin Eustace, who is a mean-spirited bully.  When the three children are in Lucy’s bedroom, the picture on the wall comes to life and they are drawn into the world of Narnia, finding themselves aboard the Dawn Treader with their old friend Caspian, now King of Narnia.

 Immediately, Eustace makes an intolerable pain of himself, demanding to be taken to the British Consul and threatening to write strongly worded letters to the head of the line for his poor treatment on ship.  It isn’t until Eustace finds himself in a horrible predicament that he can’t bully or talk his way out of that he begins to take a good look at himself, and quickly realizes he doesn’t like what he sees.

 The Voyage of the Dawn Treader chronicles the quest of King Caspian to discover the fate of the seven Narnian Lords, friends of his father, who were sent off by Caspian’s usurping uncle Miraz.  Along the way, he discovers the slave trade still continues in some parts of Narnia, dragons do exist, the waters of one island turns objects (and people) into gold, an island where dreams come alive (and not just those wishful-type dreams, but the ones that make you terrified to close your eyes again, too), and more.  They’re goal is to sail to the Utter East, even to Aslan’s country, and to find what lies at the end of the world.

 Like the other Narnian tales, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a Christian Allegory, though I see this one as the least obvious of all.  It is a good adventure tale, and it has a positive message of living your life with courage and honor.  This lesson is given through Eustace’s self-discovery, Reepicheep’s voice of valor and encouragement, Lucy’s magically eavesdropping on her schoolmates and disliking what she  hears what’s said about her, and the admonishment Caspian receives when he decides to abandon his responsibilities as King to live an adventurer’s life. 

 Aslan is seen more in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader than in Prince Caspian, however, his visits and sightings are more private and tailor-made for their specific needs:  as a glowing albatross leading the ship to safety, in the artwork of the Magician’s book keeping Lucy from falling to the temptation of pride, and as a lion sculpted on the wall of Caspian’s quarters.  The best Aslan appearance, and the easiest to recognize reference, is at the end of Dawn Treader when the children encounter a lamb who offers them food by a warm fire.

 

“Please, Lamb,” said Lucy, “is this the way to Aslan’s country?”

“Not for you,” said the Lamb. “For you the door into Aslan’s country is from your own world.”

“What!”  said Edmund.  “Is there a way into Aslan’s country from our world too?”

“There is a way into my country from all the worlds,” said the Lamb; but as he spoke, his snowy white flushed into tawny gold and his size changed and he was Aslan himself, towering above them and scattering light from his mane.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy.  “Will you tell us how to get into your country from our world?”

“…are you there too, Sir?” said Edmund.

“I am,” said Aslan. “But there I have another name…”

 

-The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, pages 540-541

 

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was an interesting adventure, but it lacked a lot of the sense of movement and urgency the previous Narnia books have had.  I felt the story dragging in parts, like a ship run aground on one or two occasions, and I had to force myself through to the finish.  Even so, there were parts where I said, “Oh!  I remember reading that before,” which have stuck with me from the time my mom read them to me when I was little (she swears she read them all to us, but I don’t remember it).  And, since this book was third in publication, I can see why so many people haven’t read the whole series.  But it ends well, and everyone likes a good ending.  I give Dawn Treader 3 out of 5 stars.

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Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

Title: Matrimony
Author: Joshua Henkin
Paperback: 291 pages
Publisher: Vintage (division of Random House, Inc.)
Publish Date: August 2008
ISBN: 9780307277169

“So how’s your book going?”

“Glacially,” Julian said. “It’s like that joke about Joyce Carol Oates. Someone calls her up and her secretary says, ‘I’m sorry, Miss Oates can’t come to the phone right now, she’s busy writing a book,” and the person says, ‘That’s okay, I’ll hold.’ Only with me it’s the opposite. Rip Van Winkle wakes up twenty years later and I’m still writing my novel… I’ve been at it almost ten years,” he said. “I’ve got two hundred and fifty pages, though I’ve probably thrown out twenty for every one I’ve kept. I’m laying waste to whole forests.”

“What’s the book about?”

Julian hesitated. Even to Mia, he hadn’t confided much; he didn’t want to jinx himself. Growing up, he’d had a special cup he drank from and a lucky number, eight. When he watched the Metsat Shea Stadium in 1973, five years old, in the corporate box seats with his father, he always wore his baseball glove… because he believed it made the Mets play better… Writers, Julian believed, came in all types, but one way or another they were control freaks, and superstition was nothing if not an attempt to exert control. Besides, he thought a good novel resisted summary; it had to speak for itself. Still, he felt he owed Carter an answer, for Carter was his friend and he’d written fiction, too.

-Matrimony by Joshua Henkin, page 142

First of all, I want to say that when I first received an email from Josh to review and host a giveaway for Matrimony, I was preparing for a real life visit from my Second Life boyfriend. I was excited and in love, and all that other ooey-gooey stuff brought on by the overproduction of the brain chemicals dopamine and oxytocin. I read the summary and it sounded sweet and lovely and wonderful. However, by the time the book arrived, things between him and I had started going south (reality really ruins fantasy), and I didn’t want to read about happy people falling in love and living happy lives with each other and living happily ever after. So, I drug my feet so hard that I’m surprised I don’t have grooves in my floors.

Then Josh sent another email excusing me from the review having not read the book, and asking me if I still wanted host the book giveaway. I felt guilty for not following through on my side of it, deciding to grin and bear the book , and facetiously set the giveaway for the first day of Lent, stating the two sacraments, marriage and penance, went well together.

So I sat down Sunday morning and started reading Matrimony. Immediately I realized this book was, by far, NOT what I had expected. Josh’s characters are shocking and quirky, vibrant and memorable, drawing me in and guaranteeing I would read the book through to the final punctuation mark.

Julian’s roommate is convinced the other guys on their dorm floor pee in the communal shower and resolves to wear flip-flops when bathing. His writing professor, embittered by the treatment of his novel in a failed attempt to turn it into a movie, refuses to admit anyone who writes with the intention to write books for the film industry. What’s more, Professor Chesterfield writes commandments on the blackboard, 117 by year’s end, like “THOU SHALT NOT USE THE WORD ‘KERPLUNK’ IN YOUR SHORT STORIES,” and “ THOU SHALT NEVER USE PASS-THE-SALT DIALOGUE.

It is in this writing class Julian meets Carter Heinz, and the two become best friends. During their freshman year, Carter meets and falls in love with Pilar, as does Julian with Mia when they meet in the dorm’s laundry room. Thus begins Matrimony, as Henkin takes the reader on a 15 year journey in the life of Julian Wainright, born to wealth but refusing the comforts and connections the privilege would bring, his struggles to fulfill his dream to publish his novel, and the joys and heartaches life brings.

Unlike Sinclair’s Jungle, whose characters make small gains in one chapter, only to have catastrophic losses in the next, until you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all, the ups and downs the lives of the characters in Matrimony are believable and to whom the reader can fully relate. When Mia feels lost and alone as she watches her mother waste away from breast cancer, I wanted to hug her and comfort her and tell I knew what she was going through because my father died from cancer. I was reassured by Julian’s difficulties as a writer, knowing I’m not alone in my own feelings in my own sluggish progress with my novel. And when trouble arises between the couple after Julian learns about an infidelity nine years before, I completely understood his sense of betrayal and loss.

But Henkin hasn’t just written a compelling and involving tale of characters so real that you expect to find them at the grocery store or mall, Matrimony offers lessons in writing that I’ve taken to heart and inspires the reader to action. After reading how Mia copes with their separation, foregoing the comfort of their bed, sleeping instead on the futon from their college days and hoping to catch Julian‘s scent in it, I realized I was holding on to a person, knowing our relationship has ended.

After his visit, I had taken the bed sheet he’d slept on, folded it up and put it away, refusing to wash it because HE was in it; his skin cells, hair and scent were woven into the threads themselves. However, after reading Mia’s feelings, thoughts and actions, I grabbed the sheet and threw it in the washer, letting go of the hurt and disappointment and sense of loss of what could have been. I deleted his phone numbers from my phone and his address from my computer. Then I took a long look at the months I spent in Second Life, and asked myself what did I haveto show for it. The answer I arrived at was this: For the five months I spent escaping to a virtual (fantasy is a better term) world, I had neglected my responsibilities to my family, the housekeeping, to my reading and blogging, to paying bills, became forgetful of appointments and activities, and have had one of the worst cases of winter depression (I have Seasonal Affected Disorder) that I have had in a long time. I have very little good to show for it. Once I realized this, I removed everything related to Second Life from my computer and I’m debating canceling my account (I have decided to wait a month before doing something that drastic, though, as I’vealready paid the rent for my apartment). Though it was painful at first, I feel a profound sense of relief and freedom at having made a decision and taken action, taking control of the situation instead of being a passive victim of life.

I have told all of that to say this: The difference between a good read and a great book is whether or not the reader is changed and compelled to act on that change. A good read is enjoyable and fun, but is forgotten in a year or two; it is the chips and Twinkies of the literary world. Contrastingly, a great book may be an uncomfortable labor to take in, but the reader cannot walk away the same person he or she was before opening the cover and peeking within; it is the manna that sustained the Israelites for forty years of desert wandering, and is preserved for future generations’ understanding and inspiration. Great books become classics, and Matrimony, if there is any wisdom in the reading world, will be counted among them.

For its truth, wisdom, tangible characters, its meaningful and timely content, and its power to inspire and to illicit change, I give Matrimony by Joshua Henkin 5 out of 5 stars, two thumbs and toes up, and a perfect ten (even the German judge agrees). It ranks among the few books I’ve read that becomes a permanent resident of my library. I know I will reread this book, which is very rare for me. I just cannot praise Matrimony enough.

Thank you, Josh, for writing this book and for inviting me to experience and share it. *sniff… tear* :)

 

Don’t forget to sign up to WIN a personalized, autograph copy of Matrimony by Joshua Henkin!  Enter here to win! :-)

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