Friday Fill-Ins ~ The Cheeky Dark Hand of the Spanish Galleon

This week, Friday Fill-ins took the first sentence in 6 of Janet’s favorite books…you fill them in…with the right words or even better, ones of your own.

And…here we go!

1. “In a hole in the ground there lived one of the wickedest and cowardly men (if you could even call him that) that ever lived.”

2. “I think the swirling mist in the cemetary might mean there are ghosts  but that ain’t no matter.”

3. “After dark the rain began to fall again, just like the Universal Weather Program Department programmed it to do.”

4. “Look!  I found a pinata from the hold of the Spanish galleon.”

5. “There was a hand in the darkness, and I slapped it for being cheeky.”

6. “Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, but the men in white coats ambush those always suspecting.”

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to hopefully finally kicking this stomach flu so I can read some, tomorrow my plans include going to the grocery store and doing some housework and Sunday, I want to watch a movie together with all my girls!

When We Were Romans by Matthew Kneale

Title: When We Were Romans
Author: Matthew Kneale
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Double Day
Publish Date: July 22, 2008
ISBN: 9780385526258

I had seen mum when she got worreid but I never saw her like this, this was worse. I said “mum, its time to get up, don’t you want your breakfast” but she just talked really quietly so I could hardly hear, it was like she was yawning, she said “I think I’ll just stay here, Lawrence, I’m a bit tired.” I said “but you can’t mum, we’ve got to go to Rome, remember” but she didn’t say anything, she just lay in her bed looking up at the cieling with her eyes. I could feel my breathing going fast and Jemimas lips were going all wobbly like she would cry, she said “whats gone wrong with mummy” and I didn’t know what to do, I thought “what about our breakfast?” I thought “I don’t know where we get it, we can’t go without mum” and suddenly I wanted to cry too. But then I thought of something, it was like I just notised it, I thought “I cant get upset too actually or there will be nobody left.”

When We Were Romans is a story of a family in crisis, fleeing from their home to escape the children’s stalking father as told by nine-year-old Lawrence. Through Lawrence’s eyes we witness and feel the life of a child who has no choice or control in his life and must go with and take care of his mentally ill mother. In this, Lawrence is both a helpless child desperate for his mother’s affection and care giver who must watch her carefully, always ready to do or say whatever he must to keep her from slipping into a deep depressive state.  (I kept wondering if she was a bipolar, borderline personality, or had paranoid schitzophrenia.)

It is heartbreaking to watch Lawrence struggle with being a typical older sibling who feels his baby sister is favored (and sometimes he’s right, as Jemima screams and bites until their mother gives in), and with being the man of the family, responsible for Jemima’s care and his mother’s safety. Several times his mother loses herself and Lawrence feels panicked about what he could do as a child.

As the book progresses, Hannah (mum) descends deeper into her delusions. When her friends disagree with her and try to get her to see that what she says is not possible, she tells Lawrence their father has turned them against her. She finally comes unhinged as she is certain their father has taken up residence in the building next door, sneaks in their house and poisons the food, and at one point she tells Lawrence he’s poisoned their tap, too. When Lawrence expresses his doubts about what his mother says, Hannah withholds love and affection until he finally gives in and agrees to everything she tells him.

A bit later the door opened and mum looked in, she was still cross, I could see it. She said “hurry up Lawrence, we’re going out to get some breakfast at a cafe.” I thought “that’s strange, why does she want to go outside to a cafe when shes worried dads out there?” But then when I got up I saw there were two garbage bags by the door and I understood, I thought “oh yes of course, mum has thrown away all our food in case its poissoned, so we have to go out.” I thought “I hope it really is poissoned or thats a big waste of food”

For me, this was a hard read. Not in the sense of densness or poor writing, Kneale is an amazing writer, never jumping out of Lawrence’s voice, and the language was so simple, just like a nine-year-old would write. What made it hard was that I’ve had a past where I was a mom and struggled with mental illness at the same time. It’s amazing how much children see and understand that, years later, I’m still shocked and embarrassed by the things they remember. To understand what young Lawrence is feeling, both dependant and caretaker, always tiptoeing around to see how mum’s feeling at this minute, which could turn 180 degrees the next. To hear his frustration, hurt, anger, and devotion breaks my heart for him… and for my kids, as well.

Also sprinkled throughout the book are scientific stories about space, Emperors and Popes. These are different tidbits from the books Lawrence was reading and at first seemed non-sequiter, but as I began to try to figure out how they fit within the text (I was certain an author of Kneale’s talent would just throw them in for filler) I began to see how they reflected what was going on for Lawrence. As he talks of “The Great Attractor” and the sun expanding out and burning up the earth before imploding on itself, I can see this references the pull his mother had on him. The stories of Popes and Emperors displayed madness and murder at it’s nth degree. The story of Nero trying to kill his mother Agrippina is was particularly interesting as I couldn’t help but wonder if this was Lawrence’s subconscious wish.

Amazingly simplistic and deeply intuitive, When We Were Romans is a prize worthy work. However, if you are put off by spelling and grammatical errors, I do not recommend it. As I said, it is written from Lawrence’s point of view and is full of the type of mispelling and grammar trouble typical of a child. But if you are able to look past that and enjoy books of family drama and suspense, then I definitely suggest adding When We Were Romansto your own Mt. TBR.   4.5 stars out of 5   This story will be with me for a while.

Skeleton Crew by Stephen King

Skeleton Crew cover artTitle: Skeleton Crew

Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Signet
ISBN:0451168615

Publication Date: 1986

Skeleton Crew is a collection of 22 stories.  Most are short stories, with the exception of 2 poems and the novella, “The Mist.”  Like most collections, some of the book’s stories are better than others, two of which have been translated to film.

Aside from the Introduction, the book begins with “The Mist“.  This novella is the whole reason I picked up this book.  It has been recently made into a movie, also titled “The Mist.”  In my opinion, with the exception a few other entries, this is the only story that is worth reading in this book.  Since the movie’s release, “The Mist” is now in print as a stand alone novel. 

This story begins in the aftermath of a hundred-year storm that has left residents without power and a hefty chore of cleaning up.  Steff Drayton asks her husband, David, to run into town to get a few items on her grocery list.  David takes his son, Billy, with him along with his neighbor, Brent Norton, with whom he had had a recent court case that left both men with hard feelings toward one another.  As he gets ready to take off, Drayton takes one last look out on the lake where a bizarre mist has been rolling in from the direction of a nearby military base.

In town, the three enter the Federal Foods Supermarket.  But before they can get their shopping done, all Hell breaks loose… literally.  Stuck inside the store with several area residents and summer tourists, Drayton fights to keep his son and fellow shoppers calm and safe while huge tentacled beasts, ginormous flying bugs and spiders, and pteradactyl-type monsters loom on the other side of the Federal Food’s plate glass windows. 

While beasties troll outside, the breakdown of society occurs inside when Mrs. Carmody, area mystic and resident crackpot, begins spewing Apocalyptic references and claims only the human sacrifice of little, innocent Billy will keep them safe.  Drayton and a handful of others realize it’s no more safe inside than out, and decide to make a daring escape.  But is there any world left out there to go to?

The Monkey is another worthy-to-read story.  It is about a small boy finding a toy monkey that claps the cymbals permanently attatched to his simean paws when wound.  But when he winds it, he discovers it doesn’t work.  Later, when it spontaneously claps and chirps to life, young Hal is frightened.  But when he finds out that, at the exact moment it began to play, his babysitter died, he becomes terrified and throws it back in the closet.  But the monkey likes Hal.  He wants to stay with Hal.  The monkey refuses to stay gone, even after he’s given to the junk man and later thrown down a well, all the while clapping his symbols and taking lives, just to return, once more, to the boy he stalks.   I will never buy one of these monkies after reading this… never ever ever!

The second story that was turned into movie magic is The Raft; it was one of the segment stories  in the second Creepshow movie.  I still remember, to this day, this one scared the bejesus out of me.  I went to summer camp, which had the wooden deck floating in the middle of the pond, just like in the story.  I was so excited when I came across the written story in this book.  Basically, it’s the story of 2 couples, over-sexed college students, who decide to take a forbidden swim in the lakem which is closed for the season.  As their swimming out to the anchored deck, what appears to be an oil slick begins to float towards them.  It is no oil slick… it is some bizarre carnivorous floating monster, stalking the lovers like prey.

Other stories worth honorable mention are: Mrs. Todd’s Shorcut (her obsession with finding the fastest shortcut would stymie Einstein), The Jaunt (you can teleport to Mars, just don’t do it conscious).

Paranoid:  A Chant is actually a poem, but I thought it was pretty cool.  So I will end this review with a quote from it:

“Last night a dark man with no face crawled through nine miles

of sewer to surface in my toilet, listening

For phone calls through the cheep wood with

chrome ears.I tell you, man, I hear.”