Thursday, March 30, 2017

Does the Real World Hide Behind Fictional Fear?

Fear wears many different faces in novels I've read recently. In one, a dying woman is afraid for the daughters she'll leave behind. Others fear revelations from the past and struggle not to touch its memories. One woman is convinced her memories are false because nobody believed them--now she calls herself insane. There's a man who fears, very sensibly, how misguided decisions will effect his land and neighbors. Another fears the end of the world; yet another, the end of the world as he's imagined it. Some take action to end their fears, others start more fear, and others hide. But all these fears can be seen as mirrors held up to the present world. Do we hide behind our fear? Do we hide our fears in fiction? Or does fiction help us explore and recognize fear so we can act wisely instead of hiding?

Find a mug, pour some coffee, and decide which fears and which books you'd like from these.

In South California Purples by Baron R Birtcher, rancher Ty Dawson can see trouble looming (and a gruesomely dead cow). The world of 1973 is changing, but he channels his fear for the future into wise care for the present, even taking on the unwanted task of preserving law and order for a fast-growing crowd of environmentalists, hippies and bikers. The story's told with unflinching detail, lyrical prose, fast action, and a wonderful sense for people, time and place. And it's set in my beloved Oregon. What more could you ask for? Some well-balanced, full-flavored three-star coffee perhaps?

As Close As Sisters by Colleen Faulkner takes place on the opposite coast, where four girls who grew up together now face forces that might drive them apart. One might be dying. Another contemplates having a child. A third is entering a new relationship. And a fourth keeps secrets for them all. Fear of living, fear of dying, fear for the future, fear for the secrets of the past--all these are in this novel, where communication just might hold the key to moving on. Enjoy with some elegant complex four-star coffee.

More wounded women star in Outrageous by Neal Katz, the first in a sequence of books depicting the real life of Victoria Woodhull. Home life, filled with abuse, is truly terrifying, but Vickie learns to trust the company of women over that of men, and finds solace as well as fear in spirits. The real world, life and scandals are truly outrageous, but the characters are achingly human. And fears are truly overcome. I wish it was more than just part one of the story though. Well-balanced with well-told research, this is one to enjoy with a well-balanced three-star coffee.

Play House by Saikat Majumdar is set in India. The Play House in question might be the theater where a boy's mother works as an actress. It might be the home run by his grandmother, where mother is soon unwelcome. Maybe it's the apartment, never quite a home, where the mother plays at being mom. Or is it the house in the young boy's mind, where he puts together half-images, draws half-conclusions, and brings the whole construction down on everyone? This is a truly absorbing haunting novel, filled with the fears of adolescence, and best enjoyed with some dark five-star coffee.

Nos4a2 by Joe Hill is meant to scare you, of course. It's horror fiction at its best, building terror on a seriously cool premise, and contrasting good and evil in the form of a woman who thinks she's crazy but dearly loves her son, and a man who truly is crazy and loves all children. I was lost from the very first mention of a bridge between lost and found, and didn't find myself again until the end. Enjoy with some seriously rich, dark, five-star coffee.

Similarly, 1999 by Stanley Baldwin is meant to scare readers. Of course, the dreaded Y2K has been and gone, but this depiction of religious fervor and fear remains as a haunting warning against seeing answered prayer in the temptations of success. A father is drawn into the web of a charismatic teacher. His wife is subtly torn down and driven to despise herself. And his career, his work for God is blooming, except... Well, you'll have to read it if you can find it. I really enjoyed how1999 is simultaneously wise, scary, entertaining, non-preachy, and a really good read. Pour some dark five-star coffee to go with it.

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