conquering death to spite english | 2019.01.21

Census by Jesse Ball | Review

Ball, Jesse_Census

Publication: New York, NY : Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, [2018]

Genre: Dystopian fiction

Pages: 241 | 4 hours 54 minutes

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook

Source: MCL

What thoughts wash through a person’s mind as they approach death? What we usually think of and what’s presented in most literary explorations of the end stages of a human life are of course memories, albeit cautiously viewed only through the lens of backward looking. Yet unlike Granny Weatherall and many others, the unnamed main character of Ball’s novel does not seem to be plagued by these all-too-common shackles of regret.

Instead, Ball’s narrator completely embraces the more pleasant-leaning memories of what he, his recently deceased wife, and their son have accomplished as a family unit during their life together. At the same time, the main character makes the very conscious decision to turn his family’s last hoped-for accomplishment into a reality, and this in the shape of a long car trip with himself and his son in the flesh, while they both carry his wife along for the ride in their memories. As a result, the narration artfully traces the characters’ journeys of standing still in the contented contemplation of the past while they simultaneously strive to take one last brave step forward together both in life and in death.

In Census, the narrator is newly diagnosed with an undisclosed terminal illness sometime after the death of his beloved wife. In response to the news of his impending passage off this celestial plane of consciousness, the main character, as mentioned above, decides to spend the remaining weeks of his life taking his son on the very road trip their little family had always longed for. Yes, very much yes, the writing captures well the bittersweetness of the main character and his son (who we know from the author’s introduction has Down syndrome like the author’s own brother) having missed this road trip opportunity while the main character’s spouse was still able to join them in the flesh. However, it is this melancholy that embodies the backward and forward sway of pushing would-be regret toward fulfillment. The book struck me as the subtlest portrayal of time travel in this way. And, this is exactly how the book is able to relate the essence of calm reflection at its core.

To call a road trip where the journeying duo task themselves with the solemn duties of tattooing census marks on various citizens may seem an odd choice at first. But this is where the novel distinguishes itself from the usual verge-of-death stories we often find in literature. For not only is the narrative filled with memories, it also offers a view of the lives being currently lived within that same narrative of the father and son being featured, as well as of the many varied people they meet (and tattoo) along the way.

I loved the other reviews I found of this book. They pointed out Ball’s literary echoing of the writing styles of Kafka, Calvino, and Whitman, each in turn, with which I agree on unrealized-until-now reflection. The landscape being described is vast and unknowable except through the people who populate it in turns with excitement and apprehension at the idea of being “counted” with the unexplained tattoo ritual associated with the census taking task. In the midst of these literarily gorgeous descriptions, Ball straddles memoiristic and fantastically-almost-science-fictional prose. Not a small accomplishment, to be sure.

And then there are the repeated references to the writings of the fictional Mutter and her sweet obsession with cormorants. Ball explains this inclusion as his solution for relating to his readers the philosophical highs and lows of his main character’s emotional states. In an interview with Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, Ball states that “having Mutter allows for emotional peaks of various sorts to be reached by reference,” instead of leaning all the weight of philosophical pondering on the main character.

Lastly, I’d like to talk about the above-mentioned Down syndrome of the main character’s son and Ball’s normalcy-demanding handling of this topic. This, I feel, is too huge a part of the novel to be ignored. How do we respond with adequacy to the categorically “abnormal” when abnormal is really where everyone lives constantly if we are brave enough to admit it? We use, clumsily as they come, the words available . . . but even these efforts so tragically fail, it seems. Ball has the firsthand experience, in his relationship with his now deceased and very much-loved brother, to tackle such a topic, however. He knows enough about the failings of our English language to still convince his book’s prose to give praise to the beauty inherent in an “other’s” perspective of seeing the world. Pulling again from the Powell’s interview, I deeply appreciated Ball explains the following:

“It’s difficult to speak about subjects who do not participate in a substantive way in the creation of the language that you’re going to speak about them in. I had to find a way to write about people like my brother in English, when the language itself is an enemy. That was one of the reasons for writing the book, and one of the problems that I had to navigate in writing it.”

Because the English language, the language in which this book seems to be apolitically written, is the language of the historically oppressive. If you feel this book review is a little tiny bit judgmental then perhaps you’re ready to take another look at what really matters, with a simultaneously backwards and forwards glance.

why books matter | 2019.02.09

The Library Book by Susan Orlean | Review

Orlean, Susan_The Library Book

Publication: New York : Simon and Schuster, 2018

Genre: True Crime Stories

Pages: 317 | 12 hours 9 minutes

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook

Source: MCL

The morning of January 30th, earlier this year, I burst into tears in the shower while listening to Susan Orlean describe in horrifying detail the fire that consumed the L.A. Central Library branch in April 1986. It’s not that the description was a surprise, as I knew making that particular library fire famous was in a way the point of the book Orlean was presenting to her enthusiastic readers (there are still 308 holds on my local library system’s 78 copies of the hardcover version, not to mention 170 holds on their 29 copies of the downloadable audiobook version). But somehow the word-spun images she conjured of the white-hot flames gobbling their way through the library stacks left me sobbing with one hand on the cold, steam-crested tiles and the other covering my mouth’s perhaps overly-dramatic distortions of grief.

I’d like to talk about the structure of Orlean’s content in this one, especially since I’ve been studying the various options any storyteller, be they playwright, author, documentarist, composer, or other, has at their disposal for putting one piece of a tale in front of another so as to best lead an audience through some semblance of the experience desired.

In her initial chapter, Orlean introduces the possible culprit of the legendary L.A. Central Library branch fire, the fire that the reader knows will be the catalyst for the rest of the book, from which the rest of the spokes of wandering historical investigative writing will extend. Let’s call this portion of the book the “hook” with which Orlean catches her readerish prey.

Second, Orlean lets the reader know she believes in libraries and definitely in books. To accomplish this stage-setting, which will ultimately serve as a harsh bed of smoldering book pillows into which her audience will, pages later, be able to bury their tear-stained faces, she talks about her own history with libraries in the experiences of her youth, retelling how her mother used to take her to the library every week so she could claim a new stack of books to pile in a cherished tower on her lap during the car ride home while she and her mother would discuss with utmost seriousness what reading order would allow them to beat the already impending due dates. This is undoubtedly the empathy tactic that all writers should know, which allows the curiosity of the first part of a story to be inextricably linked to the emotions of the audience.

Third, Orlean speeds the reader through the trauma of the legendary fire itself, a breathtaking description I cannot add to, and so won’t try here. In this way, Orlean pulls the line tight around the hook of the initial part of her storytelling. We’ve been given intrigue, we’ve been given a reason to care, and then we’re subjected to the terror of experiential description that merges the first and second parts so that we can’t stop turning the pages to try and find the justice of explanation.

Next, Orlean takes her readers with her on a deep-dive investigation of the alleged L.A. Central Library branch fire-starter’s history, from his family’s narrow escape from the Midwestern dust bowls of the Great Depression, to their struggles with a simultaneously promising and yet fleeting Californian economy during the initial stages of the space race era. Here she adds a human element to the outrage her readers might well be feeling.

Finally, Orlean leaves the reader to conjecture about the who-done-it aspect of the story and moves on instead to talk about the science and slog, at times, of running a library, what this takes, how it’s been approached through history, and how librarians today view their calling with all its implications of stewardship and social justice activism. Among this portion of the book, the reader is given a view into Orlean’s almost religious ponderings about the place of books and the written word within human history. This was, by the way, my absolute favourite part of the book. What better way to give credence to the topic you’ve chosen to have at the heart of your book than to pay the highest homage to that topic, building it up to Olympus’s summit?

“A book feels like a thing alive in this moment. And also, alive on a continuum from the moment the thoughts about it first percolated in the writer’s mind to the moment it sprang off the printing press, a lifeline that continues as someone sits with it and marvels over it. And it continues on, time after time after time. Once words and thoughts are poured into them, books are no longer just paper and ink and glue. They take on a kind of human vitality. The poet Milton called this quality in books, ‘the potency of life.’”

For the rest of the book, Orlean moves back and forth through time, detailing the variant destruction and rebuilding of not only the L.A. Central Library but libraries around the world as a pastime and point of intellectual, as well as social, pride. All the while she doesn’t let the reader lose sight of the question of the great fire’s origin. These final sections, if we’re continuing to follow the structure of Orlean’s book, give the perfect climactic rise of emotions as Orlean follows the court cases surrounding the alleged fire-starter’s later life adventures, pulling a Capote in a way so that the reader almost wants the accused to escape. Then the denouement clasps gentle hands around the audience so that solving the mystery is outshone by the need for the revitalization of the cathedral of books that is the true heart of Orlean’s work here. (I’ll let you explore the ultimate conclusions she reached regarding the case itself in your own reading adventure of this book.)

looking over the fence of hatred | 2019.02.06

Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of A Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow| Review

Saslow, Eli_Rising Out of Hatred

Publication: New York : Doubleday, [2018]

Genre: Biography

Pages: 288 | Audiobook: 9 hours 2 minutes

Formats: Hardcover, eBook, Audiobook

Source: MCL

I have the Portland Book Festival (previously and ever-enduringly known to native Portlanders as Wordstock) to thank for putting this book on my radar. On first review, the aspect of this book that impressed me most was the author’s ability to show not only the divisiveness of hatred-driven beliefs like white supremacy, but also how discussions that demand accountability can lead to change.

Saslow’s book, at its core, is a journalistic account of how a young white nationalist, Derek Black (son of white supremacy leader Don Black and protégé of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke) escaped his white supremacy roots to see the light of equality and inclusion. The story also explores the inner struggles (and rightly so) of Derek’s fellow college students as they tried to decide how to react to Derek’s presence on their New College campus in Florida. Many of these individuals had every reason, by the fact of their categorically “non-white” heritages, to hate those, like Derek, who were working to further white supremacy ideas. Yet, a few of these same students made an effort (after very careful consideration of the risks they might be taking in allowing someone like Derek to feel comfortable in his daily life) to include Derek in their circle of friends and to see him as a person with the potential for individual thought that might push him toward curious development.

While I found this astonishing, as I continued reading Saslow’s description of Derek’s journey out of hatred, the term accountability kept ringing in my mind. For it can’t be denied that Derek’s work during the time he was still an extremely active part of the white supremacy movement helped to push the harmful rhetoric of white nationalism into the mainstream of our current “patriotic” American culture.

In his introduction, Saslow explains Derek’s initial reluctance to provide interviews regarding his personal journey out of his white nationalist background. Then, in the wake of the Trump election, Derek found himself needing to be more publicly vocal against the racial prejudices he knew his past life had helped introduce into the mainstream of American opinion. While it may be difficult to reject the mantras of one’s youth, which can masquerade as comforting truths, it is arguably ten times as difficult to stand up against them in a public setting such as this book provides, not to mention the multiple news interviews Derek has given since he renounced his white supremacy upbringing starting with a letter published on the Southern Poverty Law Center website in 2013.

After marveling at Derek’s conscious decision to publicly reject his past ideas of hatred, I began thinking again about the bravery of those who helped him toward this radical change. We live in a society so quick to align, so quick to say, “You’re the enemy.” Saslow’s book, however, seems to argue that standing at impassible odds forever with our “others” only strengthens the lines of division to the point that the “us” and the “them” have no chance to see over each other’s fences. I guess we have to ask whether seeing past one another’s prejudices and opinions is the goal. When there’s a clear wrong being advocated, how do we make room enough to converse with those advocating for that wrong?

As stated above, Rising Out of Hatred is as much about Derek Black’s coming to the realization that the goals of his white nationalist upbringing are harmful, as it is about the people who had the patience to walk him through his transformation. And these were college students, no less, protégés in their own right to the millennial changes of societal awareness that have continued to push forward such awakenings as the #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, and LGBT movements. These are the real rock stars of this book, I feel. For these individuals were willing to see Derek as a person beyond the lines of “the enemy” while still persistently demanding Derek reject his white supremacy ideas. Their persistence seemed one of the primary catalysts that eventually led Derek to his conversion, in a way.

Overall, reading this book made me realize I have some patience to learn in seeing my own ultra conservative family members (and all ultra conservatives, who I perhaps unwittingly equate with supporters of our current incumbent) in light of the people that they are and the reasons for their philosophical tendencies instead of as pure embodiments of an “evil other.” While I personally am not quite there yet, I hope that society will continue to learn from our up-and-coming generation the practice of constructive and open conversation as well as the power of daring to take accountability seriously.

grokking a wrongness in micro aggressions | 2019.01.19

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein | Review

Heinlein, Robert A_Stranger in a Strange Land

Publication:  G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1961

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 408 (New York : Ace Books, ©2003 publication has 525 pages, introducing the original manuscript) | 16 hours 17 minutes

Formats: Paperback, eBook, Audiobook

Source: MCL

This book excited me in its initial stages. Jo Walton’s main character recommends this writer in Walton’s Among Others, so I ran as fast as I could to the local library to check out Heinlein’s work (late to the party, I know, but what’re ya gonna do). After reading through multiple other reviews, I think I may have picked up a poor example of Heinlein’s literary prowess. (And it seems, from her review on Tor.com, Walton agrees.)

While basking in ideas of grokking the mysteries of the universe and the serenity of the main character’s alien view of human interactions, the following line from this book’s otherwise main feminist character (for her time, maybe . . . not without room for growth in that area) sucked all the air out of my personal safe space: “Nine times out of ten, if a girl gets raped, it’s partly her fault.”

Looking for solace, I found the GoodReads discussion about this quote runs the full gamut of possible responses. Just to be clear, I don’t believe in banning or editing works of art (I’m throwing literature in the art category here), and I understand fully this book might be quite simply a product of its 1960s time. Free love was on the rise as a natural backlash to a country steeped in conservative straining, for sure. But I think the discomfort that other (largely female) readers had with this, granted, very small piece of the book also shouldn’t be pushed to the sidelines.

Over the last month, the term “micro aggressions” keeps cropping up in my mind, especially when exploring anything written or created by cis white (Western mostly) male artists, be they old or new. Micro aggressions, as I’m coming to understand them, refer to any subtly accepted social norms that actually perpetuate disrespect (a.k.a. aggression) toward a specific group of people or ideas. So, to brush over such a quote as the one I’m honing in on for this review seems an agreement in perpetuating such mentalities, however subtly they may be presented.

Who’s to blame for this type of blatant disregard of every other perspective, meaning every perspective other than the perspective of the cis white male? Probably not Heinlein in and of himself; but I strongly believe that the aggregate of literary (and artistic in general) endeavors that push out (again, however subtly, since the devil truly is in the details) this type of mentality to their audiences has assisted in the formation of societal views on topics of rape and the general disrespect of women in the grander practice of even our current daily lives. And that impact of what we allow as the acceptable norm, acceptable even if it’s “a product of its time,” should still be held to some level of accountability, I feel.

Okay, so, Heinlein bit the dust with regard to that one sentence in this book. I’m not convinced the book doesn’t have maybe other important social commentary to offer (“grokking a wrongness in the poor in-betweeners” may really take the goddamn cake, however . . . not a fan of that one either, for the same reasons noted above), but I also don’t think these types of quotes don’t bear a ton of discussion either. Another great review of the book exists at The Outline, if you’re interested.

magical memory carpets | 2019.01.07

Among Others by Jo Walton | Review

walton, jo_among others

Publication: New York : Tor, 2011, ©2010

Genre: Fantasy

Pages: 302

Formats: Paperback, eBook, Hardcover

Source: MCL

This is going to be long and obnoxious, however . . .

“It makes me melancholy to remember, but a little bit of the security and excitement comes through from the way I was feeling in the memory. Memories are like a big pile of carpets, I keep them piled up in one big pile in my head and don’t pay much attention to them separately, but if I want to, I can get back in and walk on them and remember. I’m not really there, not like an elf might be, of course. It’s just that if I remember being sad or angry or chagrined, a little of that feeling comes back. And the same goes for happy, of course, though I can easily wear out the happy memories by thinking about them too much. If I do, when I’m old all the bad memories will still be sharp, because of pushing them away, but all the good ones will be worn out.”

As my dearest friend and I met last weekend to muddle through drafts of our memoiristic essay collection that we hope will manifest itself into something someday worth sharing, I asked for her thoughts on this quote. We’re writing our book together to wear out the less pleasant memories, she agreed with another cheers of our glasses. Of course, there’s always melancholy when it comes to memories, and the writing seems to encapsulate the cringing in a type of sainthood sometimes. I love Orwell’s caution to fellow writers in his essay “Such, Such Were the Joys” where he states simply that “whoever writes about his [or her] childhood must beware of exaggeration and self-pity.” Because memories are slippery, and if we try to rush to the climax, we’ll miss the ecstasy of orgasm that often mirrors revelation.

If this book had been available when I was fifteen, I think my life might have turned out different, but that’s what we say, I’d wager, whenever we find a text (or any type of artist endeavor really) that resonates. I read The Perks of Being a Wallflower before the repressed memories of my abuse-filled childhood came back, and it didn’t jar those memories loose or change the forefront (a.k.a. consciousness) of how I saw the world at that time. But the change was probably there, brewing just beneath the surface. Maybe it’s not that a life’s course can necessarily change in its subsequent curves between this or that circumstance, but that a person’s perspective of those twisting paths might be turned ever so slightly aside to better perceive the options inherent to living in and of itself. Perhaps this is the magic of books particularly, in that they provide a kaleidoscope through which the reader (and sometimes the writer) can view and, hopefully, understand better the intricacies of not only the lives of others but of himself or herself. Any book or piece of art that accomplishes this depth of wondering introspection possesses the magic of time travel, which rings of both science fiction and fantasy together (I think we’ve found your magic carpets, Walton, huzzah!).

Yet such a journey is not to be rushed, I’ve become convinced (as I’ve stated above with probably too much boldness). Among Others took me just over six months to finish. I savored each fictionalized journal entry, not wanting the music of Walton’s reflective prose to end. While some reviewers expressed being overwhelmed by the endless stream-of-consciousness references to all the science fiction and fantasy books a mind could possibly hold, I’m excited to have Walton’s book on my shelf as a kind of experiential reading list. Not only does she give recommendations of authors and titles (some recommendations more flattering than others . . . Le Guin, Heinlein, Delany, and Zelazny seem to be among her favorites), but as I worked through Morwenna’s lists of her and Walton’s choice literary pieces while taking intermittent breaks from Among Others, I found the storyline of Walton’s book grew in depth and richness. Because reading is an experience that the reader can hold in his or her mind for eternity if the right notes are struck. Sharing those experiences through the sharing of great, or even just memorable (some might say you can’t have one without the other) books and writing and art in general can calm the anxiety of loneliness.

And loneliness is what Walton’s book is all about. This theme comes up again and again. The main character even chides herself for wishing (to the point of magic) for a group of likeminded friends, fearing that comrades gotten by selfish wish-making might negate the authenticity of such meetings of kindred spirits. So I found the book to be more than a collection of the author’s favorite sci-fi and fantasy recommendations. It’s immovably rife also with coming-of-age motifs, including the finding of the self in the face of mother-daughter relations, rumors among classmates, the desperation of trying to capture fresh memories before they go stale, and magic . . . always the magic of youth and what it means to hold onto that while the years gather.

ulysses’s evil twin | 2018.12.22

Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany | Review

delany, samuel r._dhalgren

Publication: Bantam Books 1975

Genre: Science Fiction

Pages: 801

Formats: Paperback, eBook

Source: MCL

Last summer, a lowly, long-distance sci-fi book group picked this one out their usual scramble for fodder to inspire great, or at least amusing, literary and scientifically-charged discussion. At the book’s half-way point by late October, two out of the three members were ready to throw in the towel. This is not an uncommon response, it seems. A good number of the book reviews I found online that tackle Delany’s masterpiece (I’m just going to boldly put that out there) focus, much like my book group in our initial stages, on the difficulty of this book.

Yes, it’s 800 goddamn pages. Yes, the writing tends toward the experimental both in style and format. Yes, the sex is explicit and detailed without the familiarity of superfluous erotica expectations, and, yes, the plot is as shadowy as Bellona’s cityscape, which Delany describes with the repetition of a rower’s oar trying to surge its owner’s escape through a haze of on-the-verge-of-continuously violent friendships that seem to offer little to no edification. (That last one was a terrible attempt at emulation, by the way. More practice needed.)

By mid-December, my book group agreed (or perhaps we agreed to disagree after we’d quit towel-tossing and got back to the business of intellectual debate) that to ask, “What happened?” in the midst of this book’s circular-reasoning mire of philosophical quandaries was to miss the point of the book completely.

Instead, we found this is the type of book that pulled out all the stops, tackling race, sexual expectations, social norms, the sham of economics, the impenetrable fortress of humanistic religion (is there any other kind . . . really?), identity, gender, ageism, literary form, and every other stereotype imaginable. Perhaps there is a way to scale this type of philosophical mountain other than with experimental prose and plot structure, but in reading Dhalgren, I came back to my old prejudices about this topic. Clockwork Orange couldn’t have the same gut-punching impact if it used the language of the average Joe Schmo. It is in the poetry of language that the soul, or whatever you want to call the intangible element of sentient beings, finds its true voice–to be too clear is to put the potential of interpretation in a straitjacket.

Let’s not forget also that Delany was writing Dhalgren on the heels of multiple cultural revolutions that drastically changed the face of the United States, or at least that’s the story we tell ourselves over and over again. Reading Delany’s giant, which has been called “Ulysses’ evil twin,” made me wonder if the author had left the 1960s with bittersweet regard.

To say this book is a metaphor for the mayhem of American culture, with all its self-absorption, inescapably demoralizing money-grubbing, overly-concerned religious frittering, and endless identity crises, seems a bit on the nose. But to hell with it: I’m pretty sure this book is a fucking metaphor. If you’re not into metaphors or allegories or lyrically gorgeous philosophical wonderings, well, there’s always Rocky Flintstone.

the evolution of speculative fiction | 2018.09.18

Lost Horizon by James Hilton | Review

hilton, james_lost horizon

Publication: Macmillan 1933

Genre: Utopian Fiction, Fantasy Fiction, Adventure Fiction

Pages: 241

Formats: Paperback, eBook, Hardcover

Source: MCL

Recently, I’ve found myself amazed at the development over the last century of the explorer’s journey within speculative fiction. Before the well-known theme of spaceships that ran the gauntlet of the outer reaches of this or that solar system or of adventures from galaxies far, far away, the idea of exploring the unknown was predicated on peering down avenues much closer to home.

Originally published in 1933, James Hilton’s Lost Horizon takes the reader on an exploratory journey that has the familiar hint of Jules Verne. I was elated to find out this story’s chosen destination of “the unknown,” in which its characters grapple with philosophies of life, economics, religion, love, death, and eternity (idealized themes right in line with the hopes and dreams of most science fiction readers these days), is none other than the now wonderful and yet ever mysterious paradise of Shangri-La. For Shangri-La (as I’m sure you remember) is not nestled on some distant planet with creative creatures of mixed origins or the product of some biotechnical accident resulting from humans again overreaching in their efforts to colonize their ever-expanding generations. Nope, folks. Shangri-La is simply a ridiculously peaceful and prosperous community hidden somewhere deep within the folds of mountainous Tibet.

Usually, when approaching these types of books — meaning the earlier science fiction pieces — I brace myself for a ride down memory lane in the cultural sense. Male characters more often than not play the role of the egotistical macho, ready to blast any and everything that dares come near their latest and greatest experiment or discovery. I’m thinking particularly of H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man, as well as She: A History of Adventure by H. Rider Haggard, which perhaps are unfair generalizations, given the historical events that separate these works from Hilton’s Lost Horizon. For example, I don’t think the jarring impact of the first World War on humanity’s collective society can be overlooked, so that to compare the fictional endeavors of Haggard and Wells (who were writing their adventure stories in the very late 1800s) with Hilton’s tale of a recent World War I veteran discovering the tranquility of the elusive Shangri-La paradise . . . well, it’s not a balanced scale, that one.

The only advantage I can see to such a comparison, however, is that it is exactly in the shadow of World War I that Hilton’s character-driven plot is able to race itself toward the safety of the Shangri-La haven. For an offering of paradise only gains in luster when the world’s normalcy has already descended into recent horrific chaos.

The descriptions of the book’s main character, the war-sobered Conway, show this effect in Hilton’s projection of the state of societal consciousness at the time he was writing this story. As each scene progresses, Conway seems to become more and more the hero’s hero. This is a character who can artfully, and with demure measure, navigate through the unknown at every turn. The reader sees Conway again and again, through strong and quiet leadership (you know you’re developing a crush on this fictionalized darling of a personality, too . . . I’ll reserve judgement if you will), helping to keep his fellow travelers from devolving into puddles of fear or into acts of violence when the facts are slim among them.

What more could be hoped for in a fantastical journey such as this than a resting place in which the characters and readers are invited to hide away from the meanness of reality? This book certainly gives a new spin to goals of escapism, bringing the ideals of the unknown and the other-worldly to our very backyard in a way.