The Stranger by Albert Camus

A book reviewed by Literary Disco, now checked off my own reading list.

I write this review before I listen to the Literary Disco podcast, so that my own opinions are formed before I let any outside source change that. 

It’s a dry read. The narrator seems to just state his actions; no emotions. As I read on, I’m getting that that might be the point. The character is a simple man who seems to be coasting through life, and that’s relatable, but it makes for a boring read. I kind of feel like him; just there, in my life, but my life is rather boring. The narrative is basically: I did this. Then I did that. You see how I wouldn’t be interested in reading something like that, but I wasn’t going to stop because I was determined to get through it, so that I could write an honest review. Plus, it’s a classic. It was at least a tolerable read.

However, it’s familiar writing. I find myself writing some mundane sentences about a character’s routine sometimes, and I don’t even want to read through it, so I re-write. Note to self: don’t do that.

Anyway, as I continued reading from the beginning, I thought maybe he just doesn’t know how to feel about his mother’s death, hence, the nonchalance in his narrative. I was filling in the blanks myself, and an average reader doesn’t do that, so I can’t expect my readers to fill in the blanks. I guess the point is that he lacks emotion. 

Story wise, it is actually a little interesting once you understand that the character really is just content with his life with no desire for anything more or less. He’s just there, in his life. He goes along with the people around him, and his reasoning for doing things is, “Well, why not?”

I still don’t understand what drove him to the murder. I gather that maybe it was another one of those, “Well, why not?” moments. 

I enjoyed the parts where he’s on trial. The whole procedure is narrated, and the reader also gets what’s going on in the character’s head as his own trial is going on, and he’s really not concerned about what the outcome will be. I found it interesting, but it doesn’t make for a must-read story. I guess the fact that it’s a classic does though, according to the rest of the world.

I did also enjoy the imagery of the guillotine and the execution process since it takes place in the past.

It definitely makes you think about life though. It was more of a philosophical read than a good story. I enjoy suspense and fantasy novels, but even if I were to read a personal narrative of a regular Joe, I’d still like the character to have some depth than to have him doing things because he feels nothing. I mean, what made him that way? Has he always been like that? That’s just me. This book wasn’t really my cup of tea. I could relate to the character, but it makes for a boring story when the character doesn’t care. Nothing was at stake. All he did was end up with some realizations about life.

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Brazos Writers – Short Story Contest

Memories are not passive inhabitants of the mind, but lively and unruly negotiators for space in a coherent life narrative – or at least that’s what I told myself. 

That’s what I tell myself in the 17 hours of the day I spend awake. In the one hour that I spend in the psychiatric ward at The Presbyterian Hospital Downtown, my own memories battle it out in forefront of my mind.

It’s been like this for so long, I think I’ve almost settled into the idea that it’s always been like this, and nothing ever changed. There was no big flip of the universe.

Unfortunately there was.

I was in second grade, and my brother was in the sixth grade. The scream could be heard throughout the entire school. As the day went on, whispered words found their way to me. Alex’s brother stabbed him. My brother. I thought it was absurd; just a rumor. To this day, I’m still not sure.

I got home that day, and he was gone. Mom was buried into Dad’s chest on the couch, shaking. I always went to my brother when I didn’t know what to do. I thought he might have known why Mom was shaking.
“Jake!” I called and ran toward our rooms in the little hallway to the left of the entrance. I stood at the doorway of his messy room. No one had touched it. It looked like he was just out, and he’d be back in that room at any second.

That room remained untouched for some time until Mom and Dad decided to sell the house when I went to college. I’m not sure where they are anymore. I returned home from college to visit one day, and it was no longer home. My key didn’t work. No one answered their phones, and no one returned my calls.

Then I got a call from the psychiatric ward telling me that Alex was to be moved into a padded room, and that his condition was not improving. What condition? I guess Mom and Dad put my name on his papers when they took him away.

Since then I’ve gone to visit him everyday for an hour. In five minutes of that hour, his memories hang onto the front of his mind. After the five minutes is gone, so are the memories, and he has no idea who I am. He stares at me through the glass, trying to figure it out.

Fin.

Note: I realize this is supposed to be a full on short story, but I’ve been putting this one off for days, and I’ve got nothing. Today, I sat down, and I told myself I needed to have this posted. Otherwise, I was going to keep ignoring the very reason I’m writing this blog; to help me write better stories and tell them better.

And this is all I have. It’s at least an anecdote; a super short story.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

What drew me to this book was the fact that it is narrated by Death, so it’s definitely something different. I read it for the first time a long time ago and have recently picked it up again because it all went over my head.

Re-reading it now, I know why it all got lost on me. It’s a tougher read than the young adult novels I had been reading; it’s not one I could read on the bus or anything. I needed to be still in a quiet place to get the full effect of the book. That’s probably why it didn’t stick the first time around when I was reading as fast as I could. It took me a while to finish reading it the second time. It was an interesting read for sure, but it was not so fast paced that I could sit down and zip through five chapters. However, it was not a chore to keep reading; I wanted to know what would happen next, but it wasn’t critical that I find out right then and there sometimes. That could have very well been because I wanted to watch TV or write rather than read, so interpret that as you will.

It is a book I would recommend that everyone read.

The story takes place around the time of World War II, and I feel like there’s a bias that comes with that setting because you’d be a terrible person to dislike a book about the Holocaust (unless it was a book that excused it). Thankfully, I honestly believe it’s a great book.

It begins before the full on war broke out. In the first few short chapters, Death starts in the middle of the timeline and gives you a few souls he’s picked up which seem random at first, but they fit into the story of the main character as you read on.

After the few souls Death has picked up, it then goes into the story of the book thief.

The main character, the book thief, got her start when a grave digger dropped a book in the snow, and she spotted it while no one else did. The grave digger was burying a family member of hers, so that first book was a memory of this relative and her first bout of sadness in the book, so book thieving and learning to read those books is a way for her to deal as the war gets closer and closer to her.

The writer breaks rules of sentence structure and story telling, but it’s a good thing. Zusak makes it work. It’s a well written story with a moving plot line. I especially enjoyed the motif of words; how words can be used for good or for evil and how powerful they can be. And what I would call a “reveal” though I’m not quite sure that’s the right word for it. It was a mind blowing realization once I got toward the end of the book.

It was a little confusing at first, but I made sense of it as I kept reading. I found myself getting lost as to how old the character was because Death would do a flash forward and then subtly return to the present in the next chapter. This book takes place over a course of several years. You watch the character grow up.

The characters have depth and you notice their considerable change as the kids grow up. For me the change in character is tough to write because it can’t be abrupt change; one has to lead up to the change subtly.

Death almost spoils its own story in some parts, and I have mixed feelings about it. For example, in one chapter, Rudy’s standing knee deep in an icy river in the middle of December, and Death basically tells me this is not where Rudy dies, but he will later. And then the story continues with not another mention of Rudy’s death until the actual part of his death.

On the other hand, it keeps me reading because I’m anticipating when Rudy will die. With every sentence I read, I wonder, is this where they get him?

This could be a problem in any other book, but for this book, for me, it wasn’t really a problem because I’ve learned about the Holocaust, and what was going on and why the Jews were being paraded around.

However, if you had no knowledge of the Holocaust (which is practically unheard of), I don’t think the book would make very much sense. Why are starving Jews being paraded around? What is the purpose of it? Why are air raids being practiced? Why are bombs being dropped?

The Moment I Knew

I worked at the coffee shop in the lobby of the hospital, and from what I gathered, he was on the fifth floor working as a psychiatrist (I assume because he studied psychology, and he worked on the fifth floor where the psych ward was).

I did not know anything then. We were strictly barista and customer then, but it never failed. He was in at 8 AM for his first cup of black coffee. And he would return at 3 PM for his afternoon cup. We exchanged pleasantries.

12:30 PM was our smoke break. We always made it out around the same time, and we smoked together; just smoked, just cigarettes.

I saw him looking at a letter one day. I had gotten the same letter, so we joined the force together and made a pact to quit smoking. I had liked him enough as a stranger. He was consistent and seemed reliable enough.

We trained together in the force, and we got to know each other. We were assigned partners, and we talked morals and things like that.

On our first case, he put a hand on my shoulder, and I didn’t mind it, but I turned to him wondering what he wanted.

“Don’t kill anyone,” he said seriously. Then he allowed himself to laugh.

And I smiled, too. That’s when I knew I loved him. He would keep me sane.

Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter

A Literary Disco book available at my local library.

I got through it just fine, but I did not particularly enjoy this book. Though some of the conversations between the angel and Henry Bright were mildly amusing especially when it seemed like he was just talking to a horse.

However, I am not a fan of someone doing something because an “angel” told them to. The angel is practically the character’s only motivation, and that is not a strong enough one for me.

The adventure he went on, running from the fire and from the colonel was an interesting one though. His journey and the memories of the war I enjoyed, but there wasn’t a very good reason for all of this to be happening. He stole the colonel’s daughter because an angel told him to, and same thing for starting a forest fire that threatened an entire town.

I like the idea of an angel wanting to dethrone God calling Henry’s baby the new King of Heaven because the angel believes they need a new “God,” but it was all talk from a horse. A fantasy fan myself, I would have liked to know what’s going on in Heaven to make this angel decide to come down looking for a new king.

There was also the unanswered question of why the colonel’s son were so unwelcome to the town. Ritter never told us why outside the shop window, the men were all of a sudden in a scuffle with the townsmen. From the implication of their characters in the rest of the book, maybe they started it, but it wasn’t very clear.

It was a well written story. Interesting enough if you want to hear Grandpa talk about his time in war and how he met the angel because that’s what it felt like to me.