Saturday, November 19, 2016

No Disrespect

She was his girlfriend, in her mind, and as such she had certain rights to his time and attention.

He was over her. Therefore, she had no claims to make.

She called him.

He ignored her calls.

She shot him.

Katrina Harris had known the young man since they were kids, riding that first wave of hormones in junior high. They became a couple and she attached meaning to the relationship that only a first love can hold. Terms like soulmates are often applied by those without the life experience to really understand what that means. In her mind, it was forever.

After the initial whiff of infatuation wore off for him, however, it was time to move on. After all, when a young man attends high school and starts meeting other people, and forming other friendships, those childhood crushes fade away into the realm of pleasant memory.

In Katrina's case, that was not an acceptable outcome. She had her man and she intended to keep him. Sure he said it was over, but she believed in her power to persuade him, to make him see things clearly. Words would accomplish her goal. She would talk to him and convince him that they were still a couple, and he was mistaken.

A girl can't very well convince a boy if he won't talk to her. If he won't take her calls or texts.

One day, when his phone was ringing, he handed it to someone else. Tell her to stop calling me, he might have said. Maybe it was his new girlfriend who was the messenger.

The police aren't saying, but you can picture it all in your head. He's had enough and doesn't want to talk to Katrina, so he has the new lady in his life tell the ex to stop calling. Nothing says 'It's over' like the replacement lover saying it. Pretty much spells things out.

With that, Katrina felt the full force of her man's disrespect. At any rate, that's how she perceived it. Her boyfriend had disrespected her by not talking to her when she demanded that they chat, and then he really disrespected her by having someone else take one of her calls and tell her to stop calling.

What's a girl to do?

In one part of American culture, the girl would run off sobbing to her girlfriends who would then spread malicious gossip about the ex, painting him as the worst dregs of humanity.

In another part of American culture, the part that is infamous for the indiscriminate use of guns, a girl gets a weapon and shoots the boy.

Katrina Harris has been charged with attempted first-degree murder, among other things. There is no doubt that it was a crime of passion, considering the fact that she left her purse behind with all her identification in it. Pretty easy to figure out who did the shooting when the cops have your work I.D. in hand, retrieved at the scene of the crime.

Teens do stupid things, to be sure, but is it stupidity that drove 16-year-old Katrina Harris to try to murder another human being because she felt disrespected? Or is there something deeper, more sinister, something that won't be solved by lawmakers barking about curbing gun violence with new legislation? Not everyone uses a gun to settle a question of honor. At least not in the 21st Century. Except in certain segments of America, where the notion of personal honor has become a matter of life and death.

Maybe when you don't have much else you can call your own besides your honor, you tend to exaggerate its importance. Maybe when it's all you have, you can't walk away from the bruise to the ego that is a break-up.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Conclave: A Book Review

So much mystery surrounds the selection of a Pope. The intrigue, the human failings cloaked in piety, the potential for the sorts of shenanigans you'd find in any political contest. It's all there in CONCLAVE.

Author Robert Harris presents the Papal Conclave through the eyes of the Dean of the College of Cardinals, a holy man who prays often and with sincerity. He really believes, does Cardinal Lomeli.

Using current events intertwined with imagination, the story unfolds behind the closed doors of the Vatican, with the elector cardinals cut off from outside communication. Things start off smoothly, with the initial vote and the voting trends and the like as leaders emerge, but rumours reach the Cardinal's ear and he has to check things out. One can't have a Pope enmeshed in scandal, not these days. Cardinal Lomeli is determined to protect the Church at all costs.

One enquiry leads to more questions, and more political maneuvering, as the leading candidates campaign in their subtle way. Under pressure to pick a Pope before the laity starts thinking there's some serious problems with the Church hierarchy (the pre-Vatican II sorts duking it out with the liberal wing, if you will), Cardinal Lomeli faces a crisis of faith. How to out a corrupt cardinal, if indeed the man is corrupt, or is it best to deal with the corruption later and appease the public?

The tension is subtle, but it is there as you turn the pages to see what comes next and how the Cardinal will unmask the wolves in sheep's clothing who would be the shepherd. The novel is great fun to read, even with the frequent interspersions of Bible verse that has me wondering if I've forgotten the words, I've lost track of the revisions that came through a few years ago, or Mr. Harris is relying on his heretical Church of England Bible for the quotes.

I would recommend this to my Catholic friends, of course, but anyone who enjoys political thrillers would find CONCLAVE a fascinating read.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy.

Days Like These: A Book Review

You've stuck to a reading diet of substantial literature, avoiding anything too saccharine. But at some point you need a little sweet to satisfy that craving for the literary equivalent of candy floss.

DAYS LIKE THESE is a highly predictable piece of feel-good writing, all empty calories that amuse without asking much of you in return. The novel follows Judy Schofield, British grandmother, and her brief escapade as caretaker of her exceedingly precious grandchildren. Hilarity ensues. There is wit to be found in these pages.

It's the sort of fiction that is often set in highly competitive New York City circles, with all those tiger parents looking to get their offspring an advantage in future advancement. The world that Judy falls into is packed with after school activities and learning oppportunities and high pressure to perform, which she as the clueless woman of a certain age has never experienced. For variety, the setting is London, but the same sort of people populate this novel. The alternate location shakes things up a bit, which is always welcome.

For those who had their children later in life, you might be cringing at the thought that author Sue Margolis thinks the average 62-year-old female has no idea what the competitive elementary school environment involves, but this book is all about suspending disbelief so swallow your stung pride. No, you're not all that old at 62. But there's a love story in here and it just wouldn't work so well if the Judy character was in her 70's, right?

Ah yes, there's romantic tension and secondary characters having the usual sorts of issues, and let us not forget the queen bee-mean girl character who sits atop the parental food chain. She gets her come-uppance, of course, because that's what always happens in these sweet little novels that you can consume in a weekend.

With all the unpleasantness in the world, this is a perfect time to settle in with Sue Margolis' newest. Escape into a place where everything comes right in the end and the endings are happy. Sometimes you need to indulge in a heavy dose of sugar.

With thanks to Penguin Random House for the early review copy.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Love, Alice: A Book Review

What if Philomena Lee had died, instead of her son Michael Hess? And in this telling, he's straight instead of gay (but not to worry, we'll be sure to be diverse and include a secondary gay character in our tale), and the woman he's drawn to does the hunting down of his mother?

That, in essence, is the premise for LOVE, ALICE by Barbara Davis.

Lacking the power of Katie Hanrahan's THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES, the book touches on the horror of the Magdalene laundries and the lives that were destroyed by religious tyranny. In this case, the novel looks at Alice Tandy, up the stick and the father of her unborn child dead at sea. Her story is told through a series of letters that she pens to the child she was forced to give up for adoption, the letters discovered by a woman who is grieving the suicide of her fiance.

Unlike Philomena, this unwed mother has died by the time the story opens. Her mother turns up looking for her, not knowing the girl's been dead for nearly thirty years, and bumps into Dovie Larkin who then sets off on a quest to solve the mystery. What became of Alice's child, who she was seeking when she emigrated to South Carolina? Can solving this mystery bring closure to Alice's mother and Dovie as well?

The fact that Dovie's gay-dar is non-existent can be an impediment to a reader, who may very well be screaming out the answer to one question long before the author lets Dovie figure things out. Get on with it, for feck's sake, you may be saying, but don't give up. Except for that middle section that drags, the rest of the novel moves along at a comfortable pace.

The narrative gets a bit chunky when the author needs to present more than can reasonably be shown through an epistle. Is there anything more awkward than a letter that breaks out into dialogue? As if anyone would actually write a letter in that way? That can be the problem when one type of novel structure is used, and then doesn't quite fit. Somewhat distracting, after the majority of the backstory was presented in a standard form that felt real. It can stretch the suspension of disbelief to make a sharp turn near the end of the novel, but once committed to using missives, Ms. Davis had to keep going.

The misery of the Magdalene laundries gets a passing reference because this is a work of women's fiction that features a strong romantic element and plenty of emotion. You'll probably guess which character is actually Alice's child, a fairly predictable outcome as it is the sort of conclusion one expects from light fiction like this.

If you want real insight into the damage done by the Sisters of Mercy in their slave labor camps, read Katie Hanrahan's novel. If you just want something with a feel good ending, LOVE, ALICE will do.