Unloved or unlovable?

I finished We Need to Talk About Kevin earlier this week on the train ride home. I was moved to tears, making me glad the train was virtually empty.

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Lionel Shriver has crafted a convincing tale of a woman ambivalent about becoming a mother. Though she is excited and views motherhood as just another country she has yet to visit, Eva Khatchadourian is plagued by doubts and does not immediately fall in love with her newborn son on sight.

The story is told through letters from Eva to her husband, who has seemingly left her. The tension in their couple rises as she recounts events from their son’s upbringing, his father unfailingly believing him to be a normal boy while Eva finds malice in many of his actions.

We learn early in the story that Kevin is in a juvenile detention facility after having killed several students and a couple adults at his school. As Eva revisits Kevin’s childhood, she wonders if he turned out the way he did because she did not love him as a mother should, or because he instinctively knew that she did not want a child. This, despite his being quite unlovable; I won’t list the spiteful things he does as a child, but they are many.

It was fascinating to be inside this woman’s mind, a judgmental creature living a shattered life after Thursday (as it is repeatedly called) changed everything for her and her family. I’m eager to see the film, and wonder how Tilda Swinton will give the audience a feel for her character’s thoughts since we won’t be reading her internal monologue. (Or letters to her husband, as it were.)

“I thought at the time that I couldn’t be horrified anymore, or wounded. I suppose that’s a common conceit, that you’ve already been so damaged that damage itself, in its totality, makes you safe.”

– Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk About Kevin

Worlds’ End

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Is there any person in the world who does not dream? Who does not contain within them worlds unimagined?

– Neil Gaiman, Worlds’ End

Another volume consisting of several stories, this one takes place in a tavern at the end of the worlds where several folk have been stranded thanks to a reality storm. It is their wish to share their tales until such a time as they can return to the worlds from whence they came. We have a story of a boy upon a ship at sea, a tale of an alternate United States in which a boy name Prez becomes president, and a tale of a city concerned with proper treatment of the dead and the rituals surrounding death, among others.

This volume ends similarly to the previous one; we know that something momentous is occurring, but we know not what. As one of our human characters gets a glimpse of Death, he thinks the following:

I think I fell in love with her, a little bit. Isn’t that dumb? But it was like I knew her. Like she was my oldest, dearest friend. The kind of person you can tell anything to, no matter how bad, and they’ll still love you, because they know you. I wanted to go with her. I wanted her to notice me. And then she stopped walking. Under the moon, she stopped. And looked at us. She looked at me. Maybe she was trying to tell me something; I don’t know. She probably didn’t even know I was there. But I’ll always love her. All my life.

– Neil Gaiman, Worlds’ End

I am eager to procure the final two volumes and learn what is to become of Dream and the rest of the Endless.

Last Argument of Kings

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Truly, life is the misery we endure between disappointments.

– Joe Abercrombie, Last Argument of Kings

I heartily enjoyed these books for setting many fantasy conventions on their heads, for introducing realistic characters who defy expectation without seeming to go against their natures. I love that my favorite character is a torturer and that I am still fascinated and intrigued by who I am sure is the villain.

I don’t believe this trilogy reads well if one jumps into the middle or the end. Each book is nicely encapsulated, but the whole story must be read to be appreciated. For that reason, I find it difficult to say much about the final volume without spoiling some of the surprises in the first two books.

I will say the pace of this third book does annoy me somewhat. It is split into two parts roughly down the middle; I slogged through the first 300 pages, replete with battles and death and strategies. I’m a fantasy fan who doesn’t care much for action, I prefer the magic and intrigue of it all. There is no lack of intrigue, however; our dear torturer friend has gotten himself into a bit of trouble concerning divided loyalties and blackmail.

The book more than makes up for Part I with Part II, which I tore through despite already having read it once before and having discovered the major revelations at the end. I love the ending for not being the joyous peal of “And then the world was saved and the kingdom rejoiced”. War leaves terror and ruins in its wake, and it’s fitting that the ending reflect that. The end of a war does not solve all of a kingdom’s problems either.

For me to say too much more would spoil more than is appropriate. I love the characters, from self-centered Jezal who has found himself way in over his head, to Ferro and her single-minded pursuit of vengeance. Sand dan Glokta is far and away my favorite character; a shattered ruin of a man, hobbling through each day one at a time through constant pain, ever asking why he does what he does. I suspect he only makes it through his days through heavy use of his dry sense of self-deprecating humor.

Duality in Brief Lives

I finally finished a new volume of the Sandman. I only got as far as volume six when I was reading them in high school, and I have been slowly acquiring the trade paperbacks one volume at a time (sometimes two). This Christmas, I treated myself to volumes seven and eight.

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I finished Brief Lives last week on a train ride home from work. I thoroughly enjoyed Dream’s journey with Delirium; I had always found her interesting, but we never really got a chance to know her before this volume. We also finally learn more about Destruction, gone away on his own these past 300 years.

The concept of duality is mentioned in this volume, though it’s something I had always kind of known about the Endless. Isn’t it true of all things? Death is intrinsically connected to life, chaos to order, fate to choice. The best deities and mythological figures are like coins, opposites on either side. The two halves define one another and cannot exist on their own, like good and evil.

The volume ended with a dramatic event that had me eager to read the next, but volume eight seems to be similar to volume six in that it doesn’t advance Dream’s story. I enjoy these little vignettes, of course, but I have to restrain myself and not rush through Worlds’ End on my way to the next volume. I want to enjoy the tales instead of obsessing over what comes next for Lord Morpheus.

So far, so good. I’ll write more on Worlds’ End once I’ve finished it.