Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty & Other Short Stories by James Thurber

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and other Short Stories
Review: 3 -

"A solid collection of short stories" by Carissa Horton, written on October 25, 2015

The last time I read a collection of short stories, it was for college and I graduated nearly 2 years ago. It might not seem like a long time, but it really is, especially when you're expecting The Secret Life of Walter Mitty to be a a novella and it turns out to be a short story, barely 7 pages long. I forget that short stories are often published in volumes because they're not what I usually read. Hmm, I guess that explains why the first two "chapters" had nothing whatsoever to do with Walter Mitty. Once comprehension dawned, I was able to appreciate James Thurber's dry and somewhat irascible humor. Although I still think the marketing for this particular collection was all wrong. How many people picked this up thinking it was a novella only to be disappointed? We'll never know.

I came away from this collection with two main thoughts: Thurber did not think kindly on women and he possessed an excellent sense of humor.

When I say that Thurber didn't like women, it's possible I'm wrong, but we suffer immensely at his hands regardless of his personal feelings for us as a sex. Nearly every wife in the entirety of this collection is viewed as a nag and a nitpicker whose sole joy in life is tearing down every one of her husband's joys. In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mitty's wife is the sort I've just mentioned. Poor, middle-aged man whose wife doesn't understand or appreciate his rich and varied imagination. Thank goodness they changed poor Mitty's story in the film starring Danny Kaye so the nitpicker in his life is actually his mother and he claims some of his own back at the end which includes marrying the girl of his dreams. Next up is the starring couple in A Couple of Hamburgers. While the husband here is no gem, the wife gets sadistic enjoyment out of mocking her husband: the way he speaks, his favorite type of restaurant, etc. You name it, she mocks it. If I thought the last mentioned story was depressing, it's nothing compared to The Kerb in the Sky, where a newly married man gets admitted to an insane asylum because his wife finishes every single one of his sentences before he gets there, and corrects all of his stories. He took to sharing absurd dreams so at least she couldn't interrupt.

The humorous stories, however, are absolute gems. The Macbeth Murder Mystery is hilarious because the two leads dissecting one of Shakespeare's finest plays, discover that Macbeth's father is actually the murderer in this story and that everything else is simply written to conceal the actual truth. For a Shakespeare fan like myself, it was both absurd and fun. A Ride with Olympy also had me giggling simply because I could easily picture an American man teaching a Russian man to drive a stick shift when each one of them can only communicate with the other in barely understood French. Had anyone died in the endeavor it would have been a tragedy, but no one did. The Luck of Jad Peters is about a man who spent the better portion of his life expounding on how he had a feeling about something, so didn't do it, and something terrible happened to someone else who took his place. Narrow escapes were his greatest glee, especially since they were mostly made up. And because I can and do enjoy some dark humor, I snorted out loud when he got hit by a massive flying rock that was dynamited out of the river bed. His good luck failed him. It is The Night the Bed Fell that had me rolling practically in stitches. It's almost impossible to describe, but it's one of those domino effects. One thing happens that triggers something else which triggers something else and so on and so forth. Genius.

There are other stories included in this collection as well that only served to depress me because it's a bleak view of life: The Breaking up of the Winships, Something to Say, The Remarkable Case of Mr Bruhl, The Greatest Man in the World, The Evening's at Seven, and One is a Wanderer. While I realize no one's life is perfect, still, this was too much, probably because each one struck a little too close to home. Others, like The Lady on the 142, The Catbird Seat, The Secret Life of James Thurber, Doc Marlowe, Snapshot of a Dog, and The Dog that Bit People were average tales, nothing overly impressive, but still a fairly entertaining read.

Overall, the collection was quite good. Like I said, I don't read a lot of short stories anymore, probably because most authors, particularly inn the era of the 20s through the 50s, loved to indulge themselves in extremely depressing stories. I don't like to read those types of stories and so I avoid them when at all possible. Still, the collection was worth it simply for The Night the Bed Fell which I now claim as one of my favorite short stories of all time!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

The Butterfly and the Violin
A Hidden Masterpiece Novel
Kristy Cambron
Thomas Nelson Publishers

Official Backpage Synopsis

A Mysterious painting breathes hope and beauty into the darkest corners of Auschwitz--and the loneliest hearts of Manhattan.

Manhattan art dealer Sera James watched her world crumble at the altar two years ago, and her heart is still fragile. Her desire for distraction reignites a passion for a mysterious portrait she first saw as a young girl--a painting of a young violinist with piercing blue eyes.

In her search for the painting, Sera crosses paths with William Hanover--the grandson of a wealthy California real estate mogul--who may be the key to uncovering the hidden masterpiece. Together Sera and William slowly unravel the story behind the painting's subject: Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron.

A darling of the Austrian aristocracy of 1942, talented violinist, and daughter to a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, Adele risks everything when she begins smuggling Jews out of Vienna. In a heartbeat, her life of prosperity and privilege dissolves into a world of starvation and barbed wire.

As Sera untangles the secrets behind the painting, she finds beauty in the most unlikely of places: the grim camps of Auschwitz and the inner recesses of her own troubled heart.

My Take in 3 Parts

The Theme
This book reminds me a little bit of The Fellowship of the Ring, when Galadriel gives Frodo the Phial of Galadriel and tells him, "May it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out."

The Butterfly and the Violin is a dark, traumatic novel, but with a thread of hope carefully woven through each line of the chapters set in Auschwitz. Even in absolute and utter darkness, when 1.5 million people are dying around you, God still hears your cry and He is still faithful. The author captured the reality of a bleak era that brought me to hysterical tears, but still managed to present the idea that God is there, in the turmoil, and the grime, and the death. He hears the cries of His people and He grieves, not only for the lives lost, but for those who are doing the killing, something I hadn't quite realized until I felt that swell of anger against the Nazis, unbridled hate, and then came to realize that while I want to blindly reach back in history and kill all of the Nazis, God was grieving for them. That's quite a realization, both about God and about myself.

The Characters
So what we have here is two sets of characters, those in the 1940s and those in the current day.

Sera James and William Hanover are trying to unravel the whereabouts of this piece of Holocaust art, a painting of a young woman with her hair shorn, numbers tattooed on her arm, and a violin in her hand. They take this journey together. I like both of them. Sera has been hurt before, left at the altar, and so she has trust issues, both with me and with God. Those issues, of course, are resolved by the end, which is important. William, we don't really get to know him all that well, except that he's a businessman who felt the real calling on his life was to be a minister. His story in this leads him back to that path and calling from God, and I liked that storyline.

But the truly impactful character, the most prominent, is Adele Von Bron, the young woman whose portrait Sera and William are researching. It is she, a renowned young violinst from a prominent Austrian family, who tried to help Jews escape from Vienna, and ended up being sent to Auschwitz Birkenau for reeducation purposes. It is she who was forced to play for the Birkenau orchestra of prisoners, play her violin as families were split and countless innocents were sent to the gas chambers. This book is her story, and I felt every iota of weakness and terror and doubt that Adele felt during her time in Birkenau.

So, while I appreciate the modern characters, I loved Adele, and even Vladimir Nicolai, the young cellist who she loves and whose passion to save Jews also found him captured by the Nazis.

The Writing
Kristy Cambron is new on the writing scene, with this being her debut novel. If The Butterfly and the Violin is a testament to her storytelling abilities, than Christian literature is in for a revolution. Her style is fresh and original, she tells just enough of the atrocities in Auschwitz without crossing a line into the grotesque, and her heart for the era of World War II really shines, just as her expertise does in being an art historian. This is not a historical romance, but a historical novel, and I really appreciate the difference. Any romance within the book does not take precedence over the story.

If I were to nitpick about one tiny thing, it's that I really don't know if the modern storyline was necessary. Then again, I'm not for novels that have dual eras most of the time, so I'm just not used to it.

Final Thoughts

Never assume this book is an easy read, because it's not. I nearly stopped reading several times because my heart was just so overwhelmed by what I was learning, things I never wanted to know about the concentration camps. But you can't just ignore or imagine away atrocities like this. Just like we can't imagine away the grim truth that thousands of our infants are slaughtered every day in the womb. If there's one thing I realized, it's that America has become, in some ways, what we once hated and despised.

Every Christian should read this book.

Book Review: Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart (Kopp Sisters #3, 2017)

Original Summary Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges ...