Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Hoisted On My Own Petard

What book(s) surprised you by the impact it had on you? 
- From Frank

Followers of this blog probably know that the questions are the rotating responsibility of the contributing members. After joining 7 Criminal Minds last year, my first go at providing the questions came this month. So if you like the questions all month long, know that I wrote them. If you don't like them, know that I stole them from Jim. Or Cathy. Yeahhhhh, that's the ticket.

So as I looked at the question I wrote for this week, I realized that I was stumped. I'd made the mistake of not selecting questions to which I already had a brilliant answer.

Rookie mistake, Frank, rookie mistake.

So I thought about it. I mulled it over. I kicked it around inside my admittedly rather vacant mind...and I kept coming up blank. Not that there hasn't been books that have moved me, but the "surprise" part was what I kept snagging on.

Slowly, a few came to me. Here they are (AND BE THEE CAUTIOUS, FOR SPOILERS ABOUND!).

The Iron Cage by Andre Norton. I read this science fiction novel when I was pretty young.In fact, it was first read to me in my fourth grade classroom. It's a fairly straightforward tale but also serves as a not-so-veiled allegory on how we treat animals. As a kid, it really stuck with me and had an impact on how my own empathy developed.

The surprise? That it had such a formative impact, and stayed with me for so long.

Image result for that was then this is nowThat Was Then, This Is Now by S.E. Hinton. From the author of The Outsiders, this was one I read when I was in middle school. It featured two friends who were as close as brothers, and tells the tragic tale of how their friendship ultimately ended. For a thirteen year old, to see how relationships can change when other people enter the picture, or how far apart people can grow had a big impact on me. When you're young, you think everything, including life, is forever. This book made me realize that maybe it wasn't. It was also one of the most bittersweet young adult books I've ever read, and when I re-read it last summer, it held up very well.

The surprise? How one thin novel brought me face to face with adult realities  and evoked emotions that I still feel as keenly almost forty years later.

11-22-63.jpg11/22/63 by Stephen King. King has written a lot of good books, and I almost listed Duma Key here, because of how much the death of a particular character affected me. But the scope of 11/22/63, and the questions about human nature, destinty, not to mention time and space, really resonated with me. Are there more realities than the one we experience? Other dimensions? Are they interwoven or separate? What kind of an effect does one small ripple of change have on people's lives?

The surprise? That in the midst of all the metaphysical and alt history machinations, I discovered that King had written an achingly bittersweet (yes, that word again) love story, one that ends in such an honest fashion that I can still feel the emotion of that final scene in my chest as I write this...and I read that book when it first came out almost a decade ago.

To Kill a MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Okay, true confession. Somehow I never read this in school. I never saw the movie. And if you've read my previous posts, you'll know I grew up in a lily white town in the Pacific Northwest, largely ignorant of the racism that was going on around me. You may also have gleaned that my wife is a middle school Language Arts teacher. Guess what is on the curriculum? Well, when she found out I hadn't read it, she suggested I would like it. I ended up not only reading it, but recording some of the chapters for her course so that students could listen and read along if they wanted.

The surprise? Well, the first surprise was how funny I found Scout and Jem, but the real surprise was how angry the later events made me. Yes, I know it is fiction, but I also know the history it is closely based upon. I'd read accounts of similar events and seen statistics of bad acts like what she depicts, but somehow this fictional account gave it more of a singular face. And that made me angry, and led me to think about the topic in ways I probably hadn't before.

Image result for the last of usThe Last of Us. Okay, I'm cheatng for this last one. It's not a book. It's a video game from a developer called Naughty Dog, available only on the Playstation platform. Why is it on this list? Well, let me ask you this - has a video game ever made your cry for any reason other than frustration?

The Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic tale about Elllie, a young girl whose brain may hold the secret to a cure for the fungal infestation/plague that has turned much of humanity into zombie-like creatures. Escorting her to the location where they can hopefully generate this cure is Joel, a broken man who tragically loses his daughter in the first fifteen minutes of the game. Their relationship is the crux of the storytelling that takes place within (and frankly overshadows) the gameplay. Essentially, this becomes a fifteen-hour, interactive visual novel.

The surprise? I already gave it away. That a story told in this medium had the same impact as 11/22/63 or The Iron Cage.  It just goes to show that good writing is good writing, period.


Blatant Self Promotion Brought To You By Me

Speaking of good writing (hopefully) my new novel, In the Cut, is available now from Down and Out Books.
This novel is the second in my SpoCompton series, which focuses on telling stories from the perspective of those on the wrong side of the thin blue line -- the criminals. 

Boone has been prospecting with the Iron Brotherhood outlaw motorcycle gang for almost a year, trying to earn his patch with the club. When a simple muscle job goes terribly wrong, his world changes forever. He is quickly plunged deeper into a world of drug and intimidation, and the lines between right and wrong blur. The bonds of brotherhood that he forges with other members clash with the dark actions they take. His girlfriend, Faith, represents a danger of another kind, but Boone can’t stop himself where she is concerned, either.

When someone closest to him dies, and rampant rumors of a rat in the clubhouse puts everyone in danger, Boone comes to learn what it really means to live his life…in the cut. 

I hope you give it a try, and are both surprised by the twists in the tale, and maybe even by how much you like it.


Paul D. Marks said...

So we have you to blame for these questions, Frank? Hmm ;-) .

But seriously, some good choices. And I haven't read the Hinton book but it sounds like something I would like.

Frank Zafiro said...

PAUL, Hinton is definitely YA, so the scenes are shorter and more abrupt than in novels like yours or mine, but her storytelling is great, and she seems to have been able to not only hang onto what it feels like to be a teenager but also to express it well. The Outsiders is a classic (my wife teaches it to 7th graders), but I like TWT and also Tex better. Rumble Fish is a different breed of cat that I didn't get when I was a kid, and should probably re-read as an adult to fully understand.

Terry said...

This is a very thoughtful post. I felt the same way about the Norton book when I read it years ago. I still remember some of the feelings it engendered. In general. Too often sci-fi is given short shrift in the literary world, when some of it is as culturally significant as some fancy schmancy "literary" novels.

Frank Zafiro said...

TERRY, completely agree on Sci-Fi. Between that and crime fiction, I think social and human isues get explored pretty well...