Friday, May 17, 2013

Red Dragon
By Thomas Harris
Reviewed by Stephanie
4 out of 5 stars

Now that I’ve just finished reading this book, I feel the need to scrub parts of my brain with steel wool for the purpose of removing certain scenes that Thomas Harris has so rudely embedded there.  Thanks a bunch Tom!

Will Graham has the rotten luck at being really good at his job.  He is a profiler for the FBI and while he was on the job catching Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Lecter caught him with a big sharp knife.   Will decides that was enough for him, so he makes the wise decision to retire. 

But nooo!  Jack Crawford, Will’s former boss, shows up at his house asking for help on a new case of a new serial killer dubbed the Tooth Fairy, because the creep likes to bite his victims.

Here’s how the conversation goes between the two, broken down to its simplest form.

Jack:  Hey I need your help with a case because you’re the best at what you do.
Will: But I don’t want to on account I was nearly gutted last time I helped you.
Jack:  But you’re really good at your job.
Will: Okay…..since you put it that way, I’ll help.

Francis Dolarhyde, or the Tooth Fairy/the Dragon, had a pretty awful childhood (to put it mildly.) Born to a mother who rejects him because of a deformity, a hare lip, then raised by a sadistic grandmother  who adopts him for the sole purpose to get revenge on her daughter (not because she loves the boy).  As a result of growing devoid of all love, he turns out a little off.   Surprise!!

Where Dolarhyde has no empathy, Will has too much.  This is what makes him a good profiler; he is able to almost ‘become’ the person he is hunting, to understand them.

“Graham had a lot of trouble with taste. Often his thoughts were not tasty. There were no effective partitions in his mind. What he saw and learned touched everything else he knew. Some of the combinations were hard to live with. But he could not anticipate them, could not block and repress. His learned values of decency and propriety tagged along, shocked at his associations, appalled at his dreams; sorry that in the bone arena of his skull there were no forts for what he loved. His associations came at the speed of light. His value judgments were at the pace of a responsive reading. They could never keep up and direct his thinking. He viewed his own mentality as grotesque but useful, like a chair made of antlers. There was nothing he could do about it.”

That’s pretty dark stuff to deal with and still fight to maintain sanity.  

When all was said and done I suppose I ‘enjoyed’ this book.  But yet I didn’t enjoy it at all.  It was very well done……it kept my attention throughout, but I don’t think this type of book is all that good for me.  While I love dark books, I seem to need them to be a bit fanciful…….not of the real world.  All the stuff that happens in the real world is depressing enough, bombings, school shootings, and kids shooting other kids to death, I feel the need to escape from that. 

Books like this are just more of that.   Oddly enough though, I think the new TV show is fantastic.

If we are not careful.......

The Grapes of Wrath
Reviewed by: Stephanie
5 out of 5 stars

If you are an American you need to read The Grapes of Wrath.  It scares the poop out of me because, my fellow Americans, we are repeating history.  If live anywhere else read it as well as a guide for what not to do.

In the Grapes of Wrath Mr. Steinbeck tells the tale of the first great depression through the Joad family from Oklahoma, who has been displaced from their family farm through no fault of their own.  You see, there was a big bad drought which made farming impossible.  In those days the family farm fed the family and what they had left over they sold.  But when the drought hit the only thing that would grow was cotton, you can’t eat cotton, and that crop sucked the life right out of the soil so no other crop could grow in it for a very long time.

“These things were lost, and crops were reckoned in dollars, and land was valued by principal plus interest, and crops were bought and sold before they were planted. Then crop failure, drought, and flood were no longer little deaths within life, but simple losses of money. And all their love was thinned with money, and all their fierceness dribbled away in interest until they were no longer farmers at all, but little shopkeepers of crops, little manufacturers who must sell before they can make. Then those farmers who were not good shopkeepers lost their land to good shopkeepers. No matter how clever, how loving a man might be with earth and growing things, he could not survive if he were not also a good shopkeeper. And as time went on, the business men had the farms, and the farms grew larger, but there were fewer of them.”

Some guys with a lot of cash came along and bought up all the struggling family farms and leased the land back to the former family farmers and when they couldn’t produce, the new Owners kicked the families out of their homes.  Put them on the streets, children and elderly and all……..who cares, right?  Poor people are less than.

From California came hand bills, pamphlets promising jobs and urging the homeless to drag their whole lives via barely moving junk heaps to the golden state where grapes grew in bunches by the side of the road.  What choice did they have?  They drove across deserts and mountains, losing loved ones along the way, they answered those hand bills in droves.  What else could they do?

What happened when they got to California?  They didn’t get jobs, they got ridicule.  They were called Okies and shitheals and were looked down upon.  “How can they live like that?” The people with money would ask, as if being poor was a choice.  As if they were just lazy and all it would take to get out of poverty was to get a job……but there were no fucking jobs.  The owners sent out more handbills then they needed to.  Why? Because the more men begging for a job the less the owners would have to pay them.  Supply and demand.  The greedy sons a bitches wanted to pay as little as possible, and that is exactly what they did.  The Okies did not have a union of course.

"And the great owners, who must lose their land in an upheaval, the great owners with access to history, with eyes to read history and to know the great fact: when property accumulates in too few hands it is taken away. And that companion fact: when a majority of the people are hungry and cold they will take by force what they need. And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed. The great owners ignored the three cries of history. The land fell into fewer hands, the number of the dispossessed increased, and every effort of the great owners was directed at repression. The money was spent for arms, for gas to protect the great holdings, and spies were sent to catch the murmuring of revolt so that it might be stamped out. The changing economy was ignored, plans for the change ignored; and only means to destroy revolt were considered, while the causes of revolt went on.”

Who are the “great owners” today?  The Walton family (of Walmart), six of them, have the same amount of money as the bottom 40% of Americans.  That is 124,720,000 people, people.  $93 billion…..BILLION and they want more, more money than could be spent in several lifetimes.  They don’t need it all, but the rest of America does.  Do you think the Walton’s might have an interest in keeping people poor?  Go check out who’s in that store at 3am. 
Let’s also take a look at who is running against President Obama.  Mittens is so rich that he doesn’t even know what a doughnut is, and he’s fighting for the Waltons and all of the 1 %.  He’s so rich he thinks he is entitled to the office and “us people” do not need to see his tax returns……the nerve of us, move on.  We need to sit down, shut up, and stop asking questions because he, being a rich bastard, is an “owner” and we should know our place.   Not bloody likely.

Our people are good people; our people are kind people. Pray God some day kind people won’t all be poor. Pray God some day a kid can eat.
And the associations of owners knew that some day the praying would stop.

And there’s the end.”

Also posted at

Lost Memory of Skin

Russell Banks
Ecco Press
Reviewed by: Nancy
5 out of 5 stars


The acclaimed author of The Sweet Hereafter and Rule of the Bone returns with a provocative new novel that illuminates the shadowed edges of contemporary American culture with startling and unforgettable results

Suspended in a strangely modern-day version of limbo, the young man at the center of Russell Banks's uncompromising and morally complex new novel must create a life for himself in the wake of incarceration. Known in his new identity only as the Kid, and on probation after doing time for a liaison with an underage girl, he is shackled to a GPS monitoring device and forbidden to live within 2,500 feet of anywhere children might gather. With nowhere else to go, the Kid takes up residence under a south Florida causeway, in a makeshift encampment with other convicted sex offenders.

Barely beyond childhood himself, the Kid, despite his crime, is in many ways an innocent, trapped by impulses and foolish choices he himself struggles to comprehend. Enter the Professor, a man who has built his own life on secrets and lies. A university sociologist of enormous size and intellect, he finds in the Kid the perfect subject for his research on homelessness and recidivism among convicted sex offenders. The two men forge a tentative partnership, the Kid remaining wary of the Professor's motives even as he accepts the counsel and financial assistance of the older man.

When the camp beneath the causeway is raided by the police, and later, when a hurricane all but destroys the settlement, the Professor tries to help the Kid in practical matters while trying to teach his young charge new ways of looking at, and understanding, what he has done. But when the Professor's past resurfaces and threatens to destroy his carefully constructed world, the balance in the two men's relationship shifts.

Suddenly, the Kid must reconsider everything he has come to believe, and choose what course of action to take when faced with a new kind of moral decision.

Long one of our most acute and insightful novelists, Russell Banks often examines the indistinct boundaries between our intentions and actions. A mature and masterful work of contemporary fiction from one of our most accomplished storytellers, Lost Memory of Skin unfolds in language both powerful and beautifully lyrical, show-casing Banks at his most compelling, his reckless sense of humor and intense empathy at full bore.

The perfect convergence of writer and subject, Lost Memory of Skin probes the zeitgeist of a troubled society where zero tolerance has erased any hope of subtlety and compassion--a society where isolating the offender has perhaps created a new kind of victim.

My Review

Before reading this book, I never bothered looking at the National Sex Offender Registry. Maybe it’s because I don’t have children, or I don’t care to know that much about my neighbors, or I have my doubts that all the people listed are truly dangerous. Now that I’ve finished the book, I decided to go have a look. First, I found all 8 sex offenders in my area. After studying their faces closely, noting where they lived and how old they were, I looked at sexual offenders in other neighborhoods I’ve lived in and some from random locations. There were even a few women on the list. What in the world did these people actually do to get themselves in such a horrible predicament?

There are lots of very bad people out there who should be behind bars for a long time. But most criminals – murderers, drug dealers, wife-beaters, gangsters, arsonists, burglars – regardless of the crime, serve a portion of or their entire sentence and are then free to live their lives, trying to blend into society, often without their neighbors knowing a thing about their past. Sexual offenders, after serving their time, must continue to endure public humiliation, making it very difficult to find a decent job or a place to live. There are vicious sexual predators and psychopaths out there, and the need to protect a person’s privacy must be weighed against the need for public safety. But not all sexual offenders are a danger to society. The young man who sleeps with a precocious girl who lied about her age, the guy who leaves the pub and gets caught urinating in a public park, the guy who takes upskirt photos with his cell phone, the teenager who sleeps with a younger teen. The peeping tom. And let’s not forget those who were falsely accused. Some of these crimes are creepy, others are just the result of poor judgment. Should these minor offenders be treated the same way as violent criminals who are likely to commit crimes again? Therein lies my problem with the National Sex Offender Registry. The definition of sexual offender is way too broad and lots of innocent people are suffering unnecessarily because of dumb mistakes. While we are busy protecting our children from people who may not pose a danger to them at all, we are not knowledgeable of the possible danger from the neighbor who was arrested for dealing drugs or the alcoholic who habitually drives drunk.

It was very easy for me to feel sorry for the Kid. His father left while his mom was pregnant with him. His mom, busy with her boyfriends, mostly left the Kid to his own devices, even ignoring his developing addiction to porn. He’s always been a loner, never had a girlfriend or any close friends for that matter, other than his pet iguana, Iggy. He joined the army, and then got discharged while he was in basic training for distributing porn films to his buddies. He’s tired of porn and wants someone real. He chats up a girl on the internet and they make plans to meet. Now, the Kid is living under a highway with other convicted sex offenders. He’s done his time, but his identity is public and his activities are monitored. In Florida, he is restricted from living 2,500 feet from where children are. So that doesn’t leave him many options.

Enter the Professor, a grossly overweight sociologist, and a man with his own secrets. He wants to interview the Kid for his research on homeless sex offenders. They form a tentative bond and gradually learn more about each other. The Kid remains reclusive, distrustful of others, with no plans for a future. The Professor shows him another way to live, while providing the basics he needs for his existence. He does, however, care very much for the animals he is now responsible for, an older dog and a parrot with damaged wings. For the first time in his life, the Kid begins to think better about himself and sees there are possibilities.

I’m in awe of Banks’ ability as a writer to make me feel for such undesirable characters, some who have no doubt committed horrible crimes, others just guilty of making bad choices. I spent some time studying sex offenders in my sociology and criminal justice classes and once the classes were over, the subject got forgotten. This book highlights a problem that should be addressed in a more humane way, without sacrificing public safety and at the same time allowing the offender to have an opportunity for rehabilitation and a chance to live a normal life. It is thought-provoking, no matter how you feel about the rights of sex offenders. For many reasons, this is a difficult subject to explore, and I felt Russell Banks pulled it off admirably. I look forward to reading more of his work.

Also posted at Goodreads