Tag Archives: madness

Shelter in Place by Alexander Maksik

Layout 1 Title: Shelter in Place
Author: Alexander Maksik
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453640
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 400
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I thought that “Shelter in Place” would be an easy read. I thought it would not be a demanding book. I was so mistaken. “Shelter in Place” by Alexander Maksik is not an easy read, not because of the language or the complexity of the plot, but because it is scary – it is scary because at some point or the other, we have literally or metaphorically been on the brink and back. The story is about madness, love, family and deeper contemplative thoughts of everything in life and whether it is really worth it or not.

Alexander Maksik also does not give everything to the reader on a platter. The narrator does seem pretty reliable but you never know. There is always this sense of doubt and apprehension as to what will happen next but it is not that difficult to not fall in love with Joseph March.

The story begins with Joe telling us this: His mother beat a man to death with a hammer, he fell in love with a woman named Tess and he battles something black and dark inside of him. With this start the story propels to the summer of 1991 when Joe is all of twenty-one and all of these facts occur in quick succession.

The bipolar disorder (which he assumes to have inherited by his mother) hovers and engulfs him, he tends to a bar in a small Oregon town and there he meets Tess and his mother Ann-Marie kills a man to death, after seeing him beat his wife and kids. Joe leaves Oregon and Tess to be with his father in White Pine, Washington to be near the prison where his mother is serving a life-sentence. I will only say this much about the book or else I would be giving away the plot if more is added.

The book takes on from there with more incidents that span the past and present and narrated by Joe. The writing is so razor sharp that it will cut you. There are passages, more passages and some more that you cannot help but highlight while reading this book. The characters are as human and flawed as anyone you might meet in the middle of the street. From secondary to primary, all characters are often caught unguarded when it comes to their emotions and what decisions to make.

“Shelter in Place” – the title itself says so much about the book – a place of safety, the process of actually selecting a small room with no windows and taking refuge there. To my mind, all characters are looking for their own “shelter in place” – literally or metaphorically. They all want the assurance that everything will be okay and life will be led normally. Maksik’s writing is carefully orchestrated. At no point, the shift between the past and present events seem forced or out of place. The book will take you to your own deep dark recesses and bring you back – wanting to know more about the person you are.

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Book Review: How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry

How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry Title: How to Stay Sane
Author: Philippa Perry
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 9781447202301
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The School of Life is a series of books launched by Alain de Botton or I think commissioned by him. Each book is unique and different in the sense that each book speaks of a different aspect of life – which either people do not talk of or just plainly ignore. These are lessons on how to live life better, not to be mistaken for a self-help series (though they do that at some level), but more like a lesson, a guide, something which can be tweaked to your choice or preference.

The various books in this series are about how to think more about sex, how to find fulfilling work, how to worry less about money (this should be everyone’s read), how to change the world, and lastly the one which I will be reviewing right now – How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry. The book works on a simple premise: In today’s world, we need more mental health than ever. We need to take care of it and not let go of it. The book just tells us how.

“How to Stay Sane” just lets the readers know how to actually remain sane – connecting with the situation and at the same time giving a very objective view to the entire concept. The book is divided into small chapters – dealing with Self-Observation, to relating to others, to dealing with stress and finally rounding it with what is the story and a couple of exercises to actually work on being sane.

While it appear to be a self-help book in most ways, How to Stay Sane is not in so many other. The writing is crisp, to the point and very subtly laced with humour and simplicity. The mind is studied most often and to figure why we get the way we do. The way our relationships function, the stress most jobs cause and how we can actually deal with all of it. A great book to be read without any prejudice or pre-conceived notions.

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Book Review: The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick

Title: The Shawl
Author: Cynthia Ozick
Publisher: Vintage Books
ISBN: 978-0-679-72926-7
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 70
Source: Library
Rating: 5/5

The Shawl by Cynthia Ozick is one of those books that will not let go once you have read it. It is a collection of two inter-linked stories and the impact they will have on any reader is heart-wrenching and stupendous.

The Shawl consists of two stories, “The Shawl” and “Rosa”. The title story is of a woman named Rosa and the death of her child Magda in a concentration camp, at the hands of a guard, due to her niece Stella. The second story – shows the appearance of Rosa, thirty years later in a Miami Hotel as a madwoman and scavenger, remembering what she can of her child.

In both these stories, the shawl is a key element, binding them and reflecting on the times lived – before and after. The Shawl grabs your attention from page one and doesn’t let go. Ozick also beautifully represents the immigrant element through English as a Second Language medium in the second story. She also looks at the complexities of language, class and identity in the Jewish community through these stories.

What I found most amazing was the fact that so much could be said in a mere seventy page book. Sometimes one doesn’t need more words to express the emotion. Rosa is a bitter, psychologically fractured and a woman who doesn’t need anything from anyone. She just wants to be left alone to her madness and that doesn’t seem to happen.

Cynthia Ozick’s writing shines on every page. The book is not an easy read, considering the subject; however Ms. Ozick does not shy away from describing the period of horror, and its impact, even thirty years on. In essence, it is so true, that experiences never let go and Rosa is a befitting example of this.

The Shawl is not a read for the faint-hearted. Like I said Ozick doesn’t mince her words. She is direct. The book makes you wonder: Does the past really leave you or not? The book is just an exquisite tale of human suffering. A cautious read. I recommend it only to those who are interested in something like this.

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Book Review: The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block

Title: The Storm at the Door
Author: Stefan Merrill Block
Publisher: Faber and Faber UK
ISBN: 978-0571269594
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Stefan Merrill Block’s, “The Storm at the Door” speaks of illness, mental illness at that. He combines his family facts and fiction to give readers a book that sometimes makes you stop in your tracks and think about it. The Storm at the Door is astonishingly original and quite compelling. Block has taken his maternal grandparents’ lives and blended fact with fiction – often reading as prose and then memoir and then fact. To be able to combine all elements in one book is not only a marvellous feat but also requires a lot of thinking and some good writing skills.

The Storm at the Door metaphorically speaks of a storm at a couple’s door – the one that isn’t easy to tackle – mental illness, which spreads across the family’s three generations. The book is about Frederick and Katharine, their love affair, their marriage and relationship over years that lasts, despite Frederick’s mental illness and infidelity. The book further speaks of Frederick’s stay at the Mayflower Institute, loosely based on the famous McClean Hospital in Boston which housed several celebrities and is known to be the highly innovative and one of the best asylums in America.

Block brings a chunk of his family, the missing page so to say to life in this book. It is not easy for a writer to recount his family’s history and document it – more so as a work of fiction. What I loved was the dense and quite often painful picture of the asylum Block paints as it was in the 60’s. To write about being mad and its effects on one’s wife and family is not an easy thing to do.

The pace is slow at times but the writing is lyrical and every word seems to be in its place. There is wonderful representation of a fragment of reality and to write an entire book on it is commendable. Stefan’s prose is sharp, at times biting, empathetic and realistic at most times. It does not become sentimental. It depicts both the sides of the story – that of Frederick’s and then of Katharine’s and then of course of the metaphorical storm. At times the novel is in-your-face and bitter and at others it is a depiction of a marriage gone wrong and what it takes to get it back on track. I enjoyed the book a lot. Of all the books I have read this month, this one is on top of the list.

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Book Review: The Passages of Herman Melville by Jay Parini

Title: The Passages of Herman Melville
Author: Jay Parini
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 9781847679802
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 454
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

If you haven’t read Moby-Dick ever in your life, then I suggest you read it at least once before you die. It is absolutely one of those books you must read. A slow read yes but something that you must experience for yourself. Moby-Dick is a vast read and full of adventure, pathos and life. The reason I mention it now is I have finished reading a wonderful book about Herman Melville (the author of Moby-Dick) and his life before he even wrote the classic.

“The Passages of Herman Melville” by Jay Parini is one of those literature historical fiction books that I would not have wanted to give a miss and thankfully did not. The year is 1841 and Herman Melville hasn’t written his masterpiece yet. He nonetheless sets out on a voyage aboard a whaling ship and what occurs on one trip will give him enough material to write his new book.

What Melville leaves out in the book are the darker incidents that took place while he was on ship and in port towns such as Calabooza Beretanee, one of the most idyllic prisons known to literature. The book also alternates between the chapters of Herman and his wife Lizzie – two different perspectives which make for a fantastic reading. I like how historical fiction can be made to seem real just by the writing style and strong research, which clearly has gone into this book.

There is depiction of Herman Melville being this egotistical character and quite believable too. He was like that to a very large extent and on the other hand there is Lizzie, who endures because that is what women did way back then. Lizzie comes off the page as I thought she would before reading the book, while remaining hidden in her husband’s famous shadow. The comparison of Melville’s youth and his unhappy old age is juxtaposed brilliantly in the book. For one, it doesn’t come across as being disjointed or disconnected and that is what makes the book what it is.

Parini’s writing is easy, though the book cannot be read in one sitting. Jay Parini brings every scene to life in his book and that is one of his accomplishments. One can almost taste the salty sea, social groups on-board, and the sexual frustration amongst men rising through the pages. There are a few literature historical fiction books that manage to keep you glued to them. Herman Melville’s life was not an easy one. One of the few American Literary Masters who was perceived as a drunk and a crumbling figure who was trying to come to terms with his existence. I love how Parini has brought about the inner conflict of writers and their loved ones’ emotions as well through this book. A must read. Also you don’t have to have read Moby-Dick to read this one.

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