Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Given Her History" and The Virgin of Small Plains

1. The short story I chose for this week was “Given Her History” by Melissa VanBeck. There was some character development in the short story. I knew that Billy was mean and had burned his family. Also, the mom was abused by the dad and possibly the kids that may explain why Billy was so mean. It didn’t really say about the kids. The girl April-May has a few flashbacks that tell a little about their family life. The dad seemed to think about his family while at work and would bring them things that people left behind on the train. The Clarkes, the couple that took in April-May, were kind to her but the wife did not really want her. They weren’t really developed other that she was a teacher and he was retired and worked in the yard during his free time. The next person we are introduced to is Vivian, the old lady who is said to own half the town. When she was introduced it seemed that most of the townsfolk were afraid of her but when she took the girl back to her place she let the dog pee on the wall and did not get upset. She seemed to be very eccentric which is why the town may have feared her. April-May was quiet and had learned early on how to get away with things. She also seemed to be very na├»ve and ignorant about life. She didn’t know what to feed a goldfish and didn’t bother to find out. She also didn’t know how to use a phone. My opinion was that she didn’t know how to find out. But when she lived with Vivian, she refurbished a half burnt out rabbit hutch. So she had intelligence but limited access to knowledge outside her world. The character development for The Virgin of Small Plains is more complete. We see glimpses of each character from seventeen years earlier and then the adults they have become today. Abby and Mitch are still in love with each other and Rex is still carrying a torch for Sarah, the murdered girl. It is easier to develop more characters and give the reader more information abut them in a novel. One thing I noticed about the short stories is that only two or three people are developed unlike a novel where there may be up to six or more characters that we have in-depth knowledge about.
The plot flowed and moved along nicely. The loose ends were tied up at the end except for why Billy wanted his family dead. I guess he was just crazy. The townspeople hinted at it. In the novel, it was a very detailed and developed plot. The story followed the lives of three friends and their families during a time in their high school years and then in the present when one of them returns from afar. Both stories did a good job with plot and suspense. I did not suspect the ending of either story.
The setting for the short story was a rural area because the town was small and most people lived on farms. Even in the small town there was a division line. There were the people who were born there and the people who weren’t. The girl’s family did not have an indoor bathroom or a phone and the father worked for the railroad. I would say the year was in the 40’s or 50’s because April-May had not been exposed to many of the modern conveniences and by 2009 it’s difficult to find many areas without an indoor toilet or a phone. Also, trains are not in use as much as they were back then. Airplanes have taken over for the main type of transportation for travel. It was interesting that my short story and the novel were set in a small town/rural area. The novel was set in more recent times unlike the short story. I think the short story had to be in a rural area so that there wouldn’t be any other options for April-May but to stay with someone in the area, that way Billy would be able to find her later. I think the same could be said for the novel. It had to be a small down so the crime could be covered up.
The theme for the short story could be about lost souls. I saw Vivian as a lonely old lady and April-May was an orphan that no one wanted because her family was trash. They found each other and developed a companionable relationship. From an earlier short story I would see April-May as an invisible. No one wanted to know about her so no one saw her. The theme for the novel was about how the past catches up with us. We may try to hide something we have done but if others know about it then it will eventually come out. This could also be a theme of Mystic River. Another theme for The Virgin of Small Plains would be how people always trust those in charge and don’t question what they are told. The sheriff, judge and doctor controlled the town and they were all involved in the cover up of the murder.
I think the length of this short story worked well. I could see it being turned into a movie of the week by showing April-May’s life before her brother tried to set them all on fire. There is a lot that could be developed in the story to make it longer if the author had wanted to. The novel is also the right length and gives us all the elements of a good story.
I liked the short story and the novel. I didn’t like one better than the other.
2. My short story author was a female and she did a good job with describing the situation and the events as they unfolded. The male author’s I have read did a great job with that too. This story could have been written by a male author because there were not a lot of in-depth emotions, feelings, and descriptions as I read in the stories by the other two female authors. I wouldn’t have guessed this was a female author. Nancy Pickard writes like a typical female writer. There is a lot of emotion and description in each situation.
3. This story was about a young girl who wakes up in a ditch with the family dog and sees her house has burnt down. The police suspect that her brother set the fire then he skipped town. It is set in a small town and there is only one couple, the Clarkes, without kids so they take her in. The wife, who is April-May’s teacher, does not want to take her but her older husband does. When Mr. Clarke dies suddenly, April-May is taken in by an old lady who is said to own half the town. After two years April-May’s brother shows up for her. The old lady takes care of him. I thought the story was not really a mystery because the cops knew who had burned April-May’s family and they were looking for him. It was a good story but not a traditional mystery. I was surprised that the old lady took April-May in and that they were still together after two years. I had imagined that the girl would go from home to home like most foster kids do. I was satisfied with the ending but felt that the old lady, Vivian, took care of Billy because he had killed her rabbits not because he had come to kill April-May. The ending also tells that April-May remembers the night of the fire and that it wasn’t Billy that carried her out but the dog.
4. I wonder if most people like to read about characters that are flawed so that they can feel better about themselves. Maybe by reading about others with so many issues it makes the reader’s life look better.
5. This class has been enlightening. I have read novels by authors I have never read before. Some I liked and some I didn’t. I really do appreciate the effort, work, and thought that the author has to put in the story in order to appeal to a large audience. I hate writing and am glad there are many out there who enjoy it so I can transport myself to another place everyday.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"A Different Road" & Mystic River

1. The short story I chose for this week was “A Different Road” by Elizabeth Strout. Character development for the story was detailed for the main characters Olive and Henry. We know their age and their main personalities. Olive was not really a people person unlike her husband who was cheerful and friendly. The author describes the characters well enough because part of the mystery is why they have changed. The main characters of Mystic River were very dark. They all had shared an issue when they were little and it changed them. This is similar to the short story because the couple is involved in an incident that changes them. It brings out their dark side like in the novel. The plot in the short story had a few flashbacks so it made the story a little confusing if you weren’t paying attention. On the other hand, the plot in the novel was pretty straight forward. The main mystery was who killed Katie. Both the short story and novel had all the loose ends tied up. The mystery was answered. The short story is set in a small New England town. The old couple lives in a retirement village and keeps to themselves pretty much. The novel is in an urban area. Two different settings but both stories revolve around relationships. The theme in the short story was when we fear for our lives or for those we love we will do anything to survive and the cost of doing that can damage relationships. In the novel, the theme was also about relationships and how the past can bind people together.
I think both stories were good, but I wanted the novel to end before the Jimmy Flats section. The short story was the right length and wrapped things up nicely.
I really like both stories this week because the novel was predictable and easy to follow. I didn’t have to think too hard when reading it. The short story was a quick and easy read.
2. My short story author was a female and I found that the descriptions and emotions that female authors write with were very apparent in the story. She wrote about a senior couple and how their relationship changed one evening. Mystic River was also full of description and situations that brought vivid pictures to mind. Some of the pictures I didn’t want to see. Both stories showed a dark side to human nature. I liked both the short story and the novel this week. Both authors did a good job with what they were trying to portray.
3. This was a story about a senior couple, Olive and Henry, who are having a fine life. She helps the elderly in her community and he has a friend in the neighborhood that he visits with. One day they go to dinner with friends and the wife gets ill and needs to use the restroom. The nearest place is a hospital so they pull over. The nurse on duty wants to check out Olive to make sure she is not ill and while waiting for the doctor, the emergency room is held up. Henry, Olive, the nurse and the doctor are all put in the bathroom with a masked gunman. Olive and Henry say things about each other to keep the gunman from shooting them. Their feelings are hurt; Henry’s more than Olive’s and it changes their relationship. The author wrapped it up nicely so that I knew why they had changed but I didn’t feel there was much hope in the end for their relationship to recover. I feel they will stay together until they die but won’t be happy like they were, and I don’t like sad endings. I wasn’t surprised that the incident changed their relationship and it did remind me to appreciate the relationships I do have.
4. I’m going to post this again since I didn’t get any comments last week probably because life wouldn’t let me get to my homework before Sunday. I think that I’ve noticed from reading these novels that women are never portrayed as truly strong and independent in their own right. They are seen as bitchy, flaky, needy, helpless, rude, or bitter. We have not seen a female character yet that is not harassed or patronized by men. Most of the male characters seem to give women the virtual pat on the head and smile condescendingly at them. I would really like to find a female character that all the other characters like and respect and she also is strong and independent.
5. I have enjoyed reading the different authors and seeing that I prefer a certain kind of detective and mystery. I don’t mind reading the dark mystery but I also need to have a light, humorous one to read in-between or every so often.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

"The Invisibles" and Eleven on Top

1. The short story I chose for this week was “The Invisibles” by Hugh Sheehy. Character development for the story was minimal. We received a description of the two friends and the van. They seemed to be flat characters but this was necessary so that we would have an impression of what an invisible is. The characters of Eleven on Top were vibrant and jumped off the page. They brought vivid and bright pictures to my mind. The plots in both the short story and novel were pretty straight forward and wrapped up nicely. Who wouldn’t want to ram their car into the person who had just kidnapped you? The short story is set in a non-descript suburb and the novel was set in New Jersey mostly in the suburbs. Both have situations that upset the people in the suburbs. The theme in the short story was the disappearance and murder of two teens by a serial killer. This was a similar theme in the novel but it was more about greed. Con and his buddies robbed a truck in the army and Con used all the money. He killed his buddies when they wanted their share of the money. Once again greed is the reason for killing.
I think both stories were good just the way they were. The novel was the right length and wrapped things up nicely and so did the short story. I think the short story could have been turned into a novel if it focused on the serial killer.
I really enjoyed both stories this week because the novel was light, humorous and showed a new way to approach a disappearance. The short story was made me think of dark and evil which is what a serial killer is.
2. My short story author was a male and I found that the descriptions and emotions that female authors write with were not apparent in the story. He wrote about a female teenager but did not really but in any angst that most teenagers experience. This was a story about how some people are overlooked in society. Eleven on Top, on the other hand, was full of description and situations that brought vivid pictures to mind. When I was reading “The Invisibles” I pictured everything in black and white. I liked both the short story and the novel this week. Both authors did a good job with what they were trying to portray.
3. This was a story about a teenage girl whose mother disappeared when she was younger. Her mother used to tell her that their family were invisibles. These are people that are often overlooked in life. People that no one notices in a crowd. They just seem to blend in. She also told her daughter that only invisibles see invisibles. Her two friends disappear and she tells the police she saw a van but no one else saw the van. She tried to explain to the police about invisibles. They are not sure what to think. I did like this story. It did have a mystery and a murder. Two teens disappear and they find them dead. I was surprised by the ending because I was not expecting what the police found. The author wrapped it up nicely and made me feel that maybe the girl and her family would be ok. This is the best short story I have read so far.
4. I think that I’ve noticed from reading these novels that women are never portrayed as truly strong and independent in their own right. They are seen as bitchy, flaky, needy, helpless, rude, or bitter. We have not seen a female character yet that is not harassed or patronized by men. Most of the male characters seem to give women the virtual pat on the head and smile condescendingly at them. I would really like to find a female character that all the other characters like and respect and she also is strong and independent.
5. I was very surprised at the number of people who did not appreciate Eleven on Top. I wonder if we had started with the first book in the series if results would have been different. With so much stress, crime, worries and everything else that life throws at us I enjoy reading about someone who has it way worse than me. I never have to worry about my car blowing up or some crazed psycho trying to kill. I also have a safe job and don’t have to worry about landing in trash, keeping a crazy grandmother from going off the chain, deciding between two delectable men, and keeping my family under control. My life is pretty bland which is why I enjoy reading about others who have a rough time. Helps me appreciate all I have.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Guardian Angel and "Child's Play"

1. The short story I chose for this week was “Child’s Play” by Alice Munro. This was a flashback story about two girls at summer camp and something that they did together to another girl who is special. After camp, they never see each other again until one, Charlene, is on her deathbed. Marlene comes to visit and is asked to go see a priest. This story had a lot of character development because there are only three characters. I could see the fear that Marlene had for Verna because Verna was different. At the camp, Charlene joined in on what Marlene told her about Verna and disliked the special girl without ever meeting her. The story is set during World War II and during that time many special people were institutionalized instead of being out in the public so there were a lot of people who were afraid or unsure of people who had special needs. In comparing the Guardian Angel and the short story, they are both conspiracies with a murder. The novel also has theft and a bond scam. I thought the novel’s plot was too convoluted and twisted. I could not understand how it fit together unlike the short story which was simple and straightforward in its presentation.
I think that the novel was too long and the short story could have been made into a novel. The short story could have been developed after the girls leave the campground and follows them throughout their lives until the deathbed ending. It could show how the girls felt about what they did and if it affected their choices in life. Guardian Angel was about 100 pages too long. I think Paretsky could have wrapped everything up sooner and done a better job explaining how everything was connected.
I preferred the short story this week because I felt that the novel was too long. It took forever to get to the end and I didn’t really understand how everything was related.
2. Both of my authors were female this week. Their main characters were female, but in the Guardian Angel the murderers are men and in the short story the murderers are children and girls. This is the first short story I have read by a woman and I think there was more character development then in the previous short stories I read. All the short stories have had a surprise ending so far. They don’t always wrap up everything, but leave some things up to our imaginations. Both female authors did a good job with character development and showing relationships.
3. I did like this story. I did not guess what the girls had done at the camp. I knew someone had died from the beginning of the story, but thought it was going to be either Marlene or Charlene not Verna. I am still unsure why Charlene wanted Marlene to take the letter to the priest. Marlene thought it was so Charlene could confess but the story said that Marlene was to take the letter to the priest even if Charlene had already died. Marlene almost didn’t go see her old friend so I wonder what would have happened if she hadn’t. Also, the author did a great job in showing that the girls had an irrational fear of the girl Verna and I think they felt threatened by her and frightened of her and that’s why they killed her.
4. I really did not like The Guardian Angel. I just could not relate to it and did not understand most of the manufacturing problems and how the bank was tied in with the bonds. It was too difficult to keep up with the intrigue. I have read a V.I. Warshawsky mystery before, a long time ago, and did not like that one either. I was hoping that maybe with age I would now appreciate Paretsky’s novels. I don’t know, I may try one more and see if I can find one I like.
5. I have never really thought about how mysteries could be commentaries of society and I am learning to read them in a thoughtful and insightful way. I always thought of mysteries as mysteries not as literature.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

"The Monks of the Abbey Victoria"

1. The short story I chose for this week was “The Monks of the Abbey Victoria.” This was a very interesting story and a quick read. It is about a broadcasting company and four men who work there. One of the men is new and the other three conspire against him without his knowledge. There is conspiracy in Black Betty but it is for murder and money, not an item. In “Monks” the item is the lineup of shows that is being stolen and sold to another network. The characters in Black Betty were very real to me and I could feel their pain, unlike the characters in “Monks” which to me felt sort of like a thirty minute show on TV. Both authors did a great job with description and allowing me to build great pictures in my head. Both stories have settings in big cities but most of “Monks” is based inside of the workplace and hotels/restaurants. I really liked both stories this week. I was immersed in both and both tricked me with the ending which I didn’t mind. The short story covered all the ingredients in a good short story and so was enjoyable. The authors made sure all the loose ends were tied up and the end of each story.

2. I think that the difference between the writing of the novel and the short story is based on race. Black Betty is set in the 1960’s in the black world in LA with short forays into the white world where there is suspicion, anger, prejudice, and hatred based on race. “The Monks” is set in Manhattan in the 1960’s in a predominately white world in wealthy Manhattan. It is two completely different worlds. They both are about greed and both have innocent people get hurt because of it. In “Monks” it’s the new guy and in Black Betty it’s Betty’s children and Betty herself for losing her family.

3. I did like this story. It did not have a murder but it was light and quick and had a good ending. Once again it shows how easily a man can be led astray by a woman. If Dale had stayed home or refused to be part of the monks then he couldn’t have been accused of stealing. Of course, his wife was encouraging him to join his friends for poker so that he could make connections. I was very surprised about the ending. I thought one of Dale’s co-workers was going to be having an affair with his wife and at the end he was not going to go out with the girl and go home and find out about his wife. I was way off. I guess because I would never set someone up at work so it didn’t occur to me. I really can’t think of anything that I disliked. The story worked for me.

4. I have an easier time comparing this story to The Maltese Falcon because of the conspiracy and “fall guy” in both. The new man is the fall guy in the short story and Sam gets the boy to be the fall guy in the novel. Also in “Monks” there is a woman who seduces Dale and is his downfall, just as Brigid tries to seduce Sam and get what she wants but doesn’t succeed. I have enjoyed reading everyone’s posts and blogs. It is interesting to see how other people react to the same stories; sometimes there is an opposite reaction to what I experienced. I read lots of mysteries but tend to stay with the same authors. This class has given me two new authors to read. I also have found one short story that I liked. The novels we read definitely reflected the times they were set in and brought a bit of history to life.

5. I am enjoying reading the different kinds of mysteries. I see a lot of similarities between Sam Spade and Easy Rawlins. They are both tough and persistent. Most of the mystery novels I have been reading have the amateur detective solving the case. They usually bungle through and then accidentally solve the case. I like how Sam seemed to think things through and solve the case methodically. I will look for more books with a PI as the main character in the future. Expand my horizons a little.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Mulholland Drive

1. I chose "Mulholland Drive" because it was set in California like The Maltese Falcon. The short story really did not allow for much character development. I know the detective did what he did because he wanted money and that he had done it before. I know he also recorded his conversation with the wife because he wanted to use it against her later when he needed more money. I did not learn much about the wife, the dead man or any of the other characters. The plot for the short story was very simple, an accident committed by the detective and then another accident with the detective as the victim. The plot for the novel started with a murder of one of the detectives and the partner trying to solve it because he was one of the suspects. As the story unfolds, we see that Sam is a chauvinist, as are most men of his time, and basically a good guy. There are times in the story when he could have taken the money and gone over to the dark side but never does and stays true to himself.

2. The author of "Mulholland Drive" is a man like Dashiell Hammett. The men in both stories have the women being the main villain or instigator of the crime. The wife in the short story wanted her husband dead because the prenup would not allow her all the money, but death would and in The Maltese Falcon the dame was the one who killed Sam Spade's partner. Her action of killing Miles was to get protection from her own partner. The men from both stories don't show much respect for the women whether that is because they are women or because they are criminals, I don't know.

3. I really did not like many of the aspects of the short story. What I did not like about "Mulholland Drive" is that it used terms with which I was unfamiliar. The author tried to explain what the traffic re-constructionist was doing but it was very technical. I am a visual person and the explanation did not paint a picture in my mind. To say the least it was a little confusing. In addition, the detective is the one who sets up the accident. How clever that he is the one called to reconstruct the scene when he is the one who caused it. The story ends without everything being explained. Does the recorder make it to the police and they find out the wife was involved along with the detective or does she live happily ever after, and does the man save the detective or does he die? Needless to say I was unsatisfied with the ending. The good surprise or irony is that his own accident occurred just the way he said the other accident happened. I did like that twist.

4. While reading The Maltese Falcon I could picture the characters in old black and white movies. If the characters were based on the culture of the times then we can see that smoking in public and drinking was common. Also, the chauvinistic and condescending attitudes of the males in the story is probably an indication of how women were treated at the time. They should be pretty and cooperative. I don't know how much of the character's attitudes are based on the times but I would guess a fair amount. I would not appreciate being treated the way the women in this novel were treated.

5. I think that one thing that I noticed about "Mulholland Drive" was that it did not follow the code of writing mysteries. In "Top 10 Rules for Mystery Writing" number eight says "The detective should not commit the crime." I do believe that with so much uncertainty in life we should be able to count on the detective to be honorable. I know real life is not like that but in my stories and novels I want the hero to be the hero and not also the villain.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I am very excited to start discussing the reading. I love mysteries but have never discussed them in a professional way. This should be fun!