Review: Little Beasts, by Matthew McGevna

Little Beasts, by Matthew McGevna
2015, Akashic Books
286 pp. 
Set in a little town on Long Island in the early 80s, Matthew McGevna's debut novel Little Beasts tells the story of a group of adolescents whose stories cross paths in the worst way possible. Basing his story loosely on an event that occurred in Suffolk County in 1979, McGevna very effectively dramatizes the effects of small-town dynamics and the Cold War on a burgeoning youth.

In 1979, a boy named John Pius (written into this novel as Dallas Darwin, whose father is a minister) went missing one night when he rode his bike over to the local elementary school. He was discovered in the woods nearby the school the next day, covered in leaves and branches, with six rocks lodged in his throat. He had been chased and beaten then murdered by four older neighborhood boys who, influenced by alcohol and drugs, believed that John had witnessed them stealing a bike and would rat them out. McGevna has tweaked this, but the dramatized crime is no less heartbreaking or gruesome.

The novel focuses mainly on three friends - Dallas (mentioned above), and his friends James Illworth (whose father is the town drunk) and Felix Cassidy (whose older brother eclipses him as a big-shot football player). With summer winding down, and with little else to do, the boys scamper about town, hiding in the weeds while watching the cops carry out an eviction, or going into the woods and stealing another group of kids' fort supplies, etc. Their story is countered by that of David - an older boy, a teenager, who plays into the town's feelings of him as an outsider after he paints a controversial mural, but who still looks for approval from his parents, the girl he loves, and his classmates.

Anyone who was ever a teenager will identify with David. He's the most sympathetic character in the story. And he's our killer. Driven to his act by his parents' disregard, his classmates' constant abuse, and what he perceives as his girlfriend's wandering eye (to wit, with Felix's older brother) the build-up to the attack is, dramatically speaking, justifiable. Of course the fact that he is a persecuted character prior to the act does not lessen David's crime, but when I got to that point in the story I was beside myself and crying - not so much for the victims (in the story, all three boys are attacked by David and two others, but only Dallas meets John Pius' fate), but for David, both as he reaches his boiling point, and as he struggles to bring himself back when it's too late.

The story has shades of Stephen King's "The Body" (on which the film Stand by Me is based), but even more interestingly resembles Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes in which the character of Peter is certainly driven to a much darker place by comparison, but in which we see and understand the unchecked emotional abuse and are meant to understand, empathize and, eventually, forgive. The real-life perpetrators of the crime against John Pius in 1979 were certainly not saints, but given the illustration of David as a kid crying for help in a town that turned its back on him, one cannot help but consider that they were all children once, too.


Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Recently-Acquired Books

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish

This week's theme: Last Ten Books that came into my possession

Some of these are from my Christmas haul because I was incapacitated for so long, and had little chance to be gathering more books!

1. The Ecstasy of Influence: nonfictions, by Jonathan Lethem
I'm working through this one right now.

2. Horseshoe Crabs and Velvet Worms: 
The Story of the Animals and Plants That 
Time Has Left Behind, by Richard Fortey

3. The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic 
Generation Discovered the Beauty and 
Terror of Science, by Richard Holmes
I read this one some years ago, but it's truly one of the most beautiful things I've ever regretted not owning. And now I own it :)

4. Vader's Little Princess, by Jeffrey Brown

5. Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty, by Catherine Bailey

I received this as an advance copy a few months ago. It's not exactly up my alley, but my mom read it and enjoyed it enough. It's on my eventual TBR pile.

6. Pet Sematary, by Stephen King
I got this used from a senior community library when we were visiting family near Boca over the winter. It's on the short list!

7. Reagan: The Life, by H.W. Brands
Also not really up my alley, but I never could resist a barrel of laughs.

8. Intimacy Idiot, by Isaac Oliver

9. Middlemarch, by George Eliot
From the lending library at work.  One of those things that I never got around to reading.

10. Little Beasts: a novel, by Matthew McGevna
An advance copy that I'm going to try to read this weekend. 


Review: Horoscopes for the Dead, poems by Billy Collins

Horoscopes for the Dead,
by Billy Collins
Random House, 2011  |  103pp
I tend to prefer my poetry...loud. Shouting, ringing, echoing - that kind of thing. It's why I love Poe's assonance and onomatopoeia. It's why I love Hamby's proper nouns with their capitalization and weight. Most other poetry pales in comparison. Modern poetry, for the most part, can be too simple for my taste, like the sickly simpering cousin to the greats. And while for me Billy Collins tends to fall into that latter category most of the time, this particular collection is not wholly without merit.

Published in 2011, Horoscopes for the Dead is a personal and deeply relatable collection dedicated to remembering persons and things lost to time. The first poem, "Grave," sets the tone and establishes for the reader a somewhat sardonic humor with recurrent images of cemeteries, empty chairs and mossy shade. Combined with hyperbole, this humor acts as a mechanism to both show love, and deflect pain.

While there is no thru-line, per say, the feeling of loss and longing is evident throughout the book. The titular poem - which opens the second part of the collection - is the most resounding in terms of feeling and relatability. The idea that we mark someone's presence even after they're gone, and that, in loss, we sometimes live in parallels of what-ifs - ghosts of possibilities, as it were - is a confessional token of humanity that its oft written about, but so rarely portrayed as honestly as Collins did here. It reminded me of a Facebook page that I follow - a memorial page for a relation of mine who passed away suddenly a couple of years ago. Gone but ever-immortalized online where we all wait for her next update, regardless of her absence.

That being said, the collection falls short of great in my humble opinion. The deviances into Florida are offensive to me simply because of my feelings about Florida, but are otherwise digestible. But there are some pieces (i.e. "Table Talk," "Lakeside," and "Returning the Pencil to Its Tray") that didn't seem to fit - they're clunky and awkward and resemble poems in as much as they are structured like one, but otherwise have no internal rhythm, neither buoyancy nor gravity, and which simply do not mix well with the others, but which the author deemed appropriate for this collection despite every instinct that I personally would have otherwise. Come for the poems about death and loss, but don't get tricked into staying for the less worthy off-topic meanderings of the modern poet.


Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Hyped Books I've Never Read

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish

This week's theme: Top 10 hyped books I've never read

The books on this list fall into thee categories: Things I missed out on as a kid, Pop-fiction I to-this-day have not considered picking up, and Regrettable adult oversight.  You'll understand momentarily.

- Things I missed out on as a kid:

1. The Lord of the Rings trilogy
I owned all of them at one point...and then I didn't. Having now, as an adult, read The Hobbit these are definitely something that pre-teen Lauren would have enjoyed. So....eventually? I've also never seen the films please do not hit me. I own them now so I'm thinking marathon? soon? yes? 

2. Wuthering Heights
To be fair to me...I tried. I did try. I got three pages in and gave up, but I tried. As an avid reader of Charlotte Brontë, I thought that would give me an in, but not so much. But isn't this cover great? I think I love it because the lightning looks like it's about to hit Heathcliff and Cathy and put us all out of our miseries. 

- Popular fiction with which I have not bothered (for the most part, these are books about which I have yet to hear a single word that would make me want to read them. Maybe in another ten years there's a chance that I'll pick a few of them up, having given them time to marinate in the general consciousness. But until then, no thank you):

3. The Help

4. The Kite Runner

5. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

6. The Fault in Our Stars

7. The Hunger Games trilogy

8. The Book Thief

9. Outlander series

- Regrettable Adult Oversight:

I know I know please don't hit me. The publisher sent me an advance copy of this book way back when, and I wasn't home when it got delivered, so the UPS guy left it with one of my neighbors. Except they claimed that they didn't get it and shooed me out of their doorway. So....no Bossypants for me. Eventually. I'll get there. 

Review: Jerry Orbach, Prince of the City - His Way from The Fantasticks to Law & Order, by John Anthony Gilvey

Jerry Orbach, Prince of the City:
His Way from The Fantastics to Law & Order

by John Anthony Gilvey
Applause Theatre & Cinema Books, 2011
157 pp.
I generally try to avoid biographies/ memoirs/ autobiographies as a rule - out of disinterest and a general distaste for the style. I haven't made an exception in a while, which is probably how I wound up with four of them on my Summer TBR pile this year. The two I've already covered (Oliver and Baker), one that I'm having a hell of a time getting through, and a Jerry Orbach biography that I couldn't refuse.

Everyone knows Jerry Orbach from something or another - this is ironic given what it took to get him to that height in the public's conscious. John Gilvey, in his well-researchecd biography, uses stories from Jerry's kids, wives, friends and mother, piecing together a comprehensive and full picture of Jerry's life and career for those who didn't have the good fortune to know him. 

After being born in NY, Jerry's family moved him to Wisconsin. He eventually made it back again, and became the picture of an ideal New Yorker. He led and lived a full and vibrant life surrounded by people who loved him - actors, directors, the mafia - you name it - with highs and lows like any other performer. The lows are a revelation for someone like me who only knew of him in the last fifteen years of his career, when he was an unbridled success. The harder times were certainly character-building for him and his family, and the later years in retrospect seem like karmic relief for what he'd endured up until then. He was a trailblazer of sorts who helped pave the way for actors who today so easily shift between theatre, television and film industries. Gilvey does not shy away from the darker patches in Jerry's life, nor does he judge anyone for them. It's simply another piece of Jerry's character. But for someone like me, those moments suddenly make that ideal New Yorker much more human. 

My one criticism of the book is that it reads like a biography. There's very little bravado to it, there's not a lot of creative structure. And given the subject matter, that would have made it more engaging. As it is, I can enjoy it because of my appreciation for Jerry. But for someone who only has a mild interest in his life, there's not a lot to draw the reader in. 


Review: The New York Regional Mormon Singles Dance, by Elna Baker

The New York Regional Mormon Singles
Halloween Dance
, by Elna Baker
2009 | Plume | 272 pp
I first heard of Elna Baker on the Moth podcast which, if you've never listened to it, you should try it out, and prepare for ugly crying on the subway. On the Moth, Baker told an abridged version a story from her memoir - a book that deals mostly with her life in New York, trying to date as an overweight twenty-something, and a Mormon. The title alludes to an annual event in the Mormon community to which Baker returns year after year like a recurring nightmare, or a gym membership. If you're looking to try a memoir on for size but aren't quite ready for the episodic sexcapades of Isaac Oliver, this book might work for you.

Baker is a lovely storyteller, which is why I finally picked up the book. She speaks very plainly and genuinely from the heart on every subject - from being the "funny" sibling, to battling her religious roots, to nearly ODing on diet pills. Her frank portrayal of modern Mormonism isn't fully fleshed out - she seems, as of 2009, to still have been battling with her own beliefs and as a result, reading it can sometimes feel like watching shadow puppets while the real players hide behind the curtain.

I am self-confessed ignoramus when it comes to most religions, but probably most especially Mormonism. I often accidentally confuse it with the Mennonites - not because I'm stupid or purposely ignorant or anything, but probably because of the clothes. I just get confused. Those bonnets throw me off. After reading Baker's memoir, I can't confess to being much the wiser on the subject. But beyond that, I did get the sister-in-arms feeling that I think she was going for. Being single in this city is certainly daunting, and being an outsider in one way or another intensifies that feeling. Baker's story provides more insight than hope on that subject, perhaps an effect of writing a memoir so early in life, before the arc could be fully formed. Her writing is sweet and bubbly, and the kind of thing that I wish I'd been able to read when I was starting out in New York. As a mostly-jaded established New Yorker now, it's a little flat.


Review: Intimacy Idiot, by Isaac Oliver

Intimacy Idiot, by Isaac Oliver
2015 | Scribner | 274 pp
In light of this weekend's festivities, I thought it appropriate to talk about Isaac Oliver's debut collection Intimacy Idiot.

In the interest of full disclosure: I've known Isaac for about a decade now (it makes us all sound so old when it's said like that... I've known Isaac for about a third of my life - oh god, that sounds worse; I've known Isaac for years - there, that's better.) We went to college together, we both worked box-offic-y jobs for too many years (and now his watch is ended), and nine years ago we did a Fringe show together called Moral Values: A Grand Farce, or Me No Likey the Homo Touch-Touch written by another talented classmate of ours, Ian McWethy (who, last year, had a different play among the most-produced short plays in high schools).

Moral Values took place in a near-future where not only had the US government legalized gay marriage, but therein had enacted a policy by which all households were assigned a gay man to welcome into their homes for a specified time in the interest of education and tolerance. I was also an avid reader of Isaac's blog before it was transformed into (parts of) this book, and I've attended his readings, eagerly anticipating the newer stories. As such, my opinion here cannot be completely objective.

That said, this is truly a book that has something for everyone. At turns biting, candid and vulnerable, Oliver's stories (which are interspersed with subway anecdotes, vignettes, poetry and - perhaps my favorite - recipes for one) provide a fiercely hilarious glimpse into the life of a brilliantly funny guy doing his best to schlep through New York, Grindr and life in a box office. He has embraced the art of self-deprecation, putting forth his neuroses, his love for cheese, and his eczema in a way that is both endearing and mildly mortifying. And now that we're at a place in time where gay marriage has in fact been legalized, and without bizarre sweeping cure-all tolerance initiatives queued up, please consider Isaac Oliver to be your assigned gay man - welcome his book into your home, and maybe learn a thing or two about love. Or at least, about furries.


Review: Perfume - The Story of a Murderer, by Patrick Süskind

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,
by Patrick Süskind
This ed: 2001 Vintage | 255pp
There are geniuses in our midst - painters, musicians, writers, chefs, persons who work in mediums that one can see and hear and feel and taste - mediums that last. But for author Patrick Süskind, that wasn't enough.

In 1985, Süskind published what would become his best-known work internationally: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. And while little has been seen of, or from, the author since the novel's publication (and subsequent translation from the original German, plus a feature film in 2006) one is certain that within this medium lies his greatest strength; it's a kind of magical realism that pulls on the source of endless memories, and which relentlessly binds the reader to that world.

Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, born into abandonment with no scent of his own, carves his way through life in pursuit of what one can only call the scent of pure love - that essence which he has been denied since before his untimely birth. This is not simply a novel about that fifth sense to which the title alludes, but about a man for whom that sense is so keen, and whose beacon of purpose shines so brightly, that the reader cannot help but urge him on to the finale. The protagonist (though I almost hesitate to call him that) is not your average serial killer, and his story certainly borders on the unusual.

Süskind's intoxicating prose is embellishment itself - labeling each and every scent of the world as if the olfactory genius is recalling them by scientific name and spitting them out like ticker tape onto the page. This kind of barrage of words might seem affronting, but in Suskind's hand it's magical and enticing. The words race towards the climax which is nothing short of a literal orgy which Grenouille has induced.

The film adaptation (which stars Ben Whishaw, and features Alan Rickman, Dustin Hoffman and Rachel Hurd-Wood) is a visual stunner that develops some of the finer points of Grenouille's education very nicely but, without the omniscient prose of the novel, much of the richness and detail is lost in the medium translation. One countdown (Laure's approaching birthday) is replaced with another (the 13 essences) more effective device, bringing things to a conclusion more swiftly, but losing delicate layers of aromatic ambience that make the novel shine. The film is a splendid portrayal of scent as a medium, but the novel is significantly more gratifying, and far more varied and interesting a feast for the consumer.


Review: The Three Colonels: Jane Austen's Fighting Men, by Jack Caldwell

The Three Colonels: Jane Austen's Fighting Men
by Jack Caldwell
Sourcebooks Landmark | 365 pp
Back in 2011, I waxed poetic over Jack Caldwell's Pemberley Ranch which took Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and supplanted it into the world of the American Civil War. This adaptation was successful, and made for an enjoyable read - one that I would gladly repeat. I noted in my review at that time that Caldwell allowed us a hint of sympathy for Caroline Bingley - something that I had never really encountered (outside of 2008's "Lost in Austen" which posits an alternate theory of Caroline as someone whose disposition is not something wholly understood in Austen's time). In 2012's The Three Colonels, Caldwell takes us a step further with Caroline, making her not only sympathetic but likable.

By tweaking the period of Austen's novels ever so slightly, The Three Colonels brings our characters into wartime. Colonel Fitzwilliam (P&P) and Colonel Brandon (S&S) feature as two of the titular heroes, who are already ensconced with characters we know well - Anne de Bourgh and Marianne Dashwood, respectively. The third is a colonel Buford who is introduced as somewhat of a former rake, but who has fallen violently for Caroline Bingley. Readers will recall that Caroline does not have the most attractive of personalities, but Caldwell paints such a picture of her in his first few chapters that, by the end, one cannot help but like her entirely. And he does this not by creating a new persona, but by shining a light on the character we love to hate and providing a perspective not often viewed. Mary Bennet is given a similar treatment and, together, the two characters become justifiably readable.

Perhaps the most laudable aspect of Caldwell's treatment, however, is his portrayal of our antagonists. Distaste for Wickham is a given (and would be difficult to amend - although, yet again, I will reference "Lost in Austen" as an example of an attempt at that), but Caldwell takes it a step even further, making him somewhat more complex. George Wickham has never seen an honorable day in his life, but he seems even darker by this author's hand. I think even Jane Bingley could not find it within her to be sympathetic towards this version of him; and yet in the end of this book, one almost pities him. Similarly, Lady Catherine is naturally obtuse and condescending (and her treatment of her daughter here is despicable) and yet in the end you do almost feel a sort of compassion for her.

I think most adapting authors choose the road well-trodden where the line between good and evil hasn't just been already drawn, but is honored as Jane Austen canon. But in letting that line bleed a bit, and allowing some of those colors to mix, Jack Caldwell manages to refresh the story in a way wholly unseen before.


Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books on my TBR for Summer 2015

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature of The Broke and the Bookish

This week's theme: Top 10 books on my TBR pile for Summer 2015

I'm currently trying to get through Patricia White's Uninvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability (Theories of Representation and Difference) which I actually started a couple of years ago, but had to put down. It's super dense. At this point, I'm just hoping I can finish it by the end of summer if I keep it to read at home (rather than on the train, where I will likely get distracted and have to re-read some of the denseness). It's good - it's just a lot of words. Nonfiction hurts, you know? In the meantime, here's what I'll be reading elsewhere:

Horoscopes for the Dead, by Billy Collins

Pet Sematary, by Stephen King

The Accursed, by Joyce Carol Oates

Say Her Name, by Francisco Goldman

An Accident in August, by Laurence Cossé

I'm trying to keep a mix of fiction, non-fiction, tribute, poetry, etc. 
And along with these, I'm considering a re-read of some favorites - 
Persuasion (Austen), The Book of Lost Things (Connolly), and White Noise (DeLillo).

What's everyone else reading this summer? 


Review: The Shining, by Stephen King

The Shining, by Stephen King
This ed: Anchor reprint (2012) 688 pp.
Orig 1977
The Overlook Hotel is nestled in a valley in the remote Colorado rockies. For ages, it's been the summer destination of starlets, millionaires and has-beens. In the off-season, it lies dormant, isolated, covered in snow, mostly-unoccupied, and apparently haunted. Or perhaps the better word would be possessed. It's not the individual spirits that are terrifying, but the hotel itself - something even darker than ghosts, stemming from the site itself. Like Hill House (or even, marginally, like Winward House in "The Uninvited") the possession seems to be manifesting itself in triplicate - like a hellmouth of sorts - calling out to, and trying to absorb, a certain special individual.

Stephen King's The Shining posits the hotel as a well-constructed metaphor for the father figure's alcoholism - haunted by the past, destructive, in disrepair, a ticking time bomb, etc. King, who admittedly didn't sober up until about a decade after The Shining's publication, had a mean grasp on the house that his addiction built. But the term "shining" has little to do with the father figure Jack, and everything to do with the novel's focal character - a little boy named Danny - who possesses nascent skills for telepathy and clairvoyance. Naturally the paranormal elements attempt to draw him in at the expense of everything else. The reader's awareness of Danny's abilities means a blurring of the line between reality and his internalized fears. The movement of the fire hose on the second floor, for example, could be in Danny's head, or it could be part of the hotel's manifestation - the ambiguity makes it more fearsome.

And while Danny's heightened awareness of both the hotel's metaphysical abnormalities and his parents' own delusions and thoughts is sufficiently creepy, there are elements that take this story over the edge and make it a truly excellent work of suspense and horror. Both of these elements were left out of the Kubrick film, so if you've seen it but not yet read the novel: here's what you're missing. First of all, you've got the hedge animals who shift and move on their own, changing their stances and becoming increasingly threatening. At first, you might think that it's a trick of the light, or perhaps just an effect of paranoia. But when they actually begin attacking - that's when you know there's something darker than just ghosts at work here. And if you finish this book without being forever afraid of topiaries, you must have picked up the wrong book.

But more importantly - there's that ticking time bomb of a boiler that only gets a wayward glance in the film. Old boiler rooms are creepy on their own - there's a reason the queue for Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at DHS is fashioned like one - but the root of Jack's eventual psychosis is manifesting right there in the Overlook basement. The old news clippings and photos (and probably some asbestos, who knows?) and finally that boiler that has to be depressurized every twelve hours. King deftly keeps the plot rising and dipping with this routine as tensions waver, and it becomes a countdown clock as Jack slips deeper and deeper into the grotesque masquerade. In the end all parties, save one, have forgotten to mind the building pressure. And the end result is a spectacle greater than anything the film came close to rendering (except maybe the creepy twins).


Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, by Winifred Watson
Persephone Classics (2000); 234 pp.
Everyone has their bad days. Guinevere Pettigrew has had a lengthy run of those. At the end of them, where we meet her in the beginning of Winifred Watson's 1938 novella, she's middle-aged, a poor governess (in all senses of the word poor), and is out of options. Determined to give it all one last shot, she goes on a last-chance job interview, and happens into what can only be called a glittery whirlwind of romance, hedonism and delight.

On what was to be the eve of World War II, the most popular novels of 1938 were tales of death and duty like The Yearling, The Citadel and Rebecca - about as depressing a collection as one could find. In contrast to these, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a near-subversive fantasy that dances and quips along like the Hollywood films of which Miss Pettigrew is so fond.

Upon meeting her would-be employer, Miss Delysia LaFosse (neé Sarah Grubb), Miss Pettigrew is immediately swept into Delysia's intrigues and many romances. In a single 24-hour period (the story is broken into chapters, denoted by time frames) Miss Pettigrew swears, drinks and takes delight in living, all for the very first time in her life. She is made-up and made-over by Delysia and dragged from party to party, all the while providing her employer with advise and a style of maternal friendship that Delysia has perhaps never experienced herself. It's a bit fantastical that both of these characters should be so generous and foolish all at once, but that's why it's a novel. Delysia is delightfully ditzy and grand in comparison to her new friend who, even without her muddy browns, can be so very grounding.

Published when it was, Watson could only have guessed at the declaration of war that would come only a year after its publication. As such, all of the characters leave the story in hopefulness with just a tinge of cautious sensibility. The film adaptation which was released in 2008, however, had the benefit of hindsight. Knowing what came next, the film treats Guinevere and Joe  as not just contemporaries, but twin survivors of the first World War who are wary of the future, but together. In both versions - though more so in the film - they serve as an anchor for the rest of the party who, but for them, would likely float away - a beautiful careless glittering in the night sky.


Learning How to Read Again After Falling Down

Last November, just about 6 months ago, I broke my leg in what turns out to be almost the worst possible way one can - in three different places near the ankle, all from missing one step. I was in the hospital in Brooklyn for a week (where, if anything, they probably made it worse) and then, almost two weeks later, was in surgery eight states away. My mother had rushed up to New York to see that I could recover somewhere other than my third-floor walkup in New York, in winter.

She and my roommate packed a lot of things for the trip to Florida - clothes, devices, books, etc. We didn't know how long my recovery would be, but we were driving and there was only so much that would fit in the car; no one knew at that point that I would need three operations, three months of non-weightbearing, prescription narcotics, injectable blood thinners, a walker, a scooter, a wheelchair, crutches, a cane, a month of physical therapy, a plate in my leg, a total of nine screws (two have since been removed), five different casts, a space boot, an ankle brace, a car accident, and five months of working out of my parents' home. (There was also an episode involving a fork in a toilet, but that's a story for another day.) Needless to say, I only asked my mom to pack a handful of books - despite everything, I was somehow optimistic - I blame the painkillers.

A week before the third operation (wherein the bottom two
screws - the largest two - would be removed). You can still
see the fragmentation of the fibula.
The irony there is that, despite the fact that I was laid up with almost nothing to do for weeks at a time (sans when I was actually doing my job), I didn't read for a long time - I didn't want to. Christmas came and went with even more books arriving. And still I didn't read. I know that some of this was the morphine cloud, as I've taken to calling it - the month-long period between breaking my leg and weaning myself off of the narcotics that made living bearable for a time.

But I think the other part of it was my anxiety - my reluctance to think about anything other than my leg for any period of time where I might get distracted and forget that I couldn't stand, or lose concentration and smack it on something, etc. The anxiety was my greatest enemy and, in hindsight, I can see that - but in the moment, I only knew that I was battling some sort of demon of distraction that had caused the whole mess, and finding a way to be content or happy despite the leg and despite the setbacks was incredibly difficult.

Some time after Christmas - I want to say it was closer to Valentines' Day - a package arrived. A friend had sent gifts (two books, and the game Twister - of all things). It was around that time that I was beginning to move again (with a knee walker/scooter and my space boot). And while I can't say that I have even opened the game box, it was this delivery that gently pushed me back to reading (this, and riding the monorail at Disney while my family was in the parks - nerd alert!) I started slowly - very slowly - with books that I already knew through their movies (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day and The Shining). This allowed me to gradually focus my imagination and engage in the words. It was a different experience for me because I'm so used to reading for the sake of reading, regardless of whether something was adapted. I can't say I enjoyed it very much because I'm not that reader - but it was something different - it was something.

I'm getting more into the old groove now (I finished two other books just last week, and I'm in the middle of another one now). And while this experience is not something I would wish on anyone else (nor wish to re-live myself) I can say that it has been both informational (as to my own reading needs, opinions, preferences, etc.) and refreshing in its own way. I had been in a rut for a long time even before the fall and this was a lot like hitting the re-start button.

Sunset, from the M train. 
I never thought that I would be someone who would have to learn how to read again, and yet here I am. Most victims of happenstance have that reaction - I never thought it would be me, etc. But I can honestly and without approaching pastiche or cliché say that I never thought I would need to teach myself how to read again after simply breaking my leg - not because of a brain injury or an emotional tragedy (call  my outbursts what you will, Dad) but because of my own anxieties and fears and a critical inability to think beyond my present (now past) circumstances.

I want to think that most of this is behind me now - books are flying off of my TBR pile, I'm managing my commute daily without the use of a cane (I'm not stupid, though - I'm wearing my brace) and I've even come back to writing. Our program is resuming with few residual delays. But I'm glad to know that, should I find myself in this situation again - whether that means sprawled out at the bottom of the stairs, or simply curled up on my bed not wanting to face the world - I can always hit re-start.