The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee
The Woman by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

Remember the fine young cannibals? Not the band that sang, “She Drives Me Crazy” and “Good Thing.” The band of cannibals that ate tourists along the coast of Maine in Jack Ketchum‘s classic novels, Off Season and Offspring. (Know by fans as Ketchum’s Dead River Series.)

The Woman is back in all her feral glory, and authors Ketchum and Lucky McKee put her through the paces in The Woman. The last surviving member of her cave-dwelling, people-eating clan, the Woman is captured by a country lawyer / mad man who locks her up in his basement. Creepy Christopher Cleek, Esq. kicks it up a notch by getting his wife and kids involved in the fiendish torture, which gives The Woman some of the same sadistic feel that permeated Ketchum’s landmark novel, The Girl Next Door.

Cannibal girl isn’t the only one suffering at hands of Cleek (and his growing-up-creepy son, Brian). Father and son feed a corpse to a pack of wild dogs (and another, far more disturbing animal that shares the pen), and then sit back to soak in the soothing truth of extreme violence.
There are bits of her scattered everywhere.
“Doesn’t even look real anymore,” Brian says, “does it, dad.”
He’s every bit as engaged as Cleek is.
“Does to me,” he says. He doesn’t know particularly what he means by that but it has the ring of truth so he says it again. “Does to me.”
Cleek’s wife, daughters, and secretary are all victims of his manipulation. His teenage daughter wonders if the cycle of abuse can ever be broken.
Would she inherit this?  And gradually melt into the ghost of some unknown man’s desires?
And later she considers the deepest scars of all.
When you’re young pain can take a long time to go away.  And leave its residue forever.”
But the women in The Woman are all fighters and survivors, with the Woman representing raw feminine power at its most primal. Even as the Woman is brutalized, Ketchum and McKee celebrate her power, survival skills, and cunning. She is the true hero here and it’s a blast when she finally breaks free and kicks ass. Ketchum and McKee know revenge is a dish best served cold … and bloody. The Woman leaves readers wickedly satisfied.
Besides, there are worse things than being a cannibal cavegirl. At least The Woman has a moral compass and a sense of family. Peel back the onionskin veneer of small-town lawyer Christopher Cleek and you’ll find the true heart of darkness.
-30-

Digitize Salinger and Other Literary Pursuits

JD Salinger
The elusive J.D. Salinger

I was going through a “Why Didn’t I Read This in High School?” phase, and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye was up next on my reading list.

I was eager to download a copy of Salinger’s classic novel onto my Kindle. I’m a firm backer of the digital publishing revolution, since ebooks let you:

  1. Change the size and style of the text.
  2. Look up word definitions and background info on the spot.
  3. Highlight, makes notes, and export chunks of text.

These features are incredibly helpful when I’m writing book reviews (bobsbookblog.com), and must be a major timesaver for students working on school essays. (Back in my day we had to write out notes and quotes by hand on index cards, whippersnappers!)

But The Catcher in the Rye isn’t available on Kindle. You can’t get it on your Nook or iPad either. J.D. Salinger never allowed any other editions of his novel other than the one published by Little, Brown and Company in 1951. The breakout success of The Catcher in the Rye spooked Salinger, and he retreated to his rural Vermont home after the book’s publication. Salinger produced three additional books, but didn’t publish again after 1961.

Salinger died in 2010, but his estate still closely guards the copyright on his work, and had never allowed any adaptions. Film directors from Elia Kazan to Steven Spielberg have been turned away, and the Salinger Estate still hasn’t sanctioned audiobooks or digital editions.

If you want to read The Catcher in the Rye (or Salinger’s other work) you have to order the same Little, Brown and Company mass market paperback (now in its 98th printing) that’s been kicking around classrooms since forever. It’s got the original 1951 orangey cover art by E. Michael Mitchell — an ink sketch of a carousel horse and the NYC skyline — on both the front and back. Besides the title and “a novel by J.D. Salinger,” there is no other cover text, no sales copy, no About the Author copy, no blurbs from other authors or academics, and no “New York Times bestselling author.” Nothing.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger.

The interior of the book is equally sparse. There is no forward or afterword. No advertisements for other books, no offers to join Little, Brown and Company’s Readers Club. There is no About the Author page here either. The Catcher in the Rye is 214 pages of Holden Caulfield’s inimitably cranky narrative, presented exactly how the author intended, and it’s been this way, unchanged, for nearly fifty years.

Salinger’s over-protectiveness guarantees his work is uniformly consumed. I experienced The Catcher in the Rye the same way, in the same font and format, as nearly everyone else who ever read the book. I dog-eared pages, underlined in pencil, and scribbled notes in the margins, the same way lit students have for decades. Salinger’s format constraints demand it.

According to a new documentary on J.D. Salinger, the late author left specific instructions for five books to be published between 2015 and 2020. I don’t know the Salinger Estate or Little, Brown and Company’s publishing plans, but launching new Salinger titles is an ideal time to bring all the author’s work into the digital realm. Contemporary literature should embrace contemporary formats, and ebooks are here to stay. Salinger’s work needs to be readily available, brought into the digital realm, and forever preserved in binary code.

Digitize Salinger! And Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, too!

Check out my review of The Catcher in the Rye here.

-30-

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman walks the same hollowed ground as Roald Dahl and Clive Barker; creators of lush, detailed modern fables that scare the crap out of children.

Gaiman’s Coraline has gone from cult classic to timeless classic since its release in 2002. We all relate to a kid that doesn’t get enough parental attention, and Coraline’s heroic journey — to rescue her kidnapped parents, free the souls three lost children, and destroy the wicked Other Mother — is as epic as any taken by Hercules, Odysseus, or the Knights of the Round Table.

Coraline shares many themes with these classic tales: it’s about sacrifice and bravery, and being careful what you wish for. Coraline learns that sometimes you don’t appreciate what you have until you almost lose it.

“It is astonishing just how much of what we are can be tied to the beds we wake up in in the morning, and it is astonishing how fragile that can be.”

Coraline also learns the importance of working toward your achievements, and the Zen art of The Journey over The Destination.

“ ‘You really don’t understand, do you?’ she said. ‘I don’t want whatever I want. Nobody does. Not really. What kind of fun would it be if I just got everything I ever wanted?’”

Coraline is a beautifully rendered trip into a surreal world that feels a bit like a Tim Burton fever dream, or The Brothers Grimm in a bad mood. But Gaiman’s vision is uniquely his own. The Other Mother is as wicked a witch as any conjured by Disney, Mother Goose, or L. Frank Baum, and Coraline is the kind of hero you never tire of cheering for.

-30-

Ido in Autismland: Breaking Out of Autism’s Silent Prison

Ido in Autismland: Breaking Out of Autism's Silent Prison by Ido Kedar.
Ido in Autismland: Breaking Out of Autism’s Silent Prison by Ido Kedar.

Ido Kedar is angry — and it’s awesome!

You can’t blame him. For the first 12 years of his life, Ido Kedar was stuck in an uncooperative body, unable to communicate. Even now, as a teenager, his communication is limited to pointing to letters on a keyboard.

But don’t assume his lack of speech equals a lack of intelligence. As Kedar points out:

“The erroneous theory is this: to speak is to understand. Tell that to Stephen Hawking.”

Ido lives in “autismland,” as he calls it, a scary place fraught with communication problems, sensory issues, and severe anxiety. Kedar’s book, Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison, is a firsthand account of what it’s like trapped at the “low functioning” end of the autistic spectrum. This collection of essays — published in 2012 when Kedar was 16 years old — reveal the author’s beautiful mind, poet’s soul, and warrior heart.

Kedar is a person — a mind, a soul — fighting to be heard. And, once he finds his voice, he doesn’t mince words.

“The “experts” mostly never get it right. They assume we are some autistic, retarded stim-machine, not a trapped, thinking person who has a neurological illness. … Do I sound angry? Well, I am. It’s time autistic people told the experts that they have made mistakes.”

Kedar breaks down many of autism’s odd behaviors. Why are autistic kids so attracted to water? “Because in the water I can feel my whole body,” Kedar explains. He also explains the motivation behind the repetitive pleasure/torture of self stimulatory behaviors.

“In my Health class we are learning about drug abuse and alcoholism. I can’t help but see a similarity in autistic stims… Stims are the drug of the trapped.”

Kedar is both baffled and troubled by the “flight impulse” that sometimes overcomes him. It’s a common autistic trait — in my son’s school they call it “elopement.” Sadly, it’s the same impulse that recently got autistic student Avonte Oquendo killed.

“Traffic is visually stimulating. It may invite some kids to move toward it. I can’t explain that one, but I have felt the impulse to bolt suddenly… It’s not due to ignorance or idiocy. It is the impulses and too weak a body control to fight them off. It doesn’t matter why. We still need supervision to be safe.”

When Kedar writes about the frustration of having a body that won’t respond to his will, he sounds like a philosopher.

“I’m stuck like a stump and my brain is thinking of what it wants my body to do. It ends there. Thinking, not responding. In other words, what good is my free will if I am like a thinking man in a straight jacket?”

Later in the same passage he shows courage beyond words.

“I fight the temptation to despair because I really want to free myself. It’s my job to free my soul. Hopefully one day my body will be free too.”

Ido writes with a wisdom and maturity well beyond his years.

“I’m not a brave person. I am scared of being in front of cameras or interviewers. I have decided to speak out anyway. It’s not my goal to be well known. I like being anonymous, but I am determined to say what has to be said. It’s not always our choice if we are brave. Sometimes it’s important to do, even if you’re scared.”

Like a Zen master who spends decades alone in contemplative silence, Kedar has achieved a kind of enlightenment. It’s no pity party for Kedar. He’s got himself together better than most.

“I think a lot of it has to do with expectations. If you think life owes you something, you can’t appreciate what you have … The way to appreciate your good fortune is to notice your blessings … I see that to hate your life dooms you to a wretched one, even if the life you have is hard. The truth is I don’t need to be normal to make my life meaningful. I need to have freedom to think, loving friends and family, and a recognition that no life is perfect. In spite of an illness I wish I didn’t have, I actually have it better than many people.”

Kedar’s “secret to happiness” is “stopping self pity,” and he reveals the heart and soul of a true writer when he discusses the healing power of words.

“As I write, I see what I should work on. I will continue to write my journey for myself because now I see that writing heals me.”

Amen to that, Brother Ido!

Check out Ido Kedar’s writing here!

 

-30-