Rules by Cynthia Lord

Rules by Cynthia Lord
Rules by Cynthia Lord

We create rules as a way to manage our time, personalities, and behaviors. We make rules in order to control our lives and give order to the world around us. Rules let us agree on a common way of acting, of certain expectations being met, and of certain boundaries not being crossed. Rules tell us how to live.

Following rules and finding our place in the world is central to Cynthia Lord’s Rules, a powerful young adult novel about a fifth grade girl, Catherine, and her autistic brother, David. Along the way they befriend a non-verbal, wheelchair-bound boy named Jason, who, despite his physical limitations, helps set Catherine free of her self-imposed and restrictive “rules.” After all, rules are meant to be broken.

Catherine wishes her brother’s autism would simply disappear, that he’d just wake up “normal” one day. But in case that doesn’t happen, she’s compiling a list of rules so “at least he’ll know how the world works, and I won’t have to keep explaining things.”

Catherine gives voice to the siblings of special needs individuals everywhere when she notes:

“Everyone expects a tiny bit from him and a huge lot from me.”

Later, Catherine talks honestly with her father.

“I have to matter, too. As much as work and your garden, and even as much as David. I need you, too.”

Catherine ponders the nature of her brother’s disability. As the father of a son with autism I found her insights packed an emotional wallop. (Note: Cynthia Lord is the mother of boy with autism.)

“How can his outside look so normal and his inside be so broken? Like an apple, red perfect on the outside, but mushy brown at the first bite.”

Catherine struggles with being both embarrassed by her brother and protective of him in equal measure. She hates when people treat her brother “like he’s invisible. It makes me mad, because it’s mean and it makes me invisible, too.”

Two of Catherine’s most simple rules are the most profound.

There are flaws in all of us—not just those with special needs.

And

We all try to do the best we can to fit in, but things don’t always end up the way we intend.

There are quite a few laughs here, and a few weepy emotional moments, too. Some of the most profound highlight the differences in Catherine and David’s mental capacities. At one point both kids get a chance to make a wish. Catherine says:

I wish everyone had the same chances. Because it stinks a big one that they don’t. What about you?

David wishes for grape soda.

Cynthia Lord plays it straight in Rules, and doesn’t overdo it on the sentimentality. The result is an engaging read filled with light and love. A couple of Lord’s rules are bound to stick with you after the novel’s close:

Sometimes you’ve gotta work with what you’ve got.

And

Looking closer can make something beautiful.

 

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Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road by Edward Lee, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Bryan Smith, J. F. Gonzalez, Wrath James White, Nate Southard, Ryan Harding, and Shane McKenzie

Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road
Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road

 This is a good book written for a great cause; to help fund the medical bills of writer Tom Piccirilli. Pic’s colleagues in hardcore horror decided to pitch-in on a round robin novel to help support their friend. For that reason alone the book is worth buying.

Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road is written by, and in collaboration with, Brian KeeneJack KetchumEdward LeeJ.F. GonzalezBryan SmithWrath James WhiteNate SouthardRyan Harding, and Shane McKenzie. All gentlemen are heavy hitters in the world of gore-and-sex horror stories, and they all bring the Grand Guignol goods here.

Things start out fine, with a sex-demon prologue preceding new residents Chuck and Arrianne moving into the titular house, the scene of creepy and kinky crimes. Of course, nothing ever dies (when it should) in horror (or elsewhere), which is bad news for Chuck and Arrianne.

Each chapter of Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road is written by a different author or combination of authors. Through a series of violent and sexual scenes, a story of erotic obsession and possession emerges.

But by the third act everything derails. The authors get caught up in a gross-out contest rather than plot or character development, and a sharp detour into meta-fiction near the novel’s end feels like a convenient way to wrap things up rather a serious literary effort.

The funniest lines are delivered by Nate Southard (as himself), who laments the state of the horror genre while acknowledging the novel’s gratuitous nature.

“I can’t believe I wrote that dog bowl shit. You think Laird Barron would do that? Or Lee Thomas? Or Sarah?”

“Which Sarah? Langan or Pinborough?” asks equally-guilty author J.F. Gonzalez.

“Either,” Southard says, but quickly reconsiders. “Okay, well maybe Pinborough would, but you get my point.”

Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road ends up poking fun at horror in general and splatterpunk in particular. The authors clearly have fun with the material even as the story falls to pieces around them. But that’s not important; pick this one up to help out Tom Piccirilli.

Then do both yourself and Tom Piccirilli a favor, and buy as many Tom Piccirilli books as you can find. My favorites are Pic’s noir-flavored The Midnight Road and November Mourns, along with supernatural mystery, The Night Class. Piccirilli is a master of the written word leaving deep footprints on the landscape of mystery, suspense, and terror, and deep impressions on readers touched by his work.

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