The Extra Key

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I am excited to say I finally completed The Extra Key by Kevin Polman. I started it shortly before my best friend’s wedding in March and it got put on the back burner, unfortunately. Considering the overall plot and ending of the story I think it would have been timelier to have completed it before her wedding. Live and learn.

I was excited to purchase this book at one of the author’s readings in the Summer of 2016. Full disclosure, Kevin Polman was one of my high school teachers. He taught Chemistry and my A&P class. He was a great teacher and I learned a lot. I will admit he intimidated me a bit, but that’s not a bad thing. I felt like he challenged me to be a better and more independent student.

Now for the part y’all actually care about: the ramble review. The Extra Key is a slice of life story about a man, Corey, who loses his wife in a terrible car accident. Corey wallows in depression for a while, but then discovers letters from his late wife. In those letters she encourages him to move on. A shy man wary of doing anything outside his comfort zone, he is also greeted by little “talking” dogs that help him on his journey to recovery. Throughout his recovery he touches on various issues that many of us deal with: death, work environments, weight gain/loss, and low self-esteem. Through the protagonist tackling each problem, the audience may also feel compelled to reflect on their own problems and evaluate how they are handling each issue they come across.

I loved the prologue to this novel. In a letter from a woman named Sarah, she reminds Corey of the importance of having an extra key or the importance of asking others for help when it gets to be too much. “…many would rather jump off the ledge than ask for help. In the same way that humans are ashamed to admit that they might need an extra key for their car because it implies that they are capable of making a mistake, they might also be ashamed to admit that they need to have on hand the loving care and advice of other people to deal with certain types of problems. Unfortunately, the love key is the one extra key that humans have the most trouble asking for, acquiring, and using, even when it is fully accessible.” (p. 7). I related a longer quote than I normally would, however, that whole segment seems to perfectly sum up the theme and tone of the novel. Corey, as one who has lost his whole world, needs to remember how to love again. It is necessary for him to rely on others who love him and want what is best for him. There are many times when he expresses being alone or lonely, but the author clearly illustrates that there are people around him who are willing to be there for Corey at a moment’s notice. He is never completely alone.

Overall, it was a solid book and story and I highly recommend reading Kevin Polman’s first published novel. He has a collection of short stories and an illustrated book available for purchase as well, but I have not had an opportunity to check those out yet. For the 26 book 2017 Reading Challenge, which seems less likely I will complete (unless I don’t worry about the categories and count all the hundreds of comic books I’ll read), I will make this my “Book published in the last year” check box, since my copy was published June 14, 2016. Feel free to check out Kevin Polman‘s blog on WordPress too! Personally, I enjoy his updates.

Crocodile Bird

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Copy from the local library!

The Crocodile Bird, by Ruth Rendell, published 1993.

About a month or two ago, a former teacher of mine, now an author, Kevin Polman, recommended the novel The Crocodile Bird by Ruth Rendell to me. I checked it out from my local library, but it took the maximum of 2 renewals for me to complete it. I am a bit disappointed in how slowly I read this novel because it was intriguing. I’ll admit I felt the beginning was a bit slow and I occasionally had a hard time figuring out if the main protagonist, Liza, was narrating the story in the present day to her boyfriend, Sean, or if the author had switched back to a flashback. However, it must not have messed me up too much, as every time I did sit down to read the book I would look up and see the time had flown by and realized I had read a good 30-50 pages without even trying.

The general plot of the story is that a mother and daughter lived in a gatehouse beside a secluded mansion away from traffic and civilization. The mother, Eve, wanted to shelter her daughter from all the evils of the world and of men. Eve also had a love affair with the house, the Shrove, which she managed the day-to-day operations and cleaning. The Shrove was generally vacant, as the master, Jonathan Tobias, did not stay there often. He would occasionally come by to visit though. Over time there were three tragedies that occurred at the Shrove and the book begins the night before Eve is arrested. The details of Eve’s possible connection to the crimes are revealed through Liza telling her story to Sean, who she ran to after her mother forced her to flee. Sean helps introduce Liza to the outside world. He taught her how to use money, find a job, etc. Liza never went to school, but she had been illegally homeschooled. Therefore, she was a novice to life.

Like mother like daughter. Eve wanted Liza to be just like her, almost like her clone, but she stipulates that she wants Liza to be without pain. Eve does not elaborate on what that pain is, but rather Ruth Rendell slowly paints a picture of Eve’s life and her interactions with men throughout it. But before her thought process is revealed to the audience, Eve’s determination to shelter Liza could easily be considered overkill. She never let Liza leave the gatehouse or Shrove grounds. Liza couldn’t even go to school, interact with other humans (other than a few landscape people, the milkman, Jonathan, and Bruno), or develop her own sense of self. Sean points out that her mother handicapped her for real life situations, but Liza seems unaffected. She accepts it as a part of her who she is and said she hasn’t known any other way. Her love for her mother is deep and detached at the same time. She keeps track of her mother’s trial throughout. In a way, it is a beautiful love story between a mother and daughter, but on the other hand, it is twisted and sociopathic. The amount of control Eve had over Liza is not healthy. She did not treat Liza like a human, but rather as a personal toy she needed to keep around. Liza should have gone to school, experienced childhood with other kids, and learn to make her own decisions, even if she did get hurt.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel and would be interested in reading more by Ruth Rendell. She is a prolific mystery writer and if her other novels are as enthralling as this one, I know I will enjoy them too.

Gone Girl

by Gillian Flynn (2012)

On Nick and Amy’s five year anniversary, Amy mysteriously goes missing. As police begin to suspect her husband as a possible murderer, Nick is finding himself on an annual anniversary scavenger hunt left by his wife. What will he find at the end of the trail?

 

I probably wouldn’t have gone back this far in my readings, but Gone Girl left a very distinct impression on me when I listened to the audiobook a couple months ago. I also somehow still remember a majority of the scenes and plot (not all of which I will touch on here). If you know me, you would know that is rare. Also, I have yet to see the movie, even though I declared I would watch it immediately after completing the book. Oops.

Although I love reading and hearing stories from two or more perspectives, one of the best and most frustrating parts about the book is that both narrators are unreliable. Each have their own truth about their life and neither is willing to budge on their truth being right. My enjoyment of hearing a multitude of perspectives is no different for me in real life. When I hear a story from someone, I instantly wonder how the other person views the situation. Therefore, I praise Flynn’s ability to truly showcase each character’s limited view of the world.

At first, I fell in love with Amy’s character. Not just because she had the best name (which she does), but because her journal entries were fun. I could relate with her. In her journals she expressed wanting to work hard as a journalist and be a good wife who would give everything to help her husband succeed. Amy even left her life in New York to live with her husband in small town Missouri, where she loans him money to start a bar with his sister. Now, if I completely trusted Amy, I would have missed all the clues Nick gave about her being quite a bit different than her journal would imply. Since readers can see both primary characters inner thoughts, we can conclude that neither character is exactly likeable. I would elaborate, but I am concerned about spoilers. If you read the book or watch the movie, contact me and I’d love to discuss further!

I am a sucker for weddings. To me, weddings are where two souls come together to declare their absolute love for each other in an elaborate or simple ceremony and celebration (depending on the personalities of the couples getting married). I hope every union leads to lifelong marriages. But instead of a “happily ever after” story, Flynn considers how a couple can trudge through life together, not truly loving and not truly hating the other person. They simply exist beside each other and never fully learn about the other person in their bed. The question Flynn poses is: how well can you truly know your spouse? She argues that no matter how much you think you know someone, there is always something you don’t know about him/her and that can either be scary or exciting. In Nick and Amy’s case, it was frightening. Neither Nick nor Amy wanted to be real with the other for a multitude of reasons, but in marriage honest communication and mutual trust is essential. They probably would not have stayed married either way, but I feel like a lot of their issues could have been resolved or dissolved through practicing open communication and trust, rather than cheating and contempt. But then again, if that happened, we wouldn’t have such a thrilling novel…