Welcome to the OASIS

For fans of:

video games

The 80s

The Matrix


The year is 2044 and the world has gone to hell in a handbasket…

Luckily, there’s the OASIS, a simulated reality created by James Halliday (think Steve Jobs), where everybody and their dog spends their time.

Wade Watts, the protagonist of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, lives in a trailer stack (check out the book cover; it’s dope) in Oklahoma City where he experiences 99% of his life inside the OASIS, where he goes to school, plays games, and socializes with his fellow nerds.

 

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When Halliday dies (5 years prior to the start of the book) and everyone with access to the OASIS has the opportunity to find Halliday’s “egg”, a prize he’s hidden deep within his virtual matrix, he creates a Willy Wonka-type situation in which the winner will inherit his $200+ billion life savings.

Jam-packed with 80s trivia, Ready Player One will delight even the least nerdy nerd. If you are familiar at all with the films of John Hughes or old coin-operated video games, you will relish every reference, which include (but certainly aren’t limited to) Stars Wars, Pac-Man, Adventure, Monty Python, Ferris Bueller, etcetera.

Alongside his best buddies Art3mis (Artemis) and Aech (H), Wade, who is known by his pseudonym Parzival in the OASIS, undergoes three trials at three different stages that test his knowledge of all things James Halliday. The book is broken up accordingly into three sections, Levels One, Two and Three, and is crammed with quickly paced battle scenes and real-world trauma too.

 

 

There are some major No Man’s Sky vibes as Wade and his friends teleport between planets and run into trouble (of course) with other gunters, or “egg hunters.”

But in a virtual reality, how can you know what’s real and what’s not? Find out by reading the book before the movie—directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tye Sheridan (X-Men: Apocalypse) as Wade and Olivia Cooke (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl) as Art3mis—hits theaters March 2018.

If you like Ready Player One, check out Cline’s second novel ARMADA:

“Zack Lightman has spent his life dreaming. Dreaming that the real world could be a little more like the countless science-fiction books, movies, and videogames he’s spent his life consuming. Dreaming that one day, some fantastic, world-altering event will shatter the monotony of his humdrum existence and whisk him off on some grand space-faring adventure.

But hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism, right? After all, Zack tells himself, he knows the difference between fantasy and reality. He knows that here in the real world, aimless teenage gamers with anger issues don’t get chosen to save the universe.

And then he sees the flying saucer.”

— Goodreads

 

Happy reading 🙂

Mother-daughter vampire story wins 2017 Harris book prize

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The University of Oklahoma announces Winners of                       2017 William Foster Harris Prizes for Young Writers

I’m not entirely sure what it is about vampires that has fascinated humans for millennia. Perhaps the lure of immortality and everlasting beauty (not to mention the blood, sex, and gore), or the fact that Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, and Robert Pattinson have all played one at some point in time… Whatever the reason, I know they’ve cast their spell on me, and after devouring novels, movies, and tv shows like Dracula, Interview with the Vampire, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I found myself compelled to tell my own bloody tale.

This is how my short story “Mother Says” (2,223 words) came to be, in which two blood-starved vamps troll a college campus in search of… well, you know how the story goes. And, honestly, you can probably guess how it ends too. This story not only earned me recognition and a cash prize from OU’s Gaylord College, but publication in Oklahoma City University’s anthology of student writing, The Scarab (on page 66).

The story can be found below or by clicking the link: TheScarab2017.pdf

Enjoy

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Death comes in many forms, but none so beautiful as my mother.

I call her this, though I was not borne from her, never slipped between her blood-greased thighs, never suckled sweet milk from her breast. But she passed down her burden to me, just as strong legs or brown eyes are passed down from begetter to offspring. Her DNA is not my own, but her blood is my blood. It is to blood which everything returns and is the one commodity she is always willing to share.

 

— ◊ —

 

Yesterday, my name was Connell. Tomorrow it might be Alexa or Steven or Hennessey; it could be anyone. I take their names in place of mine, for it’s their blood which cycles through this heart that sits stagnant within its red-walled cavity. I have no name tonight, but my luck might change, should our hunt prove fruitful.

Mother brings me to the main breeding grounds, where the humans are gathered so thickly it’s a hot, pulsing cesspool of booze and bodily fluid. Strange sounds thump from a clapboard house across the street from the university, bass heavy and jarring.

What is it, I ask.

Mother turns toward me, weak moonlight painting half her face white.

Music, she says. But this kind comes from machines instead of instruments.

Keeping to the shadows, I move closer, along the brick cobble avenue. Mother follows. I stop at the edge of the dark copse of trees lining the small yard of the fraternity house. A black rectangle stands out against the orange glow leaking through thin curtains from the front window where a JUSTICE FOR KELSEY flier has been taped to the corner of the glass.

Kelsey. I roll the word over on my dry tongue. I was Kelsey once.

The picture on the flier jogs my memory. Blonde. Blue eyes. Big smile. Kelsey. The last real taste of summer. There had been something unusually clean about her, none of the fat from red meat that gets left behind to rot in the gut. It was the first time Mother or I had eaten vegan. All the ones before had been filet mignon; Kelsey was beef jerky. Herbivores were the best and the worst, we decided. Lean and clean.

Ironic, Mother had said when we’d finished, that she should eat such a diet. To ensure a long life. She’d smiled then, a film of watery pink covering the shining white of her teeth.

The bottom of the papers read REWARD $100,000. Big money, even in the twenty-first century. We must take our time with the next one, Mother had said, wiggling her brows. Easy money.

I scan the nameless faces of the bodies coming and going. It is a constant stream, like the ocean’s tide. Tonight, it’s my turn. But there are too many, the scents layering over each other. And so many of them travel in packs on their way back to the dormitories, it’s like they know.

I take my time. Mother says I must take care in choosing, as one takes care in choosing an eau de parfum. There are top notes and base notes. What at first smells sweetly may in fact be decay and putrefaction underneath. She’s always warning me against the Lily of the Valley. Beautiful and pure on the outside, but poisonous. You must never pluck a Lily, she’ll say.

This is when I spot her, stumbling down the steps of the vibrating house. I can see no razor’s edge has touched her hair in years and her skin emits a musk that reminds me of vanilla or some other mild spice, like cloves or cinnamon. She’s a pure one. I can smell it. I need to know her name.

Her, I whisper like a secret.

Yes, Mother approves. There is power in this one.

I can sense what mother is talking about, pick up the waves of energy radiating out of her. Her aura, as Mother calls it.

Whenever you’re ready. It’s your turn, remember?

I look up at her, the moon of her face latticed by the shadows of rustling leaves. Her eyes tell me I must learn.

Eat or starve, she says. Her mantra.

The girl makes it to the street, the iron gate of her dormitory less than a hundred steps away.

It’s this or Sunday Mass, Mother warns.

I deliberate for a moment, not sure if she means she’ll force me to go as punishment or to do my hunting there. But I know which. Even as a creature who predates Christianity, Mother still has moral standards.

I fill my lungs with the girl’s scent and allow my instincts to take over.

She knows I love the choir, for there is no other sound from which one can experience God in aural form, but I hate the hymnals. They are too much a reminder of what I’ve lost.

 

— ◊ —

 

The liquor leaches out of the girl’s skin through pearls of sweat that glisten in the light of the Hunters Moon, the same moon under which ancient peoples tracked summer-fattened deer that were unable to hide in the naked fields of autumn. Secondhand sunlight gives her skin a silver-colored scent as she shuffles back to her dorm. She never looks back.

The closer I get the quicker Connell’s blood pumps through my veins. I can still taste the salt in it, like salt from the sea. I can taste the hops of good Irish ale, hear the racket of his ancestors building warships in Dublin Bay, feel the weight of a rubber mallet in a thick fist, feel the flex of strong, freckled forearms, hear men calling to one another on the rigging…

I’m close enough now to be the girl’s shadow, close enough to reach out and touch her, when I realize I don’t know her name. And I need her name. Need it like a woman ripe with child needs to push. But my drive to drink from her fades with this revelation. My pace slows and before I understand what I’ve done, the girl has disappeared behind the glass doors of her dormitory. I inhale the faint traces of her scent that hang in the air, but it’s no stronger than the white spot left by the sun on closed eyelids.

I’m far enough away from the fraternity house to hear the sounds of the night: the wind whistling softly as it whips between buildings, dry leaves fluttering like leathery wings, crickets scratching their legs—

And the creak of a metal side door as two girls emerge from the dorm, talking to one another animatedly, too loud for the dark. The first, the taller of the two, steps off the curb and their paths diverge. She calls to the other, who can’t be more than ninety pounds beneath her cutoff jeans and wool cardigan, and I catch her name.

Lilah.

I know what comes next, though the thought does not solidify. From behind a tall hedgerow, I watch her hair lift and fall against her shoulders, its honey color platinum in the moonlight. Each step that takes me closer to the girl, she takes a step away. When I stop, she stops. When I move, she moves. This is the dance. Humans call it a gut feeling; they don’t have the proper vocabulary.

Lilah slides one of the light-up machines out of a pocket, the baby nickelodeons every modern human reaches for that sends some kind of signal for help that always comes too late. The screen illuminates Lilah’s face in a blue-white glow. She looks around, but sees only shadows.

 

— ◊ —

 

The memories flash by in a blur of zest and heat. Citrus reflections. A red sunset cutting through a canyon; torn fabric on a cactus; blood on desert sand; petals plucked off a white flower; the heady taste of marijuana and chocolate. My memories now.

Mother finds me in the narrow alley behind the girls’ dormitory on my hands and knees, sucking platelets out of marrow, yellow fluid leaking out of the top of the body’s spinal column and onto the night-cooled grass. The body that used to be called Lilah lies flat on its back, the head turned backwards, dark hair forming a mesh over the face I never saw.

In the dark, Mother’s eyes glitter, black and reproachful. You drank from this one? she asks, her lithe frame sinking into a crouch at the other end of the body.

I look up, wiping my mouth with the back of my hand and licking the smeared blood clean.

Scrambling for the body’s feet, Mother removes the white canvas sneakers and socks from the feet, checking the bare soles, then moves up, flipping the palms moonward, inspecting the delicate pink skin there.

What are you looking for? I ask.

Mother swipes a finger where the neck is severed, tasting a drop of the blood, then spits.

I think it’s Syphilis, she says.

I swish around what’s in my mouth and swallow. I was too preoccupied with the memories before, too hungry to even taste it. But the flavor sits on my tongue now, tingles as it absorbs into the sides of my mouth, my throat, my heart. Almost metallic, like a mouthful of coins. She’d warned against blood diseases, one of the reasons it was so important to take care in our choosing.

What will happen? I ask.

You’ll rot, Mother says. From the inside.

How long?

Mother looks down at the body, placing a hand on the chest, right over the heart.

She’s not cold yet, Mother says. Perhaps until sunrise.

 

— ◊ —

 

A soft pat, pat, pat of blood on my lips wakes me. I open my mouth to receive it. In the tree above me, I hear a nest of baby birds doing the same, yellow beaks wide, ready for a fresh worm. Mother’s punctured wrist floats in the air above me and, to the east, a faint flush of violet colors the horizon.

I want to ask how long, but my throat has closed.

Don’t speak, Mother whispers.

And I don’t need to, for the answer is in her eyes, the truth of it in her blood. The answer is, Not long.

There is a heaviness in my limbs, weighed down so by this debilitating sickness. The metallic tang hasn’t left my tongue. If anything, it’s become more pronounced, the polluted blood sapping the energy out of me. Like being wrung dry or slowly squeezed like fruit in a juice press.

There have been hangings here, Mother muses, distracting me, one palm flat against the velvet earth. I smell it too, the scent of iron where the blood seeped into the gnarled roots many moons ago.

I wish she would say my name. I wish she would say Lilah.

My tongue wet with blood, I try to tell her this, but the words won’t come. With what little strength is left in this body, I reach up for Mother’s face, placing a hand, crippled as if from rigor mortis or carpal tunnel, at the back of her neck. I move my mouth close as if to place a bloody kiss on her cheek but instead sink my teeth into her smooth flesh, deep enough to pierce her left carotid artery. My eyes roll back in my head as I drink and it’s a symphony, the blood, hot and unnamed, blaring in my head, the song of life and death, the sound the universe made when it exploded into existence, the cry of distant stars as they streak across the endless black expanse, blazing fire that breathes warmth into dead rocks that will become life-breeding planets long after this one is sucked dry. I drink and swallow, drink and swallow, taking deep, yawning mouthfuls.

Waste nothing. Another one of Mother’s lessons.

Behind my eyelids, a flock of brightly dressed gypsies dance, a skirt belted with gold coins jingling around Mother’s gyrating waist; a caravan of camels lapping at the edge of a turquoise sea; a sugar cube dropped onto a waiting tongue; and the holy rivers of blood… so much blood… enough to flood a small city or drown a dry valley.

When I open my eyes, my vision is red. I wipe away the blood tears and lick my fingertips. Mother’s skin is white as bone and thin as the onion pages of a Bible. I focus my mind on the task of hiding the body, if only to divert myself from what I’ve done. I don’t feel like I’m rotting, rather I feel very much alive as I get to my feet. The dawn is rising, coloring the sky the same blush pink as my cheeks, the backs of my hands, my heart. And if it could beat again, just once, it would for my mother.

Tomorrow morning, a hungover medical student will find her body in one of the refrigerated chambers in the cadaver room of the science laboratory and pump her full of embalming fluid and idly wonder what her name was.

Mother. It’s what I called her, though I was not borne from her. This is the burden she has passed down to me. The burden of blood. It is blood to which everything returns, she would say. And it was her blood she was always willing to share.

A CRITICAL ESSAY ON VAMPIRES, GENDER, DOPPELGÄNGERS, THE NEW WOMAN, AND THE FEMININE EVOLUTION IN GOTHIC FICTION & FILM

bats

POST2

 

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POST3Employing the analyses of several relevant Gothic texts, this essay will be divided into four main sections: Coming Out of the Coffin: Vampirism as Metaphor offers an overview of two symbols which vampirism has embodied over the centuries, which includes, but is obviously not limited to, homo-sexuality and the sexual woman         as monster.

 

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Vamps & Tramps: Gender Disparities in Gothic Fiction focuses on the distinctions     between humans and vampires, both male and female, and the ways in which all four are presented to the reader/viewer. Disparities between the different representations are diverse and this section exposes the undertone of misogynistic bias found in many pieces of literature and critically acclaimed films, still found in recent media.

 

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Seeing Double: Doppelgängers and     the New Woman gives examples of contemporary women taking over or otherwise destroying the archaic model of themselves and serves as com-       mentary on the burgeoning New Woman.

 

 

 

POST6Stake the Patriarchy: The Evolution of the Female in Literature and Film summarizes how the image of the woman has changed over the centuries as feminism has shifted society’s way of thinking and answers several important questions: Will Gothic fiction ever be able to move past depicting the woman as feeble victim in the faceof danger? Do we need our women sexualized, on some level, in order to accept them in more dominating roles? Is conventional beauty, white skin, and upper-middle class status a requirement of the heroine? And, finally, how do we keep from regressing into archaic modes of patriarchal thinking?

 

POST7

 

 

CLICK THE ESSAY LINK BELOW 👇🏽

(5,600 words. PDF)

The Monstrous Feminine

 

 

 


 

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“Don’t be afraid to be afraid”: Fear and Family in L’Engle’s A WRINKLE IN TIME

For fans of:

Space travel

&

C. S. Lewis

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Madeleine L’Engle’s now famous A Wrinkle in Time makes for one epic bedtime story that will capture the imaginations of both children and their parents. Originally published in 1962, the novel follows the Murry family of six: Mr. and Mrs. Murry and their four children—Meg, the oldest, and her three younger brothers, Charles Wallace and the two youngest, a set of twins. When the novel opens, we quickly learn that their town’s steamiest bit of hot gossip is the mysterious disappearance of the Murry patriarch, who only Mrs. Murry and the children seem to believe will return.

But the story really starts with the introduction of Calvin, a neighbor kid who helps Meg and Charles Wallace along their journey, and three shape-shifting beings from outer space: Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which. When these aliens let slip that they not only know where to find Mr. Murry, but that it’s up to the kids to bring him back, Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin are whisked away to the distant planet of Camazotz.

With its identical houses and its citizens living scripted lives, Camazotz serves as an indirect reference to Communism.

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“Camazotz is ONE mind. It’s IT. And that’s why everybody’s so happy and efficient.”

But happiness is not as apparent as fear. There is also the dreaded IT, a disembodied voice and enigma for much of the novel, that serves as the main antagonist of the book, with the lovely nickname The Happy Sadist.

There is also incredibly clear Christian symbolism and several direct references to God and Biblical scriptures. There is even a chapter titled after the character it introduces, known as the Man with Red Eyes who is able to read minds and is all-knowing—perhaps a strange amalgamation of both God and the Devil.

“Don’t be afraid to be afraid.”

With beautiful descriptions of outer space and planets both familiar and new, L’Engle weaves a lovely tale of family, friendship, and conquering your fears. A Wrinkle in Time is the perfect blend of fantasy, science-fiction, and kid’s lit. And now, 56 years later, it’s getting the first big production movie set for theaters in early March 2018 and starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, Oprah Winfrey, and Zach Galifianakis.

“Maybe if you aren’t unhappy sometimes you don’t know how to be happy.”

Keep scrolling for more reviews and, as always, happy reading 🙂

 – Brandie

HOWE DELIVERS A TALE OF SHADOWY INTRIGUE in “Deliverance Dane”

For fans of:

The Salem Witch Trials

Black cats and crescent moons


 

Who better to be told a story about witchcraft than from someone who is a direct descendent of two women put on trial in the seventeenth century? Katherine Howe (author of Conversion, The House of Velvet and Glass, and others) is the author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, a “shadow book” she finds in the summer of ‘91 in her grandmother’s abandoned house, which debuted at #2 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

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The book itself is beautifully designed, from the front and inside covers to the font choice. Unlike some other books, Howe’s novel’s accurate design helps put the reader in the proper attitude. Set in Massachusetts during the height of the Salem Witch Trials, the story is told from dual perspectives in 1692 and 1991.

Connie, the protagonist, is a grad student and aspiring Harvard professor who knows a lot about Salem and witchcraft in general. When her mother, more in touch with the universe and reading auras than her own daughter’s life and emptions, leaves the mess of her mother’s (Connie’s grandmother) house to Connie to clean up, that’s when the story really begins. With rich and lavish descriptions of the house—the plants, the flowers, the herbs—Howe paints a wonderfully… ahem… magical picture.

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A relationship with Sam, the town steeplejack, a nose-ringed, Doc Marten-wearing hipster with a knack for fixing things and a shared interest in Salem history, serves as a convenient alliance. Not only does he help stave off Connie’s loneliness, he has access to old town archives in the back of the church he works at.

The reader is right alongside Connie as she uncovers a secret name, a hidden key, old texts, manuscripts, and spell books, and will experience the same thrill as in a game of clue in which one must put two and two together. My biggest pet peeve is cheesy dialogue between Connie and her dog Arlo, in which she literally asks the dog questions, then pauses, as if expecting the mutt to answer her. Also, the character of Professor Manning Chilton felt like a caricature at times. But despite these few silly exchanges, it’s a good sign that a few lines of dialogue are the most I see wrong with this witchy tale.

 

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Ultimately, the story is believable, down to the accurate dialogue in the flashbacks, and isn’t too difficult to read. Howe sets her scenes well—from the clothes, descriptions of the house, the outdoors, etcetera—weaving a mystical tale inspired by reality, which makes it all the more haunting.

 

Recommendations:

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling

Happy reading 🙂

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THE RUCKSACK REVOLUTION: Art imitates life in Kerouac’s Dharma Bums

FOR FANS OF

The Beatniks

Buddhism

Run-on sentences


“I see a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks, going up to mountains to pray.”

As with Kerouac’s On the Road, the 1957 roman à clef that immortalizes his various travels with the inimitable, Roman-candle-in-human-form Neal Cassady in the character of Dean Moriarty, his 1958 novel The Dharma Bums does something similar for Gary Snyder with the character of Japhy Ryder.

Pulitzer Prize winning poet, essayist, and environmental activist, Snyder is the man who first introduced Kerouac to Buddism, a topic the novel discusses in relative detail. Talk of Nirvana, meditating dogs, and the dichotomy between city and country life casts these (sometimes fictionalized) events in Kerouac’s life in a more peaceable, less drug and alcohol-infused light than those of On the Road.

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Snyder

“The dogs meditated on their paws. We were all absolutely quiet. The entire moony countryside was frosty silent, not even the little tick of rabbits or coons anywhere. An absolute cold blessed silence.”

The protagonist, Ray Smith, an ill-disguised Kerouac, is a young freethinker bumming around from city to city, attending three-day parties and rambling about wherever the breeze blows him. Ryder, a tireless mountaineer and Zen master, is reminiscent of Cassady in that both Japhy and Dean spend the better part of each respective novel offering their infinite wisdom to the protagonist, molding and shaping Kerouac’s mind and writings.

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Kerouac

Japhy’s enlightened Buddhist musings are at one time pretentious gibberish to the reader for whom Buddhist teachings are unfamiliar while also being mind-altering in a positive and reverential way for the true Kerouacian. Like a polished mirror, Kerouac’s words have highly powerful reflective properties that make this reader think about what she wants most out of life, her aspirations, travel plans, and beliefs about death and religion.

Kerouac was no stranger to waxing poetic about all of the above and it’s not difficult to see how he was a mind, body and soul that truly belonged in the time he was living. Along with his novellas and novels, Kerouac was a successful poet. His Book of Sketches of prose poetry makes a great coffee table or travel book and a student video inspired by his 66-part “Scripture of the Golden Eternity” is below.

“See the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming…”

Happy reading!

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TALKING IN MYSTERIES


FOR FANS OF

Coraline

–and–

Shel Silverstein

One of the greatest things about life is that it’s full of mysteries, the same of which can be said about Neil Gaiman’s novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Gaiman, the writer behind Coraline and Stardust, tells a story about an evil nanny, lemon pancakes, oceans in buckets, and how loss, childhood, and memory tangle inextricably together. Centered around a nameless narrator and his encounter with the Hempstock women—three generations of wily, work-hardened English country gals who tell it like it is, even when he has no idea what “it” is—the book was published in 2013 to rave reviews and quickly became a New York Times Bestseller.

 

At less than 200 pages, Ocean is a quick read. In short, the book follows the story of… well, the protagonist, a fifty-something Brit who remains nameless throughout the novel. When he returns to his childhood home in Sussex, England years after it’s been torn down, he’s immediately reminded of his neighbor friend Lettie Hempstock. Auburn-haired and freckled, Lettie serves as a physical and emotional opposite to the protagonist, who, as a young boy, primarily spent his time spelunking the hidden recesses in children’s books.

 

I held Lettie’s hand as we left the farmhouse, promising myself that this time I would not let it go.

 

At its core, the story is at once a commentary on how memory works, how it shifts and changes with time, and also a commentary on the differences between the kind of knowledge a child possesses, and that of an adult. About a third of the way through, the reader begins to wonder what’s real? What of this is actually being recalled from memory and what, possibly, is pure fabrication? Take those questions further and you might come up at Well, what constitutes reality? If all that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream, how can we be sure of what’s real and what’s imagined?

 

I wish you’d explain properly,” I said. “You talk in mysteries all the time.

 

Gaiman has stated Ocean is a book for all ages and the reviewer would agree. It offers the same flight of fancy a reader expects from The Chronicles of Narnia, but written with the same intrigue of an adult fantasy novel. According to IMBd.com, a movie version of the novel is “In Development.” As much of a fan as I am of book-to-film adaptations, this one confounds me. Because much of the book is written in such abstract terms—and it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say the protagonist (being a child) is an Unreliable Narrator—it will be interesting to see how certain scenes (no spoil alerts here) come to life via special effects. Rumors say Focus Features acquired the rights before the book even went to press; also, that Tom Hanks is set to produce with Joe Wright directing. There’s no date to mark on your calendar yet, but in the meantime, do the hipster thing and jump on this before it becomes such a craze the five copies at your local library are all checked out.

If you liked this review, scroll down for more.

Happy reading 🙂

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