Thursday, February 25, 2010

Give the Crazy Lady in White a Chance

The Woman in White

by Wilkie Collins (1859-60)

Classic Mystery

Each chapter gets you deeper and deeper into the lives of the characters. Each chapter gets you more and more twisted in the plot. Each chapter makes you want to read the next.

The characters really drive the story. They were all well thought out with such unique personalities that they could have been based on real people. Laura (the ingénue) was beautiful, talented, and rich, yet dressed in plain clothes and was incredibly modest. Walter (the hero) did everything he could to defend the honor of his beloved with the meager funds of an illustrator/drawing instructor. Anne Catherick (The Woman in White) was your typical insane character who didn't make much sense and was pretty harmless unless her fears were triggered. Sir Percival Glyde is a smarmy middle-aged aristocrat who breaks out in spurts of anger whenever his plans are questioned.

The two characters that shine most in the eyes of critics are Marion Halcombe and Count Fosco. Marian is the half-sister of Laura who has the perfect body and mind but an ugly face. Her instincts and quick wit help unfold the mysterious plot against Laura to the utmost. (Do you ever find that you start writing or talking in a style not your own after reading something of another time or place?)

Count Fosco is the maker of the intricate plot which unravels, but you wouldn't know it. He is the most intelligent character in the story, yet at times, the most ridiculous. He has trained birds and mice that he dotes on and tweets at. He is jovial and courteous to everyone from the richest landowner to the lowliest street rat. Even the ever ready Marian cannot break the gaze of his cunning gray eyes when they've caught her. Few realize how dangerous a man he is. Our main characters only scrape the surface of this incredibly complex villain--and they know it.

I enjoyed this story, but because of its length, I think it would be better to read it like it was originally published--in serial. You can do that here: I would liken reading this book to watching a long mini-series. Sometimes it's better to get a story in pieces rather than all at once.

I wonder if there are books on Anne Catherick like Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys that's based on the crazy lady in the attic of Jane Eyre. There are so many crazy ladies in fiction--Great Expectations, Sweeney Todd, Jane Eyre, The Woman in White. I'm sure there are many, many more. A list of books based on the crazy ladies of fiction might be an interesting one to conjure up, don't you think?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I love getting ARCs

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

John Green and David Levithan team up to write the story of Will Grayson …and Will Grayson. Both Wills live in different suburbs of Chicago and lead completely different lives. One lives in a posh neighborhood, the other doesn’t. One is gay, the other isn’t. One is indie, and the other is, well, wrinkled. By a weird twist of fate, the two Will Graysons meet in downtown Chicago while chasing different schemes of love.

I used to live in Oak Park, which is the suburb (though, most people still called it the city) bordering the west side of Chicago. My apartment was in Oak Park, but my parking spot was across the street in Chicago. Having this connection, I got more out of the story than some might. I had actual places in my mind rather than just the descriptions given by the authors.

The rich Will lives in Evanston. His friends called him "Grayson" most of the time, so that's what I called him in my head (though, the other Will called him Will2). The not so well off Will lives in Naperville. In my head, I called him Naperwill b/c he's from Naperville. No one in the book calls him that, I just like it. :) The authors make sure you know which Will's chapter you're on through Naperwill's writing style--he doesn't use caps. Since Grayson is a lot more by the book and Naperwill is way more connected to his computer/texting world, this worked really well.

Grayson kinda gets lost in the life of his best friend, Tiny. Tiny is an enormous football player who also happens to be the biggest drama queen in the theatre department. He seems to fall for another guy every 5 seconds. Tiny is so full of himself that he writes a musical about his life called "Tiny Dancer". (I love the humor in this book!) Anyway, Grayson has issues with all of this since he's played a big role in Tiny's life.

Naperwill is a loner. At school, Maura is the closest thing to a friend he has. They meet at the same place every day so Naperwill can drink her coffee. Online, Naperwill has fallen completely, head-over-heels in love with Isaac who lives far away in Ohio. No one at school knows about Isaac. No one at school even knows Naperwill is gay. Secrets have a huge effect on Naperwill's life.

I can't really say much else without giving away the story. Having been a theatre geek in high school and a theatre major in college, I've gotten to know the world where gay meets straight pretty well. Most of the teen books I've read with gay characters overuse stereotypes. This book does an excellent job of treating characters as people--not gay people or straight people--just people. The world is finally changing a little bit. Now you can see that change in our fiction.

Check out this new teen novel when it comes out in April 2010.

As a side note, I got the ARC for this book from John Green on my birthday. It was the first copy of the book he had ever signed. :)