Sometimes it takes me a while to get through a book, even if I’m interested in it, because other things are easier to read or more compelling. I had just started Awakening to the Great Sleep War when it started to seem very confusing, and then I realized that I was coming down with a fever. So I switched to A Walk in the Woods and then finally finished The Princess Bride (both reviewed here) before returning to Awakening to the Great Sleep War. Then when I was headed for the emergency room, I needed a long book with a really compelling story to sustain me through what might be a long wait (it was!), so I picked up The Lake House . . . and ultimately I decided that Awakening to the Great Sleep War is most enjoyable when you read a little bit at a time. I was also reading a book to my 4-year-old Lydia. So, here are the books I’ve finished in the past month!
Awakening to the Great Sleep War by Gert Jonke, translated from German by Jean M. Snook
Burgmüller is an acoustical decorator trying to live in a European city (the author is Austrian) where the built environment is more alive and active than we’d normally expect:
In the morning, the walls blow their noses, hanging their bleary-eyed bedding out the windows, the roof trusses cough through asthmatic chimneys, and some buildings sneeze through their opened skylights; now and then an entryway shoves its stairwell, bursting with stairs, out onto the street, and sometimes entire suites of rooms are pushed out through their walls into public places, while the cellars press down onto their heaps of potatoes, preventing them from rising up in rebellion when the countless coal sacks, filled to bursting, blow gobs of smog into the public transit system through the bars on the window.
That whole paragraph is one sentence, so you can see how this is hard to read–but it must have been great fun to translate! Burgmüller learns to communicate with the buildings and finds that they are fascinated by sleep because it’s something they don’t do; they want to watch him sleep and quiz him about the experience. But after a while, that aspect of the story kind of fades away as we focus on Burgmüller’s attempts to live peacefully with his girlfriend and her pet housefly, who needs to have the kitchen all to herself . . . and then they both disappear, as Burgmüller discovers his ability to control the movements of flocks of birds and finds a new girlfriend who shares this hobby, but then she moves in with him and discovers new rooms in his apartment, and . . . It’s kind of like a very long, weird dream.
The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
I picked up this book because Lydia likes stories about animals, and I remembered that this one was popular with my elementary-school classmates and I always meant to get around to reading it but didn’t. It’s pretty good.
Chester Cricket explores a tasty-smelling picnic basket in his Connecticut meadow and is accidentally transported by train to New York City. Mario, a boy who helps his parents run a newsstand in the Times Square subway station, takes Chester as his pet. After hours, Chester makes friends with Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat, who also live in the subway station. Mario and Chester venture to Chinatown to buy a cricket cage and end up making a new friend. When Mario and his parents discover Chester’s ability to chirp any song he’s heard, Chester becomes famous–but is that what he really wants?
The Lake House by Kate Morton
A baby boy vanished from his family estate in Cornwall during a party in 1933. Now it’s 2003, and his older sister has become a murder-mystery writer. Meanwhile, a young police officer, on leave because of her mishandling of an abandoned-child case, is visiting her grandfather at his new home in Cornwall and trying to decide what to do about the letters she’s received from the daughter she gave up for adoption, when she stumbles upon the abandoned estate and becomes fascinated by the 70-year-old cold case.
I lost track of how many theories about the baby’s disappearance seemed completely plausible and then turned out to be incorrect. I guessed his ultimate fate several chapters before it was confirmed, but who made it happen and why was still a surprise to me. There are a few places where somebody cooperated much more than I thought was plausible, and the mystery is solved in one of those “everyone sat down together and excitedly fitted pieces into the puzzle” sessions that seems a little too neat, but overall I liked this book a lot. The suspense and plot twists just kept coming!
Drop City by T.C. Boyle
This book takes you right into a hippie commune in 1970 sunny California. Star, Marco, and Pan each have a turn at narrating the experience of daily life and the conflicts that come up regarding some new arrivals’ behavior (if it’s unacceptable, then that means we really aren’t so accepting of everything here, right?) and Pan’s desire to serve the community by hunting for meat.
Suddenly, after grooving with the hippies for 68 pages, you’re in a remote Alaskan village with Sess Harder, who lives in an even remoter hand-built cabin a three-hour canoe trip away from town, and who’s preparing to drive into Fairbanks for a date with the woman he hopes will become his wife. Pamela knows she wants to leave so-called civilization and live in the wilderness, but she has to find the right partner. Sess wins, and they get married–but that goon Joe Bosky threatens their happiness.
Back to the hippies and the Druid Day when everything went wrong. It’s not until almost exactly halfway through the book that you begin to see how the hippies’ and the Alaskans’ lives will intersect.
What a ride! The characters make this book more than just a string of adventures; it gets right into the minds of five very different people, each with different reasons for dropping out of mainstream society and different ideas about what that should mean. They’re not caricatures of hippies and survivalists; they’re very real people, each with some skills and some failings and some serious doubts about what’s right. But the adventures just go on unfolding, too! For a story in which so many things go wrong, it’s impressively light on really dreadful outcomes, but the final climax delivers a suitable amount of gore and moral quandary.