I Crawl Through It by A.S. King

I Crawl Through ItThis novel was a very positive surprise. It operates on two quite different levels: the level at which most of us function most of the time and the level at which some of us operate some of the time in order to manage to survive.

On the level on which most of us function most of the time (or all of the time) there is a another life which exists which we don’t acknowledge to most of our friends. This is the level upon which the key characters in this novel function most of the time in order to be able to tolerate the rest of the world. The latter includes their parents.

The main characters are Gustav and Stanzi and the secondary characters are China Knowles and Lansdale Cruise. There are some minor characters and these include Patricia and Ken.

The first division is a prologue divided into three sections. Each section begins in a slightly different way:

1. Gavin is building a helicopter.
2. Gavin believes his helicopter is invisible, and because he believes it, it is so.
3. Gavin is building a red helicopter. It is not invisible. If I want I can see it on Tuesdays.

The above three divisions are all written by Stanzi who is Gustav’s best friend.  Stanzi believes that Gustav is a genius but her mother, Mama, believes that Gustav is “mad crazy”. Mama “says lies about Gustav like “That boy isn’t right in the head” or “He’s going to end up in the looney tunes if he’s not careful.”

Stanzi’s parents, Mama and Pop, take vacations. Sometimes they take Stanzi who is a senior in high school. When they went to Newtown, Connecticut they wanted to go alone. They asked if she could heat up her own TV dinners and stay safe overnight. Newtown was where the 2013 Sandy Hook massacre was. Stanzi can’t go to anymore such sites. She has been to Columbine and Red Lake, Minnesota and even to Dunblane, Scotland. She can’t go to anymore.

“China says she can feel her cells. China is my best friend. China is inside out, so I bet she knows more about her cells than anyone.”

“Halfway to Gustav’s house, a man steps out from behind a bush and asks me if I want to buy an H. I say I do not. …How about a K? he asks. …I keep walking…but I can see the details that tell me he is an animal.”

“Sometimes when I look at Gustav, I can picture him twenty years from now with a wife and kids – all of them flying around in his helicopter. I write them letters. The whole family. I write them postcards from my parents’ creepy trips.”

The school has been getting bomb threats. The most recent one has been in a box and was sent with two things: a hex nut from a helicopter kit and a dehydrated frog liver. Suspicious? After the recorded message is finished, the students are escorted outside. The bomb threats come daily, sometimes twice daily. There is always a police car outside the school.

“I am China – the girl who swallowed herself. I just opened my mouth one day and wrapped it around my ears and the rest of me. Now I live inside myself. I can knock on my rib cage when it’s time to go to bed. I can squeeze my own heart. When I fart, no one else can smell it.

I write poems.

They look like those Salvador Dali paintings I saw in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.”

“Since the day I swallowed myself, I haven’t been in any trouble. I quit smoking. I don’t kiss any more boys. I got away from my skanky friends and I don’t log onto the Internet. It’s probably the best thing I ever did for myself apart from that time I ran from Irenic Brown last summer. But that’s another story, and girls who swallow themselves can’t tell stories. But I ran fast. I ran so, so fast.”

China continues: “Gustav told me in physics class yesterday that he’s not afraid to die. I thought about it all day. I think he’s bullshitting.
Gustav once wore snowshoes for a week because he learned about string theory and didn’t trust the molecular makeup of matter, and he says he’s not afraid to die? How can he think he’s fooling anyone? Everyone is afraid to die.”

And now from Stanzi:  “Truth is, my name isn’t Stanzi. I only call myself Stanzi after watching the movie Amadeus too many times with Gustav. Truth is, my name doesn’t really matter. I’m a character in a movie. In your book. In your mind. I play tug-of-war. I am a coward and a soldier. I am a pacifist and a warmonger. I am behind the bush with the man who sells letters, and I tell him secrets about who sends bomb threats to the our school every day….Constanze was a braver woman that I am….I dare you to go back to 1779 and be seventeen years old. You would be searching for light switches and toilets. You’d kill for a thermostat. A refrigerator. A telephone. You would pray for a 50% survival rate for your babies, and when you were blessed with one who lived through infancy, I bet you would do more than standardize it with tests or plop it in front of the TV.”

Do you get it? Well, all of the above is only in the first 34 pages of the book so you have pages and pages to go before you sleep.

 

Two Novels by Deryn Collier

Deryn Collier’s first novel was Confined Space and it was shortlisted for an Arthur Ellis Award for best unpublished first crime novel by the Crime Writers of Canada. It was published in 2012. The novel takes place in Kootenay Landing, British Columbia and Collier’s bio states that she has worked in a brewery. The latter caught my attention because it adds to the author’s credentials for me somehow. The Bugaboo Brewery is one of the main employers in Kootenay Landing.Confined Space

The investigator turns out to be the coroner which is another interesting choice. The police participate of course but the coroner is a more multifaceted individual and interacts with the community in a fuller way. The reader meets Bern Fortin in his garden where he is crouching down tapping yogurt container lids into the soil at the end of rows of late-harvest spinach he is growing for the food bank in time for Thanksgiving. In each of the plastic lids he is pouring a dose of Bugaboo Brew in an attempt to control the slugs who are attacking the spinach.

Bern was a former soldier (Lieutenant-Colonel) who had served tours in Rwanda, Bosnia and Afghanistan. His native language was French and he had been in Kootenay Landing six months. His house was a tiny bungalow which he had modified to suit his needs. He could see the brewery from his front door.

Gardening was like therapy for Bern: he needed the peace associated with growing things and in beauty, colour and life itself.

His neighbour, Mrs. Kalesnikoff, had turned out to be better than any therapist he might have found. Flowers ran riot over the fence between Bern’s and Mrs. K’s property and he had been made welcome at her kitchen table any time of day. She made cinnamon buns the size of a person’s head. She says Bern doesn’t let the dead go (“She always said the exact number of words needed to get her point across, and never more.”

We are introduced to Bern and Mrs. K and also Gavin and Belinda as well as Evie Chapelle, Safety Manager, Bugaboo Brewery and Conrad Scofield. Collier does this introducing particularly well in my opinion. She gives enough information to acquaint us with each individual sufficiently to provide a basis for investing in them as individuals: sort of fits us into the community so to speak as if we had been there for awhile.

She sets us up by having Evie receive a certificate indicating that the Bugaboo Brewery has been given a Safety Award in recognition of 500 accident-free days.

And then the accident is discovered. An accident in confined spaces. More than one accident in confined spaces. But are they  accidents?

The second Collier novel, aka the second Bern Fortin novel, is Open SecretsOpen Secret and like Confined Spaces there will be more than one secret involved:

“He looked back at the cranium on the rock and knew that it was related to everything else that was going on. Gary’s disappearance, Seymour’s death, Gia on the deck with a shotgun. Lennon’s shout: “The asshole is dead!” Even Holly Forsberg and her unspoken pain. They were all related – but how? And how much of it was his responsibility to sort out?
Who died, how they died, when they died, and by what manner. There was no room for doubt in the coroner’s crib sheet. That Gia was intelligent and witty, that he liked talking to her and admired her garden, that he did not want to cause Holly Forsberg more pain, that Dr. Sinclair did not want to be inconvenienced – these things didn’t factor in. It was a simple question: he had to find out the truth. Everyone’s secrets would come to light.
And if he was to expose their secrets, he had no business hanging on to his own.”

I am not quite finished this second book so I can’t reveal all those secrets. And I wouldn’t anyway of course!

If you enjoy accompanying the investigator every step of the way and trying to fit the pieces together as they are discovered, you’ll enjoy Deryn Collier’s books.  I think you will also find Bern Fortin refreshing as a character. His background is one of the secrets in this second book adding an extra dimension to the story.

 

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt

Under Major Domo MinorThis is the story of Lucien Minor or Lucy the Liar who left his parents’ home at age seventeen: neither he nor his parents had shed even a small tear at their parting.  He was going to work for the Baron von Aux in a remote castle as undermajordomo. His mother does wish him good luck and asks him to let her know how things turn out for him.

He took stock of his life before he left sitting on his suitcase and practicing smoking the pipe he’d bought the day before he left. He regretted not having an audience. He recalled the time six months before that he nearly died. The priest had administered the last rites. Lucien’s father sent the priest away.

In the night an old man wearing a shapeless sack sat in the rocking chair and Lucien told him that he was bored. The old man knelt beside Lucien and put his mouth to Lucien’s ear and inhaled. “And as he did this Lucy felt all the heat and discomfort leaving his body. The man exited holding his breath and walked down the hall to Lucy’s parents’ room.A moment later Lucy’s father suffered a coughing fit.” Lucy’s father died the following evening. Lucy’s mother held him partly responsible; Lucy never told his mother about the old man who came in the night.

Lucy’s letters in search of employment were all unanswered except one: “penned by a man named Myron Olderglough, the major-domo of one Baron Von Aux’s estate in the remote wilderness of the eastern mountain range. Mr. Olderglough had been won over by Father Redmond’s romantic description of Lucy as an “unmoored soul in search of nestled safe harbour “.  An offer of employment and terms of payment finished off the letter. The position was listed as under-majordomo and was lowly with a pay mirroring that status, however, Lucy accepted the offer.

When he arrives at the castle, he learns that the mistress has been gone a year and Mr. Olderglough is still missing her. Lucy is cautioned not to speak to the Baron if he should see him. “The Baron goes where the Baron wishes. And often as not he wishes to go nowhere at all.”

When Lucy explains that he would like to go and thank the Baron for his appointment, the major domo replies that “The Baron has no knowledge of your appointment. In fact he hasn’t the remotest interest in the mechanics of the castle. Six days out of seven he won’t even leave his room. Seven days out of seven.”

When Lucy says he will wait to thank him then Mr. Olderglough explains that “You don’t understand what I am telling you, boy. Don’t speak to the Baron if you see him. As a matter of fact, don’t see him at all, if you can avoid it. That is to say, don’t let him see you.”

After a brief discussion about the villagers (“The villagers are like children, and children can be dangerous entities in that they have no God…if there are no consequences for a person’s actions, what might his motivation be to do right by his fellow man?), Olderglough leaves this as the guiding principal regarding Lucy’s task in the house: “in the simplest terms, your foremost function is to anticipate my needs and to see to them.”

Then Mr. Olderglough takes Lucy to his room: “a cramped space with a slanted ceiling and a small window located in the centre of the lone exterior wall. The furnishings consisted of a two-drawer dresser, a rocking chair, a modest bed, and a potbellied stove pushed into the corner.” Mr. Olderglough suggests that the boy might be tired and need some rest: Lucy agrees. And so he leaves him be but returns almost immediately: “I forgot about the letters.”

He explains that every morning there will be a letter written by the Baron to the Baroness which he is to take to the train station and meet the nine o’clock train which does NOT stop. He must hold it up so that the engineer can grab it. Lucy discusses how this has been arranged and then they discuss what would happen if there were an answer(which has never happened but might).

It is also explained that Lucy is to lock himself in his room after 10 p.m.

Well, this is only the beginning. You will enjoy reading to the end. Oh, and yes. You will meet the Baron and the Baroness, Klara and Tomas, and Memel and Mewe and Agnes and one or two others. Enjoy!