…and that isn’t a bad thing; not if we’re the ones to craft the “moment” in question.
I rarely add the complete blurbs of the books I share with you, but Diane Satterfield’s Bellman & Black: A Ghost Story is so memorable that I wanted to have it here:
Caught up in a moment of boyhood competition, William Bellman recklessly aims his slingshot at a rook resting on a branch, killing the bird instantly. It is a small but cruel act, and is soon forgotten. By the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, William seems to have put the whole incident behind him. It was as if he never killed the thing at all. But rooks don’t forget . . .
Years later, when a stranger mysteriously enters William’s life, his fortunes begin to turn—and the terrible and unforeseen consequences of his past indiscretion take root. In a desperate bid to save the only precious thing he has left, he enters into a rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner. Together, they found a decidedly macabre business.
And Bellman & Black is born.
I was beyond surprised when I read some of the reviews for this novel. Some people call it “super boring.” Others shake their fists in the air, yelling that Setterfield “lost her touch.” The most surprising review came from a person who only read half the book. This individual insults the author, then says that the book is worthless and made her sad because “everybody dies,” and there is no way that a “healthy person can care about any of the characters.”
My first thought was, Some of these readers might have missed the entire point of The Thirteenth Tale (many said that Bellman & Black was nothing like TTT). Then I thought, No, that’s not it. It might be that they have never lost someone really close to them. Lucky.
Bellman & Black is far from boring, my Wicked Luvs. In fact, when it comes to style (and to the emotions it evokes), it reminds me of J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. The story is full of a kind of reality that is difficult to accept. It starts with realistic characters, with personalities and wants so similar to people we know—perhaps, even us—that when their world falls apart, we might feel the urge to run. Fast. And to kick any character who might seem not to be suffering as much as we are.
This is not an easy novel to read. The action won’t keep the reader turning page after page. But I’m willing to bet that the motifs and the way they are portrayed would keep most people, who have lived a little, nodding as the story develops. In the end, those people will find a different kind of hope. Or maybe, it’s just me.
Here are my favorite quotes from Bellman & Black:
“I have heard it said, by those that cannot possibly know, that in the final moments of a man’s existence he sees his whole life pass before his eyes.”
“Rooks are made of thought and memory. They know everything and they do not forget.”
“Since we are on the topic of ravens, a collective noun for ravens is an unkindness. This is somewhat puzzling to Thought and Memory.”
Below is what I made for my Artful Readers Club February entry (I’m a few days early). I don’t want to tell you all the reasons why I chose to make a party dress and some hair extensions. Doing so might spoil the book for anyone who is yet to read it. But I can say that the color red holds a very important role in the story. And yes, there is a girl… there is always a girl…
Part of this month’s challenge was to reread a book we’ve loved for a long time. I had already chosen to read Bellman & Black for February, but I would have never missed an opportunity to reread its brother by the same mother: The Thirteenth Tale. I think the former can be described in a few words: they are “tales of change and desperation.” And every one of them stays with the reader, evolving with every reread. Here are my favorite quotes:
“She was a do-gooder, which means that all the ill she did, she did without realizing it.”
“All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won’t be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story.”
“Silence is not a natural environment for stories. They need words. Without them they grow pale, sicken and die. And then they haunt you.”When a story haunts me, I write it. If you read it—and perhaps enjoy it—then the haunting isn’t a bad thing. Read on, my Wicked Luvs. I’ll live, and write. Always…