"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review: And the Mountains Echoed

And the Mountains Echoed
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read And the Mountains Echoed for my book club; it is not something I would have normally chosen on my own. I had read The Kite Runner and I enjoyed it, but it was so powerful, so touching, that I felt emotionally wrung out at the end. It was a little too traumatic for my tastes. So when I started this one, I anticipated the same tears, the same fall-in-love-with-a-character-only-to be-scarred-by-the-trauma-he-endures heartbreak. And when I found myself weeping on page 15, I felt sure that I was embarking on another emotional roller coaster. I was excited about the ride because the first fifteen pages of this book were pure magic.

And then, in my opinion, things went downhill from there.

My general review of And the Mountains Echoed, for those who have not read it is this: I can see why people would enjoy this book. It has interesting characters, poetic descriptions, and gut-wrenching tragedy on almost every page. (That's not really what I look for in a story, but there are plenty that do.) For me, however, Hosseini tried to do too much, and in the end he did too little. I cried on page 15 and I shed a couple of tears on the last page of the book (though I think at that point I was mainly just tired) but nowhere in the middle did it squeeze my heart. Instead of getting wrapped up in each character's drama, there were SO MANY, that I ended up just looking for the threads that would connect each anecdote to the whole and trying to keep up.

For those who have read the book and therefore know what I'm talking about, here are my top five frustrations with the novel. I would love to know other people's thoughts on these. *BEWARE—SPOILERS AHEAD*

1) Masooma: How come we never get a peek inside Masooma's head? So many characters in this book get to tell their side of the story, but Parwana's invalid sister gets no voice and a very unsatisfying end. Was she really calling for Parwana out in the desert? Or was it just the sound of her sister’s guilt on the wind? How did she die? Did she drift off into a peaceful opium haze? Or did she gasp of thirst and starvation? Or did an animal get to her before her demise? Maybe the book did not need her side of the story, but what about Nabi? He NEVER mentions his sister's death. Parwana married Saboor and Nabi visits them once a month in his fancy car. What was he told of Masooma's fate? Did Parwana lie to him or admit what she had done? Masooma's end was the loosest thread of the story for me.

2) Time: It bothered me that the sections were titled with dates and then the text inside them jumped around between years, sometimes even decades. It made the story hard to follow. The first time I noticed the abrupt transitions was on page 170, where the space between paragraphs covers six years of Idris's life.

3) Pari: The first Pari (Abdullah's little sister) was the focal point of the book. From the very beginning, we are waiting to get back to her life, to see what happened after she moved to France, to find out how and when she would reunite with her brother. When we do get back to her, the result is a little disappointing. The pages about her and her mother drag. And then, on page 222, Hosseini proceeds to sum up Pari's life in a long list. I don't understand it.

4) Perspective: Except for Saboor's bedtime story and Nabi's (long) letter, the book is told in third person from various characters' perspectives, and that made sense to me. Then, on page 279, it switches to first person, first for Markos's story and then for Abdullah's daughter Pari's section. The switch seemed unnecessary.


5) The Box of Feathers: I was waiting for the box of feathers. I'm sure we all were. I figured that Pari would somehow dig it up from under the windmill when she visited Afghanistan (a visit to which few, if any, pages in the book are dedicated, strangely enough) or, later, I thought that poor Gholam might discover it by accident when his family lived near the windmill. I didn't realize that Abdullah had taken it with him. Although the end of the book attempts the bitter-sweetness of warmth and love and conclusion mixed with sadness and mystery, it just did not work for me. It’s understandable for Pari (the sister) to remember nothing of the box of feathers, but I don’t understand why it was a mystery to Pari (the daughter) as well. Because Abdullah was not a quiet, mysterious man. There were plenty of men in this story who had secrets and hid things from their families, but Abdullah wasn’t like that. He told stories, he plucked nightmares from heads, he shared his grief. From the time his daughter was a little girl, she knew about his beloved sister. She knew how much her namesake had meant to her father. She knew that the little girl had been sold and that her dad longed to reunite with her. So why wouldn't he have told her about Pari's love of feathers? He had only three years of memories of his sweet little sister—wouldn’t he have wanted to share them all with his daughter, to keep her memory alive? I think Abdullah would have shown his daughter the box of feathers and told her the story of each one. It makes no sense for this loving, open father to keep such a memory secret from his little girl, especially near the end of his life, when he knew he was losing his memory. It just didn't work.

There were beautiful passages in this novel, and many of the characters will no doubt stick with me. I can't even imagine tackling a story this big, and I admire Hosseini for telling so much of it so well. But, in the end, I wanted a simpler story and an ending that satisfied.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Haiku Wednesday - So I Married a Geek

My husband loves to play computer games—it’s his thing.  But based on the amount of moaning, groaning, and screaming I hear coming from his office most nights, I’m convinced that he’s not very good at them.  Since this Saturday concludes the month of August, this will be my last Haiku Wednesday post.  I hope you enjoyed your 68 syllables of poetry.

He dies a thousand
deaths when we’re apart—damn those
gaming marathons.
                  -- Carie Juettner

Monday, August 26, 2013

It's Raining Squirrel Skeletons

Right now, I have a hole in my ceiling.  It's a purposeful hole; the nice man from the air conditioning company created it to give us another air return for our new AC unit.  I also have a headache because Uno was none-too-pleased when a creature in the attic poked a hole in the ceiling and started sawing.  I don’t blame him—he probably thought the rats up there had finally discovered tools—but it was really noisy in here for a while.

Anyway, the creation of the new hole in our ceiling is going fine, but it reminds me of another time when I had unplanned hole in my ceiling, and that's the story I want to tell.

In 2002, I was living in the Bent Tree Apartments off of Steck Avenue.  I had recently transitioned from my 1st floor, one-bedroom apartment to my second (top) floor TWO-bedroom apartment in that same complex.  (Movin' on up!)  It was a nice little pad that I shared with my two black cats, Gink and Lili (or Ginknlili as my dad often referred to them, as if they were one monstrous beast). It faced the wooded area on the back side of the property and I occasionally saw deer or coyotes from my balcony.  (Not related to this story—just setting the scene.)

One day I got a call at work from the apartment manager.  She wanted to let me know that one of the men who had been re-roofing my building had fallen through my bedroom ceiling and she was very sorry and they would get the hole patched up ASAP.  (!!!)  Several things went through my head at that moment, including but not limited to:  Wile E. Coyote’s antics, images of my cats fleeing my apartment through the roof (or possibly being squished by a large man falling on them), and the song "It's raining men!"  I went home that afternoon, expecting to see a giant man-shaped hole in my ceiling and a nice view of the sky, but it turned out to be a much smaller hole than I anticipated, roughly circle-shaped, in the corner of my room over my dresser. (Apparently only the man's legs had broken through, not all of him.)  The hole was already temporarily patched, and my cats, while somewhat traumatized, were still inside the apartment and were fine.  Over the next couple of days, the hole was repaired completely and the whole thing was over.  Ish. 

Image from:  http://www.gabbay.org.uk/blog/praxis.html

Along with the dangling legs of the worker, a whole lot of crap also crashed into my bedroom, like pieces of plaster and insulation and dust.  Lots and lots of dust.  And probably some asbestos.  The workers cleaned up the big stuff, but when they were done, I still had a mess to vacuum up and wipe down, which I did.  And THEN it was over.  Sorta.

A few months later (yes, I said “months”) I started rummaging around in the basket of cat toys beside my dresser.  The basket had become obsolete.  It was filled with the kinds of toys that my students gave me for my cats—stuffed animals and large mouse-shaped things—cute, but easily ignored by felines who would rather attack a lambs wool sweater or eat curly ribbon.  During the “it’s raining men” fiasco, I had moved the basket to the side, vacuumed the carpet, and then put it back, and there it had sat, untouched, until one random day when I decided to go through it and get rid of stuff.

That’s when I discovered a few “toys” that I didn’t remember.  They were a dark yellowish-brown in color and hard, kind of like rawhide.  The first one was long and skinny with many small points protruding from its sides.  The second was more rounded and had a shape that my brain knew it should recognize but couldn’t at that moment put a name to.  And the third looked like a tiny little femur bone.

That’s when I realized it was a tiny little femur bone.  I was holding in my hands several well-preserved pieces of a squirrel skeleton.  Apparently, more than dust and insulation came out of the attic when that guy fell through my ceiling.

Image from: http://www.skullsunlimited.com/record_species.php?id=2487

At that point, all the usual thoughts went through my brain that normally occur to a person when they realize they are holding a dead animal, such as, I can’t believe I’ve been sleeping four feet from a squirrel skeleton for months!  And Why did my good-for-nothing cats not realize there was a squirrel skeleton in their basket of toys?  And My friend Emily would really like this, I think I’ll save it for her.  No?  That’s not a normal thought?  Well, it is if your best friend is a science teacher that loves animal bones.

Unfortunately, Emily lived in Massachusetts at that time, and I couldn’t easily give her my gift.  So, being the good friend that I am, I put the squirrel bones—the spine, the pelvis, and the femur—into a ziplock bag and kept it in my dresser for… oh, longer than I care to admit.  In my memory, I eventually gave the remains of Skippy the Squirrel to Emily, but I just talked to her yesterday and she remembers no such thing, so I am thinking (hoping) that I one day came to my senses and threw them away.  Or gave them a proper burial.  Or donated them to another, less enthusiastic, science teacher.  All I know is that I’m pretty sure I no longer have them.

I guess the moral of the story is… yeah, I’m drawing a blank here.  Good luck.

[Strangely enough, this is not my only blog post about a person realizing they are holding a dead animal.  To read the other one, entitled "Danger, Danger Everywhere", click here .]

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Haiku Wednesday - Buzzing

After a couple of pointlessly restless nights, I finally got a good night’s sleep.  It does wonders for the soul.  I wish everyone a happy Wednesday and a restful evening.

lulled by locust buzz,
doze to cricket chirp, dream in
cicada rhythms
                  -- Carie Juettner

Friday, August 16, 2013

Popsicles Scare Me

Alright.  This post takes some courage on my part, so bear with me.  It is about one of my fears, possibly even my biggest (however irrational) fear.  And that is things-touching-my-teeth-that-I-don't-want-touching-my-teeth.  Cold things like ice cream and popsicles, and metal things like forks and dentist tools.  I'm sure there is an actual name for this phobia, because there is a name for EVERY phobia, but I have never looked it up because I’m afraid of the images Google might show me.  Because—and you can call me crazy if you want to, but I'm not making this up—I can't even SEE someone else’s teeth touch these things without having a physical and emotional reaction.

A terrifying assortment
You can ask my husband. He knows (and follows, bless him) the rules about eating cold things in front of me, and he has seen me, on multiple occasions, cringe and jerk my head to the side as if I've been slapped, to avoid seeing the commercial where the kid bites the ice cream cone or the dentist pokes at an infected gum line with a little metal hook.  (They really should put up a warning before showing something like that on TV.)  All of this is real.  I mean, I know that it is psychological, that seeing this stuff does not cause actual pain, but what I mean is that I’m not exaggerating how it makes me feel.

I do exaggerate, about other things.

For instance, I pretend to be scared of clowns and scorpions.  Yeah, they are both creepy, but honestly I handle them just fine.  The truth is that sending me a scorpion dressed as a clown (which would actually be pretty funny) or a clown covered in scorpions (holy cow, I think I just came up with my Halloween costume) would be nothing compared to sending me to a children’s popsicle party.  If you ever see me in such a setting, you will notice that I am standing tensely, with my hands clenched into fists, avoiding eye contact with all popsicle eaters and sucking on my teeth with my tongue to keep them warm and safe from the horribleness going on around me.  In fact, right now, as I type, my mouth is clamped shut and I keep running my tongue over my teeth as if to console them.

Holy cow! I actually found a picture of a clown scorpion!
That is awesome! Thank you, BeanDoodling!

Obviously, trips to the dentist cause great anxiety for me, but I go because I know that routine visits for cleanings help prevent the much more terrible visits for fillings and crowns and other horrifying things.  And I have also learned some ways to make the appointments more bearable.  So if you too suffer from things-touching-your-teeth phobia, take note.

My game plan at the dentist used to be feigning confidence and nonchalance. It didn't really work.  The hygienist picks up on the truth pretty quickly when I’m cringing and squeezing my eyes shut and making fists with my hands.  Soon she starts to ask, “"Are you ok?  Does that hurt?  What’s the problem?" and halfway through a procedure when my heart is racing and I have a suction tube in my mouth and there is saliva running down my chin is not the best time to try to articulate the fact that no, it didn’t hurt, per se, I just didn’t like it.

So now I communicate.  Beforehand. 

I tell every new hygienist right up front that I'm a big baby, though I say it in phrases like, "my teeth are sensitive and I have some anxiety about being here so please be gentle".   Anyway, it gets the point across.  And you know what?  It turns out that most dental hygienists are NOT actually sadistic devils who want to harm you and they DO actually try to go easy on you if you’re freaked out.  Who knew?  It’s almost as if they’re… people.

These are not people.
They are mannequins in a creepy display in Panhandle, Texas.

The second thing I’ve learned is to take advantage of the comforts they offer. 

Most hygienists will offer to cover you up with a blanket, which makes you nice and warm and snuggly and conveniently hides the hands you are clenching into fists.  Don’t be embarrassed.  Say yes.  The really nice ones will find a kind way to offer it, such as, “Wow, it’s really cold in here.  Are you cold?  Would you like a blanket?”  They will also adjust the mirror for you so that you can see (or not see, depending on your preference) what is going on in your mouth.  And my favorite little accommodation is when they squirt the cold water on your tongue and let you warm it up first before swishing it around your mouth, instead of sending an icy blast directly onto your poor unprotected teeth.  (Yikes, it is hard to type when my fingers clench uncontrollably like that.)

And the third thing I have learned is if you find a perfect angel of a dental hygienist, do not let her go. 

Yesterday, I went for my regular cleaning, fully expecting to sweat through my clothes and leave with a stress headache.  The women at my dentist office (it is an all-female staff) do the best they can and offer the available comforts, but let’s face it—no one can completely take away the anxiety that comes with being in that chair.  Or so I thought.  And then I met the angel Tatiana. 

Tatiana is the most kind, patient, calm-inducing hygienist on the planet.  She told the “it’s cold in here” lie with expert finesse and covered me with a blanket, she offered to let me warm up the cold water on my tongue, she avoided the instruments that she knew would cause me stress, and she cleaned my teeth with such gentleness that not ONCE did I feel a single poke or stab or scrape or burst of cold air.  They didn’t even need to take my blood pressure afterward.  (Yes, that happens sometimes.)  It was amazing.  I was on such a high after that appointment; I couldn’t stop smiling, and it had nothing to do with my pearly white teeth.

So I thanked Tatiana, unabashedly, for her excellent care, and I gushed to the receptionist about how wonderful Tatiana was and now (I smile as I write this) I have a “Tatiana only” note in my file.  Yep, and I’m not embarrassed about that at all.  I didn’t even wince when I placed the reminder card for my next appointment in my calendar.

So, there is hope for me at the dentist office, but I’m still avoiding eating frozen desserts around strangers.

Chances are, there are some people reading this who can’t fathom what the big deal is about going to the dentist or eating a bowl of ice cream.  But I know there are plenty of people out there who can commiserate with me, and I want them to know they are not alone.  And the rest of you?  It may not be dentist appointments or popsicles or clowns covered in scorpions, but I bet you’ve got your own irrational fear about something, so be kind.  Always be kind.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Haiku Wednesday-- Illumination

Welcome to the next HAIKU WEDNESDAY!

The Serendipitree
I wrote this poem on July 24th , from the loft of the “Serendipitree” at the Out ‘N About Treesort in Cave Junction, Oregon.  I highly recommend this place.  It’s like vacationing in the Ewok village.        Check out their website

turned the light back on
to see if the moth was gone—
                  -- Carie Juettner

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Haiku Wednesday-- This is marriage.

Greetings, my thousands and thousands of blog fans!  I hope you are doing well today.  In the interest of posting more frequently and less wordily, I am excited to announce that for the month of August, every Wednesday will be Haiku Wednesday here at The Black Cat Diaries.  (The crowd goes wild!)  Feel free to comment, critique, or question in haiku form.  And since I have already vastly exceeded my syllable allocation, let's get to it.

I dreamed you did the 
dishes—woke to a sink full
of disappointment
-- Carie Juettner