W.B.’s Book Report: Fairy Tale

I know Stephen King is considered one of the great storytellers of our generation, but he hasn’t been my cup of tea that often. Of course, I read Carrie — didn’t everyone? — but after that I didn’t keep following. I like science fiction and suspense, but I’m not the biggest fan of horror, and that was King’s forte — so I skipped The Shining and Cujo and Christine and It and all that. I couldn’t finish 11/22/63, one of his more recent books, after it failed to capture my interest after around 100 pages. 

But I also respected his book On Writing and the story that the film Stand By Me is based on, and The Shawshank Redemption is quite a feat. So my mind is open to trying any of King’s efforts.

So when Fairy Tale kept coming up in a Facebook reading group I frequent, I finally couldn’t resist. And my, oh my.

Charlie Reade is a 17-year-old boy in rural Illinois whose mother was killed in a horrific traffic accident 10 years ago. His dad descended into the bottle and didn’t start climbing out until one night Charlie — in desperation, not faith — prays for a miracle. That very night a friend of his father stopped by and talked him into going to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting,  turning his life around, so Charlie figures he owes God a good deed or two. 

One day a dog’s whines lead Charlie to discover the crotchety old man who lives in the mysterious “Psycho House” at the top of the hill. The old guy has fallen and severely broken his leg, and Charlie ends up promising to take care of the German shepherd, Radar, while the man is hospitalized, in large part because he figures it’s time to keep the promise he made in that prayer, but a bond begins to grow with the old man and especially Radar.

The cover of Fairy Tale shows a young man and a German shepherd climbing down a mysterious spiral staircase, and it’s an apt illustration, because this is the story of the boy, the dog, and what lies at the bottom of those stairs. The story includes shoutouts to Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu, but on the bottom line Charlie’s story is exactly what the title promises, a dark fairy tale. And that’s a good thing.

I’ve already told you more than I knew about the story going in, and I think this is a good novel to go into cold and let the surprises surprise you, so I’ll stop here, except to say I highly recommend Fairy Tale as one of the best books in recent memory.

It’s a magical world

We live in a world filled with contraptions that would seem like magic to the folks of not long ago — but also magical devices FROM long ago that, preserved, continue to do magic. I’m looking at my 1941 Philco radio and my century-old records when I refer to the latter. 

Here is a recording from some afternoon in 1915 when a band sat in a studio and played into a megaphone — three minutes captured in amber to be heard in 2022. Magic?

Here are books from 50 – 75 – 100 years ago that still mean something now.

But imagine the band members getting a peek at 2022, where their three minute performance can be stored on a computer chip along with hundred of other performances. Imagine the author of a book from 1910 taking a tour of a modern library.

Magic!

Art for its sake

There was this seagull. It soared above it all, looking down on the rest of us, and we gaped in awe at the way it glided on the air currents when all the time it was scheming ways to take the food from our mouths.

“It was a metaphor for the soaring political hacks that feed on sheep in the night,” he mansplained.

“You think I don’t know that?” she scoffed and took another sip of the expensive wine they were sharing.

“I’m sorry, you’re right, I’m everything you say that I am,” he said stiffly.

The moon loomed over them like a concerned parent, and over the fence a chihuahua barked like a coonhound on 78.

The howls echoed through the neighborhood, and they were ours. 

Suddenly everything changed, but it took years.

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“People always make the mistake of thinking art is created for them. But really, art is a private language for sophisticates to congratulate themselves on their superiority to the rest of the world. As my artist’s statement explains, my work is utterly incomprehensible and is therefore full of deep significance.” — Calvin, aka Bill Watterson

December: The darkest, brightest month

As someone who lives near a city famously associated with the phrase “frozen tundra,” I must confess that I am not a fan of winter, and cold December brings the beginning of winter, so it might seem like a hard sell.

Among other things, however, December is the month when my parents were married, so deep into World War II that my dad’s military rank was part of their wedding announcement, and 11 days later was my mom’s 21st birthday. So the month has my roots going for it.

And then there’s the joyful season of giving that reaches its zenith days after the winter solstice, and the month ends with a season of hope and new beginnings and resolutions to create something better out of all this.

And so, on balance, I tend to think of December more as the time of lingering autumn than as the arrival of unwelcome winter. Just don’t get me started on January or February, just yet. 

December is when we roll out a certain complement of songs that aren’t sung during the other 11 months, songs of joy to the world, and the innocence of a newborn baby, and peace on Earth, and goodwill toward men, and why aren’t those themes worth singing about all year long?

We tell the stories again — not just the story of the baby in the manger, but the story of a miser learning how to give, of a practical little girl discovering the power of believing in a magical jolly old elf, of a sad man discovering that he had been living a wonderful life all along, of a little boy with a sweet mom and a crusty but kind-hearted dad who wins a major award. Again, they are stories worth telling all year long.

December is the end of the cycle we measure by calendar and the month that brings the darkest day of the year, the day with the fewest hours of daylight, but then our singing of songs and telling of stories reaches its climax, and we celebrate hope, in peace and with love.

And as the month ends, the days start growing longer again, a few minutes at a time. Even though we know it will get colder, we also know it will get brighter. We set our sights on a new year with a spirit of new resolve and a fresh slate. December is the coda of another magnificent symphony, and even if it wasn’t the sweetest music we ever heard, the first notes of a new overture are waiting at the end of that final night.

3 short blog posts or one long one

The wind chimes were a present from our dear friends who witnessed our at-last exchange of vows almost 20 years after we met. The chimes hung from the eaves outside my window in the old office and provided a tuneless melody that played during these musings for most of the last nearly six years now.

For that reason — and the fact that Red can’t sleep with a tuneless melody constantly ringing along — the wind chimes had to migrate with the rest of my office to this end of the house. Alas, Red will not let me mount the 20-foot ladder that would be needed, or let me on the roof to approach from the top so I can hang the chimes from the eaves at this end. Before, I could casually reach from the deck and hang them by the window.

And so I bought a shepherd’s hook and hung them in the garden underneath the window, It turns out the melodious no-tune is just as soothing from below as from slightly above. And there’s a gale warning tonight, so it’s quite a tune.

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Summer needed a walk, so we went out on the field, up on the mound, beside the old irrigation trench, and into the woods, where she sniffed around and found the perfect stick, which she carried all the way back to the house, passing occasionally to lie down and gnaw at it.

I wondered if she would still love it after it had lain on the porch for a few hours drying in the sun. Not only did she still love it, but for the past four days, every time we go out the front door, she has picked the stick up and carried it into the yard for more gnawing.

Quite a few years ago now, I bought a pack of Uni-Ball Jet Stream Sport pens and fell in love with how they fit in my hand. It’s the most comfortable pen I ever owned. I have not written with anything else since, and I routinely buy refills so I can reuse the pens over and over. It feels weird to wield any other pen.

There I was, writing with my ever-present Jet Stream Sport about Summer’s obsession with one particular piece of wood. I know all about finding the perfect stick.

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I was browsing through an old journal and found a reference to an adventure story I was working on that I’d completely forgotten. And so there’s another item on my list of unfinished projects. Strangely, instead of raising the same old frustrations, I felt a jolt of pleasant rediscovery. 

Not: “OMG, I can never finish anything! It’s miserable!”

But: “OMG, look at all these stories I have yet to tell! It’s wonderful!”

I’m finding that wonder is more fun than misery.

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Conundrum

Where is the shelter from the storm?

Who is the healer of the soul?

What is the answer and what is the real question?

When will it all become clear, and How?

And at the root of it all, Why?

The five Ws, and the How. The story is not complete, and the puzzle is not solved, without these answers.

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