Posts Tagged ‘death’

#CBR4 Cannonball 30: The Sandman, Volume 4: Seasons of Mist by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of MistsThe Sandman, Vol. 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, wow. Just… wow.

Season of Mists moves the story of Dream along. He is one of the Endless, along with his siblings, Death, Desire, Despair, and Destiny. Destiny calls them all together and, as a result of this meeting, Dream goes to Hell to free someone that he wrongfully condemned there ten thousand years ago. But the going won’t be easy because he offended Prince Lucifer (often referred to as “Satan”) the last time he was there.

Things aren’t difficult in quite the way that Dream expected. This volume subtly makes the point that the harder option isn’t always the punishment that we expect it to be, and that the easy road isn’t always the boon we think it is, either. Gaiman tells a very subtle allegory here, and it’s beautifully told.

Neil Gaiman is a serious genius. I can’t wait to see what the next volume is like.

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#CBR4 Cannonball 29: The Sandman, Volume 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream CountryThe Sandman, Vol. 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Holy cow, I had no idea just how good this series would be. Dream Country doesn’t even do all that much to move the plot forward, but it’s so compelling that it’s still nothing but a pleasure to read.

There are four unrelated stories told in this volume. The first is “Calliope,” about Richard Madoc, a writer who captures the Muse (like, I mean, the Muse, Calliope) and holds her captive in order to write brilliant things. She calls out to the Grey Ladies (the Fates) for help, and they tell her to ask Dream (known to her as Morpheus). We then see the terrible price of compromising integrity in the pursuit of success.

“A Dream of a Thousand Cats” tells the story of the world before recollection, when cats ruled the earth and humans were merely their pets. This all changed when, one day, a human started to dream of ruling the earth himself. This dream spread until a thousand people dreamed it, and it then became reality. A Siamese cat now roams the earth, telling her story and urging other cats to believe and dream, that they might rule the earth once more.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was a really fun one. It shows the first-ever performance of Shakespeare’s famous play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was implied earlier in the series that Shakespeare struck a bargain with Dream in order to become a famous writer. This performance of Shakespeare’s play is put on for the fantastical characters in his play, many of which are real, and friends of Dream’s. It’s a nice bit of meta.

midsummer night's dream

Oberon, Titania, & co. arrive to watch the debut performance of William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream

“Facade” is about Urania “Rainie” Blackwell, who is transformed into a half-goddess, half-human by coming into contact with the Orb of Ra. She’s lonely and desperate, unable to interact with humankind because of her grotesque, half-human appearance, and she can’t even kill herself because she’s part goddess. Death (Dream’s younger sister) happens upon Rainie as she returns from taking a woman in the building who fell off a stepladder. She can’t take Rainie, but she gives her some helpful advice that allows her to find release from her suffering.

The stories don’t appear to be linked in any way, but they help you to get a bit of a feel for some of the main characters in the story. It doesn’t do so by direct revelation, but rather by showing you the effects that they have on others, which shows the reach of their influence and presence.

Dream Country is a heady read, and could stand alone as its own work.

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#CBR4 Cannonball 28: The Sandman, Volume 2: The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll's HouseThe Sandman, Vol. 2: The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I said in my review of Preludes and Nocturnes that I trusted that the foundation laid therein would be put to good use. Well, Gaiman exceeded my highest expectations.

We already know that Dream is the king of the dreamworld, but he was imprisoned by an occult group for seventy years. Now that he’s escaped, he’s trying to rebuild his kingdom. But there’s a complication: a girl called Rose Walker. The girl is a human dream vortex, and unless she’s destroyed, Dream’s kingdom could be destroyed. That sounds so much simpler than it actually is, which is a testament to Gaiman’s genius for storytelling.

There are also some dream beings who have rebelled against Dream, and are trying to create kingdoms of their own. They’re trying to interfere with Dream’s attempts to rebuild his kingdom.

There’s little I can say to adequately praise the beautiful artwork and breathtaking narrative in this volume. Suffice it to say that I couldn’t wait to read the next one.

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Cannonball 10: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading Everything is Illuminated, I didn’t have very high hopes for Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I found Jonathan Safran Foer’s writing a little too self-absorbed and indulgent for my tastes.

But Foer really hits his literary stride with this book. I was deeply moved by this tale of life, loss, and growing up.

Oskar Schell is nine years old. His father, Thomas, was killed in the 9/11 attacks. After his father’s death, Oskar finds a key when he accidentally breaks a vase of his father’s. The key was in an envelope labeled “Black,” which is written in red pen. This brings him to the conclusian that the key belonged to someone by the name of Black. He’s convinced that this key will allow him to find out something significant about the father he loved and wasn’t done getting to know, and he begins a hunt for the owner.

We also get to hear the story of his grandparents. They both survived the bombing of Dresden and lived to see the tragedy of 9/11. His grandfather, also named Thomas, was in love with his grandmother’s sister, who died during the bombing of Dresden. Thomas comes across Anna’s sister in New York. By this time, he has lost his powers of speech and keeps a notebook with him to be able to communicate with others. Foer unfolds their story through letters that Thomas has written to the son he never met, and through Oskar’s grandmother’s letters to him.

The book also makes use of some “gimmicks.” Oskar has his grandfather’s camera, and Oskar’s photographs are interspersed throughout the book. Oskar finds his father’s name written on a pad of paper at a stationery store where people are trying out different colored pens. We get to see pages from Oskar’s grandfather’s notebook. I generally roll my eyes at these types of shenanigans, but Foer actually used them thoughtfully to enhance the story, as opposed to using them as diversions to distract from the story. His use of photographs and color in particular makes the story seem more real to the reader.

thomas schell

A page from Thomas Schell, Sr.'s notebook.

I read other reviews of the book after I finished it and was surprised to see so much vitriol leveled at it. Some critics accused Foer of taking advantage of readers by using 9/11 as the backdrop of his novel. It was rather bold of Foer to write a novel about 9/11 less than five years after the tragedy. But I think time has been kinder to the novel than the critics have been, and I didn’t personally find it to be as cloying and sentimental as Foer’s harshest critics.

Others found Oskar to be a little too precocious to believe. But I think that his voice was spot-on for a smart kid who has suffered such a tragic loss. Sure, he knows a lot more than your typical nine-year-old, but I like that Foer made him kind of an arrogant, little punk. Smart kids are generally arrogant like this. And he’s still got the emotional maturity of a nine-year-old: he yells at his mom, does reckless things without thinking of the consequences, and holds onto impossible hope.

Overall, I thought it was a powerful book about coping with loss, and Foer has completely redeemed himself in my eyes for Everything in Illuminated.

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