Sunday, October 15, 2017

Post # 6

Quote of the day: "That [the Fox Theatre] was built for mere movies and not coronations, almost boggles the mind." Rick Sylvain. Michigan Living .February 1989.


The Marsh King's Daughter
by Karen Dionne

Reader beware, by the end of the first chapter of Karen Dionne's debut novel unsuspecting readers will be at the mercy of this northern Oakland County writer. Like Brer Rabbit you can pick up the book but, try as you might, you aren't putting it down until Dionne releases you on the last page. Dishes will go unwashed, leaves will not be raked, snow shoveled, the car washed, or things checked off the "To Do List" until this addictive book is finished.

Helena has two daughters, a loving husband, a successful small business, a comfortable double-wide prefab home in a remote corner of the U.P., and a terrible secret she hasn't even shared with her husband. Helena's mother was kidnapped at the age of 14 by a mentally ill loner and kept captive in his remote, rustic cabin surrounded by a huge trackless U. P. marsh. Two years after her capture the 16-year old gives birth to Helena.

For the first dozen years of her life Helena's world is limited to the cabin, swamp, her domineering and crazy father, and a quiet, withdrawn mother suffering from the Skockhom Snydrome. Helena learned to read from a stack of abandoned National Geographic magazines and didn't realize they were 50 years out of date. Her father both terrorized her and showered her with attention. If a miserable example of a human being, Helena's dad was an accomplished woodsman and an expert at living off the land. He taught Helena everything he knew about nature, tracking, and hunting. She killed her first deer at age five.

Helena finally learned the truth of her mother's kidnapping at the age of 12 and at nearly the same time she comes to understand her father has no regard for the safety or feelings for anyone but himself. When the opportunity presents itself Helena helps her mother escape. It takes two years before her father is captured and sentenced to life imprisonment in Marquette State Prison. Back in society the young girl sees counselors, changes her name, tries to live a life of obscurity with her husband and two daughters, and bury her past. 

A dozen years later Helena's mother has died and Helena and her family are living a near normal life when her dad kills two prison guards and escapes. Helena instinctively knows the man will be coming for her and her two daughters. The only way to insure her and her daughters safety is to hunt her father down and kill or capture him before the man comes for them.

Dionne masterfully controls her plot and builds suspense. Helena's pursuit of her father through the rugged U.P. wilderness is interrupted at the most crucial moments by flashbacks as Helena remembers significant chapters of her 12 years in the wilderness with a psychologically damaged mother and dangerously insane father.

The author has done a wonderful job of capturing life lived on the barest subsistence level, the beauty and wildness of the U.P. landscape, and how rugged outdoorsmen build an intimate relation with nature. The book also works as a gripping psychological thriller as Helena recalls her life with her teacher and tormentor and wrestles with what to do when and if she hunts him down.

This book is effortlessly readable and has narrative pace equivalent to an F-16  with the after-burners lit.

Dionne, Karen. The Marsh King's Daughter, G. P. Putnams, 2017, $26.

My Near-Death Adventures: 99% True
by Alison DeCamp

This may be a young adult book with a 4th - 6th grade reading level but odds are the entire family will thoroughly enjoy it. That's because fatherless, eleven-year-old Stan Slater who lives with his mom and cantankerous grandma in Manistique, Michigan during the U. P. lumbering boom of the 1890s is both very good company and very funny. 

In need of money mom, son, and grandma take kitchen and dining hall jobs in a lumber camp owned by Stan's uncle near Germfask. Stan is OK with the move because he thinks he might find his father in the camp, and if not, he can at least learn how to be a man and the head of the family. 

Ah, but there are a host of personal liabilities and short comings standing in his way. First, he's eleven. Secondly, well honestly the rest are in no particular rankings or order they're just hurdles that have to be cleared.  The boy thinks out load and it constantly lands him in hot water or a mouth washed out with soap. His mother has suitors, none of which Stan likes. He has too vivid an imagination and too high an opinion of himself. He thinks he has a taste for danger and is 95.7% certain he's invincible. According to Stan he's barely escaped death from an untouched axe, raw chickens, an older female cousin, and the soap grandma uses to washout his mouth. 

Stan is also a fount of misunderstanding and confusion. When granny tells him he has to acquire some manners and that learning the correct spoon to use can open doors, he wonders how you jimmy a door with a spoon without bending it. He thinks George Washington chopped down a log cabin and signed the Declaration of Dependence.  When told by his cousin he has tedium he wonders how long he has to live. The lumber camp only adds to Stan's confusion on  how to be a man. It shakes his belief that becoming a man means growing a beard, drinking coffee, and apparently understanding things only men can understand, and lastly, your mom allows you to take part in the dangerous spring log drive downriver to the mill. It doesn't help that his mother makes him wear an apron when serving food.

On the plus side he is a dispenser of useful information, such as "hogwash" has nothing to do with washing a hog. He sometimes stands up to bullies and has a quick tongue like the time he told the school bully, "He'd never be the man his mother is." And according to Stan he always tells the truth, even if he has to make it up.

The boy is so desperate for a father he makes up and writes letters to himself from his dad. He also keeps a scrapbook as living proof of  his adventures and courageous deeds, as well as whatever strikes his fancy to share with his father. Pieces from his scrapbook adorn every page of the book and it becomes very obvious Stan can't clip a face from a magazine or newspaper without drawing glasses and a moustache on every man and women. 

All kinds of surprises await Stan at the lumber camp including a lumberjack asking him to join the spring log drive. This is a rollicking good story of a youth dealing with life and a great portrait of a 1890s Michigan lumber camp. It's universal message is all boys everywhere in every era struggle to learn to be a man. Most of them are just not as laugh out loud funny as Stan. 

DeCamp, Alison. My Near-Death Adventures 99% True!, Crown Books. $16.99.

by Holling Clancy Holling

This is not a review but homage to a book that changed my world and permanently impressed upon me, at a very early age, the magic, wonder, and majesty of the Great Lakes. I was five or six when I read or, more likely, someone read this wonderful book to me. 

For those who have not had the good fortune to crack the cover of Paddle-to-the-Sea it tells, in words and colorfully detailed illustrations, the epic journey of a small, toy canoe carved by a Native American boy living on the north shore of Lake Superior. He whittles the one-foot canoe out of a piece of pine one winter, and on the bottom carves "Please put me back in the water, I am Paddle to the Sea." He then places the canoe in a snowbank beside a south flowing creek and waits for spring to melt the snow and send the canoe on its way. All that occurs in the first two pages.

The rest of the book follows Paddle to the Sea's extraordinary adventures through sawmills, to the iron ore docks of Duluth, along the coast of Lake Superior, through a terrible storm and shipwreck. The little canoe hitches a ride on an ore carrier, passes through the Soo Locks and after many more adventures makes it to the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and the Atlantic Ocean.

The book is a marvelous geography lesson and an unforgettable introduction to the wonders of the Great Lakes. It's been almost 70 years and I still treasure the book and still hold it responsible for my enchantment with Michigan and the Great Lakes.

Holling, Holling Clancy. Paddle to the Sea, Houghton Mifflin, 1941, $11.95 pb

My Michigan Bucket List
by J. R. Roper

Among the plethora of bucket list books on Michigan and nearly every other state and geographical region on the Earth comes this book that offers dedicated bucket listers something a little different and useful. Although it does include one page of the author's selections of the state's top buck list destinations the rest of the book is arranged as a journal in which the bucket lister can record their impressions and details of their visits.

Each entry has space where the journal keeper records DESTINATION DETAILS, DATES, TRAVEL COMPANIONS, RECOMMENDED GUIDES, INSIDER TIPS, SURPRISE ENCOUNTERED, WHAT WAS UNFORGETTABLE, and REFLECTIONS. The journal is divided by the type of  destination including; Drinking, Accommodations, Shopping, or simply on the bucket list. There are also several lined pages in which the journalist can make their own bucket list.

If you want to capture the your memories of Michigan's special destinations with more than snapshots this may be the book your looking for.

Roper, J.R. My Michigan Bucket List, Hidden Cottage Press, 2017, $9.99

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