Sunday, September 29, 2019

Circe by Madeline Miller

Second book club book #5

This was definitely not what I expected. Accustomed to the stories of other characters famous in this same time period, Odysseus or Achilles, I imagined something, well more epic. Instead, this is a telling of a single life, memoir style. You learn about one immortal person, Circe, in the most intimate detail. You see her hardships, her loves, her quest of self-discovery. Most of it happens in the confines of just one island.

Yes, the elements of an epic are deftly included. Circe takes a few trips, battles some monsters, faces a god or two. She fights to survive and feels great joy and great sorrow. Her immortal life takes many twists and turns until she finally gets where she belongs. It's more of an epic journey toward self-discovery rather than a voyage where the "hero" completes a specific series of tasks. There's no golden fleece at the end of this tale, but there's a strong, smart woman who finds her voice and places herself into her ideal situation to live out her life happily.

The more I distance myself from the story and reflect, the more I like this book. Circe has so much humanity in her right from the start. She's a rule-breaker, but also the product of a family with absentee parents who don't care for her enough when they are present. She's the product of immortals, who Miller paints as very flawed right from the start. Yet, even with this genealogy, Circe seems to naturally rebel from those forces pushing against her. Her natural compassion makes her unique among the gods. It gets her in trouble too.

Banished to her own island, you expect Circle to spend eternity alone, but that's never the case. Even without the island animals who become her companions, she has visitors. Gods and humans alike dot Circe's life in a way that leave a lasting impact. They mold her impressions on who she wants to be and who she wants to be with as she interacts, connects, and fights with humans, gods, and goddesses. Her life is rough in a more extreme way than your typical person, but her internal struggles are very relatable.

This is really a book about a woman and how her experiences shape her. About how she finds courage to be herself. It's epic in its own way and presents a powerful tale that takes you on a journey that goes in unexpected directions, with a very comfortable conclusion.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Book club book #7

This is not what you normally get from a post-apocalyptic book. With less focus on the panic which would naturally occur if a flu epidemic killed off almost all of humanity, Station Eleven is about survival and hope. Zeroing in on one string of interconnected people and the need for art to remain in the world, when almost all else is lost, this book follows a travelling caravan 20 years later. Their purpose is to bring symphonic masterpieces and Shakespearean plays to the remaining clusters of civilization along the northern US/Canada border.

Everyday comforts are gone. People no longer live in traditional homes, they group together in fast-food restaurants, gas stations, airports. Some have chosen to forget the past, let what they've lost go, while others consider it a time to honor and remember.

A loose connection between main characters is established through the life of Arthur Leander, a Hollywood actor. The unique experiences of these connected characters before, during, and after the apocalypse form an interesting narrative of the many directions life can go upon surviving this worse-case scenario. Sadly, Arthur dies the night the flu begins its horrible spread, so we only get to know him through flashbacks. He leaves behind Clark, his best friend, a few ex-wives, a son, Jeevan, the man who tries to save him, and Kirsten, a little girl sharing the stage with Arthur in a production of King Lear. Arthur dies in front of her, on stage, during the show. Each character is touched in some way by Arthur as well as the two copies of two issues of the comic series, Station Eleven, created by his first wife. None of these survivors live out the same life, but they end up intersecting within the story, though not always knowing they're connected.

Using the past to show the reader why these characters belong in the same story, along with the remnants of an old life they continue to hold onto, the story illustrates how one person's life can impact a series of choices made by others, driving their futures. It's a story that rewards the hopeful. People that don't give up and don't try to manipulate the system, but rather live in it to the best of their ability. It rewards kindness and true community -- survival in a way that supports others and invites moments of joy into a vastly altered life. It doesn't deny the existence of hardship, but refuses to allow humanity to get bogged down in the bad.

What survives after the world as we know it ends? What's going to make it above all else? Hope. We can all hope, through this story, that it's hope.