Non-Fiction: “The Witches: Salem, 1692” by Stacy Schiff

the WitchesMerry Christmas Eve! Let’s spend the time between now and the annual live-tweet of Alaina Watches Die Hard, The Best Christmas Movie In History, No I’m Serious, Don’t @ Me, by discussing a) a book I finished reading six months ago, b) about witches. So, completely the wrong holiday. Whatever; deal with it.

As you can tell from the title of the book, Ms. Schiff’s research attempts to find out what exactly led to the events of the Salem Witch Trials. She goes through the years 1690 through 1694 in deep detail, focusing on each family of Salem and their interactions, and discussed how political and interpersonal relationships could have led to exacerbating the situation with the witches.

The first quote I dogeared (and then transcribed into a Word document, because this was a library book and I didn’t want to incur six months’ of overdue fees just to be able to quote things afterwards) speaks to the mystery still attached to Salem:

Nearly as many theories have been advanced to explain the Salem witch trials as the Kennedy assassination. Our [nation’s] first true-crime story has been attributed to generational, sexual, economic, ecclesiastical, and class tensions; regional hostilities imported from England; food poisoning; a hothouse religion in a cold climate; teenage hysteria; fraud, taxes, conspiracy; political instability; trauma induced by Indian attacks; and to witchcraft itself, among the more reasonable theories. [p. 4-5]

For as many details there are in the book – and there are plenty – there are no true, definitive answers. The source materials Ms. Schiff draws from are incredibly deficient – family diaries, incomplete court testimonies, and the biased opinion essays of pastors and preachers related to the trials.

While the bewitched commanded a rapt audience for much of a year, their voices are lost to us. Their words come to us exclusively from men who were far from thorough, seldom impartial, and not always transcribing in the room in which they heard those statements. They mangle and strangle the voices of the accused; they are equally inattentive to the accusers, not all of whose statements they committed to paper. [p. 12]

I think everyone here must be aware of the basic plotline of the Salem Witch Trials: young girls start acting weird and accusing other women in town of being witches and using their witchcraft against them, everyone believes them, and at the end of it all, nearly twenty residents were executed after being found guilty of witchcraft. In fact, everything the collective consciousness knows about the Salem Witch Trials most likely comes from our reading of The Crucible when we were in high school. But The Crucible was a parable Arthur Miller used to expose the hypocrisy and hysteria surrounding McCarthyism, and should not be considered a historical artifact, regardless of the fact that Mr. Miller used the names of actual Salem residents for his characters.

Ms. Schiff attributes the cause of the Salem Witch Hysteria to many things, including a general distrust of women, an incredibly oppressive religious atmosphere, and a contagious psychological disorder. Sadly, we will never know the true root of the issue, as that is lost to history. Thanks, Puritan judges and other people back then who didn’t realize they should really WRITE THINGS DOWN.

Relatively early in her narrative, Ms. Schiff discusses the attitudes towards the women involved in the Witch Trials. She points out that this is one of the few times in history where the actions are directly related to the actions of women:

History is not rich in unruly young women; with the exception of Joan of Arc and a few underage sovereigns, it would be difficult to name another historical moment so dominated by teenage virgins, traditionally a vulnerable, mute, and disenfranchised cohort. [p. 131]

Additionally, she discusses the power surrounding these women, and how the mysticism of witchcraft increased that power:

The wrinkle with Salem’s infernal onslaught of 1692 was that both the spirited victims and their oppressors were predominantly female. And in a New England first, women’s voices proved so commanding that the spectral testimony of two dead wives could prevail in court against an articulate, Harvard-educated minister. [p. 145]

Think about that: this is a period of time before the United States Consitutiton was even a thought. Alexander Hamilton and George Washington hadn’t even been born. The concept of “innocent until proven guilty” hadn’t been put forth yet. So our modern concept of a “trial” is not even closely related to what occurred in Salem. In Salem in 1692, a judge could accept the “testimony” of deceased women over that of a minister who had graduated from Harvard. That is a crazy concept to wrap one’s head around.

The accusations of witchcraft and witchery flew throughout the town, and created an oppressive atmosphere that centered on a form of gaslighting: fingers pointing at nearly every citizen of Salem, accusing them of witchcraft, and using previous actions as specious proof of interacting with the Devil:

For weeks the women had been stretched on the most pernicious of psychological racks: You are not what you think you are, they were hectored; you are what we think you are. [p. 235]

The biggest piece of new information regarding the Salem Witch Trials was actually a supposition or extrapolation: Ms. Schiff proposes that the cause was a form of mass hysteria, known as conversion disorder, where physical symptoms can arise following an emotional or mental crisis:

Where the seventeenth-century authority saw the devil, we tend to recognize an overtaxed nervous system; what an earlier age called hysteria we term conversion disorder, the body literally translating emotions into symptoms. [p. 386]

The witch hysteria began in the house of Samuel Parris, with his daughter Betty and her cousin Abigail Williams. Samuel Parris was the pastor of the town, and one of the more religious ones they’d had in town for a while. (Which is hard to believe, seeing as how Puritan the whole area was.) As Ms. Schiff states,

Hysteria prefers decorous, sober households, where tensions puddle more deeply; it made sense that the Salem minister wound up with more witchcraft victims under his roof than anyone else. [p. 387]

So what would have been the inciting event that caused the mass hysteria? Possibly puberty – I mean, think about it. The two girls in Parris’s household that started the whole thing? Were 9 and 11. And in that type of oppressive religious atmosphere, who’s to say what emotional trauma may have been caused by a religious interpretation of changing bodies? Or even having a thought that went against what had been taught for years upon years? After all,

It would have been easier at the parsonage to have a vision than an opinion. [p. 388]

We will never know what really happened with the Salem Witch Trials – the causes of that trauma have been lost to history. We can only make assumptions and attempt to decipher the few documents from that era that still exist, and recognize that whatever was written down, was written from the points of view of extremely religious views and interpretations. But we can’t forget the Salem Witch Trials, or even attempt to ignore it. While the cause may have been conversion disorder, the unfounded persecution against a minority that led to the deaths of innocents was still the result.

The Salem Witch Trials endure in American history “not only as a metaphor but as a vaccine and a taunt” [p. 413]. We as a people use the Witch Trials any time someone feels unjustly persecuted. But instead of using it as a label, or a crutch, we should use it as a reminder: we have done this before. We have pointed our fingers, as a society, at fellow citizens and deemed them guilty of crimes that were not proven. We killed innocents out of fear of the unknown. That era is not a time we should hope to return to. We should look to that era as a warning of where we’ve been, and how far we’ve come, so as to not slide.

Grade for The Witches: Salem, 1692: 2 stars

The Collaborators!: “The Witches” by Stacy Schiff

Hopefully, this will be the push I need to get back into the swing of a whole bunch of things. Because true confessions, I have a review of Pride & Prejudice languishing in my drafts folder here – mostly because I know I couldn’t possibly add anything to any sort of Pride & Prejudice conversation – and I can’t seem to bust through it. So, thank you to Erica for hopefully being the kick in the pants my blogging life so desperately needs.

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

Because yes, after a year-long hiatus (mostly brought on by my complete inability to post a Gee Dee review on time – seriously, I know I keep saying I’m going to get better, but I don’t think I am, you guys. I’m back to being eight reviews behind, and I haven’t even finished reading Alexander Hamilton yet!), The Collaborators! are back! And this time, it’s not the latest Gregory Maguire novel (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but change is good!)

the Witches

(We did consider After Alice, but my Local Library pulled through.)

Erica had given me a few choices via Twitter on what our first Collaboration for 2016 should be, including After Alice by Gregory Maguire, this book, The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory, John Cleese’s autobiography, and a title by Stephen King which escapes me currently, and I can’t go look it up because apparently Twitter is down.

I said that I would read After Alice if that’s all we had, but of the 7 books we’ve collaborated on, two have been by Mr. Maguire. I thought a change would be nice.

I eliminated the Stephen King title because I am a bad Mainer. That’s right, folks: I have lived in Maine my entire life and I love my state — I even work in state government! — but I am not a fan of Stephen King. The only book by him I’ve read is The Dead Zone, and the only reason I read that was because the adaptation was on USA at the time, and Sean Patrick Flanery starred in it as the bad guy, and Sean Patrick Flanery is one of the stars of one of my favorite movies, The Boondock Saints. I wasn’t impressed with the book, and to be honest, I never actually watched the series.

Also, please: do not. fucking get me started. on the goddamned Shawshank Redemption.

I also don’t like Moxie.

ANYWAY. Bad Mainer, no Stephen King. My Local Library did not own a copy of John Cleese’s autobiography – what the fuck, Yarmouth? – so that left The Taming of the Queen and The WitchesThe Witches was the first one of the two to be returned so I could pick it up.

So. What’s The Witches about?

I just spent about a minute trying to come up with a jackass retort, but I should have been in bed an hour ago. But I’m going to finish this tonight, dammit! So I’m going to move on and actually say what the book is about, and it’s about witches.

Guys, the subtitle is “Salem, 1692.” It’s about the Salem Witch Trials, okay? Okay, I’m done trying to be funny. It’s too late at night for me to try and be an asshole.

So this book is about the Salem Witch Trials. This book is also non-fiction: a first for The Collaborators! I’ve read a book here before about this time period – Susannah Morrow – but I’m very interested to learn more about this period. As I said in my review for Susannah Morrow, all I know about the Salem Witch Trials is what I’ve learned from The CrucibleSusannah Morrow, and the trip my sister and I took last October where we watched a film at the Salem Museum that had the worst actors I have ever seen on film in my entire life. And yes, that does include the porn we used to play drinking games to in college.

I’m very interested to see what new information is uncovered, and I’m looking forward to the discussion Erica and I will have when we finish the book. I only hope I read it quickly, and that I have at least three actual book reviews posted before then.

Fiction: “Egg & Spoon” by Gregory Maguire

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

Erica (of NYC Bookworm) and I finished reading Egg & Spoon early last month, so at least I’m within the 30 day mark for being behind.

egg and spoon

Egg & Spoon is the story of Elena and Cat, two Russian girls from very different lives. Elena is the youngest daughter of a very poor family, whereas Cat (short for Katerina) is the daughter of very rich parents who leave her with her very old aunt, Sophie. Cat, Sophie, and the rest of her retinue are traveling to St. Petersburg to meet the prince when their train comes upon a broken bridge that needs repairing, just outside of Elena’s village. Elena, who had never seen a train before, goes to see the spectacle and meets Cat, and the two become … not friends, but they share things about each other and tell each other stories.

One of the stories comes from a book of Cat’s – one about Baba Yaga, the mythical witch. Elena has her own opinions of Baba Yaga, but Kat dismisses them. In return, Cat shows Elena a Fabergé Egg that she and her Aunt Sophie are going to present to the Prince.

Well, one day, they’re sitting in the train – Cat’s holding onto the Fabergé Egg, Elena’s holding Cat’s storybook – and then the train jumps to a start. Cat falls off the train, leaving Elena behind.

And here is where the two characters make the first of many defining decisions. Elena decides to remain on the train instead of running after her friend – because the train is going to St. Petersburg, and now she has the opportunity to ask the Tsar to release her brothers from military duties and return to their home in the village. But instead of identifying herself and her needs right away, she instead decides to take advantage of her physical similarity and pretends to be Kat on the rest of her journey.

Cat, meanwhile, decides to follow the train tracks to St. Petersburg so she can return the Fabergé Egg and reunite with her Aunt. Except that on the way there, she gets chased away from the tracks and ends up in a strange hut that walks on chicken legs with a talking cat and owned … by Baba Yaga.

Now, Baba Yaga is not, at first sight, a hideously scary creature as the fairy tales would have us believe. Erica’s vision of her as Mad Madam Mim from The Sword in the Stone is so on point, I can barely stand it. As I said in my tweet to her (which I will now paraphrase because it’s been so long, my tweets during the Tweetversation have disappeared into the ether, only to be discovered five years from now after I get tapped as the next host of The Daily Show), I knew I saw Baba Yaga as something like that in my head, but as soon she said that, it immediately clicked and that’s exactly how I pictured her; I just hadn’t found the right words.

I liked that the plot didn’t devolve into a rote Prince and the Pauper-esque routine. In fact, the way the characterization went, the reader was made to feel sympathy for Elena – think that she was going to be the protagonist, that we were going to root for her journey – but as the book progressed, Elena became less sympathetic: more sarcastic, sullen, and not quickly willing to revert to Elena as opposed to Cat. Whereas Cat quickly became very sympathetic – she worked with both Baba Yaga and the Prince in order to rescue Russia.

Because yes, Russia is dying – there’s a whole subplot about Baba Yaga, the Firebird, an Ice Dragon, and the Fabergé Egg. The Egg is decorated with the above-mentioned items, but halfway through the book the Firebird disappears from the Egg. So then Baba Yaga, the talking cat, Cat, Elena, and the Prince journey up to Siberia and find out that the Ice Dragon has been awake longer than he should be, because Russia’s seasons are determined by when the Ice Dragon sleeps and when the Ice Dragon is awake.

The novel is written in a very specific style – Mr. Maguire definitely holds to the tone of a typical fairy tale or myth story. There are mystical elements – namely, the Firebird – but overall, the story doesn’t descend into a typical supernatural story. I’m not sure whether to put this into a fantasy genre or the young adult genre, because it’s not really either. It was pretty good, however.

Ugh, I have got to get better at this! It’s been so long since I’ve read it that I can’t really compliment it the way that I want to. I’ve been fascinated by Russia since watching Anastasia (no, you shut up, this is my warped childhood, not yours!), and I really liked the descriptions of St. Petersburg and the Ice Dragon. I loved the conceit of making Baba Yaga an anachronistic, humorous version of what Mother Russia should be; I loved the talking cat. I liked the relationship between Cat and Prince Anton, and I liked how both of them wanted to subvert their traditional roles and pursue their own dreams.

Oh my god – I just now realized that if I had been better at this, I would have been able to make a whole analogy between Elena and Cat and Elena and Katherine from The Vampire Diaries. I mean, I haven’t watched that show in two years, but I’m sure I could have made something out of it.

Okay, I’ve now finished watching the fourth season of Bob’s Burgers, and Mad Men returns in a hour and a half, and I have ruined my chances of making deadline on That Thing I Keep Obliquely Mentioning, but rest assured, That Thing is what’s coming up next, and it will be a doozy.

Grade for Egg & Spoon: 3 stars

The Collaborators!: “Egg & Spoon” by Gregory Maguire

Hey, remember yesterday when I welcomed in the new year one month late? What better way to kick off the new year than with the first #Collaboration of 2015?

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

Erica of NYC Bookworm graciously sent me a second copy of Egg & Spoon she ended up with last month, so that means that I owe Erica a book. Seriously, Erica, you name it, I’ll buy it and ship it to you.

egg and spoon

Now, in a nice, crazy, not-so-random happenstance, Gregory Maguire was the author of the first Collaboration we did, Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister. It’s like we’ve come full circle, but only if circles don’t have an end. I mean, they don’t end, they’re circular, but “coming full circle” has a sense of finality to it, and we are far from over. (*sigh* Alaina, you over-explained the joke.)

However, I have no freaking idea what the book is about. Humpty Dumpty, maybe? I mean, Mr. Maguire typically takes fairy and folk tales (The Wizard of Oz, Cinderella, Hansel & Gretel) and give them a unique twist, usually in a different era of history. How is he going to humanize (i.e., “turn into a human”) Humpty Dumpty?

Wait, Humpty Dumpty didn’t run away with the spoon. Hickory Dickory Dock, the mouse ran up the clock … who ran away with the spoon?

Uhhhh … I might need to revisit my Mother Goose before reading this …

ANYWAY, according to the book jacket, this takes place in Tsarist Russia. Damn. I have never been sadder that something didn’t take place in Soviet Russia, just so I could say In Soviet Russia, book takes place in you! Reading the description further, apparently our heroine is Elena Rudina, so we all know I’m going to have fun with that. Her father has died — okay, that’s not fun — and her mother is following suit. Elena’s brother has been conscripted into the Tsarist army, and there is not enough food. Also, Baba Yaga is there, and I believe she was the witch who made stone soup?

Okay, the more I keep trying to find links, the more I realize that I am now old enough to not remember a single fucking thing about my childhood. So I’m just going to finish this off by saying that this book is probably going to be good, seeing as how Jimmy Fallon just made a whole bunch of Russia jokes.

Fiction: “The Empire Striketh Back” by Ian Doescher

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

I’m writing this in the midst of playing an epic game of “Sophie’s Choice” with my TiVo and FXX over the Every Simpsons Ever marathon. Basically, my percentage has been hovering at 99% for the past 24 hours, and — hold up, is Thelma and Louise on my list of Movies Alaina’s Never Seen? Anyway, basically, I’ve been watching as many episodes as I can, both live and recorded, because all that I ever wanted is a big ol’ kick to the nostalgia feels.


Holy shit, I never put Thelma and Louise on my list.  (Must be because the only people who ever teased me about never seeing movies were dudes.)

empire doth strike

ANYWAY, the other night Erica and I did our Tweetversation for The Empire Striketh Back, and now I’m trying to write the review while perfecting my Homer Simpson impersonation. What I’m saying is, if a lot of Simpsons references make it into this review, then I apologize for nothing.

So let’s start off with the things I really liked about this version, and then I’ll get into the fight we had.

I’m actually going to start with the afterword, because as I was reading it, I honestly thought I was being Punk’d. Back when we read Verily, a New Hope, I had three critiques: 1) I felt that Mr. Doescher over-used the Chorus; 2) he used the word sans too much to make the lines scan properly; and while 3) wasn’t really a criticism, I did mention the fact that everyone in Verily, a New Hope spoke in iambic pentameter and no one spoke in prose.

God bless Mr. Doescher, but he tackled all three. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who discussed the Chorus, and in this book, he used the Chorus very smartly, and instead made the characters let the audience know what just happened (as an example, he reminded us of how Gertrude informed Hamlet of Ophelia’s drowning).

Erica and I both agreed that his iambic pentameter flowed better in this book – not that it didn’t flow in the first book, but I didn’t see any use of sans in this volume.

And in this book, Boba Fett speaks in prose:

Shakespeare often used prose to separate the lower classes from the elite – kings spoke in iambic pentameter while porters and gravediggers spoke in prose. In writing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, I did not want to be accused of being lazy about writing iambic pentameter, but with this book it was time to introduce some prose. Who better to speak in base prose than the basest of bounty hunters? [p. 167]

Seems legit.

So if Boba Fett speaks in prose, and everyone else speaks in iambic pentameter … how does Yoda speak?


O, great warrior!
A great warrior you seek!
Wars not make one great.

And my favorite line, in all the world:

Nay, nay! Try thou not.
But do thou or do thou not,
For there is no “try.”

The other thing I absolutely loved wholeheartedly was the following line, after the Wampa runs off with Luke:

Alas, is this th’adventure I am due,
To die upon a vicious monster’s whim?
I am attackèd by this awful beast!
O fate most wretched — shall I be his feast?
[Exit, pursued by a wampa.]

EXIT, PURSUED BY A WAMPA. OH MY GOD. First of all, one of the most famous stage directions in Shakespearean history is “Exeunt, pursued by a bear.” To bring that into Star Wars was brilliant. But then there’s the added bonus that the original line was from The Winter’s Tale.  THE WINTER’S TALE, CARL! BECAUSE THIS SCENE TAKES PLACE ON HOTH! OH MY GOD, this line was just perfect on all levels.

My last favorite line also leads me into the fight Erica and I had on twitter. I was very very pleased that there were no extra words added to Han Solo’ classic line, “I know.” This lead to this:

I just scanned through some of Leia’s speeches, and I do not know how that impression came from either the text or the movie. In her conversations with Han, she is trying to declare that she doesn’t have feelings for him because he’s beneath her, or a scruffy nerf herder, or that she’d rather kiss a Wookiee. In her monologues, she admits that she has feelings for him, but she can’t voice her feelings aloud because they’re in the middle of fighting a war and she can’t take the time to focus on her love life because it’s not the appropriate time to do so.

Leia is not a damsel. In fact, the damsel that needed rescuing from the big monster villain on Hoth was Luke from the Wampa. In this book/episode, Leia and the entire rebel army have to escape Hoth after being attacked by the Empire. When they get to Cloud City, they get captured by Darth Vader and Han gets carbon-frozen for Boba Fett, but Leia rescues herself with the help of Lando Calrissian. But it’s not like Lando has to break her out of a prison cell or something.

(And if you want to talk about Episode IV: A New Hope, I would like to remind you that Leia was the character that took over the half-assed rescue mission and actually got them out of Vader’s starship.)

As I said on twitter, it may look like Leia’s being wishy-washy in her emotions, but that is a trope of Shakespearean romances, not Leia’s character. If you go back to the classic Benedick and Beatrice, they will have moments of fighting and banter, and then as soon as they split up, they have to have those monologues and soliloquies where they explain to the audience that their feelings are conflicted. Remember, Shakespearean actors were playing to the balcony, and facial expressions didn’t carry to the balcony, so words had to do the job.

So when it comes to The Jedi Doth Return, please, I ask you: please re-watch the original trilogy first.  I feel that many of the disagreements we’ve had over these books have stemmed from the fact that you have watched them, but a very long time ago, and the things Mr. Doescher is adding to the characters and the plot overall enhance the original, but can confuse someone who may be unfamiliar with the plot. I’m not asking you to change your opinion of Leia and Han, but I think you may find that in the original movie, the romance is used smartly and not “injected where it shouldn’t be.” Even if you feel that the romance isn’t necessary to the plot, at least you’ll see that Leia is not, nor ever will be, a damsel in distress.

Okay. In the writing of this review, I have watched at least six episodes of The Simpsons, and my percentage is down to 97%. I have some errands to run, but I’ll leave everyone with this: I really enjoyed The Empire Striketh Back, and I felt that Mr. Doescher’s interpretation of the text and application of Shakespearean tropes was excellent. I can’t wait to finish this series.

Grade for The Empire Striketh Back6 stars


The Collaborators!: “The Empire Striketh Back” by Ian Doescher

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

It’s that time of year again! Erica and I are Collaborating on our first sequel: The Empire Striketh Back, by Ian Doescher.

empire doth strike

This is the first time we have read the next book in a series — we’ve read the first book in a series before, but if y’all remember, I was very clear about not continuing that particular series.  This will be interesting for a couple of reasons: namely, does Erica look for the same things in sequels and series that I do?

For instance, I read a lot of series; mystery novels especially.  Between Kinsey Millhone, V.I. Warshawski, Gregor Demarkian … holy crap, hold up. If I ever get off my ass and start writing a mystery series, I am naming my character the most innocuous name ever.  Like, Emily Jones.  Or Sarah Thompson. Bob Miller.  Plain and simple. I never really realized before now how unique and special-snowflake those names are.

(Fun Fact!: When Ian Fleming was writing his first spy novel, he couldn’t decide on a name for his main character. He ended up picking a name from the author of a book on birdwatching, because he felt the name was the most boring name he’d ever seen. That name? James Bond.)

ANYWAY. (drink!) When I decide to continue with a series, ultimately, it comes down enjoyment and consistency. Did I enjoy the characters enough in the first book to make me want to read more about them? Because remember: the plots will change from book to book, but the characters remain constant. You may not enjoy the plot from book to book, but I find that the relationship I’ve built with the characters gives me the motivation to continue (see the J.D. Robb series – I really felt uncomfortable with parts of Witness in Death, but my enjoyment of the relationship between Eve and Roarke was enough to keep me going to read Judgment in Death).

Obviously, I enjoyed William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – it was a new interpretation of an old story, showing us different facets of some very well-known icons of pop culture.  Plus, R2-D2 speaks! In English, even! What’s not to love? So continuing with this series was a no-brainer.

Now we come to consistency – do the elements of the characters remain true enough in new circumstances that my enjoyment doesn’t diminish? My enjoyment of Eve and Roarke, Kinsey Millhone, and Holmes and Russell does not diminish as I continue through their series – their qualities remain constant, so I get to see how they react in different situations.

(Note: I include neither Patricia Cornwell nor Laurel K. Hamilton’s series in this discussion, as my ‘enjoyment’ of those series [such as it is] is based on inconsistency and disapproval of the characters. I hate-read them, basically.)

Going back to the Shakespeare Star Wars series – do I feel that there’s enough consistency? Again, duh. It also helps that I know a little of what to expect – having seen the movies, now I have additional things to look forward to. For instance: the banter between Han and Leia is one of my favorite things about The Empire Strikes Back. If there are no references or shades of the relationship between Benedick and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing in this book, I am going to be severely disappointed.

Lando Calrissian’s betrayal (probably) has overtones of Othello (a of all, because Othello deals with betrayal, not because of the moor thing. But b of all, I say “probably” because … I’ve never read Othello. Or seen it performed. Basically, all I know about Othello is from this video and this series of gifs.)

And don’t get me started on how excited I am to learn what the hell Yoda sounds like in iambic pentameter.

So I’m greatly looking forward to reading this. Because yes, I believe that I’m going to enjoy this as much as the first book in the series, but also because I’m curious what Erica’s looking for in this next chapter, so to speak – and whether or not we both get what we’re looking for.

Fiction: “Strangers on a Train” by Patricia Highsmith

Y’all like disjointed reviews, right?  Because the trend of Writing Reviews While At Work Because REASONS doesn’t look like it’s going to go away any time soon.

If the theme song isn't stuck in your head, I don't know what you're even doing.

Erica and I have been very busy in our respective lives, but we were able to get together last week on Twitter to discuss Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith.  She has admitted that she’s seen the movie numerous times; I know I’ve seen it at least once, maybe twice; but if I’m going to watch a Hitchcock, I usually wait and find Rebecca or North by Northwest on TCM.  That’s not to say I wouldn’t rewatch Strangers on a Train if it came up again – I remember liking the movie.  I just really really really like Rebecca, and I may have made a couple of characters in a novel I’m writing make a bet about from whose facial appendage Cary Grant dangled in North by Northwest, so I guess you could say I’ve watched it a few times for research?

ANYWAY, I promise – the next time Strangers on a Train shows up on TCM, I’ll tape it (if Jeremy the TiVo isn’t acting up again*).

Strangers on a Train

[*Like last night, when, before I went to my parents’s house for Mother’s Day, I had a whole 78%, which is PLENTY of room to record Bob’s Burgers, Cosmos, Mad Men, and the two-hour season finale of Once Upon a Time, which I have been waiting for like I assume Rob Ford waits for his weekly delivery of crack.  HOOK AND EMMA GO BACK IN TIME, EVERYONE!  And the best part about that?  TIME TRAVEL IS LIKE IN BACK TO THE FUTURE.  I freak out when media treats time travel like it’s some destiny and not someone’s density and that if someone goes back in time and screws up his parents’s first meeting, he won’t start to disappear in the middle of the guitar solo to “Johnny B. Goode.”  And apparently I have a lot of issues to work out with the finale to Once Upon a Time, which most certainly does not belong in my review of Strangers on a Train, so I’ll get back to my original train of thought that halfway through the two-hour finale, Jeremy the TiVo had apparently gotten up to 100% and then it stopped recording, and also deleted the hour it had already recorded, and what the FUCK I totally freaked out because when the screen went black Hook and Emma hadn’t returned to Storybrooke and —

— okay, seriously — calm down, Alaina; take the feels to tumblr, where they belong.]

So, Strangers on a Train!  Right!  That thing I’m supposed to be talking about!

“Strangers on a Train” is now a trope that is hopefully familiar to everyone: Person A has a person he wants to get rid of; Person B has a person he wants to get rid of.  People A and B meet on a train (or a subway, or a ferry, or some other public area – possibly a coffee shop) and end up having a conversation that eventually steers itself towards the people that they want to get rid of.  Then it’s all, “Hey …. I’ve got a cah-RAY-zee idea!”  Before you know it, Person A has to kill Person B’s hated person and vice versa.  It’s the perfect crime!  No one will ever suspect!

… yeah.  You know how that’s supposed to work?  Clearly Charles Augustus Bruno, the instigator of the plot in the novel, didn’t think it through.

Because SERIOUSLY.  Bruno, as he’s called, meets Guy on … well; you know.  They’re traveling to Texas, where Bruno’s going to continue on to Santa Fe, and Guy is going to try and get a divorce from his wife who is currently pregnant with another man’s baby.  Bruno is obsessed with the idea of committing the perfect murder; Guy just wants to read his Plato and go back to his state car, but he has to admit that Bruno has an irresistible charm that is both charming and disgusting.  They each discuss their People: for Guy it’s Miriam, his soon-to-be ex-wife; for Bruno, it’s his father.  Bruno is the one who brings up the idea of killing each other’s darlings (as it were), but Guy dismisses it out of hand, and the next day, they go their separate ways.

Except after the weekend, Bruno goes to Guy’s hometown and kills Miriam (although — for those who might be worried about it — it is revealed prior to her murder that one of two things happened: 1) either she was lying about the other man’s baby [which is my assumption], or 2) she had a miscarriage.  Either way, Bruno did not kill a pregnant woman).

Guy learns about her murder, but no suspect is brought forth.  He assumes Bruno did it, but he forces himself to believe otherwise.  Until Bruno starts contacting him and pressuring him to follow through on his end of the bargain, even though no such bargain was ever made.

This is usually the place where I clam up regarding spoilers, but unfortunately, a big part of my discussion hinges around Guy’s choices.  So sorry guys, but — wait, y’know?  This book was published in 1950, almost seventy years ago.  Hell, it’s almost in the public domain.  So you know what?  The statute of limitations for spoilers has passed.  I’m gonna talk about it, and if you don’t like it, read the goddamned book.

Also: Rosebud was the sled, it’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s head in the box, the Titanic sinks, and Bruce Willis was dead all along.  You’re welcome.

So in the book, Guy feels compelled to go through with murdering Bruno’s father.  He feels that if he were to come forward and turn Bruno in for Miriam’s murder, Guy would be accused of being a conspirator, or hiring Bruno to kill her – either way he’d be implicated, and all he wants is a nice quite life with his new wife, Anne.  He wants to be an architect and go to work and design buildings, and come home to a dinner that Anne made for him in-between designing clothes, and to take weekend sails off of Long Island and essentially be Thurston Howell III without the dry sense of humor.

But when Bruno finds him in New York, and starts popping up on his way to work, and meets him for coffee, and starts leaving hints about how to sneak into Bruno’s house to kill his father, Guy starts to feel pressured.  Even though he now has proof that Bruno murdered Miriam, he doesn’t dare risk being implicated in the crime.  He believes that if he ignores Bruno, maybe Bruno will leave him alone.

But then Bruno sends an anonymous letter to Anne, letting her know that Guy knows more about Miriam’s murder than he’s letting on.  And finally, Guy feels that he no longer has an option, so he goes through with murdering Bruno’s father (and does a crap job of it, but that’s another tale for another day).

And on this point, Erica and I disagreed:

True, Guy could have gotten out of it, but what would the cost have been?  He would have been implicated in Miriam’s murder, and even if he wasn’t found guilty of collusion, his reputation would have been tarnished.  He would have lost Anne, his job, and his lifestyle; and I truly believe that Guy weighed the risks of murdering Bruno’s father versus informing on Bruno, and he believed the lesser risk would come from committing murder.

And that should have been the end of it, right?  Both gentleman have killed the other’s nemesis, and they both go their separate ways and continue into the lifestyles they have so created.  Right?  WRONG.

Oh, I already posted the tweet!  So the one where I said “The major flaw being himself”?  Yeah.  See, in doing all this murdering and crap, Bruno became infatuated with Guy: with Guy as a person, and with Guy as a representative of (I don’t know why I keep using this word, but it seems to fit) a lifestyle.  Once his father has departed this mortal coil, Bruno can’t resist meeting up with Guy to talk about it.  He hopes that now he has a friend.  A murder friend!  (But not Murder Husbands, because a certain show of my heart [and stomach, and other digestive/digestible organs] have locked that down like crazy.  Now renewed for a third season!)

And Bruno’s budding friendship (courtship?) complicates things for the both of them.  Because there’s a private detective on the trail, and he learns of Bruno’s new friend.  And then he digs deeper, and learns that they met on a train, conveniently around the time that Guy’s ex-wife was murdered.  And this detective ain’t no slouch – he easily puts two and two together and gets four, not five.

There’s more I could say about this book – I could go into the relationship between Guy and Bruno and their wives and/or mothers, and I’d love to discuss more about Guy’s name and how bland it is yet also acts as a gateway for the reader – you could be that Guy, which shows how we are all two steps away from murdering people.  But right now, I’ve written 1500 words in this thing over four days at work, and I need to be done with it now.  So – I’m done with the review now.

Grade for Strangers on a Train: 3.5 stars