Off the Beaten Page: “My Name is Lucy Barton” brings all types of love to the table

What happens when a simple procedure suddenly opens up a well of information you never wanted to confront? Just that happens in Elizabeth Strout’s newest novel, “My Name is Lucy Barton,” where a woman enters the hospital for a simple appendectomy and upon the arrival of her mother, must recognize some of the traumatic experiences that occurred in the past. The novel is written in a style similar to Strout’s other pieces, especially “Olive Kitteridge,” in the way that the narrator is likable and relatable, but at the same time is a mythical being of love and compassion.

The narrator and namesake, Lucy Barton, is a kind and gentle woman who essentially loves every person she meets. A married mother of two, she embodies the characteristics of the traditional nurturing role in a novel. She aches for her children after her procedure goes awry and she falls ill. Though she yearns for her husband, she knows he must hold down the fort and work. It is a very believable portrayal of motherhood and Lucy’s connection with her own mother, though more strained, is also a very raw and realistic adaptation of the relationship between mother and daughter.

Lucy appears to be very collected and self-motivated as a mother should be; but her complicated connection with her mother exposes her weaknesses. A victim of her mother’s abuse throughout childhood, an alcoholic father, and rampant poverty, Lucy is forced to confront those issues from her past in order to become a stronger woman in the future. In addition to these shocking revelations that the reader learns about Lucy’s past, we get a glimpse of the heartache and scandal that the people that Lucy grew up with are facing, due to her mother’s tendency to gossip.

Lucy is also a writer, making Strout’s use of flowery, eloquent language especially fitting. Lucy’s tangents and inquiries on the things happening around her are gorgeous despite them being menial.  Her heart is so full of love and compassion for others that it makes it difficult to believe that her mother is unable of producing those feelings for anything in her life. The apparent divide between them just makes Lucy’s desire to become closer to her mother even stronger. What at the start seems like it will be a very lighthearted novel turns out to be a bit grittier than expected, and we finally get to see why Lucy loves as hard as she does.

There has been speculation in the literary community that “My Name is Lucy Barton” is essentially a spinoff of “Olive Kitteridge,” only taking things from an impoverished perspective instead of the bourgeoisie. There are bits of humor throughout that lighten some of the difficult subjects, and the character of Lucy is definitely one that audiences will enjoy getting to know.

Off the Beaten Page: Film adaptation of “The Girl on the Train” in the works

The popularization of turning thrilling suspense novels into films is one that has been on the surface for the last few years. Novels like “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Gone Girl,” and “The Martian” have startled their audiences with jarring plot twists and elaborate plot arcs. Now, Paula Hawkins delivers a more domestic thriller that will leave readers on the edge of their seat.

At first, the novel appears to be one that just addresses infidelity, affairs, and polyamorous situations. The peripheral vibe of the novel seems to be one that thrives on jealousy and cheating, but it becomes so much more than that. “The Girl on the Train” is told in the perspective of three different women who are all linked…I refuse to give any spoilers, you just have to read to find out. The book quickly turns from a women’s novel of distress and romantic turmoil to a gripping tale of a mysterious disappearance.

This book covers issues such as misogyny, alcoholism, and nontraditional marriages, which add a psychological layer to the depth of the novel. The novel is also heart-wrenchingly accurate in how the different women are portrayed, each narrative succeeding in the expression of the character. While the convoluted plots may appear to be overzealous at first, they all work well together and balance properly with the very fast pace of the story.

Currently, “The Girl on the Train” is in the works for a film adaptation with Emily Blunt in the lead role. While the film is not set to be released until October 2016, audience are eagerly anticipating the movie. Why? With the success of “Gone Girl,” psychological thrillers have gained a strong appeal with readers and watchers alike. The structure of these novels attack large social issues without even trying.

“The Girl on the Train” observes blatant sexism in the coolest, most nonchalant of ways. It is almost as if we are not supposed to notice it. Women are portrayed as weak to the iron fist of men in this novel, which is intentional on Hawkins’ part. She creates the opposite of a feminist utopia, one where women are devalued to only a spousal pleasure, which makes the reader question their own social standing in relationships.

I encourage readers to pick up this novel before the movie hits theaters in less than a year. It is predicted to be a box-office hit, and after keeping the number one spot on the New York Times Bestseller list for 13 consecutive weeks, I think that is a great possibility.

Off the Beaten Page: Relish in the foodie graphic novel “Relish”

As both a book enthusiast and a foodie, I always look for a good read that combines them both, and I honestly believe I have found a book that tackles food honestly. Lucy Knisley’s “Relish: My Life in the Kitchen” is a graphic novel, a memoir, and a cookbook all in one. It may appear to be everything but the kitchen sink, but it is formed so simply and truthfully that you won’t want to put it down.

Knisley, the daughter of a chef and a gourmet, spent almost the entirety of her childhood around good food. She recalls certain moments of her life and how they formed her relationship with food. She speaks about everything food, from moving from the city to the country and learning to adapt to animal mortality to her favorite recipes illustrated in the cutest animated fashion. She even includes a two-page spread on her time as a cheesemonger and how to categorize cheese down to the most miniscule details, all with ironic smiling cheese rinds adorning the sides of the pages.

A novel like this could usually read as campy in its illustration style and pretentious in the topic of discussion. However, Knisley attacks it in such a tasteful way that it doesn’t come off as either of the two. It reads as an authentic view of growing up around great food. An important thing to note is that Knisley is not trying to condescend with her work, she aims to educate and share her passion of food with readers everywhere.

The popularization of the memoir as a graphic novel has catalyzed over the last few years, with works like Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” and Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home.” “Relish” does not fall short of these well-known works. The tone, though, is much lighter than the aforementioned two, which may make people question its worth compared to more serious pieces. In writing a more comedic piece, Knisley shows that a memoir can be written solely for the purpose of fun. The book is fun to read, the cartoons are fun to look at, and the recipes interspersed throughout are fun to try. Overall, it excels in several genres.

It is a sad truth in literature that we often times do not give less serious pieces the credit they deserve because they are constantly in competition with their dramatic counterparts. I do encourage readers to give “Relish” a try. The story is definitely food for thought, and it gives the reader greater thought for food.  

Off the Beaten Page: James Patterson pleases again with “Murder House”

James Patterson is well-known for his provoking thrillers, as well as his embracing of supernatural elements in his literature. With “Murder House,” his newest creation in conjunction with David Ellis, he instills a feeling of looming dread in his readers, something that he so often excels at doing. The plot, from the outside, appears to be a bare-bones interpretation of an old ghost story, but Patterson adds all the necessary garnishes to create a proper plot.

The story focuses on Noah Walker, a young Hollywood mogul with a dark and seedy past. While this archetypal character is bordering on cliché, the way in which Noah is portrayed is as an antiheroic protagonist. The beachfront community where most of the horror unravels is an unlikely setting for a mystery novel, adding a layer of needed depth to set it apart from other books that follow this similar plot progression. Since a majority of Patterson’s stories follow the same essential format, the revamping of scenery and character development is a major factor to keep in place in order to add spice to a novel.

The prologue of “Murder House” is one of disturbing connotation, which sets the tone effortlessly for the eeriness to come later in the book. Patterson posted several excerpts of the novel online for reader to review before purchase, which is a good tactic since the first thing they will see is this prologue. The main character’s detailed language and vague pronoun usage lead readers to believe the story will turn down a certain road before it unexpectedly halts and makes a turn in the opposite direction.

Fans of Patterson’s other works, however, may not feel like they are getting the best work out of the author. Patterson is very well-known for his intricate storylines and tumultuous character development. “Murder House,” however, provides a more straightforward approach to a mystery, leaving the audience with few small questions, but a couple big ones. It is similar to his other pieces in how it is set up; it just progresses at a different pace and in a new way. That does not in any way affect Noah as a character; he is a fully developed, multi-layered individual with a deep secret. The novel keeps the reader guessing until the end and satisfies for horror and mystery fans alike.

“Brother” will chill even the bravest of readers

With Halloween fast approaching, horror novels have been flying off the shelves. One of the most provoking novels comes from Ania Ahlborn, author of “The Bird Eaters” and “Within These Walls.” Titled simply “Brother,” Ahlborn takes us on a journey to backwoods Appalachia, where our young protagonist Michael lives with his twisted family. This novel is not for the faint of heart by any means, and takes you on a terrifying adventure through the darkest corners of the mountains.

Released on September 29, “Brother” is a brand new piece, and it makes Ahlborn’s previous works look tame. As a baby Michael is picked up from the side of the street by a deranged family, and at nineteen years old, he desperately wants out. He is constantly tormented by his older brother Ray, who goes by the name Rebel, and he feels completely trapped in his West Virginia life.  When Michael meets Alice, a young girl from a neighboring town, he thinks he has found true love. However, his family is not shy to put him back in his place.

The novel is extremely creepy and sometimes gory, as Ahlborn notes some of her literary inspirations as Joe Hill, Stephen King, and Gillian Flynn. This is apparent throughout “Brother,” as it emulates the horror and dread of some of the greatest shock novels. The book has a peculiar air about it that will make you not want to put it down. The suspense is just one facet of the piece, and there are so many absurd plot twists you will just be dying to know what happens next. Again, I say that “Brother” is not for faint-hearted individuals. You will need a strong will, a strong mind, and even a strong stomach to be able to get through this entire chiller.

A new kind of literary experience: Abrams and Dorst impress audiences with S.

I have seen some intriguing concepts for books in my day, but never one so outstandingly original as that of S., the novel by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst.  In fact, I would be hard pressed to refer to this work as simply a novel, because it is indeed so much more than that.  This work of meta-fiction has surpassed the label of novel, instead creating a fully interactive experience sure to thrill the full spectrum of readers.

Upon purchasing this book within a book, and removing the black slip-case emblazoned with a large scripted S, the reader encounters what appears to be an old, weathered library book entitled “Ship of Theseus” — complete with call numbers on the spine and return dates stamped inside the back cover.  Written by the fictitious author and political dissident, V.M Straka — a man whose identity is highly debated among literary scholars — the book was “published” in 1949 under highly mysterious circumstances.

“Ship of Theseus” recounts the tale of a young man suffering from amnesia, who knows nothing about himself save his name, S.  It is a classic adventure story with a few unexpected twists, chronicling S’s tale as he attempts to piece together his former life.

This tale, however, is merely the backbone of the novel.  What makes it truly original is the annotations that fill the margins of the book.

As the reader soon learns, the book is being exchanged between its owner, an expunged graduate student named Eric, and an undergraduate named Jen.  Their margin notes lay out their thoughts on the book as they work to uncover the identity of V.M Straka, as well as the messages hidden within the footnotes by Straka’s translator, F.X. Caldeira.

As the book goes on, however, it becomes clear that they are working against a force much bigger than literary intrigue, as their mutual interest in the book leads them towards a danger that is all too real.

In addition to the annotations left by Eric and Jen, the book is also filled with various photocopied documents, postcards, and sheets of notebook paper that the two have passed back and forth throughout their relationship, making it feel more like a one-of-a-kind gem found in the corner of a dusty antique shop, than a book that was bought brand new.

Unfortunately, this unique format does make the book at little complicated at times, requiring a great deal of focus from the reader (particularly when one realizes that the notes between Eric and Jen are from several different timelines, and are differentiated by color).

This could obviously be a drawback for some readers, but in my opinion the end result is entirely worth the effort.  Personally, I fully intend to reread it in the hopes of picking up on the intricacies that I may have missed the first time through.

S. is an incredibly ambitious endeavor with a great deal of potential, which I think it lives up to in every way.  Abrams cinematographic background lends itself beautifully to the conception of this novel, while Dorst’s writing manages to capture all of the voices that play into the telling of the story, and express them all with a deft ability.

Additionally, they accomplish all of this without making it feel at all gimmicky, which is a trap that is all too easy to fall into when writing a novel in such an unusual format.

This modern twist on the old-fashioned adventure story is one that will surely renew anyone’s love of literature. With realistic prose, and an extensive historical context, one almost forgets that it is indeed a work of fiction.

Abrams wasn’t kidding when he said that this book was created to be a “love letter to the written word”.  It succeeds in not only providing an incredibly story, but also in proving that in a world where technology is the overwhelming standard, the written word still has a role to play.