Take a Fiction Break

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As I wrote this, it was National Library Week and my husband, Jack, was watching paint dry, um, I mean watching golf. This used to annoy me, but now it pleases me as it means he has turned off the news and stopped hurling outraged—and sometimes obscene—comments at the big screen.

I am trying to convince Jack that we need to drastically limit our news intake. (Except for aNewsCafe.com , which I love and trust not only as it’s local, but largely because the nature of the format allows for open concourse and rebuttal.) Anyway, I’m suggesting a Media Diet—good for your health, way better for your blood pressure.  We used to take some pride in being well-informed. We read several newspapers and news magazines as well as watch the nightly news, both local and national. But has this made us happy and healthy? Well, no, quite the reverse.

I even wrote some light verse about it.

When information about our nation
Seems mired in lies and hype and strife.
One might surmise that it is time
To opt for a simpler life:

Take a fiction break my friend,
Take a fiction break!

It’s possible we might be a bit more sanguine if we read/heard about current events without wondering if we are being manipulated or misled. I’m not saying that one could ever suspend judgement—yellow journalism has existed for centuries—it’s just that modern media is so pervasive and seemingly inescapable that one must be constantly vigilant. I feel quite exhausted by it all, how about you?  Hmmm  . . . yeah, I thought so. If you’d like to join me in some prime escapism, featuring different lands, different times, I do have a few suggestions. Take a fiction break, my friend!

First up is Kristin Hannah’s atmospheric new novel, The Great Alone, set in 1974 Alaska. A former POW, traumatized by the Vietnam war, takes his wife and 13-year-old daughter “off the grid” to live in a tiny frontier community in a cabin with no plumbing or electricity. The title is inspired by the Robert W. Service poem, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.”

“Were you ever out in the Great Alone
When the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in
With a silence you most could hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf; and
You camped there in the cold,
A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world,
Clean mad for the muck called gold”

I loved the descriptions of the rough and resilient people and the wild and gorgeous country that might allow you one mistake, but never more than one. This is essentially a love story with lots of family drama, but it avoids getting too soapy. And if you were one of the millions who enjoyed Hannah’s previous bestselling novel, The Nightingale, I guarantee this one will not disappoint. This 2018 audiobook is narrated by Julia Whelan and is fifteen hours of pure entertainment.

Do you need to get further away? And out of the twentieth century? Then try Only Killers and Thieves, an absolutely transporting novel set in 1885 in the Australian Outback. Paul Howarth’s debut novel is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy—brutal and raw, but so savagely vivid that you can’t stop listening even as you cringe. (Don’t say I didn’t warn you.) The adolescent McBride brothers, surviving on a small cattle ranch in the middle of a crippling drought, are at the center of an Australian epic of empire and race, vengeance and guilt. The audiobook is eleven and a half hours and perfectly performed by David Linski.

I have read quite a few WWII books, mostly set in Europe. But White Chrysanthemum differs in that it tells of a Korean girl abducted—like thousands of others—by the Japanese to serve as a “comfort woman” in a military brothel for Japanese soldiers. The author, Mary Lynn Braet, was inspired to write this story after visiting her mother’s native village in Korea. I knew that Japan had invaded Korea in 1910 and that the Koreans were not allowed to speak their own language and lived in their own country as second-class citizens. I did not know that the white chrysanthemum is the symbol of mourning in Korea. This tale of two sisters is heartbreaking, but I guarantee for ten and half hours you’ll forget your own woes.

Three books, all published this year, all receiving literary acclaim for great fiction, what else do they have in common? Well, they are all shocking, tragic and graphic, but then, so is the news, my friend. So is the news.

Hollyn Chase
Since her retirement, Hollyn Chase has served as VP of operations at Chez Chase--she also cooks and vacuums. Darling Jack, her husband of forty-two years, gets to be President; they agree that this is because he works much harder than she does. Being the VP is not all glitz and glamour, she does many mundane things. But she does them happily since she discovered that listening to audiobooks makes the boring bearable. Because her mind is always occupied, she's stopped plotting to overthrow the government. Her children, who rarely agree on anything, are both happy about this. Besides her addiction to fiction, she's fairly normal and sometimes even nice.
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