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Book Nook - 06-11-2017

Monday, November 06, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to adc.booknook@gmail.com

The Ladies Vanish
Stephen King has collaborated it his son Owen to write Sleeping Beauties, a horror fantasy fable for the times. As innumerable cases of sexual harassment and atrocities against women are reported, at least some must have wished for a world without such men.

Sleeping Beauties is set in a small town of Dooling, at the centre of which is a women’s prison. The town’s sheriff is Lila Norcross, whose husband Clint is the prison psychiatrist. One day, Lila is called out to a crime scene, where a strange semi-nude woman who calls herself Evie, has killed two drug dealers and blown up their meth lab.

When Evie, who seems to trigger all manner of supernatural occurrences, is taken to the prison, she is unperturbed. But slowly, women in the town start falling asleep, covered with a web-like cocoon. It they are disturbed, they violently assault the person who attempted to awaken them.

This sleeping sickness, given the name of Aurora (after the heroine of Sleeping Beauty), spreads throughout the world, and baffles scientists. The Kings stay in Dooling, however, and write an intricate, somewhat overpopulated (70 odd characters, listed in the beginning) novel with multiple backstories, subplots and even a teen romance.

Women inside and outside the prison start dozing off and nobody can tell if they will wake up, or are gone forever. Lila and some of her police colleagues struggle to stay awake on uppers and cocaine. The town goes berserk, the hospitals are overrun by desperate families, medical supplies stores and supermarkets are looted and destroyed.

Eventually word gets out that the only woman not afflicted by Aurora is Evie. The town’s hothead Frank Geary, who wants to save his daughter’s life, instigates the men to arm up and attack the prison to capture Evie and send her to a lab to find an antidote. Dr Clint Norcross gets his posse together to defend the prison and save Evie.

The Kings write with perspicacity about what is means to be a man today; Frank and a bunch of school bullies think violence and aggression is manly. Clint and Lila’s son Jared is kind and protective, but the girl he loves prefers a nasty thugish kind of boy.

Smaller stories unfold under the huge 700 plus page umbrella. Lila’s unhappiness with her husband’s possible infidelity, a tender love between two prison inmates, and, amusingly a Mercedes owned by a doped out doctor makes an appearance. (Stephen King’s novel Mr Mercedes was a bestseller with two sequels).

A fake social media post says that the cocoons should be set on fire to end the epidemic and hordes of rabid men go around hunting for women to burn alive. One soap box speaker rants that this virus is punishment for women wearing pants and trying to get ahead of men. In this apocalyptic scenario, gender politics rear up and eventually it would be a spoiler to reveal what happens to the sleeping women, but the novel tends to get dull and repetitive after a point. There was no need for so many characters that it is difficult to keep track of them. Some are totally redundant.

What the book, rambling on over peace and war, asks in Evie’s voice, “I think it might be time to erase the whole man-woman equation. Just hit delete and start over. What do you think?” It is an idea whose time has come.

Sleeping Beauties
Stephen & Owen King
Publisher: Scribner
Pages: 702

 

Excerpt of Sleeping Beauties
But Lila Norcross wasn’t asleep.

She had read in a magazine article, probably while waiting to have her teeth cleaned or her eyes checked, that it took the average person fifteen to thirty minutes to fall asleep. There was a caveat, however, of which Lila hardly needed to be informed: one needed to be in a calm state of mind, and she was not in that state. For one thing, she was still dressed, although she had unsnapped her pants and unbuttoned her brown uniform shirt. She had also taken off her utility belt. She felt guilty. She wasn’t used to lying to her husband about little things, and had never lied about a really big thing until this morning.

Crack-up on Mountain Rest Road, she had texted. Don’t try calling, we need to get the mess cleaned up. This morning she had even added a bit of verisimilitude that now pricked her like a thorn: Cat litter all over the highway! Needed a bulldozer! But a thing like that would be in Dooling’s weekly paper, wouldn’t it? Only Clint never read it, so perhaps that would be all right. But people would talk about such a humorous happenstance, and when they didn’t, he’d wonder . . .

“He wants to be caught,” she had said to Clint when they were watching an HBO documentary — The Jinx, it was called — about a rich and eccentric serial killer named Robert Durst. This was early in the second of six episodes. “He would never have agreed to talk to those documentary guys if he didn’t.” And sure enough, Robert Durst was currently back in jail. The question was, did she want to be caught?

If not, why had she texted him in the first place? She told herself at the time it was because if he called and heard the background noise in the Coughlin High School gymnasium — the cheering crowd, the squeak of sneakers on the hardwood, the blare of the horn — he would naturally ask where she was and what she was doing there. But she could have let his call go to voicemail, right? And returned it later?

I didn’t think of it, she told herself. I was nervous and I was upset.

True or false? This morning she leaned toward the latter. That she had been weaving a tangled web on purpose. That she wanted to force Clint to force her to confess, and for him to be the one to pull the unraveling string.

It occurred to her, ruefully, that for all her years of experience in law enforcement, it was her husband, the psychiatrist, who would make the far better criminal. Clint knew how to keep a secret.

Lila felt as though she’d discovered that there was a whole other floor in her home. Quite by accident she had pressed a certain scuffed spot on the wall and a stairwell had been revealed. Just inside the secret passage was a hook and draped on that hook was a jacket of Clint’s. The shock was bad, the pain was worse, but neither compared to the shame: How could you fail to perceive? And once you did become aware, once you did wake up to the reality of your life, how could you live a second longer without screaming it out loud? If the discovery that your husband, a man you had spoken to every day for over fifteen years, the father of your child, had a daughter that he had never mentioned — if that didn’t warrant a scream, a throat-ripping howl of rage and hurt, then what did? Instead, she had wished him a good day, and lain down.

Weariness at last began to catch up and iron out her distress. She was finally going down, and that was good. This would look simpler after five or six hours of sleep; she would feel more settled; she would be able to talk to him; and maybe Clint could help her understand. That was his job, wasn’t it? Making sense of life’s messes. Well, did she ever have a mess for him! Cat litter all over the road. Cat shit in the secret passage, cat litter and cat shit on the basketball court, where a girl named Sheila dropped her shoulder, making the defender scramble back, then crossed over and headed for the hoop.

A tear dripped down her cheek and she exhaled, close to the escape of sleep.

Something tickled her face. It felt like a strand of hair or maybe an errant thread from the pillowcase. She brushed it away, slipped a little deeper toward true sleep, and was almost there when her phone bugled at her from the utility belt laid across the cedar chest at the foot of the bed.

She opened her eyes and swam into a sitting position. That thread or hair or whatever it was brushed her cheek; she swatted it away. Clint, if that’s you—
She got the phone, stared at the screen. Not Clint. The single word was BASE. The clock read 7:57 AM. Lila thumbed ACCEPT.

“Sheriff? Lila? Are you up?”

“No, Linny, this is all a dream.”

“I think we might have a big problem.”

Linny was clipped and professional. Lila gave her full marks for that, but her accent had crept back into her voice, not I think we have a big problem but Ah thank, which meant she was serious and worried. Lila popped her eyes wide, as if that would help her wake up faster.

“Caller reported multiple homicides out by Adams Lumberyard. She might have been wrong about that, or lying, or even hallucinating, but there certainly was one hell of a bang. You didn’t hear it?”

“No. Tell me exactly what you got.”

“I can play the call—”

“Just tell me.”

Linny told her: stoned woman, hysterical, says there’s two dead, Avon Lady did the deed, explosion, visible smoke.

“And you sent—”

“Unit Four. Terry and Roger. According to their last call-in, they’re less than a mile away.”

“Okay. Good.”

“Are you—”

“On my way.”

 

ALSO RECEIVED
Agatha Christie’s bestselling Hercule Poirot mystery, Murder On The Orient Express has just been made into a new star-studded film by Kenneth Branagh. And, to mark its 25th Anniversary Celebrations, HarperCollins India, is coming up with 25 of the best Agatha Christie titles in “a special and limited facsimile edition format.”

It is said about Christie, that she is the bestselling writer of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. A note by the publisher stares, “These limited hardback facsimile editions have been reproduced from the first editions published between the 1920s and 1970s with the jacket and text of each title is presented exactly as they had originally appeared in hardback. The idea is to give the reader and Agatha Christie’s fans the rare experience of encountering these much-loved books in the form in which they were first published.”

Murder on the Orient Express, first published in 1934, is set aboard the iconic train, on which Poirot is travelling, when a murder takes place and the Belgian detective is called upon to investigate. One of the other passengers must have committed the murder, and all thirteen in the coach had a motive. A terrific whodunit by the Queen Of Crime.

Murder On The Orient Express
By Agatha Christie
Publisher: Harper Collins
Pages: 274

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