The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Cannonball Read 5:3)

My instinct was to write this review longhand, which probably won’t mean much to you (except that I am old), but says something to me about the emotional space I was in after finishing the book. I took out my boarding pass, thinking I’d write on the back, not wanting to put it into my just-started professional notebook (it’s teal, and has a fabric placeholder, and only has writing on one page — a to-do list, most of which remains to be done). That was my instinct but, as it turned out, I’d left my pen in my backpack, which was safely stowed in the overhead compartment, and which I did not feel like retrieving just to get a pen. So, I “wrote” on my phone, in an app designed to look like a pad of yellow paper. I like the lines, but I miss the feeling of pen, and the imaginary lines on the imaginary page made me think of Lettie Hempstock saying that nothing is really what it looks like on the outside.

I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane in less than the time it takes to fly from New Orleans to New York. I started during takeoff and when I finished, and checked the map, it told me that we were somewhere over North Carolina. It was a quick read, and the story is fairly simple: a man returns to a place he once called home and he remembers a time when he was a boy, when he met a girl and lost his heart. But it’s better than that, and not quite like that at all. It was, as the best books are, full of more than you think will possibly fit in its pages. It was A Story, in the way Isak Dinesen might have meant — bigger and more true than you’d imagined at the start. It was not unlike Lettie Hempstock’s ocean, even knowing that it really was an ocean.

And now I’m not sure what to say about it, though I felt, immediately, like I wanted to say something. Hm. That seems like a problem for a book review. So, here’s what I think you need to know to understand what I thought of the book, which is really the point of a review: I mostly didn’t think about it and I consider that a good thing.

It’s been a while since a story pulled me under as wholly as this one. It’s a beautiful story, which I’d heard. It’s a sad story, which I’d also been led to expect. I cried, which didn’t surprise me; I haven’t quite stopped yet, which does (though only a little). I feel a little like the story poked a hole in my heart, though I’m not certain if the hole is a way in or a way out, or maybe just a bit of emptiness. It’s probably a little of each.

The narrator is also a little bit empty inside, though he sometimes remembers having been full, and that sounds about right. I think he’s also a little less empty by the end, though it seems unlikely that he’ll remember that any more clearly than he remembers the emptiness. And that seems just about right, too.

Now that the story is (not really) over, I seem to be exhausted, though whether from the story, or from the crying (or from getting up at 6am, or from being on a plane), I can’t really tell. I feel a little heavier, though not in a bad way; I also feel like smiling, in the happy-sad way that bittersweet endings make me smile, and I wonder why those are always the best.

And now that I’m trying to figure out what to say about the book, I find that I don’t want to say much of anything. But haven’t I already said a lot?

Let me try again:

I think you should read it. I’ll read it again someday. I look forward it, and I’m sad that it will never be new again. That’s a review in itself, isn’t it?

I’m not sure what else to say, except that I fell into an ocean on my way to New York. I’ve climbed back out again, but I think maybe there’s a little inside me still. But maybe it’s always there, and I just forget about it until a good story reminds me.

Thanks for reminding me, Neil.

Queen & Country: Definitive Edition, vol. 1 (Cannonball Read 5:2)

ref=dp_image_z_0Queen & Country: Definitive Collection, Vol. 1 by Greg Rucka collects the first 12 issues of Queen and Country. I’ve reviewed issues 1-4, which were initially collected as Queen and Country: Operation Broken Ground, here. I really struggled to write this review, and it took me a while to pinpoint why. Here’s the crux of it: this book was disappointing. Not bad, mind you — just disappointing. And, I think that what made it difficult for me to review is that I couldn’t pinpoint*why* it was disappointing. Operation Broken Ground didn’t really feel groundbreaking, but it was a good read. Perhaps more importantly, it was a good read with promise. Continue reading “Queen & Country: Definitive Edition, vol. 1 (Cannonball Read 5:2)”

Queen & Country, vol. 1: Operation Broken Ground (Cannonball Read 5:1)

Queen and Country: Operation Broken GroundI picked up this first collection of Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country after hearing Jennifer Stuller (whose Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology I have reviewed elsewhere) talk about it at WonderCon, back in 2011. The note I made about it at the time was “female badass alcoholic train wreck secret ops.” That may end up being an oversimplification, but it’s not wrong.

Tara Chace (who I keep wanting to call Kara Thrace) is a Special Operations Officer, or “Minder,” with Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service. In the first collection (issues 1-4), we meet Chace in action and get a taste of her life and work. She’s been sent to Kosovo, to do a favor for a friend, and it goes about as well as one might expect. Without spoiling anything for people who, like me, tend to get exposed to graphic novels long after they’re new, I’ll just say that the story is off to an engaging start: the characters seem fleshed out enough to make me want to know more about them, and there are enough hints of complications and entanglements to come to make it seem like there will be more to it than Dangerous Mission of the Week. It’s already clear, for example, that Chace has some serious issues, that office politics is really high stakes, and that inter-agency allegiances are just as shaky as you’d expect. I know that Rucka and co. won an Eisner Award (Best New Series, 2002), and I think Operation Broken Ground gives me a good indication of why.

Queen & Country ran from 2001-2007. The collection I read was published in 2002, and I happened to find it in a used bookstore’s $1 bin. Best bet now would be Queen & Country: The Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 (2008) — I’ve already invested in the full set, and do not expect to be disappointed.