The Woman in the Dunes

Woman-in-the-Dunes Not a thrill a minute, but certainly an evocative book. The daily grind reduced to shoveling sand just to keep one’s head above, well, sand.

The protagonist, an amateur male entomologist, heads into some extensive and remote seaside dunes in the hopes of smacking his surname in behind the Latin binomial of a new species of beetle or other revolting insect. His search for taxonomic immortality lands him at the bottom of a sand pit inhabited by a woman who shovels sand away from her house every night, all night. Yes, she is fit, but before you start debating if you would rather be stranded on a deserted island with Ginger or Marianne, this is a sand pit where you wake up covered in sand, walk around with sand in your mouth, nose and ears unremittingly and only for the fact that the villagers who tricked into the pit lower food and water down, you would die in short order.

You hope for the best for each of the two characters, but if the walls came crumbling down you’d get over it in a jiffy. You will sympathize with the man and hanker for him to regain his freedom, but he is a buffoon. His idle threats, his disregard for the woman, his sense of entitlement, his blindness to the fact that he who catches insects in his net is caught…there are a lot of irksome aspects to the man. You will also hope the woman can think more expansively, but she is wedded to the shoveling and satisfied with whatever the villagers toss into her hole. She is noble in a sense, but certainly preposterous.

The book is only mildly recommended. If you enjoy Neil Sedaka’s “One Way Ticket to the Blues” you might be just the type for this Japanese classic. FYI – There is a 1964 film based on this book which looks interesting. Wikipedia has a quote about it from Roger Ebert mentioning King Sisyphus. Nice connection.

The Kept

keptThe book’s cover is grey and boy do the contents deliver. In midst of a dreary western New York winter, a midwife returns to her remote home to find her family slaughtered. There is a sole survivor, her 12-year old son, Caleb. Caleb witnessed the edges of the massacre from his hiding spot in the barn, and since he can identify the three killers, mother and son set out on a vision quest of retribution. The prospect of a future showdown is a tantalizing payoff in The Kept.

The protagonists track the killers to the NY equivalent of Deadwood, SD, complete with its own Al Swearengen, and there the story gets a sprinkling of kidnapping, cross-dressing, murder, gay-bashing and lots of bad luck. The book is narrated from the points of view of the Caleb and his mother, Elspeth and jumps between them and back in time, but it isn’t too difficult to keep your bearings.

There are surprising details that emerge as the story progresses, including how Ma assembled their family of seven. As for the showdown at the end? No worries, we won’t spoil it…not that we could anyway.