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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill

Edmund: (Bitterly) I remember all right. It was right after that Papa and Jamie decided they couldn't hide it from me any more. Jamie told me. I called him a liar! I tried to punch him in the nose. But I knew he wasn't lying. (His voice trembles, his eyes begin to fill with tears.) God, it made everything in life seem rotten! (Act III, page 121)

About the Book (from Wikipedia): Long Day's Journey into Night is a drama in four acts written by American playwright Eugene O'Neill in 1941–42 but only published in 1956. The play is widely considered to be his masterwork. The action covers a single day from around 8:30 am to midnight, in August 1912 at the seaside Connecticut home of the Tyrones—the semi-autobiographical representations of O'Neill himself, his older brother, and their parents at their home, Monte Cristo Cottage. One theme of the play is addiction and the resulting dysfunction of the family. All three males are alcoholics and Mary is addicted to morphine. In the play the characters conceal, blame, resent, regret, accuse and deny in an escalating cycle of conflict with occasional desperate and sincere attempts at affection, encouragement and consolation.

My Thoughts:
     I have always enjoyed reading dramas but don't often select them when picking up a new book to begin. Prior to reading O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, I read another of his incredible dramas, Mourning Becomes Electra, and was reminded of what an enjoyable format plays can be. O'Neill never disappoints. Long Day's Journey Into Night (Yale University Press, 1955) begins with the perception that the Tyrone family is a typical American family spending time together at their summer cottage in Connecticut, but the reader quickly interprets that there is an underlying current of turmoil beneath this facade. Their dialogue with each other is uncomfortable and you can sense that they are merely communicating on the pleasantries, like the weather or appointments and projects for the day, rather than addressing anything of a serious nature that is plaguing the family.
     Thought to be largely autobiographical, it is a story laden with heavy content under an umbrella of depression and bitterness. O'Neill clearly sets the scene for the reader so that the script is easily interpreted and literally visual apart from the stage. His development of character through physical description is brilliantly detailed in its simplicity. "Her most appealing quality is the simple, unaffected charm of a shy convent-girl youthfulness she has never lost- an innate unwordly innocence." (Act One, page 13)
     While addiction is the prevalent theme of the story, Long Day's Journey Into Night also explores how we handle disappointments when our expectations for life are not met. This is a powerful story that strips away the ability to project an image and reveals the weakness in each presentation. In many ways, O'Neill's Tyrones are play acting among themselves, portraying characters of a father, mother, and sons in order to avoid accusations and judgement. Their interactions revolve around their denial of their circumstance. Mary, the mother, moves through the scenes in a trance-like state, convinced that she is hiding her own addiction and that her husband is to blame for the family's turmoil. Edmund, the younger son, uses humor as his mask for shading how ill he has become due to his own alcohol addiction. James, the father, and Jamie, the eldest son, cast their guilt on each other and showcase the unfolding destruction through their bitterness.
     Long Day's Journey Into Night is a timeless tale that inspects the family dynamic and the impact of one members actions on another. Like the domino effect, each Tyrone serves as a crutch for the next until they can no longer bear the weight and tumble into desperation, unraveling the ties that bind.

For more information on Playwright Eugene O'Neill, visit

Happy Reading,

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Book Beginnings: The Mountaintop School for Dogs

Today I am linking up to Book Beginnings hosted by Rose City Reader where readers share the first sentence of the current book they are reading.

The Mountaintop School for Dogs: And Other Second Chances 
by Ellen Cooney

"It was dusk on a winter day, and from high on the mountain came barking, drifting down above the snow like peals of a bell, one, two, three, four, more, just to say the light was leaving, but that was all right: here I am, I'm a dog, all is well."

Thoughts on Intro: I love how animated this book begins. From the introduction, the reader gets the sense that the dogs are going to be key characters as well. As a dog owner myself, I am really excited to read this story. There is much that animals can teach us and they provide a unique energy that offers such joy! The Mountaintop School for Dogs is sure to be a terrific read for those with four-legged friends!

About the Book (from Sanctuary. Place of refuge. Training school. Command center for The Network. Home for strays and rescued dogs. Evie is stuck at The Inn, managed by the stern and mysterious Mrs. Auberchon, although she’s supposed to join a training program at The Sanctuary. That’s what she signed up for—never mind that she lied and doesn’t know the first thing about animals except what she’s learned from a breed guide, from the notes someone keeps leaving, and from videos online, like one that asks: Please can more people be nicer to dogs? Once up on the mountain with staffers, volunteers, and her dog students, Evie takes notes on the new things she’s learning. Alpha. Forgiveness. Play. Rehabilitation. Like the racing greyhound who refuses to move, the golden retriever who returns every time he’s adopted, and the rottweiler who’s a hopeless candidate for search-and-rescue, Evie came from a troubled past. She writes: “Rescue. Best. Verb. Ever.” As she creates her own training manual, she may even write an entry on herself. A worthy shelf-mate to books by Garth Stein and Carolyn Parkhurst, this is a brilliantly engaging novel about finding fellow animals who may bring you a deeper sense of home, healing, and the power of inventing a future.

* The Mountaintop School for Dogs, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is scheduled to be released Aug. 5, 2014.

My Furbaby, Chloe
You can read by review of Cooney's Thanksgiving here 
and my review of Cooney's Lambrusco here.

About the Author:
Ellen Cooney was born in 1952 in Clinton, Massachusetts. She is the author of eight novels and stories published in The New Yorker and many literary journals. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, and taught creative writing for over twenty-five years, most recently in the writing program at MIT. She now lives in mid-coast Maine.

Happy Reading,

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan

About the Book (from The dust storms that terrorized the High Plains in the darkest years of the Depression were like nothing ever seen before or since. Timothy Egan’s critically acclaimed account rescues this iconic chapter of American history from the shadows in a tour de force of historical reportage. Following a dozen families and their communities through the rise and fall of the region, Egan tells of their desperate attempts to carry on through blinding black dust blizzards, crop failure, and the death of loved ones. Brilliantly capturing the terrifying drama of catastrophe, Egan does equal justice to the human characters who become his heroes, “the stoic, long-suffering men and women whose lives he opens up with urgency and respect” (New York Times). In an era that promises ever-greater natural disasters, The Worst Hard Time is “arguably the best nonfiction book yet” (Austin Statesman Journal) on the greatest environmental disaster ever to be visited upon our land and a powerful cautionary tale about the dangers of trifling with nature.

"Melt White was sickened by the rabbit drives, the plagues of hoppers, a town of random death and no comfort from the sky. 
The land was broken." (page 9)

My Thoughts: 
     Imagine an environment in which the very air you breathe is heavy with dust, soil, and sand. It blows into your eyes, ears, nose and throat. It settles into your hair and skin, and into every fiber of your clothing. Next, imagine that this same dust invades your place of safety, your haven from the storms, your home. Then, consider that this becomes your daily existence for years. The color green is erased from your design palette. All you see is the color of dirt- brown, red, yellow. Your landscape is completely altered and pests and rodents multiply by the thousands. Your means of living becomes impossible and your way of life is going extinct. You lose your livestock, your possessions, your pride, and sometimes even those you love. But you don't give in to the circumstances. You plant your feet into the farmland and wait, hoping that next year will bring about a change, a return to the way things used to be. You stay because this land, your land, is all that you have. Now imagine that you created this disaster...and there is no going back.

"They had removed the native prairie grass, a web of perennial species evolved over twenty thousand years or more, so completely that by the end of 1931 it was a different land- thirty-three million acres." (page 101)

     The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006) explores a piece of history that is often overshadowed by the exodus that occurred in dust ravaged states in the High Plains. This story is about those who stayed.
During The Great War which started in 1914, wheat would become America's most valuable commodity. As shipments in Europe became blocked, the United States filled the world's void and encouraged farmers to plant more wheat, turn more earth. In parts of Texas, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma, this production would bring more people to isolated lands and create an opportunity for many to obtain the American Dream- land, financial stability, and a place to call home. 
     Americans, including many immigrants, were encouraged to travel west and set up homesteads on prairie land that had never been farmed. It had served as grassland for Bison while the Native Americans controlled the land, and then for cattle as Americans moved in and eradicated the Bison. It is an area that experiences periodic droughts but native grasses had the ability to hold moisture in their roots, keeping the grass in place and the soil in tact. As an influx in wheat farming began to occur and technology introduced more modern methods of plowing which turned the earth in considerably less time, the grasses were quickly ripped from the ground leaving it exposed to the wind.
     Initially farmers saw much success. Record rainfalls, high wheat prices, and a desirable market provided them with a quality of life they had never known. But just as they were settling into their visions of a bright future, a series of events halted their forward movement. The nation's stock market crashed and banks closed, drying up the market- while there was plenty of wheat to purchase, the consuming country could no longer afford to buy it and the price plummeted. The farmers' solution: plow more wheat. If prices were down, they would simply have to sell more product. More earth was turned, more grass eradicated. A period of drought would then set in and with no rain to provide moisture to the soil, the winds would begin to blow the land and create massive storms of dust. "The first black duster was a curiosity, nothing else. The weather bureau observers wrote it up and put it in a drawer" (page 88).
     Years of dust storms would follow with little to no rain, leading up to Black Sunday: April 14, 1935. This major storm impacted most of the country and brought the dust of the plains all the way to the east coast. "The storm carried twice as much dirt as was dug out of the earth to create the Panama Canal" (page 8). These storms accompanied with the inability to provide a way of living for families, pushed the people to their limits. President Franklin D. Roosevelt would make this region a priority during this presidency, implementing many programs and projects to aid the people and find a way to heal the land by returning grasses to the vacant soil.
     The Worst Hard Time is a detailed exploration of the Dust Bowl, how it was created and how it forever changed American landscape. But it is also about the human spirit and what it takes to break it. Egan's extensive research is evident through his writing and telling of these stories that are both heartbreaking and inspiring. The strength of character of those who experienced, endured, and survived the Dust Bowl is dauntless, a testament to the power of optimism- that next year will be better.

Happy Reading,


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