Friday, July 27, 2012

Have You Read Anything By Charles Martin?

On one of my recent perusals of a local Goodwill Store book section, I found a couple of books by this guy Charles Martin. Had never heard of him before, but I was intrigued by the covers. Come to find out he's a Christian author with a number of books already under his belt! Christian fiction is not something I actively seek out but it's not something I necessarily steer clear of either. I enjoyed both of these books so much, I unashamedly googled Charles Martin and to tell you the truth, had I not read about his Christian roots, I would not have guessed anything about it from the writing. These books do not preach at you, they just have beautiful, simple but powerful stories about loving marriages. I saw my own marriage in these books, the lengths my husband and I would go to for each other (fingers crossed no such thing happens because Martin writes some pretty hardcore medical problems for his leading ladies, part of the pull of the story -- you get so pulled into the characters you want to know if they'll pull through).  One thing that really appeals to me about these books is they're not overly sappy. The men are like my husband, there's no doubt they love their wives but they don't have to spout sonnets 24/7 or burst into tears over how achingly beautiful life is all the time. Not saying they can't feel that way on the inside but I'm a bit of an old fashioned girl. I like men TO BE MEN, throw me a nice letter or a surprise gift, improptu trip or something from time to time but if you profess too much, the special moments stop being so special. I like that Martin lets his men be men and his ladies be sassy but loving. I would say if you like Nicholas Sparks, Martin is better! I like a few of Sparks' books but some of his recent stuff gives me cavities (figuratively, of course. I care for my books too much to gnaw on 'em.. :-P).

The Dead Don't Dance

Dylan Styles is orphaned at a young age and goes to live with his grandparents, Pappa & Nanny, in an old farmhouse in South Carolina. Dylan grows up, meets lovely, lively Maggie and gets married. Maggie and Dylan continue to live in the old farmhouse (which Dylan inherits after his grandparents pass away). Dylan has a "city job" as an English professor but feels his real interest lies in continuing his grandfather's farming work... problem is, the farming isn't really making any money. Maggie has complications with a pregnancy and winds up in a coma. Dylan, refusing to let his wife go, starts to look at where his priorities have been and where maybe they need to be now. There are some great side characters in this story, mainly in Dylan's English class, such as Marvin, the class clown, and Koy, the emo chick who becomes an important friend to Dylan. My favorite character was Dylan's ball-bustin' best friend Amos (who is also the town sheriff), who never lets anyone wallow in self-pity. I know with the coma and all that, it sounds like this would be a sap-fest, but seriously, the characters are compelling and the dialogue feels real. There is a sequel to this book called Maggie. Haven't had a chance to read it yet... but soon :-)

Me Phi Me, "Revival"
Reading The Dead Don't Dance
 had me remembering this song :-)
If you're trying to place where you might have heard 
this one before, it was on the Reality Bites soundtrack.
That's right... going a little old school for y'all! 

Trace Adkins, "Muddy Water" 
The ending had me thinking of this song... 

Where The River Ends

A similar story, concerning a South Carolina couple, Doss and Abbie Michaels, but with a "wrong side of the tracks" element thrown in. Doss is a struggling artist, Abbie is a socialite /model/ politician's daughter who throws her social status to the wind, deciding to marry Doss and promote his artwork.  With Abbie's encouragement, Doss develops a reputation for making beautiful paintings from visually unattractive subjects. 

Again, Martin writes in a sick wife, this time it seems terminal. Ironically, the woman that taught her husband to see the beauty in ugly struggles to find how her husband can still be attracted to her as she gets more and more sickly and more dangerously thin each day (combination of the illness and the treatments). Doss in a similar way struggles to show her he sees the beauty of her soul, which always makes her beautiful inside and out to him. But ladies, you know how resistant we can be to believe such things when we feel that low. My favorite scene in the whole book comes when Abbie is in the hospital for a treatment and her husband keeps hearing the nurses talk about her or mention her on the overcom, but they refer to her by her room number, "1054". He gets fed up and calls the whole floor staff to his wife's room:

I'd like to introduce you all to my wife. This is Abbie Michaels. You can just call her Abbie. She's a wife, a daughter, a friend, she has a tendency to talk with her hands, she likes Lucky Strike jeans and she sees beauty where others don't. She is not and has never been '1054' {to which a head nurse starts to say HIPPA laws mandate...}... I know you all work hard. A lot harder than most give you credit for. I am thankful for what you do and how you do it, but HIPPA's wife is not lying in that bed. I need to ask you to look at the woman in that bed and not think of her as a number. Not a statistic. Hope is what feeds us. And to be honest, it's running in short supply around here. 

BOOM! Gotta love that kinda fella, not afraid to demand respect for the woman he loves! Doss, working off of a sort of bucket list of 10 "normal life" things Abbie wants to do in her lifetime (things that have no connection to her fame or family money, just everyday living moments), decides to take her on a river trip from SC to Florida, rather than have her wither away in the hospital. This book ponders the question of whether, in one's final days, it's better to have quantity or quality of life. Do you fight just to have more days in general or do you make the most of the days you think you have? The one problem I had with Doss is he always seemed to get tangled up in confrontations with people but didn't have a bit of fighting ability, ever! He would talk brave but physically he was always getting whooped on! :-S Sometimes it's best to nod or shrug and move on lol. 

"All My Love" by Led Zepplin
Doss talks about how special this song is 
to him and Abbie

One of the elements of the story I really enjoyed was all the art history and amazing paintings that were special to Abbie & Doss woven throughout the story. I love art history so having a character tell these stories was like candy to me :-)

"Woman In A Grove" by Jacek Malczewski
"People are always telling me I'm beautiful. Okay, so what. I've spent most of my life in front of the cameras. People use my image to sell a product. That's all. At the end of the day, they've used me -- my face or figure, which by the way I had nothing to do with -- to tell everyone how they are not like me. Hence, you're not beautiful. Or, you're not pretty. Or, you don't measure up. If you want to make great art, something that can reach beyond time and space, find someone, find someone who isn't and show them that they are. Paint the broken, the unlovely... and make them believe." ~~ Abbie

Abbie and Doss visit numerous art galleries and museums in their time together -- some of their favorites mentioned:

"While her body is provocative, it is drawn in such a way that leads you time and time again to her face, the angle of her neck,the inviting drop of her shoulders, the playfulness in her eyes, the relaxed crossing of her legs. It's what a nude should be." ~ Doss

How dedicated are you to your art? When Bernini was in the process of sculpting this bust, titled "Damned Soul", he burned his forearm with a hot iron to get the face of agony just right!!

This book surprised me... how much it tugged at my heart. Similar books usually have me internally yelling "AHH C'MOON!" where the woe-is-me thrown into overdrive. But Martin's characters thankfully feel like real people. The ending in Where The River Ends has a bit of a what-you-might-expect-tearjerker wrap up but until then you really want to be on the boat ride with these two!

"River In Forrest" from
"The river can be a magical place. As much as I've been here, I still don't quite get her. No matter how you hurry or how hard and fast you pull on the paddle, the river controls the tempo. She stretches every minute and steals back every second. Rivers do this naturally. They don't give two cents about the destination. Name one straight river and I'll show you a man-made canal. People make a big deal about how their watch automatically sets itself to atomic time from a tower somewhere in Colorado, but if we were smart, we'd set our watches to river time. We'd wrinkle less and wouldn't grow old as quickly." ~~ Doss Michaels