Sunday, February 24, 2008

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

I'm fairly picky about my mysteries. Only those written by British women, and then only by a handful of authors. But when establishing those sorts of limits, you are well, obviously, significantly limiting your reading options.

At the end of the year, I tend to peruse the best of lists to get an idea as to what I want to add to next year's reading list. This book was mentioned several times, it's a mystery, written by an American woman, and was lauded as a thrilling mystery. And yet, by the time I finished it, I remembered why I prefer the British.

Two young girls go missing at the mall. After an extensive investigation, there are no clues. Thirty years later, a woman is in a car wreck, attempts to flee the scene and when she's caught, she claims to be one of the missing Bethany girls. Thus begins the story...

The story flips back and forth between now and then, including examinations of the effects on the parents and the investigators, intertwined with flashbacks from the mystery woman. I found this to be aggravating because the only mystery is the tease the author is creating for the reader. The actual events cover two or three days and aren't nearly as exciting. A hesitant, spoiled woman with selective memory, a detective who wants to screw anything that moves and a sad divorcee and an angry lawyer are all standing around waiting for the truth.

There are too many characters who have no real impact on the story. While the writing succeeds in keeping the reader guessing, upon learning the truth, it feels like such a wasted effort. It was set up to seem so mysterious and horrible and in the end, it's all quite pathetic. The implied cruelty was not at all what was implied, and was in fact very much a hell of the victim's own making. Harsh, yes, but I felt no sympathy at all for this character.

As I said, the story drags out for quite a while, with teases and hints and blind flashbacks from the mystery woman. Then the whole truth is quickly explained in about ten or so pages, leaving me saying, "What the hell? That's what happened?" Very, very unsatisfying read. So many other books I could have been reading during this time.

My biggest issues with the story -- it's set up to imply that the girls are much younger than they are. As I read it, I kept thinking, two, young, innocent little girls. (I realize their ages must have been mentioned, but still... ) And in the conclusion, the innocent young girls become fiesty, rebellious women. Didn't see that coming, at all. Maybe that's my own fault. But if that was the case, why was it regarded only as a kidnapping, and not a potential runaway situation?

Another problem was that it was not at all believable. The parents are described as being open-minded and progressive. The mother even points out that these weren't the sort of children who would go off with someone claiming to be a cop because their father had taught them to question authority. But if they were such great parents, why would their daughter behave in such a way? It doesn't make sense at all. As horrible as the events are, for the characters to behave in the way they do initially and then continue to behave in such a way for the next thirty years? Their behavior is more like that expected from children who have abusive or cold, distance parents, not the liberal, loving ones described.

I didn't enjoy this book. I liked it even less when I learned later that it was loosely based on a real life case. Meaning the events that did make sense in the story were copied from real life and the assumption as to what happened -- the part that seemed so absurd was the work of the author.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Giving by Bill Clinton

I've always been a Clinton fan. Bill was the president of my idealistic youth. Granted, he broke my heart with the Lewinsky scandal, but I forgave him and moved on.

In the last few years, I've been quite impressed with the way he has stayed involved in the world. He could sit back and relax, his job done, but instead he's still out there, doing whatever he can to make this a better world. He and his wife could retire comfortably right now, but they both believe so strongly in public service, they keep working.

I saw Bill Clinton talking about this book on Oprah and then checked out a copy at the library. It took me a while to getting around to read it, but I needed something safe to read while at school, something that I wouldn't mind stopping and starting and this seemed convenient for that purpose.

This book is specifically about ways people give and contribute to the world through money, time or service. It serves not only to praise though who have given, but also as a way to provide examples to others who want to do the same. A person doesn't have to be rich or brilliant, everyone has something they can contribute.

This book felt a little dull in the beginning, but as I continued reading, I found myself getting excited about the opportunities discussed. It gradually starts to sink in that everyone does have something to give. As I was reading, in the back of my mind, I started thinking of things I can do. I don't have any money -- I'm unemployed at the time, making just enough to pay my bills by doing some substitute teaching. But I can paint, and maybe I could contribute paintings to my favorite causes, let them sell the work and keep the money. Little things like that. Reading it felt empowering.

It's a nice read, with a lot of inspiring stories. The sort of book I think everyone should read, but the people who need it most won't.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Heroin Diaries by Nikki Sixx

Nikki Sixx was one of my first loves. Oh my god, Nikki Sixx. Say his name and even now, I feel a twinge and if you knew how thoroughly frigid I am, you'd know what a feat that is. Hmmm, Nikki, darling Nikki, the ignitor of so many fiery young fantasies.

I was such a repulsively boring good girl during the teenage years, not because I was sincerely good, but rather because I was profoundly bored with what was available to me in the desert wasteland of west Texas. While my empty-headed, desperate female classmates spent their free time necking with dusty, tobacco chewing shit kickers, I sat alone in my room, escaping into a pencil drawing, a thick book, old movie or dreams of Nikki Sixx.

Mind you. I said Nikki was one of my firsts... Jon Bon Jovi was my absolute first and my teenage bedroom reflected my devotion to my first, the walls covered in Jon, Jon, Jon. But Jon is all things good and pure. Part of the adoration of Jon is the fact that he married his high school sweetheart and because I placed him so high up a pedestal, he was elevated to god-like status and well, you get the idea. Nikki, though, he was the opposite of good and pure and the object of a whole different sort of adoration. I hung a huge poster of Nikki Sixx inside my closet door, hidden from the casual eyes, it was from the Dr. Feelgood era, he was wearing a pair of unzipped leather pants, shirtless, exposing his pierced nipples and tattoo-covered chest and arms. His hair was aqua-netted to hell, long and black and sticking out in every direction and he had twisted snarl on his face. Oh, Nikki... I was certain that only a man like Nikki could succeed in melting this ice queen... I'm not so sure I was wrong in that assumption.

But anyway...

Now that I've revealed my past history with Nikki, it only makes sense that I'm going to find a way to get my hands on anything by or about Nikki... even now that I've reluctantly accepted the role of frumpy, spinster school teacher.

The Heroin Diaries looks gorgeous. Fans have been hearing about this book for years, wondering if it would ever be released. It looks as if a lot of time was put into this tome. Each page is illustrated, it includes new art, as well as old photographs, all in a collaged, scrapbook-on-crack sort of way, in an impressive red, black and white color scheme. On looks alone, it stands ahead of most rock biographies.

The premise of the book is that Nikki found some old journals, written during an especially bad year (1987) of his drug addiction, and has decided to make those public to provide a cautionary tale and show the sort of damage and horror that accompanies heroin addiction.

The story is interesting enough, quite disturbing actually, as he details the paranoia and the drug deals, the damage and the depression that accompanies loving drugs more than anything else. Throughout the book, quotes from bystanders in the experience are included, as a way to confirm or at times contradict Nikki's writing. I don't doubt the truth of his stories, though I am suspicious of the accuracy of his writing. He seems too aware of his downward spiral. He knows when he's being paranoid and he knows when he's being excessive. If you were that aware, would you continue down that path? I don't know. That being said, I know that I could glance through some of my old journals and read my own writing in which I elaborated on being lazy and stuck in a dead-end job and paranoid and very aware of my own dire circumstances and doing absolutely nothing to change the situation, content to merely record the misery. So I'm not exactly an authority on this.

However, as a cautionary tale, I don't think the story is successful. It's an interesting read for a fan who is interested in the life of Nikki Sixx. But there is nothing in this story that will warn an impressionable young, potential drug user away from these substances. For the average, sane minded, person, then yes, it's a horrifying picture of what drugs can do. But for the type of person most likely to get involved with this junk... not so much. I say this based on my experience around teenagers. For the most part, they aren't especially wise, and I can see them devouring the book and saying, "oh my god, Nikki's so awesome, he did drugs all night and banged fifteen women, he crashed his motorcycle and walked home. He pulled a gun on his drug dealer and torn down the blinds. He went to Hong Kong and he made an ass of himself on the train, isn't that hilarious? I wanna be just like Nikki."

I hear the kids sitting around whispering and laughing about their own drunken exploits or how someone jumped out of the window on acid or was naked in the front yard, etc. You get the idea. They aren't scared of much and think they can survive anything.

And the reason this really doesn't work as a cautionary tale is because Nikki survived. He hit rock bottom, he stayed away from drugs for a while, but then he went back to them. (At the end of the story, he provides a timeline explaining his ups and downs with his career and drug use following the year described in the book.) These experiences didn't even serve as a cautionary tale for him. Nikki lived this excessive, decadent life, and he lived to tell about it and now he's successful and he has a family and he's still making great music and he's pursuing other career venues. He didn't end up dead or broke or alone or living in a cardboard box on the street. He's doing great, which stands as a testament to his talent and his strength -- something a lot of people don't have. I'm glad he's doing well because, well, I mentioned my adoration for him earlier in this post. But I don't see how his experiences serve as a caution for others tempted to follow that path. If anything, I feel like that decadent lifestyle is glamorized to some extent. Yes, he was battling drugs, but he was still living a life most people only dream about -- drugs, sex and rock and roll.

One issue I had though was the many quotes about how Vince Neil is a jerk. After a while, I was like, "Okay, we get it, no one likes Vince, you made the point." And the repeated mentions of "poor" Mick Mars' illness. They went into this quite a bit in Dirt and I didn't really care then either. Most readers of Heroin Diaries probably read Dirt, so why bring that all up again?

Also, I could have done without the pictures of the naked girls -- including those sort of added to the "glamorous" aspect -- he's trying to describe how bad life was on drugs, but then he's showing pictures of the naked chicks he banged? And what part of that was considered bad?
He talks about ending up with stupid women, but what did he expect, picking up strippers and drug users and women so willing to have sex within minutes of meeting him? Nice, smart girls don't behave that way. He does at one point make a comment about ending up with garbage when you pick through the trash. Still... including those photos sort of detracted from the supposed message he was trying to present.

I recommend this book to all Motley Crue or Nikki Sixx fans, anyone interested in rock bios or the metal music of the late 80s, mid-90s, or the L.A. glam/punk scene of that time period. I enjoyed the read. I picked it up at 3 a.m. one night and didn't put it down until I finished it around 8 a.m. And after reading it, I love Nikki just as much as I ever did, and that's quite a bit...