Book Review: Path of the Righteous by S. T. Rucker

Path of Righteous

Book review of S. T. Rucker’s Path of the Righteous by Myesha D. Jenkins

Purchase Path of the Righteous

Read more about the author, S. T. Rucker, on her website and blog.

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It is the job of the writer to latch the reader to the story he or she has weaved together. Some readers latch on to characters while others may latch on to the plot. Ideally, I want readers to latch on to both. The latching is effortless–the reader has no idea what is going on–and before the reader knows it they are along for the ride and invested in the narrative. In Rucker’s Path of the Righteous, I latched on to the protagonist, Dahlia En’te, but it was hard to stay invested and maintain focus on some aspects of the plot and other characters.

Grail Holden is the name of this place where it all begins. It is composed of Town Major in the north, Stem Town in the middle, and Town Minor in the south. The story opens with a prologue that shows what I assume is a younger Dahlia giving Selma a lesson on how to handle herself in a precarious place for a young girl. I was ready for more about their lives then, but the first chapter begins and switches to the lives of the children of Town Major. The people of Town Major are about to host a Baptismal, the ritual by which its children are ushered into adulthood. Before this ceremony, they are instructed in the ways of obedience to their God, their elders, and their way of life. We learn about the ways of Stem and Creme Towns from some of its children, Phoebe, Leah, Rebecca, Alex, Cain, Darien, and Gideon. Since this is the rite of passage ceremony, I assume they are adolescent age. They are pretty naive to carnal things and are questioning the validity of the legends that are revered by their elders. Are they fact or fiction? This part drags and slows the narrative down.

Things heat up when Dahlia En’te from Town Minor shows up. Actually she is brought there by the Cleric under the guise of getting a better education and access to all that Town Major has to offer someone less fortunate like Dahlia. She has a difficult time fitting in because she is distinctly “other.” All people from Town Minor are because it is the wrong side of the tracks. This southern town and the people in it are snubbed by their neighbors in the north. The citizens of Town Major are mostly indifferent towards those people. When they do consider them, it’s with disgrace and disdain. Town Minor is not on the maps and isn’t included in the history books. The children of Town Minor can be taken forcibly from their homes and made to labor for free so that the people of Town Major can have their finery and servants.

When Dahlia arrives, she immediately catches everyone’s attention. The adults cast aspersions at her. Once she is wrongly accused of stealing a classmate’s broach. The instructor immediately takes the accuser’s side without investigating. Of course the girl from Town Minor is the thief! The girls are unimpressed with her drab, threadbare attire, but mostly with her rejection of their constant attempts to change her into a more presentable girl. On the contrary, those supposed detriments intrigue Alex–her inferior clothes, voluptuous body, curiosity, unfamiliar ways–to the point of mild stalking. Gideon is taken with her also. Dahlia is smart, and she likes books. She also likes cats–she keeps feline friend, Sox, hidden in her bosom–who are just as accursed and hated as the people of Town Minor. Alex and Gideon aren’t the only ones enamored with Dahlia. There’s the Cleric and Adam XXXVII who want Dahlia for a more sinister reason–they do more than mild stalking. Their reason for bringing her to Town Major is especially creepy.

This is the point in the story where I latched on to Dahlia and the imminent conflict between her and these powerful men. She is a worthy protagonist, courageous, thoughtful, unique, and strong, reminiscent of Cinderella, but without a need for Prince Charming. She is a hidden jewel of meager birth. She is ripe and ready for her rise to the challenge of what she has to conquer: catty girls, lecherous men, and demons, oh my! I was drawn to her strength and courage in the face of those who want to control her body and destiny.

In addition to the Baptismal, there is also the Wedding of Adam XXXVII and Eve. When Dahlia escapes certain rape and bondage and is then catapulted into the human sacrifice to the Demon Knight, the narrative becomes unwieldy for me. Dahlia begins her journey to try to get back home to her mother, but she has to contend with demons, faeries, and doxies. The leader of the demon realm, Master Diamond, wants her too, albeit reluctantly.

Rucker paints a vibrant visual world rich with verdant landscapes, vivid colors, fantastical beings, and reimagined religious myths. She knows her world well, but there are a few times when the characters speak in colloquialisms that are this worldly. When Dahlia characterizes her hair as a “hot mess” and Jayce speaks of “random shit,” I am taken out out of the fantasy. After the wedding and at the start of the sacrifice, I get a little lost in all that happens, making it difficult to stay latched on and invested. The narrative has a lot of pearls, but I think it lacks a strong enough string to pull them together. There are a lot of characters, but they lack the development to warrant their existence so they became distracting.

I want to know more about aspects of the narrative that don’t get as much treatment as other parts. What was it like for Selma and Dahlia growing up in Town Minor? Were they friends? Perhaps that’s the purpose of the prologue, but it wasn’t enough. The ritual of the Wedding is intriguing. What role does it play in the society? Is the Adam figure a religious leader, political leader, or both? What of Adam’s guy friend who is in love with him? I’m still trying to work out what Gideon’s role will be. I have a prediction that Alex will figure prominently in the next book. I’m still trying to figure out Hell’s Kitchen. Perhaps my questions will be addressed in the sequel due out June 2015.

Path of the Righteous has a world of potential. There are elements that I latched on to, Dahlia, the evil machinations of the Cleric and Adam, and to a lesser extent, Diamond. Some of the characters, the faeries, and Alex’s time in Hell’s Kitchen were distracting and had me working hard in ways a reader shouldn’t have to.  I give the author points for creativity, but a tighter, more polished narrative, would have made it soar.

Purchase Path of the Righteous

Read more about the author, S. T. Rucker, on her website and blog.

 

 

 

 

The Restless Heart

heart blogMy heart is restless. Your heart is restless. I was just sitting here thinking about that. This is a literal restlessness–not as in troubled or without peace but never resting–that sustains life. Our hearts beat continually until we die. Is it really fathomable? All our other organs can “rest” but our hearts cannot. We can be brain dead and technically still alive as long as our hearts keep beating.

Sitting here thinking of my own insignificance, this thought happened across my mind. Gladly, I felt a little more significant because of this perpetually beating organ in my chest. That it is beating on its own not because of anything under my control (though dietary, physical, and mental health can help it beat longer) is also awe inspiring. I believe its beating because of a divine God’s will.  It will continue beating until some unknown time. It is unlike any other thing we are used to. It gets stronger the more it beats.

Placing my hand to my chest over my heart, I can feel it beating gently. If my dog started barking furiously at a passerby through the window, startling me, my heart would speed up. Its tempo changes according to my moods, emotions, and activities, sometimes without my knowledge. Thinking on this makes me calm and peaceful somehow. It makes me appreciate that almost every other living creature has this organ also.

Maybe humans identify the heart as the wellspring or seat of emotions because it is always beating. If it is always beating then it is always present and accounted for in every experience we have. It is like a sponge in that respect, soaking in everything. I recall a movie, “Return to Me,” about a woman who received another woman’s heart through a transplant. The heart recipient and the donor’s husband met accidentally and fell in love. The recipient took on some of the donor’s characteristics. Even the donor’s dog recognized his former owner’s heart. Hollywood knows how to weave a heartwarming tale. I’ve read (unscientific reports) of recipients inexplicably picking up certain affinities that they attribute to the donor. I can’t attest to the accuracy of this phenomenon, but I feel that all hearts are unique.

 

Book Review: Needful Things by Stephen King

Needful things

Are you for sale? Probably not if someone comes right out and asks you for your price. Suppose you enter a quaint little shop full of wares?  You behold that object…that thing…that needful thing that piques your interest. After inquiring about the price–none of the items are marked–the merchant lets you name your price. You are shocked and pleasantly surprised at your good fortune. That needful thing can be yours for the low, low price of…whatever you can afford. You think the sale is done until the kindly merchant asks you to play a harmless prank on someone. It is just a favor to the merchant–all in good fun–and the second installment of payment to solidify the purchase.

“Everyone loves a bargain. Everyone loves something for nothing…even if it costs everything.”

Leland Gaunt, that kindly stranger, sets up this business model for the new shop he opens in Castle Rock, Maine. Castle Rock is the quintessential small town peopled with the usual characters. There’s the Andy Griffithesque sheriff, smart and wily. There are the religious folk. In this case, two factions: the Catholics and the Baptists. There are the healthy batch of ne’er-do-wells. There are the Opieseque little boy characters. They become pawns in Leland Gaunt’s sinister, bedlam inducing game. And oh, he is the master of it as if he’s been doing it since the word was formed.

At a whopping 736 pages, King’s novel is not for the faint of heart. You have to persevere. There are a plethora of characters to keep up with, but that’s okay. It serves to illustrate the unwieldy scenario King sets up. Leland Gaunt is sowing seeds of evil, hate, obsession, greed, perversion, jealousy–a veritable seed bed or cesspool–and he needs a large,  fertile soil and many seedlings. It all becomes one tangled mess. I was drawn in by King’s layering and character development. I gave myself over to it. That’s what you have to do.

The story begins with the adolescent Brian Rusk who enters the shop first. He is charmed into “purchasing” a 1956 Sandy Koufax baseball card for a nominal price and the promise to play a prank. Leland Gaunt places Brain under a trance that makes his acceptance easier. Once Brian leaves the shop, Leland Gaunt becomes a sort of inner voice that reminds him of his obligation and the penalty for not keeping the promise. Unfortunately, Brian is filled with both an insatiable need for the baseball card and an intense fear of loosing it. He can’t even share it with his friends so consumed he is by paranoia of it being taken. He obsessively checks on and admires it in the solitude of his room. It becomes a secret that gains more power in proportion to the depth it is buried as secrets are won’t to do. In effect, Brian becomes a slave to Leland Gaunt. The baseball card is the chain.

This scenario replays countless times with each person ensnared by the merchandise. The chaos ensues when the pranks are played. The prankster is ignorant of why he or she is playing the prank. In most cases the person has no close relationship to the person on whom the prank is played. However, that person, the “victim”, is sure of the prankster’s identity. Without any investigation, they assume the prankster is their nemesis. For example, Brain Rusk plays a prank on hot tempered social pariah Wilma Jerzyck who incidentally has been embroiled in a dispute with another woman, Nettie Cobb. When Brian soils Wilma’s freshly cleaned sheets with mud, she immediately assumes it is the work of Nettie Cobb. Leland Gaunt is so smug about human nature. He uses a simple calculation: hubris + anger + suspicion — compassion = chaos.

Soon you know where this is going. Everything becomes tangled and twisted at the hands of, well the ultimate evil one. Leland Gaunt is no amateur at this. He is the CEO and the townspeople are his workforce. You want to believe that someone will resist or at least listen to the better angels of their nature to see what Leland Gaunt is up to. You, the reader, are screaming out for godly intervention. Sheriff Alex Pangborn begins to sense the presence of something untoward, but Gaunt steers clear of him for fear of being found out. This is not because the sheriff is law enforcement. Apparently, Gaunt can sense that Pangborn has some special evil filtering sight. Neither of the clergymen from either major religious faction venture into the shop. It’s not necessary. It seems that Leland knows he already has them on his team. There is a dispute brewing between the Catholics and the Baptists over an upcoming Casino Nite. The religious folk–the primary fighters of the devil one would argue–self-destruct with little stoking from Gaunt. They are far more concerned with the dogmatics surrounding gambling than with the evil right under their noses.

I wish more characters would have possessed the strength to fight Leland Gaunt. However only three of them fight against him in the end. It’s obvious that he knows human nature far too well. But these three do fight despite their brokenness. Had this book been set in the 2000s instead of the early 1990s, Gaunt would only have to stock our electronic (de)vices However, it’s not really about the needful thing. The bondage comes in what the thing masks as Polly Chalmers says, “He makes you buy back your own sickness, and he makes you pay double.” Which brings me back to that question. Are you for sale? According to Needful Things, we all are. “The devil’s voice is sweet to hear.” Does good triumph in the end? You’ll have to read it for yourself.

This book is highly entertaining. The drama builds to a fever pitch. The violence is extra grisly. There are many secrets. I remember seeing the movie version, but I don’t recall much about it other than the shopkeeper as a stand in for Satan. I looked at the movie reviews and they were lackluster. It would probably do better as a made for TV movie because of all the characters. Read it and prepare to steer clear of shopping for awhile.

The Privilege of Obtuseness

I was watching Jimmy Kimmel’s interview with Robert Pattinson last night. As per usual, he was sort of awkward and clueless when he responded to questions. Jimmy asked him where all his belongings were since he was now homeless again. He bumbled through the answer. At first he wasn’t sure where his belongings were. Then he kind of remembered that his stuff might be in a storage unit somewhere. I balked at his responses sleepily–it was late. I mumbled something like, “Oh those rich celebrities and the privilege of their obtuseness…how does he not know where his stuff is?  Rich people can afford to be obtuse. I know where all my stuff is.”

My husband chuckled at me, but was noncommittal. That got me to thinking. It really is a privilege of the rich and famous to be obtuse. When you have personal assistants at your beck and call, it is their job to schedule your life. As Robert Pattinson sat at Jimmy’s desk, I imagined his agent or assistant or both along with a plethora of stylists and others in his entourage ensuring that he got to his scheduled appointments on time and dressed. I’m sure they know where his stuff is.

There is another option. He could be play acting–being deliberately obtuse. Deliberate obtuseness is a penchant of the rich, famous, and those in power. I remember in another life I worked for an Executive Director who never had a clue about certain details. She was sharp and shrewd, but she would always ask these questions that made me wonder, “Are you that clueless?” I soon realized that she could empty her brain of such mundane details since we, her minions, were at the ready, happy to supply the answer.

Well I have never been able to be obtuse. I’m not rich, famous, or powerful. I always know where my stuff is.

Disclaimer: Robert Pattinson was not harmed in the writing of this post. I am indifferent towards R.P.