Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Christmas Chronicles, by Jeff Guinn

For the Holidays, I read The Autobiography of Santa Clause in The Christmas Chronicles by Jeff Guinn. The Chronicles are a collection of three books that also contain How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas and The Great Santa Search. Guinn writes three humorous 1st person narratives of the history of Christmas.

Guinn did excellent research in writing the stories, and provides a historical perspective on Christmas from about 30 A.D. to the present. He introduces us to famous and influential figures along the way. I found the early sections of Santa’s autobiography especially interesting when he tells us about Christmas and Christianity during the Roman Empire.

I also liked the way Guinn intertwined famous characters, writers and other Christmas stories into his tale. We get to meet King Arthur, Attila the Hun, Ben Franklin, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Santa Claus helps Charles Dickens write A Christmas Carol. Guinn also shows the influence of Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore in shaping the legend of Santa Claus in the United States. However it wasn’t until Thomas Nast’s artwork that we got our visual image of Santa Claus.

Overall I enjoyed the Autobiography of Santa Claus, but the story could have been improved by the pace and tone. To quote the writer’s mantra, “Show, don’t tell.” In my opinion, Guinn did too much telling. The book had too much first this happened, next we did this and so on. He used a lot of passive voice in the telling. A few more action verbs would have improved the story.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Dennis Lehane, Shutter Island

In Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island, he exhibits mastery in the use of description. He makes the scene visible to the reader by creating pictures with his words. The reader visualizes Shutter Island and the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The reader explores the island facilities with U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule in their search for answers regarding patient Rachel Solando.

In a scene from the early part of the book, Teddy and Chuck ride the ferry from the mainland to Shutter Island. A beginning author might write, “They approach the dock.” Lehane wrote it, “The dock appeared as if by trick of light, stretching out from the sand, a stick of chewing gum from this distance, insubstantial and gray.” Aspiring authors could learn from Lehane’s prose.

The reader soon learns the story contains more than a schizophrenic missing murderess. It also contains deceptive twists and turns, and psychological thrills and suspense. The story scares the reader by illuminating the degree to which the mind deceives itself, and questions the reality of our own existence.

Like many of Lehane’s books, Shutter Island takes place near Boston. Lehane grew up in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, and attended high school during the Government’s mandatory desegregation program. He grew up in a tough part of town during a troublesome era. Many of his characters come from working class neighborhoods and his stories pertain to social issues.

In Shutter Island, Lehane asks the reader to question the moral and ethical treatment of the criminally insane. Do the rights of the innocent victims demand cruel and unusual punishment of the guilty, and what determines cruel and unusual?