Archive for the ‘Ask the Passengers’ Category

I’m of the belief that there are certain authors who can do no wrong, GloryObrienaccording to book reviewers, and A. S. King seems to be one. So it must be me who’s missing the point. If writing an absurd book is a satirical way of looking at our absurd society, she’s done a bang up job in Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. Otherwise, she’s merely written an absurd book and/or I’ve missed the point completely.

Gloria O’Brien and Ellie Heffner live across the street from each other, Glory in a normal house and Ellie on a commune. Glory and Ellie’s parents moved to rural Pennsylvania together to live in a non-materialist world but had a falling out. Days before Glory’s high school graduation they drink beer laced a disintegrated bat (absurdity number 1) and wake up the next morning able to see into people’s ancestry and progeny for millennia (absurdity number 2).

Glory’s mother, Darla, committed suicide when Glory was only four, by putting her head in an oven. Glory and her dad have been living oven-less for the past 13 years. No one, friends or family, seem to have discussed Darla’s actions with Glory (absurdity number 3 or 4—I’ve lost count).

Glory doesn’t care about the normal materialistic things teenagers care about: clothes, jewelry, make up. She’s a loner and Ellie is her only real friend, although Glory is reconsidering their relationship. She considers Ellie self centered and neither has really had a serious conversation with the other. The fact that Glory may be equally self centered never seems to dawn on either girl.

Darla was a photographer and Glory has taken up the art. She carries her camera virtually everywhere. Darla’s darkroom has been unused for 13 years, but after graduation Glory gets the courage to ask her dad, Roy, if she could use it. There she finds Darla’s sketch books, one of which was entitled Why People Take Pictures which  seems to record some of Darla’s anguish.

AskThePassengersThere are two stories here, which somewhat intersect: Glory’s search for her past and memories of her mother juxtaposed against her visions for the future. There was enough material in the first story for a book in and of itself without adding the second, which really, in my mind, diluted the impact of Glory coping, 13 years later, with the loss of a parent.

I really enjoyed Ask the Passengers by King. Her other books never really sparked my interest enough to open the cover. I was hoping Glory O’Brien would be different. Alas, I was totally disappointed. If you go by the review journals, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future got starred reviews. I, however, would only give it a 3.

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A.S. King tackles two significant topics in Everybody Sees the Ants. The first is the status of the Missing in EverybodySeesTheAntsAction in our sundry wars and the second is bullying. Known recently for her highly praised Ask the Passengers, King’s 2011 novel centers on Lucky Linderman who has been bullied by Nader McMillan since he was seven years old when Nader peed on Lucky in a restaurant restroom and escalated to rubbing Lucky’s face in the concrete by the local community pool when Lucky was fifteen forming a scab that started out taking the shape of Ohio and diminishing to various other states before finally healing.

AskThePassengersTwo underlying themes include Lucky’s proposed (but vetoed) social studies project, a survey of the student body with the question “If you were going to commit suicide, what method would you use?” This, of course, spurred the school’s administration into action, suggesting that Lucky seek professional help…thus avoiding the issues surrounding why kids would want to commit suicide to begin with.

The second is Lucky’s grandfather, Harry, who is a Vietnam veteran missing in action. His grandmother, Janice, was an MIA advocate and refused repeated governmental attempts to have her agree to change his status to presumed dead. On her deathbed when Lucky was seven, she made him promise to find Harry. Of course, Lucky had no clue as to what this meant, but it started a series of unusual dreams.

We are all familiar with bullying (this book was excerpted in an audio CD on bullying…that’s how it came to my attention). King created a bully we can all visualize in Nader. There is no person unscathed from his actions. Compounded by Lucky’s inactive parents, he has no recourse but to ‘take it’.

We are less cognizant of the fact that there remain MIA veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

King’s characters’ lives vary, in many ways making us realize that we all have shit to deal with and while we may have it rough, there are people who have it rougher, although on the outside everything looks fine. King makes her point on both counts with an entertaining book, interesting characters and fine writing. You can read Everybody Sees the Ants for the enjoyment or for a purpose, but in either event, you’ll have a good read.

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