Hawthorne, Feminism, and the Malleability of Symbolism in the Scarlet Letter

The novel seems intent to make a point about how flawed people are at making meaning from life’s events, people’s interactions, and even the symbols we make of each other.

The Letter Kills. The Letter Heals.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is an discussion on the how the meaning of a symbol changes over time and context. Hawthorne takes a microscopic view of symbolism by selecting only one symbol to study here: the letter “A”. What could it mean in all its various interpretations?

The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter

It starts as an innocuous letter, the first of the alphabet, simply a block to build a word with. But the people of Boston ascribe a heavy symbolic weight to it and inscribe it on Hester Prynne’s chest. To them it means danger, shame, and chastisement. To her, however, who has experienced the full weight of her punishment already, there is no danger. To her it means remorse, loneliness, and (ironically) misjudgment. The people of Boston believe they see the letter clearly for what it is and that it belongs perfectly on Hester’s breast, but they have read her wrong. She is not a wanton woman destined to destroy their community. She’s a woman caught between her will and the place she’s been put in by society.

Hester, herself, in fact, becomes a symbol for the community. She begins as a cautionary tale and allegory that preachers can simply allude to in a service in order to chase fear into the hearts of their hearers. Over time, though, the residents of Boston learn to read the symbol of this woman. In the context of the scaffold where she was sentenced, she was the picture of shame. By their deathbeds and in their moments of suffering when she pulls a blanket up around their necks on cold nights, she changes to become an almost divine messenger of mercy. How could a symbol have such radically different readings? Even the “A” on her chest, which was emblazoned there as an everlasting reminder of her perfidy becomes an adornment that marks her as a wounded healer, suffering with those who suffer and sharing the humanity of those who seek (and fail) at being divine. People begin to admire the A as they admire Hester. It comes to mean “A” for Abel, and in it they read that Hester suffers as a martyr with a “woman’s strength”.

To Hester, however, the symbol never loses its weight. What’s more, she has another symbol to contend with: that of her daughter, Pearl. Throughout the novel she wonders as to the meaning of Pearl’s existence. Is she a punishment? Is she just the fruit of her sin? Does Esther have responsibilities to her as a mother to correct and refine her to fit into the role of womanhood in society? Or is the meaning of this symbol beyond her control?

What is a woman?

Hester Prynne and Pearl
Hester Prynne and Pearl

This takes us to the symbol that has the broadest application and what makes this novel so timely for readers in this era. It doesn’t take much to realize that Hester, herself, is struggling with the symbol of womanhood. Hawthorne seems to use the scarlet “A” as a surrogate to discuss the symbol of womanhood that is stitched onto a woman’s chest when she tries to be anything but the symbolic “woman” in a patriarchal society.

Hester’s daughter, Pearl, is obsessed with the letter, asking her mother questions about its meaning and what it portends. She asks her in one scene, “Will not it come of its own accord when I am a woman grown?” (pg. 103). By this, Hawthorne, through Pearl, asks if womanhood does not blossom with a mark of shame and chastisement for violations of propriety.

Hester meditates on that condition herself at another point.

“Indeed, the same dark question often rose into her mind with reference to the whole race of womanhood. Was existence worth accepting even to the happiest among them? As concerned her own individual existence, she had long ago decided in the negative, and dismissed the point as settled.” (Pg. 93).

It troubled her so much that she next contemplates whether it wouldn’t be better to just kill Pearl to save her from the hardship of growing up a woman in that Puritanical society or not.

In Puritanical Boston, the words “man” and “woman” have fixed symbolic values and anything that does not fit within their definitions, any woman that begs to be reinterpreted, is driven from the fold. This is where Hester finds her freedom, however, outside the context of that patriarchal structure. Almost by accident, she discovers the forest outside the perimeter of their town. It is wild, primeval, and unstratified. In the forest, there are no symbols, so symbols have no meaning. One simply is, irrelative to their symbolic value in society and the expectations that it carries. It’s because of this freedom to exist undefined that Hester is able to confront the villain of this story as an equal and to provide her own strength to the frail husk of the man that she loves.

Most travelers take their symbolic understanding of the world into the forest with them, trying to understand its fathomless mysteries by their structured hierarchy of knowledge and moral standards. Then there are those who lose their “town” identity when they step outside the limits of the gate. Hester is one of those. She walks back and forth between the woman free to define herself in the forest and the woman burdened by society’s definition of her in the town whenever she crosses that threshold. Pearl, however, is the same in both domains. She is only the child of the forest. Because of this, she’s unfit for the life of civilized men and women. She sets people back on their heels, but she’s not punished because she has not stepped into womanhood yet.

So, does Hawthorne provide Hester a chance to reinterpret symbolic womanhood? To us, he does. He says that:

 “The angel and apostle of the coming revelation must be a woman, indeed, but lofty, pure, and beautiful; and wise, moreover, not through dusky grief, but the ethereal medium of joy; and showing how sacred love should make us happy, by the truest test of a life successful to such an end!”

In essence, this means that women must be able to reveal the meaning of their own nature to society, each person giving meaning to themselves rather than having meaning placed there by tradition. Unlucky for Hester, she lived in a time where she was merely “a prophetess”, heralding that time. Her life called for women to begin a re-evaluation of the place they held and the expectations held of them in society.

Even though Hester doesn’t blatantly overthrow notions of what a woman is to her neighbors, Hawthorne does spend a good deal of time on Hester’s strength. In fact, he crushes the man in this tale under the weight of his presumed holiness, which situates him at the apex of the patriarchal structure.

Hester, on the other hand, grows stronger from her being cast out of this world to fend for herself. He says,

“The tendency of her fate and fortunes had been to set her free. The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers—stern and wild ones—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.” (p. 112)

Meaning is a negotiation

Nathaniel Hawthorne
Nathaniel Hawthorne

Though Hawthorne speaks to us as readers of this dare to rethink the meaning of “woman” in society, the novel seems intent to make a point about how flawed people are at making meaning from life’s events, people’s interactions, and even the symbols we make of each other.

In a key scene, the “guilty” parties in this novel see a meteor shoot overhead and make out from its trail the shape of an “A”. For them, it is God’s illumination of their guilt, trumpeting it before the earth. But in town, the governor has just died. Learning of this the next morning, the rest of the townsfolk interpret the symbol to be a sign from God confirming that the governor has become an angel.

The narrator says,

“Oftener, however, its credibility rested on the faith of some lonely eye-witness, who beheld the wonder through the coloured, magnifying, and distorted medium of his imagination, and shaped it more distinctly in his after- thought. It was, indeed, a majestic idea that the destiny of nations should be revealed, in these awful hieroglyphics, on the cope of heaven. A scroll so wide might not be deemed too expensive for Providence to write a people’s doom upon. The belief was a favourite one with our forefathers, as betokening that their infant commonwealth was under a celestial guardianship of peculiar intimacy and strictness…But what shall we say, when an individual discovers a revelation addressed to himself alone, on the same vast sheet of record. In such a case, it could only be the symptom of a highly disordered mental state, when a man, rendered morbidly self-contemplative by long, intense, and secret pain, had extended his egotism over the whole expanse of nature, until the firmament itself should appear no more than a fitting page for his soul’s history and fate.” (p. 87)

The point Hawthorne makes here is confusing, as it is clearly a device he’s used to amplify the sense of doom that his main characters feel. It confirms the guilt that they feel so strongly. Still, the narrator states that we each read meaning into our lives as we experience them, often more clearly when we look back on a moment. To us, the whole universe is a parchment that was laid out for the worth of our lives to be spelled out on. But the fact of the matter is that we’re often wrong about how we interpret these “signs”. They may be signs from Providence or signs from people, but we cannot state with absolute certainty what a sign means. To do so is foolishness, as we see in the novel, and it leads to pain and conflict with those who don’t interpret the sign in the same way.

Hawthorne’s remedy isn’t only to treat our perception, though, because the final words of the novel are an exhortation to “Be true! Be true! Be true! Show freely to the world, if not your worst, yet some trait whereby the worst may be inferred!” (pg. 144). It’s not just people’s responsibility to leave room for interpretation of a symbol, but for us to be truthful with each other so that our meaning may be clear. You might say, “Just go live in the forest where there are no symbols,” or, “Let’s just be who we are without any need for assigning meaning to things.” That’s no way to build society, though. A community can’t function without symbols. Symbolism is inherent to the human experience. You don’t find symbolism in the forest because there are no people there, no other consciousness to make messages and send them to us, to interpret our own. Symbolism is how we transfer the truth we have experienced to another person.

Hawthorne tells us that both sides of this symbolic exchange are responsible to make a better world. If people are bigoted or presume to know the whole story, then be true with them. They may have already made up their minds as to what an African American man or a woman or a Syrian refugee is. If you know there’s more to the story than that, then it’s your responsibilty to tell them. Don’t be so concerned with putting on a perfect face so you can garner more followers on Instagram. Be true with people, even if it means they see the worst of you. This will lead to conflict because it forces people to redefine the meaning of their symbols. Those in power don’t want to let those meanings change because the symbols that are established are what’s keeping them rich, comfortable, and in control.

Lillian Gish in Victor Sjöström's The Scarlet Letter
Lillian Gish in Victor Sjöström’s The Scarlet Letter

As Hawthorne shows us, we need to be open to reconsidering the meanings we have given to the symbols, signs, and definitions of our world and those that live in it. Meaning is a continual renegotiation between senders and receivers. The sender may modify their message. The receiver may choose to look at it from a different perspective. Being willing to be a part of that process puts everyone at the table, lifts everyone’s quality of life, and helps us to shape a better world than the one we’re living in right now.

Of course, I could just be misunderstanding this whole thing.

Review: The Orphan Master’s Son

This is not a fantasy tale, but it is magical all the same. The magic is not light. It is dark and ominous, twisting the cords of fate until some snap and others twang off inharmonious notes that seem to sing the song of this secret nation.

51EQHor4tJLI’ll admit I was skeptical, at first, when I began The Orphan Master’s Son. How much could an outsider truly know about the everyday lives of North Koreans. Pak Jun Do’s story proved me a fool. The Orphan Master’s Son is a story of one man’s life in North Korea: his trials, his devotion to his country, his heart’s longing, and the improbably marvelous and harrowing journey that his life takes.

Adam Johnson weaves the details of North Korean life, culture, food, poverty, and propaganda into this story with such deftness that I found myself continually rechecking the title page to make sure that I wasn’t misreading a Korean name.

This is not a fantasy tale, but it is magical all the same. The magic is not light. It is dark and ominous, twisting the cords of fate until some snap and others twang off inharmonious notes that seem to sing the song of this secret nation. Yet, despite the discordant melody of disappeared people and forced labor, the citizens of this nation say that it is beautiful. How? This has been a real mystery to me as well. How have the people of North Korea not just risen up and overthrown their government. Johnson masterfully explains by recrafting the culture of North Korean propaganda in which every single word spoken by every citizen at every moment of their life has already been written by the author of the nation’s fate. It’s a brilliant tale, and review can’t do it justice because the world inside this tiny country is so unlike the world we know. It’s a place that everyone should visit.

Click here for the Amazon link.

Movies Worth Your Time: Predestination

Time–we don’t have a lot of it, and every movie out there claims to be “spectacular”, “one of a kind”, “mesmerizing”. Let me save you some time right now and point you at films that are worth seeing for those who like thought-provoking, story and character driven, sometimes a-typical films. You may have seen them. If that is the case, let me know what you thought in the comments. If you haven’t seen them, check them out and come back for a conversation. If you’ve got any others to add to the list, pop them up in the comments feed.

predestination-poster01Predestination- Based off of a 1958 sci-fi short story by Robert Heinlein called “All You Zombies”, this one will leave your eyes bugged wide open with every turn of the plot. I can’t give away anything without ruining a few surprises, so let me just ballpark the movie for you. Much of the movie is a dialogue between two characters in a bar in 1975. One of them is a time-traveling crime-stopper trying to catch a serial bomber who is set to kill 10,000 people in a New York city bombing in a few days. The other is a transgender confession-story writer.  If that set up is not enough to make you give this movie a shot, I don’t know what is. The movie explores issues of gender identity and time paradoxes in ways that will leave you shaking your head for days. Hopefully we’ll see much more from Hawke and Snook after their acting in this one.

Movies Worth Your Time: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Time–we don’t have a lot of it, and every movie out there claims to be “spectacular”, “one of a kind”, “mesmerizing”. Let me save you some time right now and point you at films that are worth seeing for those who like thought-provoking, story and character driven, sometimes a-typical films. You may have seen them. If that is the case, let me know what you thought in the comments. If you haven’t seen them, check them out and come back for a conversation. If you’ve got any others to add to the list, pop them up in the comments feed.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes New Poster - warDawn of the Planet of the Apes. This is one you’ve probably seen. If not, and you’ve been sitting on the fence, definitely give it a go. At times it feels like watching the original Jurassic Park. There is an awe at the wild world and its ability to completely decimate us once we step outside our convenience-laden, civilized worlds. Dawn, however, differs in that we, humans, are not the protagonists. The movie follows Caesar (the little ape from Rise of the Planet of the Apes) as the hero of the tale. It’s this factor and its subsequent exploration of what a naturally evolving ape society might look like that sets it apart from other man vs. animal movies. It also leaves you wondering who, truly, will come out of this thing alive. Brilliantly acted, communicated, and animated, Dawn is more than satisfying.

Review: The Martian


The Martian is like a twelve hour math class. It’s the most fun twelve hour math class you will ever have the chance to take, and its well worth the time. I know that’s not much of a pitch, but let me explain. Mark Whatney# is the lead character of this book (for much of it, he is the only character). He’s a mechanical engineer and botanist who gets stranded on Mars. He is the only living person on the planet and has to figure out, daily, how he is going to survive in an environment that is constantly trying to kill him. That means math, lots and lots of math, but this is James Bond math. It is math that, depending on whether you get it right or not, can either save you or kill you. Those are pretty high stakes. Imagine what a rush it would be if you were sitting in a classroom, knowing that if you forgot to move the decimal, your face would implode. Many of you probably had a teacher capable of such terror, so maybe that’s not the best illustration. Even if you don’t like math (which I’m not particularly fond of), Whatney’s wry sense of humor and “if there’s a way to get off this friggin’ planet, I am going to find it” attitude make the entire book feel light and unencumbered by the restrictive narrative environment that Andy Weir has to work in.

The actual narrative structure of the book is unusual. What begins as a first person account told through log entries later meets a third person narrative of the reactions of the rest of NASA to news of Whatney’s survival and their desperate attempts to rescue him. This threw me at first glance, but I quickly adjusted.

Some might criticize the book for the “unprofessional” nature of Whatney’s blog entries, and I can see how a few of them go over the top, but I would have rather had the humor than just a dry lecture on the conductive qualities of spacecraft siding. Additionally, if you were stranded on Mars all by your lonesome and you knew you were going to die without ever seeing another person again, I think you might drop the pretense and just say what you’re thinking as well.

So, is it worth the read? If you’re looking to get off planet, but not go as far as a true Sci-Fi novel, I’d say “yes”. It gives you a lot to think about; places you up there. While you’re reading it, you’ll be looking up at the night sky, imagining what it would be like to be out there, all alone, like Robinson Crusoe, but on a whole ‘nother world. That’s a thought worth contemplating for a while.

Review: Hindsight ~ Owen Banner

Stumbled across this “four thumbs up” review for my novel, Hindsight, today on catesbooknuthut.com. Cate is one of the members I go to on Goodreads for clear, incisive book reviews. If she doesn’t like it, I don’t bother. If she does like it, it’s usually pretty quickly on my shelf. It’s nice to know she enjoyed Hindsight.

Cate's Book Nut Hut

Hindsight“I am hurtling eight stories to the pavement. There’s a bullet in my left shoulder and another chewing through my lung. I am going to die.” – Shirley O’Shea

When Shirley got out of prison three years ago, he committed himself to being there for his sister, Haley, and his aunt, Winnie–the only family he has left. Then he met Isaac, a man with connections to his grandfather and to the IRA. Isaac said he owed Shirley’s family a favor: deliver a package and get some money. But things are never that simple, are they? What should have been an easy drop-off blows Shirley’s world apart. Now he’s on the run, a continent away from those he loves, trying to figure out what he’s gotten himself into, who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go in order to keep his family safe.

But Shirley has a few…

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Review- 11/22/63: A Novel



Stephen King’s Needful Things was the book that turned me on to reading and writing again, after a long hiatus. The book set the bar quite high for other thrillers and here’s why:

King is a master of atmosphere. Other authors focus on creating a terrifying villian. King, however, simply traps his very human characters in a horrific situation, like putting two starving guinea pigs in the same cage, then watches them eat each other. These characters are going about their ordinary lives when something changes, be it an invisible dome snapping down over their town or a mist that rolls in with monsters in its wake or an old shopkeeper who sells people the things they want for a simple favor. This change is what all of King’s readers have come to love about his writing.

He sets a scene so thoroughly that it smells and tastes like you are sitting at a diner, drinking a gritty, bitter slosh of coffee while you overhear the conversations that carry on around you. Then an unseen hand turns the dial on the thermostat up just a little and the scene shifts. Soon, things are tense and that tension doesn’t let up when the villain leaves, because something has changed in the ordinary people that still live in the hamster cage.

I could go on about Stephen’s knack for plot-craft, but I intended to talk about 11/22/63, and that I shall. Truthfully, I could have used a little more of that sense of foreboding. The entire novel was heavy on the nostalgia, but a little light on the suspense for my tastes. There were those moments when everything is going wrong, but I didn’t feel as compelled into finding out just how bad things could get, because there were a few too many rays of sunshine in this piece. This could be what some readers are looking for. They don’t want a white-knuckle thriller, just an escape to a different time. If that’s what you’re out to find, then this is a great book. King doesn’t just write suspense or horror, after all. He’s the author of The Green Mile and Shawshank Redemption as well, both beautiful works of the nobility and strength of the human spirit. Others have felt this one falls closer into that category. I felt he was trying to straddle the fence a little and could have gotten off on either side.

The premise is interesting. You walk into the pantry of a diner in 2014 and out into the past. You could stay for five years, but when you go back into the diner, you’ve only been gone for two minutes. You go back into the past, but it’s always the same day and every time you go back, you reset everything you did to the timestream on the trip before. Now, one of the characters thinks so much of the world’s evil could be undone if someone could just keep JFK from being assassinated. Then the mission begins. An ordinary goes back to stop a killing (a few killings, actually).

I would like to have seen a little more darkness and desperation in the main character, Jake Epping. For most of the novel, he seems to wander around trying to figure things out, making up life as he goes along. It’s believable. He’s not a superhero and stepping back in time would definitely put you on your heels, but I didn’t get much of a drive from him for most of the book.

One thing that King does excel at in this novel is his research. It is exhaustive. He knows everything from obscure dog-racing scores to the kinds of cigarettes smoked in his locals fifty years ago. That was, perhaps, the most impressive thing about the book for me. It gave the whole story an air of authenticity is critical to works of science fiction. It took a while, but his theories of time-travel presented an unusual slant on the organism, or machine, of time and how our actions affect the nature of reality. It was a payoff, however, that I would have like to have come sooner.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable, believable story, but I would not say it is one of King’s best. The suspense is quite watered down by the length of time it takes to tell the tale and the span of years that it covers. Suspense is not everything, however, and if you want a story that is one part thriller and three parts homage to the 50’s, then this is the perfect tale for you.

As I Lay Dying Review



As I Lay Dying was, honestly, like wading through an ever changing current of words. Faulkner’s ear for dialect is as keenly tuned as a master violinist’s toward the reverberations of his instrument. That being said, however, Faulkner’s writing style, when expressed in the stream of consciousness ramblings that fill this book, is…well to say “confusing” would be an understatement. The book is well worth the read if you enjoy reading for the sound of a character’s voice. There are some unique voices here. If you’re not one for meandering monologues on life’s meanings and odd sentence composition, then I’d suggest you leave this one on the shelf. If you choose to read this book, opt for the audiobook as the various readers help to make better sense of the unbroken style of Faulkner’s prose.

An example of when Faulkner gets confusing: 

“In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I don’t know what I am. I don’t know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear the rain shaping the wagon that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either, lie on our wagon though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only to Jewel and me, that are not asleep. And since sleep is is-not and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is.

How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.”

An example of when Faulkner gets it right:

“He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like those others: just a shape to fill a lack that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that anymore than for pride or fear.”


“I notice how it takes a lazy man, a man that hates moving, to get set on moving once he does get started off, the same as when he was set on staying still, like it aint the moving he hates so much as the starting and the stopping. And like he would be kind of proud of whatever come up to make the moving or the setting still look hard. He set there on the wagon hunched up, blinking, listening to us tell about how quick the bridge went and how high the water was, and I be durn if he didn’t act like he was proud of it, like he had made the river rise himself.”

3 TV Shows You Should Be Watching

As an author, I love good writing. I love it in every shape it takes: music, theater, literature, movies, TV, and even video games. I devour good stories and savor exquisite dialogue. There’s a lot on TV, however, that just isn’t worth the time, and I appreciate any list that helps me procure those truly exceptional shows. So, here’s three that are on my list (not in any order). Feel free to add any of your favorites as well. As a fair warning, some of these shows are a bit rough–some, but not all. For those that are, I’ll let you know what to watch out for, in case colorful language, copious amounts of blood, or some “tasteful nudity” turns you off.


Parenthood– A show that’s really just about a family that has to deal with all the normal stuff that your family has to deal with. This show sets the bar for television dramas. The thing that I like most about Parenthood is that it feels authentic. They don’t overreach with bizarre plot lines. They don’t hyper-manage the dialogue so that it every moment is a hallmark moment. People talk over each other and you only catch bits of the conversation at points, but that just feels like a family conversation around my dinner table to me and I like it. It’s a show that thrives on subtlety, and subtlety is the watermark of confident, mature writing.

– Like the juxtaposition? This show is gorgeous. That’s an odd compliment to give a television show that has literally been banned from certain channels because of it’s gore and “violence”. I put violence in quotations, because the actual violence in Hannibal is not anything that you wouldn’t see on CSI or 24. It’s the display of the victim’s body that can get to you if anything. In Hannibal, the human form and psyche is art. Bodies are displayed as icons, symbols of deeper psychological meaning, so that the detectives and grasp the mind of the man or woman who killed them. A human mushroom farm, blind justice, and people used as antler ornaments are just a few examples of the show’s creative displays of dead human bodies. It’s not the artistic rendering of crime-scenes that draws you in, though (it certainly stuns you into paying attention). It’s the exchanges between the show’s characters and the maestro of human manipulation, Hannibal Lecter. An ominous energy charges every episode, because you know exactly who Hannibal is but no one else does. He works his web around people psychologically unsettling both them and you, until he is, at last, ready to devour them. Most every episode ends with my jaw on the floor at the brilliance of this villain and the unexpected turn that the plot has just taken.


Ripper Street– Ripper Street is what you would get if CSI got together with Downton Abbey and had a lovechild who could speak like Shakespeare and throw a punch like Mayweather. Set around the time of the Jack the Ripper murders, the show’s main protagonist is a duty-driven detective in Whitechapel who’s deductive prowess make him something of a Sherlock Holmes, though he’s not so self-assured. The crimes center around the consequences of advancements in technology, medicine, and entertainment, like moving pictures, electrified railways, the stock market, and lobotomization. Caught up in this world of greed and murder are the detective’s American surgeon, who is a carousing, substance-addicted fugitive, though very handy with in brand-spanking-new field of forensic science, and an ex-military man who is the muscle to the detective’s brain. The characterization and crimes are very intriguing, but the main draw of this show is the dialogue. Almost every line is so eloquent that you could read the script at a wedding, graduation ceremony, or even a friggin’ funeral and receive a standing ovation. As a heads up, there is a very slight amount of nudity in Ripper Street (mostly in the form of cadavers laid out on an examination table, but the first episode does show a bit as well).

How about you? What shows would you recommend for their writing?



Review: Odd Thomas


A story of a young man in a nowhere town who can see the dead. I won’t give you much more of the plot. You can read the description on the book for that if you’d like.

Koontz’ Odd Thomas series has become something of his flagship work. I’d seen it a number of times, but never given it a chance. A few years ago, I read The Face. The two books have similar qualities. Koontz’ natural narrative voice is full of sensory detail, making every spoonful of ice-cream or juicy bite of an apple into a mouth-watering moment to savor. He makes note of the complexities of the human condition, juxtaposing the mundane with the extraordinary or the wicked with the benign. What I most appreciate about his work, however, is his ability to carry a metaphor all the way through a chapter. This might seem tiresome at first glance, but Koontz weaves the metaphor so skillfully throughout the narrative that you don’t want to miss a word, because each turn of the phrase brings out some new nuance to his metaphor that welcomes the reader into the deeper meanings of the tales. In The Face, I found myself intrigued by the villain, Corky Laputa. Odd Thomas, by contrast, is so full of unique and colorful characters that they all perk your attention when they pass through the frame.

Odd Thomas, himself, is as likeable, quirky, and complicated of a lead character as you are like to find in a popular novel these days. The story, told from his perspective, tints the world in the hues that only he can see. There’s an undercurrent of melancholy to his tone that is lightened throughout by his extreme hopefulness, humor, and knack for noticing the idiosyncrasies in the people around him. Of course, this novel is not solely about character and paces quite nicely into darkness and bloodshed. The horrors that the reader experiences, however, are always mediated by Odd’s philosophizing, trying to make sense of a life so full of death. Some readers might find this irksome, but I enjoyed it. I only wish I hadn’t finished the book while in a public place, because the end leaves you needing to sit down and take a moment.