Sunday, January 13, 2013

Two Book Reviews: Route 66 Still Kicks and The Lifeboat:A Novel

I at first thought I'd write this as a book review aimed at men and then another one at women.  And then I asked myself, " why?"  I thoroughly enjoyed the "man's" book, Route 66 Still Kicks by Rick Antonson.  I don't believe The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan is chick lit.  Far from it. So  here goes, two book reviews.  Let's start with Route 66 Still Kicks.  The reason I loved it was because I love trivial history about America.  And Route gives you plenty of that.  Let me set the map for you.  Rick talks one of his buddies, Peter, into taking a drive along as much of the now defunct Route 66 that they can find.  He wants to rent a convertible and travel down memory lane.  The road begins in Chicago and ends in LA.  Of course the book is riddled with references to how Nat King Cole came upon the song named after the road as well as tales about the TV show. But I'm jumping ahead.  I looked on Amazon and when I typed in Route 66 in books, 3,551 references were made regarding Route 66.  3,551.  Now that means somebody is interested.  Once Rick and Peter get underway, it's like opening an American history book.  We learn that FDR used Al Capone's car to make his speech regarding Pearl Harbor.  Why?  While Capone was in the slammer, it was the only armored vehicle the secret service could find on short notice.  We learn all about how the hotel industry started with the Harvey Houses and how hotels sprung up along the continental railroad.  We learn that much of the Route is along old cattle trails as well as parts of the Cherokee Trail of Tears.  As they visit Oklahoma, Antonson talks about the wonderful humor of Will Rogers and his tragic death and about the scouting and hiring of Mickey Mantle by the New York Yankees.  He tells the tale of a notorious double murder in Oklahoma that still permeates the psyche of the town of Depew. So as they follow Route 66, we get a great history lesson. Read more...

Rick and Peter soon become like an old married couple.  They bicker; they fuss; they get on each others nerves; they argue about directions because neither wants to use the same map.  Taking the "old" parts of the Route gets them stuck in red mud, which has further perilous ramifications, almost get swept away by a flood and, of course, the possibility of running out of gas in the middle of nowhere.  As you would expect, they have their Lucy and Ricky moments of seeing sign after sign that promises great food and a great bed only to find, after driving many miles, the place shuttered.  They do meet some indelible characters and eat some really awesome food.  They did get their kicks on Route 66...Route 66 Still Kicks: Driving America

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Logan is told in the first person by a very unreliable narrator. Grace Winter and her very wealthy husband are aboard a luxury liner 5 years after the sinking of the Titanic.  As with the Titanic, their vessel also sinks.  As with the Titanic, the majority of the survivors were women.  Grace finds herself in a lifeboat designed to hold 30 but says it will hold 40 and there are 40.  It seems the owner of the ship line is unscrupulous.  What's interesting about this book is that it's not your usual sea survival story about men and how they handle the situation.  This is a story about a power struggle between the women and the lone ship's mate, Mr. Hardie,  who may or may not have taken a gift from Grace's husband to get her into the life boat and who may or may not have the boat's occupants best interests at heart.  The majority of the story is taken up with  the daily suffering one endures when trapped at sea in a too small boat with very little food and water. As Stephen Crane wrote in "The Open Boat": "A singular disadvantage of the open sea lies in the fact that after successfully surmounting one wave you discover that there is another behind it just as important."  As we can guess,  the women are confronted with special needs that are different than that of the men's.  As Grace says,  all the men have to do to do their business is open their fly and urinate over the side.  Women have a whole set of other issues.  There are 4 antagonists in this novel:  Mr. Hardie, Hannah, a strong willed and seemingly gay (I honestly don't know why this is hinted at.  It served no purpose.) albeit married woman, Mrs. Grant, who is very sympathetic to everyone but turns out to have a will of steel, and our unreliable Grace.  Of course the inevitable time comes when the boat is taking on water and the question arises, should someone voluntarily jump over the side and drown for the good of the remaining?  This is the moral dilemma of the book.  And what makes it even more morally questionable is...can we trust what Grace says after they are saved?  Because once they arrive back in Boston, Grace, Hannah and Mrs. Grant are put on trial for murder.  I thoroughly enjoyed the novel.  Having read enough  nonfiction sea survival books as well as the big daddy, Life of Pi, I know enough about what they would go through while in the boat.  But throw in the unreliability of Grace and you've got an interesting story. The Lifeboat: A Novel | [Charlotte Rogan]

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