“Everything breaks if you hit it hard enough”: The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

“Everything breaks if you hit it hard enough”:
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Do you believe in destiny, or fate that controls people’s lives? Why is it that some people can live “normal” “happy” lives, while others have to endure unfortunate circumstances and accidents that change their lives upside-down?

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti tells a story of Samuel Hawley, and his daughter, Loo. Their story does not start on a good note, and only gets worse as it goes on. Hawley and Loo have been constantly on the run, and Loo does not know why. There are many things Loo does not know about her past, including who her mother was, what she was like, and how she died. She does know that there are twelve scars on her father’s body from bullet wounds, and that he does not want to talk about them with her.

At one point, Hawley is by himself at a motel while his daughter is staying at her grandmother’s house. The narrator says:

The room was splattered with red. What a mess he’d made, Hawley thought. He wished he could erase his entire life, starting with his father’s death and then every step that had led him here to this crap motel room, every bullet, every twisted turn of the road he’d followed — even meeting Lily, even having Loo. Hawley wanted it all gone. (321)

It was painful to read this scene, including what followed before and after. As a reader, I completely understand why Hawley wishes he could erase his entire life. By erasing his life, Hawley wants to erase all of his faults. But I wonder how valid it would be to blame Hawley for everything that happened. For me, Hawley seems more of a victim of the events that happened, rather than the perpetrator. There must have been moments in the beginning when Hawley could have stopped, but who is to say that things would have been different for Hawley afterward? I wonder if things happened to Hawley because (maybe) that was his fate. While my life is so painfully normal, Hawley’s life has never been normal. By the time Loo grows up to be a young woman, the life that she and her father lead is filled with so many secrets and history that they seem to live in a world completely of their own.   

Later in the book, Loo says to Hawley, “This isn’t your fault, Dad” (338). To which Hawley responds, “It is…Everything that’s happened and is happening and is going to happen” (338).
Loo wants her father to know that she doesn’t blame him, but Hawley already blames himself for everything, as he has been doing so for many years. That is exactly why Hawley is now trying to fix things. I wonder who is more right in this conversation. I think Loo is right in that, sometimes, things just happen in life that we do not and cannot anticipate. But as Hawley says, we do hold responsibility over the choices we make in life, and these choices in turn cause consequences. But could Hawley’s life – and Loo’s life as a result – have been different?

Earlier in the book, when Loo realizes that she and her father have to move once again, she goes to pick up her last paycheck at the Sawtooth. There she meets Gunderson, who, back when he was young, had been in love with Loo’s mother. As the narrator describes:

The paper was heavy and thick beneath her fingers, like an announcement or an invitation.
(Loo) “I didn’t mean to screw everything up.”
(Gunderson) “Nobody ever does.” (337)

Gunderson also gives Loo an extra $100, almost as though he is giving her a blessing before she and her father set off once more on the road.

And Gunderson is right. Nobody ever means to screw up. Including Hawley, and including us.

 

Work Cited:
Tinti, Hannah. The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley: A Novel. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”:
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

If we look at history, society has made many steps of progress (amongst its many step-backs). Women can, and are encouraged to work in many countries, and more people believe in equality among races. As an Asian-American female, I am very fortunate to be living in a society that allows me to have a career and a house of my own, and to live my life doing what I believe in doing. Although I’m always thinking about my future and the things I should be doing, I do not take the time to consider how fortunate I am to have a life like this. Then I read Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the story forced me to realize that I really should be grateful. In Atwood’s novel, any positive progress in society is stripped away, and women are ranked in the following order: the Wives, Aunts, Handmaids, Martha’s, and Econowives.

As Offred, the Handmaid whose story is told in the novel, says:
“We are for breeding purposes: we aren’t concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. On the contrary: everything possible has been done to remove us from that category. There is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us, no room is to be permitted for the flowering of secret lusts; no special favors are to be wheedled, by them or us, there are to be no toeholds for love. We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices” (136).

Offred works for the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy (which isn’t even her real name). Her job is to give birth to a child for the Commander and his family, and the way in which this is done, in the best way I can describe, is weird (I suggest reading the book for actual details).

In many ways, this book reminded me if 1984 by George Orwell, especially when Offred recited lines from the Bible that they were forced to recite, while knowing that some of the lines weren’t real:
Blessed be the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed be the meek. Blessed are the silent. I knew they made that up, I knew it was wrong, and they left things out, too, but there was no way of checking. Blessed be those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Nobody said when” (89).
These rules of this society, as well as the new definition of “relationship” between men and women, felt unbelievable for me. I simply could not imagine that these different sets of rules could replace the rules that exist today, and go on to govern and shape people’s lives. Can people really be brainwashed that easily? And how long would it take for people to be brainwashed into believing new thoughts, and living new lifestyles? The men, such as the Commander, hold so much power in the novel, and they can use women in any way they want, since in a way, women are pliable objects – they can serve as reminders of times in the past when women dressed up in workout clothes, in short dresses, costumes, etc., and they can also serve as creators of offspring. Either way, women are objects of men’s control.

As Offred lives her life in this society, her thoughts and memories are torn between what she knew before, and what she knows now. As she looks at buildings that used to be university buildings, public library, and hotels, she remembers having her own job, waiting for Luke to come to the hotel room, and even chatting with Moira in her college dorm room as Moira smoked her cigarettes. These things that Moira knew from her “past life” are the things that I am familiar with now, and that’s why I simply cannot imagine the new world she is living in. I simply cannot believe that that reality could become an actual reality.

In her new bedroom given at the house of the Commander, Offred finds the following line carved into the floor in the corner of her bedroom, left by the previous Handmaid:
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum” (51).

Translated, this means, “Ðon’t let the bastards grind you down.”

 

<Works Cited>
Atwood, Margaret. The handmaid’s tale. Houghton Miflin Harcourt, 2017.

“Wishing You More Happiness Than Can Fit A Person”: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

“Wishing You More Happiness Than Can Fit A Person”: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

“I wonder if there’s a secret current that connects people who have lost something. Not in the way that everyone loses something, but in the way that undoes your life, undoes yourself, so that when you look at your face it isn’t yours anymore” – Marin

How wonderful would it be if everything in life worked out the way we wanted? If things happened the way we expected them to, the way we wanted them to, then there would be no unpleasant surprises. When Marin, the protagonist of We Are Okay by Nina LaCour, was staying in an empty dorm room, dreading the visit of her friend, Mabel, I assumed that the two girls had had a fight. What the fight was about, I couldn’t guess. Much later in the story, when Mabel confronts Marin about her disappearance, Marin can’t bring herself to talk about her experiences, not because she doesn’t want to talk to Mabel, but because talking about it is too much for her. When she is finally able to talk, she tells Mabel about being questioned by the police, about staying at the motel where a woman was constantly wailing, and the man next door kept staring out the window without moving for days, and where Marin felt scared that she would go just as crazy.

This scene struck a chord in my mind. Marin and Mabel had been best friends for years, and had shared so many memories, but at that moment, when Marin and Mabel are sitting across from each other, Mabel is looking at Marin with a look in her eyes that Marin doesn’t recognize. Perhaps this is because the lack of recognition is mutual – Mabel doesn’t recognize Marin either, the two friends have become strangers. What’s sad about this moment is that Mabel had assumed Marin had been okay, but Marin was far from it. What’s worse is that, if Marin had told Mabel, things could have been different for both of Mabel and herself (or am I wrong in assuming this?). Have you ever experienced that feeling? Of thinking that you knew your friend, but finding out that there were so many things you didn’t know about them? And feeling that you have failed them? In this particular scene, I found myself wondering what I would have felt in Mabel’s shoes, rather than relating to Marin, the protagonist, because I have been there. I had stood on the other side, trying to understand the person whom I thought I knew and understood.

In the end, nothing turns out the way Marin may have wanted, or expected, but Marin is going to be okay. I mean, what else is new? Does anything ever happen the way we want?

My favorite quote is when Marin and Mabel are at the store, shopping for Christmas presents, when Marin looks at Mabel, and thinks, “I wish her everything good. A friendly cab driver and short lines through security. A flight with no turbulence and an empty seat next to her. A beautiful Christmas. I wish her more happiness than can fit in a person. I wish her the kind of happiness that spills over.”

 

<Works Cited>
LaCour, Nina. We Are Okay. Dutton Childrens Books, 2017.

“A flag on the moon! Isn’t that splendid?”: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

“A flag on the moon! Isn’t that splendid?”: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

This collection of short stories begins with “A Temporary Matter,” a story about Shukumar and Shoba, a married couple living in Cambridge. They are grieving over someone they lost, and when the lights go out in their apartment and they are surrounded by darkness, they start to talk to each other. In “Interpreter of Maladies,” Mr. Kapasi, the taxi driver, feels an attraction for Mrs. Das, whose family had come to India as tourists. Mr. Kapasi imagines a future with Mrs. Das, but in the end, the little slip of paper where he had written his contact information gets flown away by the wind, unnoticed by Mrs. Das and her family. The collection of stories ends with “The Third and Final Continent,” where the narrator comes to work at MIT, and brings his wife, who was married to him by arrangement, to come live with him.

Before I started reading this book, I hoped I would be learning something new – maybe something new about the Indian culture, or what it is like for people coming from India to adjust to the American culture, etc. However, once I started reading, I was surprised to find these short stories showed Indians and Indian-Americans, with a huge cultural barrier between them. While these characters may have shared similar physical traits, and maybe even similar names, their lifestyles and the languages they spoke were completely different. Those who were from America even seemed to take pride in the fact, as if this made them somehow superior. I have seen the same thing happen to some Koreans, too, and it made me wonder again about how valid that idea is, and whether people still believe it to this day. Obviously, these stories show that cultural differences go deeper inside you, and that even if you share the same color of skin as the person sitting next to you, that does not mean you two are similar. What a person believes on the inside is what truly makes them who they are.

And this is why I liked the last chapter, “The Third and Final Continent”. An old white woman, still holding on to the Victorian values, somehow made herself an important person in an Indian couple’s lives, and even though they had nothing in common. Mrs. Croft, who was born in 1866 and wears a skirt that fully covers her ankles, is prone to chastising her daughter Helen, who is 68 years old (who is old enough to be the narrator’s mother) and the narrator for speaking to each other without a chaperone. The narrator, on the other hand, who is from India and still feels uncomfortable walking inside the house with shoes on, is waiting for his wife (whom he married by arrangement), and he and his wife have not even know each other that well. In this unlikely group of individuals, a connection is made. Their moment together in Mrs. Croft’s house somehow closes the distance between the husband and wife, and they are able to build a life together, giving birth to a son, and telling him about the old lady who had always made his father say how splendid it was that a flag was on the moon.

 

<Works Cited>
Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of maladies: stories. Mariner Books – Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006.

“Smile With Your Liver”: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

You were given life; it is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within life, no matter how slight” – Liz Gilbert

Liz Gilbert has a successful career, a house, and a husband. But she realizes that she doesn’t want what she has, and that she doesn’t want to have kids with her husband. This makes her feel like a horrible person, and she feels terribly guilty. She decides to get a divorce, quit her job, and go on travelling around the world. Her destinations are: Italy, India, and Indonesia.

This book made me think about what it means to go on a journey to find what you truly want in life. It is difficult for people these days to find enough time just to get everything they need to get done. Most people spend their entire lives working. It is amazing and unbelievable that Liz Gilbert was able to put everything she had behind her to spend a year for herself.

As a person who has never been to Europe, and has never been on travel for more than 2 weeks, Liz Gilbert’s story made me wonder what it would be like to do what she did. Would I really be able to put everything I have on hold, and to go travelling for a year? Is traveling to different destinations for a year enough to make a person change? Or would you need to have a solid purpose and reason, like Liz did, in order to truly notice a chance? Or maybe, going on a year-long journey doesn’t have to be about change, and it can just be about finding a different side of yourself? Where would my three destinations be?

The book is divided into three parts, and is divided into tiny chapters. Maybe it was because I was reading the book with my Kindle, but I found it hard to concentrate on this book for some reason. I did like Liz Gilbert’s witty and hilarious voice throughout the story.

If I could set aside a year to travel on my own, just for myself, I think I would like to spend some time in Korea, where all of my family is, and then in Europe, where I have never been before. For my third destination, I think I will have to give myself a few months before I figure it out. If I did set off on this journey, I definitely do think I will be able to find a different side of myself. I say this because I went to NY to visit my sister this weekend, and even though it was only for a few days, I felt refreshed and better in general. It makes me wonder what kinds of feelings and thoughts I would have if I had a whole year. Yet, I don’t know if I will be able to have a revelation like Liz did during her journey.

For me, the most important message from this book was that, sometimes, in order to help those around you, you need to help yourself.

“And I will leave with the hope that the expansion of one person – the magnification of one life – is indeed an act of worth in this world. Even if that life, just this one time, happens to be nobody’s but my own” – Liz Gilbert.

 

<Works Cited>
Gilbert, Elizabeth. Eat, pray, love: one woman’s search for everything across Italy, India and Indonesia. Riverhead Books, 2016.

“Jude = x”: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

“Jude = x”:
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

When Brother Luke convinces Jude to run away with him, promising him a happy life, Jude is desperate to leave the monastery where every day had been filled with nightmares. When I think about this moment, I think about how horrible it is that people like Brother Luke exist, and how unfortunate it is that they do unimaginable things to people like Jude, who deserve a better life than the one he has been given. Brother Luke gives Jude so much hope, then snatches it away when Jude needs it the most.

When Jude finds Malcolm, Willem, and JB in college, he never reveals anything about himself, both because he doesn’t want to, and because he thinks telling them about who he really is will make them hate him and be disgusted with him. Jude believes this because this is how he feels about himself. The world has treated him horribly from the beginning, and Jude doesn’t want others to find out how insignificant he is. And yet, even as Jude refuses to talk about himself, he becomes friends with people like Willem, Harold, and Andy, who provide an anchor for him to hold on to, as he struggles to barely hold on each day. Jude doesn’t understand why they hang around him, and yet, without them, Jude wouldn’t have a reason to struggle through another day.

At a certain point, Jude wonders about the discrepancy between how he views himself vs how his friends view him:

“[Jude] feels…that his life is something that has happened to him, rather than something he has had any role in creating. He has never been able to imagine what his life might be; even as a child, even as he dreamed of other places, of other lives, he wasn’t able to visualize what those other places and lives would be; he had believed everything he had been taught about who he was and what he would become. But his friends, Ana, Lucien, Harold and Julia: They had imagined his life for him. They had seen him as something different than he had ever seen himself as; they had allowed him to believe in possibilities that he would never have conceived. He saw his life as the axiom of equality, but they saw it as another riddle, one with no name—Jude = x—and they had filled in the x in ways Brother Luke, the counselors at the home, Dr. Traylor had never written for him or encouraged him to write for himself. He wishes he could believe their proofs the way they do; he wishes they had shown him how they had arrived at their solutions.”

The world has made sure Jude believed in his own insignificance. Yet, Jude makes many loyal and loving friends, who are extremely intelligent and successful in their careers. They choose to befriend him, and to take their time and energy to get to know him. In the end, Jude even becomes adopted by Harold and Julia. What is it about Jude that, despite all of his secrets and his reluctance to talk about himself, draws people in?

For me, I think the reason why Jude’s friends value and love him is because Jude provides them with all the love and forgiveness that he does not give himself. Whereas he hates himself and will not budge when people tell him to think otherwise, Jude acts differently when it comes to his friends. Even though there are a few times in the book where Jude’s beauty is mentioned, I think what his friends really value in Jude is his genuine interest, love, and forgiveness for them. Jude accepts them for who they are, and maybe this encourages them to reciprocate the same feelings to him, even if Jude does not believe them. Somehow Jude is able to bottle up all of his hatred for himself, while showering his love and affections to his friends.

There were many horrifying and uncomfortable moments in this book, and after I finished it, I thought about the title, A Little Life. Assuming that this is alluding to Jude and his life, I thought it should be mentioned that, despite everything Jude went through, he still made something out of his life, and that’s admirable of him.

 

<Works Cited>
Yanagihara, Hanya. A little life: a novel. Random House Inc, 2015.

“from what we cannot hold the stars are made”: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“from what we cannot hold the stars are made”:
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

“Do you think we’ll ever discover all the secrets of the universe?” (231)

Ari asks this as he and his friends, Susie and Gina, sit in the bed of his truck and look up at all the stars. It is Ari’s favorite thing to do – to drive out to the desert at night in his truck so he can watch the stars.

It starts one summer (for some reason, things always start for Ari in the summer) when Ari’s mother is at him again about how “he doesn’t have any friends”. Even though she isn’t wrong, Ari still resents her for saying it. And on that hottest day of summer, he decides he will go to the pool to spend his time. That’s when Ari (Aristotle) meets Dante, and also when, for Ari, “Dante bec[omes] one more mystery in a universe full of mysteries” (19).

One day, Ari comes down with the flu. While he is bedridden, Dante comes to keep him company. Dante gives Ari a book of poems so he can read while Dante sketches him with charcoal on his drawing pad. Ari falls asleep, and when he wakes up, Dante is gone along with his drawing of Ari, but there is a drawing of Ari’s rocking chair that he left behind. In this drawing, Ari notices how Dante has captured the “afternoon light streaming into the room,” and “the way the shadows fell on the chair and gave it depth and made it appear as if it was something more than an inanimate object” (73). But mostly, he notices how Dante has captured something “sad and solitary” about the chair, and he wonders if this is how Dante sees the world, or if this is how he sees Ari’s world. As an Asian American female, I do not share a lot of similarities with either Ari or Dante, and yet when Ari looks at the picture of the chair and tries to figure out whose world Dante has drawn, I find myself thinking that Dante may have drawn a little bit of each of our – the reader’s – world in that picture, too.

One day, a group of boys shoot BB guns at a bird in a tree, and after Ari manages to scare them away, he notices Dante staring at the dead bird on the ground, with tears running down his face. Ari wonders why it is that “…some guys had tears in them and some had no tears at all?” (55). To be honest, Ari did not feel much for the bird. Yes, it was sad that the innocent bird was killed by stupid boys, but in the end, Ari felt that it was only a bird. However, Dante is heartbroken, and as usual, his face acts as a window to his feelings. On his way home, Ari thinks that, “Dante’s face was a map of the world. A world without any darkness…How beautiful was that?” (55).

To be honest, Ari has a lot going on in his life. His brother is in prison, and everyone acts as though doesn’t exist, even though Ari has dreams of his brother. His father, after coming back from the Vietnam War, has been unreachable, choosing not to share his memories or his haunting dreams with his son. Everyday, Ari misses him more. On top of it all, Ari is a teenager, and he is trying to figure out who he is. And Ari is scared of Dante, because Dante means a lot more to Ari than he would like to admit.

Nevertheless, from his journey with Dante, Ari learns that “One of the secrets of the universe was that our instincts were sometimes stronger than our minds” (261) and that “Sometimes pain was like a storm that came out of nowhere. The clearest summer morning could end in a downpour. Could end in lightning and thunder” (261). If your friend was standing in the middle of the road, and you saw a car on the other side coming full-speed at them, would you throw yourself at your friend to save them?

That day, when Dante had given him the book of poems by William Carlos Williams, Ari, flushed with embarrassment and conscious of Dante’s focus on him, had read a line from the book: “from what we cannot hold the stars are made.” (73), and even though he had not understood what it meant, he had thought it was beautiful.

 

<Works Cited>
Sáenz, Benjamin Alire. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Kindle Edition.