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February 2015

During Our Darkest Moments We Must Focus On The Light

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“What is an adult? He’d always wondered. Was it a person who can speak when silent and who invents life, as opposed to just living it? At the wheel, Luke told himself she was the most adult person he had ever known. Some people would argue the opposite: that she had never grown up, that she had never faced things. But he was a happy student again, learning, over the miles, how to read a person by finding what character was available. She was brazen with words and actions no matter how baffled she seemed. No matter how far away she seemed, no matter how lost, she was with him, and he was determined to go with her as she slipped through the past into some brand-new element of the present.”

Disconnection from life, family, and self can lead to many internal questions that in the end could leave you better off for it, or in the same stationary state where life simply carries on. Story of how as independent personalities we hide certain fragments of ourselves from the ones who love us and the people we love the most. To unearth what is most coveted we must look deep into ourselves before we can address the question that demands the most attention.

Anne Quirk is an eighty-two-year-old woman holding up residence in Saltcoats, North Ayrshire, Scotland. She is living in an assisted living facility as her dementia is slowly but surely taking complete control of her mind during the golden years of her life. What we can gather is that her past is one of adventure and mental prosperity, but there is something about her yesterday’s that must be revealed. Anne has seen her life go from her childhood in Ontario, Canada to New York, to Blackpool, and finally to Scotland. She became an artistic legend with a generational talent after identifying a need for documentary photography with the helpful motivation of mentor and lover Harry Black. In her old age she has turned to fantasy as a response to a detached feeling from her artistic self and a sick realization of being trapped by a life that is no longer hers. The narrative is beautiful, sentimental, and nostalgic as we get a first-hand look at a portrait of a young woman through the same timeworn, yet lively eyes. Anne reminisces about her past but there is also a lot of foreshadowing that builds anticipation for the conclusion of the novel.

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Maureen Ward is sixty-eight-years-old and the youngest resident at the sheltered housing complex. After spending countless hours, years upon years caring for her three children Ian, Esther, and Alex. Maureen is left with the helpless feeling that she is no longer needed and essentially the only thing left for her is death. She finds a new motivation in providing assistance and being a personal confidante for Anne. Maureen’s desperate need for a purpose in life is answered as Anne is exactly what the doctor ordered, and like true love she is the gift that keeps on giving. With suggestive photographs that still manage to have a level of obscurity Maureen finds Anne’s mysterious past life invigorating her own present and future.

“Luke felt weak. Just as there was heat inside the heat, there was weakness inside his weakness. Everything is dense with itself out there; everything is thick with its own crazed lack of known limits. Things could escalate. You could sense it in your nerves and feel it on your skin.”

Willingly trying to erase bad memories, unwilling to lose grasp of the ones you hold dear. Luke Campbell is a twenty-nine-year-old captain in the British army for the Royal Western Fusiliers. He is stationed in Afghanistan with men who are not much younger than him, but given his rank he must affiliate as well as dissociate himself from his platoon from time-to-time. After many years of service he is beginning to question the significance of his role in the grand scheme of things as it pertains to his home country and war’s overall role in civilization. At one point a hopeful idealist looking to uphold the legacy of servicemen in his family that came before him, he now sees his failings in his own fundamental principles and enters his own unique identity crisis. After coming home to Scotland, Luke embarks on a new beginning where war is not the answer and his new journey will end up bringing him closer to home. While Luke is in Afghanistan the author utilizes a specific narrative that emphasizes the current unrest that brings out the immaturity and violence in its characters in an environment that demands a level head. We initially read about the honesty and the harsh beauty of war in comparison to the deception, unethical, unsightly nature of love, but as we go along natural feelings begin to right themselves. As beautiful and engaging as one narrative can be, this one is equally ugly and hardhitting.

“There was no such things as an ordinary life. He’d learned that from Anne and he learned it from himself. You can only live a life proportionate to your nature. And he was calm. He was getting there. He could imagine a future less taken up with loss.”

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Storytelling is a big part of this novel which reminded me of the movie Big Fish. Anne’s daughter Alice really shared the same feelings as Billy Crudop’s character in that movie as both of their creative parents spin their yarns. You see the lasting effects as each of them holds resentment towards how their lives can be overshadowed by their parent’s seemingly harmless stories.

” ‘Everything was before me, ‘ Alice said. At times she felt that her mother might suffocate her with the past. Yet she went silent, admiring the mix of periods, wondering if her mother’s neighbor really had any notion of the places that Anne had been to in her busy life. Sometimes Alice would just be sitting like this and she’d suddenly realize she was in pain, without really knowing where it came from.”

In the end I can’t shake the feeling that this book failed to deliver on the expectations that I had after reading the first fifty or so pages. This book grabs you right away with all of the reminiscing, hope, charm, and optimism that leave you in anticipation as to what Anne’s real motivation could be. I truly cherish my experiences reading about the cultured and well-travelled folks and how their past has shaped them. With most forms of media I prefer to subject myself to psychological struggles, mental deficiencies, and tests of the human condition. This is why I preferred Anne’s narrative in comparison to Luke’s. I hate to admit it but coarse language and violence doesn’t shock me like it used to, I have officially been desensitized, however conflicts involving the soul, spirit and the mind gets me every time. This book is a struggle to get thorugh as it periodically lags, but it does come through in the end.

 

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