Sunday, May 1, 2016

Why Call Them Back from Heaven by Clifford D.Simak; Mozart by Marcia Davenport; The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton

It is 11:42  at night and I have yet to write any book reviews and the books are just piling up.  I'm starting to feel overwhelmed.  I probably will not be giving the most lucid reviews but am determined to maintain my self-imposed deadlines.  So with Ernest Chausson's beautiful song, Hebe, playing on Spotify I begin:

Why Call Them Back from Heaven? by Clifford D. Simak,jpg.jpg/220px-WhyCallThemAce,jpg.jpg

Simak writes a strange tale of an America that has discovered how to bring bodies back to life.  At least a private company claims to have unlatched this secret.  As a result people are pouring all their resources and savings into a place to store their frozen body in order to be "resurrected" in a better future.  The problem is that they are destroying their present one for the sake of what may or may not be.

There are questions:  Is it true?  How do we know?  And even if it is true, what is this future world going to do with all these bodies?  How about the millions of bodies stored in third world countries who face hunger, poverty, and other deprivation?  Will they not simply reawake to another lifetime of the same predicament?

Then there are the Religious Ones.  Why continue in a sinful, corrupt world when one can die and live forever in Paradise with God?  Who wants to spend eternity in a fallen world?

With this backdrop we have a mystery.  One man, Daniel Frost, is on the run.  He worked for the Forever Center (the company that freezes the bodies) but somehow received a letter containing information that is crucial to Marcus Appleton, another employee.  Even though Frost has seen the letter, he doesn't understand what's in it, but he knows that Appleton is trying to kill him for it.  As Frost loses his identity, his right to be a citizen, or even provide a living for himself, he must also stay in hiding until he can find out how to expose the letter to the right people.

The ending, which I won't give away, poses another philosophical question and yes, it has to do with the secret that is uncovered in the letter.  This book deserves better commentary than I'm giving it here.  I read it to please my husband who loves this author and science fiction in general.  However, I'm glad I read it.  Thank you, Josh, for expanding my tastes in literature.

Mozart by Marcia Davenport,204,203,200_.jpg

Davenport wrote this biography in 1931 when the style was to dramatize rather than simply supply information.  I understand the thinking behind this method of biography.  It is an attempt to make the subject real to the reader.  So we have descriptions of Mozart smirking here, stamping his foot impatiently there, as well as several imagined conversations that might have taken place with his friends and family.

Like the movie, Amadeus, which I enjoyed, it creates a life like image of a historical figure so we can see him for ourselves.  The problem is, is that the image is largely a figment of the writer's imagination and consequently a false one.  I'd much rather the biographer write what actually happened.  I have read Mozart's letters so I have already experienced his "voice." 

That aversion aside, Davenport does supply us with information that gives us a greater familiarity with arguably the greatest composer whoever lived.  Her book gave me insight into his life and surroundings that I did not previously possess.

The thing from reading Mozart that strikes me most was how small he was in the eyes of his contemporaries.  The aristocracy were lukewarm to him and those who knew better were jealous and successfully sabotaged his career.  Still, slowly, Mozart began to make a name for himself, especially in Eastern Europe where they loved his operas.  If he had chosen to stay there he would have become financially successful. 

But he insisted on returning to his beloved Vienna, where they couldn't care less. If Mozart had lived longer than his thirty-five years he would have seen himself turn into the great legend he now is.  He was on the cusp as his music was gaining greater renown, even in Austria where his enemies retired or, realizing Mozart was on the way up, became his supporters.

One woman in old age was asked how she could be so blase about knowing Mozart.  Her reply was, "But he was such a little man!"

This book did succeed in making Mozart a real person who actually walked on this earth as a regular mortal.  It opened a window into his era and so I conclude that this book is worth reading.  I am now on a quest to find the perfect Mozart biography.  I have already started reading Mozart:  A Cultural Biography by Robert W. Gutman.  It is very different in its scope but I will write more when I finish it.

And finally....

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton

It's past midnight and I'm going to be brief.  Ghost Stories contains eleven stories, each about twenty pages long, that deal largely with the same themes that Wharton covers in all her books:  Unhappily married women, beautiful descriptions about New England and British countryside and old manors and clever turns of phrases.  I enjoyed that last two attributes best.

The added element in these stories is that they also include ghosts.  None of them are alike.  Some deal with dead people from the family, others of people who were cheated and have returned for revenge.  Sometimes the person is an innocent bystander caught in the crossfire of supernatural transactions that have nothing to do with them.  One, my favorite, is more psychological in nature in a Dorian Grayesque kind of way. 

Wharton had a traumatic, metaphysical experience when she was young which she said inspired these stories.  A small autobiographical explanation is included in the back as a small epilogue.

It is 12:20 AM, Eric Satie's Premier Gymnopedie for solo piano has just finished playing and I have given my two-cents worth on the last three books I've read. I hope you have the opportunity to read and enjoy them for yourselves.  Have a wonderful week!


Brian Joseph said...

I had heard of Why Call Them Back from Heaven? and I have wanted to read it. I seem to have missed it during the heavy science fiction reading period of my youth. The issues and themes presented sound right up my ally.

I like Edith Wharton and I think that I would enjoy the collection of ghost stories.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Brian! You would like Simak's story. You would probably find yourself agreeing with the author's conclusion's rather than me but it was certainly thought-provoking.
I hope you get a chance to read Wharton's ghost stories, if you like her writing.

Unknown said...

Wharton's ghost stories sound like an interesting read! I'll have to remember to try to read it around October.

We recently watched Amadeus, I enjoyed the movie. Especially the part where Mozart plays Salieri's music.

I look forward to you finding and sharing a review on a good biography on Mozart.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Chris! I can tell that already, Gutman's biography is very different from Davenport's. For one, he fills us in on a lot of the cultural landscape that Mozart was born into. He definitely has his own bias, but I'll elaborate on that in my future review. Take care!

Phyllis Winn said...

Hi Sharon, my eyes are bleary from your reading all these books and typing up a review for us so late at night. I hope Simak heard the gospel sometime in his life.

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi Phyllis! I looked up Simak's bio to see where he stood. He was not a Christian. He isn't out and out disrespectful of Christianity but he definitely saw all reality as a futile exercise.

R.T. said...

Great! I've been wondering about what will be next on my reading schedule. I think you've helped me decide with your succinct Edith Wharton review. Thanks!

Sharon Wilfong said...

Hi R.T. Succinct is right. I wish I had done these books a little more justice but I wanted to publish my post before Monday.
You will definitely enjoy Wharton's ghost stories. Have fun!