Bits and Bobs from the Bookshelf

~Killers Of The Flower Moon David Gann A true crime story that makes your blood boil and stuns you into stony silence at the potential for human depravity. In the 1800’s the Osage Indians were run off their reservations several times by the US government, in the end being forced to hand over nearly a hundred million acres of their ancestral land. In the 1870’s they found land in Kansas that was so hilly and rocky they deemed it of no interest to the white man and decided to purchase it. Then, in an amazing twist of fate, it turned out that this barren landscape was sitting on millions of dollars worth of oil. The Indians became rich, the white man became unhappy. So unhappy, it seemed, that somebody decided to start killing the Osage off. This is an outrageous story, shocking in its depth of human corruption and greed. And of course, the threads of racism run throughout…that pervasive, insidious belief that the white man is somehow superior and all other races are “less than,” which makes it so much easier to justify their killing. When the Indians come into their wealth, the US government steps in and imposes a system of financial guardians for the Osage, the common belief being that they were incompetent and that many of them had the mental capacity of a six or seven year old. The Osage were only allowed to draw a few thousand dollars annually from their funds, regardless of a need to pay hospital bills or educational expenses. And because so many white men had control over the Osage’s fortune, the money was just ripe for the taking. And take it they did. This book is written in three parts. The first details the Indians, their history and how the murders happened and to whom. The second part discusses the beginning of the new FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, as they use the Osage murders as a showcase for their new organization. When attempts to solve the murders by local police proves ineffective, Hoover brings in Tom White to take over. He completely re-boots the investigation, re-examining every piece of evidence with his crack team of agents and slowly fitting the pieces of the puzzle together. The third part is the author’s perspective, bringing the story into the present and relating what he in turn discovers after talking to many of the descendants of the murdered Osage. This is one of those non-fiction books that reads like fiction. Grant is a fabulous writer and his relaying of facts never falls dry. You are completely drawn in to his telling of events and swept along to the end on a tidal wave of righteous indignation.

~Since We Fell Dennis Lehane It’s established up front that our protagonist, Rachel Childs, was raised by her mother, a well-known self-help author, who cruelly refused to tell Rachel who her father was. All she knew was that he walked out on them when she was three. In the opening pages, her mother dies in a car accident taking this information to her grave. Rachel, who at this point is in college, hires a private detective, Brian Delacroix (remember that name, he re-joins the party later) to find the father she remembers. He fails. She tries again and succeeds only to discover that he isn’t her biological father after all. They do form an interesting relationship, however, and he helps her continue her search. Meanwhile, Rachel creates a nice life for herself as a rising star journalist, living with hunky partner, Sebastian who works along side her at a Boston TV station. Already prone to panic attacks, Rachel experiences an horrific event in Haiti and proceeds to have an on air breakdown which leaves her with no job, a broken relationship and an 18 month stint as a shut-in in her own apartment. Then Brian Delacroix resurfaces, they fall in love and get married. That’s the first half of the book. It’s interesting and well written. No complaints here, although I am beginning to wonder exactly where the psychological drama might be hiding. But never fear, here it is — Rachel sees something that makes her doubt that her husband is who he says he is.  Rachel, of course, may be a little paranoid – anxiety-riddled agoraphobe that she is. I’m not entirely sure it matters though ’cause this book devolves into lunacy from here. Thugs with guns, ridiculous coincidences and preposterous escapes. Scenarios so outlandish, in fact, as to not be believed. I’d say, skip this one.

~Sing, Unburied, Sing Jesmyn Ward  A powerful and haunting story anchored in a thousand ghosts of the Black American South, strung up in the branches of the trees, unburied. We meet Jojo on his 13th birthday. He lives with his maternal grandparents, Mam, who is dying of cancer, and Pop, who bears the weight of guilt from an incident in his past. Jojo’s mother, Leonie, struggles with drug addiction and his white father Michael is serving time in Parchman Penitentiary, the same prison we learn, where Pop also spent time as a teenager. When Leonie learns of Michael’s impending release she decides to take Jojo and his three year old sister Kayla, along with drug addled friend Misty, on a road trip to pick him up. It is, perhaps, a misguided attempt on Leonie’s part to play happy families. Through the journey we learn of Jojo’s fractured relationship with his mother for the simple reason that she has never been there for him, and smart kid that he is, he sees right through any half hearted attempt to make things right. When Kayla becomes sick in the car, it is Jojo who she instinctively reaches out to for comfort simply because it it Jojo who has taken on the responsibility of caring for and protecting her. Leonie is stung by this and lashes out, making things worse. The story is told both by Leonie and Jojo, in turn, each of whom is haunted by a ghost. Leonie by her brother Given who died in a hunting “accident” at 18 and whom she sees every time she gets high. And Jojo by Richie, a young boy who died while imprisoned with Pop many decades before. It is through Richie’s story that we learn of the origin of Pop’s guilt which tangles itself with Given’s death — deaths from the past reverberating into the present and suffusing everything with the weight of grief and injustice. It is a beautiful story, if a story with such weighty issues can be called so, and Ward infuses it with such intimacy and love amidst the pain and sorrow that your heart breaks a little for all the characters, because while this is fiction, it really isn’t. And Leonie may be an incredibly selfish person whose blinding love for Michael  prevents her from seeing much of anything else but Ward refuses to let her become one dimensional. We see Leonie’s desire to do right by her children at times and the occasional flashes of insight and even though she fails so horribly we also witness her guilt and shame. And it is so hard not to take pity on all these people who struggle so tirelessly in a world that offers little reprieve. In the end what you really want to do is scoop up Jojo and Kayla and run off with them to a much better place.


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