Monday, November 4, 2013

(E-Reader) "Frozen in Time" - Mitchell Zukoff

I ran across "Frozen in Time" somewhat accidentally, and am very glad I read it.
The book is a true account of lost planes in Greenland during WWII and the associated rescue missions, both successful and not.

The heroism of the rescuers, and the groundbreaking attempts to land on glaciers in small planes, are really worth reading.  Attempting to hike kilometers to the coast to meet with ships in the short window before the coastline freezes up and the ships either gone, or marooned themselves, the ever-present danger of crevasses, stealing folks forever into the dark, the creaking of the relative safety of the fuselage as the ice upon which it sits begins to be drawn into a crevasse, the toes of the frostbite/gangrene victim dropping off ....

The "other side" is the ability of the downed airmen to survive for months in the shell of the aircraft, or some of the rescue crews to survive in the snow caves built on the fly.

The heartbreak of the "near miss" recoveries highlights the difficulties and the truly amazing successes that were had at the time.

The whole idea of "plane down" go look, now your plane is down, rescue on the way, that plane is down...with renewed heroism and the "no man left behind" mentality that is difficult to conceive of in present times.

The present-day connection is the wish to recover the planes, or more specifically the bodies of the Coast Guard rescue crew that remains locked in ice.  The big "trick" is to calculate how much the wreckage has moved, along with glacier movements, in the 60+ years since they were trapped.  Modern technologies are used to identify anomalies under the ice and cores drilled to identify success.  Even now, 60 years or more later, there is still danger lurking, still a very short weather window when one can even attempt on-site access and recovery.  Puts even more into the spotlight what was accomplished and what was attempted in the more primitive technology of WWII.

(E-Reader) "How to Talk to a Widower" - Jonathan Tropper

Having read John Green's "Looking for Alaska", which was recommended by my daughter, and finding I really liked it, I tried "How to Talk to a Widower", because, having read on the e-reader, I thought was the same author.
"Looking for Alaska" is the story of a small group of high school students at a private institution.  "Alaska" is one of the students.  The story is first person through one of the characters. ~ Spoiler ~ the key issue in the book is that the character Alaska gets drunk and runs off in her car and gets into a fatal accident.  The remaining characters are left with guilt (as they assisted in the drinking, and created a diversion so Alaska could leave the school), and are left wondering if Alaska died in an accident or a suicide.

"How to Talk to a Widower" is similar, in that it explores a tragedy from an "inside" perspective.  The main character is recovering from his wife's death (a plane crash that occurred about a year before the book starts).  His wife had a previous marriage, so there is a teenage boy who is now in the care of the previously absent birth father.

The main character writes articles for a  magazine called "How to Talk to a Widower" where he takes readers along on his recovery/depression, and provides personal advice on what is going through his mind and how he reacts to the actions of those interacting with him in his new circumstances (e.g. the married men take the opportunity to bring him to strip clubs, as a humanitarian gesture that they reluctantly have to attend; the women in the circle provide food).

The book is based at the post-death, 1 year mark, where the main character is being encouraged to date again.  Tropper does a good job of exploring the lingering depression and the guilt about moving on with life and the associated feelings of abandoning the now-ex-wife.

All in all, a very good read and very good characters - you are really interested in how things turn out.  I believe Tropper does a good job of getting 'inside" the situation, without devolving the story into psychoanalysis or an exercise in understanding depression.

Because I liked "How to Talk to a Widower", I subsequently read "This is Where I Leave You" and "One Last Thing Before I Go", both of which I liked as well.  Both have the same semi-autobiographical tone, and depth of understanding of the characters that they are good reads, easy to pick up and hard to put down.  The same "advantage/criticism" exists - Tropper doesn't wrap up complex problems in a nice simple solution - there is resolution to the immediate story, but the larger scale issues are left unresolved, as they are in real life.  The widower doesn't get married at the end, the surgery patient doesn't get the miracle cure (or die), the divorcee ends up in the weird "hate but maybe re-start" situation that is reality - a story where a replacement was found that made everything lovely, or a secret that makes everything good in perspective is not found.