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Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors Paperback – May 11, 2011
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The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
"Whoa.... I love Speculative Fiction.... I love Horror.... I LOVED this book!" -- The Kindle Book Review
"If there is any justice in the literary world the name of Benjamin X. Wretlind will be spoken alongside those of Steinbeck and Hemingway as a truly great American novelist." -- Michael K. Rose, author of Sullivan's War
About the Author
Benjamin ran with scissors when he was five. He now writes. He has been--at different times, of course--a fry cook, range boy, greens maintenance technician, reservations agent, room service attendant, editor, banquet server, meteorologist, instructor, program manager for Internet applications, curriculum developer, training simulation engineer and certification coordinator.
The author of A Difficult Mirror, Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, Benjamin has been called "a Pulitzer-caliber writer" with "a unique American voice." Aside from novels, he has been published in many magazines to include The Horror Express, All Hollows: The Journal of the Ghost Story Society, Horror Carousel and Bare Bones.
He also gets up before 4am to milk (words, not cows). His wife, Jesse, is an artist and counselor, which helps dealing with the five kids they raise as well as a dog, a rabbit, two hamsters, a gerbil and three fish. You can find Benjamin psychoanalyzing himself on his blog (bxwretlind.com/), on his Facebook page (facebook.com/bxwretlind/) or lounging about in the Twitterverse (@bxwretlind).
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Top customer reviews
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But I suppose I can tell you what Castles isn't. It isn't a book you will be able to put down. It isn't a book you will be able to forget. And, most of all, it isn't a book that you will read without spending nearly as much time thinking about it as you spent reading it.
I suppose the best thing I can say, perhaps the only thing I should have said, is this: Castles is a work of true brilliance. If you read it you will not regret it. If you don't read it, know that you will be missing one of the great literary achievements of the 21st century. I know that sounds a bit much, but that it truly how I feel about this novel. If there is any justice in the literary world the name of Benjamin X. Wretlind will be spoken alongside those of Steinbeck and Hemingway as a truly great American novelist.
This wasn't a book with a neatly wrapped up ending, where one could rest easy knowing the fate of everyone involved. This wasn't a book with a cliffhanger ending, where you're either irritated with the authour or eagerly awaiting the next installment.
This was a book that left you with uneasy doubts and unanswered questions...in a good(ish) way. I'll read any other books by this authour....during the daytime......in a room full of people......and noise.
Ben Wretlind is one of those writers, although his story is anything but joyful. Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors, fits into the "magic realism" category, although I did not know that when I started reading the book.
The story begins with Maggie at age six, living in a trailer on the edge of the desert, somewhere in the US, in fear of dust storms and her drunken, abusive mother. The only light in her life comes from her Grandma, who protects her from her mother's worst and advises the young girl to listen to the voices in the wind. When Grandma dies, Maggie is literally on her own.
Maggie learns quickly to stay out of her mother's way, not to engage with her mother's boyfriends and how to "clean up her messes." That's the central theme of the novel.
This novel is one of those where you can take the possibly magical elements and view them as only symbolism, and as a childish or psychologically damaged mind's interpretation of strange events. For example, there's the old school bus on the edge of the desert, just outside the trailer park. It's irresistible forbidden adventure to children, whose parents tell them not to go inside for their own good. Of course, the kids can't resist it. It represents forbidden adventure, the dangerous wild beyond the fences, the untameable forces of nature that erode anything made by humans.
And it's also a portal to the unknown and to the underworld. You can take it literally or as just the way that Maggie sees it. Beyond the bus is the desert. It periodically sends dust storms that smash through windows and clean up messes.
As I said, this is not a joyful book. Maggie is abused by her mother and others, she's raped by her mother's boyfriend, her boyfriend disappears, presumably murdered, her dog is butchered and she takes a series of abusive boyfriends, herself.
On the surface, it's a story of a girl in a very hard life, learning how to cope with pain and terror -- how to "clean up her mess." And she also learns how to integrate the unknown terrors of the world beyond the abandoned . Maggie learns also to listen to the wind, finally. And within the wind and the dust storms, she discovers ... well, I don't want to spoil it. Let's just say that within the storms, she finds the agents of just retribution and the strength to clean up her mess and take control of her own life.
And yet, you can also read this as the warped interpretation of a woman forced through years of abuse to do ... again, I don't want to spoil it.
There's a lot to like in this book. It reminds me of Palahniuk in his darker moments. Wretlind is not afraid to put his readers and his characters through horrible situations, and to describe them clearly, without pretense and without squeamishness. But if you're squeamish, you might have trouble in some parts.
Wretlind writes with that fluid, clear, spare style that the big publishing houses all say they demand (and then publish crap that does not adhere to it). So, even though the situation was horrible, Wretlind tells the story very, very well.
Are you done? If you said "yes", I'm assuming you're lying, because after reading the book you're not going to need to read this review. So I'm going to assume you're either a bald faced liar, or you're just really bad at following directions.
Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors is, without a doubt, the best book I've read in years. Part horror, part lit-fic, Castles tells the story of Maggie, a girl who lives in a trailer park on the edge of the desert. It is the chilling tale of the psychological effects of a childhood of abuse, and the damage that can be done when a child is raised in a culture where violence is used to insidiously strip young women of their senses of autonomy and self worth. But it's also a story that gives us a perverse sense of hope, that when the world is damaged beyond the hope of justice, sometimes retribution can be divine.
The brilliance of Castles is not just in Maggie's voice, which is itself sublimely woven; it is in the universality of Maggie's tale. This story RESONATES. The effects of a culture of violent and sexual oppression on the psyche of young women are universal, and Maggie's story could have just as easily taken place in the streets of Compton or Calcutta, or on the border of the Australian outback or the jungles of Brazil. And this is the genius of Benjamin X Wretlind's writing--you cannot help but identify with the all-too-human Maggie.
Woven through the story is a tale of dark horror and divine retribution. But in the end we're left to wonder if the supernatural elements are the work of God or the Devil, or the product of a mind brought past the point of breaking by a world out of control. Without trying to spoil the book, in the end Maggie's story is one of retribution and redemption.
Now, go read the book.
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