Book Review: The State We’re In

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Publisher: Headline Review
Date Published: 4th July 2013
My Ratings: 7 / 10
Average Goodreads Ratings: 3.9 / 5

SYNOPSIS:
What are the odds that the stranger sitting next to you on a plane is destined to change your life? Especially when they appear to be your opposite in every way.

She’s a life-long optimist, looking for her soul mate in every man she meets; he’s a resolute cynic – cruel experience has taught him never to put his faith in anyone.

People can surprise you. In the time it takes to fly from London to Chicago, each finds something in the other that they didn’t even realise they needed.

Their pasts are such that they can never make one another happy and it’s when they get off the plane, that their true journey begins…

REVIEW:
At times, Joanna (Jo) Russell’s naivety gets on my nerves. She attempts to salvage a youthful mistake of ditching a fiance at the altar, by flying 300miles to wreck his upcoming wedding. That simply shows how much of a tragically hopeful romantic she is. I hated her less when she’s simply unhinged and having fun, while not harbouring thoughts of how romantic love is the one thing that should determine how you run your career and life.

The story runs beautifully. We see a parallel story running side-by-side, an almost continuation of the affair that never was. On one hand Eddie Taylor at his bedside and the son that he had left 29 years ago, Dean, flies over to bid him hello and farewell, but leaves for his house in Chicago in a fit of anger when he discovers that it was not Eddie who had asked to see him, but the meddlesome nurse who felt sorry that no next-of-kin was holding the dying man’s hand. On the other hand, delusional Jo Russell leaves her parent’s house and flies to Chicago to stop her ex-fiance – Martin’s – wedding, determined that the letter of invitation was a cry for help, and that Martin was pleading with her to not hold her peace. Somehow, she was inclined to believe that she had to take him away from his current bride-to-be. That Martin was the One.

I mean, who in their right state of mind still believes in the One?

Fate, or whatever forces that be, dictated that Dean and Jo were to spend 10 hours in the pressured tube bound for Chicago in the Club Class. The moments of emotional upheaval that they shared were rather less physically intimate than usually required for Dean to feel for anybody, but in rare cases more fictional like this, Dean cared for the delusional 35-year-old.

The forces that be also created a tragic interweaving of their histories. The father that Dean came to abhor happened to have left Dean, his mother and sister, 29 years ago, for the woman that happened to be Jo Russell’s mother – Clara Russell. And in a dramatic irony, Jo finds out that her ideal picture of what family had been and should be, was destroyed by a single phone call revealing that after decades of marriage, her mom was leaving her dad for a dying man – Eddie Taylor.  And that her dad was actually gay.

What?

That much was revealed in the span of this novel which had moments of epiphany that tugged at my heartstrings, despite the loathing I felt for Jo Russell at certain points where she was behaving less than half her age. How thoughtless and selfish a woman past her 30s can be really got on my nerves.

Dean, however, made a huge impression with his touch of sensitivity. His genuine care and concern filled up the void left blank by absent members of his family. He was the true hero of the book, taking baby steps in placing trust upon people and learning to commit like nobody in his life had ever shown his before.

The part where he was beginning to fall in love with Jo got a bit unrealistic and unconvincing, though. It was clear that girls were throwing themselves at his feet – cleavage, cellphone numbers and all – yet Jo was all he had on his mind after a mere 10 hours in the air. And Jo was being such a selfish, self-obsessed and indulged woman. Perhaps the oxygen up there is insufficient indeed.

However towards the end I grew to love Jo Russell. There was a reason behind her first-hand account while everyone else’s stories were written by the third-person. Here’s where the spoiler comes: Dean and Jo doesn’t end up together. Jo marries somebody else, and the little epilogue is simultaneously the saddest and the most heart-warming bit in the entire novel. The moment we’ve all been holding our breaths for – Dean and Jo were each other’s love of their lives but for reasons only explained in the book (ask me personally cos I don’t wish to spoil the book for you) they don’t end up together, ever.

Amidst the interweaving tales of marriage, relationships and families – broken or not – lies the keen reminder that nobody is perfect. Perfection should not be expected of anybody. And that forgiveness, big or small, is the hardest yet most essential part of any human relationship.
This is one piece of thoughtful contemporary literature that I would recommend to lovers of Jodi Picoult or even Jill Mansell and Kristin Hannah.

If ‘The State We’re in’ were to be made a movie…
Joanna Russell: Isla Fisher (Bring back the Shopaholic, please!)
Opening Ceremony And 'The Great Gatsby' Premiere - The 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival

Dean Taylor: Hugh Dancy
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Eddie Taylor: Sean Bean
sean

Clara Russell: Christie Brinkley
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xoxo Viktoria Jean

oo1 ✦ Dangerous Mind ✦

The night is long – shadows grow on my wall
I’m calling out but no one’s home;
Cause paranoia is the only friend I know

Street lamps dimmed promptly at midnight, signalling the witching hours. A rented motorbike cruised along the Kan-Etsu expressway at a speed enough to give the common man a heart attack. Constant roars of the engine were probably the only sounds in this prefecture of rampant crimes and felonies. The Harley-Davidson travelled another mile before skidding to a stop at the gates of a hostel. The rider swung a lean leg to hop out, ran a hand through his hair – damp from ravages of the evening wind.

With a loaded haversack slung across his back, he walked, fists clenched, towards a relatively modern-looking building situated at the far end of the parking lot. He approached the porch entrance. Kikokushijo Student Hostel – the sign formally printed in katakana. He was in the midst of brushing up on his Japanese, though admittedly he was a better composer when his works were Korean.

A chair was propped up against the entrance gate.

“Max?”

A petite elderly lady gently beckoned. She must be Kawa-san, the caretaker whom everyone dubbed the ‘Halmeoni’. A Korean immigrant herself, she adored her hometown lodgers and never failed to welcome them with open arms.

Max shuffled his weight from one feet to another, hesitant.

Kawa-san cupped her thin, callused palms lightly over Max’s, extending her warmth to the tips of his icy cold fingers.

“Please call me Halmeoni, like everyone else. It’s great to finally meet you,  Max. Come over where there’s light.”

Such benevolence in a smile could only beget genuine humanity. Max nodded and attempted a smile which didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Come,” she repeated, undeterred by his silence, “I’ll show you to your room. Let’s get you comfortable. School begins tomorrow. A good night’s rest will do you some good.” Kawa-san then led the way to the co-ed dormitory that Max was to share with two other fellow students. Max was thankful that she comprehended how he did not wish to speak.

The room was dark. Closing the door behind him softly, Max approached the only empty bed by the window, which faced the dimly-lit streets. He could sense the gentle rise and fall of his room-mate’s chests as they slept on soundly, but quietly so he would not wake them, Max unzipped his jacket and draped it across neatly-folded sheets.

For a long while after, he was lost in thoughts as he stared out of the window. His mind had a life of its own, swirling with memories long buried and better off forgotten.

Here at last, Max was finally physically safe enough to revisit his past. Though blurred and fuzzy at the edges from prolonged suppression, recollections were raw all the same. He fingered the red star that hung from a thin silver chain, warm from the heat of his chest, as he was laid in bed thinking.

That night, Max was sleepless.
***

“Hey handsome! G’morning.”

A chirpy girl greeted Max with a wide smile.

Max didn’t mean to stare. She was dressed in a beach-ready bikini, and as she stood up, he was hit with the fact that his room-mate was drop-dead gorgeous. Max stopped himself from scanning her from top to toe, and focused on her mega-watt smile.

Noticing Max’s creeping blush, she let out a loud laugh.

“Hah! Forgot my manners. Forgive me. I’ve been here for 3 years and this is nothing new. You are Max right? Halmeoni told us you would be staying with us. I’m Sora. Kim Sora from Seoul, Korea, like you!”

She sure talks a lot. Max thought as he shifted his gaze onto the body on the adjacent bed.

“Oh that one is Thierry. He is so lazy even though we need to wake up at this time every morning, and now the time is….OH NO. OH MY GOODNESS. THIERRY! WAKE UP! WAKE UP!”

Sora was born a multitasker. Max watched her tug the blankets off of Thierry, and slapped him in so many areas that could wake the dead, and all the while, managed to powder her nose and put on mascara. Her lungs were a separate entity – they screamed at a hundred decibels for Thierry to get the hell out of bed.

Thierry, however, was dead to the world.

Sora launched her last resort.

“Max. Give me a hand will ya? Press Thierry down.”

Curious, Max did as told.

Sora stood a few feet away, poised to charge at the bed. Max stood rooted as Sora flung her entire bodyweight, and more, at her sleeping victim.

“YARRGHHH!” Sora roared as she slammed onto Thierry. Her fingers latched onto him and began aggressive tickling.

“What in the WORLD!!” Thierry sprang up. He tried to lift his body but Max was holding on. Max was not just ordinarily strong – he was chocked full of biceps.

Thierry growled and howled like a tortured maniac. “SORA…STOP!”

“Get up lazy ass. Get dressed!”

Sora then grabbed Thierry by the cheeks, and kneaded his face like it was a lump of mould. Thierry’s cheeks – already scarlet from laughter and pain from Sora’s abuse – turned pinker.

“KIM SORA I’M GONNA GET YA FOR THIS!”

Easing his weight off Thierry, Max took a step back and watched as Thierry sprang up to a sitting position. Grabbing Sora’s waist, he flipped her over effortlessly. The two rolled off the bed onto the Gabbeh carpets, with Sora on top. Laughing, both pursued unrelentingly with their brutal tickle assaults. Both looked so engrossed in their own little world, forming such a sweet picture of bliss.

Not wanting to intrude further, Max turned away. Quietly, he picked up his duffel and closed the door to the dormitory behind him.
***

Kikokushijo Academy was almost a mile away from the student hostel. Seeing as it was early, Max arrived at school on foot, taking in the fabulous scenery surrounding the campus. Cherry blossoms lined both sides of the walkway, and pretty auburn leaves were snow flakes in the wind. The branches crackled when the winds struck.

Around Max, high schoolers moved in big crowds, lively with chatter and gossips. They must have been friends for a really long time as Kikokushijo was an affiliate of their namesake elementary and middle schools.

“Look. He is the new guy I overheard Sensei talking about!”

“I heard he is from Seoul! Lives in that Kikokushijo hostel.”

“Does he share a dorm with anybody? We have an empty bed in ours!”

“He is tall!”

“What’s his name?”

“He looks hot.”

Max straightened his back and trudged on, his duffel slung high across his back. He was wary of this fresh environment although he was certain nobody knew, that he came from a place where his story was fodder for gossip, people were willing to pay to know his whereabouts.

He refused to slouch away or hide his lanky frame, which had become subject of all conversations. Max ran his fingers through his tousled dark brown hair and picked up his pace.

“Look! He is shy isn’t he?”

“He was flirting!”

“No look! He is blushing!”

“Are all Korean guys as hot?”

Girly chatters could be heard all over as they gushed. They were now discussing his muscular frame and that he must be a really good fighter.

Teeth grit, Max thought: You could do much worst in Korea, in that house. Accept this life. Japan is your safe haven now.

Friends were a luxury. Anybody could betray him. He had to stay low, and all these attention was not doing him any good.

He bowed his head as he crossed the gates into Kikokushijo.

~*~*~

✦ Dangerous Mind ✦
The blackholes in the deep recesses of your mind, secrets you never wished to hide.
The lovers you never want to remember and the history you can never leave behind.
You can’t run further if you’ve only been escaping your own mind.

———

A/N: Reposting a novella written 6 years ago by the old me. Here it is, fresh again after some edits.

To be honest, the protagonist, Max was inspired by a favourite Korean boyband then.
Hence pardon the amateurity, immaturity and bouts of girlish-ness.

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To be updated…

♛ Scarlet Carousel | Prologue V

{Prologue} Noemie Matsumoto’s

2017,
South Korea

When Noemie first laid eyes upon his handsomely flawed face, her heart squeezed with unexplained intrigue.

Everything about him screamed perfection, right down to his seeming lack of passion for love, lust and women, which was totally atypical considering his type. Usually, a once-over was Noemie required to have men stripped down to the bone. These creatures ran on instincts, and above all, physical needs. A rare and very fine specimen was this man.

Considering, also, the fact that he was marching down a street full of scantily clad prostitutes throwing themselves at his feet and he shrugged them all off without sparing a glance.

He was headed in her direction, his strut purposeful and quickening with the pace of her heart. Her breath caught when he was barely a foot away…

The look of menace he conjured when she attempted to catch his eye manifested as a grimace that was not unlike interminable pain. She then thought, even the silhouette of his back casted a spell of mystery on those who had the luxury of perceiving.

Just one look from him and she lost all sense of self-control.
He had a mask of a devil, albeit a painfully handsome one.

Fascination gave rise to curiosity. She tiptoed down the alley, retracing the tall, dark and charming stranger’s footsteps.

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

Scarlet Carousel
Searching for the centre of the universe, the centrifugal force that holds everything together.
Each spinning out of control, yet inevitably riveted.
Is this a journey with an end, or does the weight of the world settle in places where the spinning never stops.
Where then will the spiral lead them?

To be continued…

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

xoxo
Viktoria Jean

♛ Scarlet Carousel | Prologue IV

{Prologue} Eiji Saito’s

1999
Fukushima

Sunshine boy! 

Back home in Fukushima, the old lady with the limp at the convenience store welcomed her favourite elementary school boy with a daily tube of chocolate mint candies. Before her passing, Eiji crossed the street twice a day just to say hello and accepted her gifts with great appreciation. Despite being only 6, his ready smile and charming boyish disposition won hearts whereever he went. 

Sunshine Eiji!

Ever since mother-and-child fleed Japan, days thereafter had been colourless, stormy and dreary. Witness Protection Programme, or so the state of law claimed, for the Saito’s continued existence in Japan threatened all their relatives and friends. South Korea however provided little salvation, for they found neither peace nor stability. Eiji could never recover his prior glow of happiness.

Until, following years of misery, he chanced upon one true reason for belonging.

“You would stay with me?” He had sputtered, all bloodied lips and swollen cheeks from being at the receiving end of his drunken boss’s anger.

She had gently wrapped an unworn gym teeshirt around his split knuckles and applied pressure to the deep cut. “Yes.” He had turned away with disbelief. Why would a total stranger show him such kindness?

“If I didn’t, you would do nothing about these, right?” She wet her fingers and gently dabbed at his bruised undereye. It felt cool, comforting. 

“No. There would be questions. I could be arrested for underaged employment if I went to the hospital. My boss would be even more furious.”

“Then I will stay here with you.” Her gentle voice seemed to reach a deeper part of him, re-ignited a spark of warmth and happiness. That night, they went from unacquainted schoolmates to fast friends as they talked of the uncertainties that plagued their lives. She hadn’t lied about wanting to stay.

Eiji Saito was subsequently nothing without Reina Yamaguchi.

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

Scarlet Carousel
Searching for the centre of the universe, the centrifugal force that holds everything together.
Each spinning out of control, yet inevitably riveted.
Is this a journey with an end, or does the weight of the world settle in places where the spinning never stops.
Where then will the spiral lead them?

To be continued…

✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫ ✫

xoxo
Viktoria Jean

in itty-bitty pleasures we revel

Couple of days ago I revived the much-missed feel of carrying dead-weight heavy books in my arms…
by hitting the public library!
Which, sadly I have avoided since, 4 years ago, I found actual shit between pages of Nora Roberts.
By then I’ve forced myself to accept the fact that people do bring public books
into places where they do their private businesses.
So please, anyone who’s reading this, do not smear public books with your booger, poo,
pasta cream sauce, or stuff you wouldn’t want to see in close proximity while enjoying your favourite novel.
Thank you.

My take-home reads:
Hester’s Story by Adèle Geras
Citadel by Kate Mosse
The Suitors by Cécile David-Weill
Happily Ever After by Harriet Evans
Blindspot by Jane Kamensky & Jill Lepore

Reveling in the freedom to read everything I’ve ever wanted to
given the time I have between flights, in the hotel, or in cafès with my latte.
Life’s good.

boooook