Friday, April 26, 2013

Reaching for Reacher

I haven’t posted in a while. I am overwhelmed. Reality battered my sensibilities, I’m afraid, so I have been hiding inside a book or two or three. You’d think I would turn to romance or fantasy novels or literary fiction or poetry that titillates my love of words. But I don’t. I read detective, mystery, and police novels. After seeing Jack Reacher starring Tom Cruise, I started plowing my way through Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. I’m on number 12 and about ready to begin 13. I believe there are 17 total, and, hopefully, some more on the way.
It’s what I did as a child in a household in which my parents played out tragic lives. They faced poverty and alcoholism and anger and depression and cultural and ethnic differences that drove them apart in spite of the love I knew they had for one another. I suffered abandonment issues as a result, but that paled in comparison, I suppose, or at least was brushed aside in lieu of the adult problems, and, anyway, books had a way of finding me, sitting with me, comforting me, and loving me. 
I developed my taste for reading with the books I found in the bathroom hamper, Ma’s secret reading stash.  By the time I was twelve or thirteen I had read Gone with the Wind, The Carpetbaggers, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Knock on Any Door, The Valley of the Dolls, Grapes of Wrath, The Godfather, East of Eden, and a host of other adult novels. I like novels with grit and human suffering and realism and death and mayhem and mystery and resolution and justice. I still head for those books today: if not Lee Child and Jack Reacher, then Elmore Leonard and Raylan Givens, or Craig Johnson and Walt Longmire, or Walter Moseley and Easy Rawlins and Leonid McGill, or Jonathan Kellerman and Alex Delaware, or James Patterson and Alex Cross.
It’s not that I don’t read other books. I love Toni Morrison and Amy Tan and Alice Walker and William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway and Eugene O’Neill and so many others. I’ve read lots of memoir because there is something about the chance to live and walk in someone else’s shoes, if only for a few hundred pages, that speaks deeply to my empathy. I read lots of non-fiction, too, about history and politics and culture and race and gender. I worry my short time on earth, even if it is 90 or 100 years, will not be long enough to read all the books I hope to read.
But when life seems too much – when the news turns my stomach with stories of violence, heartbreak, hatred, and ignorance; when humankind displays its ugliest behaviors and emotions; and when family life transitions are difficult to experience, like the transitions my elderly in-laws are going through, because there is sorrow and loss and pain and unknowing – I run to the gritty, hardcore novels. The novels where the heroes struggle with their own brokenness and sorrow but who have strong ethical codes and who fight for justice.
I hadn’t read a Jack Reacher novel before seeing Tom Cruise as the star of the same-named movie. Movies are another escape for me, and I watch a lot of them. I liked Cruise as Reacher, although I had read in the reviews that he didn’t resemble the fictional character. That’s true. The Jack Reacher of Lee Child’s novels is a giant: 6’5”, 250 pounds, and muscular with arms as big as most people’s thighs. He is blonde and blue-eyed, ex-military police, nomadic, not a good looking guy, I’d call him “muggly,” and he travels with just a folding toothbrush and the clothes on his back, which he replaces as needed at cheap discount stores. I still picture him with Tom Cruise’s face when I read the books, but I told Ronald that I think Dwayne Johnson should play him in the next movie. He’s the right size, and he’s often played military and cop types.  Too handsome like Cruise, and certainly not blond and blue-eyed, but I think he’d be perfect.
In some ways, I married a hero taken straight out of a novel, someone who spent his working years fighting fires and caring for people in crisis, fighting for his own sense of justice, and taking care of his family: me and our twin daughters and his parents. Yet I want to be the person protecting, too, because that’s what life partners do.  They look out for one another and play the role of hero when the occasion calls for it.
I wish I could be one of the fictional heroes I read about in novel after novel. I dreamed of being a hero when I was a child, fixing every problem my parents faced and righting every wrong I stumbled upon. As an adult child of an alcoholic, I am still driven to fix problems and help people and make the world right. It isn’t easy though when life gets overwhelming, so I bury myself in a novel until I can find the resolve to get back up and keep on fixing. Ah, back to Jack Reacher novel #12, page 254.
Below: Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher and 
my choice for the nomadic, ex-military policeman, Dwayne Johnson.

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