Monday, March 31, 2008

Random March

Before the fun starts, I'm doing like the Harlot and linking to help a friend. Ken is doing a very long bike ride for very good reason. Please pop by and consider helping him out.

And now for something completely different...

Not unsurprisingly, I liked this test (strange habits? Moii??)

You Are Teal Green

You are a one of a kind, original person. There's no one even close to being like you.

Expressive and creative, you have a knack for making the impossible possible.

While you are a bit offbeat, you don't scare people away with your quirks.

Your warm personality nicely counteracts and strange habits you may have.

Supermarket music these days is a complete crapshoot - one moment, it's good, the next it's awful. The other day, I became trapped between the butter and cheese, listening to some woman attempt to ethereally wail U2’s In the Name of Love. It went right past milquetoast, blasted through irritating and right into offensive. My. God.

I watched Michael Clayton shortly before the Oscars and during the awards, became quite annoyed that George Clooney didn't win, as I thought he gave one of his best performances in the movie. Then I watched There Will Be Blood and Daniel Day-Lewis leaves everyone else in this dust. Although George Clooney, and I'm sure the other nominees gave wonderful performances, they are earthbound. Daniel Day-Lewis is in the stratosphere. I've always liked him, but There Will Be Blood made me realize that he is from another world. If you've seen the movie already, check out this skit from Saturday Night Live. It had me howling. For those of haven't seen the movie yet, come back after you've watched it. Trust me. You want to see that movie without knowing too much about it.

And while we are in the entertainment world… watch the best interview I've seen in a while.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sing It Loud

Remember the TV show Ally McBeal? Years ago, my sister and I would get together once a week for our female bonding evening. During the week, I would tape various "chick shows" and we'd settle in front of the TV with something yummy to eat - although we paid lip service to a proper dinner, it was really the yummy desserts and other forms of not-so-healthy foods (usually involving chocolate) that formed the primary meal. We'd watch Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, Dawson's Creek - shows that no member of the male species would be caught dead watching and due to their soapiness, were really best watched in company with another woman. We'd get all caught up in what ever deep emotional crisis going on within a show, thoroughly enjoy the trashy evening and it was a fantastic way of building our relationship. We've found other ways to achieve the same thing now, but I'm hoping that someday, when the kids have left home, we can go back to the occasional female bonding evening.

However, this is not the point of this post (I got distracted). The point is that Ally McBeal was on heavy rotation in our evenings and there was that one episode where Ally went to a shrink who asked her to pick a theme song. Naturally, this prompted several weeks of percolating in my head in an attempt to find my theme song. Weeks, because I take such things seriously. probably a smidge too seriously. Eventually, I narrowed it down to three, although all these years later, only one of them stood the test of time and still remains my theme.

I had a plan last summer to post about this, but a week before, Willowtree beat me to it. I figure that it's been long enough now that I can post this without seeming like a shameless plagiarist.

My theme song is this (in case you can't play music at this particular moment, it's "Don't Fence Me in" by David Byrne from the this album). Not the original version, not any other cover, only this one.

What's your theme song?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Calamity Jane Not So Calamitous

A few posts ago, I mentioned how it was the phone that started it all and in more than one way. It turns out I had no idea how many ways.

Turns our that the phone started what appeared to be some sort of domino effect of calamities worthy of an irritable and hungover Mercury Retrograde. First, the telephone crapped out. Once I'd gotten a new phone, my voice crapped out. When I got my voice back, I cracked a tooth. There was a deadline and a nasty case of writer’s block and then my computer developed an incompatibility between Word and Dragon (what? Is this the universe’s subtle way of telling me I should give up writing?). I'll spare you the rest of the details of last week, suffice to say that it went downhill from there and included a number of events that by Thursday had me convinced that if I did not supervise every single thing that could possibly, remotely impact me, the world would end. Thursday was also the day that I officially lost my composure about the whole thing, which naturally just attracted disasters to me as if I were a magnet and they metal shavings.

That is, until I went to see my doctor to get my Humira shot and the results of some blood work we'd done. Nothing out of the ordinary, just to check, because it's a good idea when you have arthritis to every now and again do a check on things and both of us had forgotten for about a year, since before I started Humira (I know - oops!). All my life, my blood levels have been weird, especially the ones related to anemia. So weird, in fact, that every new doctor I see gets all worried about how anemic I am, while not quite understanding my dismissive attitude. The thing is, when for as long as you have had blood test (which, in my case, has been over 40 years), your values have looked funny, it becomes normal. Maybe not Normal, but normal to me. My red blood cells are small and pale, my values are... Well, let me illustrate...

My doctor showed me the results on the computer and there were 4 or 5 columns indicating my results at different dates. There were some red numbers scattered about, with red indicating abnormal, and then we gone to the 8-10 rows indicating various factors of anemia. And they look like this, with each column being a specific date

X X X X X

X X X X X

X X X X X

X X X X X

X X X X X

All of them are red. Not one black. It's been like that for as long as I can remember, even when I was taking Enbrel. We then looked at the results from my latest blood test - my sugar was "perfect", my cholesterol well within normal ranges, liver function good, iron good, B-12 good and then we came to the eight or 10 rows indicating various factors of anemia. And they were mostly black. There were two red numbers, but they were so close to normal that it wasn't worth noticing. Black. All of ‘em. Indicating normal, or rather, Normal. My doctor told me that if I were to apply for health insurance and the insurance company would only have access to my blood work, I'd be accepted in a snap. And that's when I started laughing, barely holding back the tears. After three years on Biologics drugs that have had these incredible effects on my health and life, after many moments of having my world rocked by instance after instance where all I can think is the word miracle, I thought I'd reached the point where the miracles were over and now it was time to just live with it.

And then there's another one. Because according to my blood work, there is absolutely nothing wrong with me. I haven't assimilated it yet, still don't quite grok the magnitude - every time I get close to the edge of thinking about it, I start laughing and tearing up and my brain skitters away from this awe-inspiring thing bigger than anything I've ever felt. Because according to my blood work, there is absolutely nothing wrong with me. According to my blood work, I am a very healthy woman. I have been many things in my life, but never healthy and it blows my mind to such a degree that I can do nothing but laugh with tears in my eyes.

And speaking of big feelings that changed a bad patch to something wonderful. This weekend, we congregated at the nursing home to celebrate my sister's birthday and I got to see my lovies again.

Liam demonstrates his flexibility

And Morgan shows a flower to her new stuffed cat.

Friday, March 21, 2008

35 Years Later

Today is my darling sister's 35th birthday.

Here we are in 1973, before Janne had a name (it only took 11 months for my parents to agree on one). Janne's the one with no hair.

(photo by Jens Bloch)

And here I am with her daughter Morgan (alas, Liam's too solid for this). The emotional whiplash of having held her and now holding her child is enough to make me go back to bed. When did my little sister got old enough to have children??


(photo by Janne/TinkMama)

Happy birthday, Chickie!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Quest for Silence

I just came back from my doctor’s office. Well, not right this very minute, as this post was started yesterday by the time you read this, but before I befuddle myself utterly, I’ll move on, without getting lost in some sort of time travelling experiment.

The clinic used to be a peaceful place to sit and wait – you could read a book or a magazine or disappear into a meditative misery if you were feeling crappy. Sure, there was a television there, but it was used mostly to entertain children and the sound was always low or off. Now the bleedin’ thing’s always on and fairly loud at that, and did I mention how it’s competing with the music entertaining the staff at the reception desk a mere 2-3 metres away, plus the new number system for the lab that dings! as each number is called? And the funny thing is that the patients, the people in the waiting area, rarely watch the TV, instead sitting with glazed eyes and a slightly stunned expression. I imagine they’re trying to escape the cacophony, because that’s what I’m doing and I also imagine that the barrage of sound would make people crankier about the wait time, rather than safely soothed into a passively receptacle by the “entertainment”, willing to wait until the cows come home or the TV conks out, whichever comes first.

And it got me thinking about noise. The noise that’s everywhere and proliferating. It reminds me of that scene in some movie - Blade Runner? - where you’re on the street, commercials are booming at you from every building in every direction and I think we're going there. Because no matter where you go, there’s this onslaught of information flashing at you, telling you things, competing to be the one you look at with noisenoisenoise, both in audio and visual form.

I've been wondering for while about the iPod phenomenon. The one where everyone's walking around plugged in to their MP3 player or, for that matter, talking on a cell phone and sharing their conversation with the rest of the world, seemingly without being aware of it, perhaps believing that the act of being on the phone creates a cone of silence over their heads. But it doesn't and I am ever surprised by the highly private conversations I overhear walking down the street, in the line-up at the grocery store or aforementioned doctor's waiting room. I mean, I can barely have a telephone conversation when someone else in the room, so I don't get it at all.

Except last week, I think I did. I think it's about the noise. It used to be that if you left your home and walked down the street, you would hear snatches of other people's conversation as they walked by with a friend, traffic, bird chirps, dogs barking, the clink of cutlery on plates as you walked by a patio restaurant, but that was it. There was peace, space to open up and let the world in or, if you were in a different kind of mood, wander down the street lost in your thoughts. Increasingly, in the city, there is no such thing as wandering down the street in your own thoughts and so, being plugged into an MP3 player or talking on your cell is not just about adding your own noise. I think it can also be about creating silence, a space where you can protect yourself against the maelstrom of information, creating a small, portable and private space that is if not silent, then at least only has one source of input and the noise in that space is the noise of your choice.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Absence and Presence

I was thinking of my father the other day when I couldn't speak and was trying to get someone's attention. Just around the time I was born, he had something going on with his vocal cords (nodules?), had an operation and was never able to yell after that. When he was in another area of the house from us or in the garden and needed something, he would whistle. The dogs never came running, because they knew theirs was a different whistle, but every now and again, I did feel a bit canine.

My father was fond of saying that Canadians were lunatics, especially during the period of transition between winter and spring. Sometime in March, when the temperatures are barely above freezing, you'll see some guy walking around in shorts. Far would shake his head and so would we, because we were still wearing sweaters, as were most sensible people. But there was always one of them, the really hardy sort, who would be walking down the street in shorts during weather where you could still see your breath. So I thought of my dad on Friday, when Michele and I bought roast beef and back bacon sandwiches in the market and found a picnic table outside, away from the wind and ate our lunch in the pale sunlight. In the last few days, when you're in the right place, you can feel the warmth of the sun for the first time since last October and it is a sure sign that spring is coming (of course, now that I've said that, we'll get a blizzard in the next couple of days).

This time of year is all tangled up in hope and anticipation of spring, of several family birthdays and the togetherness that comes with that and on the other hand, with thoughts of the past and grief, because my father had the brilliant timing of leaving us on St. Patrick's Day seven years ago. Even at the time it made us laugh, because my father was true to himself to the very end and chose to die on the biggest party day in North America. He went out with a bang.

Grief is a funny thing. It waxes and wanes, sloshing about in the background, then every now and again sending in a rogue wave that drenches you through, leaving you soggy and needing a good cry. This year, the missing him is gentler, less raw, but still, the memories of seven years ago have been alive and well for the last month or so. Memories of sitting by his bed and talking him over, memories of people who were in my life at that time, but are no longer and most of all, I feel the absence of his presence very keenly.

But he is part of my life every day. At least once a day, I look at his picture and nod a mental hello. We often remember something he used to do and talk about him, usually a story that makes us laugh (and there were many of those). I have seen him in my sister's children, sometimes in a way they move or there'll be a sparkle in their eyes, promising mischief and laughter that recalls him perfectly. And then there are the times where I feel his presence here so strongly that I'm sure he's dropped by to check up on us. And that's what has surprised me about this. Not that the grief has taken so many forms and stuck around for this long, but how very much a part of our lives he still is, how alive he still is. It's surprising, but beyond lovely.

Friday, March 14, 2008

It Sneaks Up On You

It was the phone that started it all and in more than one way.

In the middle of last week, my phone crapped out. The jack for the headset plug started emitting screeching feedback noises that threatened to burst the eardrums of whoever I was talking to, so I switched to speakerphone (can't hold the thing to my ear) while waiting for the snow to clear enough that I could get out there and buy a new phone.

As I was on my way home last Friday, new phone in my backpack, it occurred to me to notice that I’d been pretty busy for a few days. I’d done rather a lot of photo editing, rattled along in a van to visit my mother, had paid for it, sure, but yet, judging the hike down to Staples the day after as an acceptable risk was new within the context of the past few arm-injured months. And that’s when I realized that my arm was better. And that my mind had become more clear, that I could think. That I had ideas I was itching to write down.

It’s funny how it can sneak up on you, how pain and reduced ability can become the norm and you disappear into another world of caution, wandering around in a pain- and meds-induced haze of putting one foot (so to speak) in front of the other, just getting through with your head down and your teeth gritted, not noticing the sun, other people or the antics of the cat. Or the slow improvement that’s happening underneath it all. Because it's been like that for weeks, sometimes months and you become so used to feeling like crap that the tiny improvements that are happening don't register, because in the grand scheme of things, you're still feeling like crap. And then one day, you realize that you've edited 15 photographs and sure, you had to sit still afterwards and pop some codeine, but six weeks before, doing minimal edits to one came close to making you cry. And most of the time, you'd been sitting still, asking yourself why, oh why, you tempted fate, invited hubris and nemesis and all those Greek forces bound and determined to mess up your life when you cockily talked about being happy and doing really well, because after awhile, you start seeing a causal relationship between shooting off your mouth and subsequent punishment. Which frankly makes me nervous about posting this.

And while we're about inviting calamity, a little while ago, when I was feeling very stressed and cranky about not having the time or mental space to write, I remembered once reading that Larry Hagman didn't speak every Sunday. He had discovered that practicing a day of silence once a week did much to bring peace to his soul and I idly wondered if maybe I should adopt this practice. Except, maybe not a whole day, because that's an awful lot of not talking. Maybe a few hours to start.

Pretty blatant foreshadowing, wasn't it? Because on Sunday, after four days of using the speakerphone, which apparently put a strain on my voice, I lost it. My voice, that is. Not just the fun laryngitis I get when I have a cold where I sound like Minnie Mouse, but can still speak, much to the amusement of the people in my life. No, on Sunday, there was no speaking, because speaking hurt and my body was making it crystal clear to me that if I didn't shut up, something bad could happen to my vocal chords. So I did. Shut up. Much to the amusement of the people in my life. When I was little, my parents used to say that I'd been vaccinated with a gramophone needle, which sounds much funnier in Danish, but I believe that their point may have been that I talked a lot. And never grew out of it.

So here I've been, arm recuperating, but still not enough that I should be typing (come to think of it, I shouldn't be typing, period), voice being sentenced to rest, which meant no talking, which meant no Dragon, which meant no communication. None. For days and I still have to be careful, do my talking in short bursts with rest in between, much the same pattern as slowly increasing the use of my arm. It's rehab all ‘round and just like the song says, I didn't want to go there, but in the end, didn't have a choice.

I've been envying Steph and her trip to the woods, revisiting my dreams of escaping to the silence of an isolated cabin somewhere, in the woods, on a beach, it doesn't matter really, as long as I could go to a place where the relentless noise of being busy, to-do lists, ringing telephones and all the other accoutrements of a life would go away in favour of stillness and space, both physical and mental, to write. Be careful what you wish for. Because apparently, the universe heard my wish and decided to give me the next best thing - rest and stillness at home. I just wish it would've consulted me first so I could have reminded it that I need my voice to write.

Ah well. It's a work in progress.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Thoughts of Pioneers. And More Snow.

As may have become apparent (from all the whining?), Southern Ontario has been having the winter from hell and yes, this again, because as I may have mentioned, there’s nothing else to do or think about! Anyway, a lot of other areas have also been hit hard (or harder), but as I live in southern Ontario, I'm going to limit my discussion to that geographical zone (I have decided not to take any more pictures of snow - I mean, how many do you need? - but if you feel the need for illustrative photos, go here).

It is so hellish that it is hard to remember last year's drought, how all this snow is going to mean good things for Ontario's produce the summer and that come June and July, I'm going to be ecstatically munching strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, etc., etc. I mean, there's going to be flooding north of Toronto because Lake Simcoe is full. Full!

On Friday afternoon, I was keeping an eye on yet another storm approaching, one that all the weather reporters were very excited about, to the point of almost having meteorological orgasms on the air, with its promise of being the biggest storm in a season of big storms. Not just CityTV, which in its coverage of the weather (and a lot of other things) tends to err on the side of catastrophe - no, every single meteorologist jumped on the bandwagon, including the Weather Network website which linked to a report on "menacing snowstorm in southern Ontario" and maybe it's because I'm a writer and hence a little obsessive about the words, but can a snowstorm be menacing? Don't you have to have some sort of consciousness in order to be menacing? But I digress. My point is that again and not for the first time this winter, I got to thinking about the people who settled this country and their experience of Canadian winter.

It's been in my mind lately, when every three days it snows anywhere from 5 cm to 30 and where I've been checking the weather network website at least once a day, looking for when the storms are going to hit, how big they're going to be, how much of the white stuff is going to accumulate and making my plans accordingly, stocking up on groceries and rearranging appointments. And I've been thinking of what it must have been like living in a small town or farm or cabin 200 years ago and having no idea when the next storm is going to hit, if the snow that's falling prettily will grow into a snarling beast and not knowing when it is going to end. Of having to tie a rope from the house to the barn in order not to get lost on the way to take care of the animals (read that in a Little House on the Prairie book 30 years ago and it’s always stuck with me). It's making me understand cabin fever, because lord knows, I have it in spades. But because of my access to various forms of weather information, I have this weird sense of control over something which is inherently uncontrollable and I suspect that's the main reason that I haven't gone absolutely stark raving mad, taken an ax to someone and eaten them half-cooked while raving incoherently into my beard. Well, not that I have a beard, but you get the picture.

What must that have been like? Not knowing if you have enough food to last until spring or enough hay for the animals, wood for the stove and most of all, when the winds start howling, whipping the snow horizontally outside the window and through the gaps in between the window and the frame, creating nothing but a wall of white that might last for 12 hours or 24 or 36 or maybe forever, because during a really good blizzard, it’s like the end of the world. I am not scared by this kind of weather, but I am pretty sure it’s only because I know where it's coming from and when it's going to leave. I can imagine sitting in that cabin, huddled in the quilt while the last log is burning in the stove and being frightened out of my wits because the snow has reached the eaves and I don't know if I'm going to make it. That people stayed here is a testament to their fortitude. Or an indication of how bad the alternative back in the old world was.

But we’re not pioneers (thank various divinities for that). We’ve been having the winter from hell, but even though part of me felt like crying as I was watching the coverage of Friday's storm that promised to dump anywhere from 25 to 35 more centimetres, another part of me has decided that I would like a little more snow (somebody catch Rachel H. - she's about to faint). Hear me out. After this weekend, we’re 17.8cm away from beating the previous record of 207.4cm (6.8 feet) and maybe it's just me and that infernal competitive instinct, but if we have to suffer through all this, let's at least do it for a reward(?) less delayed then strawberries in June. Because I'm not sure I would be able to handle having had to live through this winter if we clock in just shy of a record. And if we are going to beat the record, let’s pound that sucker into the dirt. Let’s obliterate the record, wipe the floor with it, have one that goes down in the history books so we can for the rest of our lives be able to lord it over anyone who thinks they've had bad by saying we lived through the winter of 07/08 and have them roll over, knowing that we can't be beat. Which means I’m hoping for at least another 30 cm, but as we're not even halfway through March, that shouldn't be a problem. Who's with me?

Erm…. anyone??

Friday, March 07, 2008

Make My Day. Again.

My life these days goes something like this:

*Day 1: significant snowfall, day spent inside.
Day 2: roads and sidewalks eating cleared, snow piled up by curb cuts, unable to leave house.
Day 3: run around stocking up on groceries and in general preparing for
Day 4: significant snowfall, day spent inside.
Repeat from*

Today is a day 3, which means that posting is going to be quick and easy. I really liked the Make My Day meme and it was so hard to choose just 10 blogs that I have decided to every now and again do a post with links that make my day. Enjoy!

Yarn Tails. I've been reading Diane's blog for several years and enjoy the look into a life much different from mine. For one, there are horses and that's always enjoyable. There's also knitting, cats and a very adorable dog. And best of all, Diane and I have met in real life, too - every time she and her mother pop over from across the lake, we meet up and Diane's mom is a delightful as human being as Diane herself.

Fighting Monsters with Rubber Swords. Rob has written about being Schuyler’s father over several years and several sites. Over the years, as I followed their journey, I have learned much about what it's like to be a parent to child with a disability and it's given me insight into my parents' experience. Rob's book has just been released and I can't wait until it's released as an audio book, too (that's a heavy hint to his publisher).

Mihow. A recent discovery, Mihow chronicles Michele's life as a new mother, complete with pictures and video of a very adorable Emory, lots of interesting and thought-provoking entries and the weekly staple of Tuesdays with Murray (the cat). This one had me howling.

Josh Volk. I first started reading Josh Volk on the Entertainment Weekly website, where he does the recaps of The Amazing Race. Recaps that make you cry with laughter and then he wrote a book and started a blog. This entry about season nine of Big Brother explains exactly why I for the first time since the beginning have stopped watching.

N.B. for some reason, clicking on Josh Volk's link gets you a message that you're referred by a known spammer. I am no idea what's going on, but will e-mail him when I get a minute. In the meantime, when you are on the "go away a bad person" page, click on the link that says bypasses message and you will get to Josh's blog.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Snotty

After I'd finished Duma Key, I went hunting for reviews to see what other people thought of it and made my way over to the New York Times. There, I found a review by James Campbell - no! Don't click on that link! Not yet, finish reading this post first. Trust me – there’s a very good reason that I’m trying to stop you from clicking on the link and it’ll become apparent in a moment.

To say that Mr. Campbell doesn't like the book is the understatement of the century. I think it's fair to say that he loathes it with a burning fervour. Or rather, he appears to be holding a grudge and have a taking this opportunity to express his feelings in a newspaper (much better than therapy!).

The review starts quoting King's speech made in 2003, when he was awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In it, he expressed how he wished that this could be the start of building bridges “between the so-called popular fiction and the so-called literary fiction.” At the end of the review, Campbell quotes this speech further, when King, in his usual blunt (and, quite frankly, funny) manner, asked those who stay away from popular fiction, like John Grisham, Clive Barker, etc., if they think “[y]ou get social or academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?”. Campbell is clearly rankled by this, writing that the “discourtesy of suggesting that his listeners’ reading habits were directed by snobbery rather than taste, the remark posits a view of a culture based not on the best that is thought and said, but on the highest returns at the cash register.” And maybe it's just me, but assuming that popular books and quality are mutually exclusive seems sort of based in snobbery.

In between these two bookends of wallowing about hurt feelings, Campbell ruins the book. There is no other word for it. He dips his pen in poison and proceeds to eviscerate Duma Key and in the process lists every major plot point. Every single one, including the details of the climax.

I'll admit this upfront: Duma Key is not perfect. There are a few places - but only a few - in the book where I wish King’s editor would have suggested spending a little more time to fully flesh out an emotional response or a slightly wonky bridge, but in the grand scheme of things, I'm prepared to forgive him that because the rest of it is so wonderful. But that is my opinion. Someone who doesn't like the book may disagree and I will vociferously support their right to disagree, because art - and that includes novels and even popular novels - is highly subjective.

However, correct me if I'm wrong, but is it not a sacred duty of a reviewer to not spoil the story for others? A review should contain an outline of the plot in broad strokes and never, ever talk about the ending. And this is what infuriated me in Mr. Campbell's article. It is his prerogative to not like the book. He is within his right to think - and say - that Stephen King debases popular culture and that the masses who buy his books are Philistines. He's also in the lucky position to be paid to say these things (I should be so lucky). However, this does not give him the right to ruin it for everybody else. It's bad form, it makes him appear to be a bitter, resentful man who's been waiting five years get the chance to pay Stephen King back for suggesting that he's a snob (as clearly, he took King's 2003 speech very, very personally) and in the immortal words of my friend Dawn: "the owie is showing". And to my thinking, this review exactly proves King’s point.

Campbell ends the review with adapting a remark from The Picture of Dorian Gray, suggesting that "there is no such thing as popular or literary fiction. 'Books are well written or badly written. That is all'", which is a pretty snotty remark in a pretty snotty artcile. And it makes me sort of sad for him, because he seems to have built up a wall (of pretension?) that blocks him from recognizing writing with soul when it's right in front of him, instead choosing to look down his nose at writing that sells in general and horror in particular.

Books are well written or badly written. This is true. You can take a ridiculous plot - and most novels in the horror genre are pretty ridiculous if you think about it too much - and ask two different writers to create a story. One will produce something lifeless, the other will make it sing. The mark of a well-written book is whether it will suck you into the story and make you care about the characters, less about the plot itself. In that respect, it doesn't matter whether you are reviewing Shakespeare or Stephen King - the similarities of great storytelling puts them in the same category.

Of course, that last sentence would probably give Mr. Campbell an apoplexy.

A more conventional review by Janet Maslin here