Hush Little Baby
Grand Central Publishing; 357 pages
If Suzanne Redfearn's "Hush Little Baby" had a second half to equal its first, it might have been a remarkable achievement. For nearly 200 pages, the novel is a spellbinding thriller that wrings suspense out of tiny moments: the looks, gestures and carefully calculated words that make up an abusive marriage. It's when the heroine breaks out of that situation that the book itself begins to roam.
That's a shame, because at its best, "Hush Little Baby" is skillful at evoking a predicament that's all too common — and, as the author notes, often takes place behind closed doors.
The lead character, Jillian Kane, is a successful Laguna Beach architect and mother of two small children. Her husband, Gordon, is a police officer, coach, community hero and, for years, vicious wife-beater and adulterer.
In these early passages, we watch the delicate play-by-play of the Kanes' marriage. Redfearn, a Laguna Beach resident, paints their relationship as a minefield in which any small move can provoke an explosion. With Gordon's moods swinging from charm to violence, Jillian does the careful stepping; we track her decisions as she opts to back off or stand up, as she weaves excuses and scrambles to preserve her image as a content career woman. (In one of the book's most chilling moments, her young daughter gives her a scarf for her birthday in case she gets "smudges" on her neck again; those smudges were bruises from her husband trying to strangle her.)
Then an unexpected act of violence sends Jillian fleeing with the children in tow. It's here, as the three wind their way up the coast and take refuge in the small town of Elmer City, Washington, that the plot starts to strain credibility.
One problem is that the children seem uncannily accepting of the circumstances; after a couple of brief remarks, they barely acknowledge the fact that they've been uprooted from home and separated from their father. And when Jillian strikes up a fast friendship with a local Native American, who dispenses Zenlike wisdom and takes the kids under his wing, it feels a little too ideal to be true.
What's most disappointing in the book's second half is its wavering tone, which feels taut in places and relaxed or even jokey in others. At one point, Jillian, who narrates the book in the present tense, chides herself for believing in fairy-tale romance when "every episode of 'Oprah,' 'Dr. Phil,' and 'The Simpsons' disproves it" — a statement that might fit in a humorous Nora Ephron essay, not a serious take on domestic violence. (Piling on the TV analogies, the novel later has a supporting character compare Jillian's plight to "a poorly scripted episode of 'Melrose Place.'")
As for the ending? I suppose it resolves things. The good guys win, and poetic justice is served. There's nice suspense and a dash of irony. But I would have preferred something more thoughtful.
Long ago, I knew a professional woman who always seemed demure and polite, and everything she mentioned about her family pointed to domestic bliss. Years later, I heard from a friend that she had fled her husband after years of abuse. I wondered then — and still do — what pains she must have taken to hide her secret in public, and what courage she had to muster to escape.
Those are questions that "Hush Little Baby" addresses, but not always in a deep or satisfying way.
Hail To The King
Warner Bros. Records, LP
On a typical day, I'll grab a cup of coffee with no sugar to help wake me up in the morning. But if that cup of joe isn't enough, I'll put on some metal and head-bang myself awake.
I have my tried-and-true bands: early Metallica, Iron Maiden and Slipknot (yes, those folks from Des Moines, Iowa with the masks). There's a plethora of other bands out there, like Huntington Beach locals Avenged Sevenfold, that I haven't been too keen on.
I haven't listened to A7X, as they're known to fans, since 2005 when they released the album "City of Evil," with "Bat Country" as one their biggest hits at the time.
But with their sixth full-length CD, "Hail To The King," hitting store shelves this week, I was curious to see what direction the band had taken since my high school years
And to my surprise, it sounded like they had gotten a tad softer since their breakout 2005 record, but this wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The 10 new tracks released by Warner Bros. Records still have their patented fast and intricate guitar solos, but the drums on some of the tracks seem to fall by the wayside.
This can be attributed to A7X losing founding member and drummer Jimmy "The Rev" Sullivan, who died of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs and alcohol. The Rev and current drummer Arin Ilejay have different styles.
The Rev was faster and very technical, with arms buzzing through his snare and toms while his feet furiously beat away at his bass drums. Ilejay, on the other hand, is just as speedy and accurate, but uses such drum fills sparingly and brings them in where appropriate.
The opening track, "Shepherd Of Fire," is a good example of just that. Ilejay adds healthy doses of double bass drum fills throughout the track without going too crazy. Some could say it's too slow, while others might complain that there isn't enough going on. I could imagine The Rev going off on this song, but Ilejay maintains the essence of an A7X song without messing it up.
It's business as usual with "Doing Time." It's a punchy number with an ear-splitting guitar solo around the middle of the track. I feel like blasting this song while driving a 1969 Ford Mustang fastback with a roaring V8.
"Heretic" is by far my favorite track on the album. It has a gritty, dark feeling to it, as if you were expecting fire to shoot out from the ground. Besides the fire and brimstone, the song really showcases the abilities of all the band members. Frontman M. Shadows shows off his singing, Zacky Vengeance and Synyster Gates go off on sweet, harmonizing guitar solos, and Ilejay gets to show Avenged Sevenfold fans that he can play just as well as The Rev.
Another notable song on the CD is "This Means War," which sounds similar to Metallica's track "Sad But True." A7X's "Crimson Day" could be seen as the band's equivalent to Metallica's "The Unforgiven."
At first, I felt that Avenged Sevenfold had gotten a little soft with this album, but after listening to the CD numerous times, I willfully retracted that statement.
Progression is something most bands strive toward. Sure, there may be that one album that puts a band on the map, but recording one type of CD over and over again can make the music and the musicians a bit stale.
Avenged Sevenfold has continued to evolve their music, and fans won't be disappointed with what they hear.
—Anthony Clark CarpioCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun