In the second chapter of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, a disturbing discovery is made, and the narrator meets the Hempstocks. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read The Ocean at the End of the Lane.
The first book I snuck into my bedroom was The Diary of Anne Frank.
It took years for me to understand the historical context of the book, and I won’t forget that day in World History in seventh grade, when I learned what had actually happened to Anne Frank. Growing up, I refused to read prologues, appendices, or any sort of extraneous material attached to a novel. I didn’t want to spoil the mental images or worlds I’d built in my head. I learned this the hard way when I read the notes at the end of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, which in hindsight shouldn’t have been as devastating to me. But I felt personally insulted when my interpretation of a story proved to be wrong. So I didn’t read any of the material that came inside my battered copy of The Diary of Anne Frank, and that led to that horrible day when I was twelve and found out her ultimate fate.
I was eight years old and had just moved to Riverside from Boise, and the massive garage attached to our house was full of boxes, which often overflowed with objects I’d never seen before. I was just beginning to understand that my parents owned a lot of things I didn’t know about. Why did my mother have box after box full of packaged Star Wars figurines? Why wasn’t I allowed to play with them? Where did that old metal trainset come from? What was in the dusty, faded cooler wrapped in peeling duct tape? And so, every chance I got, I’d steal away to the garage to take a peak in the boxes before my mother hid them. If I was sent to take the garbage out, I’d take an extra thirty seconds to rummage through something, discovering some new, odd treasure. I once found a box full of microchips and other electrical parts that my father must have taken home from his job at Micron, and I’d find time to pull new parts out, examine them in the dull light from the single bulb that hung near the door back into the house.
It was on a trip to drop off empty soda bottles (my mother was addicted to Diet Coke, and my dad drank regular Coke or RC Cola every day) into our own recycling bin that I discovered that there was a box near the floor on that side of the garage that I’d never opened. Unfortunately, it was underneath two other boxes and a black trash bag full of hand-me-downs meant for whichever aunt, uncle, or distant cousin had a boy first. Knowing that I didn’t have the time to investigate, I waited for weeks until a Saturday afternoon when my father was lost in his westerns in the living room and my mother was running errands at WalMart and the grocery store with my sister.
I knew my brother was occupied with organizing his football cards in numerical order, based on company and series, so I took the opportunity to sneak into the garage, sock-clad so that I wouldn’t make a sound. The light flickered and swayed when I pulled the chain to turn it on, and it cast eerie shadows around the room, but I wasn’t afraid. I was determined. There had to be a reason why that box was at the bottom!
I wasn’t strong enough then to lift the bag off the top, so I was thankful that my mom’s Ford Aerostar wasn’t in the garage. I simply rolled the bag off the top, satisfied by the thunk! it made when it hit the floor. I lifted a box of baby clothes that used to belong to my sister off the pile, one step closer to my discovery, and that’s when the garage door started to roll upwards.
Oh no! I thought. In a moment of panic, I reached into our recycling bin and tossed a few empty bottles behind the remaining two boxes, and then did my best imitation of attempting to retrieve them as possible. My mom honked her horn, and I stood up straight, looking at her angry face staring back at me. She motioned for me to move the garbage bag, now right where her parking spot was, out of the way, and, my heart racing in fear that I’d been caught, I slowly pulled it to the side.
My mom had already rolled the window down, so I heard her voice before I could make out the words.
” – been gone just one hour and you’re in here making a damn mess, and what the hell are you doing, Mark? What in God’s name do you think you’re doing?”
I was throwing some bottles away, I told her, and they fell behind here. I pointed to the boxes left against the wall. I just didn’t want to leave them there for someone else to find.
“Oh,” she said, eyeing me suspiciously. “Well. Next time, get some help from your brother, okay? Now get this shit put away and help me get the groceries in the house.”
As my mother got out of the car, I quickly grabbed box #2, moved it to the floor, slid out my treasure, and then replaced boxes #2 and #3, stacking my ultimate goal on top this time. I had to get my brother to help me to put the garbage bag back where it came from, but I knew it was all worth it. I was now one step closer to finding out what was in that box.
I had to wait another week for my father and mother to return to their Saturday afternoon routines before I could make my move. All week, the very sight of that box teased me. I knew it was there, and I knew that whatever was in it would be something spectacular. It had to be. So I admit that I was a bit shaky with nervous energy that Saturday when I placed the garbage bag of clothes next to the stack of boxes, which would make it easier for me to roll it back to its position in the case of a surprise visit.
The box was a fairly standard moving box, but it was only when I got to stare at the top of it that I realized it simply said, “Jon.” That was my older brother’s name, but he didn’t live with us anymore. Was it his old guitar? Had he left this behind? (It took me years to realize that guitars don’t just come apart for easy storage. I WAS A CHILD, OKAY.) I placed one of my fingers under a flap of packing tape that stood up closest to me, and dramatically pulled it upwards, cherishing the sound it made as it tore away from the cardboard, leaving behind that fuzzy aftereffect on the box. I couldn’t figure out how to remove the thick layers of tape on the side of the box opposite of me, but it wasn’t necessary. I was able to pull the flaps of the box open enough to see books. Lots of books. I reached in and pulled out a book called It by Stephen King. Setting it aside on my father’s giant dresser-style toolbox, I reached in and pulled out The Stand. Then a complete Edgar Allan Poe collection. Then Books of Blood: Volume One, with a set of terrifying drawings on the cover. Then The Diary of Anne Frank and a book about the occult and there were so many more. But I couldn’t take them all at once, mostly due to the fact that I had few places to hide these books in my room.
Rolling the bag back into place, I grabbed the books I could hold in my scrawny arms, stopped to precariously pull the chain on the light dangling in the empty garage, and then bolted as quietly as I could to my room. I stuffed The Diary of Anne Frank between the mattresses, figuring it was the easiest of the books to read since it was the shortest. (I remember when I found out that most guys hid porn between their mattresses. HERE IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF MY WHOLE CHILDHOOD.) The rest? I buried them underneath stuffed animals and old Legos in a wooden chest in my room.
When I read The Diary of Anne Frank the first time, I liked it, did not understand it, but returned to it again and again over the years. When I began to realize that the way I was treated was abnormal, that most people my age were allowed to leave the house, that they were allowed to have friends, that they were allowed to experience a world outside of the confines of where they lived, I found myself reading Anne’s words over and over. I knew that what I went through in that house wasn’t the same. I knew the context was completely different. But Anne Frank was a real person who so desperately desired another life outside of the one she was living, and as much as those horror books I found affected me as a reader and a writer, it’s actually The Diary of Anne Frank that meant the most to me.
- I am absolutely digging the prose in this book. Sparse is a great word for it, because Gaiman doesn’t waste a sentence. Everything conveys an idea, a sight, a sound, a notion, and nothing more. It’s a delight to read aloud.
- Obviously, I responded to the idea of living within books. I also lived for them, and, along with music, they’re responsible for keeping me alive from about the age of twelve until today.
- LET’S TALK ABOUT THE HEMPSTEADS BECAUSE I DON’T GET THEM. Do they possess psychic abilities? Magic? Are they not human? Because I refuse to believe that the shit they say and do is nonsense. No, I think they’re being very sincere about everything here. So what’s the ocean? A doorway? A literal ocean? I loved the focus at the end on ponds being “pond-shaped,” because it’s a neat way to address the idea of appearances being deceiving.
- Color me intrigued at this point. I still don’t know what’s going on.
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