Follow the hashtag #6degrees on Twitter to check out everyone else’s chains.
This month’s Six Degrees starts with the frankly quite terrifying short story The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. The story describes a fictional small town which observes an annual rite known as “the lottery”, in which a member of the community is selected by chance. The shocking consequence of being selected in the lottery is revealed only at the end, but let’s just say that it is not necessarily a prize that you would want to win!
Another lottery of chance with devastating consequences features in the Japanese classic Battle Royale by Koushun Takami. In the dystopian novel, a random class of junior high school students are selected and taken to a deserted island. As part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing.
Takami’s depiction of a totalitarian fascist government was heavily influenced by his favourite Stephen King novel, The Long Walk. Written in 1979 under the pseudonym Richard Bachman the book is set in a dystopian America, where a major source of entertainment is the Long Walk, in which one hundred teenage boys walk without rest. If they fall below a pace of four miles per hour, they receive three warnings and are subsequently shot by a group of soldiers. The last boy left walking receives a large sum of money and a “prize” of his choice.
A long walk – or more specifically, a long hike – also features in Wild by Cheryl Strayed. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is the 2012 memoir by the American writer, author, and podcaster Cheryl Strayed. The memoir describes Strayed’s 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995 as a journey of self-discovery following the death of her mother from cancer.
In Wild, Strayed starts her epic hike in the Mojave Desert, which is also the setting for the sprawling Gods Without Men by Hari Kunzru. The plot is centred on a family trip by Jaz and Lisa Matharu with their severely autistic son, Raj. During the trip, Raj disappears and subsequently returns to his parents. The book also has several subplots, all set in the strange atmosphere of the Mojave Desert, where everything is driven by the energy and cunning of Coyote, the mythic, shapeshifting trickster.
The medieval German legend of trickster Tyll Ulenspiegel is fictionalised in Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann. Kehlmann follows his protagonist on a wild romp from childhood to death. After his father is hanged for witchcraft, Tyll forges his own path through a world devastated by the Thirty Years’ War, evading witch-hunters, escaping a collapsed mine outside a besieged city, and entertaining the exiled King and Queen of Bohemia along the way. As a jester and juggler, he makes his living as an entertainer, the highlight of his show being a precarious tightrope walk.
The most famous tightrope walk of all time provides the backdrop for Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. The novel opens one morning in August 1974, as the people of lower Manhattan stare up in disbelief at the Twin Towers. There, the tightrope walker Phillipe Petit is running, dancing, leaping between the towers, suspended a quarter mile above the ground. In the streets below, a slew of ordinary lives become extraordinary in bestselling novelist Colum McCann’s stunningly intricate portrait of a city and its people.
From the horror of a small-town lottery, to the joy of a high-wire spectacle, these are my Six Degrees of Separation for this month! Have you read any of my choices?
I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!