So Much Blue

Kevin Pace is a painter. His canvas, which he works on in secret, is full of blue, a hue he’s usually avoided, but now, for some reason, he can’t let it go. He’s also can’t let go of secrets from his past, secrets that include an affair from 10 years earlier and an ill-fated trip to El Salvador years before that.

Author Percival Everett deftly juggles the three timelines, two from the past and one from the present. In the present day, Kevin lives a quiet, domestic life as a husband and father. He’s distant from his kids and his wife, but his daughter trusts him enough to share her own secret, and he’s emotionally stunted enough not to know what to do about it. Secrets are what he’s about, and so it’s natural to keep them, even when keeping them is obviously wrong. Will telling his wife about the affair in Paris, one he believes she suspected anyway, clear the air between them? Or is his troubled state really about the things he did and saw in El Salvador, just as war was breaking out?

This is a well-crafted book that I enjoyed reading, but I’m having trouble nailing down just what the book is attempting to do. I think Everett is interested in the cost of keeping secrets and maybe how stories and art are meant to be shared. When Everett keeps his past and his art to himself, he’s also keeping himself to himself. He’s not open to others; therefore, he’s not open to love. The one time he comes close to experiencing it is fleeting and only happens, I think, because Victoire, the young woman he falls in love with, is herself so open with her feelings and he’s so sure it’s not going to go anywhere. Still, that affair’s significance pales in comparison to the El Salvador trip of 1979 and Kevin’s present-day self-immersion. It’s easy to chalk his marriage troubles up to the affair in Paris, but El Salvador is really what haunts him.

The thing that I admired about this book is how disciplined it is. The prose is clear and precise, with just the right amount of detail. It doesn’t show off. I was also glad to read a novel about a black man that is not specifically about race. His race enters into the story once in a while, because of course it has to, but it’s not a novel about the black experience. (Nothing wrong with those novels, by the way, it’s just that black authors have so many stories to tell that aren’t focused on discrimination or slavery.)

I was startled to discover that Percival Everett has written almost 30 books, yet I’d never heard of him before this book turned up on the TOB list. If you’ve read his books, I’d love to know which ones you recommend. The writing in this one was so good that I’d like to read more.

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Dear Cyborgs

Often, the Tournament of Books brings to my attention a few great books I’d never heard of. Last year, it was Black Wave; this year, it was Lucky BoyI was hoping Dear Cyborgs by Eugene Lim would be a second. It certainly sounds like it could be my kind of thing — two teenage boys bond over comic books, while a group of superheroes contemplate life. It’s the kind of quirky, oddball book that may only show up somewhere like the TOB.

But I’m sorry to say that even at just 163 pages, I found it unbearably tedious by the end. A lot of it has to do with the weird herky-jerky rhythm of the story. Most of the chapters begin with the superheroes gathering for lunch or dinner or being summoned onto a mission, and then just as things get going, someone starts telling some sort of story that reveals some significant truth. At first, it’s kind of funny, especially when the characters start building on each other’s stories by saying things like “I know just what you mean” and then telling another story that has hardly anything to do with the previous one. Still, by the end of the book, every time a story within the story appeared, I felt deflated. The book never went anywhere.

That’s not to say that the stories within the story didn’t have some charm. I especially enjoyed supervillain Ms Mistleto’s description of how she got caught up in a protest that then led her to occupy a skyscraper for skyscraper for years. The alternative to occupying the skyscraper was to be forced into a “corporate labor camp (where, we knew, prisoners would spend the rest of their lives doing monotonous low-level data analysis in exchange for the consumer spending units and daily gruel.)” There was the story of an artist who painted the following statement on her paintings:

This painting cannot be bought or sold for more than the total wages of six months full-time employment at the minimum wage as determined by the state of New York. If this painting should be sold for greater than this amount, may both the buyer and seller be considered shit by the entire world and by themselves, and may they spend the afterlife as sad and angry and hungry and hopeless as poverty makes.

You may get the sense that this book has a point of view on capitalism and art and organizing, and it does, although it’s not always clear how much it is parodying anti-capitalist views and how much it is expressing them. (A little bit of both, in my opinion.)

The thing is, I kind of enjoyed some of the characters’ musings and the stories they tell. I just got tired of the framing device. It wasn’t so much that they were superheroes — that was pretty fun, because if superheroes existed, they’d be part of the “system” too, and they’d probably have opinions about it. The problem was the way the book would start on one anecdote and then veer into another without picking the original story up again. The structure made it hard to sort out who was who or where they were in time. The teenage boys who begin the novel are pretty much dropped until the end. And then there are periodic messages to a group of cyborgs that don’t connect much with anything else.

This would have been less frustrating had it just been a set of linked short stories, each existing in isolation yet all of them part of the same world. I can appreciate that Lim was trying to do something unique, but it really didn’t work for me.

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The End of Eddy

Eddy Bellegueule was a disappointment to his family from a very young age. He was his father’s first son, and his father wanted to prove his manliness by having a manly son. Eddy was not what his father saw as manly, and he’s focal about it:

He would ask my mother if I was really a boy, Is he a fucking boy or what? He’s always crying, he’s scared of the dark, he can’t really be a boy. Why? Why the fuck is he like that? Why? I didn’t raise him like a girl, I raised him like the other boys. What the fuck? You could hear the despair in his voice. The truth—not that he knew it—was that I asked myself the same questions. I was obsessed with them. Why was I always crying? Why was I afraid of the dark? Since I was a little boy, why couldn’t I really act like one? And most of all: Why did I behave the way I did, with my strange airs, the huge gestures I would make with my hands as I spoke (big queeny gestures), feminine intonations, my high-pitched voice? I didn’t know where whatever it was that made me different had come from, and not knowing hurt.

This work of autofiction (or autobiographical fiction) by Édouard Louis and translated from French by Michael Lucey is full of suffering. Eddy doesn’t just suffer from his father’s tirades at home. He’s bullied and mocked and doesn’t have many friends. He plays sometimes with boys in the neighborhood, but that play turns sexual in ways that Eddy finds both arousing and horrifying. He tries to date girls, to prove to himself and everyone else that he’s not gay, but that doesn’t work at all. His existence is mostly brutal and miserable.

The book is set in the recent past, but the extreme brutality (and even the rare moments of playfulness) seems like it comes from generations ago. Perhaps it’s because Eddy lives in an isolated rural community. Or maybe this kind of violence is not as distant as many of us like to think. Of course abuse of this type still goes on today. Of course it does. And it’s to our shame as a society.

Still, the book suffers from the fact the Eddy is himself not much more than a vessel to receive abuse. Perhaps that’s meant to show abuse’s power to dehumanize, but it kept the novel from breaking my heart as much as I think it wanted to. Plus, the extremity of the abuse, coming from so many quarters, caused it to lose its impact. Again, that may be demonstrating a real dynamic, but I had to harden myself to keep reading.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about toxic masculinity and how the need some men feel to prove their manliness may lead to eruptions of violence. This book shows how that operates at an extreme and literal way. But, I think, it’s often more subtle, exhibited not through violent acts of bullying but through other forms of dominance. There’s nothing subtle about this book, and, for me, that kept the story from having much power. It was short, though, and that kept it from feeling like a total bludgeoning. If it had been much longer, the lack of subtlety would have been a serious flaw.

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Lucky Boy

I’m mystified that this novel by Shanthi Sekaram hasn’t gotten more attention. It’s a compelling read about complex subjects that are very much of the moment. I suppose some could argue that its style is too simplistic and the story too melodramatic and unlikely (and, indeed, that seems to be a common argument in the Tournament of Books’ forum on Goodreads). But, for me, the book works, not necessarily as a great work of literary art, but as a book that I had a hard time putting down and was eager to get back to every time. I suppose my tastes are just unsophisticated.

The novel follows two women: Solimar, an 18-year-old from Mexico who wants to come of America, and Kavya, an Indian-American chef in her 30s who’s ready to have a baby. In alternating chapters, we watch Soli face the terrors of an illegal border crossing as Kavya and her husband, Rishi, face their infertility and start considering adoption. When Solimar finally makes it to Berkeley, California, and discovers she’s pregnant, it’s obvious that these stories will merge, but it takes a long time for it to happen.

Both of these women are easy to sympathize with, but they are also flawed, sometimes in similar ways. They share a determination to get the thing that they want, without always thinking clearly of the long-term consequences of their choices. Solimar does little to prepare for her baby, which is understandable when she must focus on day-to-day survival, and Kavya assumes that her loving heart will break down all barriers.

But the system, of course, is stacked against these women. For Kavya, adoption is costly and difficult, and fostering offers no guarantees. And Solimar’s undocumented status makes her vulnerable to anyone who chooses to prey on her. Her story is by far the more harrowing of the two, as she deals with rape and other forms of violence, both as she crosses the border and after she ends up in detention. Kavya’s pain is more internal and pales in comparison.

That said, I don’t think Sekaran is trying to make the two situations parallel, but I can see how some might find Kavya’s real and legitimate pain to be ridiculous when set against Solimar’s. However, when I think of Little Fires Everywhere, a book with a subplot involving a similar situation, I appreciated that Sekaran spent time with Kavya, letting us get inside her head and see that her love is not about supplying more material possessions but about mothering in all ways that she can. Within their own circles, Kayva and Risha aren’t particularly wealthy. If they were, they wouldn’t have been in this situation.

I do think the book could have been a little leaner. There are sections about Rishi’s work that seemed irrelevant to the main story. And early on, the story skips crucial pieces of Soli’s story, leaving big gaps — these are later filled in through flashbacks, but the gaps were annoying and might cause some readers to give up early. There are plot twists that struck me as unlikely, but sometimes life takes unlikely twists. In the moment, as I was reading, only one point, involving the specifics of how Kavya and Soli’s lives become entangled, really bothered me, but by then, I was so ready for that part of the story to begin that I shook it off, even as I rolled my eyes. Give me a good story about people I care about, and I’ll overlook a lot.

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Manhattan Beach

During the Great Depression, Eddie Kerrigan took care of his wife and daughters, even if it meant getting involved with the shady gangster Dexter Sykes. But by World War II, Eddie is gone and the women are on their own. Younger daughter Lydia has a disability that keeps her confined and mostly nonverbal, and so it’s up to elder daughter Anna to go to work to support the war effort and her family. After a few weeks of boredom inspecting parts at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Anna becomes obsessed with the diving crew that repairs ships. Eventually, she wheedles her way onto a team, overcoming all the resistance to become the first woman diver.

As the months go on, Anna finds herself in the orbit of her father’s former employer. She’s drawn to him and repelled by him, desperate to find out what he knows about her father’s disappearance and terrified to ask.

I haven’t read any of Jennifer Egan’s previous books, so I can’t make any comparisons to those, but I found this to be a straightforwardly enjoyable work of historical fiction with a few minor glitches that kept it from rising to the top of my list of favorites in the genre.

Let’s start with what I loved. The diving! I loved watching Anna go through the training, face the dangers, nearly drown, and get good at it. And it wasn’t just that this was about a woman succeeding in a man’s world. As enjoyable as those kinds of stories can be, they’re not new. What I loved was the Egan got into the details of how diving works. Learning about other jobs is fun, especially when they’re unusual and dangerous.

And I liked Anna as a character most of the time. She’s conflicted in a way that could come across as incoherent, but ended up working for me. She’s young and facing a lot of different pressures, so I can see how she’d be struggling to figure things out. Does she want to be alone or surrounded by friends? Does she want to go to bed with this man or not? How does she feel about going dancing? Who are her real friends? She wavers over these things, but her focus on diving gives her purpose and allows readers to see that she can be strong when she’s made a choice. And I think diving, with all its challenges, allows her to quiet her mind from all the turmoil.

The book is at its best when it focuses on Anna. But there are also long sections about Eddie, and he’s not nearly as compelling. And for a long portion of the book, we’re privy to information about him that Anna doesn’t have. It makes one scene, when Anna supposedly learns the truth, extra intense, but I’m not sure that drama was needed. I’m not sure any of his story was needed, beyond the fact that he disappeared.

But even as I say that, I must admit that part of his story included a survival story of the type that I absolutely adore. And during those chapters, I was riveted. Still, they felt like part of a different book. The fact that this was Anna’s father was meaningless.

So I have mixed feelings about this one. There were parts I enjoyed a lot, but there were too many distractions from that central story.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction | 12 Comments

Page to Screen: It

I love a good horror movie, so I was delighted when the film version of It came out last year and got good reviews, although it took me until this week to get around to seeing it. I shouldn’t have bothered. What a disappointment!

The movie is, of course, based on the fantastic and terrifying novel by Stephen King. But because the novel is approximately a billion pages long, the movie cuts a lot of the plot, focusing entirely on the sections set during the main characters’ childhoods, leaving the sections about them as adult for a sequel. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea—it’s certainly an easy way to tighten the story—but it creates a plotting problem early on that the film never quite recovers from.

The opening sequence, when George disappears, is promising enough. It starts with unease and ramps up quickly as Pennywise drags George into the sewers. As an opening, the explicitness works (and the cuts to a watching cat are brilliant). From there, however, the pace is never quite right.

In the book, the stakes are set when Mike Hanlon contacts the adult members of the Losers’ Club to summon them back to Derry to fulfill their childhood pledge to defeat It should it ever return to the town. Their fear at the prospect, even thought their memories are foggy, makes it clear how frightening this thing is. Now, when it comes to horror films, my bias is for films of unease, where things just don’t feel right and the story spins out slowly. Without that framing of adults returning, there’s no opportunity for the unease to build. Instead, we get one sequence after another where the characters meet Pennywise, are frightened, and run away. One after another after another. It’s boring. Some of the individual sequences are good—I especially liked Stan’s creepy painting—but putting each character through essentially the same experience, with variations, ends up being monotonous. It’s all jump scares and loudness, and even Pennywise loses his power to frighten when he appears so often.

Another change from the book was to move the plot forward in time, with the childhood story taking place in the 1980s. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, although it does feel a little like the filmmakers are trying to capitalize on 80s nostalgia among the book’s original fans, as well as fans of Stranger Things. But, whatever, I was a child of the 80s. I can get on board with being pandered to. However, the new setting undercuts some of the interesting things the book does with race, a problem that is further undercut by the diminishing of Mike Hanlon, the sole Black member of the Losers’ Club.

Certainly, racism still exists in the 80s (and in 2018), but it has gone underground, and the imagery of a black kid being beaten up in the 80s doesn’t have the same potency as it would have in the pre-Civil Rights era. That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, but it means to movie has to do a little more work to establish how the evil of It is wrapped up in systemic, historical racism. However, the movie takes the historian role away from Mike and gives it to Ben, and you’d have to be looking for hints at the racist violence in Derry’s history to see it.

Mike’s role is likely to be expanded in the second film, but the AV Club reports that director Andy Muschietti plans to make him a junkie, so, yeah, the film doesn’t just undercut the anti-racist ideas in the book, it adds some racist stereotypes of its own. Great. Mike is far and away my favorite character in the book, so this pisses me off pretty seriously.

As for positive departures from the book, there is one, but it is also undercut by a slew of unfortunate choices. In this case, the changes involve Beverly and the movie’s use of sexist tropes to weaken another strong character who’s not a white male. The good choice was to abandon the sex scene at the end of the book, but it’s also the obvious choice. I mean, there’s no way that scene would remain. It’s such an obvious choice that I’m not inclined to give the filmmaker any credit for doing it. So I’ll just move on to my irritation at the depiction of Beverly.

I’ll start by saying that I think the movie does better by Beverly than it does by Mike. She’s given plenty to do, and a case could be made that she is the strongest and smartest member of Loser’s Club. However, the movie focuses too much on her place as “the girl” and on Bill and Ben’s crushes on her. She’s sometimes shot to look sexy, and there’s one instance of her using her sexuality to help the boys. (Articles at The Collider and The Mary Sue have argued that the movie is actually subverting these tropes, and I think a decent case could be made here.)

The bigger problem around Beverly is that by the end of the movie, she’s turned into a damsel who needs rescuing. Not only is this irritating on Beverly’s behalf, it minimizes the bigger battle against It and the heroism of the Losers’ Club in going to fight It. They’re going to save the girl, not to save the town (or the world).

As dissatisfied as I was with the movie, I have to commend the performances, which are almost entirely terrific. The kids have strong chemistry, and on the rare occasions that they’re allowed to stop and breathe, they’re fun to watch. Too bad that so much of their screen time is just running and screaming. These actors—and this book—deserved better.

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Fair and Tender Ladies

Reading Lee Smith’s memoir Dimestore last year reminded me of what a good writer she is and inspired me to revisit her fiction for the first time in more than 20 years. The trouble is, aside from Black Mountain Breakdown, I have no idea which of her books I’d read before. So I decided to just go with a book that’s considered among her best—if I couldn’t remember whether I’d read it, it would probably feel like a new book.

And that turned out to be right. Bits and pieces of Fair and Tender Ladies seemed vaguely familiar, but only vaguely. It felt like I was reading it for the first time, even if I wasn’t.

The book is an epistolary novel, filled with letters written by Ivy Rowe. The letters follow her life in Appalachian Virginia from the years just before World War I through the 1970s. She begins the book as a girl who spells poorly and loves to listen to stories and ends it as an old woman with better spelling and a lifetime of memories.

Ivy is a wonderful character. Right from the start, she’s observant, imaginative, and reflective. In her letters to her teacher, various friends, her family members, and eventually her lost sister Silvaney, she tells stories about her life and that of her neighbors, muses over her past and future, and chronicles the shifts in her community. It turns out to be both a history of a place and of a person, which the person always in the foreground.

One of the things Smith does well is have Ivy’s writing evolve as she grows older, while always still feeling like it comes from the same person. Even at the start, Ivy is thoughtful and observant, a born storyteller, even if not a great speller:

So while I was riding down ther, the moon come up, the biggest prettest full moon come up just like it was any other nigt in the world, so ligt and lovely it like to took my breth. I knowed it wuld shine on no matter what, and this given me a turn. The moon dont give a damn, I said to myself, and it dont. The moonligt come down throgh the leaves as brigt as day, a cool white ligt, I culd see everything just as clear when I come riding outen the woods and seen the neghbor peoples houses all in a nice little row. I felt like the highwayman come riding, riding, up to the old inn door.

By the end of the book, her spelling is better, but she maintains her dialect and her keen sense of observation, which she applies to people, places, and herself.

As for Ivy’s life, it takes many unexpected turns, and there are many possible roads she doesn’t go down. There’s a teacher, a woman who loved Ivy and offered to take her away to Boston. There’s the boy who went away to war. There’s town life versus country life. At each step, Ivy chooses for herself, and sometimes she doesn’t even understand her own decisions, other than that she lets her feelings in the moment guide her, not worrying much about other people’s judgment.

It’s not, however, that Ivy doesn’t care what people think. In some of her letters, she frets about it, but she doesn’t let that affect her choices. When she does what people expect, it’s because she wants to. Because this is a book that honors women’s desire, whether it’s sexual desire, desire for family, or a desire to be alone. And one woman may desire each of these things over the course of a life, sometimes simultaneously, even when the desires are in conflict.

Reading this, I found myself wishing Lee Smith were more widely known and read. There aren’t many people who write about southwestern Virginia without romanticizing or treating the people as curiosities. Smith does neither of these things. Her characters are authentic and complex, likable and infuriating. If you’ve never read her books, give them a try (especially this one).

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction | 8 Comments

The Commodore

The 17th book in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series finds Stephen and Jack back in England, ready to reunited with their families after years away.

Stephen is particularly anxious to meet his daughter, Brigid, but when he arrives home he finds that Diana has left, apparently out of distress that Brigid has some sort of developmental delay that has left her unable to interact with others much. This development was, of course, a sad one for Stephen, who had been longing for a joyful reunion with his wife and affection from his daughter, but he takes Brigid’s state in stride and begins making plans to get help for her.

It’s tempting, I think, to condemn Diana for her actions, but I ended up feeling sad for her, too. Diana has never shown signs of being particularly maternal, and having a child who cannot return whatever affection she can give would no doubt make the transition to motherhood even more difficult. Plus, she’s on her own, without Stephen, and surrounded mostly by people who expect her to immediately live up to the standards of the day. And she did right to leave Brigid with Clarissa Oakes, a woman who does seem to accept her as she is, instead of giving her over to her closest blood relative, Her aunt. Mrs. Williams, is also Sophie’s mother (Jack’s mother-in-law), and she seems determined to scold the child into speaking. By leaving Brigid with Clarissa, Diana doesn’t do the best thing possible, but she does ensure that the child is well cared for.

Meanwhile, Jack’s marriage is showing some strain as Sophie has gotten reacquainted with a sweetheart from her youth. Jack’s insecurity about his relationship shows up in his poor spirits when he is sent back out to sea, this time as a commodore, leading multiple ships on a mission to disrupt the slave trade. Attacking slave ships and freeing the enslaved people on board! For me, this mission was especially exciting because it meant something more than just taking prizes and gaining money.  Sometimes, the sea battles in this series seem mostly like a game, where opponents exchange ships instead of playing pieces.

As usual, the battles and maneuvers are significant for moving the story along, but most of the pleasure in the book is in the small moments. Stephen having a fit over the state of the medical quarters in Jack’s new ship. A breakneck race to London in a speedy clipper. Brigid bonding with Padeen. Stephen catching yellow fever after forbidding the men aboard to go ashore — lest they catch the fever. A mix-up between Clarissa and Sophie over matching dresses. And Stephen’s search for an African potto, which he immediately becomes attached to when he finds it. Because how could you not?

This is one of the more enjoyable books in the series. And now I have only four books left! I’m hoping to finish the series this year, so we’ll see how it all ends!

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction | 10 Comments


borderlineThis fantasy novel by Mishell Baker is the kind of book that makes you want to recommend it to people, but a) it’s hard to know who in your acquaintance will like it, and b) it is quite difficult to sum up. So, of course, I am recommending it to you, and you should all come back and tell me that you liked it. (I should say here and now that I myself read it on Other Jenny’s excellent recommendation.)

Millie has lost both her legs in a recent suicide attempt. She also has a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. As the book opens, she’s in a rehab facility in Los Angeles, trying to come to terms with the way both of those things will affect her day-to-day life forever: she’s lost her place in her prestigious grad school, she has no family, and her new reality is looking bleak. When in walks Caryl, to recruit her for the Arcadia Project.

The Arcadia Project is a secret organization that polices comings and goings between our world and the fairy world. There’s a whole complicated and delicate balance that needs to be maintained, and (as you might expect if you thought about it) a lot of what our world gets out of it winds up in Hollywood. (Or maybe Tahiti; I hear it’s a magical place.) Right now, there’s a viscount from the Seelie Court who’s gone missing, and Millie has to get to know her new coworkers (recruited from backgrounds not much different from her own), get to know the Arcadia Project, and help find a fairy. Um… okay?

This novel completely suckered me in. I enjoyed everything about it, from its portrayal of fairies (I love books about the fey, and this one has a changeling in it for good measure) to its structure as a noir-ish detective novel in Los Angeles, but covered in glitter; to its pretty, poisonous villains; to its tough and realistic portrayal of disability and mental illness and the work it takes to deal with those in self and others; to its humor, which might have a sharp edge but is always flashing out. As Joss Whedon says, make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but for the love of God, tell a joke.

I am definitely going to read the second in this series, and if it’s as good as the first, I hope there are about eight more.

Posted in Fiction, Speculative Fiction | 4 Comments

Goodbye, Vitamin

 As this novel by Rachel Khong begins, it’s Christmas, and Ruth is spending her first Christmas in years with her family. Her fiancé has recently dumped her for another woman, and she’s been bouncing from one relationship to another. And now that her father’s Alzheimer’s is starting to set in, Ruth’s mother wants her to stay and help her cope with the coming crisis. And so she does.

The book takes the form of diary entries, written over the course of the year Ruth lives with her parents. So it’s very in the moment as they deal with her father’s illness and make plans for what comes next. For most of the book, dealing means setting up fake classes for her father, a college professor to teach now that his erratic behavior has cost him his job. The classes in California history, held in various locations from week to week and attended by former students and friends, keep him going. And, I think, keeping the deception going gives Ruth something to think about, too. She has this scary situation in front of her and this momentary solution to manage from day to day, so she doesn’t have time to wallow in the future or the past.

In the end, the book is very much about living in the moment that you have. Both Ruth and her mother have been betrayed by the men they love, and there’s not much to be done to make things right. Ruth’s relationship is over, her mother’s relationship goes on. Ruth’s brother, Linus, also feels betrayed, by Ruth who left home just before her parents’ marriage went sour and by his father, who drank and had affairs through most of Linus’s adolescence. It’s no wonder he’s doesn’t much want to be around now.

Ruth’s own feelings are hard to work out for most of the book. She mostly seems numb, just taking things one step at a time and not giving much thought to anything. When her mother asks her to stay, she stays. When her father’s colleague cooks up the wacky teaching scheme, she goes along. But I think that’s exactly how she gets through. She just keeps taking the next step. As the book goes on, those steps get a little more purposeful. And by the end, she’s ready to appreciate where she is and step forward into the future.

I should also mention that this book is frequently funny. Ruth’s fathers actions, while worrying, are sometimes played for comedy — because what else is there to do but laugh and then keep going? And take notes, notice, see the world around you. That’s really what drives this book, the need to notice. Ruth’s father preserved notes from her childhood of the things she did, and now Ruth does the same for her father. And somehow, that action of noticing makes it all bearable because it becomes easier to see the joy of the moment instead of focusing on the pain of the future and the past.

Posted in Contemporary, Fiction | 4 Comments