Posts filed under ‘December 2014 reads’

Loss pulls us after it – “Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson

11741“Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson, Published in 1980

This book is magic.  Not like the cheer you up and make you feel warm all over magic, but the most thoughtful, tragically, beautifully written magic.  The kind of writing magic that makes you stay up later than you should to just get through those next few pages.

Ruth and her little sister, Lucille, are dropped off by their mother on the porch to their grandmother’s house in the small mountain town of Fingerbone.  She hands them each graham crackers to keep them occupied until their grandmother returns. As they sit waiting, munching crackers, their mother gets into her car and drives off a cliff into the lake.  Ruth and Lucille’s grandmother cares for them in her house in the small mountain town of Fingerbone.   It is an orderly, simple life spinning  “off the tilting world like thread off a spindle, breakfast time, suppertime, lilac time, apple time.”   When their grandmother dies and after a short stint of their great Aunts living with them, Ruth and Lucille find themselves in the care of their Aunt Sylvie (their mother’s younger sister).

Aunt Sylvie has been riding the rails for years and doesn’t seem comfortable with being tied down though she agrees to stay in Fingerbone for the girls.  But their life in the house has a transient feel – Sylvie sleeps with her shoes on laying on top of blankets, they eat in the dark, newspapers and cans are stacked everywhere, and Sylvie wanders at all hours of the day and night.  The girls, at first, are just eager to please Sylvie but then Lucille begins to want a normal childhood with normal friends and meals with vegetables.  And so, like everyone Ruth has loved before, Lucille leaves and goes to live with another family. Left behind, Ruth is lost. She seems unable to truly engage with anyone – it is as though she is just waiting for something to happen.  And in truth, some awful things have happened to her so her passiveness becomes a form of avoidance. What happens to Ruth doesn’t really seem to matter to anyone and why should it be any different. She is abandoned and untethered.

“Then there is the matter of my mother’s abandonment of me. Again, this is the common experience. They walk ahead of us, and walk too fast, and forget us, they are so lost in thoughts of their own, and soon or late they disappear. The only mystery is that we expect it to be otherwise.”

The being left behind takes its toll on Ruth and she becomes a ghost,  there is nothing left to hold onto so why bother trying.  So she and Sylvie pick the inevitable path for their life together.

This book is haunting.  It has smells and sounds that are so real – salty, wet hair and cold, bare hands.  There are pools of water and crickets that grow quiet at the sound of footsteps. It has inanimate objects that are as important as the characters themselves.  The lake  is as still as glass but then floods everyone’s homes in case they have forgotten that it can cause damage. The lake is death but the characters keep returning to it, to watch the night roll in,  to sleep on its stones, to let its stillness embrace them.  The railway bridge is there to remind everyone that they can die or escape, it just depends on how they time it and how closely they watch.

But the book is also wise. It speaks of that desire our souls have to press on but how sometimes we just don’t have it in us. So we wait or we quit.  It is the story of how easy it is to get lost in whimsy and tumble into the darkness in ourselves.  It is about housekeeping, a life of order and connection –  the need of that connection to a place, or a person, or a time and how without that we truly are just adrift.  And it is about loss, the kind that leaves us waiting and wondering and eventually can drown us.

“Memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it.”

 

Other reviews to check out: 

From Diamond Sharp

From Asylum 

From Jason F. Harper 

 

December 15, 2014 at 8:32 pm 10 comments

Hitting the mediocre with commitment – “Daughter’s Keeper” by Ayelet Waldman

“Daughter’s Keeper” by Ayelet Waldman, Published in 2003 

Let me start by saying early into this book I realized that Ayelet Waldman is married to writer Michael Chabon, who really has quite a lot of love for himself and is likely too cool for all of us readers.   Setting that aside, or at least trying to, Waldman’s novel was okay.  Her writing has promise, the story was interesting and the characters were fairly developed. But it fell a bit flat.

Olivia is the daughter of a single middle class mother, Elaine, who was raised with as much affection and care as Elaine could muster.  And though she grew up in Berkley, California with all daughters-keeper-180her needs met, Olivia has always needed more.  She is ardent and passionate about life. In her early twenties, she travels to Mexico and meets the charming Jorge. They have what she considers a short affair and she returns to California and her life.  Much to Olivia’s surprise, Jorge appears on her doorstep.   He has illegally entered the country to be with her.  Of course the love story is not the thing that movies (or books) are made of, and quickly Jorge realizes that he cannot find a job with his illegal status.  Short of cash and desperate to feel some self-worth, he decides to engage in a drug deal. Olivia finds herself in a car waiting for Jorge while he runs into a house in a bad neighborhood with a box of something.

Two days later, Olivia is awakened in the middle of the night, in her apartment, when the police smash open the door and arrest her. Olivia spends a short stint in prison while she waits for her mother to post bond.  Once Olivia is released to Elaine’s custody, she discovers she is pregnant.  So while preparing for trial – she has been charged with co-conspiracy to deal drugs – Olivia must also determine what will happen to her unborn child.   Meanwhile, Elaine must decide how to be a mother to Olivia, even if her life has become something unrecognizable to her.

I feel like this description is clinical but that is because in part I felt like the book was like that.  I am not sure if this is the novel itself or just for some reason my reaction to it. Either way, Waldman tries to talk about motherhood and the complexity it creates and allows in our lives, but it felt contrived.  Waldman is an attorney and I will say I have noticed that when attorneys become authors sometimes there is an emotional disconnect in their writing.  Notably, Waldman does get good reviews for her novels so I am also willing to chalk this up to a rocky beginning to our relationship. Meaning this reader and writer will likely get back together in the future and we will see what happens.   But the suspense of our future really wouldn’t weigh heavy on my mind I assure you.

 

 

December 7, 2014 at 11:02 am Leave a comment


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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