Posts filed under ‘January 2015 reads’

A full length mirror – “We are not Ourselves” by Matthew Thomas

Unknown“We are not Ourselves” by Matthew Thomas, Published in 2014 

This is Matthew’s first novel and it is quite a feat.  It led me through such a range of emotions and made me want to hug my husband and my children repeatedly.  I will throw out this warning – this is not the book to read if you are going through a tough time.  While it is beautifully done, some novels are best saved for our healthier mental health days – this is one of those books.

Eileen is born in New York to two Irish immigrants.  They are both terrible alcoholics and she spends much of her childhood picking up after them both physically and emotionally.  As Eileen sees more and more of the city around her, she begins to imagine her future – one with a husband and a house all her own with a career that is not cleaning up other people’s messes. When she meets Ed, he is the perfect fit for the future is sure she deserves. He is a responsible, gentle, open hearted man with a successful science career ahead of him.  And so she marries him.

They buy a house, not the house of her dreams but still a house.  They have a child, though Eileen wanted more originally it is just one son, Connell.  Ed decides to stay a professor at a community college instead of taking other more prestigious jobs, which is not what Eileen wants but at least he is working.  And this is Eileen’s life.  Everything is fine, but it is not necessarily what she dreamed it would be.

As Ed and Eileen reach middle-age something starts to change with Ed.  He begins coming home each day from work, sitting for endless hours listening to records.  Then he begins listening to the records with head phones on, as if disconnecting from everyone.  And things begin to slip, his appearance, his temper, and the dynamic of the family begins to change.  Eileen is then stuck in that place we all get to, when we realize that what we had was maybe not what we dreamed but was really all we needed.  By then it is too late to cherish it and life for Eileen is upended as she tries to determine what is happening to Ed while pretending that everything is normal and going to be okay.

The middle of this book is hard. Eileen and Ed fight dreadfully for quite a lot of pages. Ed is terribly cruel but Eileen is so harsh it is cringe worthy.  And the fact that Thomas can capture this back and forth so beautifully is a great credit to him. But for me it took too long to get to the point where Eileen finally determines what is happening to Ed.  It was painfully drawn out.  But in truth, this is an accurate depiction of what this kind of decent into mental darkness looks like. It is long, scary and lonely for everyone involved.

There are so many truths in this book.  And those truths are terrible to examine, not unlike standing naked in front of a full length mirror looking at all of your defects.  We are many pieces of different things but we often define ourselves in ways that are not based in the core of who we actually are. Money, status, careers these are not the core of who we are really, they are manifestations.  And our defects are large.  When those around us need us most we will disappoint both them and ourselves.  We will be harsh and cruel when love is all that is needed.  We will lose patience and miss important moments of our lives in that impatience.  And we will find ourselves years later sitting on a front stoop somewhere reflecting and wishing for that simple day that seemed like nothing at the time but was everything.  But what comes from that reflection is what is important and this is how we come back to ourselves and move on.

“When life seems too cruel, and there seems too little love in it. When you feel you have failed. When you don’t know what the point is. When you cannot go on. I want you to draw strength from me then. I want you to remember how much I cherished you, how I lived for you. When the world seems full of giants who dwarf you, when it feels like a struggle just to keep your head up, I want you to remember there is more to live for than mere achievement. It is worth something to be a good man. It cannot be worth nothing to do the right thing.”

Other reviews to check out:

A Bibliophile’s Reverie

Rhapsody in Books

January 9, 2015 at 8:53 pm Leave a comment

Learning from those BH Housewives – “The Diamond Lane” by Karen Karbo

“The Diamond Lane” by Karen Karbo, Published in 1984, Republished in 2014

I don’t watch reality t.v. as a general rule. There are a lot of snotty (read as good) reasons not to watch reality Unknownt.v. but for me it is truly more about just liking other types of entertainment. Meaning just because I read doesn’t mean I don’t fit in plenty of t.v.  But all of that said, I have ONE reality show I watch.  The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Not Jersey, not Orange County, just Beverly Hills. Why??!!! I have no idea.  I think I just love to watch supremely rich people make each other miserable. It is a petty piece of me admittedly, but those rich women are truly as vacuous, self-involved and crazy bored as you might think.  For some reason this amuses me.  They want for nothing but have more drama and made up problems that I could even imagine for them.   Why am I talking about this. “The Diamond Lane” is filled with the same self-involved, empty characters and I have just decided that L.A. is where they all must be – feeding off each other’s concerns about who is the prettiest, skinniest, and what is the next big thing.

Mouse is filming a documentary in Nairobi when she receives a call from her sister Mimi that their mother has been in an accident.  And so, with her British boyfriend Tony in tow, Mouse returns home to Los Angeles after spending 16 years in Africa.  When she arrives home she finds that her mother has suffered a head injury from a ceiling fan falling on her in a restaurant – but she is recovering nicely.  Mouse and Tony are suddenly stuck together on Mimi’s futon in her dining room each night while spending their days trying to cope with culture shock and the film/acting/writing world that is L.A.

Everyone they meet is an up and coming writer, actor, director, etc.  meaning simply that everyone is broke and likely will always be an administrative assistant.   Tony begins writing and shopping a screenplay about their life in Africa while Mouse attempts to hold onto her documentary making integrity, showing her films in church basements with poles blocking the screen while wearing worn out flip-flops and out of fashion clothing.

In the vein of Evelyn Waugh, this book had the makings of a really good satire.  Karbo seems to have a good feel for the fumblings and trappings of L.A. life.  But for me it just wasn’t funny enough and it fell flat.  Mimi, as the bulimic sister who was once in a commercial with Bob Hope, is sad. Mouse, trying to forgive her sister for stealing her boyfriend 16 years before while trying to determine if she really loves Tony and if her films have meaning, is also just sad.   In fact, there is not much that is not really kind of depressing in this book.  And YES, I get that it is supposed to be funny.  But characters, who seem like they might be good people, genuinely struggling with their lives and choices are really hard to spin into a satire. That is what Waugh got that I think Karbo is missing – crappy things happening to self-involved, arrogant people, that is funny.  Crappy things happening to the girl who just spent 16 years in Africa trying to escape heartbreak and filming documentaries, it just isn’t that funny.

Now Lisa Vanderpump getting her feelings hurt because she is told she is not a nice person, when in fact she really isn’t a nice person, that is hilarious.  And even if you don’t think so, don’t worry she has millions of dollars and a whole wardrobe of pink to keep her company.

 

January 4, 2015 at 5:00 pm 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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