Too many books, too little time

–for blogging, at least. Sometimes frugal to a fault I hesitated buying this NPR recommended book–but my husband ordered off my wish list as a bit of “Happy Winter Break” reading material and it’s definitely a keeper. While I was initially drawn in by the stories of the help, it was Skeeter Phelan’s story that continued to draw the narrative forward. The lives of Abileen and Minny didn’t really change (although we understood with the death of Medgar Evars that Change was on the way), but Skeeter, a Junior League member standing just on the outside of the Southern Belle circle, evolved as she took down the stories of the colored women who served her family and the families of the other League members.

Skeeter begins her journey mourning the loss of the black woman who raised her and also her status as a “spinster” at age twenty-four. Thinking that since marriage wasn’t currently an option she’d find meaning in a career, Skeeter gets a part-time job at the local newspaper writing a household advice column. Knowing nothing about homemaking (since the help had done all things domestic in her family) Skeeter turns to Abileen, the maid of her best friend for help. Ablileen provides the substance Skeeter needs to write her column–and ends up throwing Skeeter the lifeline she needs. We see Skeeter as she comes to understand the lives of the black women she lived with side-by-side, as she gives up her chase to find a husband, as she throw off the propriety of the fifties to embrace the freedom of the sixties.

A compelling good read.

To be continued …

by Jon Clinch

I’ve prevaricated and stalled, I’ve come to a standstill, postponed, and delayed writing another post about Finn–and last night I finally gave myself permission to put it on hold until I’m not in school. I think during the school year I’ll need to go light and, if not exactly, cheerful, then at least redeeming in some way. Now I’m not saying that Finn won’t end on some revealing and uplifting note (though I have my doubts), and I’m not one who has to read all things sweetness and light. But I came to the conclusion that it was just too much right now. So I’m off into Kate Jacob’s world again in Comfort Food.

Finn, the story of Huck Finn’s father, is dark and menacing. We see the Widow Douglas, the huckster preacher, and the judge who welcomed Finn into his house in an attempt to reform him–all through Finn’s eyes. Though the boy Huck does appear in the book at the halfway point, he is a flat character–almost a placeholder. It is Finn’s twisted mind and sinister spirit that prevail, and we see him battling his cold and powerful father, falling into a relationship with a slave, and conceiving a son by her. Yes, Huck is, in Clinch’s novel, biracial–he is Huckberry because at birth he was dark as a huckleberry. A strange twist, a bit unbelievable, but certainly fitting in this novel. Sometimes poignant, often violent, and misogynistic throughout, Finn is a heavy read. And so I’ll need to return another day.

To the lake: Crow Lake (review)

Crow Lake
by Mary Lawson

I started reading Crow Lake the Friday before school started and put it down reluctantly after only a few chapters–and, of course, the busyness of the new year kept it lying on my dresser for the past five days. With B. gone all day, I was able to take it up again–and couldn’t stop.

The hinted-at Greek tragedy wasn’t as monumental as I would have thought–although, I suppose, that just may have been Lawson’s point. Kate Morrison took her brother’s fate to a realm that was more her fantasy than his reality, and so what she leads us to believe is a tragic fate is simply … life happening. Lest I sound glib about orphaned children, an unplanned pregnancy, murder, and a university education left behind, the “life happening” was difficult. But difficult in the way that our lives are messy, complicated, and often fall short of our expectations.

What I found most disturbing was Kate’s emotional vacuum–until I realized that I’ve done the same when living through a crisis. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to recall my own emotional life during those years of single-parenthood. Most compelling was Kate’s realization that the family history she had created was more fiction than fact–based on the life she had wanted them all to live, on the people she had wanted them to be. That’s probably the single-most important lesson I’ve learned in the past several years–that love is much easier (and rich and satisfying) when you love the person who IS, not the person you think you want them to be.

Crow Lake is a good read–and Lawson’s insight is spot on.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy

Murder at the Watergate
by Margaret Truman

I may be the last reader on earth to try one of Margaret Truman’s Washington “Murder at …” series. A colleague who moved on to another job left it in a crate of books for me to use at school, and I snagged it at the end of the summer while setting up my room. Murder at the Watergate was a surprise–light, breezy and entertaining. Truman shamelessly “place drops” (rather than name drops), so it’s a perfect fit for a news addict like me. I read it over Labor Day and it was a fun cap on my summer reading. I’ve long been a Grisham fan for light reading, but have been disappointed in some of his more recent law books. (Does anyone else think he’s lost his knack for an ending with a twist?) I think when I need fluff, I just might move through some of Truman’s other Murder at … titles.


The Photograph
by Penelope Lively

So while the piles of papers hooked me, I’ve not read a book since Olive Kitteridge where the main characters are so very unlikeable. Elaine is a driven, hardened woman–really such a cliche–while her husband is a feckless ne’er do well who rides on her coattails (another cliche!). TV historian Glyn is really Elaine’s counterpoint, and all the while, Kath (we were to assume she was the shallow character) was the lost, misunderstood soul whose gorgeous exterior hid a bleak interior life. Because of the cliches (perhaps) I really didn’t feel compelled to read pell mell, which was sad, considering the summer is ending and reading time will become dear; rather, I soldiered on and finally finished.

But those piles of papers slipping and sliding out of the landing cupboard did keep me going. Glyn’s pursuit of the truth (one, mind you, that he didn’t care to find while his wife was living) was manic–and I thought of dad’s tortured retelling of his early years. He, too, was manic–and also skewed, I’m guessing, every nuance he found in the photos. Glyn did the same, perhaps hoping to find himself the sympathetic one after living years of self-absorption. Hmmmm. Sounds disturbingly similar to dad’s account–and perhaps for the same reason.

Sidenote: Isn’t “detritus” one of the best words in the world? I just love it!