Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Invention of Wings



 The Invention of Wings is by Sue Monk Kidd.  I had read her book The Secret Life of Bees a few
years ago and really liked it, so I was looking forward to reading this one.  The Invention of Wings is an amazing book.  It is historical fiction, based on the life of Sarah Grimke.

Sarah Grimke was the daughter of an elite Charleston family who lived in the early 1800's.  The book began in 1803 with Sarah's 11th birthday, when her mother gave her Hetty "Handful" as her personal slave for a birthday present.  Sarah and Hetty became friends and Sarah taught Hetty how to read (which was against the law). Both girls were punished when it was learned what Sarah had done. Hetty was a year younger than Sarah and this made for a perfect contrast through-out the book of two women in extremely different circumstances, both yearning for more in their lives than what was imposed upon them. Both yearned for freedom in their own ways.  Eventually Sarah moved to Philadelphia and became a Quaker, until that became too restrictive for her life's work.

The story covers the years beginning in late 1803 to 1838.  Part of what I found so fascinating about the book is that it does not extend into the Civil War.  It is the story of how Sarah worked all of her life for freedom for others.  She was never comfortable with the concept of slavery and was quite vocal about it.  And, remember,  this was in early 1800's  in the South.  As Sarah got older, her work expanded into freedom and equality for all women.

Ms. Kidd did such a wonderful job with exploring Hetty's history, bringing in her mother, Charlotte, who always yearned for freedom and extracted a promise from Sarah that some day she would free her daughter, Hetty. 

It really is an amazing book and I am very interested to learn more about Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina who were both so active in the freedom movements.





Carthage

I love most books by Joyce Carol Oates and Carthage was no exception.  Ms. Oates does such a
wonderful job exploring her characters and getting into some of the dark side of those characters!

Carthage is the name of the small town in the Adirondacks where one night 19-year-old Cressida Mayfield disappeared.  Cressida was the daughter of Zeno Mayfield, the former mayor of Carthage.  Cressida reminded me of those who have difficulty relating to others, and she appeared to feel that her family never loved her enough.  Her older sister, Juliet had been engaged to Brett, an Iraqi war veteran who had come home wounded, physically and mentally.  One night, unbeknownst to her family,  Cressida went out hoping to meet up with Brett.  She never returned home.  The book opens with The Search:

"That girl that got lost in the Nautauga Preserve.  Or, that girl that was killed somehow, and her body hid.
Where Zeno Mayfield's daughter had disappeared to, and whether there was much likelihood of her being found alive, or in any reasonable state between alive and dead, was a question to confound everyone in Beechum County.
Everyone who knew the Mayfields, or even knew of them.
And for those who knew the Kincaid boy-the war hero-the question was yet more confounding."
Because, it turned out, that Cressida had met up with Brett, and he was the last one to see her alive.  Her body was never found.  But Brett eventually confessed and was found guilty of her murder and sentenced to prison.

Jump ahead now to seven years later to Florida where Sabbath Mae McSwain was interviewing for a position as an intern for a psychologist/author.  The psychologist was currently researching and investigating conditions on death row for another book.

Carthage is focused on several themes.  The horrors of the after-effects of war, the tragedy of a grieving family who need answers, forgiveness, love and finally, can one ever go home again? 



Another great book by a great author.  I missed reading The Accursed by Oates, which came out before Carthage, so I need to add that one to my to-be-read list!

Friday, September 19, 2014

We Are Water



I have loved all of Wally Lamb’s books, and his latest, We Are Water, is no exception.  This is his fifth   It is a big book, as are his others, with many themes running through it, including racism, sexual abuse, love, forgiveness, and grief.
novel and the greatness of his writing carries on!

We Are Water begins with the introduction of the story of Josephus Jones’ who had been found dead in a well in 1959.  Jones was a black artist who had lived in a small cabin with his brother and a white woman.  The rumors were that there was an active chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in that area at the time, and that they had killed Jones.

Years later, Dr. Orion Oh and his family had moved to the property that included that small cabin.  Dr. Oh was a clinical psychologist, and his wife, Annie, was an artist.  They had three grown children.  Annie had fallen in love with a woman, Viveca, her art dealer, and divorced Orion.  When the book begins, Annie is preparing to marry Viveca.  Orion and her three children were left struggling with the fact that Annie was marrying a woman.

Annie had lost her mother and sister in a tragic flood when she was a young girl.  She had been rescued from the flood by her cousin, Kent.  Her father drank and so Annie had ended up spending the rest of her childhood in and out of foster homes.

Each chapter of the book is told by a separate person: it begins with Gualtiero Agnello who was an aging art dealer who had discovered Josephus Jones’ work in the 1950’s. Annie and Orion narrate most of the book, but there are also chapters narrated by Ruth Fletcher who was a widow of one of the members of the Ku Klux Klan, Andrew and Ariane who were two of the Oh’s children, and Kent Kelly who was a cousin of Annie’s.

The book is full of long buried secrets.  I am always fascinated by how the “secrets” people keep affect not only their lives, but the lives of those around them.  Nothing is ever truly secret.  Wally Lamb always does such a great job telling the intertwining the secrets and telling the stories.

An Explanation for Everything



The September book read for one of my book groups was An Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein.   I had read her book A Friend of the Family earlier this summer and had liked it.  


College professor Andy Waite lost his wife to a drunk driver, a young man who was convicted and sent to prison.  Andy was left with his daughters and his career.  Andy was researching the effects of alcohol on mice, in hopes of learning more about alcoholism.  He was increasingly frustrated when his results were not matching his theories.  Meanwhile, he was teaching a class called “There Is No God” which was about evolutionary theory.  He had also reluctantly agreed to act as advisor for Melissa, a student who was doing an independent study on intelligent design.  At this same time, the young man who had killed Andy’s wife came up eligible for parole, and Andy was determined that he not be released from prison. And Andy became involved with his longtime friend and neighbor, Sheila, a recovering alcoholic.

There are many themes going on in this book.  Andy’s student, Melissa, began to insinuate herself more deeply into Andy’s live, and began babysitting his daughters, leading to her becoming even more involved with him.  Melissa began introducing the family to her church and her spirituality, leading Andy to question his own beliefs.  His introductory comment to his class on There Is No God is:

“Evolution is the explanation for everything.”

But in the end, the novel begs the question through several characters:  Is there a God?  Is there faith?  Is there forgiveness?

This book raised lots of issues and we had a very spirited book group discussion over it!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

All The Light We Cannot See

A beautiful book...All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  It's a big book...530 pages, but
most chapters of the book are one, two, three, or four pages long, so it is an easy book to read.  The only thing to be aware of is that you need to pay attention to what year the chapter is referring to, because that changes frequently.

This is a World War II story about a blind French girl and a German boy and how all the events of the war impacted their lives.  Their paths don't intersect until close to the end of the book, however.



Marie-Laure became blind when she was six years old.  Her  mother had died in childbirth so she lived alone with her father in Paris where he worked at the Museum of Natural History as a master of locks.  Her father made a miniature of the neighborhood so that she could memorize the area and learn to get around.  Marie-Laure was twelve years old when the Nazis occupied Paris.  When that happened, her father took her and they moved south to Saint-Malo where her father had a reclusive uncle living, who took them in. When they left Paris, Marie-Laure's father was given a precious stone to keep safe for the Museum.

Meanwhile, in Germany, a young boy, Werner and his younger sister, Jutta, were living in an orphanage.  Werner was a master at radios, and when those in power learned of his talent he was sent to a special academy to learn more in order to serve Hitler's army.  After awhile, he was given the assignment of tracking the resistance.  And as time went on, Werner began to experience the moral dilemma of what he was doing.

This really is a beautiful book as it examines the cost of war and the impact on good and bad and making decisions. We read this book for one of my book groups and we agreed that although the title may refer to Marie-Laure's blindness, we felt more that it referred to all the good in the world.  Despite this being a book about war, it left one with the sense of goodness.  Quite an achievement!




Stella Bain

Stella Bain is author Anita Shreve's 17th novel!  That number is amazing!  I almost always enjoy her
novels, so was happy to see this newest one.  It is an easy read, yet not really a simple story.

When a young woman woke after two days in a field hospital in France during World War I, she did not remember who she was.  She thought that her name might be Stella Bain and she felt that she had worked as a nurse.  It quickly is apparent that she was an American, although she wore the uniform of a British nurse's aid.

"Stella has no idea where she has come from.  She senses it might be an unhappy place, a door she might not want to open.  But no one's entire past can be unhappy, can it? It might contain unhappy events or a tendency toward melancholy, but the whole cannot be miserable." 
After spending a month in the hospital, Stella began to work there as a nurse's aid.

"The sight is awful, the sound hollow.  Almost all the men die.
Sometimes, the doctors' screams are louder than the patients'."
During her off-time, Stella began to do sketches and portraits.  However, her private drawings are what make her wonder about her past. Then one day, she overheard a man mention the Admiralty, a building in London.  It triggered something for her.  After several months, Stella was granted a leave and she decided that she would go to London to the Admiralty to see if she could learn what significance it seemed to hold for her.

When Stella arrived in London, she was noticed by a kind woman named Lily.  Stella was quite ill and Lily had seen her leaning against a fence.  Lily asked Stella to her home and once there, Lily and her husband August took her in and cared for her.  August was a cranial surgeon and began to take interest in her.  August had been reading about "talk therapy" and was interested in seeing if it might help Stella recall her past.  He also had connections and was willing to take her to the Admiralty to help her discover what it was that seemed to draw her there.  And finally after several visits there over time, as Stella and August are leaving the Admiralty, someone calls out "Etna Bliss"...and Stella recognizes the name and then, the person who called it out.  And she remembers.

"'I have children', she says."

The story then goes back into time from 1896-1915, telling Stella's history. A history of lost love, domestic abuse, and betrayal.

The last chapter of the book takes place in 1930.

"How strange this happiness, the pain of it.  Aware of minutes, she remembers years.  She would remember every hour if she could.  To live a life and then recall that life in equal time.  What a thought" She wishes it could be done."







Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Calling Me Home

I really liked Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler.  It had that genealogy sense for me of learning about
one's past.

Calling Me Home is a story of long-ago, lost and forbidden love.  There are two main characters: eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle and thirty-something Dorrie.  Isabelle still lived on her own and had been going to Dorrie, a black hairdresser, for several years.  Over the years, the two women had grown close as they shared events in their lives.  One day, Isabelle asked Dorrie for a big favor.  She needed Dorrie to drive her from their town in Texas to Cincinnati for a funeral, and she needed to leave the next day.  Dorrie was willing to leave her worries and concerns about her two teenage children with her mother for a few days, and her relationship with her new boyfriend that she was afraid of committing to and get away, so she agreed to drive Isabelle to the funeral, not knowing anything about the trip.

The trip was a long one, and the two women had lots of time in the car to talk.  Isabelle began sharing some of her very guarded past with Dorrie.  It turned out that when she was a young girl, Isabelle had lived in Kentucky and had fallen in love with a young black man back in the 1930's...a very forbidden thing to do.  Through-out the journey to Cincinnati, Isabelle slowly shared the story of the relationship and the tragic way it ended. 

It was a really beautiful story and had a bit of a twist at the end.  Good writing!