Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Olive Kitteridge

I just finished Olive Kitteredge last night. I loved it. And I almost didn't even try to read it. After I bought it, I noticed on the back of the book that it referred to "stories" as the book was discussed and I realized that it was short stories. However, I also realized that the stories seemed to all be related somehow to Olive, so I decided to give it a try. (Yes, I am a short story snob...I just hate getting into a story and having it end quickly...I just prefer books!).

Olive is a retired math school teacher married to Henry, the local pharmacist, who lives in the small town of Crosby, Maine. Olive appears to be opininated and somewhat inflexible in her world views. Each story is about someone in the town, and Olive is invoved in teh story somehow or somewhere. As each story goes on, you begin to really know Olive, as you watch Olive begin to know herself, as she ages.

There were a lot of lines in the book that touched me and/or made me ponder. Such as: "And she was happy right now, it was true. Jane Houlton, shifting slightly inside her nice black coat, was thinking that, after all, life was a gift-that one of those things about getting older was knowing that so many moments weren't just moment, they were gifts." and another: "She remembered what hope was, and this was it. That inner churning that moves you forward, plows you through life the way the boats below plowed the shiny water, the way the plane was plowing forward to a place new, and where she was needed. She had been asked to be part of her son's life.". And one more: "And so, if this man next to her now was not a man she would have chosen before this time, what did it matter? He most likely wouldn't have chosen her either. But here they were, and Olive pictured tow slices of Swiss cheese pressed together, such holes they brought to this union-what pieces life took out of you."....Brilliant writing!

The last story is titled "River" and it is stunning. I read and reread the last 2 pages 3 times after I finished the book. No wonder this book was announced the winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It was really good!

Pultizer Prize for Fiction

The Pultizer Prize for fiction was announced this week and the winner was Olive Kitteredge. I started it last week, before I knew that it would win (obviously) and just finished it last night. The review will be my next blog. But I was interested in what other books were up for finalist and apparently the Pulitzer committee (or whoever decides on winners) does not announce finalists. But I did find a site that predicts the winners and here are the predictions that they published in order of likeliness to win:

1. Home by Marilynne Robinson
2. The Widows of Eastwick by John Updike
3. Indignation by Philip Roth
4. The Lazarus Project by Aleksander Hemon
5. Fine Just the Way it is by Annie Proulx
6. The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
7. A Mercy by Toni Morrison
8. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
9. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
10. Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser
11. Telex from Cuba by Rachal Kushner
12. Netherland by Joseph O'Neil
13. My Sister, My Love by Joyce Carol Oates
14. Lush Life by Richard Price
15. Our Story Begins by Tobias Wolff

I loved seeing this list as it gives me more to be read (TBR) ideas for books. I have read A Mercy recently and had a hard time with it. I didn't like The Plague of Doves and I usually love Louise Erdrich's books. I read Home and loved it. I would have a very hard time choosing between it and Olive.

I will be reading some reviews of the other books listed and see what might catch my attention! More to follow!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

My Lobotomy

My Lobotomy by Howard Dully is an amazing memoir. It is the story that begins with a little boy whose mother dies and his father marries Lou, a wicked stepmother beyond words. She does not want to bother with this young step-son, and begins seeking doctors who will buy her story about what a disturbed child Howard is. She finds Dr. Walter Freeman, who is beginning to do lobotomy's on patients, and he eventually buys her story and agrees to give Howard a lobotomy for $200. The kicker is 1) he is not a surgeon, and 2) he performs the lobotomies with ice picks inserted through the eyes. Really gruesome.

From Barnes & Noble website:

In 1960, Howard Dully became a part of medical history. At the tender age of 12, he was lobotomized, making him the youngest of Dr. Walter Freeman's 10,000 patients on the receiving end of the transorbital operation. Freeman's procedure was not only barbaric (he inserted an ice pick three inches into each eye socket), it was perilous: Fifteen percent of his patients died. Forty years after Freeman effectively derailed his life, Dully set out to discover how he became a guinea pig for one of American medicine's worst crimes. An astonishing memoir of self-recovery.

Howard spends years in institutions,including jail, and becomes alcoholic. Finally settling into his 40's, he decides to try to learn more about what happened to him. However, by then, his step-mother, Lou, is dead, as is Dr. Freeman. The only other person alive who was involved in the decision was his father, and he is reluctant to talk about those times and his part in it, since he allowed the operation to take place. As he continues to research, Howard is put in touch with others who are also seeking answers about the procedure and how it affected either themselves or members of their family. He learns that Dr. Freeman's records are archived and is allowed access to them, and there he learns the whole story.

Howard's life and recovery is amazing and really reinforced for me how resilient the human spirit can be. He is an amazing man and I applaud his efforts in bringing this horrible period on mental health history to light.

The book was very interesting and well-written. I hesitate to say that I "enjoyed" it, because the story is so disturbing, but it was a good book, and I do recommend others to read it.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Comforts of Madness

The Comforts of Madness by Paul Sayer won the 1988 Whitbread Award and is now out of print. I don't understand that. I found it to be an amazing book. It was only 120 pages, a quick read, but very thought-provoking for me. Understand that I do have a Masters in Clinical Psychology so this was right up my alley.

It is a novel about a man named Peter who "had not spoken a word in anyone's living memory". Eventually the story tells some of his early family life with his parents and sister. It seems pretty clear that no one ever really took notice of the oddities in the family or that Peter did not speak. But it pretty much leaves the imagination to figure out the story of his early years.

As he grows older, he continues to retreat into more silence, that is, letting his body deteriorate until he no longer has any muscles, is unable to stand, feed himself etc. However, the story is told by him, letting the reader in on his thoughts and observations. Very interesting.

His description of himself: "The stiff one, old clay-boots with his clay head and his old clay balls, a scarcely breathing hotchpotch of hair, skin and bone, who flexed not the smallest extremity, not even a toe, who lay all night like a corpse himself, who had not spoken a word in anyone's living memory-me...."

The story tells of some of the attempts that have been made to "help" him in his institutional life. He does not know if any of his family is still alive, until one day a woman comes who says that she is his sister. She talks to him for awhile (and is clearly really his sister) but when the visit ends, she tells that staff that she had been mistaken, that was not her long;lost brother, leaving Peter still alone in his mind and body.

I don't understand at all why this book is out of print. I was able to get my copy from I very much recommend the book. Very interesting and thought-provoking, as I said. I found it fascinating!

Side-note: I couldn't find too much about the author. The back of the book states that "He was a staff nurse in a large psychiatric hospital in York, but is now devoting his full time to his writing." Remember, that this was written in 1988, so now 21 years later, I don't know what has become of him other than it looks like he did publish some other novels. Might be worth checking out.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Quit reading books I don't care about!

I have started 3 books already this month and have put them down and am not returning to them. Time is too precious to continue to read books that I don't care about. I began The Ventriloquist's Tale by Pauline Melville...just didn't care about it. Began Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer and realized that it was a young person's book, and again, just didn't care about it. Started A Mercy by Toni Morrison. It was good, but I realized that each time I picked it up, I couldn't figure out who was the narrator of that part and finally just gave up.

I have to get over this sense of feeling badly when I quit a book. There are just too many books out there that I really truly want to read. I don't need to spend my precious reading time on books I don't care about. I am trying to get better about this. It very rarely happens that I end up liking a book that I struggled through. It feels like a failure on my part when I give up on a book. I need to realize that it is a GOOD thing, a strength to quit when I first realize I don't care!