Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Couple of Older Novels

I just finished reading a couple of novels that have been out for a long time, but I had not read them and I am a fan of both authors, so when they showed up on my To-Be-Read pile, it seemed like a good time to enjoy them!

After re-reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving a few months ago, I was happy to find A Widow for One Year in with my mother's books that my father had me go through to see what I wanted.  I snatched it up!  And am glad that I did!

Typical of John Irving, this is a long book, with great characterizations.  It was published in 1998 and was the ninth novel written by Irving.  The novel begins in the summer of 1958, with four year old Ruth Cole.  Ruth is the youngest of three children; however her two older brothers had died and the house was enshrined with photographs of the boys.  Each photograph was a separate story.  And the boy's death was the mother's story:

"The grief over lost children never dies; it is a grief that relents only a little.  And then only after a long while."

That summer, a young man, Eddie, had been hired to be an assistant to Ruth's father, who was a writer.  Eddie was a sixteen year old aspiring writer, who ended up doing more that summer than assisting Ruth's father.  Ruth's parents, Marion and Ted, were separated and living apart, so Eddie took on much of Ruth's care.  He also became Marion's lover.

The novel is told in three parts...the summer of 1958, the fall of 1990 and the autumn of 1995.  It is the story of Ruth and goes through the lives of Ruth, Eddie, Marion and Ted.  Interestingly, all four main characters are writers.  The stories of each of their lives is interesting, intertwined and somewhat tragic.  It kept my interest through-out and now I feel the need to not only read those Irving novels that I have not read, but re-read the ones that I have.  Should make for a good winter of reading!

I also just  completed The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver.  I am also quite a fan of Ms. Kingsolver's book so I was interested to not that this is her very first novel (written in 1988)!  I came across it at a library sale for twenty-five cents!  Quite a bargain!

 Marietta "Missy" Greer grew up in the backwoods of Kentucky determined to finish high school (without getting pregnant) and leaving the poverty behind.  She did graduate and got a job.  She worked for five years, saving up what money she could.  When Missy had enough money she bought an old beat-up VW bug.  And as soon as she showed up home with it, her mother knew that Missy would be leaving.  Missy wanted to go out west and find her future, so her mother taught her what she knew of maintaining the car (like changing tires) and Missy left.  To begin her new life, Missy decided to change her first name.  She couldn't decide what to call herself so she began considering names of towns as she drove through them.  Eventually, she decided upon "Taylor" after a town called Taylorville.  Missy didn't know where she was headed, just thought that she would know it when she got there, or until her car wouldn't go any further.

And that's how the story goes...Taylor kind of falls into situations as they arise and lives her life accordingly.  One of the biggest situations was that as she headed west, she stopped and had an young child thrust upon her.

Taylor and Turtle (the name she chose for the child) landed in Tuscon Arizona, and began their new life.  As they drove into Tuscon, a tire blew on Taylor's car, and she ended up at a tire store.  The store was called Jesus is Lord Used Tires and it was run by an older woman named Mattie.  Taylor had no money for tires, but she and Mattie began a friendship, and Mattie helped Taylor settle into Tuscon.

The rest of the book is about Taylor's resourcefulness as she and Turtle begin their new life.  It is a story about hope, love and loyalty.  And how friendships make all the difference in one's life.

Good book!  I am especially impressed with it being her first novel!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Where or When

Anita Shreve has written quite a few books, many of which I have enjoyed, but every once in awhile I read one of hers that I don't care much for.  Where or When  fits kind of in-between.  I didn't find the characters very believable, nor was the premise of the book.  Just my opinion!

Charles and Sian met at a one-week camp when they were thirteen years old, and "fell in love".  However, they had no contact after that week.  Thirty years later, they are both married to other people and Charles read that Sian had published a book of poetry. Charles decided to send Sian a note congratulating her and suggesting that they get together.  They began writing back and forth and finally meet up with each other for lunch at where else?  The camp where they met.  It had been turned into a lodge/restaurant.  So goes the story.  It ends disastrously for both.

Both characters came across unlikeable to me. They ended up acting as if they were still thirteen....sending tapes of music to each other, clinging to his shirt that he sent her, etc.  Grow up.

(I know-a rather harsh review...if you can believe in love at thirteen, maybe this book would be for you!)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

a land more kind than home

I found a land more kind than home for sale at a library...it just came out this year, so I was surprised to find it for sale.  I am glad that I picked it up.  It is the first novel by Wiley Cash and it was a good one!  I have to admit that I had a bit of a hard time getting into at first, but I am really happy that I stuck with it.  It's a good read! 

Each chapter is told by one of three main characters, Adelaide, the town mid-wife, Clem, the town sheriff and Jess.  I especially like reading books that are told in this way. The story begins in a small North Carolina town with Adelaide Lynch, a seventy-seven year old woman who had left her church a couple of years earlier after the death of a woman who was being "healed" by Pastor Chambliss.  After what Adelaide witnessed there, Adelaide said:

 "I'd been a member of that church in one way or another since I was a young woman, but things had been took too far, and I couldn't pretend to look past them no more."

So Adelaide prayed on it and decided that the church was not a safe place for children to be and she told the pastor that she was leaving the church and taking the children with her.  So once the services started, she would take the children and have Sunday school with them.  When the story takes place, Adelaide had been doing that for the past ten years.

Jess Hall and his brother, Christopher (who was known as "Stump"), were two of the children that Miss Adelaide taught in Sunday school.  Stump was fourteen and was mute, so nine-year old Jess always looked out for him.  One day, the boys were sneaking a look into their parent's bedroom window and saw something they shouldn't have seen. And the repercussions from that event led the children into shattering events.

 The author does a great job with the characters...I felt quite involved in the story, knew the characters well, and had strong feelings about the characters, including the pastor and Jess' parents. I was very impressed with the writing.

The title of the book is taken from Thomas Wolfe's You Can't Go Home Again:

"[Death is] to lose the earth you know, for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth."
 Reading just that truly explains this book.  I recommend it!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Absolutist

A friend of mine sent out an article recently that John Irving had written, where Mr. Irving recommended "four really outstanding novels".  I was intrigued with the description of one novel: The Absolutist by John Boyne, an Irish writer.   The odd thing was, I had difficulty finding the book and it was just published in 2012.  I don't know why it was hard to find, but I was able to order it from Amazon.com.

The Absolutist is truly an outstanding book.  I read it in two days...couldn't put it down.   The story begins in September 1921 in Norwich, England.  Tristan Sadler was a young soldier who had returned from the War and was setting out to return letters to his best friend's sister....letters that she had written to her brother, Will.  Will had become Tristan's best friend during their training and they had fought alongside each other during the Great War.  Sadly, Will did not survive.  Will became an "absolutist".

"It's one step beyond conscientiously objecting."

An absolutist would not help the war effort in any way.

"Won't fight, won't help those who are fighting, won't work in a hospital or come to the aid of the wounded." 

The men fighting the War in this story considered absolutism to be:

"Cowardice on the most extreme level."

The last chapter of the book is "The Shame of My Actions" from 1979 London.  Tristan was now in his eighties, and he again met up with Will's sister.  There is a very unexpected twist to the end of the book, one which left me very sad.

What happens to Will becomes the story of Tristan's life.

This book is powerful.  It is a wonderfully, sad love story.  And has strong perspectives on war.  I am so glad that I found and read this book!  (Thanks, Paul!)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The World Below

Another author whose books I have enjoyed is Sue Miller.  The World Below was published in 2001.  I bought it at a library for twenty-five cents the other day.  It was quite a bargain!

This book goes back and forth between generations of a grandmother and her granddaughter.  The granddaughter, Cath, was left her grandmother's home in Vermont upon her aunt's death.  Cath left San Francisco to go to Vermont to live for awhile as she tried to make some sense of her life and her future.  While living in the house, she discovered her grandmother's diaries.  This discovery lead Cath into a journey of learning about her grandmother's life, including her secrets.  Life is not always as it appears.

Fascinating story.  I loved it!  Just the kind of thing I love to read. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Ice Queen

I have read several of Alice Hoffman's books...some I have really liked, others not so much.  But I have enjoyed enough of her novels to give The Ice Queen a chance! I am so glad that I did, because I loved the book, especially Ms. Hoffman's writing!

When the un-named narrator of the book was eight years old, she told her mother in an anger-filled moment that she wished that she would never see her again.  This is how the book begins:

"Be careful what you wish for.  I know that for a fact.  Wishes are brutal, unforgiving things.  They burn your tongue the moment they're spoken and you can never take them back.  They bruise and bake and come back to haunt you.  I've made far too many wishes in my lifetime, the first when I was eight years old."

How great is that writing?

"And here was the odd thing about making that wish, the one that made her disappear: it hurt."

After the death of their mother, the narrator and her brother went to live with their grandparents.  The narrator grew up to work at a reference desk in the local library.  She became an expert on the topic of death.  Upon her grandmother's death, the narrator decided to move to Florida to be closer to her brother and his family.  When her brother came to get her (in New Jersey), they were heading to Florida, driving in a thunderstorm, when the narrator spoke a wish that lightening would strike her.  Guess what happened one evening while settled in her new home in Florida...yep, lightening struck her.

The narrator joined a group at the local university who were being researched...all of the group members had been struck by lightening.  Here she heard of Seth "Lazarus" Jones, another local man who had been struck by lightening and had died for forty minutes, yet survived.  He was not part of the research group.  The narrator of the book decided that she needed to meet him, and tracked him down.  And her obsession with him began.

"Are people drawn to each other because of the stories they carry inside?"

The narrator struggles through-out the story trying to determine what is love and what is obsession and what is the difference between the two.  As she and Lazarus learn each other's stories, they begin to save each other. As the relationship ends, she says:

"This would be the moment I would never let go of, even though it caused me the greatest pain.  When I was old, when I couldn't walk or talk or see, I would still have this."

 The relationship is one of passion, secrets, love and hope.  And in the end, saving grace.