Saturday, July 26, 2014

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

Yes, an older book, written in 1982, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler was one of my
book club's choices for this month.  I had read several of her books in the past, but had not read this one. 

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is a novel about families.  It is a painful story about a very sad family.  It opens with the mother, Pearl, who is eighty-five years old and dying.  Pearl was thinking back to when her husband had walked out on the family thirty-five years earlier, leaving her with three small children.  As the story progresses, it is clear that Pearl had issues...she would go off into rages with the children and be terribly abusive to them.  And as adults, the three children were clearly damaged by their mother's irrational behaviors.

The oldest child, Cody, was a cold, cruel child.  He was especially abusive to his younger brother, Ezra, who was Pearl's favorite child.  Ezra was a too kind, thoughtful child, who never stood up for himself.  Their sister Jenny was the middle child. As adults, Cody remained a cold cruel person.  Jenny became a pediatrician, seemingly always looking for the perfect family to be part of, as she went through marriages.  Ezra ended up owning a restaurant, where he set his mission to serve the food that people were homesick for:

" He'd cook what people felt homesick for-tacos like those from vendor's cars in California, which the Mexican was always pining after; and that wonderful vinegary North Carolina barbecue that Todd Duckett had to have brought by his mother several times a year in cardboard cups.  He would call it the Homesick Restaurant."

Ezra's lifelong goal and dream was to have a meal with his family where everyone stayed and finished the entire meal.  That certainly tells you something about this family!  He was always trying to arrange family meals when everyone could come together, but every meal ended the same. Someone became upset or angry and left before the meal was completed.    

Ms. Tyler's writing is beautiful (as in her other books).  An example:

"'Everything,' his father said, 'comes down to time in the end-to the passing of time, to changing.  Ever thought of that?  Anything that makes you happy or sad, isn't it all based on minutes going by?  Isn't happiness expecting something time is going to bring you?  Isn't sadness wishing time back again?  Even big things-even mourning a death: aren't you really just wishing to have the time back when that person was alive? Or photos-ever notice old photographs?  How wistful they make you feel?  Long-ago people smiling, a child who would be an old lady now, a cat that died, a flowering plant that's long since withered away and the pot itself broken or misplaced...Isn't it just that time for once is stopped that makes you wistful?  If only you could turn it back again, you think.  If only you could change this or that, undo what you have done, if only you could roll the minutes the other way, for once.'"

Great writing.  This wasn't one of my favorite books of Ms. Tyler's, but it was an interesting one, and certainly lent itself to thoughtful and animated discussion for our group.

The Kept

The Kept is author James Scott's first novel.  It's slightly dark, but a very good read.  The author does an excellent job of character development, so that I felt as if I knew the characters. Mr. Scott will be an author whose works I will look forward to reading again.

 The Kept takes place in the late 1800's in upstate New York.  It opens with midwife, Elspeth Howell, returning to her isolated home in a snowstorm following an extended absence to find that her husband and four of their five children have been murdered. As she searched through the house, she was shot.  Not knowing who was in the house, her twelve year old son, Caleb, had been hiding in the pantry closet and he thought that the three gunmen who had killed his family had returned.  Caleb had been in the barn when the family was killed, saw the gunmen, but was not found by them.  Elspeth was badly wounded and Caleb did the best he could to nurse her back to health, to the point that they could leave there.  Caleb's motive in leaving was to find the three gunmen and kill them.  Before they could leave, Caleb needed to take care of the five bodies that were left.  Because of the weather he was not able to dig in the ground, so he piled the bodies together and set them on fire.  The fire jumped to their home and burned it down also.

Thus began the journey for Caleb and Elspeth.  As they begin their trek through the snowstorms, the author brings in the history...Elspeth had worked in various towns as a midwife, and over the years, had taken each of their five children as newborns to raise as their own. At one point as they traveled, Elspeth casually mentioned to Caleb that he had been born in Watersbridge, the town where they were headed to search for the gunmen.  Why would Elspeth want to take Caleb there?  That is where she had stolen him away.  Perhaps was she trying for atonement in some way?

Once they finally got to Watersbridge, Elspeth disguised herself as a man in order to get a job, and perhaps also, so that no one might recognize her from twelve years ago. Caleb also got a job, working in a brothel cleaning and doing chores.  All the while, Caleb was searching for the three gunmen.  And one day, Caleb was recognized.

The author did a wonderful job with tying up the different stories going on in the novel.  The resolution of it all was sad, but an interesting twist, and seemed quite realistic.  It left me wondering about families and how issues are resolved.  Good book.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

where the moon isn't

where the moon isn't is a first novel by Nathan Filer.  Not only did it win the 2013 Costa Book Award
for Best First Novel, it also won the 2013 Costa Book of the Year.  High praise indeed!

[from Wikipedia: The Costa Book Awards are a set of annual literary awards recognising English-language books by writers based in Britain and Ireland. They were inaugurated for 1971 publications and known as the Whitbread Book Awards until 2006 when Costa Coffee, a subsidiary of Whitbread, took over sponsorship.]

This is a novel about many things, but it didn't seem fractured or scattered at all.  Right from the first chapter of the book, the reader learned that  Matthew Homes' older brother, Simon, died.

"I'll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother.  His name's Simon.  I think you're going to like him.  I really do.  But in a couple of pages he'll be dead.  And he was never the same after that."

When Matthew was nine years old, his family took a vacation to Ocean Cove Holiday Park. Matthew and Simon were not allowed to go to the beach by themselves. because the path to the beach was dangerous.  Matthew decided to go to the beach anyway, and Simon followed after him. Simon had Down's Syndrome and because of that Matthew was always expected to be looking out for him.  However, this time, Matthew fell on the path, and Simon had to cope with Matthew's pain and care.  Simon carried him home, which was a very difficult thing for Simon to do.  A few nights later, Matthew again decided to go down to the beach and took Simon down to the dangerous path, only this time, Simon fell.

The story is told by Matthew ten years after the accident that killed Simon.  Matthew had been in and out of psychiatric care over the past ten years.  Sadly, schizophrenia emerged.  Matthew struggled with guilt and grief, and trying to understand what had happened that fateful night.  And then he began hearing voices, often Simon's. 

The story explores mental health in various venues: how it affects the person and the family, and how a mental health system works and fails.

But the book is mostly about a brother who loved his brother, and it questions how to grieve for someone when the pain never goes away. Good book.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

2 books: The Ocean at the End of the Lane and About Grace

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman is a very interesting book.  I think that I need to read
it again, or perhaps several more times, to get all that is in it.  It's a small book, but there is a lot there.  Some words used to describe the book: fantasy, fairy tale, magic, fable, myth.  All apply.

A man (whose name we never learn) returned to his childhood home area to attend a funeral and began to remember events that had occurred years ago when he was seven years old.  The events occurred both at his home and at the old farm down the road from his home.  A mean (to the boy) housekeeper turned out to be a deadly spirit.  The young girl Lettie at the old farm lived with her mother and grandmother...they seem to end up being good witches.  So as the man began to remember the events, he decided to seek out that old farmhouse and it is there that he learns more about his past.  And about memories.

It is a beautifully written book and one that I will return to at some point.

About Grace by Anthony Doerr is a first novel for the author. We have chosen his latest book for our book group to read next month, so when I saw this book, I thought I would read it and see how I liked it.  And I did like it.  I can't say that I loved it, but I did like it.  I look forward to reading more of his work.

About Grace is about David Winkler and his journey to find himself and his daughter Grace.  David
was from Alaska and had always been interested in weather, especially snow. He had the gift of seeing things before they happened (gift or curse?).  He fell in love with a married woman, and when she became pregnant with his child, they ran away to Ohio together.  The baby was named Grace.  David dreamt that Grace would die in a flood and when their place in Ohio began to flood, David began to unravel trying to save the baby, until it appeared that he was harming her, or may harm her.  Finally David realized what was happening to him and that he felt that he had no control over it and he decided that he needed to leave and get far away from Grace so that he would not harm her.

David ended up on a Caribbean island, not knowing if Grace was alive or not.  He made a solitary life for himself there and spent the next twenty-five years, wondering if Grace had died.  David was often cared for by a family that had a daughter and it was she who ultimately drew David back to the States to search for his answers.

"What were dreams?  A ladle dipped, a bucket lowered.  The deep, cool water beneath the bright surface; the shadow at the base of every tree.  Dreams were the reciprocal of each place you visited when you were awake, each hour you passed through."

This is an interesting, well-written book. 

This Dark Road to Mercy

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash is his second novel.  His first novel, A Land More Kind Than
Home, was a favorite of mine, so I was excited to see his next one while at the library. It is a quick read...I read it in one day.

The chapters of the book are each told by three characters in the story.  The main character is Easter, a twelve year old, who was placed in foster care with Ruby, her six year old sister, after finding her mother dead.  The girl's father, Wade, had terminated his parental rights years before and had been long gone. Following their mother's death, the plan was for their maternal grandparents to adopt them.  The girls had never met their grandparents, who lived in Alaska.  Out of the blue, Wade appeared wanting to get his girls back.  His legal options were nil, so he took them away one night out of their foster home, and the three of them were on the run.  Not only had Wade kidnapped the girls, but he was also being sought after by a criminal who he had stolen from. Wade is being tracked down by the girl's guardian, and by Brady Weller and by an old friend of Wade's, Robert Pruitt, who has an old vendetta for Wade and is being paid by the criminal who Wade stole from.

It is a story of trying to make things right but in the wrong way.

I wasn't nearly as taken with this book as I was with his first book.  This Dark Road to Mercy just didn't seem to have the same substance as his first.  However, I am still a fan of Wiley Cash!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Bag of Bones

I don't read a lot of Stephen King books, only because often it seems that the subject matter wouldn't Bag of Bones to read.  Mr. King did not let me down!
appeal to me.  However, I do think he is an excellent writer!  One of the best at drawing the reader in to his characters.  At the recommendation of a friend, I picked up

The main character in the book, Mike Noonan, was an author and a widower whose wife had died unexpectedly four years earlier. During the four years since his wife had died Mike had not been able to write anything.  Mike learned that his wife had been pregnant when she died but had not told him.  What other secrets was she keeping from him?  He had nightmares that took place at their summer home in Maine...a place where he had not gone back to since his wife's death.  He finally decided to face his grief and return to their summer place, where more secrets emerged.  One day, he came across a three year old girl out in the middle of the road, rescued her and then met her mother, Mattie, who was also widowed.  Mattie had been married to the son of a wealthy man who intended to take her three year old child away from her.  Mike became involved in their struggles as he fell in love with both Mattie and Kyra, the little girl.

Meanwhile, at Mike's summer place (called Sara Laughs) strange things kept happening and Mike became interested in learning more about the history of the place.  Which, as it ends up, is involved in Mattie and Kyra's problems.

It's a good was hard to put down!