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.


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!