Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer slipped through my radar when it came out.  I had meant to read it, but then forgot.  My daughter read it recently and recommended it to me, so I jumped at it.

The story is told in three parts: October to November, November to December, and December to End.  Each chapter is about one of three years: 1918, 1945, or 1985.

The story begins in 1985 with:

"The impossible happens once to each of us."

Greta Wells was living in Patchin Place in New York City.  Greta was out walking with her twin brother, Felix when they walked passed a hair salon.

In the window, a sign: CLOSED FOR BUSINESS.  My brother stood for a minute while Lady (a dog) considered the tree.  Felix simply said 'Gone home.'
That was the phrase: journal of a plague year."
Later that year, Greta's twin brother, Felix, died of AIDS. She had been living with a doctor, Nathan, for the past ten years.  And then he left her.for someone else. Greta was inconsolable following these two losses and finally went to a psychiatrist, Dr. Cerletti. Her aunt Ruth was with her constantly trying to help her.

Finally the doctor decided that Greta needed electroshock therapy.  He recommended twenty-five sessions, with two sessions per week. And after the first session, Greta found herself living in the same day as present only in a different room, still in Patchin Place, but in 1918.  All the same people were there in her life., but Nathan was away at war, Felix was marrying a Senator's daughter, and Ruth remained the same.  Dr. Cerletti came for Greta's next session.  And she woke in 1945. The next session she woke in 1985.  And so on.

The book made me think of reincarnation.   Greta was living an actual life in each of these years as herself.  In the end, she had to choose which year she wanted to remain in.

I loved the writing in this book.  It was sometimes hard to keep straight what year was happening, but that may just be me. The author's writing was beautiful.

"Is it better to hear of death or witness it? For I had suffered both and could not tell you.  To have a person vanish in your arms is too real for life, a blow to the bones, but to hear of it is to be utterly blind; reaching, stumbling about, hoping to touch the truth. Impossible, unbearable, what life has planned for each of us."

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Reckoning

The Reckoning

I found The Reckoning by John Grisham at the used book store.  I hadn't read any Grisham for a very long time, so decided to try it.  I was disappointed. Although the main story of the book was good, I thought the whole middle of the book was mostly word-fill.  That may be unjust, but I just didn't find telling so much of it was necessary.

One morning in 1946, Pete Banning woke and convinced himself that it was the day of reckoning, the day when he needed to go kill a local pastor.  Pete was a WWII vet who had fought in the Philippines and had been declared missing, then dead.  But he had survived and came back home to Mississippi and his family and cotton farm.  Shortly before the killing, he had committed his wife to a mental health facility.  After the killing, Pete would only say "I have nothing to say.".  He refused to help with his defense. He wouldn't allow his two children to come and see him.  He was sent to prison.

About 100 pages in the middle of the book are spent on recounting Pete's time in the Philippines.  I didn't find all that filling was needed for the story, and it bogged me down reading it. 

By the end of the book, Pete's son was in law school when he decided to learn as much as he could about why his father had killed the pastor.  And finally, after much searching, answers were found.  It's a rather unsettling ending, both for the characters in the book and for the reader.

So, all in all, I liked the book, but it's not a keeper for me.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys (Barnes & Noble Book Club Edition)

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is a short, but powerful book.  I really liked Whitehead's novel, The Underground Railroad, and The Nickel Boys did not disappoint me. 

The story is based on a real place that ran as a reform school for boys for 111 years in Florida.  Elwood was a young boy who had been inspired by the words of Martin Luther King Junior and was optimistic for his future as a young black man. He was a high school senior, taking a college class after school, when he hitched a ride with someone that he didn't know who stopped and picked him up.  Unfortunately, the car had been stolen and they were picked up by the police.  Elwood was sent to the Nickel Academy.  It was a segregated school and black boys were not treated well, to put it mildly. It was the deep South and Jim Crow was alive and thriving down there. Elwood was determined to get out of Nickel Academy as soon as possible by keeping his head down and doing his work better than others.

Elwood endured all that was involved with being at Nickel Academy...beatings, going without food, solitary, etc.. ,and felt lucky that he survived and didn't end up dead like many others who just disappeared in the night. Along his way, he made friends with some of the other boys there, especially one, Turner. It ended up that Turner kept Elwood's spirit alive.

This is a horrifying and disturbing book that is written beautifully. Colson Whitehead is truly a writer to be known for years to come.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate was a book club reading choice.  And it was a really good pick!

Avery Stafford was the descendent of two prominent Southern families.  She was called home when her fifty-seven year old father became weaker and sicker with his cancer.  Her father was a Senator and he expected Avery to take his place and serve, as all his family had.  Avery had graduated from law school and she wanted to be practising law. When Avery went with her family to a local nursing home for a celebration/political meet and greet, she was approached by an elderly woman asking if she was "Fern".  A nurse came to get the woman and called her "May".

May had mistaken Avery for May's sister. May was taken back to her room, where she began reminiscing about her childhood. She had lived on the river, with her parents, and siblings.  Her mother went into labor and had to be taken to the hospital. And May's life changed forever more.

Each chapter of this book is narrated by one of the two main characters of the book: Avery and May/Rill.  It is based on the true story of the Tennessee Children's Home Society.  It's a riveting story, I thought, and made for great book group discussion.