Tags: boundaries, divorce, forgiveness, hippy, lack of boundaries, Meredith Hall, MS, New Hampshire, reunions, sex, shame, teenage pregnancy, Without a Map
I am angry. Correction. I am pissed. Really, I’m f*cking pissed off after reading this book. I am angry and hurt for Meredith in specific and for all women in general. That one woman should have lived through a teenage pregnancy is horrific to me. That this is by no means an isolated incident makes this even worse.
Meredith Hall became pregnant, at the age of 17. This happened after a non-conventional summer romance that ended with one sexual encounter on the beach before Anthony, five years her senior, returned to college. Meredith’s mother, who had been left to raise her three children as a single mother, also found love that summer with a hippy. After spending so many years using negative pressure to keep Meredith a virgin, she began staying out until all hours of the night herself. She, in fact, left Meredith alone at the beach most days while she worked with her new lover. Going from suffocating boundaries to nearly none at all made that summer confusing for Meredith. She ended up paying dearly for it.
Meredith’s family was seen as an upstanding family in their small New Hampshire town. After her father left, Meredith’s mother became extremely involved in her local Protestant church. Once it was discovered that she was pregnant, Meredith was permanently expelled from her school. She was then abandoned immediately by her church and her mother. When Meredith’s father asked what they were going to do about the pregnancy, her mother simply replied, “She can’t stay here.” Meredith went to live with her father and step-mother, but being forced to stay alone in the house (and mainly in her upstairs room) for the remainder of her pregnancy was of no comfort. There was no one for her to cry with. There was no one to explain what was happening to her body. She was not allowed to take an active role in the decision to place her unborn son for adoption – except she was forced to set up a meeting with the baby’s father by herself and get him to sign the adoption papers. I will not even get into the verbal abuse she suffered at the hands of the obstetrician who allowed an abusive family adopt the baby.
I read this portion of the book on the plane from Atlanta to Denver last week. It was enough to make me want to lash out at society. Sex is a shame that is only worn by women, and most especially when they get pregnant outside of socially acceptable settings. There was no shame for Meredith’s father when he left his family with almost nothing to settle down with another woman. Yet, no one could speak to or about Meredith because her unplanned pregnancy was so shameful. I could scream.
So, Meredith was told either directly or indirectly by everyone who was supposed to love her that she was a dirty, shameful person. One sexual act and your life is judged as unworthy of any respect. You are shunned by the rest of society. She was not even allowed to have a roommate at the alternative school she graduated from after the birth of her son. No one wanted her to have the opportunity to even share her experiences with another girl for fear of “infecting” the others. Yes, because this was all working out so well for Meredith, right? Wouldn’t every young woman want to sign herself up for a complete societal shunning? So, alone in her grief and full of shame, Meredith did a lot of wandering after she graduated. The relationships she became involved with were not (in my opinion) good enough for her. They were only good enough for a woman who thought she was tarnished and trash. The reactions to her pregnancy became a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is what happens when people and institutions only use principles to guide their choices and reactions instead of love.
I have the greatest respect for Meredith Hall. She ultimately discovered her own self-worth. She has raised two exceptional sons and has established a warm and familial relationship with her first son. Due to circumstances, she was not able to ever confront her parents about how they abandoned her when she needed them the most. Her mother developed MS. When she needed her children the most, Meredith did not abandon her. Although it was painful for her never to get the opportunity to even tell her mother how the shunning impacted her life, she was an ever faithful daughter. Even though her brother and sister’s families were always invited to her father’s house, Meredith was not allowed because of an argument with her step-mother. Still, she made a point of meeting with her father before he died to tell him that she loved him.
This memoir stirred up many personal things in my heart. I can only hope that I can forgive as Meredith did. She was able to do for her parents the very thing that they and her church failed to teach her by example.
Meredith, thank you for sharing your story.
To buy this book, click here.
Tags: Auntie Em, Glinda, Gone with the Wind, hippy, lake monster, lauren groff, memorable first sentences, Moby Dick, Monsters of Templeton, mother-daughter relationship, Scarlett O'Hara, single motherhood, The Monsters of Templeton, The Wizard of Oz
There is something spectacular about a book whose first line lures you into its spell like a siphon and never lets you go. In my 36 years of reading, there has only been two books whose first lines I’ve memorized and cannot forget:
With that line, I fell in love with Scarlett and couldn’t wait to find out just what it was about her that had men panting like exercised puppies. There was no way I could not read the book after just that first sentence – and I never thought to. With the noted exception of Moby Dick, I’ve found that a compelling first sentence isn’t a fluke. It’s a sign of a gifted author and a book worthy of reading.
The fact of the matter is that most books I’ve read and even those I’ve enjoyed immensely begin forgettably. This is the 41st book I’ve read this year and prior to picking up this book, not a single first sentence has struck me this year – and I’ve read some great novels. So, when I read, re-read, and then could not stop thinking about:
“The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.”
I knew that this would be a book I would love. I finished this book as satisfied as I was with the first sentence. This is a novel that I will keep forever and re-read several times.
The Monsters of Templeton is the story of Willie Sunshine Upton, a young graduate student who unexpectedly returns to her ancestral home “steeped in disgrace” just as her home town is overcome with media upon the discovery of an as-of-yet undiscovered mammalian creature. The existence – or actually previous existence – of the monster gives this novel a Gothic feel. This along with the mystery of Willie’s famous family prove to work together well.
Willie returned to her mother, Vi, in hopes of finding a safe place to lick her wounds before facing the responsibilities and consequences of the choices she’d recently made. Vi, a single mother and former hippy, refuses to let her daughter settle, even if it is into shame. As a result of her recent radical religious conversion, Vi feels the need to come clean to Willie. She tells her that she is not the product of an orgy-istic time in San Francisco. In fact, Willie’s father is alive and well in Templeton. He never knew of her existence. When Willie asks who he is, Vi refuses to tell her. She provides only a single clue: he, just like Willie and Vi, is related to Marmaduke Temple, the father of Templeton. It was as if Vi through down the gauntlet. Willie, no matter how down her current circumstances have made her, cannot sit still having this mystery hanging around her. Her archaeological dig through her family’s past proves to be an enchanting and humorous adventure.
I don’t want to give away many details in this review. I enjoyed uncovering things along the way with Willie. I will say (that just about everything else recently in my life) that there was a strong connection for me between Vi and Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Both characters hold an important truth that could very easily be given to the young woman in need: Willie needs to know who her father is and Dorothy needs to know how to get back to Kansas. If this information was simply handed over, what would have happened? Neither Willie nor Dorothy would never grasped or appreciated the importance of family in their souls. In that way, what both characters needed was the discovery as much as the truth. Given that Glinda is traditionally played by the same actress as Auntie Em, it seems that teaching a child to learn for herself is the mark of the best mother/mother figure.
The Monsters of Templeton is mainly narrated by Willie, but there are also sections narrated by The Running Buds, Templeton’s jogging protectors, and several of Willie’s ancestors. I found myself drawn into the genealogical research myself. The pictures, portraits, and family trees along the way also made me feel included. Just as with Special Topics in Calamity Physics, they enhance the experience and do not feel out of place.
One of the best things about reading this book was the humor. There were several times I found myself chuckling out loud while I was reading. I don’t do that very often. It was this humor that endeared the book and its characters to me. Perhaps it was because I am of a similar age to Willie’s character that I found the sarcasm and smack talk genuine. It is such a pleasure to read a book that is both interesting and fun.
** Thank you Barnes and Noble for providing me with an Advance Reading Copy of this book. Your First Look Book Club is an incredible opportunity. **
To buy this novel, click here.
Tags: words of wisdom
Being pecked to death by a chicken.
I went to a craft show over the weekend and saw a hand-painted sign that said that. Given how things went over the rest of the weekend, all I can say is, “How true. How very true.” :) I hope you are all having a happy Monday!
Tags: screaming child, tantrum
My youngest daughter, Allison, is a girl who loves to laugh and play, tease and be teased. Her personality in that respect is very much like my Dad’s family. She also has a powerful and long-lasting temper.
This past June we took a three-hour trip to see Emma’s maternal first family. One that way back, Emma had to use the bathroom at least 100 times. At a rest area, I had to hurry to get her to the bathroom in time. Allison did not appreciate the fact that she was not included. Our family’s first YouTube video provides you of just a small tidbit of a nearly hour-long temper tantrum that was filmed while I was in the rest area bathroom with Emma. Afterwards, I took Allison into the bathroom twice because – although she would otherwise refuse to use the potty at the time – she had to “go potty on the potty chair.” I try to forget what took place in the 8 different stalls there (yes, she made me go into each both times). Suffice to say that I’m glad that it was a quite time there. Her kicking and screaming would make even the strongest bladder go shy.
I now present “Don’t Take My Picture,” a short, cinematic exhibit I’m using to show the jury why I read:
I am feeling particularly unmotivated today. I didn’t even think about it last night. I know that it is Fiction Friday, but I have nothing at this point. What I have learned is not to leave the writing until Thursday night. I will post my Fiction Friday for this week at some point this weekend.
Along those lines, I haven’t gotten much reading done this week, either. No, Judi, it’s not because I want to make you wait anxiously at your mailbox for as long as possible. I guess it’s been a combination of things. I live 700 from home. Much of the time, it keeps me out of any drama that might ensue. At other times, I get hit with hot magma from a family drama that’s been brewing for a long time. I’m not sure if it would have been better to know all along or not.
On Sunday I found out that a relative of mine has been in prison for about a month in a county jail for a fourth DUI on a suspended driver’s license. After having been bailed out on all previous occasions, family chose not to step in. This family member isn’t that much older than me, but I’m sure that tough love is a hard decision for parents no matter how old your child is. They have made the right decision; still, my heart breaks for M. I can’t imagine how it must feel to know that you have gotten yourself to a place like that. Alcohol has a history in my family and I’m sorry that it has affected my generation. Other than bales of hay, it’s probably the number one killer (though usually not directly) on my dad’s side of the family.
Ever since I found out, it has been on my mind. It’s hard to live so far away. My Dad told me to pray for her, and I do. Still, doesn’t that seem like a little bit of a cop out? How is that all that different from Pontius Pilot washing his hands? Then again, prayer isn’t my “thing.” I am much more of an action person. I’m definitely not a meditative person. I know that there are people who are and I’m thankful for them.
I asked my parents for M’s address and they weren’t even sure of the facility. Thank goodness for the Internet. I was able to find her within a few minutes after only one Google search. I thought about what I would want to hear if I were in her shoes. I would really be embarrassed. It’s one thing to hit rock bottom. It’s quite another to have it happen so publicly. I wrote her a note telling her mentioning an old picture where I’m nearly strangling her with a hug when she was a baby. I wish that I could do that right now. I also mentioned that I loved her and always would. We both have our own demons. Mine is food. Hers is drink. I told her that we come from strong stock and that we had everything we need to change our situations inside of us. Most of all, I told her that believe in her. We all need to hear that from time to time, no matter where we are.
We are readers. We know how powerful the written word can be. If there is someone you know who could use a little encouragement, please take the time let them know that you care. What better way could there be to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love?
P.S. I have a confession to make. I love the word incarcerated. Every time I hear it, I can see the scene from Say Anything where Lloyd Dobler in the prison yard visiting Diane Court’s father, who is nearly spitting in his face, “I’m incarcerated, Lloyd!” Just thinking about that makes me laugh (because of the tie-back to the pen). It has been hard for me not to think or say that word this week. I hope there was someone in prison who is able to make M forget, even just for a second, where she is and laugh.
Tags: Acadian, Ann-Marie MacDonald, blood sister, Centralia, child molestation, pedophilia, Royal Canadian Air Force, The Way the Crow Flies, typical nuclear family, Way the Crow Flies
When you sit down to read a book over 800 pages, you know that you’ve committed to a very detailed story. When you’ve challenged yourself to finish every book come hell or high water, that commitment can be very daunting. Thankfully, The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald was mainly an enjoyable read about the unintended impact secrets can have.
Much of this book is told from the perspective of Madeleine, the young child of a happily married Royal Canadian Air Force family, and her father, Jack. As the book begins, her family is relocating to the base in Centralia, the site of the accident that prevented her father from battling the Germans during World War II. She looks up to her father, Jack, as a hero. She loves for him to tell her the stories of his plane accident and how he met her mother, Mimi. Mimi is Acadian and frequently speaks to her children in French. Like many younger siblings (most typically my own), she worships her older brother Mike and would like nothing more than to be in his favor. For a little more than 100 pages, the reader gets to know the McCarthys. They are a typical nuclear family.
Through a connection with his beloved flight instructor and mentor, Simon, Jack becomes involved in a covert mission to move a rocket scientist who has defected from the Soviet Union into the United States. Jack’s mission is to take care of him while he’s located in London, Ontario, waiting for an American soldier to take him over the border. To his knowledge, Jack is the only person in Ontario aware of what is happening. Although he feels guilty about keeping this mission secret from his Commanding Officer, the young American officer who does not know why his family has been stationed in Centralia, and his beloved wife. In the beginning, his little white lies are easy enough to conceal and he enjoys being “in the know.”
Madeleine enters grade four about a month after the move. She’s made two good friends, Auriel and Lisa, made contact with an unconventional family living across the street, has come to dislike a pushy girl named Marjorie, and dislikes her teacher, Mr. March. For the first few weeks of school, her life is what could be expected of a fourth grader. When her teacher begins making her stay after school to do backbends in front of his chair, the entire book picks up and becomes difficult to put down. Madeleine’s happy childhood is over. She is ashamed of what he does to her and no longer feels worthy of her parents, most especially her father. When Mimi senses something isn’t right, Jack takes over and misses the signals that Madeleine is fighting so hard to hide. As a reader, your heart breaks for her and for all of the girls forced to stay “after three.”
Madeleine’s despair eventually leads to a habit of smelling her fingers. She is sure that everyone can smell the disgusting things she’s experienced. On Halloween, Madeleine takes her emotions out by soaping Mr. March’s classroom windows and debarking a tree with her father’s golf club. Her conscience gets the best of her and it is her confessions to Mr. March and the principal that save her from having to stay after school any longer. In addition, she has become friends with Colleen, the oldest daughter of the non-military neighbors across the street. Colleen is a rough and tumble older girl. Eventually, she makes Madeleine her blood sister.
All of this would have been a happy thing for her, except that he chooses the daughter of the American officer to replace Madeleine in the “exercise” group. Claire is a nice girl and Madeleine cannot bare the thought of sparing herself for this to happen. She finds away to protect Claire, but her experience in the “exercise” group with Marjorie and Grace, the two class misfits, has set into motion a string of events that could not be stopped.
After Claire is murdered and Colleen’s brother is implicated, Madeleine’s family loses its shine. At the same time, Jack’s entanglements with the defecting scientist began to interrupt his work and home life. He is forced to choose between being the honest person he has prided himself with being, his family, and his closest friend in Centralia or his covert position and relationship with Simon. His decision changes his future and that of each member of his family. In fact, all of the families that Madeleine has come to know in Centralia make life changing decisions after the murder. Although it is believed that the murderer has been captured, everyone who was due to transfer does so happily. It was as if this mass exodus was a predictor of the eventual dissolution of the Royal Canadian Air Force itself.
As an adult, Madeleine has to come to terms with the abuse she experienced and the unsolved murder of her childhood. Her parents, while still married, have grown apart. Jack spends much of his time watching television while Mimi gets a job and loses herself in volunteer work. The mother and daughter are no longer close. For me, the book slows down at this point. It is interesting to learn of Madeleine’s career and her adult relationships, but the lead up to the conclusion is long and tedious. As many things are not a secret to the reader, the build up of Madeleine’s therapy sessions is anticlimactic.
This book would have been much improved if the first 100 pages were shorted 75 of the last 150 pages were somehow condensed. Also, there is a lead in to many sections that talks about the crows, and what they saw of the murder victim that took me out of the story. Their intended purpose was lost on me. Still, I enjoyed this book and looked forward to learning the fate of all the people we met in Centralia. Unless you’re dying to read a long book, I would suggest waiting for the movie. It ought to be really good.
I love to read and hope that one day my daughters will as well. While reading to them this weekend, I encounter text that negatively mentioned adoption. My oldest daughter was domestically adopted at birth. Here is what happened to me over the weekend…
Every Saturday morning we have a young woman come to the house to watch the girls so we can get things done around the house. E is currently working on a MFA in Writing Children’s Literature. She let us borrow some books to read to the girls. These books were amazing even though they were a little above Emma and Allison’s comprehension level. One of the most interesting and creative of those books was The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman. I loved reading the book. The illustrations were great. I think children would have even more fun reading it themselves because of the way it is put together.
As much as I enjoyed reading the book, it posed a parenting problem that I wasn’t anticipating. At one point during the book, a brother gets mad at his sister and torments her by telling her that she was adopted. I was on a roll and read through it without before I had a chance to think about it. I immediately looked over at Emma while I continued to read. She didn’t have any reaction this time. The next time I read that book, I can easily skip over that part. That isn’t the issue. The issue is that Emma isn’t always going to be in the company of people sensitive to adoption issues. They will not know to insert something else or to avoid it all together. Even then, Emma will one day soon be able to read herself. I won’t be able to review everything she reads to make sure that it is adoption friendly. Emma is going to hear someone refer to adoption as an insult. As much as I want to shield her from the ugliness in this world, sheltering her would hurt her more in the long run. She is going to have to learn to come to terms with adoption in general just as she will have to come to terms with her own experience. The same is true for me. I wonder if it would be the correct thing to do to skip or substitute unflattering references to adoption. Should I protect her from that or use it as a teaching moment when she gets older? She’s too young to catch on to what was read yet. When that time comes, should I bring it up myself or wait for her. Not saying anything about such literary references lead her to believe that I agree with those statements or don’t care about her feelings? Would saying something make an issue where this isn’t one for her?
I’m unsure of how to handle this. Has anyone else come across this before? If so, how did you handle it? If not, I would really appreciate your thoughts or suggestions.
Tags: America, cultural identity, Gogol, Immigrant Families, India, Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake
It took me a long while to read this book. Like the Life of Pi, it is heady. Many of the other books I’ve read recently have been so as well. Comparitively, the Janet Evanovich novels are fun and soap opera-ish. I much preferred to read those. In fact, I read the second and third installments of the Stephanie Plum novels in the middle of The Namesake. I can’t say if my hesitance to read this book was because of timing or because the book didn’t hold my interest. I’m not sure that I’ll ever be able to tell.
The Namesake is the story of an American born Indian. Due to a letter from India that was lost in the mail, his parents named him Gogol, after one of the father’s favorite Russian writers. Over time, Gogol grows up and begins to despise his name. He has it legally changed. This change and his attempts to free himself from his parent’s culture are futile. He cannot be happy for long immersed in his American-Indian life or in a more fully American life.
There is a great deal of detail about his parents early marriage and about three of Gogol’s romances. The ending, by comparison, was glossed over and encapsulated in his mother’s final Christmas Eve party for the Indian-Bangladeshi family she created for herself in the United States. It seems as though Gogol’s mother and sister finally come to terms with their lives and how their cultural identity helps to form their journeys. Gogol finds a book of his namesake’s writing in his room. The book was given to him by his father. He rescues it from being donated and begins to read the book. Does he begin his journey toward acceptance of his life and what he cannot control? That is the impression given. I’m mostly glad that I’ve not been invited to take that journey with him.
Tags: atheism, children with religious visions, divorce, faith, Jodi Picoult, Keeping Faith, mental illness, parenting with mental illness, suicide, televangelist, visions of God
I love Jodi Picoult. The last time I finished one of her books I suffered withdrawal symptoms because I didn’t have another one waiting in the wings. So it was surprising to me as I began this book that I was growing tired of her. I actually was wishing I’d chosen another book. This happened a couple times before while I was in high school. I read so many Steven King and Danielle Steele books that I began to recognize patterns and just couldn’t read them anymore. At one point I swore that if I ever read another book that mentioned Carmel, CA that I would throw it against the wall. Thankfully, as I read further into the story, I got hooked and couldn’t put it down.
This is the story of a messy divorce and custody battle and its effects on an only child named Faith. Mariah, Faith’s mother, suffers from a lack of self esteem. From the moment that Colin shows interest in her in college, she allows him to mold her into the type of wife he wanted. She loses her identity. Colin’s first infidelity drove Mariah to suicide. He had her institutionalized against her will and it was in the hospital that he discovered her pregnancy. That was the only thing that kept their marriage together. The book begins when Mariah and Faith come home to retrieve a lost ballet leotard; they find Colin getting ready to take a shower with another woman. In the aftermath, Colin leaves, Mariah calls in her mother to take care of Faith while she gets herself straightened out, and Faith begins to see and talk to God.
Mariah takes Faith to psychiatrists, doctors, rabies, and even allows interviews with Catholic priests in order to get to the bottom of Faith’s visions. Faith was found by all to be mentally stable, but no one was brave enough to believe that Faith’s visions were actually contacts with the divine. That is, until her touch brings her grandmother back to life after being clinically dead for an hour. Once that story hits the press, people begin to congregate outside of Mariah’s home. The story is spread even further by an atheist televangelist name Ian. He has made it his life’s work to debunk religion and especially the miracles. When Colin returns home from his honeymoon with his pregnant wife, he discovers what is going on and decides to sue for full custody of Faith, using a renowned cutthroat lawyer. Not only does Mariah need to find the inner strength to handle the situation with Faith, she then has to fight to keep custody of her daughter.
Some of the relationships that develop seem too convenient and predictable. As with many other of Picoult’s lead female characters, Mariah is not alone for long. On the other hand, I enjoyed the way in which Mariah interacted with her mother. They have a truly special relationship. Still, the most interesting thing about this particular Picoult novel is the way in which visions, religion, faith, and God are handled by each of the characters. I believe that the book covered this topic and all sides with respect.
This was not one of my favorite Picoult books, but I would recommend the book to others. It provides the opportunity to explore your beliefs about the extraordinary. What would you do if your child began seeing visions of God?