#134 ~ Loving Frank

January 13, 2009 at 11:28 pm | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, Reading | 10 Comments
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Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

In search of a home of his own, Mr. Edwin Cheney of Chicago convinced his wife Mamah to agree to commissioning a local American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, to design and build their family home. Mr. Cheney gained his house, but he couldn’t have known that he would ultimately lose his wife to the architect. Loving Frank tells the story of the love affair of Mamah and Frank from Mamah’s perspective. Mamah’s decision to leave the husband for which she never had any passion cost her as well. In her time, adulterous women lost custody of their children and their reputations to boot. Her story is one of heartache, sensuality, and the discovery of who she is and who she wants to be.

Loving Frank reads like a story out of 19th feminist literature like The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and The Awakening by Kate Chopin. In so many ways, unfortunately, Mamah is the embodiment of Edna Pontellier. She finds her self dissatisfied with domestic life and agonizes over the realization that she really knew beforehand that she shouldn’t have married Edwin. Although he respects her father and cares for her family, he is not a creative soul. Frank Lloyd Wright is. As he, too, has grown unhappy in his own marriage, it’s only a matter of time before the two begin an affair. After leaving her family to run away with her lover, she comes face to face with the reality of living with Frank. Frank may be a man of vision, but he is all too human. He has deep character flaws that cause her distress and embarrassment. The guilt of leaving her children and the ill effects of being under the harsh spotlight of a the scandal loving media start to take their tole. It is only after attending a speech by Ellen Key, a feminist writer famous in Europe, that she starts to understand that the secret to her own happiness and fulfillment can come from no place but within herself.

Mamah and Frank are both self-centric people and are often unlikable. They both want the fairytale life, but tend to whine when it isn’t handed to them on a silver platter. Although he thought of Mamah as his intellectual equal, Frank was dismayed repetitively when she wanted to leave his side to pursue her own goals. Mamah continually found it difficult to love Frank through his human weaknesses. They both wanted nothing more than to express their creativity. Neither really cared to get their hands messy with the work of keeping relationships together. Had fate not intervened in the end, it seems doubtful that their relationship could have survived after the drama created by their scandalous relationship died down.

This review was difficult to write. I enjoyed Loving Frank , despite the fact that portions of the novel seemed long and dry. Given their personalities, it was often difficult to sympathize with Mamah and Frank. That being said, to enjoy a novel, it is not necessary to like the main characters. Lolita is one of my favorite novels, but I do not like nor agree with Humbert Humbert. The exploration of feminism in the early 2oth century through Mamah’s growth as a woman was very interesting. In that day and time, a woman lost her place as mother when she willingly gave up her place as wife. For women with children, personal freedom came at a huge cost. As the narrative tended to wander off course in some areas and then the author included too many unnecessary details in other, there were loose ends that were not tied up in the end. What could have been a brilliant, emotional and powerful conclusion to Mamah and Frank’s story fizzled. I would still recommend this novel, most especially for a class about early feminist literature. Although this is a work of historical fiction, it would provide the perspective of a woman living in America at the time.

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To buy this novel, click here.

#91 ~ Rabies Mom

August 1, 2008 at 3:48 pm | Posted in Books, Family | 2 Comments
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Rabies Mom by Pat Carroll and Jack McGowan

This book tells the story of Pat Carroll’s failed marriage to Jeanine, a mentally unstable alcoholic and drug addict, and the toll it took on his six children. Shannon, the fourth of six, paid the ultimate price for her mother’s negligence. She died of rabies in a day and age when it is almost unheard of to even catch the disease. Not only did Pat have to contend with the unnecessary loss of his daughter, he had to battle the bias held by family courts that children are best left in the custody of their mothers.

This story is heartbreaking, but I found Carroll to be disingenuous. While his ex-wife clearly has issues, he was by no means perfect. He berates her for her drinking and drug use when he admits to drinking to excess on numerous occasions and using pot. His compassion for Jeanine who was experiencing a great deal of post-partum depression was nearly non-existent. In fact, when pregnancy and childbirth became a threat to her health, he suggested she have a tubal ligation. When she became pregnant with their sixth child, he blamed her for not acting fast enough. Apparently he would rather place blame than to pursue a vasectomy or take precautions of his own.

After reading Rabies Mom, it is clear that Pat Carroll could not focus on a single purpose for his writing. Is this a book to celebrate the life of the daughter Carroll lost? To highlight the injustice of the current family court system? To vilify and place blame squarely on his ex-wife’s shoulders? Because of the amount of energy spent on his wife, I feel the real reason was to point his finger. Carroll went through great pains at the end of the book to justify why he did what he did. He claims that this was all for Shannon and her legacy. I found that very hard to believe given the title.

This book, which isn’t lengthy and didn’t take long to read, could have benefited greatly from a content editor. Once Shannon was in the hospital, I noticed that he kept repeating how much he couldn’t believe his wife’s actions and behaviors. Within the same chapter, for example, he mentioned how competent he found the doctors and hospital staff only to reiterate those statements to a friend over the phone. There was also a lot of hospital detail that could very easily have been left out or condensed. While I understand that every detail and hurt is precious and meaningful to the author, it isn’t to the reader. It’s a nuisance, actually. As such, this story would have been better suited in an article or within a collection of stories by other divorced fathers who have had to battle the courts for the sake of their children.

I wouldn’t recommend the book. A visit to the website would probably be sufficient.

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If you would still like to buy this book, click here.

#60 ~ Eat, Pray, Love

February 27, 2008 at 2:11 pm | Posted in Books, Disappointment, Memoir, Religion, Worst of the Year | 4 Comments
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Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

I don’t typically read books about food. For whatever reason, I get bored reading paragraphs filled with nothing but food preparatory details. Knowing this about myself, I never considered even picking up this book off of the shelf to read the description. The only reason I am reviewing this here is that a co-worker offered to let me borrow this book on CD. In the end, my instincts to stay far away from this book were dead on – just not for the reasons I expected.

Eat, Pray, Love is a memoir which describes the impact taking a year away from home to heal from a hard divorce had on Elizabeth Gilbert. During that time, she stayed in three countries: Italy, India, and Indonesia. The book is separated into three sections for each country. She goes to Italy to learn Italian, to India to study at her guru‘s ashram, and to Indonesia because a wise man she once met there indicated that she would eventually return to stay with him.

During the Italy section, this book was almost poetic in its theme of finding and honoring oneself. However, the poetry of the book was too often interrupted with seemingly unnecessary references to current American politics. Because of how well the rest flowed, those comments, which ranged from off-hand comments to an entire chapter dedicated to thanksgiving that George W. Bush wouldn’t be president much longer, felt like huge potholes in an otherwise smooth road. They did not add to her experiences with struggling between career and marriage, her desire not to have children, and her spiritual longing. They simply dated a memoir that could otherwise be timeless.

Skipping over the political banter was as easy as pushing the forward button, but there was no way to avoid her agonizing discussions of her spiritual struggles as related to Swammy G, her guru’s guru. It didn’t take me long to start begging for a long soliloquy about cooking two cups of rice a single grain at a time. Still, I was committed to finishing the book until *it* happened.

Play by play of *it*

  1. 1. Open chapter with Gilbert’s thoughts on the merits of “cherry pick” from the worlds’ religions to discover appealing spiritual practices.
  2. 2. Literate Housewife rolls her eyes when Gilbert slips a closed minded and oversimplified statement about the Taliban and the Christian Coalition into an otherwise open-minded discussion.
  3. 3. Continued exploration of the idea that all of the worlds’ religions (sans Taliban and Christian Coalition of course) provide elements of Truth.
  4. 4. Literate Housewife looks out the window of her car and wonders what it is about grass that makes cows eat it so ravenously.
  5. 5. Hearing “That’s me in the corner.” jolts Literate Housewife back into Gilbert’s diatribe.
  6. 6. “Oh, no. She isn’t.” says Literate Housewife.
  7. 7. “That’s me in the spotlight.” says Gilbert.
  8. 8. “She musn’t!” panics Literate Housewife.
  9. 9. Choosing my religion.” says Gilbert.
  10. 10. Literate Housewife screams. She turns off the radio thinking that many fundamentalist Christians and Elizabeth Gilbert now have something in common – the misuse of secular lyrics.

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Congratulations, Liz Gilbert. You’ve earned your liberal street cred. You just lost me along the way.

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To buy this book anyway, click here.

#47 ~ Without a Map

November 11, 2007 at 4:29 pm | Posted in Adoption, Beach, Books, Childhood Memories, Culture, Inspiration, LIfe, Memoir, Parenting Dilemmas, Post-Partum Depression, Reading, Religion, Secrets and Lies, Sexual Identity, Writing | 2 Comments
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Without a Map: A Memoir by Meredith Hall

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.

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To buy this book, click here.

#38 ~ You’re Not You

September 10, 2007 at 9:21 pm | Posted in Beach, Books, College Life, LIfe, Reading, Secrets and Lies, Sexual Identity | Leave a comment
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You’re Not You by Michelle Wildgen

Okay, so it took a LONG while for me to write this review. The book, while enjoyable at the time, was not that remarkable or rememorable. The main characters (whose names have since escaped me and I’ve sold the book), are a young college woman (CW) having an affair with a professor and a 30ish woman suffering from ALS (SW). CW takes a job with SW and her husband to help SW when the husband cannot be at home. As expected, CW has some trials at first but begins to gain confidence as time goes on. When SW divorces her husband because he cannot remain faithful to her (although her disease is working rapidly), CW truly begins to question her affair with her married professor (MP).

I do not enjoy reading about food or cooking. Unfortunately for me, CW begins to enjoy and prosper as a chef throughout her relationship with SW. I found myself speed reading through descriptions, etc. This isn’t the fault of the author – just a pet peeve of mine.

There is an interesting and embarrassing scene with a vibrator included in this book that I’m not at all sure what to think about. Sure, every woman needs her sexual release. Was it necessary in this story? One could say that SW teaches CW about many things about female sexuality and that this is one of them. Still, I can’t help my lingering feelings of exploitation. I enjoy a good, explicit sex scene. I just was uncomfortable about this. Maybe I’m a prude in some ways.

One thing that I did find refreshing in this book is the discussion of the lack of perfection in the male body – specifically how it relates to a sexual relationship. It’s often that you read about a woman’s insecurity over her naked body. Equally often you read about a man’s enjoyment of a perfect specimen or notice of imperfections. When CW describes her first sexual encounter with MP, she notices and comments upon the stretch marks on his hips. I about dropped my book. It wasn’t mentioned in a negative manner at all. They just were there. I really appreciated that.

Despite my lack of character name recall (and lack of ambition to research and hide this fact), this book would make a beach, vacation, work trip travel read.

#07 ~ The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

February 10, 2007 at 3:24 pm | Posted in Amazing Narrator, Books, British Comedy, Culture, Family, Reading | 2 Comments
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The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time by Mark Haddon

This book is incredible. It is the story of a high functioning autistic teenage boy who decides to write a book about his attempt to detect who really killed his neighbors dog. The entire book was written from Christopher’s perspective. His narration is poignant and is the perfect way to put you in the mind of an autistic person. Christopher does not like to be touched. To show that they love each other, they open their hands like palming a basketball and touch fingertips. When I think of all the time I spend cuddling my children, I can’t fathom how big a hole parents must feel in their hearts when they can’t be physically affectionate.

It is also interesting to read what non-autistic behavior is interpreted by Christopher. He goes into explanations of white lies and other commonalities of life that will first crack you up and then make you think about what you are subconsciously telling other people.

Christopher gives you full and entirely factual accounts throughout the book. His level of honesty is refreshing and heartbreaking, especially when he is talking about a subject that would tear another child up inside. He just doesn’t understand. Is that good? It definitely has an impact on how Christopher looks at the world.

This book is funny, realistic, and thoroughly enjoyable. I did read quickly through the math equations he worked on to calm himself down in uncomfortable situations. Still, it was interesting that there are people for whom working out such problems makes them feel better. I wish that I knew exactly what I needed to do to relax the way that Christopher does. This book should definitely be on your “to read” list if you haven’t already done so.

#04 ~ Keeping Faith

January 31, 2007 at 3:33 pm | Posted in Books, Jodi Picoult, Parenting Dilemmas, Reading, Religion | 4 Comments
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Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

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?

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