#94 ~ Castaway Kid

August 16, 2008 at 12:38 pm | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, Reading, Religion | 1 Comment
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Castaway Kid: One Man’s Search for Hope and Home by R.B. Mitchell

In Castaway Kid, R.B. Mitchell revisits his childhood spent in an orphanage just outside of Chicago and the impact that had on his life. He is the only child of two parents who were very mentally ill. His father incapacitated himself during a suicide attempt and his mother spent most of her adulthood in and out of mental hospitals. Only his maternal grandmother Gigi brought any stability to his life. It was her weekly visits that provided him with the love he would ultimately need to survive inside the orphanage and to choose faith and hope over despair as he grew to adulthood.

It was heartbreaking to read about Mitchell’s experiences with his mother and the orphanage where she left him at the age of three. At such a young age, he had no concept of how sick she was and he blamed himself for being left alone. His kind housemother did what she could to comfort him and explain that his situation wasn’t his fault, but with so many other young boys to care for, she didn’t have all of the time and energy Robby needed. Gigi visited him weekly, but was unable to care for him physically or financially. Those visits were the bright spot in Robby’s week, but when she left him back at the orphanage it was like being abandoned all over again. Nothing good ever happened when his mother showed up, but Gigi tried her best to foster love between them. How it must have pained Gigi to watch the decline of her only daughter while being unable to raise her only grandchild as she would have liked.

Despite his circumstances, Robby is a resilient young boy who doesn’t want his circumstances to dictate how his life ends up. Once he learns that there is a scholarship to a college in North Carolina for which he is eligible through his father’s family, he starts taking odd jobs and weekend work to save the money he would need when he was on his own. His hard work earned him jobs that weren’t usually open to boys from the home. He also took it upon himself to invest his savings. This isn’t to say that his adolescence was smooth sailing. His anger, alienation, and feelings of inferiority would have led him down the wrong path had he not had this other side of him that wanted to rise above. His story is proof that nothing is impossible if you put your mind and prayer to it.

Even with a growing faith life, Rob continued to difficulty with relationships, especially with women. He realized that despite his loving grandmother, he had very little experience to draw upon when it came to romantic attachments. His fear that he would develop mental problems like his parents or that his girlfriends may turn out like his mother haunted him into adulthood. It wasn’t until he met the woman who was to become his wife that he opened his heart fully for the first time. Before that could fully happen, however, he had to learn to forgive his parents and learn to let go. It was a pleasure to experience that with him. She, like his grandmother before her, brought out the best in him and taught him how to trust.

It has been a long time since a book moved me to tears, but as I was reading the last pages of this book, I couldn’t hold them back. Some of the best and most inspiring stories come out of deeper personal pain. This story was well paced and well thought out. The only aspect that didn’t work well for me was the internal dialog and personal prayers. Those portions felt like they were often saying what was obvious from the context. I was able to skip over them without losing the story or its meaning. At its best, this memoir is a profoundly human story of the power of hope, love, and forgiveness. There is a reason for suffering if only you allow yourself to see it. This is an important message in such a cynical and sarcastic world.

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To buy this book, click here.

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#93 ~ Surviving Ben’s Suicide

August 7, 2008 at 6:00 am | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, Reading | 13 Comments
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Surviving Ben’s Suicide: A Woman’s Journey of Self-Discovery by C. Comfort Shields

When Comfort Shields was a freshman at Sarah Lawrence she met and fell in love with Ben, a former Navy recruit who joined the college as a second year freshman. Their relationship would impact Shields’ life on many levels. While he initially helped her cope with the tragic death of a classmate a year earlier in London, his mental imbalance proved to turn her life upside down. He didn’t return to Sarah Lawrence for sophomore year without telling her and it all kept tumbling out of control after that. When his erratic moods and behavior culminated in his not altogether unexpected suicide, Comfort is without an anchor. Finding little advice that applied to her situation or anywhere else to go, she wrote this book to provide others with what she did not have.

Having survived a suicide within my family 16 years ago this October, I was very much interested in Comfort’s story. Although in my situation it was my paternal uncle and not my lover or spouse, I was interested to read about the author’s experiences and insights. I turned 21 the week before Uncle Randy died. Although I knew that he had been sick for some time, his illness wasn’t something I had to experience very often. What sticks out the most to me when I think back on my relationship with him was how he seemed to become another person overnight. All of my dad’s brothers teased us cousins continuously and Randy was always the edgiest of the bunch; but, about 5 years before this happened, edgy became cruel. I spent many years afterwards being angry at him for how this affected his family, my grandparents, my father, and my brother. It took time and life experience for me to come to understand him. Now I’m just sad that he wasn’t able to get the medical help he needed and never got to meet his beautiful grandchildren.

What hit home the most to me when reading Surviving Ben’s Suicide was the author’s discussion of shame and guilt that is associated with those directly impacted by another person’s suicide. Even though this happened almost 20 years ago, it’s not something I share regularly or talk much about. Just like Shields, I worry about what people I don’t know well might think about me, my family, and – more importantly, my children. My family lived over an hour away from Randy’s and at the time he was his most sick, I was in college. Family wasn’t my highest priority then. I still feel guilty for caring more about my own life when my uncle and his family were suffering. I also know that this wasn’t my fault and, while I’m sure that my aunt and cousins would have appreciated my support, there wasn’t anything I could have done singlehandedly to change what happened.

As much as I could empathize with Comfort Shields, I didn’t find this book particularly insightful. I believe this was due to a combination of the differences in our experiences as well as the way in which the story was told. Had this story been told in a linear fashion, the impact would have been greater. Toward the end of the book she indicates that Ben’s suicide marked the end of his life and a major turning point in hers. Because of the back and forth, I was unable to fully identify how that turning point changed her life. Despite the fact that this was written after she wrote about meeting and marrying her husband and the birth of her two children into the world, there was a disconnect for me. I couldn’t recreate how she got there from where she started. I couldn’t identify what might have been different had Ben not been a part of her life or if he did not commit suicide at all.

Although Surviving Ben’s Suicide was not as meaningful to me as I’d anticipated, I hope that others who have shared similar experiences will read it. I will be passing my copy on to a friend whose brother, also named Ben, committed suicide 6 years ago this month. Books like this and Regina’s Closet are a wonderful way to heal from a suicide as well as create dialog about it. I wish Comfort Shields much success with this book. It is an excellent resource and I’m so thankful that she gave of herself to write it. Perhaps this is something that I should consider myself.

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To buy this book, 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.

#89 ~ 37

July 26, 2008 at 9:39 am | Posted in Books, Culture, Family | 5 Comments
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37 by Maria Beaumont

As someone whose 37th birthday is quickly approaching, I could not turn down the opportunity to read this novel by Maria Beaumont. It chronicles the approaching midlife of Fran Clark, a talented former voice over actress living in London.  Fran left acting 10 years earlier when she started her family with her husband Richard. As her 37th birthday party nears, her life and drinking habit get more and more out of control. When everything is finally turned upside down on the night of her party, Fran has to choose  between finding a way to recreate herself or give in to the alcoholism that runs in her family and potentially ruin her children’s childhood. What seems obvious to everyone surrounding her proves to be very difficult for Fran.

37 was written in a comfortable, conversational tone. As someone who has never been to England, I very much enjoyed the dialog. It was delightfully different from what I am used to. Part way through the book the voice in my head while I was reading it even took on a British accent ala Madonna. I love how so often sentences were ended in rhetorical questions. No one uses the word brilliant quite like the British.

Conversation aside, life in upper-middle class London isn’t all that much different than it is here in the United States. Fran has two wonderful best friends, but they are but a life raft in shark invested waters.  Fran’s relationship with her husband suffers from what sadly happens far too often after children are born.  The mothers running her school’s equivalent to the PTA act and react just like catty women everywhere.  Beaumont nailed the competitive nature between women that has no real reason to exist.  Women are our own worst enemies.

37 was somewhat heavier than I had anticipated, but it read quickly.  I related to Fran and empathized with her experiences.  The ending was satisfying and inspiring.  I hope that Maria Beaumont continues to write.  Her voice is what made this story special.

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To buy this book, click here.

#85 ~ Aberrations

July 13, 2008 at 4:12 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 8 Comments
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Aberrations by Penelope Przekop

When tragedy strikes during a child’s infancy and childhood, how much should that child’s parent reveal to the child and when? The main character of this novel is Angel, the only daughter of an attorney and a budding art photographer. When Angel’s mother dies while she is an infant, her father chooses to reveal very little about the death. Aberrations tells the story of what can happen to a young woman’s life when the full truth isn’t shared with her, even if things are held back because they seem to be for her own good.

All Angel has of her mother was a series of pictures of clouds whose formations resembled earthly shapes. In addition to hole left in her that can only be filled by “mother,” Angel is also dealing with a rare neurological disorder, narcolepsy. To an extent, Angel has allowed her disease to be an excuse for keeping the status quo. She’s content to live with her father and have an affair with a married doctor.

Angel’s life is turned upside down when Carla, her father’s girlfriend, moves in with them and takes over by redecorating the house. When Carla takes down all of her mother’s cloud pictures Angel is sent over the edge. This upheaval at home is what encourages her to spend more time with her co-workers, Tim and Kimmy. Their friendship, held on to only begrudgingly at first, helps her to open up with others about her life and her disease.  When Tim encourages Kimmy and Angle to come with him to the Blue Flower, the local gay dance club, and try Ecstasy, both of their lives begin to change. When Kimmy becomes the unintentional victim of a hate crime, Angel has to figure out who she wants to be and open her eyes to who she really can trust.

When I was offered the opportunity to read Aberrations, I wasn’t sure. Although I find narcolepsy interesting because it isn’t something that you read about very often, I was unsure of what this novel would be like or whether I would like it. Angel sounded like a misguided young woman who flitted from one sexual relationship to the other regardless of the consequences. It’s not that I have to have protagonists to have it all together (where would the need for a novel be?), but this was a little out of my usual reading choices. In fact, the very first part of the novel started somewhat slow for me. After about 40 pages, however, I was hooked. In the end, I’m so very thankful that I decided to take a chance.

Aberrations, Penelope Przekop’s first novel, was a delight to read and fascinating until the end. It was a pleasure to watch Angel mature, despite the fact that some of what she learns about her parents and herself is quite devastating. While preparing to write this review, I went back over the definition of the word “aberration” provided at the beginning of the book. Next to that was a newspaper article. While reading the book initially, I had forgotten all about it. Finding it again with what I know now gave me much to think about. I know that this is a novel that I will be reading again. Most of all, I’m looking forward to watching Przekop’s career progress.

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To buy this book, click here.

My Grandmother’s Journal

July 11, 2008 at 8:00 am | Posted in Books, Family, Guest Post, LIfe | Leave a comment
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It is with great pleasure that I announce The Literate Housewife Review’s very first guest post by Diana M. Raab, the author of Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal. I hope that you enjoy her reflections on her grandmother and how she encouraged the young writer in Diana:

At the age of ten years I found my grandmother dead in her room next to mine. On that sunny summer morning I knocked on her door to ask permission to swim in a friend’s pool. I called her name, but she lay in her bed beside the window, remaining perfectly still. On her stomach sat an opened Graham Greene book and a pair of eyeglasses. I touched her face and it was stone cold. With a child’s intuition, I sensed something was seriously wrong. I ran out of the room to phone my mother at work.

Within minutes, emergency vehicles lined our once quiet residential street. All I remember is two uniformed men carrying my grandmother down the creaky wooden stairs strapped to a stretcher. I prayed they wouldn’t drop her.

There wasn’t much talk about my grandmother until about twenty years later when my parents were getting reading to move from that childhood house in Queens, New York. While packing, they stumbled across her retrospective journal which she’d written after emigrating from Vienna in the early 1930s. Only after reading that document did I really understand the deep roots of her depression, which tormented her entire life, and eventually led to her demise at the age of sixty-one.

I tucked the journal away and pulled it out ten years later after being diagnosed with breast cancer. I wondered if she’d committed suicide because of a cancer diagnosis which she’d kept to herself. I hoped her written words could provide an explanation for my own health problems, but they didn’t. However, the details of her tragic life once again drew me close to her. Her powerful words sharing her being orphaned during World War I, just pulled me in. She witnessed the Russians hack up little boys in the street and soldiers march through her town.

I realized how I’d never connected with another woman in the same way. She was an extension of me. Those ten years she’d care for me, planted the seed for my writing, because not only was she devoted to the written word by daily journaling and propensity for leaving notes on the kitchen table, but she had also taught me how to type. I remember the day as if it were yesterday.

Her black Remington typewriter was perched on the vanity in her room. Each morning, I knocked on her door for a morning kiss. She then took my hand and we’d walk down to the kitchen for breakfast. One morning when I was about six years old, instead of immediately heading downstairs, she invited me into her room.

“Have a seat,” she said,” pointing me to her vanity chair.

“I’m going to teach you how to type. This is a handy skill for a girl to have, plus you never know what kind of stories you’ll have to tell one day.”

She stood behind me with her image glowing in the mirror. She took my right hand and positioned it on the second row of keys from the bottom, carefully placing one finger on each letter, repeating the same gesture with my left hand.

“This is the position your fingers should be in. When you become a good typist, you won’t have to even look at the letters while you’re typing. Okay, dear, let’s see if we can type your name.”

With my left middle finger she had me press on the “D.” Then we moved to the right middle finger and moved up a row to type an “I.” Then my pinky pressed the “A” and then something really tricky had to happen, I had to move my right thumb down to the bottom row to type an “N.” Then my left pinky typed an “A.” After each letter I glanced up at the paper to see the impression of my efforts. After reaching the last “A” in my name, I proudly looked up at my grandmother’s face in the mirror.

“You see, you did it!” she said, squeezing my shoulders.

“Like anything in life, the more you practice, the better you’ll become. You must work hard to get results; you’ll learn that soon enough, my love.”

This seemingly innocent gesture on her part instilled my own lifelong commitment to the written word. As a young girl, I wrote stories, but as a young adult, I worked my way through college typing term papers for students.

Finding the journal was my impetus in writing write my memoir released in September 2007, Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal. The project which began as my graduate thesis made me me realize the strong connection I had with my grandmother. It also made me realize how depression is a precurrsor to suicide and the intrinsic value of writing and how important it is for one generation to pass on their stories to the next generation. As a result, I have become a journaling advocate to those in my community and beyond.

#84 ~ Regina’s Closet

July 9, 2008 at 10:14 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Family, LIfe, Reading | 9 Comments
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Regina’s Closet: Finding My Grandmother’s Secret Journal by Diana M. Raab

If ever there was a granddaughter who loved her grandmother, Diana M. Raab is that granddaughter. In her book, she lovingly weaves a memorial to her grandmother Regina through her own remembrances as the precious journal Raab’s mother found in the closet, decades after Regina’s suicide. Without judgment or justification the author allows her grandmother to tell the story of her childhood and early adulthood. When outside historical or family information could be found, Raab filled in some of the gaps, but what was especially poignant was how Regina’s journal brought her grandmother to life for her.

Diana M. Raab was 10 years old the day that her grandmother committed suicide. She discovered her grandmother’s body in bed when she went to her to ask if she could go out. She was home alone. What a terrifying experience for a young child. To exacerbate that, she didn’t discover the truth behind the death until she over heard her mother whispering to friends. There is no way that such an experience couldn’t leave a lasting impact on one’s life. It seems that it caused Raab to be a strong, loving woman. Although her own parents were distant, she went on to raise a close knit family with three children. It was only after she read Regina’s journal that she discovered from where her fortitude, her writing skills, and her nurturing love for her children came.

I read this book in less than a day. Regina’s story along with the author’s incites were compelling and freshly written. Often when a person commits suicide, that is how they are remembered or talked about. Raab gives life to her grandmother’s entire story in Regina’s Closet. Reading this book made me think about my Uncle Randy, who committed suicide exactly one week after my 21st birthday – on his father’s 75th birthday. Randy had been very sick for a very long time before he died. I wish that he had left a journal or something to reassure my grandfather that his suicide was not my grandfather’s fault or a final punishment for something he did. Survivors, in my experience, blame themselves a thousand times over for what happened. Rarely do they stop to consider that while they were the ones who had to pick up the pieces, this wasn’t about them at all. Raab even expands on that concept. Upon reflection she discovered that Regina gave her a gift after her death – a beautiful relationship between Diana and her grandfather Samuel. Where there is death, there is new life.

I would highly recommend Regina’s Closet to everyone. Although Regina did commit suicide, there is a rich history in the story. Much of the book takes place in Eastern Europe, and tells the story of lonely and unloved young girl growing up in a Jewish family scrambling to survive World War I and the beginnings of World War II. What was simply a journal Regina kept during those years became a treasure for the author, who wrote a love letter in return. Simply beautiful.

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To purchase this book, click here.  Diana M. Raab is donating the proceeds from Regina’s Closet to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. When you buy this book, you’ll also be helping to prevent suicides. You get a great book and a donation is made to a great cause. What could be better than that?

#83 ~ Admit One

July 6, 2008 at 10:27 pm | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, Memoir, Reading | 8 Comments
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Cover to Admit One

Admit One: A Journey into Film by Emmett James

When I was offered the opportunity to read this memoir, I was extremely excited. I’ve always loved movies and this love is something my husband and I share in common. Danny studied to work in film during college, where he worked very hard to create and direct his senior project. I believe that if my husband were to ever write a memoir it would be a combination of Admit One and Love is a Mix Tape (hopefully without the widower connection). Knowing that my husband and James shared a similar passion made this book a must read for me.

Admit One details the childhood and early acting career of Emmett James as framed by the films that have impacted his life. A different movie provides the backdrop of each of the 22 stories making up this book. From The Jungle Book to It’s a Wonderful Life, James shares his memories and what he learned about life in both Croydon, South London and Los Angeles, CA. If you are a film lover, you will appreciate that James writes about the way this medium can interweave with our lives and shape our perspective on what it means to live.

Reading this memoir brought back a lot of wonderful memories for me. I believe that almost everyone has tried to dig to China or Australia (or vice versa) during childhood. It was the first thing Emmett James did after seeing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. At first his dig started out as an archaeological excursion in search of some Indy-worthy treasures. After coming up empty, he changed his motivation entirely and that made this chapter came alive for me. There is something about watching dramatic representations of other people that can drive both the young and old take on the characteristics of heroes or even glamorous villains if only in our imaginations. That is the true beauty and worth of film.

Unlike for the James family, a trip to the movie theater was an infrequent yet beloved treat in our household. It was a reward for a semester’s good grades, or more often an excuse for my father to see an adventure film. Being of a similar age to the author, my childhood was likewise shaped by E.T., the original Star Wars trilogy, The Karate Kid, The Wizard of Oz, and Ghostbusters. Although our backgrounds are extremely different, we could most certainly communicate clearly and concisely using the language of movies. Reliving my life through each of these films, among others, was the best part of reading this book.

Whereas film has brought a great deal of joy to the author’s life and ultimately brought him to Hollywood’s door, this memoir isn’t entirely happy. James’ relationship to his family is distant and even a little cold. In the same section where he is dreaming of uncovering precious artifacts, James reminisces about the last time his family went to a movie together. He wishes he could recapture that experience once again, but the rest of his story is about moving further and further away – first emotionally, and then physically. When he writes that “movies have always meant everything to [him],” I believe that they have become his family in a way that his flesh and blood family never did. I can’t help but feel saddened by that.

In addition to weaving film throughout his stories, I enjoyed this peek at what life was like for a young boy growing up in a working to middle class neighborhood in South London. Once James left England and became acclimated to Hollywood, I felt that the book started to lose its direction. While he did learn about himself and what he wanted out of life working on the set of Lap Dancing, I’m not it was deserving of an entire chapter. It could have been tightened up and combined with Honeymoon in Vegas. I was also surprised by what he chose to write about when discussing Titanic, I eagerly anticipated reading about being directed by James Cameron or acting opposite Kathy Bates. Instead, he describes both the poverty of Mexico and an odd and somewhat alarming experience with a cab driver. As a result, those chapters lack the cohesion I felt throughout the rest of the memoir.

At its heart, Admit One is a love letter to film. The author rightly points out that movies can have a powerful effect on viewers. They can serve as entertainment, promote wonder and imagination, educate, help us communicate with one another, and challenge us. In addition to being a lover of film, James has the added pleasure of being a working actor in Hollywood. It is his passion for his life’s work that made this book a reality, and I was not disappointed. If you ever wanted to ride your BMX through the sky or fight storm troopers with your very own light saber, this is the book for you.

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To buy this book, click here.

#82 ~ Escape

July 1, 2008 at 10:33 pm | Posted in Beach, Books, Family, Reading, Religion | 2 Comments
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Cover to Escape

Escape by Robert K. Tanenbaum

It’s been quite some time since I’ve read a courtroom drama/thriller. So, when I was offered the opportunity to read Escape, I eagerly agreed. There is something about procedurals, be they on TV (Law and Order) or on paper that are soothing to me. I know that this does not necessarily make logical sense because quite often those very same things include murder, rape, and other egregious behavior. I guess in the end it’s the way procedurals follow a set pattern that relaxes me the way it does. Escape did not disappoint. It is a well written and nicely paced edition to Tanenbaum’s Butch Karp series.

Escape follows two distinct yet loosely intertwined story lines: the usage of the insanity defense and the struggle from keeping evil forces from taking over the United States. Jessica Campbell, an extremely liberal college professor, suffered from post-partum depression that grew steadily more severe with the birth of each of her three children. After she kills all of her three young children, she finds herself in court facing prosecutor Butch Karp. All the while Karp is preparing to go up against Campbell’s insanity defense, his friends and family work with varying degrees of knowledge, intuition, and good luck to thwart a new attack on New York City that is being planned by Islamic fundamentalists and the Sons of Man, a covert and powerful group of wealthy anglo-saxons hoping to “clean” the American landscape and take over the government. Can a rag-tag group of homeless men, retirees, and various members of Karp’s associates and family prevent another well planned terrorist attack?

This is the 20th installment in Tanenbaum’s Butch Karp series, but I have never read any of his other novels. I didn’t find this an impediment to following the story, getting to know the characters, and enjoying the stories. As with other serials, there were flashbacks to what happened in previous novels to fill in any gaps. I appreciated this information and do not feel that it was excessive enough to bother those who have been following the Karp family and friends all along. Sometimes it’s nice to be given a reminder.

As someone who experienced post-partum depression, I appreciated the way that Jessica’s character was written. I found the descriptions of her emotional suffering realistic. The outcome of the trial, however, was no surprise to me at all. If I were to find fault with this novel, it would be that Jessica’s attorney came off ineffectual in the courtroom and defense witnesses were all very odd characters. To me, it wouldn’t have taken much of a DA at all to run circles around the defense.

I enjoyed reading Escape. In many ways, the book was just that for me – an escape. At just under 600 pages, it’s hefty enough to be the only book you’ll need to travel with on vacation. It would definitely make a great book to read lazily around the pool or while leisurely swinging on a hammock underneath your favorite shade tree.

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To buy this book, click here.

#80 ~ Matrimony

June 21, 2008 at 7:18 pm | Posted in Books, Family, LIfe, Reading | 11 Comments
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Cover of Matrimony

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

This novel tells the story of Julian Wainwright, an only son from a well-to-do family. At the beginning, we meet Julian as a young man beginning his college and writing career at Graymont College, a liberal arts college that both gets him away from his parents and, to a certain extent, disappoints them at the same time. In his creative writing class, Julian meets Carter. The two are singled out by Professor Chesterfield as the stars of the class and they soon become friends. Carter grew up without those things that Julian took for granted, and no matter how close they become, there is always this socio-economic barrier between them.

Friendship and a trusted relationship with Professor Chesterfield are not the only things that Julian finds at Graymont College. It is there, while doing laundry, that Julian meets and falls in love with Mia Mendelsohn. Although the two both come from families with money, there are many differences between their experiences. Mia’s parents are quite liberal whereas Julian’s are more conservative. Mia’s family holds education and philosophical pursuits in high esteem whereas Julian’s takes pride in its corporate success. These differences, just like those that exist between Julian and Carter, don’t really manifest themselves in a meaningful way until a medical tragedy strikes. It is then that they do their best to continue moving forward, sometimes at cross purposes. It is also during that time that Julian and Mia jump into marriage feet first, but it takes them years to discover what marriage is all about.

Matrimony is about the meaning of friendship and marriage. It is about learning how to live and how to be forgiving. It is also about leading a writer’s life. Julian discovered his dream to write at an early age and never lets it go. In many ways, he is more faithful and understanding of his craft than he is of his wife and his best friend. He doesn’t truly grow as a writer, a man, or a human being, though, until he learns and accepts that he can’t control his writing anymore than he can any other relationship in his life.

I enjoyed the time I spent with the characters who inhabit Matrimony. They are flawed, but they are vulnerable. They suffer for their mistakes, even if they try desperately to act as if they didn’t make any in the first place. I also enjoyed the sub-plot of Julian as a writer. His experiences in writing workshops reminds me of times when my own work was being discussed. Workshops can be brutal, but they can be magical, too. In Matrimony, Joshua Henkin sheds a light on the hard work, commitment and energy required to be a friend, a lover, and a writer. I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to thoughtfully explore any of those things.

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