Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles--Patricia C. Wrede

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles are my 10 year old's favorite books right now, and together serve as the third book in my From The Stacks Challenge. The series comprises four books so far: Dealing with Dragons, Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons; and Talking to Dragons. These are delightful fantasies which are empowering for girls without being heavy-handed.

Dealing with Dragons starts with the sad story of Princess Cimorene, one of 12 princesses in her family. Cimorene wants more substantive education than is generally allowed for a princess, and she manages to get some training in magic, fencing, Latin, and cooking before she is found out and forced to cease. Chafing at her restricted role, she finally runs away before she can be married to a handsome but terribly boring prince.

Cimorene finds herself becoming a dragon's princess, a post she wins since she can make cherries jubilee and knows a little Latin. She is "adopted" by a female dragon named Kazul, and finds the life to her liking. She runs the kitchen, catalogues Kazul's treasure, and organizes the library (where her Latin comes in handy). At first, she is bothered by princes and knights who feel obligated to rescue her and battle the dragon; she soon learns to direct them to the other dragon princesses who want to be rescued.

Throughout the books, the dragons and other inhabitants of the Enchanted Forest find themselves at odds with the Society of Wizards--classic robe wearing, staff carrying men who have no magic of their own, and so steal magic from others in order to increase their own power. Bit of male bashing? Perhaps, though balanced by the heroic King of the Enchanted Forest and his son Daystar in books 2-4.

Cimorene is an independent and strong character, who speaks her mind and knows what she wants. She is represented as different from "other princesses" and admired for it. Her dragon, Kazul, becomes King of the Dragons. Why not Queen? Queen of the Dragons is a stupid job, the dragons all agree, and nobody wants it. "King of the Dragons" is the name of the job, no matter who holds it. This is handled lightly and humorously, reinforcing the message that girls need not limit themselves to traditional roles.

Additionally, Wrede sprinkles in additional spins on traditional tales. In one book, the characters meet a farmer named McDonald who explains his modern methods of farming. "Not like my father, who did it the old way. A chicken here, a cow there, you can't make a living farming like that." (paraphrased).

These books are a pleasant diversion, entertaining and provoking rethinking of stories that we all thought we knew.

Broken For You-- Stephanie Kallos

This is my second book in the From The Stacks Challenge. It is the debut novel of this writer, and lives solidly in midlist fiction.

The story starts with Margaret Hughes, a woman who lives alone in a huge house in the expensive neighborhood in Seattle. She has decided to place an ad to find a boarder to share her house. She is concerned about how the others in her house will feel about a new person.

These "others" turn out to be hundreds of porcelain pieces that fill every room of her mansion. Margaret communes with these pieces, imparting personalities and relationships to soup tureens, tea cups and saucers. Margaret has a brain tumor and expects to die soon. She is divorced, her ex-husband has remarried, and their only child died many years ago in a car accident that her husband survived. Now she has retired to her house where she cares for all the antiques she inherited from her father.

Margaret's ad is answered by a young woman named Wanda Schultz, who is in Seattle searching for her boyfriend, who had announced he was leaving her in New York. She sold everything and uprooted herself to find him again. She believes she will find him in Seattle. Wanda is a stage manager who works most evenings. She and Margaret slowly begin to thaw toward each other, yet keep their own secrets close.

Wanda continues to look for her lost boyfriend while finding herself attracted to a stagehand who is really too good to be true. Margaret starts to go out of the house and finds herself a boyfriend. Margaret carries a secret--the porcelains were bought from Europe during World War II--likely stolen from Jewish families by Nazis. One day, Margaret looks at her wedding china, and realizes it means nothing to her but weighs her down. She bullies Wanda into helping her smash the entire set. Margaret begins to free herself from her guilt and shyness as she frees herself from her inheritance. The shattered fragment become the basis for Wanda's mosaic art, which drives the last third of the novel.

Wanda finds her boyfriend, and sees him with new eyes, and just as she finds herself free from him, she is hit by a car and sustains serious injuries. She has to give up her work as a stage manager, and she finds her way into doing mosaicsc.

About halfway through the book, we meet the man who is Wanda's father--who left her with his sister while he went to look for his wife, who left him. Wanda's father manages a bowling alley and becomes friends with an elderly Jewish lady who bowls twice a week. She brings him out of his shell, and he brings her out of her grief after her husband dies.

By the end of the book, Margaret has died, but her house by this time is full of people she has collected who now work to make Wanda's art possible. Wanda's father comes on as handyman, and they open an art school to teach mosaic techniques.

There is a great deal of writerly effort in this book. For example, Margaret's tumor is an "astroblastoma," which she calls "the star." One of Wanda's first mosaics is of Jewish children wearing the Nazi-required star on their coats. The china breaks into star patterns--we see repeating stars throughout the book. Similarly, many things are broken: china, bones, families, marriages. Throughout the book, the characters take the broken parts of their lives and put them together in new ways, just as the china is broken into tesserae and made into new art with a different meaning and use than before.

This was a well written book, with some engaging characters, but not an unqualified success. Wanda didn't come together as a character for me; alternately obsessed, whiny and cold, it was never believable to me why she persisted in persuing her ex-boyfriend, especially when she worked with a warm and wonderful man who cared for her and treated her with respect. There was never enough information for the reader to understand why Wanda spurned Troy throughout the book, even after she met up with her old boyfriend again. Nor is it clear why Troy loved her so much.

Margaret's childhood is portrayed: she was the adored daughter of a doting and genial father, with a distant and aloof mother. The father we see with young Margaret shares no characteristics with the avaricious Jew-hater he is painted to be in the latter half of the book. The story is also saddled with the ghost of Margaret's mother, which is inconsistent with the rest of the book, which operates without any other supernatural elements. Margaret never knew her mother, and the ghost that appears in her old age is just not consistent with what she would have known of her mother earlier.

There are some rapid and successful characterizations: Susan, the nurse who becomes a boarder in Margaret's house, is presented beautifully in her interactions with the children to whom she is the nanny. Within a few pages, I loved her and wanted her to live with me--even if she didn't take care of my kids. There is some very good prose about the nature of porcelain and the emotional attachements we make with inanimate things.

So, while I didn't fall completely into its spell, Broken For You was a book I found myself longing to return to. It's a satisfying read, and I'd look forward to more work by this author.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Outsiders--S.E. Hinton

Okay, this is a book that most people read in junior high school. I first heard of it when I was in 7th grade (yes, back when dinosaurs still taught school--that long ago). One of the less stellar students gave his oral book report on it.

Did you know kids like this? This was the good looking guy who sat behind me in class, who NEVER brought a pencil or paper to class, always asked to "borrow" some from me--like I was ever going to get it back--and gave me no end of grief because I actually paid attention in class. So, I shouldn't have been surprised he liked The Outsiders so much. Actually, I think it was because he identified with it so obviously that I stayed away from it for so long.

The thing I remember the most was that he spent the entire review calling the West End kids "The Socks." "So then, Johnny got beat up by the Socks, so when the Socks came back that night..." It sounded like a bad day doing laundry.

Well now the Pony has read it for school--7th grade English--and she insisted that I read it too. So I did.

I won't bother summarizing the plot--you've all probably already read it years ago. I was struck, however, by how much it reminded me of West Side Story. So much so that I actually went back and looked up their respective histories. West Side Story came to Broadway in 1957; The Outsiders was published ten years later.

Both involve bands of boys who have organized themselves into gangs; with clearly demarked territories, with rules for fighting and a code of honor. Even when admitting to friendship with the scary Dallas, they stand up for their friends. The comparison was made explicitly to the doomed Southern gentlemen, riding off to certain death, in Gone With The Wind. Both The Outsiders and West Side Story are romances at heart--the gangs are softened, given high ideals and gentle souls: the romance of the doomed boys. I suspect the reality was less glamorous than that.

The Outsiders deals with class friction--there is none of the racial tension that fuels West Side Story--and raises the question of whether one should be proud of who you are, or whether you can escape what you are born into. The main character--Ponyboy Curtis--faces the question when he has to cut his hair to disguise himself. What did it mean that he had nothing else to be proud of except his hair and that he hung out with hoods? Was that worth being proud of?

Of course, there is the ever-present threat of the Socs--as nasty a group of madras wearing sociopaths as you'd ever meet. It might be interesting to see the story from the other point of view. I mean, assume that you are rich and handsome and you have great clothes and a great car and you rule your school. Why the hell would you go looking for some scrawny greasers to beat up? Why would you leave your side of town, your beer blasts and river parties and football practices and everything to pile into a car, go across to the poor side of town, and find some kids to beat up? As presented in the book, this happens frequently--and you really have to wonder why? What incites that kind of rage?

By midway through the book, there is a "you messed with my girl" kind of revenge battle, which at least is an attempt to explain why this would happen. It's not clear how these greasers are any kind of threat, or imposition, or even annoyance to these wealthy boys otherwise. Hinton does parse the reasons the greasers act like they do--Ponyboy asks most of them why they like to fight, as he is figuring out that he would prefer not to. There is hope that he will grow up and get out of the neighborhood--he's got good grades, he's a track star, he's actually bound for college, whether he knows it or not.

I have some quibbles: the three boys who die are almost literary cliches. Johnny was never going to grow up; he was too fragile for his environment. Like Little Eva in Uncle Tom's Cabin, he was too good for his world so he had to die. Dallas, too, was the cautionary tale character: watch out or this could happen to you--so he had to have some sort of violent end. Suicide by cop, and one can see the melodramatic end, where he stands under a streetlight and pulls an unloaded gun, then his body jerking with the force of the bullets hitting him. Just a bit over the top.

What it does do well, though, is to provide give a human voice to a character whose outer appearance doesn't match his insides. It's a way to talk about how all the characters--even the Socs--feel like outsiders. I think it would make for a fascinating study for kids who come from the metaphorical East and West sides.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Who Are The People In Your Neighborhood?

Can you sing it with me now?

"Oh, oh oh/Who are the people in your neighborhood?/In your neighborhood/In your Neigh-bor-hood/Say, who are the people in your neighborhood?/The people that you meet when you're walking down the street/They're the people that you meet each day!" (And thank you Sesame Street!)

Apparently the people in my neigborhood are fond of puns. Bermondsey and I found this at the entrance to an alley while out on one of our walks. The picture is a little blurry, because Bermondsey kept tugging at the leash while I was trying to take the picture. And then we went the other way, because if there is something my dog is, it's a piddler.

Buying For Myself This Close to Christmas!?!?!

Well, yes, but I totally had to get this. It's a CafePress camisole from I love the naked reader, with her cheeky expression, her Marion the Librarian hairdo, and her reading glasses.

It's probably not appropriate for the kidlets...but it sure amuses the hell out of me.

Photo courtesy of CafePress. All Bookslut merchandise may be purchased here.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

From The Stacks Challenge

Michelle at overdue books has posted a challenge to read 5 books from the books already on the shelves at home. After all, she says, you bought those books for a reason! Today, I officially signed up.

My list:

The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton--Pony's recommendation.
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, by Patricia C. Wrede--Bunny's recommendation
Love, by Toni Morrison
Awakening, by Kate Chopin
Broken For You, Stephanie Kallos.

Reviews to come!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Thirteenth Tale--Part 2

Well, I went ahead and finished this book, and to give credit where it is due, Setterfield stuck to her guns. She went ahead and kept to the ooky-spooky, pulling only one punch--rather than having two ghosts, she gave one a natural world explanation, but then she went full blown with the second one.

The time of the novel remains difficult to fix, although we do get intimations of telephones--but only when a storm blows the lines down, so it can't be used anyway. There is a brief scene with idled construction equipment--one of the crew uses his hands to mimic the biting motion of a steam shovel. So the odds are that this is supposed to be a modern day setting of what is essentially a high Victorian story.

Setterfield also acknowledges the artificality of this set up in a clever and knowing way. The narrator contracts a terribly high fever and collapses, waking up some days later in the care of the local doctor. His diagnosis? Too much reading of romantic fiction--Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Sense and Sensibility. In the absence of poor nutrition or other privations of the sort suffered in the past, this patient will survive. He then (literally) prescribes Sherlock Holmes stories, to be taken twice a day until the course is complete.

There is a lot of blather about the mystic nature of twins and twinness, how a twin cannot be whole in the absence of the other. It makes for some arresting visuals, as one twin thinks she sees the other in her own reflections, but I am just too much a child of the scientific method to truly accept this Romantic idea. Twins, or more specifically, identical twins, were once "one" and divided into "two," but that division happens long before birth and brain development establishes each as individual.

Still--I enjoyed it. Setterfield has certainly digested her source material--we get a madwoman starting fires, one of which burns down the house and her in it. The governess doesn't marry the gentleman of the house, but she does marry someone. We get the secret keeping housekeeper who cares for a relative who is locked away and hidden from the narrator. And that is just Jane Eyre!

There is a delightful little inside joke--which would have been funnier if she hadn't explained it--where the governess thinks she sees the twins playing together, when one twin was definitely somewhere else. That night, the book on her nightstand is missing, replaced with "a novella by Henry James." Of course, that novella is "The Turn of the Screw" in which a nervous governess is convinced her charges are being followed by ghosts.

By the end, as Setterfield starts tying up the threads of her narrative, I was reminded of one of my all time favorite books: Possession, by A.S. Byatt. Byatt, too, ties things up a bit too neatly, with every orphan found a home, every document revealing its clues at precisely the right time. But a story like this calls for at least some endings to be happy. Byatt does a much better job of conveying the power of the authors she is creating than does Setterfield, but The Thirteenth Tale is a ripping yarn and fit to be enjoyed by the fireside this winter.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

I came to this book because it is about the complex relationship between books and readers, sttrytellers and listeners, secrets and lies. The set-up is promising: a young, single woman works with her father in an antiquarian bookshop. Unexpectedly, she receives a letter from the most popular writer of all time. It is said that "Vida Winter's" sales are higher than that of the Bible, but God doesn't really keep track of the inventory.

One of Vida Winter's books is known as "The Thirteen Tales," but has only twelve short stories inside. Every interview she has given has a different story of her life, and the mystery that is Vida Winter has become one of the great conundrums of this fictional literary world. Now,the narrator has been invited to hear the true story of Ms. Winter's life. This would be the missing "Thirteenth Tale."

The tale unfolds in a damp Yorkshire house in winter. Vida Winter comes from a family of excessive emotions: her grandfather locked himself in the library for months after the death of his beloved wife; his two children had a sado-masochistic incestuous relationship of some unhealthy variation; when the daughter Isabelle was sent to a insane asylum her brother Charles lived like a beast one wing of the house and he killed himself upon hearing of her death.

Before she died, this daughter had eloped, bore twins, then returned to her childhood home a widow. These twin girls are "Vida Winter" and her sister, who have some sort of secret twin relationship that is distinctly disconcerting. The story plows on through foundling babies left on doorsteps, mysterious fires, rot and decay, adulterous affairs, ghosts and other metaphysical trappings. And I'm only just halfway through it. If this had been written by an American, it would immediately have been dismissed as "Southern Gothic," and a feeble pastiche of Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner.

As half the book takes place in Yorkshire, I can't help but think of Wuthering Heights. The quasi-incestuous connection between the first Cathy and Heathcliff is echoed in the opaque relationship between Isabelle and her brother Charles. "Isabelle" is even a character's name in Wuthering Heights. The contrast between Wuthering Heights and The Grange is mirrored in the decay of "Angelfield" that is briefly reversed during the tenure of a governess. For a several months, cleanliness and order are imposed, lasting only until the governess abruptly leaves.

The book lacks the precise grounding of Wuthering Heights, the studied detail that made the operatic passions of those characters so unsettling. The Thirteenth Tale, thus far, seems to operate in a mist. There is no way to tell when this story takes place: no one uses the telephone, all communication occurs through letters. Transportation is by train and occasionally wagon, most often walking. The narrator transcribes her notes on reams of paper with pencil. There are no clacking typewriters, or humming laptops. No cars or airplanes or evidence of world events. Should I imagine the narrator striding through the story in the hobbled skirts of the late Victorian Age? Thus far the book does not definitively answer this question.

With that fundamental vagueness unresolved, it's hard to respond viscerally to the book's attempts at hauntings. Every day seems to be rainy and dark, every garden has no obvious layout, every house has unopened door, unasnwered questions, children who are abandoned. The unrelenting "ooky spooky"-ness of it undermines the books attempt to evoke curiosity about how the dead relate to the living, and how the living might as well be dead. It all takes place in an insubstantial dream world, and so the consequences feel just as vaporous as the morning residue of dreaming.

I'm going to keep going, but it is feeling like it's gearing up to some sort of Gothic revelation and surprise twist. We've grown disenchanted with M. Night Shymalan's twisty movies, and I'm expecting to be equally unmoved by the resolution of the Thirteenth Tale.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Middlesex--Jeffrey Eugenides

I read Eugenides' first novel The Virgin Suicides about a year ago, and was struck by how well written it was. The narration is in first person plural--something you don't see a lot of in current fiction--which had the effect of making me feel included in the story in a way I wouldn't have felt with a more traditional narrative voice. It has been pointed out that the narration acts like a Greek chorus as seen in classical Greek drama.

The Virgin Suicides is almost dreamlike in its telling of the story of five sisters in a strict Catholic family who are driven to kill themselves over a relatively short period of time. The narrator is actually the collective voice of all the young men, themselves on the cusp of puberty, who are fascinated by the mystery of all girls, and the glamorous tragedy of these in particular. The novel captures the confusion of adolescence, when young men are attracted to young women, while learning how little they understand them.

I was hoping for something as affecting in Eugenides' Pulitzer Prize winning Middlesex, but I was disappointed. The story hangs on the spine of Calliope Stephanides, a girl raised in Detroit of the 1970, who is discovered to be a hermaphrodite at the age of 14. Many years later, having decided to live as a male, Cal Stephanides narrates the story of how he received the recessive genetic condition that made him neither fully male nor fully female.

The story starts with Cal's grandparents, Desdemona and Lefty Stephanides, a Greek brother and sister who lived in a small village in Turkey while it was occupied by the Greeks. As they realize their attraction to each other--compounded by the absence of other romantic candidates--the Turks retake the country and they have to flee. On board a ship to America, they enact a courtship as if they had only just met, marrying at sea and beginning their new lives as man and wife.

This was the most interesting of the stories--the one where Eugenides most unleashed his ability to imagine other places and times and make them real. The subsequent story of his parents generation--first cousins on top of the illicit parentage of one of them--simply doesn't seem to engage his interest, and if one can say he "skips lightly" over anything in a book this long, one would have to say it about this section.

Cal's troubled girlhood is really unremarkable, which is bizarre given the lengthy set up to her birth. She has her share of childhood experiences and friendship troubles, but her condition escapes notice until she fails to hit puberty. At that point, after close observation by a specialist, the recommendation is made to surgically conform her body to her gender identification--female. Cal, however, has been lying to the doctor about how she truly feels about topics of sexuality and attraction, and so s/he declares himself to be a boy and runs away.

At this point, I lost my patience with the story. Mind you, I had read about seven thousand pages by now, all of which seemed to be foreshadowing things that simply weren't happening. And after that point, it got silly. Cal found his way to San Francisco where he performed in a hermaphroditic strip club. The local priest tried to extort money from Cal's parents, and Cal's father died in a high speed chase across the Canadian border. Eventually, I just put the sucker down.

What I loved about The Virgin Suicides was the amazing way he demonstrated the different worlds the boys and girls lived in--the oppressive horror of the girls' restricted lives, and the romantic way the boys perceived those lives. I had hoped for Middlesex to take that contrast one step closer, showing how the boy/girl experienced the differences of living with those different gender identities. Instead, when I got to mutual declarations of hermaphroditic free love in San Francisco, I found myself in a different book than the one I had wanted to read.

I started this post in March of 2006, and only finished it in October of the same year. And in the intervening 7 months, I have had no desire to go back and finish this one. Guess I'll cross it off my To Be Read list.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Amerika, by Franz Kafka

Okay, time to be pretentious.

Mr. Sweetie and I had a date last weekend--both of the kidlets were off at slumber parties, so we did something grown up and date like--we went to a play.

The Emmy winning regional theater was performing their adaptation of Amerika--a work I knew nothing about. I had read several Kafka short stories, and the play had received a number of positive reviews, so we went.

Well--I didn't understand much, and found myself enjoying it less and less. Sure, Kafka is bleak and depressing, but the reviews had promised it would be funny! But it wasn't--at least not funny enough to overcome the bleak and depressing parts.

Well, I refuse to be defeated by a mere play! So, I got home and Googled Kafka. More interesting than the analysis of Amerika were the biographical facts. Kafka was the son of a domineering father and (apparently) passive mother, who never truly separated from his parents. While he took a law degree and began his career, by his mid-40s he had contracted tuberculosis which forced him to retire and to make do on money her received from his parents.

In the light of this, Kafka's writings make much more sense to me. Amerika is a surrealistic story about a young boy sent packing from his home after he was seduced by a much older housemaid. He is sent to Amerika, a place that Kafka never went--and despite making every effort, he is systematically misunderstood, abandoned, stripped of his possessions and clothing. After each episode, he is left with less than he started with, and his spiral is inexorably downward.

I have not had much exposure to people from abusive backgrounds, but what little I have has convinced me that Kafka's work is a working out of his relationship with his father--trying to do the right thing, yet always, inevitably, being wrong. Kafka's characters seek validation and acknowledgement from authorities who refuse to be placated. Each attempt to win love and support from an abusive parent leaves the child with fewer emotional resources and binds him closer to the parent.

Kafka's work resonates for me with this theme. In The Trial, Josef K is arrested and put on trial, but he never is able to understand what it is he did. The charges are never explained, only punishment is meted out. In Metamorphsis, Gregor Samsa awakes to find himself a cockroach. The transformation is never explained, only the consequences. He is locked into his room, disowned by his family. Eventually Gregor's father is so disgusted by this giant cockroach that he throws an apple core, which lands on the insect's back. Gregor has no way to remove it, and no one will come to his aid. Eventually--through no fault of his own, the apple rots and poisons him, so he dies.

Such lonliness--such isolation! Kafka wrote most of his works before World War I, and he died before World War II, but somehow I associated his writings with the paranoia of Stalinist communism. Certainly, The Trial smacks of the show trials and disappearances of mid-20th century Eastern Europe. But I think that puts too much political significance to something that is more easily understood as a response to Kafka's personal life. As the child of a domineering father, Kafka struggled with the injustice of being punished for crimes that he had not committed, but was unable to defend himself.

I am certain that there are many sophisticated analyses of Kafka as a political writer, and I don't wish to seem ignorant of those aspects. However, for me, the political aspects of Kafka come out of the personal, and I find myself a more sympathetic audience for his works as a result.

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Hours--Michael Cunningham

I loved this book when I read it three years ago. Yes, it was three years ago--I found the grocery store receipt I was using as a book mark. Trust me, it was three years ago.

I loved this movie when I saw it. Really great performances by a well chosen cast. Julianne Moore was better in this movie than in Far From Heaven.

So, when my RL bookclub chose this for our February book--I didn't want to re-read it. It's really a good book, and worth discovering, but I wasn't sure I wanted to re-read it.

Because, as I remembered it, it was so depressing. Just so unhappy.

Admittedly, I read it in a time where I was coming out of some seriously painful depression. I was finally gaining some traction on happiness, but was still dealing with a lot of the pain that depression causes--in me, and in those around me. One of the things one deals with in depression, is the sense that if one was just good enough, strong enough, had just enough will power, it would just go away. The phrase "by the bootstraps" is one that applies--shouldn't you just be able to think your way out of it? Just suck it up and keep moving.

Of course, that's not how it works--or at least it didn't work that way for me. It took too many years of inadequate medication before I finally got the right combination, and started to recover my personality. So, the book had a lot of resonance with me. Laura Brown, the bookworm trapped in the housewife role of suburban L.A., with the small child she felt so inadequate to raise--I had a great deal of sympathy for that situation. How do you get through all those hours? Hours and hours until--what? It doesn't get better, but at least you get to read, or sleep, or something to ease the pain of all those hours.

Virginia Woolf, as imagined by Michael Cunningham, was also familiar. There is always the fear that the madness is returning. There is one powerful moment in the book when she stops still, feeling the headache coming on. There is that horrifying moment--is this it?--but no, it is not the headache. The madness is at bay.

Really, when you read The Hours, you don't question why Woolf killed herself, bu how she managed to wait eighteen years after Mrs. Dalloway before she did. Poor Laura Brown--she lasted another five years before she left, and hellish years they must have been. Not that anyone was a fault--there was nothing wrong with the people around these women, but brain chemistry is tremendously determinative.

At book discussion, one of my dear and lovely friends just couldn't bear Laura Brown. As with other books we have read where the mother tries to flee her job in the family, my dear dear friend just had no patience. "Once you are a mother, you just don't have the luxury of staying in bed and reading. Those kids are there and they need you, and you just have to suck it up, lady, and do what you need to do!"

I must say that my friend is a wonderful mother, and her kids are in high school or college, and she is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps. Or, more likely, she is just too mentally healthy to fathom what depression is like. And good for her! But the need to escape is not just a luxury, or failure of will power. It is painful to stay, and painful to flee. Leaving behind your children is like gnawing your own leg off, but it was something Laura had to do or else she would have died. Attempted suicide was not a response to a bad day, and leaving her family was not done on a whim, but was the only alternative she could see. And I felt that deeply three years ago.

But I did re-read it, and found more hope and joy than I had remembered. Plus the writing--lordy, the writing! Precisely observed emotional states, conveyed moment by moment--the literary innovation Woolf achieved pushed beyond what she had been able to achieve. Because Cunningham's book doesn't just transpose Mrs. Dalloway to modern America, but it expands on the story, by exploring the differing responses the story makes on the writer, the reader, and the one who simply lives the life. Cunningham also places common elements in each story, but makes them fundamentally different so the connections resonate subconsciously.

For example, the yellow roses. Most obviously, Laura Brown makes yellow frosting roses for her husband's birthday cake. Virginia Woolf provides yellow roses for the bird funeral her niece and nephews hold. Clarissa's partner Sally buys yellow roses as a gift to Clarissa. All are disappointing in various ways. Laura put the roses on first, then tried to write between them with frosting, and felt she should have done it the other way around. Virginia's niece placed the roses around the bier and then laid the thrush inside the ring, and Virginia felt it should have been done the other way around.

It's a wonderful piece of writing, and Michael Cunningham was justly praised for that book.

One last note: my lovely and healthy friend provided our dessert that night--a cake with yellow frosting roses and "Happy Birthday Dan" on it.

Welcome To My Evil Book Blog!

I read.

I read a lot.

A lot a lot.

So much that I forget what I have read and what I thought about it.

This is where I will post my current books, my reviews, and anything else bookish that catches my fancy.

I promise I will title each post with the title of the book, for easy reference.

Thanks! I'm here all week! And tip your waiter!