We can wonder if, for all our separate histories, we are not more alike than different after all. ~Elizabeth Strout
In 1959, life in small town America revolved around family, school, work, and church which was pretty much the same decades before and decades since. Houses may have updated appliances, driveways new cars, and schools fitted with updated technology but people tend to stay the same. They root for a winner but can’t help finding fault, gossiping, and crucifying others for perceived slights, petty jealousies, or simply because they have nothing else to do. And, as soon as a person is knocked down to size, they come together to lift him or her up, rejoicing in their newfound redemption. Such is the story of the townspeople in a small northeastern town in Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout. Read more
Because if everyone just turns out like their mother, then what’s the rat’s-ass point?”
Elizabeth Strout is one of the few writers who has mastered the art of writing about difficult women we loathe but love to read about. In her Pulitzer-prize winning novel, Olive Kitteridge (2009), Strout gave us an opinionated, forthright, bossy, cantankerous, and self-righteous protagonist (Olive Kitteridge) who was also loyal, honest, and conscientious. Most readers identified in some way with Olive Kitteridge – the school teacher, the wife of the local pharmacist, and the mother who loved imperfectly – but felt relieved the similarities only went so far. Read more
Before you pick up the book, Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout, do yourself a favor and read My Name is Lucy Barton first. Both books stand alone as good reads but collectively these fictional stories are even better because the first book sets the stage and introduces a cast of colorful characters whose lives intertwine in the most bizarre ways in the second book. Read more
A picture is worth a thousand words.
People often talk about the power of words but consider for a moment the power of pictures. The well-known saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” is easily understood when we think of the Mona Lisa or American Gothic but the meaning takes on a whole new dimension when applied to a children’s picture book called Journey by Aaron Becker, a man who has been known to say his favorite destination remains in his imagination. Read more
Vietnam is a country, not a war.
The war known as the “Vietnam War” was fought by the generation before mine from the early 1960’s until 1975. In the most simplistic terms, the Vietnam war was a civil war between North and South Vietnam (sound familiar?) with the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong (a South Vietnamese Communist group) fighting to reunify Vietnam under a communist rule.
The US became involved in the conflict to prevent communism from spreading because the American leaders felt threatened by democracy’s counterpart. Russia and China backed North Vietnam while the US, South Korea, Australia and several other countries backed South Vietnam. After years of fighting, the North Vietnamese captured Saigon in 1975 ending the war (the US lost) and the two regions were reunified into a communist country. Read more
Little girls are resilient creatures, hiding in graveyards, under a white coat, behind the bathroom mirror of a 747. Every so often we dare ourselves to peek out and sometimes we even move forward, into the daylight – where the assassin has the open shot.
In Hesitation Wounds by Amy Koppelman, the reader is introduced to Dr. Susanna Seliger, a 43-year old psychiatrist who specializes in treatment resistant depression – a career that requires minimal emotional involvement with patients who have exhausted traditional therapy methods. Her tools are primarily drugs and electrocompulsive shock therapy, the latter of which often causes memory loss – the irony of which is not lost on the reader as the story unfolds. Read more
Ann Patchett’s most recent work of fiction, Commonwealth is the story of two families: the Keatings (Fix and Beverly and their two young daughters, Caroline and Franny) and the Cousins (Bert and Teresa and their four young children, Cal, Holly, Jeanette, and Albie) over a 50-year period that spans from the 1960’s to current times. Read more
Halloween is that one day of the year when it’s all about the candy from the moment the kids wake up to that serene moment when you tuck their sugar laden bodies into bed. Although most people have to go with the flow and tolerate their kids bringing bags of sugary candy (is there any other kind?) home, there are ways to work around the system and provide trick or treaters (and your kids) with a delicious treat that isn’t loaded with garbage. Read more
I keep thinking about this river somewhere, with the water moving really fast. And these two people in the water, trying to hold onto each other, holding on as hard as they can, but in the end it’s just too much. The current’s too strong. They’ve got to let go, drift apart.
Never Let Me Go was written by Kazuo Ishiguro, the prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day. Nominated for several awards (Booker Prize, Arthur C. Clarke Award, and National Book Critics Circle Award), Never Let Me Go is the story of three children – Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy – who were students at a prestigious and very exclusive boarding school in the English countryside called Hailsham. Read more
I’m so tired of being everybody’s fool.
Twenty-three years ago, a wonderful book entitled Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo was published. Set in upstate New York in a small town called North Bath (thinly veiled and thought to be Schuylerville) adjacent to Schuyler Springs (again, thinly veiled and thought to be Saratoga Springs), the story revolved around Donald “Sully” Sullivan – a middle-aged, stubborn and cantankerous man who chose to be faithful only to his nature – independent and undependable – and yet Sully was a good guy. At the end of each day, his destination of choice was a bar stool in the local watering hole where he gave as good as he got. Although Sully was a neglectful husband and father, he had an abundance of charm and wit which endeared him to many, especially readers. Read more