Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The 19th Wife (novel)

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

This is my book club's current reading selection, which is good since I've had it on my to-read list for a while. It's the fictional account of the life of Ann Eliza Young, apparently notoriously known as "The 19th Wife" of Brigham Young, one of the founders of the Mormon church. Her narrative is intertwined with the narrative of a modern-day murder mystery that takes place within an extremist fundamentalist LDS sect where polygamy still rules. Although Ann Eliza's account is fictional, the author based it on a lot of research, as well as Ann Eliza's actual memoirs that were published in the late nineteenth century. I'll spare my opinion of the religious aspects of the story, which are apparently based on fact, except to say "Wow. People really believe this crap?"

It's a very creatively written book, in which the author utilizes fictional diary entries, fictional newspaper clippings, and even a fictional Wikipedia entry. the story is told chronologically but from several people's perspectives, and illustrates very well how there is no one truth to any story; everyone has their own truth.

It's a good book, although it dragged a little at times and I felt it could have been about 100 pages shorter and still told the same story.

I borrowed this so can't pass it along, but I do recommend it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

This Lovely Life (memoir)

This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman

I know Ecki already reviewed this book here not long ago, but having just finished it tonight myself, I wanted to post about it as well.

I'll start by saying that a friend sent this book to me a couple months ago and I have procrastinated reading it, being convinced that I would sob my way through the entire thing. This book has become well known enough in the parents-of-special-needs-children-blogging community that its reputation as a tear-jerker precedes it, so I had to really psyche myself up for it.

And indeed, having finished it about an hour ago after hardly being able to put it down for the last three days or so, I feel wrung out. I did not, however, cry my way through the entire book. In fact, there were only a handful of passages that had me in tears.

The book is Ms. Forman's recounting of the extremely premature birth of her twins, and the aftermath of that. Born at just 23 weeks gestation, the author and her husband wanted only to "let them go," knowing full well the probable ramifications of forcing these severely premature babies to live. But California law mandated that the attending doctors institute measures to preserve the lives of the twins. One of the babies, a girl, died four days later, and the other, a little boy, lived and wound up profoundly disabled: blind, cerebral palsy, dependent on a feeding tube, developmentally impaired, a devastating seizure disorder, and non-verbal.

And yet, the love and devotion of this mother to this baby - and to the daughter who died in her arms at four days old - transcends the horrors of multiple surgeries and dire pronouncements.

I identified with many of the feelings described by the author: the denial, the grief, the disbelief. But then I find myself thinking that my feelings of identification are arrogant. My son was born with Down syndrome and required major surgery at a day old, but his survival has never been in question, and although we live with the knowledge that he will always be developmentally and cognitively impaired, his disabilities seem like almost nothing compared to the trials the author and her family withstood.

All through the book, I kept thinking, on some level, that yes, they should have let the babies go when they were born so terribly early. Evan's life seemed to be one of great suffering, and it was hard not to think that it would have been better for him to have died with his twin sister. What was the point of it all? There are those who believe in a God who orchestrates all of our lives with some plan, that everything happens for a reason, a purpose. These are not my beliefs, and I have not settled on an answer to the question of "What was the point?" Just as I have never been able to settle on an answer to "What is the point in our having a child with Down syndrome?" or "What is the point in my husband having cancer?" Sometimes there just are no answers, there is no point.

But Evan was loved, and he loved. And maybe that was the point of his life.

Clearly, this story has affected me deeply and I don't think I'll forget it for a very long time. Read it. Mine's up for grabs if anyone wants it.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity

Loose Girl by Kerry Cohen

Sounds titillating, eh? That's why I bought it. I was never one of those girls, but I've always been rather intrigued by those girls. What's it like? What drives them?

I mistakenly assumed that this would be a memoir of grown-up escapades, but it's actually the author's recounting of her life of promiscuity beginning as a young teen. Between the ages of roughly 15 to 25, she slept with more than 40 boys, many of them whose names she can't recall, some whose names she never knew in the first place. It was heartbreaking to read about how empty and lost she felt, and how her hunger for sex was really just a quest for love and acceptance - to feel like she mattered - things she didn't get from her parents.

It's eye-opening, tragic, and ultimately uplifting.

Anyone want my copy?

Monday, January 4, 2010

A Wolf at the Table

Well, author Augsten Burroughs certainly has gotten a lot of books out of his dysfunctional family! A Wolf at the Table focuses on the author's relationship, or rather lack thereof, with his father.

The story is told without Burroughs usual humor. It's pretty straightforward and very sad. Incidents from his childhood are told with such intensity it's like watching a horror movie. There's so much tension between father and son.

I can't imagine why the father, a college professor who seems so normal on the outside, could be so indifferent towards his own child. Obviously he has some sort of mental illness. And I thought his mother from Running With Scissors was crazy!

As Burroughs becomes successful, he tries in vain to connect with his father. And he fears that he is becoming too much like his father--seemingly respectable professional by day, monster by night. I wish there was a bit more about this in the book, but perhaps it is in another one of his memoirs.

Definitely not typical of this author, but worth the read.

I have this book on loan to a friend right now, but if she returns it, I'd be happy to pass it along.

Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia was supposed to be our book club's December selection but apparently everyone who started it hated it, so we just ended up having a holiday party, LOL.

I haven't seen the movie, so I don't know how closely (if at all!) the movie follows the book. There's very little about Julia Child, it's mostly about Julie's life and her blogging quest to cook all the recipes from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

The book is totally trendy. There's so many pop culture references I can't imagine it will be relevant 10 years from now. And there's a lot of sex talk, but I found it pretty funny, not offensive. Ditto to all the slamming of Republicans!

The main draw of the book for me was the whole "How Blogging Changed My Life" theme. I can relate to that! I suppose it's only a small part of the book, but absolutely loved the various blog comments that she mentions and the whole relationship she has with her readers. Like when she wants to give up on the whole project, but her readers encourage her to continue with their comments.

I sort of glossed over all the cooking stuff. I don't cook, so that part of it didn't interest me at all. And there's A LOT of details about her misadventures in cooking.

It's a quick easy read, and I give it a lukewarm recommendation -- unless you're a Conservative Republican, then you'll probably hate it.

My copy's up for grabs!

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle (novel)

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski


At well over 500 pages, I put off reading it until I knew I had a good chunk of time to devote to it (between my book club's selections), but I think I got through it in under two weeks. I had a lot of trouble putting it down.

Set in rural Wisconsin, it tells the story of a small family who raise a fictional breed of dog on their farm. The story mostly centers around Edgar, the son, in the family. He is born unable to speak and communicates in sign and has an extraordinary relationship with the dogs his family breeds - most especially with Almondine, who, although a dog, is Edgar's soulmate, and makes it her responsibility to look after him and be his companion from the time he is born.

Edgar and his family enjoy a mostly peaceful existence until Claude, Edgar's uncle, resurfaces after years of absence. Claude is a somewhat mysterious and sinister person whose re-entrance into the Sawtelle family brings trouble. Eventually Edgar is forced to flee into the wilderness beyond his family's farm, where he comes of age with the three young dogs who accompany him. In the end, Edgar must choose whether to remain away, or to go back home and face the string of disasters that drove him away.

This book is very visual; the characters are richly drawn, the story is multi-layered and so full of beautiful prose that I felt completely drawn in, as if I were there, living and breathing in every scene. Wroblewski's lush descriptions reminded me of Charles Frazier and Kent Haruf. While there is an aspect of the supernatural, it only adds to the richness of the story.

The ending is unexpected and not entirely satisfying, but that's the worst thing I can say about this book. All in all, it's one of the best novels I've read in a long time.

I'm going to hang on to my copy, but I highly recommend this book!