Penultimate update: I've gone back to this book with more patience and interest, and have again become engaged with the Alma and her adventures.
UpdatePenultimate update: I've gone back to this book with more patience and interest, and have again become engaged with the Alma and her adventures.
Update again: While I'm still enjoying bits and pieces of this novel and Gilbert's wordsmithing, the story has stymied for me and I'm getting a little bored. And I can't read Orange is the New Black because the library is repairing the kindle that it's on, and so I don't really have another book to read right this second on my backlit kindle without having to turn on a light and make everybody mad. Is this not the world's most literary first world problem?!? sigh. Time to start YET ANOTHER book?
Update: I so love the use of language in this novel. It is written almost as an epic, but with little adventure or danger- more like one of those BBC epics where each descriptive phrase and adjective is used in such a way as to draw the reader into the direct experience of being with the character in even the most mundane of situations. I love the English language, and how it can be manipulated, how it is multifaceted like gemstones, and how each facet of a word-gem could mean something altogether different, layering meaning upon meaning upon meaning, and ultimately leading to a richer experience for all involved.
Here are a few passages that have caught my eye for one reason or another (interesting use of language, imagery, a great quote in general, etc), and remember, future self, when you look back on this review, that your brain is camp-muddled, sleep-deprived, and absolutely out of rhythm with your daily life, and has been as you've read this book thusfar.
"Holding her robust infant, Beatrix murmured a prayer in her native Dutch. She prayed that her daughter would grow up to be healthy and sensible and intelligent, and would never form associations with overly powdered girls, or laugh at vulgar stories, or sit at gaming tables with careless men, or read French novels, or behave in a manner suited only to a savage Indian, or in any way whatsoever become the worst sort of discredit to a good family; namely that she not grow up to be een onnozelaar, a simpleton. Thus concluded her blessing--or what constitutes a blessing, from so austere a woman as Beatrix Whittaker."
"He began: 'A new nobbel and entresting pasennger has joyned us,' and continued with the details, the timing, and the expenses of Alma Whittaker's birth. His penmanship was shamefully crabbed. Each sentence was a crowded village of capital letters and small letters, living side by side in tight misery, crawling up on one another as though trying to escape the page. His spelling was several degrees beyond arbitrary, and his punctuation brought reason to sigh with unhappiness."
"Henry Whittaker was born in 1760 in the village of Richmond, just up the Thames from London. He was the youngest son of poor parents who had a few too many children already. He was raised in two small rooms with a floor of beaten earth, with an almost adequate roof, with a meal on the hearth nearly every day, with a mother who did not drink and a father who did not beat his family -- by comparison to many families of the day, in other words, a nearly genteel existence."
"Henry, the youngest, was in some ways the roughest of them all, and perhaps needed to be, to survive his brothers. He was a stubborn and enduring little whippet, a thin and exploding contrivance, who could be trusted to receive his brothers' beatings stoically, and whose fearlessness was frequently put to the test by others, who liked to dare him into taking risks. Even apart from his brothers, Henry was a dangerous experimentalist, a lighter of illicit fires, a roof-scampering taunter of housewives, a menace to smaller children; a boy who one would not have been surprised to learn had fallen from a church steeple or drowned in the Thames--though by sheer happenstance these scenarios never came to pass."
"'Henry, do not be bold. You can butcher the sheep only once. But if you are careful, you can shear the sheep every year."'
"Oh, Sir Joseph Banks! That beautiful, whoring, ambitious, competitive adventurer!" "During his adventure, Banks had seduced Tahitian queens, danced naked with savages on beaches, and watched young heathen girls having their buttocks tattooed in the moonlight. He had brought home with him to England a Tahitian man named Omai, to be kept as a pet, and he had also brought home nearly four thousand plant specimens--almost half of which the world of science had never before seen. Sir Joseph Banks was the most famous and dashing man in England, and Henry admired him enormously. But he stole from him anyway."
"Within a year Henry had several regular clients. One of them, an old orchid cultivator from the Paris Botanical Gardens, gave the boy perhaps the first pleasing compliment of his life: 'You're a useful little fingerstink, aren't you?'"
"I prefer a Scotsman to an Englishman for this sort of work, you know. They are more cold-minded and constant, more fit to pursue their object with relentless ardor, which is what you want in your man abroad."
"To be prosperous and happy in life, Henry, it is simple. Pick one woman, pick it well, and surrender."
"The moment she irritated her father, she would be banished from the room, so she learned from earliest milky consciousness never to nettle or provoke Henry."
"Henry would not allow Alma to fear any of those things. Before she even properly understood what death was, he was forbidding her to fear that, as well. 'People die every day,' he told her. 'But there are eight thousand chances against its being you.'"
"Soames the pony was Alma's constant companion on these forays -- sometimes carrying her through the forest, sometimes following along behind her like a large, well-mannered dog. In the summer, he wore splendid silk tassels in his ears, to keep out the flies. In the winter, he wore fur beneath his saddle. Soames was the best botanical collecting partner one could ever imagine, and Alma talked to him all day long. He would do absolutely anything for the girl, except move quickly. Only occasionally did he eat the specimens."
"Beatrix's decision was swift and unhesitating. Without another word of protest, Henry conceded. Also, he had no choice." (<-- oh come on! That's hilarious!)
"Later in life, when Alma was a woman of science, she would better understand how the introduction of any new element into a controlled environment will alter that environment in manifold and unpredictable ways, but as a child, all she sensed was a hostile invasion and a premonition of doom."
"'No outbreak of jealousy or malice has ever been welcomed in God's eyes,' Beatrix continued, 'nor shall such an outbreak ever be welcomed in the eyes of your family. If you have sentiments within you that are unpleasant or uncharitable, let them fall stillborn to the ground. Become the master of yourself."
"One winter's day, when the girls were about fifteen years old, an old friend of Henry's from the Calcutta Botanical Gardens came to visit White Acre after many years away. Standing in the entryway, still shaking the snow off his cloak, the guest shouted, 'Henry Whittaker, you weasel! Show me that famous daughter of yours I've been hearing so much about!' The girls were just nearby, transcribing botanical notes in the drawing room. They could hear every word. Henry, in his great crashing voice, said, 'Alma! Come instantly! You are requested to be seen!' Alma rushed into the atrium, bright with expectation. The stranger looked at her for a moment, then burst out laughing. He said, 'No, you bloody fool--that's not the one I meant! I want to see the pretty one!' Without a trace of rebuke, Henry replied, 'Oh, so you're interested in Our Little Exquisite, then? Prudence, come in here! You are requested to be seen!' Prudence slipped through the entryway and stood beside Alma, whose feet were now sinking into the floor, as into a thick and terrible swamp. 'There we are!' said the guest, looking over Prudence as though pricing her out. 'Oh, she is splendid, isn't she? I had wondered. I had suspected everyone might have been exaggerating.' Henry waved his hand dismissively. 'Ah, you all make too much of Prudence,' he said. To my mind, the homely one is worth ten of the pretty one.' So, you see, it is quite possible that both girls suffered equally."
"In all of our lives, there are days that we wish we could see expunged from the record of our very existence. Perhaps we long for that erasure because a particular day brought us such splintering sorrow that we can scarcely bear to think of it ever again. Or we might wish to blot out an episode forever because we behaved so poorly on that day - we were mortifyingly selfish, or foolish to an extraordinary degree. Or perhas we injured another person and wish to disremember out guilt. Tragically, there are some days in a lifetime when all three of those things happen at once -- when we are heartbroken and foolish and unforgivably injurious to others, all at the same time."
"'Well, child, you my do whatever you like with your suffering,' Hanneke said mildly. 'It belongs to you. But I shall tell you what I do with mine. I grasp it by the small hairs, I cast it to the ground, and I grind it under the heel of my boot. I suggest you learn to do the same.' And so Alma did. She learned how to grind her disappointments under the heel of her boot. She had sturdy boots in her possession too, and thus she was well outfitted for the task. She made an effort to turn her sorrows into a gritty powder that could be kicked into the ditch. She did this every day, sometimes even several times a day, and that is how she proceeded."
"What's more, of course, Prudence was vividly beautiful--a fact that always draws attention--and the contrast between her exquisite face and her plain mode of living only made her a more fascinating subject. With her elegant white wrists and delicate neck peeking from within those dreary clothes, she had every appearance of being a goddess in captivity -- Aphrodite trapped in a convent."
"She felt the familiar old constriction in her chest - that combination of desire and urgency."
"I must say that I enjoyed the private carriage ride- a first, in my long life. I am so accustomed to traveling in close quarters with squalling children, unhappy animals, and loud men smoking thick cigars that I scarcely knew what to do with myself for such a long spell of solitude and tranquility. 'What did you do with yourself, then?' Alma asked, smiling at his enthusiasm. 'I befriended a quiet view of the road.'"
"Now Alma was laughing, too. The reserve that normally exists between two strangers was thoroughly absent. Perhaps it had never been there at all."
"'What profound reward you must glean from studying the world so closely,' Ambrose went on. 'Too many people turn away from small wonders, I find. There is so much more potency to be found in detail than in generalities, but most souls cannot train themselves to sit still for it.'"
"Why am I not content simply to admire mosses, or even draw them, if their designs please me so much? Why must I pick at their secrets, and beg them for answers about the nature of life itself?"
"'Why did you finally come home, then?' 'Loneliness.'"
"He had the most extraordinary frankness, Alma marveled at it. She could never imagine admitting such a weakness as loneliness."
"'Why are you not a minister, in that case?' 'My mother wonders the same thing, Mr. Whittaker. I am afraid I have too many questions about religion to be a good minister.' 'Religion?' Henry frowned. 'What the deuce does religion have to do with being a good minister? It is a profession like any other profession, young man. You fit yourself to the task, and keep your opinions private. That is what all good ministers do--or should!'"
"It may have been the middle of the night, and Alma may have been asleep only moments earlier, but still her mind was a fearfully well trained machine of botanical calculation, which is why she instantly heard the abacus beads in her brain begin clicking toward an understanding."
"'Don't go too far with the cleaning,' Ambrose cautioned. 'A little neglect can be of benefit. Have you ever noticed how the most splendid lilacs, for instance, are the ones that grow up alongside derelict barns and abandoned shacks? Sometimes beauty needs a bit of ignoring, to properly come into being.'"
"'Poor creature. I have such sympathy for the mad. Whenever I am around them, I feel it straight to my soul. I think anyone who claims never to have felt insane is lying.'"
"The entirety of your being is reassuring, Alma. Even your voice is reassuring. For those of us who sometimes feel as though we are blowing about our lives like chaff on a miller's floor, your presence is a most appreciated consolation."
"'You are not rude,' Ambrose said. 'I enjoy your curiosity. It's merely that I'm uncertain how to offer you a satisfactory answer. One does not wish to lose the fondness of people one admires by revealing too much of oneself.'"
"Ambrose regarded her carefully before continuing. He looked at her as though she were a thermometer or a compass--as though he were trying to gauge her, as though he were choosing a direction in which to turn based entirely on the nature of her response."
"The old cobbler had believed in something he called 'the signature of all things'--namely, that God had hidden clues for humanity's betterment inside the design of every flower, leaf fruit, and tree on earth. All the natural world was a divine code, Boehme claimed, containing proof of our Creator's love. This is why so many medicinal plants resembled the diseases they were meant to cure, or the organs they were able to treat."
"'But I suppose I will always long for something else.' 'What do you long for, precisely?' Alma asked. 'Purity,' he said, 'and communion.'"
"After what I have seen, and because of what I can no longer see, I am always somewhat lonely. But I find that I am less lonely in your company than I am at other times." Alma nearly felt she would cry when she heard this. She considered how to respond. Ambrose had always given so freely of his confidences, yet she had never shared her own. He was brave with his admissions. Although his admissions frightened her, she should return his bravery in kind. 'You bring me respite from my loneliness, as well,' Alma said. This was difficult for her to confess. She could not bear to look at him as she said it, but at least her voice did not waver."
"'We are the dearest of friends. You may always confide in me. You may even trouble me at times. I was honored by your confidences. But in my desire to better understand you, I am afraid I am falling quite out of my depth.' 'And what do these books tell you about me?' 'Nothing,' Alma replied. She could not help but laugh, and Ambrose laughed with her. She was quite exhausted. He looked weary as well. 'Then why do you not ask me yourself?'"
'I think you remarkable. I am touched that you are trying to comprehend me. A friend could not be more loving. I am more touched, still, that you are trying to understand-through rational thought-that which cannot be understood at al. There is no exact principle to be found here.'
"...for me, to experience life through mere reason is to feel about in the dark for God's face while wearing heavy gloves. It is not enough only to study and depict and describe. One must sometimes...leap."
'On the whole of things, Alma, I still see more wonder in the world than suffering.' 'I know you do...and that is why I worry for you. You are an idealist, which means that you are destined to be disappointed, and perhaps even wounded. You seek a gospel of benevolence and miracle, which leaves no room for the sorrows of existence.'
'To hear what?' 'Each other, perhaps. Not each other's words, but each other's thoughts. Each other's spirit. If you ask me what I believe, I shall tell you this: the whole sphere of air that surrounds us, Alma, is alive with invisible attractions-electric, magnetic, fiery and thoughtful. There is a universal sympathy all around us. There is a hidden means of knowing. I am certain of this, for I have witnessed it myself. When I swung myself into the fire as a young man, I saw that the storehouses of the human mind are rarely ever fully opened. When we open them, nothing remains unrevealed. When we cease all argument and debate - both internal and external- our true questions can be heard and answered. That is the powerful mover. That is the book of nature, written neither in Greek nor Latin. That is the gathering of magic, and it is a gathering that, I have always believed and wished, can be shared.'
'She did not expect what she encountered in that first touch: the fierce, staggering onrush of love. It went through her like a sob.'
'He slept as easefully as a man could possibly sleep. He slept like a rich burgher in a fine hotel. He slept like a king after a long day of boar hunding and jousting. He slept like a princely Mohammedan, sated by a dozen comely concubines. He slept like a child under a tree. Alma did not sleep.'
'Her heart was so broken that she did not know how it was possible she could still be alive....She felt listless, tragic, and slightly murderous.'
'But Alma thought that it WOULD kill her, this profundity of sorrow. She could not sound out the bottom of it. She had been sinking into it for a year and a half, and feared she would sink forevermore.'
'"One must bear what cannot be escaped," she told Alma as she rubbed clean her face. "You will not die of your grief - no more than the rest of us ever have....we all fall prey to nonsense sometimes, child, and sometimes we are fool enough to even love it. Do you think you are the only one to suffer? Read your Bible, child; this world is not a paradise but a vale of tears. Do you think God made an exception for you? Look around you, what do you see? All is anguish. Everywhere you turn there is sorrow. If you do not see sorrow at first glance, look more carefully. You will soon enough see it."'
'Alma accepted and admired the Lord as the designer and prime mover of the universe, but to her mind He was a daunting, distant, and even pitiless figure. Any being who could create a world of such acute suffering was not the being to approach for solace from the tribulations of that world.'
'"There are 2 things that I have always observed to be in singular accord: supercelestial thoughts and subterranean conduct."'
'Rumors are a precious currency that burn holes in the pocket and are always, eventually, spent.'
'There was nobody for Alma to speak to of serious matters, so she decided to stop speaking of serious matters. She resolved to be of good cheer...' ...more
“You sit in silence, don’t you? No hymns, no prayers, no preacher to make you think. Why’s that?” “We are listening.” “For whatPassages that struck me:
“You sit in silence, don’t you? No hymns, no prayers, no preacher to make you think. Why’s that?” “We are listening.” “For what?” “For God.” “Can’t you hear God in a sermon or a hymn?” Honor was reminded of standing outside St. Mary’s church in Bridgport, just across the street from the Meeting House. The congregation had been singing, and she had been briefly envious of the sound. “It is less distracting in the silence,” she said. “Sustained silence allows one truly to listen to what is deep inside. We call it waiting in expectation.”
“When the mind is clear, one turns inward and sinks into a deep stillness. There is peace there, and a strong sense of being held by what we call the Inner Spirit, or the Inner Light.” She paused. “I have not yet felt that in America.”
“Honor Bright, you are one delicate flower. You think just ‘cause Quakers say everyone is equal in God’s eyes, that means they’ll be equal in each other’s?”
As a child she had been taught that everyone has a measure of the Light in them, and though the amount can vary, all must try to live up to their measure.
It always took some time for a Meeting to grow still and quiet, like a room where dust has been stirred up and must settle. People shifted in their seats to find comfortable positions, rustled and coughed, their physical restlessness reflecting their minds, still active with daily concerns. One by one, though, they set aside thoughts about business, or crops, or meals, or grievances, to focus on the Inner Light they knew to be the manifestation of God within. Though a Meeting started out quiet, the quality of the silence gradually changed so that there came a moment when the air itself seemed to gather and thicken. Though there was no outer sign of it, it became clear that collectively the Meeting was beginning to concentration on something much deeper and more powerful. It was then that Honor sank down inside herself. When she found the place she sought, she could remain there for a long time, and see it too in the open faces of surrounding Friends.
Taking a deep breath, she sought inside herself to find steadiness. Everyone has a piece of God in them, she reminded herself, even a man hiding in the yard.
More than these clues, though, Honor began to be able to sense when a presence hovered on the outskirts of the farm. It was as if she carried an inner barometer that measured the change in the surrounding are, as one senses the air swelling before a thunderstorm. The shift was so clear that she marveled none of the others seemed to notices. To her, people’s beings gave off a kind of cold heat. Perhaps that was what Friends meant by an Inner Light.
..now for the first time in America she really was completely alone, forced to confront the vast indifference of the natural world around her and the stars and moon overhead. This feeling grew so strong that at last it overwhelmed her, the hard cruelty of the world pressing into her like cold metal she could taste in her mouth. Honor had to stop in the road, gulping again and again as if she were drowning. She tried to escape it by turning inward as she did at Meeting to find the warming Inner Light, but she could not shed her overriding desire: that Donovan would come to save her from that metallic taste.
“How does thee do this every night? And all alone?” Honor shivered, thinking of the cold metallic pressure of the night. “You get used to it. Better to be alone. This” –the woman waved her hand at the woods around them—“this is safety. Nature ain’t out to enslave me. Might kill me, with the cold or illness or bears, but that ain’t likely. No, it’s that” –she pointed toward the road—“that’s’ the danger. People’s the danger.”
Before Comfort’s arrival, she had always been suspicious of them: the rocking seemed to her an aggressive sign of leisureliness. The constant rhythm set by someone else bothered her when she was sitting near an occupied rocker. Americans demonstrated their own rhythm in a much more public way than the English, and it did not seem to occur to them that others might not care for it. Indeed, Americans often went their own way with little consideration for how others felt: proud of their individuality, they liked to flaunt it. When Honor visited other Faithwell families, she had always chosen a straight-backed chair, saying it was better for the sewing she brought with her. Really, though, she did not want to rock in front of others and impose her internal rhythm on them.
Perhaps, Honor thought one day, it is not that Americans are so wedded to individual expression, but that we British are too judgmental.
“I think deep down, most southerners have always known slavery ain’t right, but they built up layers of ideas to justify what they were doin’. Those layers just solidified over the years. Hard to break out of that thinking, to find the guts to say, ‘This is wrong.’ I had to come to Ohio before I could do that. You can, in Ohio—it’s that sort of place. I’m kinda fond of it now.” She patted the felt hat as if she were patting the whole state. “But Donovan…he’s too hard to shift.
Look for the measure of Light in her, she counseled herself, for it is there, as it is in every person. Never forget that.
Honor was not yet asleep when she felt a tiny presence next to the bed. In the glow from downstairs she could just make out the girl’s outline. Without saying anything the girl climbed into bed, careful around the baby, and slid under the quilt to press up against Honor’s back, like a little animal looking for warmth. She coughed a bit and then fell asleep. Honor lay very still, listening to the girl’s snuffling breath and her daughter’s almost imperceptible sigh, marveling that a black girl was snuggling up to her, as Grace had done when they were girls and it was cold. The barrier between them was dissolving in the warm bed; here there was no separate bench. Whatever the uncertainty downstairs, outside, in the world at large, in this bed with the children close by and reliant on her, Honor felt calm, and part of a family. With that clarity she too was able to sleep.
She sat down on one of the straight chairs in the middle of the quiet kitchen and closed her eyes. Since staying with Belle she had not often had the opportunity to sit in silence. It was always harder to do so without the strength and focus of a community. Collective silence contained a purposeful anticipation. Now, alone, her silence felt empty, as if she were not searching hard enough or in the right place. She sat for long time, taken out of the sinking feeling she sought by the interruption of sounds she would not normally notice: the crumbling of embers in the stove; the tapping of wood drying somewhere in the house; the clopping of a horse and turning of wagon wheels in the street in front of the shop. ...more
So many interesting quotes, so much gorgeous equestrian description, such coldness in the spare, multilayered dialogue and descriptions of and betweenSo many interesting quotes, so much gorgeous equestrian description, such coldness in the spare, multilayered dialogue and descriptions of and between the family members.
How sad that the relationship between the twins was irrevocably lost, and how strange how "apart" these 2 children were raised from the rest of the world.
Is it the best book I've ever read? No. Was it a book that kept me reading on to see what new and bigger destruction would befall the characters? Yup. An interesting and matter-of-fact account of a family during the beginning of the Great Depression. Add in a lot of horse sweat, some teenage angst, lots of Florida imagery and a bit of incest, and you have the general recipe for this book. Its saving graces include the horsey bits, the lovingly drawn descriptions of the NC mountains, and the true way in which the author is able to draw the reader RIGHT BACK INTO their 16 year old brains, bodies, thoughts, and feelings. And OMG am I glad I'm not who I was when I was 16 any longer!
I think it was overall a well crafted story of personal development and interpersonal relationships, but perhaps not the most original of plots. Despite all of the bad reviews on here, I still think it's a worthwhile read.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------"We wanted a certain handsome boy to take a fancy to us, to become half of a pair for a night. And then, maybe most of all, we wanted them to leave, so that we could pine away."
"It has always been a great comfort to me that I could bring a book anywhere, to any place. To any part of my life."
"Not missing home had at first seemed inconceivable, but I understood how the human heart operated, that it was fickle."
"They'd send you away anyway, in a few years, with a husband."
"And I saw that Sissy was good, that she had learned to move through this world and love people, and let them love her back; that she did not love too intensely, as I did, or not at all, as I imagined Leona did."
"Leona and I tiptoed, did not let the hard soles of our boots meet the ground, though there was no one to hear except the horses - who all watched us curiously, eyes wide, ears tipped forward, their necks pressed against their stall doors. I slipped Naari's bit into her mouth and led her to the front of the barn; she whuffed into my shoulder, nervously, and I murmured soothingly. She was a ball of energy, and after I mounted she danced beneath me like some sort of overgrown sprite, clumsily, her hooves knocking against each other."
"'She's fast,' Leona said, which I knew was half a compliment, have a signal that I had nothing to do with Naari's speed. But horses weren't raced without jockeys."
"It is a simple thing, to love a horse. Mother said that I rode with my head, not with my heart. And that riding with my head would serve me well in many instances, but it would not ear Sasi's enduring loyalty. I always through that was a romantic view of it. I rolled over and faced the window. It was like looking into nothing, the night was so black. I had wanted her there, tonight. I had wanted her to see how I floated above the earth. Would she have loved me, then? Watched me and known in her heart that I was her daughter, her daughter who could ride so beautifully, sit atop and not interfere with a horse going as fast as time and space would allow. Mother it was as if we were floating. Mother, if you cannot love me with your heart, then at least with your head."
"...and I was such a foolish girl, seeing signs where none existed; believing, always, that I was an object of desire."
"...there was always a problem, a difficulty, when one rode: that was the whole point of the endeavor, the constant striving. And this reaching depended both on me and my mount, and, more generally, on our natures." "And then it was over, quickly, as my fights with him usually were: we fought deeply and briefly."
"I nudged Sasi forward. His head hung low. I had exhausted him. He would forget; he might have already forgotten. But he wouldn't forget the fear, and the memory of pain would be replaced by an instinct of mistrust. That was the problem with horses; they were too dumb to remember properly, but there was still a memory to contend with, a memory that could not be reasoned away."
"I put my arms around Sasi's damp neck and he hung his head low. He loved me. I could feel his enormous heart, pumping in his plump pony's chest. Drawings of his pretty face were in all of my notebooks."
"You were supposed to be pretty, you were supposed to be beautiful, but you were not supposed to care."
"I'd come out here for exactly that reason: I needed power, I needed him to clear the highest jump he ever had, not for me but because the jump was pointed into that great and mysterious beyond. I realized as soon as I turned that I'd given us too much space - too long a straight line, too much time and reason for him to run away, for me to lose control. But I felt him gather his legs beneath him, in clear anticipation of the jump. 'Yes, yes, yes,' I murmured, in rhythm to his canter. My braid thumped on my back, my vision narrowed, and I was only aware of the particular way Sasi's hooves hit the ground - the hard sound that made - and the closing distance between us and the jump. It was all instinct now, there was nothing anyone could teach you about this instant before leaving the ground. 'Now,' I said, and we flew."
"Decca stood; I interrupted the caressing of my hair. I was vain, I was sixteen years old and would never again feel so watched."
"When Mr. Albrecht's whistle blew, I was lined up with the first jump. Naari rolled her eye at one of the pots, but I pushed her through my legs and she cleared it. I jumped like I always did: everything, everyone else disappeared. All the people watching were a blur. I focused on the sharp smell of Naari's sweat, her trembling movement between my legs."
"I liked the fierce leverage wrapped reins brought; I bent my elbows and Naari slowed, quickly, and then I turned my toes out and dug my spurs into her sides, and I had her trapped, I had all her power harnessed between my legs and hands, beneath me. I'd never felt such energy, rolling beneath me like a violent wave."
"And all is fair in the jumping ring, where there cannot be favorites, where what matters is skill and speed, in that order. Girls, it is a lesson that is well suited to life: in all your endeavors strive hard, and honestly, and great rewards will be yours."
"At Yonahlossee I learned the lesson that I had started to teach myself at home: my life was mine. And I had to lay claim to it."
"'What is there for me here?' I asked. 'There is not even a horse, here.'"
"And horses were always a part of my life, a blessing; taking comfort in them had always been something I'd done by instinct, and it was an instinct I never outgrew. I took pleasure in how good I was in the saddle, how well I knew my way around a horse. I was good at something in a way most people are never good at anything in their lives. Horses were a gift; how many people have such a constant in their life, separate from the rough and often beautiful mess that is their family?"...more
There is actually very little that I can say about this book - you just have to read it! It's one of those books that swoops you up after the first feThere is actually very little that I can say about this book - you just have to read it! It's one of those books that swoops you up after the first few chapters and won't put you back down into your life until you find out what happens.
It is reminiscent for me of the great classics like La Casa de Los Espiritus or Eva Luna - magical realism is what I've seen some of you classify it as, and I think that's a great description. I remember being equally passionate about those novels in both English and Spanish when I was younger..
The first couple of chapters were just so-so, and I wasn't convinced I was going to finish it. Then...something happened...and I could think of little else than the plight of these people hacking out a living in the Alaskan wilderness. While standing on hot bricks waiting for my bus home on a sunny 90+ degree day, I could smell snow, icy waterfalls, birch and aspen bark, wet stones, fresh cut firewood, and the smoke from wood fires. Just the descriptions of the place brought me some of the peace that is so palpable after a heavy snowfall, and which I have experienced only rarely since leaving behind my childhood as a New Englander for the southeast.
A few years ago I met a really neat lady who lived in Juneau, and had offered to let me come out and stay with her. I regret, now, losing touch with her - in fact, I can't even remember how or where I met her, which is disappointing to say the least. I think it was some meditation retreat or other, but who knows? Ah well, for now I feel somewhat appeased after reading this book, and I know Alaska adventures will be out there waiting. There's also British Columbia (Vancouver!) and the parks and shorelines north of Seattle that I didn't get to see on any of my PNW trips, that are there, hanging out on my bucket list, waiting for a time when I'll have a chance to take some epic road trips.
It's hard to write this, but really, NOT MUCH HAPPENS in this book. It's not an action-adventure flick, so all you murder and mayhem junkies, look elsewhere for your fix. This book is quiet, insidious (is there a word that means the same but has a more positive connotation?), and will get under your skin. The descriptions are amazing, yet not at all overwrought.
Case in point, page 99: "The girl's hair was white-blond, but when Mabel studied it, she saw that woven and twisted among the strands were gray-green lichens, wild yellow grasses, and curled bits of birch bark. It was strange and lovely, like a wild bird's nest." Beautiful description, right?
Imagery is such an integral part of the story, and later, even brushing of hair becomes so incredibly symbolic that it can make you tear up a little. So pay attention.
A favorite quote, from page 258: "Dear, sweet Mabel," she said. "We never know what is going to happen, do we? Life is always throwing us this way and that. That's where the adventure is. Not knowing where you'll end up or how you'll fare. It's all a mystery, and when we say any different, we're just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt most alive?" - epic chapter ending, IMO.
Page 204: You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them, and in fact Mabel had come to suspect the opposite. To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as you were able before it slipped like water between your fingers.
I can say in all honesty that this book at once broke my heart and mended it back, and that's a very rare gift indeed. Read. This. Book. Then tell me what you thought of it.
Other quotes (so many beauts!): “To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as your were able before it slipped like water between your fingers.” ― Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child
“She had watched other women with infants and eventually understood what she craved: the boundless permission-no, the absolute necessity- to hold and kiss and stroke this tiny person. Cradling a swaddled infant in their arms, mothers would distractedly touch their lips to their babies' foreheads. Passing their toddlers in a hall, mothers would tousle their hair even sweep them up in their arms and kiss them hard along their chins and necks until the children squealed with glee. Where else in life, Mabel wondered, could a woman love so openly and with such abandon?” ― Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child
“We are allowed to do that, are we not Mabel? To invent our own endings and choose joy over sorrow?” ― Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child
“It was beautiful, Mabel knew, but it was a beauty that ripped you open and scored you clean so that you were left helpless and exposed, if you lived at all.” ― Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child
“She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from clouds, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting even as they strike. How did such force and beauty come to be in something so small and fleeting and unknowable? You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them, and in fact Mabel had come to suspect the opposite. To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as you were able before it slipped like water between your fingers."
“All her life she had believed in something more, in the mystery that shape-shifted at the edge of her senses. It was the flutter of moth wings on glass and the promise of river nymphs in the dappled creek beds. It was the smell of oak trees on the summer evening she fell in love, and the way dawn threw itself across the cow pond and turned the water to light.” ― Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child...more
This book was excellent! I have some favorite quotes:
"Why? Love has so many different faces that our imagination is not prepared to see them all." "WhyThis book was excellent! I have some favorite quotes:
"Why? Love has so many different faces that our imagination is not prepared to see them all." "Why does it have to be so difficult?" "Because we see only what we already know. We project our own capacities - for good as well as evil- onto the other person. Then we acknowledge as love primarily those things that correspond to our own image thereof. We wish to be loved as we ourselves would love. Any other way makes us uncomfortable. We respond with doubt and suspicion. We misinterpret the signs. We do not understand the language. We accuse. We assert that the other person does not love us."
It was interesting to come across this quote while reading this gem of a novel on our annual girls' beach week. We had all recently been talking about the 5 love languages (which I have not read), and that may be why this really caught my eye.
Overall, the novel has a lyrical, fairy tale feeling to it that I really enjoyed. The main female character was not very likable, nor was she very relatable - perhaps this was intentional? So as not to distract the reader's attention from the flashback story? I don't know.
It was an emotional enough book that I had a lot of emotion when I finished reading it, and had to wait a few days to start another book. But, it was a good enough book that I did INDEED unplug from the internet and start another book..which I've been pretty lousy at lately. Only didn't get 5 starts because of the really poor characterization of the "modern" character.