I'm not usually a reader of self-help books, but I make an exception for Harriet Lerner. Not only is she a gifted writer and story-teller, but unlikeI'm not usually a reader of self-help books, but I make an exception for Harriet Lerner. Not only is she a gifted writer and story-teller, but unlike I imagine most of the genre, she most adamantly allows for imperfection. Quoting Mary Karr, Lerner embraces the fact that a dysfunctional family is where there is more than one person in it and that there is no such thing as the ideal family environment. Instead of defining a right and a wrong way to be, she simply tries to help people communicate their boundaries and preferences in a more open and honest way whenever doing so will be productive and helpful. The goal is not to be different than you are, or a more perfect version of yourself, but to make allowances for your own vulnerability so that you can be more yourself in relation to other people. Sounds right on in my book. ...more
I have had a long fascination with anchorites ever since I first learned about them. It seemed then, and now, to be one of the most severe things a peI have had a long fascination with anchorites ever since I first learned about them. It seemed then, and now, to be one of the most severe things a person could do in pursuit of a spiritual life. Walled inside a tiny room attached to the back of a church, with only a few narrow windows from which connect to the outside world--how could a person live like that? What would cause a person to choose that life? Wouldn't they go crazy? Why not just join a convent or find a remote cave somewhere and live as a hermit? At least then you could be outside. When I read a review of "The Anchoress" in the New York Times, I immediately placed a hold on it at the library, hoping it would answer these questions.
Robyn Cadwallader's novel went a long ways to answering some of my questions. "The Anchoress" is written in two voices--in first person is Sarah, the anchoress of the title, and in third person is her father confessor, an uptight priest named Ranaulf. Between the two, a rich portrait of religious culture in England during Middle Ages is delivered. Though Sarah's story had many stock elements to it, I enjoyed seeing the larger context of what life as an anchorite looked like from an intimate and well-imagined perspective. Through the protagonists, Cadwallader not only shows us in vivid detail the claustrophobic day-to-day of a person expected to be a living saint, but the relationship such a person might have with the community in which they lived, however secluded such a lifestyle may seem. With it's quasi-oblique commentary on the Church's long-held attitudes towards women, "The Anchoress" is a thoughtful, well-researched and skillfully written read that I would recommend to people not afraid of small spaces. A page-turner in its own right, prospective readers should note the subject matter, and skip "The Anchoress" if they expect an action-packed epic. If I were to base my rating on story alone, I might downgrade this book to three stars, but the treatment subject matter swept away my imagination, and for that, "The Anchoress" gets a four star rating....more
Read the first two chapters of "A Visit from the Goon Squad" because I admired Egan's prose and was curious about the story, then realized that the stRead the first two chapters of "A Visit from the Goon Squad" because I admired Egan's prose and was curious about the story, then realized that the structure of the novel would require a significant amount of mental space to process. I'm a reluctant reader of books that jump around in narrative perspective, and this book not only does that, but it does that about some really lost, sorry, depressed characters. Maybe not then. ...more
The image that came to mind upon finishing Dept. of Speculations was a frayed end of a worn piece of clothing, the individual fibers serving to remindThe image that came to mind upon finishing Dept. of Speculations was a frayed end of a worn piece of clothing, the individual fibers serving to remind you of the garment's better days. This book is a collection of fragments, little snippets of facts, stories and conversations that tell the story of the unraveling of both a marriage and a psyche.
Dept. of Speculation starts off from the nameless wife's perspective, a writer, a creative type, who marries a fellow creative type, the nameless husband. An anxious insomniac and the author of one published work, the wife chronicles as their bohemian life becomes prosaic then hellish as she gives birth to a colicky baby and stalls writing a second book so that she can get paid by a wealthy businessman to ghostwrite a memoir about how he was almost once an astronaut. Their Brooklyn apartment is beset with bedbugs, the husband has an affair, a student of the wife's attempts suicide, and the novel then shifts to third person as the wife begins to more seriously loose it. Sprinkled throughout are random facts about Rilke, Carl Sagan, Voyagers I and II, and other things that you might learn if you watched PBS just long enough.
Despite the heavy nature of the subject, this style makes Dept. of Speculations a fast and easy read, and feels somewhat like what would happen if Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman ever collaborated to make a film--a neurotic New Yorker has an existential breakdown then moves out to the country to loose her mind. Part light and breezy, almost farcical, part twisted, stark and brooding, it was paradoxically enjoyable. Glad I read it. ...more
I want to go around and press copies of My Brilliant Friend on everyone I know. Each book in this series is amazing, hands down and flat out. Those WhI want to go around and press copies of My Brilliant Friend on everyone I know. Each book in this series is amazing, hands down and flat out. Those Who Leaves and Those Who Stay continues to explore the lives of its characters with the same ruthless honesty and insight of its predecessors, and I fucking loved it liked I loved all the Neapolitan Novels. The feminism that Ferrante begins espousing in the end is genius--totally true to life in the hypocrisy of the character who is writing it--and I can't wait to read more. ...more
As a rule, I love Kate Atkinson, but the unevenness of "A God in Ruins" makes me waver in a 4 star rating. An omniscient, third person narration tellsAs a rule, I love Kate Atkinson, but the unevenness of "A God in Ruins" makes me waver in a 4 star rating. An omniscient, third person narration tells the story Teddy Todd, the favorite son and brother from "Life After Life". An unqualified good guy, the best man they've ever met according to not a few, "A God in Ruins" jumps around Teddy's life with no real pattern. Teddy's terrible daughter, her neglected and emotionally scarred children, his wife, mother and sister all take turns telling Teddy's story. As always with Atkinson, the characters are all pitch perfect, but it was the choppiness of this format that made the book less compelling and harder for me to read. I loved the story arc that involved Teddy as grandfather, desperately trying to cover for his daughter's awful parenting, and would have felt more rooted and satisfied if that had been the primary plot. I felt at some points that Atkinson was trying to make a point, juxtaposing the old-school "stiff upper lip" Brits with the whiny, over-indulged children of the modern era. There's a peaceableness, she seems to be telling us, in keeping your emotions under wraps and placing good manners above all else, because that seems to be the only thing that makes Teddy so wonderful. But above all, what clinched the 3 star rating for a writer I admire so much was the cliched ending. (view spoiler)[In a brief, final homage to "Life After Life", Teddy dies in the war, and the entire novel was just what could have been. 'And it was just a dream...' (hide spoiler)] Not what I expected from such an intelligent and unsentimental writer. Oh well. Still a worthwhile read, especially if you're a fan of Atkinson's. ...more