oh my gosh -- i am having quite a time trying to figure out what to say about this book. i finished it two days ago and feel pretty conflicted about woh my gosh -- i am having quite a time trying to figure out what to say about this book. i finished it two days ago and feel pretty conflicted about whether it was a good read, or whether i loved it.
i read this novel years ago. and while i hadn't held on to a lot of the details, i had considered it one of my favourite anne tyler books. i wish i had clearer recollections from that last time, because this time, i just fee so sad and heavy-hearted. tyler's examination of family, and the nuances of time, relationships, and memory are excellent - though i felt a lot of frustration with the characters and with cody, in particular. i was also left feeling like i wanted a bit more depth. there is so much that goes unsaid and unexpressed in dinner at the homesick restaurant - resulting in a lot of unexplored terrain.
tyler is on record as saying this novel is her favourite, and that she loves her character ezra. while i was reading, i certainly felt the love for ezra too - he just seems like such a kindly, gentle man. ezra spends a good part of the novel trying to get his family to successfully make it through one entire meal together, only to be thwarted in his attempts again and again. each time a family meal is planned, you know how it's going to go... and yet there's hope ezra will achieve this one little triumph.
throughout the book, tyler provided alternating points of view among matriarch pearl tull and all three of her children (cody, ezra, and jenny) - as well as one section through her teenaged grandson's eyes (luke). this approach definitely reflected how differently the same situations or experiences can be interpreted or felt by different people, and how shared experiences vary among family members.
so what do you do when you read a book that you appreciate greatly for what the author has done... and yet you are left feeling miserable by the reading experience?? i am settling on the dreaded 3-stars for now... but maybe i will gain some clarity over the next few days and realize my love for tyler shouldn't be questioned?? :)...more
this is a re-read for me. previously, i loved the story. this time, i LOVED it. i'm going to make a mash about trying to review this novel... so apolothis is a re-read for me. previously, i loved the story. this time, i LOVED it. i'm going to make a mash about trying to review this novel... so apologies upfront for the hot mess that likely follows. :/
to me, this is a perfect novel. carol shields was a literary force and i miss her all the time. unless was her last novel - published in 2002. diagnosed with stage III breast cancer in december of 1998, shields was receiving treatment (which included surgery, radiation and chemotherapy) while she was writing unless. sadly, she passed away from the disease on july 16, 2003. i include this information because this novel takes a sharper tone and expresses anger in a way that isn't quite as pronounced in some of the other works i have read from her. unless is also a bit of a 'life's big questions' story (though this was something shields often pursued with her writing). i have no way of knowing whether shields's illness and the emotions navigated during that time found their way into her book. as i was reading, i did think on this question quite a bit. illness is a brutal part of life. dealing with chronic or terminal disease always affects the person living with one. and how any individual chooses to handle their illness is, apart from a learning opportunity for others, a time for our respect, our empathy, and our understanding. this is a long ramble of an opening paragraph and a bit of a tangent, but it's tied in to my feeling that shields, with unless, has given a master class in so many different things.
but... back to the book. :) shields gives us so much with this story, and so many ideas and layers to unpack. and she does it so cleverly. perhaps too cleverly -- i think it would be easy for some readers to dismiss this novel based on its surface. i hope you won't do that if you decide to read it.
"I like to think of this book on these four little legs: this idea of mothers and children; the idea of writers and readers – I wanted to talk about the writing process; I wanted to talk about goodness; and then I wanted to talk about men and women – this gender issue, which interests me so much and has actually been a part of every book I've written. I think I am always writing about this. --Carol Shields from the interview “Ideas of Goodness” with Eleanor Wachtel, published in Random Illuminations: Conversations with Carol Shields
the story begins when we learn that reta winters's 19yo daughter, norah, has dropped out of university and sits, silently, on a busy city street corner with a sign that reads 'goodness'. reta, her husband tom, and their 2 other teenaged daughters do what they can to support norah, to help her, respect her, and get her back home. there is a mystery as to why norah has made these choices, and we will get the answer, slowly. the chapter headings are all prepositions or conjunctions. small, simple words which carry a lot of weight when considered more deeply. i truly found this novel to be a profound meditation on life and reality.
"Unless is the worry word of the English language. It flies like a moth around the ear, you hardly hear it, and yet everything depends on its breathy presence. ... Unless you're lucky, unless you're healthy, fertile, unless you're loved and fed, unless you're clear about your sexual direction, unless you're offered what others are offered, you go down in the darkness, down to despair."
this may sound very dark and heavy... and certainly there are these moments in the story. life, human beings, are not a tidy, happy species all the time. yet there is also a quietness as reta excavates her life, trying to figure out why norah is on the street. it's an incredible balance achieved.
alright... i guess i'll stop here for now. i know this 'review' hasn't done much justice... but i hope it, at least, makes you curious to check out carol shields's work, if you are not already familiar with her....more