Carrie Brown’s first book Rose s Garden A Novel, published in 1998, focuses on a man in his seventies as he adjusts to being a widower. This book The...moreCarrie Brown’s first book Rose s Garden A Novel, published in 1998, focuses on a man in his seventies as he adjusts to being a widower. This book The Last First Day: A Novel is also about septuagenarians. The fact that I am reading them back to back is just a coincidence. Or is it? Life can be a little weird sometimes! What is it all about?
What on earth had Peter seen in her all this time? It was a mystery, wasn’t it, why people loved one another? But she had closed her eyes, resting her head on Peter’s shoulder, remembering the sensation of his gaze on her that day, the heat of it. That old love between them.
There are nice things about reading works by the same author in proximity with each other. Brown has a nice way of describing nature. As I have said before, she can remind me of another of my favorite writers: Annie Dillard. She also has a skill for looking at the world through the practiced eyes of the elderly. Her older characters are unmistakably of advanced years with wisdom and experience that befits their age. And the infirmities that come as well with aging. Her elders may be slowed down physically but often still sharp and observant mentally.
Does a book about aging necessarily have to also be about loss? For inevitably there are things lost with age. But there are a wealth of memories that are not lost and The Last First Day revels in flashbacks that are tender and delicious.
They made love before dinner, that business not so easy as it once was, it was true, but then you didn’t really mind so much about that anymore, either. You did the best you could. Yet the old longing was still there between them . When Peter pulled her against him, her back to his belly, when he kissed her neck, ran his hand down her side, following the dip of her waist and the rise of her hip, she still felt that old heat.
There is no doubt you have to be in a certain accepting frame of mind to find a story of aging beautiful. It is one of those glass-half-full experiences, for sure. Brown’s skill with words carries (pardon me!) the day for me. But books about the process of aging are probably not the best if you are feeling low.
At the halfway point in the book the story changes dramatically from that of an elderly couple coming to the conclusion of their life together to more than a half a century earlier when they first meet. The woman Ruth is twelve years old when she experiences a traumatic change in her life and comes into contact with Peter who would eventually become her husband.
(view spoiler)[ There is some strangeness and disfunctionality in describing Ruth’s experience when she is separated from her father at the age of twelve, in her relationship with Peter when she is sixteen and with her experience of the pregnancy and abortion at age eighteen. The fact that all this “happens” in the second half of the book is somewhat surreal since it is unknown to the reader for so long. This flipping of crucial information into the end of the book rather than divulging it at the onset is not unusual in storytelling and has the expected bombshell impact. (hide spoiler)]
The fact that there is a spoiler in the story is part of what makes it an endearing tale for me. Ruth made up a story about her past and her family but it turns out that the true story is the best one of all.
It was true, she knew, that being abandoned— not once, but twice, if you counted both the mother who had given her up and the father who had gone to jail— was an indisputable tragedy in her life. Sometimes she thought about the woman who had given birth to her, imagined that she, like Ruth, longed to be reunited, mother and daughter. But mostly she didn’t like thinking about it, about whatever had made the woman who was her mother give away her baby. The idea of it was too close to the abortion Ruth had needed to choose for herself.
I am torn between three and four stars for this book and don’t really want to do the 3½ star cop out. The first half is so overwhelmingly focused on making adjustments to what life has offered you without really making it clear what life has offered you and what you have settled for. It is tender and true to the accommodations needed in the aging process. Then there is the big reveal and the topsy-turvy aspect of life that makes it all so clear that major adjustments have been demanded and accepted. I loved the turnaround.
In the end sometimes you just have to make do.
That night, they went to bed early. They left the dishes and the cake on the table. In the morning, Ruth threw the rest of it in the garbage can.
This is a book that I mostly liked even when it seemed gloomy and then really liked when it made lemonade. Four stars.
I’ll just say this once: you have to read the first half to appreciate the second half.
Now I’m done! ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Reading this book is about liking a format (Kindle) and liking an author (Carrie Brown). I met Carrie a few years ago at the reading where she read pa...moreReading this book is about liking a format (Kindle) and liking an author (Carrie Brown). I met Carrie a few years ago at the reading where she read part of a not-yet-published novel. She teaches creative writing at a college nearby. I have now read and enjoyed several of her books, including this one. For some reason I did not write a review when I read Rose’s Garden the first time. I came upon it at my online e-book library today and thought it would be a fine time to revisit this author. She even has a new novel The Last First Day in this past year and I put my name on a wait list to get that e-book too.
I have a relatively new Kindle Paperwhite and am still enamored of my new toy. I still have plenty of unread hardcover used books that I must read one day, plus Barnes & Noble seems to have figured out this summer that if they send me a 20% off coupon I will buy a new book off my wishlist so have a few of those as well. And there is that new independent book store on Main Street that I want to support. The bottom line: too many books to read and review!
Our protagonist is a man of seventy-five whose dear wife of many years has died in recent months. The book is Rose s Garden and is maybe a meditation about or a psalm on this amazing woman. An elegy. It reminds me of some of Annie Dillard’s nature writing. I love both Carrie and Annie!
Sitting in the kitchen, he emptied Rose’s sewing basket, took out each spool of bright thread, lined them up like a battery of soldiers, the pins and needles a sparkling pile of arms laid down, surrendered. One day, he told himself, the clematis would unwind its arms from around the windows, where its plate-faced blossoms pushed up against the glass and stared at him. The grandiflora ‘Queen Elizabeth’, with its pink vigorous ruff, would tremble at the touch and drop its multitude of petals. The poppies would fall, the phlox would scatter, and the air, now choked with drifting clouds of seed, white thistles with black, driving tips like arrows, would, at last, empty.
In a strange way, Rose’s Garden is about the power of the natural world even though the focus is on a garden created by Conrad and Rose. There is an angel who visits and there is a surreal reality that overlays the life of the space.
I am somewhat at a loss for words to praise this underappreciated book but I think that the 1998 NY Times review is worth rereading:
All his life, Conrad Morrisey has been a pigeon fancier. It's how, as a young boy in Brooklyn, he first met the ethereal Rose Sparks, who would later become his wife and whose father, Lemuel, raised a glorious flock of homing pigeons on his rooftop. Now Rose has been dead for four months after 50 years of marriage, and Conrad is paralyzed with grief. Aimlessly wandering through his wife's spectacular garden at the back of their house in a tiny New Hampshire town, he is perpetually dazed, carefully dosing his cherished birds with herbal tea while he himself forgets to eat. Conrad and Rose were like ''a matched pair of animals entering the ark, or the mirror images of a butterfly's wings, things that belonged together, that were not whole unless joined''; as the one left behind, Conrad cannot take flight. But then Lemuel, dead for 15 years, appears one night as an angel in Rose's garden. His message is simple: ''Go home,'' he tells his son-in-law, and that is exactly what Conrad does in Carrie Brown's magical first novel. Through the gift of remembrance, Conrad finds his way to a realization of just how astonishing Rose was -- not only in cultivating her garden but also in her careful, unheralded nurturing of the needy. And when a flood threatens the town, Conrad sees with a visionary's clarity that acts of heroism can be both small and large. In keeping with the memory of its absent heroine, ''Rose's Garden'' is both luminous and wise. Source: http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/04/26...
Part of the story of Rose’s Garden is a story about homing pigeons. This is strange subject matter for me. When I was growing up, someone close by in the neighborhood had pigeons and, as a pre-teen, I would go and visit them somewhat secretly. There was something magical about them and there is also something magical about them in this book. I imagine Carrie Brown learning about homing pigeons so she can write about them. They are a part of nature but with a direct connection with their human owners. I think they are sometimes called pigeon fanciers. What a strange name. If I read a review that included the information that the book reflected on pigeons, I think I would not find that very attractive. So I understand your quizzical look! And yet, in this book, the pigeons are a fascinating and integral part of what nourishes our lonely hero and represents the strength and mystery of the natural order.
I think a book with an angel should not be quite so sad and morose. That said, there is magic in Rose’s Garden that includes much poetry of language. The widow has to work hard to find his way after the death of his partner who has been with him many years. The good news is that he does find his way to survive and move on after his loss. The ravages of life work to beat him down and the reader has to hang on tightly to hope that the pigeons will, in fact, come home to roost and that the "Come home" message of the angel will be heeded. I thought this book, although not a strong four stars, kept its strength and luster due to its language. The garden had a nourishing soil that overcame adversity. (less)
The feminine side of me is well represented in my reading choices. How do I manage to select books to read that turn out to be “chick lit”? I usually...moreThe feminine side of me is well represented in my reading choices. How do I manage to select books to read that turn out to be “chick lit”? I usually don’t figure it out until I see that most of the GR reviews are by women and then I sigh and say, “Another one.”
I first read Anna Quindlen when she had an occasional column on the back page of Newsweek. Although I do not normally read regular columns, I looked forward to the issues where she appeared. So when I saw this eBook on my online library, I checked it out. When I looked it up on Goodreads to prep to read it, I said, “Well, here is another one!”
OK, enough chick chit chat. The book starts out real funny with witty one liners.
The sound of a nail gun was interspersed with the faintest click of the camera. She’d liked it better when she was young and the camera made more noise. Or maybe it was simply that she’d liked it better when she was young.
And, because it is a Kindle, it is telling me I have “4 hrs. 49 min left in book.” Excuse me. It is my new toy and I am slightly enamored. I did read a real book earlier today and I promise I am not giving them up. (Truth be told, I am a couple of hundred used books ahead in my purchasing and I will probably be adding on $2.99 Kindle books starting immediately. Gosh.)
Humor. I like a book with humor. Anna is sharp and makes me smile a lot even between outright laughs. Rebecca is the protagonist in the book. She sort of accidently became a famous and successful photographer, has slipped a little in recent years, and is trying to get her mojo back. She has sublet out her fancy NYC condo for the income and is renting an inexpensive cottage upstate (as they say in NY).
Rebecca never hung her own work in her home. She felt it would be like talking to herself. Which she did a fair amount in the cottage these days. Otherwise she would never speak to anyone.
And right when I get used to pleasantly smiling out loud, Anna comes up with something that makes you pause. And then smile again. But a different kind of smile.
“She can’t be bothered to make an effort,” her mother would say to one of the women who came to play bridge. That was how Rebecca’s mother always let her know what she thought, by telling other people while she was around as if she wasn’t there at all. It was as though she had eavesdropped her way invisibly through her formative years . Her mother had a knack for lowering her voice in a way that nevertheless made her words completely audible, like an actress miming discretion: “She’s going to Holyoke. She wasn’t accepted at Radcliffe but apparently at Holyoke you can keep a horse.” “Does she ride?” “Rebecca? Certainly not.”
When I read Anna Quindlen, the columnist, I knew I was accessing a source of information. When I read Anna Quindlen, the author, I realize that is also true although I do not always think of it. This book is full of information about what it is like to live in the country and be a part of nature. We see this from the point of view of a woman who has mostly lived in The City. It opens your eyes. And your heart.
I am now 67 (68 the way my father counts) and have had three long term couple relationships of 13, 7 and 17 years. I have been trying diligently for more than the past half dozen years not to get into any situations where I think a fourth such relationship is possible. But it is nice to see Rebecca drifting around a potential relationship with Jim as the Kindle pages slip easily by. Relaxing and reminiscent as long as I stay vigilant. Is this what chick lit is about? Being cautious? Vigilant?
You know you are way out of control with your book buying when you are reading the most recent book by an author when you remember that you have the last one from a couple of years ago still sitting unread on your shelf. In this case it is Lots of Candles Plenty of Cake. That book is now sitting on my coffee table (Are they still called coffee tables?) awaiting more immediate attention than lost on the groaning shelves. It turns out that book is nonfiction – a memoir – so I might find out a little bit about what makes Anna Quindlen.
But the gentle one liners keep on coming.
Occasionally Rebecca wished her son would not be so very kind to her, as though she was the losing pitcher on a Little League team.
And the telling observations, sometimes about marriage:
She realized that this was the longest conversation she had had with anyone in quite some time. Perhaps the longest conversation she had ever had with a man, unless she counted Ben. She had imagined she would have nice long conversations with Peter after they were married, but it had turned out that marriage in the circles in New York in which they traveled consisted of men who pontificated publicly, and the women who let their faces go still while they did so. Maybe that was true of marriage everywhere. Between times, in their own living rooms, the men seemed to be resting for the next round of pontificating and so saved their strength by staying silent.
If it wasn’t a tad too saccharine I would give Still Life with Bread Crumbs five stars. It was an enjoyable book to read but just a bit much schmaltz. I am not going to mark it down for that, but I just can’t ignore it altogether either. Chick lit, huh? Well, OK, bring on the next Anna Quindlen! I needed that NY upstate blizzard that comes two-thirds into the book even if it is really August outside my window. Romance, snomance!
And what is a chick lit book without a mentally ill sister? A bookend with the demented mother who played the grand piano on the edge of the table. It is all here like the soap opera that life really is. But, all is forgiven, Anna Quindlen! Four stars forever. [Forget it: not forever. Five stars. I had tears in my eyes at one point before the book ended, hoping against hope for Love to Out. And if a book makes me cry, it gets five stars! That’s my chick litish rule! Schmaltz is tricky. Honestly? Too saccharine for sure.]
I can’t help it. One last indented paragraph.
“I was Rebecca Winter,” and her voice caught and trembled, not because of money, or dog pictures, or TG, or her career, or the lasagna that had never ever arrived, but because she remembered how her father would sometimes introduce her: “My daughter, Rebecca Winter. And yes indeedy, she’s that Rebecca Winter.”
Never say was, Anna Quindlen. You are better than that.
And they all lived happily ever after. Except the ones that died. (less)
Sorry, Randy. I have read the first third of the book and I have read the almost unanimous five star reviews but I don't get it. Sometimes you just do...moreSorry, Randy. I have read the first third of the book and I have read the almost unanimous five star reviews but I don't get it. Sometimes you just don't connect and on Goodreads, I guess, you are just supposed to keep it to yourself. Sorry to be so obtuse but I guess it is obvious that I am in the minority here!
Just to offer some evidence of how far out of the mainstream I am, I oppose the escalation of the U.S. intervention in the middle east too. (less)
This is a short story with a happy ending. But I was totally unable to follow the bread crumbs from the chaotic beginning to the culmination. I was al...moreThis is a short story with a happy ending. But I was totally unable to follow the bread crumbs from the chaotic beginning to the culmination. I was almost down for the count early on and couldn't recover. But I have another one to try out Randy. There must be something to all those five stars you get from others!(less)
I have to admit that this review is a bit of a rant! But I feel that author Wiley Cash was More Kind than I can tolerate. And I want you to know so th...moreI have to admit that this review is a bit of a rant! But I feel that author Wiley Cash was More Kind than I can tolerate. And I want you to know so that you might think about it too. Just like the people in Madison County. Maybe you will want to be more forgiving than me.
People with strong beliefs have been known to do strange things. I can testify to this from my own firsthand experience. In this book we have religiously motivated snake handling right in the first chapter.
People out in these parts can take hold of religion like it’s a drug, and they don’t want to give it up once they’ve got hold of it. It’s like it feeds them, and when they’re on it they’re likely to do anything these little backwoods churches tell them to do. Then they’ll turn right around and kill each other over that faith, throw out their kids, cheat on husbands and wives, break up families just as quick. I don’t know exactly how long Carson Chambliss had been living in Madison County the first time I ever ran up against him. And I’m not saying this fanaticism started with him, because I know it didn’t. That kind of belief has been up here a long time before I arrived on this earth, and it’s my guess it’ll still be around for a long time after I’m gone. But I’ve seen his work firsthand, and I still can’t put my finger on what it is and why it affects folks like it does. Ten years ago I saw a man set his own barn on fire while his family just stood out in the yard and watched it go, just because he thought it was the right thing to do.
Some people believe in the inerrancy of the Bible. If the Bible says it, it is true. So here is what A Land More Kind than Home says to explain the beliefs of some of those who populate its pages.
…but one of his followers told him that it was in the Bible, that Jesus told the disciples that after he was gone they’d be able to do all kinds of dangerous things without getting hurt, he said it would be a sign of their righteousness. I didn’t believe him until I got home and opened up my own Bible and did a little searching, and there it was, right there in Mark. Just like they said it would be.” I heard his desk chair squeak, and I imagined Sheriff Nicks leaning all the way back, his boots up on the desk, crossed at the ankle, his hat resting in his lap.
When he mentioned the book of Mark, my mind suddenly recalled the new sign out by the front of Chambliss’s church. I recalled the exact verses on it: Mark 16: 17– 18. I hung up with Nicks, and when I got home that night I took Sheila’s Bible out of her nightstand and flipped through the pages until I found the verses and whispered as I read them out loud: “And these signs will follow those who believe: In my name they will cast out demons, they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will place their hands on the sick, and they will get well.”
This is what annoys me about this book: it tells what dastardly things people will do under the guidance of religion. The bible has the words in Mark 16 that I have just quoted, leading to the events in this book. And there is more that goes beyond this book: The bible says women are secondary to men so women are treated as lesser beings. The bible says that homosexuality is a sin so gays are righteously discriminated against. Don’t get me started!
So how can I hold this against author Wiley Cash? He is simply telling a story based on a despicable reality. I am nonetheless disturbed while recognizing that my anger is not rational and may even be an overreaction in the minds of others. I cannot help it. Outrageous things are done in the name of religion and I have a visceral reaction when I am confronted by those things as I conduct my daily life. I am sorry, Wiley Cash and others. I want you to rail against this outrageousness, not to simply acknowledge its existence. While I can see that my anger may be misdirected, and I rant, I can do no less but give voice to my feelings. So sue me!
I do not rant against authors who pen the despicable things that are portrayed in books about war and yet I am a pacifist who is antiwar. I read mostly antiwar books and might rant against a book that was pro-war. Am I ranting against religion because I am an atheist? Does Wiley Cash come down unequivocally against fundamentalist religion? He is a good writer and I would like him to come down on the snake handlers with both feet! But he doesn’t. The snake handler dies and the church miraculously is reborn. That rebirth is another shameless twist on another biblically inerrant notion.
It’s a good thing to see that people can heal after they’ve been broken, that they can change and become something different from what they were before. Churches are like that. The living church is made of people, and it can grow sick and break just like people can, and sometimes churches can die just like people die. My church died, but it didn’t die with Carson Chambliss; it was dead long before that. But I can tell you that it came back to life once he was gone. A church can be healed, and it can be saved like people can be saved.
I read quite a few of the two star reviews hoping someone else had something like the same antireligious reaction that I did. But without success. I didn’t find anyone who was as annoyed as I was about the faithful who were so easily and horribly led astray. And, even worse, no one seemed to think that the author was at all culpable in accepting the outrageousness and then fixing it so easily.
But two-thirds of those who rated this book gave it four or five stars. So here I am venting about a story that an awful lot of people thought was stellar. But my retribution for someone who could be a good writer taking a wrong turn is to withhold stars: two stars I grudgingly give. In Goodreads-speak that means “It was OK.” In my word, “Not.” (less)
Swamplandia! is a May 2014 read for the GR group On the Southern Literary Trail: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/.... For some reason I start thi...moreSwamplandia! is a May 2014 read for the GR group On the Southern Literary Trail: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/.... For some reason I start this book with an attitude that it has something to prove to me. Maybe that is because it was a Pulitzer Prize nominee or because it has only a 3.16 GR rating. So I get the book from the library, read the first few pages, and think, “OK, this might be fun.” But without much enthusiasm. Not a really good way to start. But the other May book for the group is the William Faulkner book Light in August so I sigh and start on Swamplandia! Having never managed to finish Absalom! Absalom!, I fear a Faulkner work of 500 pages!
I grew up in Michigan and my family drove to Indian Rocks Beach quite a few times for Easter vacation. I guess it is now called spring break but this was in the 1950s so Easter was still a legitimate school vacation. So I knew Florida before the mega theme parks. We stayed in the same kitchenette motel right on the Gulf. You could tell we were regulars who planned well in advance because we had the little unit that was closest to the water. My mother even caught a fish right off the beach. It was quite exciting. So, I liked the feel of Swamplandia! right away, drifting comfortably into the story.
A few things made me cautious of this book. First, a lot of people have read and rated it. I was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. But its average rating is 3.16. I have rarely read a book with such a low rating. Second, I had read that in the story, Osceola, one of the main characters falls in love with a ghost. Now, ghosts are definitely not my thing. So when many pages are devoted to Ossie telling the story about how Louis becomes a ghost – dies – I am thinking, “So I am supposed to believe this?”
I am trying to be energized by the fact that the setting is the Florida Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands, a threatened natural area, and a place that deserves some positive attention. But it is just not grabbing me from that point of view early in the book as it tells about efforts to drain the swamp to make farmland and planting invasive species to try to dry the place out.
Then on page 128 the Bird Man arrives and Boom! the book gets a lot more interesting. A ghost doesn’t do it but a tall, skinny man does!
Looking back, I am amazed at how my like/dislike bounced around. Here are several paragraphs I posted in a GR discussion when I was feeling quite positive about the book:
I am about halfway through Swamplandia! and it has taken me outside my comfort zone. I want to bring the book more inside my normal rational state by understanding more about Magical Realism. I guess that is what this book is!
When I realized there was a ghost in this book, I was put off, didn't much cotton to the idea. Then Ossie tells the story of how the teenage boy died to become a ghost. I thought, "Oh, this is just the story of a teenage boy and what happened to him in the past." He seemed real and not at all a ghost so I put the ghost part of him away. And maybe I began to understand just a bit about Magical Realism. But I had to play a trick on my mind.
Ava being 12 also puts the book out of my comfort zone because it seems like she might really BE a child. I have not been a child in a long time so it is a stretch to take on that identity.
And then there is the Bird Man, presented as a real living person, but about as unreal as a character can get. And he takes Ava into what seems pretty much to be an unreal world.
I thought I was going to take a trip into the Everglades but instead I find myself in this magical world with this most odd cast of characters, none of whom seems at all plausible to my rational self except maybe the 12 year old whose real world is somehow magical.
I only chose to read Swamplandia! because it is the book for May. In an earlier post I referred to it as maybe "too cute" for me. That was the rational me!
Sometimes when I am at a loss for what to say in a review, I simply pick some quotes from other GR reviews that seem to say a lot to me. It is a cheap trick, but there are some really good reviews and I am not a plagiarist!
This is a marvelously twisty book, with delves almost into magical realism, which creates the world of the swamps, Swamplandia, The World of Darkness (the big theme park) and the lifesucking suburbs of nearby Loomis vividly. … I'm a little torn on this book. I've read some reviews that shred it, and I understand their points, but I think other strengths of the book redeem it from the dismissal they've given it. … By the end, Russell makes it clear that there is no magic or wonder to be found here, only horribleness, deceit, and plain evil. This is not a swampier Alice in Wonderland ... more like a swampier version of a Stephen King novel crossed with a police blotter. Everything in this book is dark and ugly. At first this seems interesting and edgy, but there's no payoff. What's the point? This book has enough symbols, allegories, and metaphors to fill hundreds of high school AP English papers, but I still don't think it accomplishes anything other than making sure the reader is more despondent about the world by the final page than they were at the outset. … Swamplandia! is its very own Rorschach test. A reader can see in it most anything he or she wants. Is it a terrifying supernatural thriller? A fast-paced adventure story? An elegiac narrative about a dysfunctional family slowly spinning out of control? A cautionary tale about the perils of being an outsider? Or a quirky and dream-like parable using the swamp as a mythic archetype?
In fact, it’s all these things. Yet above all else, Swamplandia! is a lavishly imagined and highly original coming-of-age story. … (view spoiler)[ And then, out of nowhere I vomited, because a 13 year-old had graphic sex with a middle aged man described as the birdman, making me 112% certain that he smells bad. (hide spoiler)] … There is such complexity here––enough, surely, to fuel many more hours of discussion and countless paragraphs for this review. All the time that Rrssell weaves her mythology, she plants quiet but insistent markers of the "human" realm-–Chief Bigtree's warning that alligators in the wild are not like the Seths, a radio playing golden oldies deep within the boudaries of "the underworld," subtle markers rather than foreshadowing of the reckoning Ava faces once it is no longer possible to "go on pretending" as the Birdman suggests. This simultaneous tending to both her mythological world and the crushing realism that undermines and destroys it shows the hand of a masterful storyteller. I was completely drawn in and found myself as bewildered and confused as Russell's characters to find that, in the end, the piper must be paid.
I probably don’t need to say it, but there is a lot more that could be said about this book. My problem is I almost needed to read what people said about the book to even begin to enjoy reading the book. On the face of it, it’s complexity baffled me. I had to have the complexity explained to me somewhat to enjoy watching the complexity unfold. I had to know the punch line to be able to enjoy seeing it coming!
The end result is that I had to work too hard to enjoy this book. It jerked me around and I didn’t like that feeling. Sometimes I like a movie that makes my cry because I simply do not cry often enough on my own. I need the help. I needed a tour of the book so that I could enjoy reading the book. But, ultimately, there are just too many books to read to make that effort too often! So I give this book two stars. I am somewhat embarrassed to do that because I think that for a lot of people this could easily be a four star book. I just was not up for it and that is my loss. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I am on a Ron Rash reading binge. This is his second novel and was published in 2004. Before his first novel in 2002 he had published poetry and short...moreI am on a Ron Rash reading binge. This is his second novel and was published in 2004. Before his first novel in 2002 he had published poetry and short stories. As a transplant from the North (Michigan) to the South (Virginia), I am definitely a carpetbagger. I live in the South to take advantage of the fine climate: four seasons of three months each with relatively mild winters. I live in a town that nurtured Jerry Falwell and is located in the Bible Belt. I am an ethical humanist (a polite term for atheist) so this is not a match made in heaven.
Ron’s first novel, One Foot in Eden, leaned some on religion and was downgraded by me on that account. He seems to have become somewhat more secular in his more recent writing, something I keep an eye on. He is highly regarded for his writing skills, a regard that I think is clearly earned. He has a respect for nature and environmentalism that he shows in his writing.
I am reading GR reviews before, during and after the reading of the book because I am interested in learning about the author, Ron Rash. He is relatively new on the Southern literature scene and seems to be a brightly and rapidly ascending star. His talent, which began with poetry and short stories in the 1990s, has earned him attention in the Goodreads online group On the Southern Literary Trail. He was born in 1953 so is 61 now and lives in South Carolina.
Saints at the River grabbed onto me on the first page with the drowning described in the most humanistic. We also have a protagonist who is a woman, and a well portrayed woman according to most of the reviews I had already read. And Ron Rash is even in the book, hidden in the journalist who is going to get to know our heroine.
I like novels that teach me something. Ron Rash taught me about the usual stuff of novels, relationships and family and nature. But he also taught me about journalism, and professional photography and bonding fires.
Bonding fires originated in the Scottish midlands. A family’s hearth fire was never allowed to die down completely. Banked embers from the previous night’s fire were stirred and kindled back into flames. When children left to marry and raise their own families, they took fire from their parent’s hearth with them. It was both heirloom and talisman, nurtured and protected because generations recognized it for what it was – living memory. When some clans emigrated they kept the fires burning on the ships as they crossed the Atlantic.
And while he is teaching I am remembering the years we heated the house with a wood stove on Long Island and the quiet fire did not go out from week to week.
Sometimes in a book you notice funny things. Our protagonist Maggie is a professional photographer who has not yet switched to digital cameras and talks about why she likes film. And she washes dishes, doesn’t put them in a dishwasher. An old fashioned girl from the mountains who doesn’t have sex on the first date!
Highway 29 Motion Pictures is trying to make Saints at the River into a motion picture. In a promotional video for the film company, Ron Rash says,
I wanted the novel to have environmental concerns but I wanted to have enough faith in the reader so that the reader would make up his or her own mind about this situation. I don’t like people who tell me how to think. I don’t think art works particularly well as propaganda but I do think you can nevertheless focus on such aspects, certain concerns, particularly in my case environmental concerns that are important and at least bring them to the reader’s attention. Source: http://www.highway29motionpictures.co...
So, as usual in his books, Ron Rash wants to teach us, to give us information that he thinks is important to help us make up our own minds. But in doing that he can tug on your emotions both ways in the argument. He presents the river both as a tool for the use and benefit of mankind as well as an independent, almost sacred force of nature.
Although the story is fiction, the events in the book about the drowning and attempted recovery of the body have some basis in reality. A lengthy article in the Summer/Fall 1999 issue of The Chattooga Quarterly describes an incident with many similarities. This publication of the Chattooga River Watershed Coalition can be found at http://www.chattoogariver.org/wp-cont.... Reading this article is an interesting way to see how a writer can transform an actual event into fictional writing. If a few more years had passed between the event and the book, it could be called historical fiction as some of Rash’s books are labeled.
Saints at the River brought me a fair number of meaningful memory jolts more than the average book. It could not quite make me cry, but it did bring me close with quivers and goose bumps. Five stars for the Appalachian natural reality that was created with some real mountain people. (less)
If you are intimidated by Faulkner, you are not the first. If someone has told you just to let Faulkner’s words “wash over you” and resist the urge to...moreIf you are intimidated by Faulkner, you are not the first. If someone has told you just to let Faulkner’s words “wash over you” and resist the urge to figure them out right away, welcome to the group. Maybe you will love Faulkner and want to read everything he has ever written. Maybe you will say, “Be gone, Mr. Bill!” I am not the first to fail Faulkner 101 and I will not be the last.
I have been somewhat successful in letting The Sound and the Fury wash over me. I have been soundly defeated by Absalom, Absalom!. I have believed that Light in August is the most accessible Faulkner story, read the summary at http://www.shmoop.com/light-in-august... and found that I just was not drawn in by the tale in its entirety. I have seen many GR reviewers whom I respect give Faulkner four and five stars. But I spent far too much time wanting to stop reading.
OK, wait a minute. I love the part where Joe falls in love with Bobbie and the scene at the dance and when he steals his foster mother’s money to give it to Bobbie so she will marry him. I am stunned to be cruising, or maybe a better word is enjoying, Faulkner. But then – oh, dear – it is back to the bog and the solid yellow line keeps me in my lane in the slow moving traffic. And the long descriptions, page after page of being hungry. Five hundred pages are just too many for me for this story. There are many subplots and stories of individuals that could get three stars from me. But tossing some good parts together with a whole lot of other material has left me with far too much for my brain to comprehend. Faulkner has swamped me over and over. Just worn me out.
The fact is that Faulkner is a legend but is too complex for me in the quantity of material he presents. I would say that the final chapter of this book is potentially a three star short story for me except that I am not sure if it could survive on its own. While I was reading Light in August, I watched the film of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and found parts of it riveting. That film gave me a sense of the world of the early 20th century South that Faulkner portrays in his work. That helped me understand what it might be like to take a step back for a broad view of Faulkner’s impoverished world.
My experience of this book is that Faulkner offered much more than I was able to take in. There were occasional sparkling flecks and some word gems but I just could not stay above the surface in Faulkner’s deep water. A GR friend suggested that I try the Faulkner short story A Rose for Emily, a favorite of hers. It is a story with a beginning, middle and an end! I liked it! So now I have a whole book of short stories to beacon me back to William Faulkner another day.
Let me end with a small discursion about my view of the GR rating system. I thought that if I made it through Light in August, I would give it two stars and that if I couldn’t make it all the way through, I would give it one star. So here I am. I made it to the end due to a whole lot of determination and even found the last chapter somewhat entertaining. But I Didn’t Like It! So it gets one star. This is just about my personal reaction to this book, not Mr. Faulkner’s talent. Clearly he has considerable talent. (less)
Every page has at least one paragraph that is picture perfect. There are sentences that are art of the finest quality. How could a screenwriter or a d...moreEvery page has at least one paragraph that is picture perfect. There are sentences that are art of the finest quality. How could a screenwriter or a director convert a Cormac McCarthy novel into a movie that does it justice? How can a reader simply move on to the next page?
There was an old horseskull in the brush and he squatted and picked it up and turned it in his hands. Frail and brittle. Bleached paper white. He squatted in the long light holding it , the comicbook teeth loose in their sockets. The joints in the cranium like a ragged welding of the bone plates. The muted run of sand in the brainbox when he turned it.
You can’t be in a hurry reading McCarthy. His horses sometimes gallop but they always pull up and let the scenery settle in. And the scenery is almost always worth a second measured look, more than a glance.
That night they camped on a ledge of rock above the plains and watched the lightning all along the horizon provoke from the seamless dark the distant mountain ranges again and again. Crossing the plain the next morning they came upon standing water in the bajadas and they watered the horses and drank rainwater from the rocks and they climbed steadily into the deepening cool of the mountains until in the evening of that day from the crest of the cordilleras they saw below them the country of which they’d been told. The grasslands lay in a deep violent haze and to the west thin flights of waterfowl were moving north before the sunset in the deep red galleries under the cloudbanks like the school fish in a burning sea and on the foreland plain they saw vaqueros driving cattle before them through a gauze of golden dust.
Is this what the book is about?
There is no forgiveness. For women. A man may lose his honor and regain it again. But a woman cannot. She cannot.
Or maybe it is the next exchange:
They sat. She watched him. He tapped the crow of his seated hat with the tips of his four fingers and looked up. I guess I’d have to say that don’t seem right.
Mixed in with the short dialogue are some simply fun slow motion action paragraphs.
With the last of his money he bought coffee and tortillas and some tinned fruit and beans. The tins had been on the shelves so long they’d tarnished and the labels faded. When he passed out along the road the wedding party was seated at the tables eating together and drinking from tin cups. A man sitting alone on one of the benches who seemed no part of the wedding looked up at the sound of the slow hooves in the road and raised one hand to the pale rider passing with the blanket and rifle and he raised a hand and then road on.
John Grady Cole is his name. I am proud that Cormac McCarthy introduced me to him in such a memorable way. If I had not watched the movie first, I might not have understood or enjoyed the book so much. For me it was a good combination of circumstances, easily a four star circumstance or slightly more. And I have to remember that there are two more books in this trilogy. But I am sorry that Cole is not in the second book.
Although I am reviewing All the Pretty Horses under the title of this first book, I am actually reading from the Everyman’s Library edition of The Border Trilogy . I do expect to read the rest of the trilogy. (less)
When I was visiting my ninety-two year old father in Michigan, he was reading a book and occasionally chortling to himself. When he finished the book,...moreWhen I was visiting my ninety-two year old father in Michigan, he was reading a book and occasionally chortling to himself. When he finished the book, he told me I should read it and could borrow his copy. So what could I do? I brought The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint home to read!
The book starts out with an exclamation mark!
If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be that when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head. As formative events go, nothing else comes close; my careening, zigzag existence, my wounded brain and faith in God, my collision with joy and affliction, all of it has come, in one way or another, out of that moment on a summer morning when the left rear tire of a United States postal jeep ground my tiny head into the hot gravel of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation.
This accident is the precursor to the Miracle alluded to in the title of the book.
First, I had survived a mail jeep running over my head. Then, after three months in a coma, I had simply awakened, almost without warning and with only minimal brain damage. According to science and simple common sense, I should have been a vegetable, lucky to spend the rest of my days diapered and spoon-fed, my skull full of jelly. But I was progressing so well the doctors didn’t know what to make of me; they’d shake their heads, muttering under their breaths, checking and rechecking their charts, utterly perplexed, as if my continuing miracle was causing them to lose faith in the things they’d held most sacred all along.
Edgar had survived and astounded the medical profession at St. Devine’s Hospital. It was time for him to move on to the next venue: the Willie Sherman School for Native American orphans in Arizona is his new home. Edgar’s mother was an Indian. As an orphan, Edgar is obligated to cycle through several less than satisfactory living arrangements. The book is the story of his life.
About halfway through the book, an important thing happens: two missionaries carrying The Book of Mormon come into the story. These missionaries ride bikes, are from out of town, wear nametags, and are named Elder Spafford and Elder Turley. They are probably among the 48,757 people who have given The Book of Mormon an average 4.46 rating on GR. This is a very high rating. In fact, I have never seen any rating quite so high.
If you have ever had an experience of neatly dressed strangers coming to your door to save you, you will recognize this segment of the book. It is funny. Maybe not so funny if you take religion very seriously. No worries for me on that count! Edgar, who was seven when the jeep ran over his head, is now twelve and is ready to be baptized so he can be placed in a Mormon foster home. Next stop: Richland, Utah.
Edgar is attached to a Hermes Jubilee typewriter and is constantly typing out his thoughts. He says he has 11,789 pages packed in his trunk when he arrives in Richland. The story of him settling into his new foster home is nicely done, capturing the experience sensitively. He has some big changes to accommodate into his young life: puberty, religion, pseudo siblings, a troubled foster family. At a young age, Edgar has already had a number of encounters with death – including very nearly his own – that leave him with considerable anger and a desire to kill God with his pocket knife.
One of his goals is to find the mailman who ran over his head and let him know that he survived. The trail to this man takes him away from his Richland home. He is now fifteen and destined to meet his past in Pennsylvania and to learn more about the man devastated by Edgar’s “death” at the age of seven. Edgar locates his widow, Rosa, and realizes that she and her deceased husband had nearly been the parents who could have changed the entire trajectory of his life.
But there has been no greater blessing than Rosa. For thirteen years she and I did one simple thing: we were good to each other. We got each other drinks, We said please and thank you and doesn’t that shirt look nice. We bought cards for each other on Valentine’s Day and found inordinate pleasure in watching reruns of “The Benny Hill Show.” We took turns cleaning the toilet. We talked bad about the neighbors and made fun of the persnickety old widows who liked to stand up front during liturgy and show off their new permanents. We played Scrabble and Yahtzee and let each other get away with murder.
The book ends on a saccharinely sweet note that leaves a lump in your throat. Rosa dies peacefully and Edgar lives happily ever after – a miraculous life with lots of bumps – not all of them on his once crushed head.
I quoted the first paragraph at the beginning of this review so let me make the perfect bookends by quoting the last paragraph at the end:
I’m supposed to meet Mitzi at Klutsner’s Deli for lunch to celebrate this new stage in our relationship, and I have a little time, so I roll a clean sheet into my typewriter and let me fingers have their way. In awhile, after I have added a few more inconsequential words and pages to this sprawling pile, I will put on my coat, pick up my Hermes Jubilee, lock the doors behind me, and emerge from the shadows of this house into the bright day, blinking and holding my hand to the sky, amazed at the light, like a man raised from the dead.
I never would have read this sweet and corny book without the encouragement (OK, requirement) of my Dad. I will enjoy telling him that I gave The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint four stars. (less)
I did not read The Ponder Heart as a separate book but am treating it as if I did for purposes of marking the review. I actually read the story as a p...moreI did not read The Ponder Heart as a separate book but am treating it as if I did for purposes of marking the review. I actually read the story as a part of Complete Novels . This is the July 2013 read for the group On the Southern Literary Trail. As a transplanted southerner, I have been introduced to many southern writers by this GR group.
The Ponder Heart was published by the New Yorker magazine in 1953 http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1953... and by Harcourt in book form in 1954 when Ms. Welty was forty-five. This was her first illustrated book. Shortly after its publication, Ms. Welty signed an option for the book to be made into a Broadway play where it had a four month run. An operatic version was also produced. In 2001 a public broadcasting Masterpiece Theatre TV movie was added to the list of adaptations. Regrettably, I have not seen any of these presentations.
The southern genre is known for its quirky characters. In this book there are several candidates for quirky but Daniel Ponder is far ahead of all others. He likes to give away his many possessions and ultimately succeeds in giving everything away. His trial marriage to a seventeen year old is just one example of his generosity. He leaves his house while his young wife stays and spends his money on fancy clothes and home improvements. The first person narrator Edna Earle Ponder is also alive with idiosyncrasies and individuality behind a veneer of normalcy, at least as compared to Uncle Daniel.
Her breathless, backhanded, first person singular has been caught, word by awful word, in all its affectionate self-importance, by a writer with a wonderful ear. Source: http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/11/22...
Ponder is an example of novels by southern authors set in small southern towns. One of the most well known of these is To Kill a Mockingbird.
This is an enjoyable short book, one that could be called comic. In 2012 it was called “one of the ten best comic works in literature” in the Christian Science Monitor. It is a dramatic monologue with its impressive first person narrative. I enjoyed reading it more than I have enjoyed other Welty offerings. I give it three stars rather than four simply because I did not enjoy it that much! (less)
I have been trying to read this book for decades. Literally decades. So, since it has been chosen for the July 2014 read for the GR group On the South...moreI have been trying to read this book for decades. Literally decades. So, since it has been chosen for the July 2014 read for the GR group On the Southern Literary Trail, I have another chance. Maybe reading it with a group will be the magic I need.
This book is over 500 pages in its original hardcover format and just chuck filled with detail. Here we have a paragraph about Eugene, our protagonist, in his youth:
There was in him a savage honesty, which exercised an uncontrollable domination over him when his heart or head were deeply involved. Thus, at the funeral of some remote kinsman, or of some acquaintance of the family, for whom he had never acquired any considerable affection, he would grow bitterly shamefast if, while listening to the solemn drone of the minister, or the sorrowful chanting of the singers, he felt his face had assumed an expression of unfelt and counterfeited grief: as a consequence he would shift about matter-of-factly, cross his legs, gaze indifferently at the ceiling, or look out of the window with a smile, until he was conscious his conduct had attracted the attention of people, and that they were looking on him with disfavor. Then, he felt a certain grim satisfaction as if, although having lost esteem, he had recorded his life.
This is on page 96 with a promise of over four hundred pages to go! (I glance about trying to mask a look of horror with a patient smile.)
Part one of the three part story ends about one-quarter through the book with Eugene and his mother traveling back to the North Carolina mountains from a trip into the deep South that had a lasting impression on our twelve year old centerpiece whose life experience is well beyond his young years.
The commonness of all things in the earth he remembered with a strange familiarity – he dreamed of the quiet roads, the moonlit woodlands, and he thought that one day he would come to them on foot, and find them unchanged, in all the wonder of recognition. They had existed for him anciently and forever.
I am reading Look Homeward, Angel simultaneously moving the bookmark in the hard cover and following the text on the Kindle screen as I listen to the Audible recording. As if that is not enough, I follow the summary at eNotes.com at the beginning and end of each chapter. This is got to be an overdone compulsion that drives me on. Sometimes I just listen to the Audible words as they wash beautifully over me – just for a sentence or paragraph least I lose my place – and have those few seconds of enjoyment when I am not puzzling the inaction or the meaning. I once carried a canvas newspaper sack as the young Eugene does but never with such poetry.
At first, the canvas strap of the paper-bag bit cruelly across his slender shoulders. He strained against the galling weight that pulled him earthwards. The first weeks were like a warring nightmare: day after day he fought his way up to liberation. He knew all the sorrow of those who carry weight; he knew, morning by morning, the aerial ecstasy of release. As his load lightened with the progress of his route, his leaning shoulder rose with winged buoyancy, his straining limbs grew light: at the end of his labor his flesh, touched sensuously by fatigue, bounded lightly from the earth.
Eugene continues to grow up torn between two very different parents. His mother smothers him. His father is harsh. He is “not quite sixteen years old when he is sent away to the university.”
"He's ready to go," said Gant, "and he's going to the State University, and nowhere else. He'll be given as good an education there as he can get anywhere. Furthermore, he will make friends there who will stand by him the rest of his life." He turned upon his son a glance of bitter reproach. "There are very few boys who have had your chance," said he, "and you ought to be grateful instead of turning up your nose at it. Mark my words, you'll live to see the day when you'll thank me for sending you there. Now, I've given you my last word: you'll go where I send you or you'll go nowhere at all."
Part Three of the book begins somewhat less than two-thirds of the way through the book with the start of Eugene’s university career. He has been a precocious scholar in the private school he attended at home in Altamont. Now he heads out to live apart from his family. I am going to give you some chunks of the text now to give you your own taste.
Eugene begins his time at the university:
Eugene's first year at the university was filled for him with loneliness, pain, and failure. Within three weeks of his matriculation, he had been made the dupe of a half-dozen classic jokes, his ignorance of all campus tradition had been exploited, his gullibility was a byword. He was the greenest of all green Freshmen, past and present: he had listened attentively to a sermon in chapel by a sophomore with false whiskers; he had prepared studiously for an examination on the contents of the college catalogue; and he had been guilty of the inexcusable blunder of making a speech of acceptance on his election, with fifty others, to the literary society. And these buffooneries--a little cruel, but only with the cruelty of vacant laughter, and a part of the schedule of rough humor in an American college--salty, extravagant, and national--opened deep wounds in him, which his companions hardly suspected. He was conspicuous at once not only because of his blunders, but also because of his young wild child's face, and his great raw length of body, with the bounding scissor legs. The undergraduates passed him in grinning clusters: he saluted them obediently, but with a sick heart. And the smug smiling faces of his own classmen, the wiser Freshmen, complacently guiltless of his own mistakes, touched him at moments with insane fury.
Wolfe describes the campus life with some humorous depreciation:
In this pastoral setting a young man was enabled to loaf comfortably and delightfully through four luxurious and indolent years. There was, God knows, seclusion enough for monastic scholarship, but the rare romantic quality of the atmosphere , the prodigal opulence of Springtime, thick with flowers and drenched in a fragrant warmth of green shimmering light, quenched pretty thoroughly any incipient rash of bookishness. Instead, they loafed and invited their souls or, with great energy and enthusiasm, promoted the affairs of glee-clubs, athletic teams, class politics, fraternities, debating societies, and dramatic clubs. And they talked--always they talked, under the trees, against the ivied walls, assembled in their rooms, they talked--in limp sprawls--incessant, charming, empty Southern talk; they talked with a large easy fluency about God, the Devil, and philosophy, the girls, politics, athletics, fraternities and the girls--My God! how they talked!
Part of the background of the book is the Great War (WWI). Alcohol is also a reoccurring theme and Eugene at the age of seventeen discovers that he is his father’s son.
The terrible draught smote him with the speed and power of a man's fist. He was made instantly drunken, and he knew instantly why men drank. It was, he knew, one of the great moments in his life— he lay, greedily watching the mastery of the grape over his virgin flesh, like a girl for the first time in the embrace of her lover. And suddenly, he knew how completely he was his father's son--how completely, and with what added power and exquisite refinement of sensation, was he Gantian. He exulted in the great length of his limbs and his body, through which the mighty liquor could better work its wizardry. In all the earth there was no other like him, no other fitted to be so sublimely and magnificently drunken. It was greater than all the music he had ever heard; it was as great as the highest poetry. Why had he never been told? Why had no one ever written adequately about it? Why, when it was possible to buy a god in a bottle, and drink him off, and become a god oneself, were men not forever drunken?
Eugene’s rage over his lot in life finally explodes. This is a family that regularly rages.
"I've been given nothing !" said Eugene, his voice mounting with a husky flame of passion. "I'll go bent over no longer in this house. What chance I have I've made for myself in spite of you all, and over your opposition. You sent me away to the university when you could do nothing else, when it would have been a crying disgrace to you among the people in this town if you hadn't. You sent me off after the Leonards had cried me up for three years, and then you sent me a year too soon--before I was sixteen--with a box of sandwiches, two suits of clothes, and instructions to be a good boy."
The book goes on to cover continuous family drama in Eugene’s life until just after his college graduation when he is nineteen and deciding what to do next in his young life.
This book has been too long and tedious. But the writing is often beautiful – just too much of it! How could those two statements be true at the same time? I want to skim though sections but skimming is not a skill that I have. I listened to the Audible recording of the book while I followed along on the Kindle. That is my technique to keep moving through the pages. I am not registering every word all the time and sometimes would have a hard time summarizing the story after I have heard it. That is why I read the summaries at eNotes.com, usually before and after I listened to a chapter. Sounds confusing and time consuming, doesn’t it?
I spent a good deal of time banging this long story into my eyes and ears and hoping that my brain would hang on to some of it! And it worked somewhat! But the effort I made was too great to lead to a result that was much better than OK. At its most successful moments, this was a three star book for me; this occurred mostly after the time when Eugene left home for college. But the book as a whole just was not rewarding enough to earn more than two stars from me. I want to cheer that I have at last read this book and post my Certificate of Accomplishment, and, thanks to Audible, I must say that I have actually heard almost all the book. I mark it up as a completed task but clearly not one that causes me to recommend this particular classic to others. (less)