Jason's Reviews > Hope for the Flowers

Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus
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's review
Jan 09, 2009

did not like it
Recommended to Jason by: an ex
Recommended for: David, Brian, Mark, other misanthropes
Read in November, 1990

A girlfriend gave me this book once.

At the time, I was living on an island of about two hundred people, teaching English. A foolish, miserable task--the kind of "good-for-you" intervention bound up in so many good intentions that the inevitable crass exploitation and inadequate resourcing and nonexistent long-term vision and full-on horseshit stupidity seem, in hindsight, a necessary cosmic counter-balancing. Ostensibly, I was teaching English and helping the other English teachers improve curriculum. Instead, the other English teachers wised up--let the fucking American handle this shit, and let's hit the lagoon, while the fishing is fine--and I struggled to piece together an elementary curriculum for non-English speakers who'd never heard anyone fluent in English speak. No television, except when the local generator was fired up, and the vhs hooked in, so that we could watch "Best of the Best" and "Best of the Best 2" for a quarter. Two or three radios, which only got Armed Forces Network. One communication radio, intermittently functioning, which I got on once a week to talk to pals distributed around the islands over 40,000 some square miles. I got mail once a week, if the plane showed up, if the weather was good, if I actually got any mail. I could run around the island, by which I mean quite literally I could run around the island. We periodically hit a dry patch where few fish came in, and breadfruit weren't in season, so we ate canned food and rice and coconuts, and when the canned food ran out we ate rice and coconuts. I lost about 60 pounds. I sank into periodic depressions. I certainly got along with everyone, and drank tons of instant coffee hanging out with the guys, but I wasn't really connecting -- except with one guy, a really great person who I was starting to become good friends with, and then he died of tuberculosis. Those periods of depression became more like exclamation points.

Twice a year, during the two years I was there, I got into the "main island." (Let's describe that in some other post.) During those trips, I drank excessively. Took up smoking despite having never had any interest in smoking (even leaping straight to Kool Menthols, 'cause as I believe Denis Leary put it if you inhale excessively on a Menthol it feels like your eyes are bleeding). Stayed out to all hours. Fell in love with everyone I met. And at the end of one stay, I began dating (okay, let's call it "dating" as well as dating) a very nice, sweet, good-intentioned English teacher like myself. We had a whirlwind of hyperbolic romantic passion, before we both headed to our respective islands.

Months passed. Mail, infrequent, the occasional too-public radio conversation. I had been there... oh, maybe 18 months. I was seriously losing it. And I wrote this sweet, wonderful, well-intentioned woman a cri de coeur, a howl of anguish and existential fear and self-loathing ... and she sent me this book. Oh, she also sent me a very moving, sweet, well-intentioned letter, explaining what the book meant, and how it might help me. She really was a great person. But I read this book and wanted to immediately begin gassing hippies. I turned from self-loathing into a fairly aggressive other-loather. I realized that this task I'd taken on really wasn't for me. A couple weeks later, I left the island and the gig, for good.

We broke up, too. I wasn't even sure how to say anything ... the book flabbergasted me. But, in a way, I guess, it saved me.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 51) (51 new)

message 1: by jo (new)

jo this is a really great piece of writing.

message 2: by Jessica (new)

Jessica Hey is this the one with the pillar of caterpillars and they're all crushing each other trying to climb to the top? Because I totally had that book when I was a kid, and it was pretty fucked up.

Unfortunately -- well, fortunately, really, I guess -- I don't have a completely insane story of my own to go with it.

Woah, Mike.


message 3: by brian (new)

brian   jessica just called me from nyc and told me to get the hell home and read your latest review. my poor dog got one less squirt on a bush but it was worth it.
i think i might be in love with you mike.
i want to stuff the ballot box on this one.

added later: OMFG! i just saw my name in the 'recommended for'. thank you for including me in one of the all time great bookface book reports.

Jason You guys are too kind. I was following my pal Jo's list of depressive books, decided to be a smart-ass, and it got me thinking about this one and ...

Yeah, the damn caterpillars. I guess the squishy pillar of caterpillars is my madeleine.

Lest this seem too ... well, singularly gloomy, let me say that my memories--and my journals from the time--are full of all kinds of astonishing, wonderful moments, too. A shitload of mundane nothing-happening bored-to-tears moments, as well. I was zigzagging around the emotional map. And even at their darkest things were so fucking absurd that my jaw would just drop and I'd sit there, dazzled, and later on I'd try to write it down, thinking to myself: if I wasn't here, this would be funny. E.g., the time I cut my knee open with a machete, in three-and-a-half feet of water, reef sharks all around, and then watched the island "doctor" put masking tape on the wound to close it up. (I had a reunion with some other returned teachers a couple years later, and I was telling one of my friends about the 'help' letter and the consequent caterpillar book, and the thought of me receiving that book, in that situation, made him fall helplessly off his chair onto a sticky Chicago barroom floor, laughing.)

message 5: by Jessica (last edited Jan 09, 2009 08:57PM) (new)

Jessica Brian is a philistine! This is the all time greatest book review, and I can't stop thinking about poor malnourished, deranged, Kool-smoking Mike Reynolds stranded on that island.... Now I'll probably never get to sleep, and if I do all my dreams will be about this totally bizarro book.

I'm completely traumatized.

message 6: by Edan (new)

Edan Mike, your review has me recalling the widespread I-have-a-crush-on-Mike-Reynolds epidemic at Oberlin.

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

This is great.

message 8: by Manny (new)

Manny Wonderful review, thank you!

message 9: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow. This kind of reminds me of my Giving Tree experience. Except without the island, the menthols (um, yuck), and the initial desire to want to help others. You should write a book... seriously. This shit kicks V.S. Naipaul's ass!

Is the David for whom this is recommended me or David Crosby? I don't want to be presumptuous.


message 10: by Bill (new)

Bill Purdy Nice work, Mike. Really nice work. I have always enjoyed your writing.

I do not, however, have a crush on you of any kind. Nor have I ever.

Just thought maybe you needed to level-set a bit after all these gushes.

Love, bp

message 11: by Jeff (new)

Jeff The Peace Corps sounds so romantic and alluring. You know I have a crush on you, but you're a fickle bastard.

Jennifer (aka EM) Is a crush of caterpillars like a gaggle of geese? If not, it should be.

Question: why did you give 1 star to a book that flabbergasted and saved you?

Are you really able to separate the emotional context of a book from its literary merits? Or, is inspiring the gassing of hippies really all that bad? (if so, I better rethink some things esp. vis-a-vis In Watermelon Sugar)

message 13: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason EM: Flabbergasted in a particular, gut-punch kind of way. Imagine you're drowning. Your arms are tired--you've been thrashing here for what seems like hours--and your head keeps dipping below the water, and your anxiety gauge is well into the red. A boat comes by, and the person inside yells "Hang on!" and you feel a flash of peace and your heartrate drops below 100 and you are so damn thankful, and then from the boat in a graceful arc comes a cup of tea, in fine china. Or, better, a throw pillow. Now, you normally would have little to do with throw pillows; they irritate, but, hell, who consciously thinks about throw pillows? But suddenly, one bounces off your head, as you are drowning. Say it has little ruby tassels, and a stitched saying like "Hang in there." Suddenly, you HATE throw pillows. They aren't just faux-classy aggravations, the "cushions" you must move aside in order to sit comfortably on a couch. They are evil. They are anti-life.

This is how I feel about the book.

Now, ironically, as the boat motors away, and you gaze with rage at the throw pillow, unable even to choke out some reply to the retreating do-gooder who has a contented smile on his or her face, confident of what's been accomplished, as you grab this pillow now sodden and heavy as a stone, suddenly you are filled with an astonishing burst of energy and you tuck that bastard under one arm and vigorously swim after that boat, intent on smacking that do-gooder about the head and neck with the homily.

That is how this book saved me.

I have crushes on all of you. Except Bill. Jeff, I'm not fickle; I'm just busy, and get distracted. Just call me, you loon. David, that pissant Crosby stole my stash once *and* ate a whole bag of cheetos I'd been saving, so he and I are kaput--it's you, baby, it's you. Jessica, I find that I get over the trauma of allegorically self-helping animal stories by watching some ridiculous gory horror film. Might I suggest A L'interieur, an absurdly bloody and nasty bit of French cinema. (Even as I suggest it, a vision pops into my head of Beatrice Dalle calmly, with crazy intensity, taking a big blade to quarter each and every caterpillar.)

message 14: by jo (new)

jo your analogy is so good, and so well written, and so damn funny, you almost made my day. i say almost because i realize i do not have a crush on you, and that makes me sad. if i had a crush on you, my day would be perfect. let's work on that.

message 15: by Bill (new)

Bill Purdy OK, I'll admit to having a tiny crush, but only after a few beers. Before that, though, it's strictly business.

Jennifer (aka EM) I get it. A throw pillow is better than a life preserver, and appreciated only as the inspiration for a galvanic rage that, ultimately, saves you.

Hmmmm ... so, if she had thrown a better book, you might have drowned but stayed together. Some women are like that. ;)

message 17: by jo (new)

jo he would never have left the island. and since the island doesn't have internet connection, we wouldn't know him.

Jennifer (aka EM) good point. but he might have ended up with a better book to read while stuck there, despondent and covered in masking tape.

in all seriousness, mike ... great, great writing here. ty.

message 19: by Mark (new)

Mark I loved this book.

You are a horrible human being.

message 20: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason Fuck you, hippie!

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

Message 20 just elevated Mike Reynolds from bromance material to object of dangerous obsession. You have been warned.

message 22: by jo (new)

jo now i have a crush on you, too.

message 23: by Eh?Eh! (new)

Eh?Eh! torn between the autobiographical review and the throw pillow response - thanks for the belly laugh

message 24: by David (new)

David FLOAT!

message 25: by karen (new)

karen i respond to david's floats...

message 26: by David (new)

David You have to admit... This is a highly floatable review, n'est-ce pas?

message 27: by karen (new)

karen mais oui!

message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

One of my closest friends did a stint in the Peace Corps, and all of his anecdotes involve him having explosive diarrhea in public. I imagine if someone gave him this book at the time, he would have gone on a murderous rampage. So it wouldn't have been all bad.

message 29: by David (new)

David Wow. So far my float has netted you eleven second-run votes, Peaches!

YOU'RE WELCOME! (Where's my payoff?)

message 30: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason Ceridwen wrote: "One of my closest friends did a stint in the Peace Corps, and all of his anecdotes involve him having explosive diarrhea in public...."

I think 2/3 of the conversations with other volunteers circled around our respective g.i. tracts. (The other 1/3 dealt with adjacent physical territory.) I recall an orientation session, and meeting one of my colleagues, who'd done a stint 25 years earlier when she was just out of college and was now returning. She spoke up in a health session and used exactly that adjective in response to a nurse's conscientiously-polite advice on the Scylla and Charybdis of diarrhea and constipation: "Oh, when I was in Ethiopia, I had EXPLOSIVE shits..."

message 31: by Bram (last edited Jan 25, 2010 08:20AM) (new)

Bram Great review, Reynolds (and nice archaeology skills, Kowalski). Thank goodness this float wasn't coupled with the kiss of death.

message 32: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason David wrote: "Wow. So far my float has netted you eleven second-run votes, Peaches!

YOU'RE WELCOME! (Where's my payoff?)"

Herb, I would float one of your many great reviews but the whole deletion thing screws with that... so, I'll have to think on fitting remuneration.

message 33: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason Bram, I was just reading about what I apparently can't read anymore--repost that Vonnegut review. I love him, and I want to flag your ass. (Just kidding. I'm keen to see your incisive dismissal.)

message 34: by Bram (last edited Jan 25, 2010 08:32AM) (new)

Bram Heh, I'm going to wait to hear from the Goodreads staff before I repost (in case they can salvage it). It's a pretty old review and not terribly insightful. I had a pretty strong gut level dislike for the book as I was reading it, but this may have been due in part to reading its prose style antithesis, Swann's Way, simultaneously.

Rachel Hunt Well, then....

message 36: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason Rachel--I'm a snot. And this is a rant. Heartfelt, and I'm pleased with my own snotty rantingness, but I hope I'm not raining on some favorite of yours!

Robby Could you actually point out something you didn't like about the book instead of issuing a tract of half-baked prose? Personally, I loved the heart and simplicity...plus it was a nice shot at American consumerism--a bonus.

message 38: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason Robby wrote: "Could you actually point out something you didn't like about the book instead of issuing a tract of half-baked prose?..."

Fight fire with fire, my mom always says.

Robby Mike wrote: "Robby wrote: "Could you actually point out something you didn't like about the book instead of issuing a tract of half-baked prose?..."

Fight fire with fire, my mom always says."

Thanks for the predictable response, confirms what I was thinking. Keep shooting from the hip, Mr. Mike, as long as it's in line with your target.

message 40: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason Robby wrote: "Thanks for the predictable response, confirms what I was thinking... "

Fight fire with fire, my dad always says.

Robby Mike wrote: "Robby wrote: "Thanks for the predictable response, confirms what I was thinking... "

Fight fire with fire, my dad always says."

Thanks for those valuable insights on the book, and life. And don't feel bad, my girlfriend actually had to read it to me for me to get it.

message 42: by Jason (last edited Jul 04, 2013 06:30PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason Robby, you have gotten under my skin. Your initial comment snipes at me, with a dismissal of my half-baked prose, when the comment immediately preceding your post suggested what should be apparent to any reader of this review: I was writing about personal experience, using this space to connect to ways that books attain some crazy import because of when we read them, where we read them, who gave them to us, who we were when we read them, and I was not trying to rain on the book or fans thereof. It is not a review, never intended to be. Why you would pipe in here and scold me boggles my mind--so I sniped back. And you took that as a chance to further feel self-righteous.

I could tie all this to the book more explicitly. It is a book in the shallowest vein about being who you "really" are, and my personal narrative is an extended riff on my difficulties finding my self, trying to not be selfish, being typically lost in trying to follow some prior mold for being yourself. And the trite pitch for the Peace Corps ("The toughest job you'll ever love") is the same trite hoodoo pitched in this book, both selling visions of individualism that actually reinforce American ideologies, including corporatization. What seems like counterculture glosses the way this "resistance" feeds the Thing being resisted, too. But it wasn't that kind of review.

I noted in comment 13, in response to a friend, that I don't spend a lot of time hating on throw pillows, nor on people who like throw pillows. Now don't get me wrong: throw pillows suck. But why would I write a review of them, or mock another person's affection for them? I can, however, detail a very specific instance when a throw pillow might inspire a snarling rant. In this anecdote, "throw pillow" can be replaced with "Hope For The Flowers."

I would now encourage you to ask your girlfriend to come to the computer and read this response to you, to enhance your understanding of it.

I am glad you liked the book. I think it's very clear that my writing here was not about the book but personal. I'm sorry, then, that you don't like me, but jesus--consider me a throw pillow and move along, like reasonable people do. You're welcome to stick around, but if you want a dialogue, have something to fucking say, join in the spirit of the on-going conversation.

message 43: by Kathrina (new)

Kathrina 5-year-old crush, reignited right here!

message 44: by [deleted user] (new)

My husband just read me the last post by Mike, and I feel like Fuck Yeah, Team America!!!

message 45: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason I must have had a bowl of wheaties yesterday.

Robby I'm trying to figure out who Mike is in this conversation. Anyway, sorry I missed your reply and that your snotty rantingness had to carom around in cyberspace all these years. I still don't have anything to add because I think you're full of shit and and that denigrating a children's book to gain personal notoriety is an indication of rock bottom.

I took the book's advice. It worked. Good day.

message 47: by Jason (new) - rated it 1 star

Jason Thanks, Robby!

message 48: by Dafydd (new)

Dafydd Mike, this review, and your response to being trolled by someone who makes bafflingly inappropriate and unasked-for comments on the throw pillows of others, made my evening.

Unlike the others, I don't have a crush on you....I have a crush on your throw pillow instead, as it sinks to rock bottom.

message 49: by Robby (last edited Feb 24, 2017 05:33PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Robby Again, who's Mike?

@David When your administration comes up, you can make an executive order banning "unasked-for comments" on the internet. And I'm sure you will.

message 50: by Madeline Rozzi (new)

Madeline Rozzi .

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