Friday, December 28, 2012

"We Need to Talk About Kevin" by Lionel Shriver

Am I the last person to hear of Lionel Shriver?  Apparently she falls into a large category of brilliant writers whose existence somehow eluded me until now.  I guess I really meant it when I was 10 years old and my mom asked:  "what do you really want to do Becca?"  And I said, "I want to read all the books in the world."  I just wish that Shriver's had fallen earlier on my list.  She could've taken the place of, say, Elizabeth Gilbert or Charles Dickens.

Anywho. Shriver serves as the voice for us all when she succumbs to the pressure of motherhood - a successful, 30 something gal who is worried to introduce a new person into a nuclear universe even more screwed up than her own.  The marriage appears fine, but the root of the obstacle is Shriver keeping her booming career while becoming a mummy later in life.  Two no-no's that are sure to catapult your kid into becoming a mass murderer, right?

"So I wasn't only afraid of becoming my mother, but a mother.  I was afraid of being the steadfast, stationary anchor who provides a jumping-off place for another young adventurer whose travels I might envy whose future is still unmoored and unmapped.  I was afraid of being that archetypal figure in the doorway - frowzy, a little plump - who waves goodbye and blows kisses as a backpack is stashed in the trunk; who dabs her eyes with an apron ruffle in the fumes of departing exhaust; who turns forlornly to twist the latch and wash the too-few dishes by the sink as the silence in the room presses down like a dropped ceiling.  More than of leaving, I had developed a horror of being left.  How often I had done that to you, stranded you with the baguette crusts of our farewell dinner and swept off to my waiting taxi.  I don't believe I ever told you how sorry I was for putting you through all those little deaths of serial desertion, or commended you on constraining expression of your quite justifiable sense of abandonment to the occasional quip.

Franklin, I was absolutely terrified of having a child.  Before I got pregnant, my visions of child rearing - reading stories about cabooses with smiley faces at bedtime, feeding glop into slack mouths - all seemed like pictures of someone else.  I dreaded confrontation with what could prove a closed, stony nature, my own selfishness and lack of generosity, the thick, tarry powers of my own resentment.  However intrigued by a 'turn of the page,' I was mortified by the prospect of becoming hopelessly trapped in someone else's story.  And I believe that this terror is precisely what must have snagged me, the way a ledge will tempt one to jump off.  The very insurmountability of the task, its very unattractiveness, was in the end what attracted me to it."

Did I mention you may not want to pick up this read if you're on the fence about starting a family?  "Kevin" makes you wonder who is at fault when nature wins in the nature vs. nurture battle present within each child. I'll let you know who generally doesn't lose: dear old dad. It turns out that society really doesn't expect much out of dad, but generously attaches blame to mumsie, regardless of the disparity in quantity or quality from each.  These forces drive Eva's marriage to disaster, as the book is comprised of only letters to Franklin, recalling a life when they were together before Kevin's "Thursday" that changed their community forever.

"It's always the mother's fault, ain't it?" she said softly, collecting her coat.  "That boy turn out bad cause his mama a drunk, or she a junkie.  She let him run wild, she don't teach him right from wrong.   She never home when he back from school.  Nobody ever say his daddy a drunk, or his daddy not home after school.  And nobody ever say they come kids just damned mean.  Don't you believe that old guff.  Don't you let them saddle you with all that killing...It hard to be a momma.  Nobody pass a law say 'fore you get pregnant you gotta be perfect.  I'm sure you try the best you could.  You here, in this dump, on a nice Saturday afternoon?  You still trying.  Now you take care of yourself, honey.  And you don't be talking any more a that nonsense."

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Frances Nolan, Age 15 years and 4 months.  April 6, 1917.
She thought:  "If I open this envelope fifty years from now, I will be again as I am now and there will be no being old for me.  There's a long, long time yet before fifty years...millions of hours of time.  But one hour has gone already since I sat here...only one hour less to hour gone away from all the hours of my life."
"Dear God," she prayed, "let me be something every minute of every hour of my life.  Let me be gay; let me be sad.  Let me be cold; let me be warm.  Let me be hungry...have too much to eat.  Let me be ragged or well dressed.  Let me be sincere -- be deceitful.  Let me be truthful; let me be a liar.  Let me be honorable and let me sin.  Only let me be something every blessed minute.  And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Styron the siren

William Styron, you poetic prince.  Are you American?  Can it be so?  Certainly not English.  Southern with a love for Paris you say?  Virginia boy, you make me want to drink a bottle of Cabernet and reread Nabokov.

"I remember those first weeks at Yetta's with remarkable clarity. To begin with, there was a magnificent surge of creative energy, the innocent and youthful abandon with which I was able to set down in so short a time the first fifty or sixty pages of the book.  I have never written fast or easily and this was no exception, for even then I was compelled to search, however inadequately, for the right word and suffered over the rhythms and subtleties of our gorgeous but unbenevolent, unyielding tongue; nonetheless, I was seized by a strange, dauntless self-confidence and I scribbled away joyously while the characters I had begun to create seemed to a acquire a life of their own and the muggy atmosphere of the Tidewater summer took on both an eye-dazzling and almost tactile reality, as if unspooling before my eyes on film, in uncanny three-dimensional color.  How I now cherish the image of myself in this earlier time, hunched over the schoolmarm's desk in that radiant pink room, whispering melodiously (as I still do) the invented phrases and sentences, testing them on my lips like some obsessed verse-monger, and all the while remaining supremely content in the knowledge that the fruit of this happy labor, whatever its deficiencies, would be the most awesome and important of man's imaginative endeavors -- The Novel.  The blessed Novel.  The sacred Novel.  The Almighty Novel.  Oh, Stingo, how I envy you in those faraway afternoons of First Novelhood (so long before middle age and the drowsy slack tides of inanition, gloomy boredom with fiction, and the pooping-out of ego and ambition) when immortal longings impelled your every hyphen and semicolon and you had the faith of a child in the beauty you felt you were destined to bring forth."

~ William Styron, Sophie's Choice

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Book Review: Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver puts evangelism in its place in her 1998 best-seller, which follows a southern Georgia missionary family as they move to the village of Kilanga in the Congo in 1959.  The Price family's story is narrated by each of the five girls:  Orleanna, the mother, and her four daughters, Rachel, Adah, Leah and Ruth May, and their journey parallels the country's tumultuous emergence into the post-colonial era.

Following their father on his mission to change Africa, the family found themselves swallowed and forever transformed by the dark continent.  Rachel remembers, "from the very first moment I set foot in the Congo, I could see we were not in charge.  We got swept up with those people that took us to the church for all their half-naked dancing and goat meat with the hair still on, and I said to myself this little trip is going to be the ruin of the Price family as we know it.  And, boy, was it ever."

While Congo gained independence from Belgium, the little societal order that existed disintegrated, and the same was true for the Price family.  Each member adapted to their new existence differently, and what was formerly a life of sixteenth birthday parties and Sunday luncheons became a daily test of survival. Malaria, poisonous snakes, lions and hostile villagers became the norm, and you will judge Orleanna for bringing her family there and not leaving her husband.  Her apathy hardens, and tragedy eventually forces her into a life of  denial, guilt and regret.  "For women like me, it seems, it's not ours to take charge of beginnings and endings.  Not the marriage proposal, the summit conquered, the first shot fired, nor the last one either -- the treaty at Appomattox, the knife in the heart.  Let men write these stories.  I can't.  I only know the middle ground where we live our lives.  We whistle while Rome burns, or we scrub the floor, depending.  Don't dare presume there's shame in the lot of a woman who carries on."

High recommendation here!  The historic backdrop is welcome, following the US attempted assassination of Lumumba, Mobutu's following rise in power, and the Church Committee investigations of it all.  You'll never forgive Orleanna or her husband, the tragic disintegration of their family will break your heart, and Africa's heart of darkness will chill you to the bone.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Poisonwood Bible preview

Full book review forthcoming, yet indulge me in some dabbles (most of which are from the perspective of a missionary wife and children).  I swear there is just something about a southern woman finding empowerment in the strange lands of the Congo...

I married a man who could never love me, probably.  It would have trespassed on his devotion to all mankind. I remained his wife because it was one thing I was able to do each day.  My daughters would say:  You see, Mother, you had no life of your own.

They have no idea.  One has only a life of one's own.


I know how people are, with their habits of mind.  Most will sail through from cradle to grave with a conscience clean as snow.  It's easy to point at other men, conveniently dead, starting with the ones who first scooped up mud from riverbanks to catch the scent of a source.  Why, Dr. Livingstone, I presume, wasn't he the rascal! He and all the profiteers who've since walked out on Africa as a husband quits a wife, leaving her with her naked body curled around the emptied-out mine of her womb.  I know people.  Most have no earthly notion of the price of a snow-white conscience.


Unable to work either the dishwasher or Methuselah's long memory into a proper ending for his parable, Our Father merely looked at us all and heaved the great sigh of the put-upon male.  Oh, such a sigh.  It was so deep it could have drawn water from a well, right up from beneath the floor of our nitwit household.  He was merely trying, that sigh suggested, to drag us all toward enlightenment through the marrow of our own poor female bones.

"It wasn't all bad..."

April 27, 2012 from The Week news:

"When Trish Vickers lost her sight, she poured her energies into writing a novel in longhand.  But at the end of a 26-page writing session, she was devastated to discover that her pen had been dry and all the pages were blank.  In desperation, Vickers, of Lyme Regis in the U.D., turned to her local police force's fingerprinting department for help.  To her relief, the officers were able to use special lighting techniques to recover the writing from impressions on the pates.  'It was nice to do something for somebody,' said forensic specialist Kerry Savage, who completed the task during her lunch hours."

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

2012 discovery


(1)  Typing in all caps never gets old.  Emulating some sort of voice immodulation disorder/lack of volume control over the computer is such a hoot y'all.  Particularly when I look up at my screen and I've accidentally drafted three lines of an email to my boss virtually screaming.  Gosh what a crack.

(2)  Animals talking is just funny.

Here's a clip:


Everyone enjoy their evening while I send these geniuses seasonal pictures of the tiny sheriff.

Night y'all. 


Monday, January 2, 2012

2012: More lit please.

Gosh y'all it's been so long since I've reviewed a book I barely remember what I read!  And to state the sad truth, it hasn't been much the second half of 2011.  My work schedule, Junior League schedule, and attending a wedding about every month (including MOH-ing in one! Mazel little sister!) made it a challenge to dive into a good book in the off time, not to mention I spend quite a bit of off time whispering sweet nothings to my mang if you catch my drift.  Gosh what a crazy, tragic, sometimes almost magic, awful, beautiful year (Just took it there with some country lyrics.  I really do need to amp up the literature in my life.).

Some very brief highlights and lowlights from my reading adventures since we've last sipped and swirled together:

Bram Stoker's Dracula was a true 2011 highlight.  My classics ladies (Teri, Jackie, Biscuit and I) have had a small haitus only partially due to the birth of little Sofie Kay- the cutest little honorary book club member you could imagine- but we did manage to fit in this gem.  Stoker's narrative story-telling is smooth, though sometimes endless, and he builds suspense, plants fear and tickles curiosity in this gothic, romantic horror story.  It's a festive fall read and one of the few page-turners of its time (the UK in the 1800s was a snooze fest folks).

William Thackeray's Vanity Fair.  See snooze-fest comment above.  Friends, this book confirms that any author who was paid by the word a la Charles Dickens just is not the man for me.  If you had a few inches left in your suitcase to a deserted island for the rest of your life and had to choose between a copy of Vanity Fair and four stale hotdog buns, I'd have to flip for it.


"The Glass Castle" By Jeannette Walls.  Best read of 2011.  Now usually the New York Times Bestseller List is a cesspool of complete malarkey, but the exceptions can be exceptional.  This dysfunctional 2005 memoir is complete nonfiction, yet so sensational it rocks the conscience.  Jeannette's parents are so negligent, you can barely forgive them, yet their own lessons on forgiveness are so remarkable and child-like that you wonder how these thoughts could reside in the parents who could  provide nothing but a poverty-stricken, unstable and tragic childhood for their kids.

"Erma can't let go of her misery," Mom said.  "It's all she knows."  She added that you should never hate anyone, even your worst enemies.  "Everyone has something good about them," she said.  "You have to find the redeeming quality and love the person for that."

"Oh yeah?" I said.  "How about Hitler?  What was his redeeming quality?"

"Hitler loved dogs," Mom said without hesitation.

And those are a few remarks of 2011, along with a taste of my first 2012 read, "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield:

"People disappear when they die.  Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath.  Their flesh.  Eventually their bones.  All living memory of them ceases.  This is both dreadful and natural.  Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation.  For in the books they write they continue to exist.  We can rediscover them.  Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods.  Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy.  They can comfort you.  They can perplex you.  They can alter you.  All this, even though they are dead.  Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic."

So see y'all for more reading in 2012.  xx