Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Houses" ~ Nostalgic Mid-to-late 20th Century

"Houses" is about the many beautiful, enduring and literally earth-shattering epidodes that women and men experience in life. It's how the locust-like numbers of "baby boomers" our gusto for living, for challenge and change, helped bring about impassioned awareness, and long standing, meaningful new ways of living in our generation...not just social unrest, mindless war, entitlements and greed. And, we continue to effect social, spiritual, political and cultural change even today.

Ms Parks processes the conflicts of being a woman during the turbulent years of the mid-to end of the 20th century. Specifically, we follow the life story of Lacey, a girl whose growing up years to current "golden years" will leave a lasting impression on readers of all ages.

 Readers are taken on a nostalgic trip through childhood days of playing outside with neighborhood friends, the Kennedy and Martin Luther King days, civil and women's rights, the Viet Nam War, the bliss of first love, and the self-affirming conviction of being politically active for the first time. We come to know and love her family members, her friends both male and female and her loved ones.

We relive Lacey's agonies, [the agonies we, ourselves, may have endured, possibly still do!] to be a "good Mom" while minding the house and budget requirements, working for a pittance at a boring/stagnant job, and trying to take one or two classes at a time to finish a college degree, so that some day it might be possible to become what she hopes to be.  All of this only to find herself alone and most of those she loved gone, by the time she finally "got there."
 Ultimately, Lacey does find a satisfaction from things fought for and won, and they give some consolation keeping her in the game, though the questions and conflicts, the nature of being a nurturer and/or a concerned parent still linger even to our childrens' generation.  Even today, we; men and women, question why we go to war and we cry for those who fight and die.

 In chosing the title, "Houses," Ms Parks chooses a metaphor relating to the different houses either lived in, toured, loved or hated, by Lacey to define the stages of her life, and the expressions of her "self." This brilliant symbol leaves an indelible mark, causing us to examine ourselves in the same context.

I want to leave these quotes of so many brilliant ones in this novel:
"Maybe I'm naive, but I'm hopeful that our daughters and granddaughters will find it easier. The internet and telecommunicating now offer the promise, not just of a greener way of working, but of an avenue, for both men and women, to productive and fulfilling work that doesn't require abandoning the home, especially the children, whose needs don't always correspond to nine to five scheduling. We have the Family Leave Act now and the notion of daycare in the workplace seems less radical. The stay-at-home dad is not such a joke."

and this:

"This, chickadees, is (sic) the things about happiness. You must take it where you find it. Don't question or second guess or wish for minor modifications. Laugh, eat, joke. Bounce the baby on your knee. Don't look forward or back. Keep your eyes focused on the faces around you. One of them may be missing come next year. Come next year everything may be entirely different. Memory may have to darken your perfect day with its tincture of melancholy and the happiness will never seem so clear and real again...Should you find yourself happy, as happy as I was that Thanksgiving Day, don't even think. Just be....Eat all you want."

This book is for everyone of this mid-to-late 20th century generation and even those of us at the dawn of the 21st century. There's beauty and wisdom for you here.

If you think those battles of life and liberty are all over, please, think again.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Rescue" by Anita Shreve ~ Life Lessons Aren't Easy!

In "Rescue," Ms Shreve offers up a cautionary tale, writing a moral story and a reminder to us that sometimes those who are our best equipped, and most professional "rescuers," are not always the ones capable of saving their own families in crisis.

Anita Shreve is the consummate storyteller. She never fails to provide the well-written, well-constructed, relavent novel to which her thousands of readers can relate. Her books are timeless. They are filled with grains of truth that surely 90% of her readers will understand on a profoundly personal level. I found this book no exception, although it was lighter than some of her previous books.

Characterization is strong and believable throughout, with people we love to champion, as well as those who will challenge our sense of right and wrong, and fairness. The characters are so well developed that the line between fantasy and reality come close to fading.

Ms Shreve's book extolls the benefits and warns of the consequences of rash decisions made in youth. It's this flipside of the coin that contributes to the story and the meanings of "rescue." These questions of consequence, family problems and moral obligations should make this book hit home for nearly everyone.

I highly recommend "Rescue," not only to fans of Anita Shreve, but also to those who want a contemporary novel with timeless, thought-provoking qualities...and, of course, beautiful writing.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

"She's My Dad" ~ A Transexual Professor's Story

Astonishing clever book~~entertaining, interesting, shocking and an easy read. It's no wonder "She's My Dad" was chosen as a "Finalist - Next Generation Indie Book Awards."

Iolanthe Woulff gives a shadowy window into the little-known world of a transsexual in the most liberal of environments, a college created by a gay man for "alternate lifestyle" learners and educators.

With honesty and no-uncertain-terms storytelling, Ms Woulff  shares what appears to be her personal experiences with both the homosexual lifestyle and the challenges of life as a transsexual.

While her writing is sound and intelligent with characters believable for the most part, I found the main character, transsexual professor, Nickie Farrell, somewhat flat and lacking. We do get her reactions and relationships to the college people around her, but Nickie's personal background...the hows and whys of how she made the choice for her transformation and the challenges of that journey, are glaringly absent. I was left wanting more. Her swift dismissal of emotional "hits" and her oddly superficial reactions of running away for a few days and having brief talks with her friend leave Nickie rather an empty shell.

"She's My Dad" contains strong language and imagery that seems geared toward those who are familiar with a darker side of life, or have experienced it personally. There is much having to do with the downside of homosexuality and violence surrounding it. However, here is where Ms Woulff's strongest and most realistic writing emerges! And, in my humble opinion, I think she has the makings of a fabulous Stephen Kingish author.

In conclusion, though I would not recommend this book for all readers, I have to applaud Ms Woulff for her courage in bringing us this book about the life of a transsexual.  It is a timely and important story. It carries the hope of understanding, acceptance and love for all kinds of people no matter what they are inside and out.

The Bookish Dame/Deborah P.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

"Great House," by Nicole Krauss~ Extraordinary, but Illusive!

Frankly speaking, I found this book completely confusing in structure. The author does way too much skipping around in a disjointed manner..leaving the reader wondering who on earth she's talking about! It spoiled the reading experience for me; 'though I did find many redeeming points of interest and captivating characters midst the chaos.

 Ms Krauss had some redeeming moments of beautiful writing and clarity throughout her work. Her original concept of a desk that was a "house" unto itself and that linked several people and families in their writing and angst, was a "great" one. It was just so scattered in presentation that it missed being a fantastic novel.

I kept trying to find another, personal connection between all of the characters, and thought I had, only to wonder about that at the end. It felt as if I should re-read the novel before I would really get that full connection...before I could claim complete understanding of the novel. But, I didn't want to reread it!

I'm very well-read, and I'm intelligent enough to know when a book doesn't quite hit the mark. Sadly, although the critics have touted "Great House" for its brilliance and esoteric singularity, I found it difficult and exasperating to read. I also became mind-boggled and frustrated by the author's switching from ordinary prose and descriptive writing to a sort of James Joyceian stream-of-consiousness at a couple of points. Again, it was irritating and disrupted the reader's train of thought.

 All in all, I would find it difficult to recommend this book to my friends or anyone. I gave it 4-stars only because when she hits it right, as I've said, Ms Krauss writes beautifully and with great heart, giving life to her characters.