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book review – fly away home by jennifer weiner

28 Sep

A preamble:

I am a fan of Jennifer Weiner.  I have been for quite some time.  I first started reading for pleasure because of my now husband.  Before we started dating, I didn’t read anything.  I’m serious.  I didn’t read anything.  In high school?  Nope, not if I could help it.  College? Uh uh.  Not until my husband taught me that reading could be fun, as long as you had the right book, did I begin to read every night before I fall asleep.  Now, I couldn’t imagine falling asleep without reading.  Now, I LOVE reading.

When I began reading, I read a lot of fluff. You know what I’m talking about…novels about women who love shopping and men and who aren’t that complex. Now, I don’t have a problem with fluff don’t get me wrong.  The fluff was what got me into reading, so I will be forever grateful.  BUT after reading something that wasn’t fluff…something that had some substance; some umph, I was HOOKED.

Jennifer Weiner was one of the first female authors I read that wasn’t FLUFF.  I know that, some considers her considered a “chick lit” writer.  Now, I could go on for a long time about the words, “chick lit,” but I’ll save you the agony.  All I want to say is that I believe that there is such thing as chick lit (secret: it’s what I call FLUFF).  Chick lit has its place in literature, just like really bad science fiction has its place in literature.  What I’m saying is that there are fluffy novels for both women AND men.  Unfortunately, unsurprisingly, fluffy novels written for women get the term “chick lit.”  So, now I’m done with that.

I believe Jennifer Weiner writes books for women that aren’t fluff.  The characters are complex…they are people you might know.  She’s dealt with subject matter from motherhood to a murderer.  I think she’s fantastic.  She realizes that women don’t just want to read about a beautiful, skinny, 20-something woman working at an ad agency, or publishing company, or magazine in Manhattan who is trying to tackle her career, love life, and workout regimen all at the same time.

Weiner doesn’t do it.  Instead, in Fly Away Home, her main character is the wife, Sylvie, of a cheating politician, Richard Woodruff, a US Senator.  I know all of us have watched an estranged wife stand beside her cheating politician husband and wondered why the hell she wasn’t strangling him, jamming her stiletto into the instep of his foot, and quietly twisting his balls off.  Weiner doesn’t quite explain why Sylvie doesn’t do all those things, but she does take us into Sylvie’s reality.  This reality is one where Sylvie has tried to be the perfect stay-at-home wife and mother (even though she is a lawyer); so perfect that she neglected to notice the people her daughters became, both troubled and unsure of their own identities and places in the world.  She pretended that her reality was perfect.  Of course, it all came crashing down the day her husband’s affair went public.  The story is about how she recovered.  The reader learns that something as devastating as an affair isn’t just over in a day, after a press conference.  The aftershocks seem to last for a long, long time.

We encounter Lizzie and Diana, Sylvie and Richard’s daughters.  The former seems to be a real screw-up while the latter seems to be perfect.  Of course, this reality is also not as it seems.  These women deal with their parent’s role differently and, in a way, treat their realities like their mother does.  They both ignore actual reality and make their own, which doesn’t work out for any of them.  For all of these women, it takes a real shake up for each of them to know themselves.

I thought this book was a great, quick read, much like Weiner’s other novels.  I cared about the characters and wanted them to be happy, and in some cases they were.  Weiner has never left me unsatisfied and that streak has continued.

You can find the book here.

Book Review – A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

24 Aug

I would recommend reading this when it’s hot. Like, when it’s so hot and humid, you can’t go outside. When it feels heavy and it kind of hurts to breath. Only read this book in the summer.

I say that because this book is freezing. It is set, for the most part, in rural Wisconsin, in the winter, in the early 1900s. Being from the South, I really can’t say what that actually feels like, but if the book’s description is remotely true, it sounds terrible. Cold, darkness, unhappiness, fear, lots and lots of snow, more cold, more darkness. People do bad things to each other when it’s cold and dark. It feels hopeless and in ways, that’s what this book was, a hopelessly sad story.

The story consists of three main characters: Ralph Truitt, the purchaser; Catherine Land, the mail-order bride; and Anthony Moretti, Truitt’s estranged son. Goolrick does a good job of fooling the reader. Each character is not quite what he or she seems to be. Each has his or her own motivations, his or her own secret history, his or her idea of what should be. You must keep reading to the end and DO NOT CHEAT. I don’t like end of book reader cheaters.

Books about history, especially about women in history, are always so interesting to me. I love to see how women attempted to make a future for themselves; how it wasn’t as easy as getting a stand-up job and working your way up the ladder. For the most part, women had to marry someone with money in order to sell themselves in ways that are unimaginable. Well, white women, I guess. I never want to ignore the fact that when it is said, “women couldn’t work until….” Whenever I say that, I realize I’m talking about white women. Women who would marry men that worked and could provide for them. Minority women did work and have worked and have made our society go round and round while a lot of the white women didn’t. They did the dirty, unsafe jobs. Not to go too far off on a tangent, I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t making some blanket statement that wasn’t completely true.

Past the plot, there is the prose. The writing made me feel cold. The words were desolate, stark. They made you feel like that winter in Wisconsin. The Reliable Wife is beautifully written, even if it chills to the bone. Even in the winter, Goolrick keeps the reader interested and guessing. Give it a shot, but only on a sweltering August day.

Book Review – The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

16 Aug

The first thing that struck me about this book was how detailed and graphic the description of London and Europe in World War II.  I was born in 1983, so I’ve never had the experience of living in a country where war has caused an entire population to change habits and lifestyle.  I am unfamiliar of a time when the government forces you to ration and hold back for the greater good.  This book encapsulates all the senses of what it was like to be alive during a war.  That part is amazing.

The book follows three female characters simultaneously during the Blitz and right after the US was attacked at Pearl Harbor, but before the US had actually gotten involved.  There is a postmistress (hence the name) who has just been transferred to a new post in Massachusetts, an American radio reporter who has come to London, a young woman, recently married, living in MA, as well as a slew of minor characters that really give richness and depth to the story, including Edward R. Murrow and some nameless, faceless travelers that could encapsulate the feeling of WWII.

The first three-quarters of the book are fantastic.  The author takes you into a world that is scary and real, and even scarier because at one point because it was a reality for millions of people.

The American reporter in Europe, Frankie Bard, has, in my opinion, the most interesting story.  She eventually travels on the trains throughout Europe and begins to glimpse what Hitler is actually doing to the Jews.

The young, newly married, woman, Emma, in the States sees the war from a completely different perspective.  She keeps seeing family and friends disappear to the war and watches people get more and more paranoid.

The postmistress, Iris, is the thread that stitches all the stories together, but she has a serious dilemma.  The reader grapples with this dilemma throughout the book.  How much power does a head of a post office have.  Though not legal, a postmaster or mistress has the power to control communication, especially during the war; when other forms of communication were severely limited.  The book discusses what a person can do with that power.

I can only endorse this book by 75%.  Unfortunately, the end falls apart.  It gets a bit talky and it feels like Blake loses her focus.  But for all the talkiness and the indirection at the end, this book is well worth reading, if only for the absolutely amazing prose describing the war.  This book has completely informed how I think about war, and that, in my opinion, is completely worth a read.