• A midlife coming-of-age story. You'll laugh, you'll cry. You'll quit your job and buy an RV. At Amazon.com.

  • Recent Posts

  • Categories

  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

I’m Struggling with Forgiveness

A few years ago, when my dad died, my family blew up. My mother made a decision regarding life support, and a sibling panicked. In fear and desperation this sibling repeatedly attacked the rest of the family over the course of the next year and a half, then dodged responsibility for the destruction, and now has become almost completely estranged, even moving to another state.

I know I should forgive this person, because everything you hear about not forgiving is bad. Selfishly, it would probably be healthy for me to do so. I even wondered if I might have gotten sick from harboring this caustic anger. Stupid thought, I know. It’s just biology, chemistry, genetics. But you wonder if there’s a connection, because I have been the angriest of all of my family.

However, when I consider forgiveness (which, I should point out, has not been requested by this abuser), I feel like I’m on the verge of slipping backwards, to the bad old days. To forgive would be an act of self-negation.

Let me explain. For most of my life, I put up with – indeed, took care of and nurtured – mean and abusive people. It’s what I learned, growing up in a well-meaning but misguided family. I was taught to try to see the good in everyone, to forgive, to rise above pettiness. These are high-minded standards. Throw in a lot of Catholic-style guilt and you have a pretty good recipe for becoming a door mat. I grew up thinking that if you had a sadness or heartache or tragedy in your life, hell, that was practically a claim ticket that you could bring to my door and cash in for nurturing, love, and monetary support!

Around the time I turned forty, due to maturation and the love of a good man, I started figuring out that I was as good as anybody else, and I began to value myself as much as I do others. At first it was really hard! I felt mercenary. Calculating. But I progressed, and now I’m healthy. Therefore, to accept abuse makes me feel like I’m going back to the bad old days, and rejecting all that I learned.

My Dad always said “family is everything.” I’m struggling with the thought that he may have been wrong.

I think instead that love is everything, and light, and positivity, and support, and kindness. That’s where I go these days, toward the company of those who love me and treat me well. In recent weeks I’ve clung to the love of the rest of my family, and my friends, and the people I don’t even know very well who have opened their hearts to me. I know this is what will help me heal, and I believe this is what I need for all the rest of my life.

Leave a comment


  1. Some observations, Lynne, on your very personal post:
    1) Feelings in themselves are neither “right” nor “wrong.” They just are.
    2) I’ve always been told that, for true reconciliation to take place, the “wrong-doer” must ask for forgiveness and the one wronged must accept the apology. It’s pretty hard to forgive someone if he/she won’t admit they were in the wrong.
    3) Making peace is something you must do — for yourself, if nothing else. You’re right in that health problems (physically and mentally) arise when one has buried feelings of remorse and anger.
    4) My dad, too, was a true peace-maker and believed in the power of family. That’s a pretty hard pill to swallow when you’ve grown up in a dysfunctional one. Thankfully, we’ve both been able to mature past this and move on to where WE decide who’s “family” to us. And you’ve hit the nail on the head — sometimes, “family” means those people who love us, support us, and nurture us the way we need, rather than simply being bound by blood ties!

  2. Donna

     /  October 11, 2010

    I have seen that family is not everything. Family members can be awesome, but they can also be down right wacky. I think that if you do what you are capable of in regard to your relationship with those wacky relatives, that is all you can be asked to do. Anything that is detrimental to your mental and physical health is not worth wasting on wacky relatives. Would you remain friends with someone who is toxic to you? No.

  3. spirit2go

     /  October 12, 2010

    Dear Lynne
    I do know your struggle, and feel your pain. As you know, my husband’s whole extended family cut me out when I creamated him. It hurt, and I will always know in my heart that it was not ok, and more importantly – I believe they will also have to know this in their hearts. Anyway – forgiving IS just for you. It helped me alot to finally understand that. You don’t even have to accept this person into your life, or even accept what he did – but you do have to forgive his actions for you – that’s it. Hold no animosity. It will not be a giving in, or make you a door mat or a back slider. It is only for your highest good that you must forgive. You do not have to offer your forgiveness face to face, either. I find it extrememly helpful to do the Ho’o ponopono prayer – just send out your finest thoughts of forgiveness to everyone and everything in the whole Universe – including yourself. I am going to try to send you an audio Ho’o ponopono meditation from my other email account. It is good. I am also offering my opinion that it is, indeed a given that harboring anger, temper, dark thoughts can foster sickness in your body – your mind helped along with the thoughts that are trickling down through your subsconscious will manifest that every time. I am in the middle of a book called: ‘The Power of your Subsconscious Mind” by Joseph Murphy, and I want to recommend it to you. It’s very easy to follow and very powerful. I am currently following his recommendations regarding what I allow into my subsconscious mind from my conscious mind.
    In terms of ‘family’, I had to cut out one of my brothers and my only sister because I finally realized they were just too toxic for me to continue a relationship with. And I still think that’s ok. The bottomline is when you are able to put forth good from YOU, it all goes into the One Mind of everything and makes the corrections and adjustments there. It is a pretty phenomenal process!
    Be kind to you,

  4. We all have several areas in our lives. Personal (our bodies and possessions), family, groups, Mankind and so forth.

    None of these is always “first” or “most important.” Collapsing everthing into just one of these just doesn’t work.

    Remember the “For the Children” stuff several years ago? Those would have us collapse all our efforts and viewpoints onto one subset of one life area. That just doesn’t work. It’s literally “against human nature.”

    Sanity is making decisions based on an optimum solution across all these areas.

  5. This hit home; estranged family, recovery from the doormat syndrome, slowly moving into the light. Your words took me right to the bones of it all. Thank you Lynne for your candor. And your writing chops. 🙂

  1. Blogging, Aging, and Life

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  • Lynne Spreen

  • Follow LynneSpreen on Twitter
  • my read shelf:
    Lynne Spreen's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

    View all my reviews

  • Blogs I Follow

  • This Blog Got Five Stars!

Still the Lucky Few

Reflections on Life as a Senior

Writing Contemplative life Essays

Examining experiences and exploring possibilities

Live & Learn

David Kanigan


Helping each other master the art of a senior life.

How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks

self-publishing tips for authors

Waiting for the Karma Truck

thoughts on the spaces in between

Writing Out Loud

A Place of Observation

Guerrilla Aging

Navigating the Third Half of Life

Memoir Writer's Journey

Sharing hope one story at a time


Life in the Boomer Lane

Musings of a former hula hoop champion

%d bloggers like this: