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  • 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

Poor Jane Fonda. Poor Us.

Jane Fonda just got plastic surgery, and on one level that’s her business, but on another level, it’s stunningly dishonest. This beautiful, accomplished, generous, funny, vibrant, worldly woman couldn’t come out with a book about aging without first getting plastic surgery?

This bums me out. It’s cynical, it’s fake, and it misses an opportunity to advance our culture.

Jane Fonda might agree with me. Here’s her comment on the issue:

“I caved,” she said during an interview with Larry King. “If I was really brave, I would have not. I vowed I wouldn’t — I did, and I don’t feel proud of it. I didn’t want to look kind of tired and jowly any more.”

I wish Jane Fonda had written a book about being “really brave.” I’d love to watch her model an example of how to be a strong, mature woman who refuses to apologize for her age.

I would like to start a movement in which we model that example for each other, and for our kids. Here’s the basic tenet of our movement: younger women typically look one way, and older women typically look another, and it’s all good.

It’s a new day, Jane. I’m sorry you caved, but if you’d like to read something truly helpful and motivating, check out these books:

Kindle readers can email me at Lmspreen@yahoo.com.

Leave a comment


  1. Rae

     /  December 11, 2010

    Jane Fonda was most likely motivated by money. We all know (of course) that beauty is only skin deep.
    Many women are inspired by others drive to accomplish.
    Not wanting to lead “the cookie cutter life” of older women, myself, I would not critique someone who’s philosophies are different than mine.

    • Thanks for commenting, Rae. Hope you’ll stop by often. In the future your comments will go right onscreen immediately without the approval process. Best wishes.

  2. Rae

     /  December 11, 2010

    NOT TO DIMINISH those who are of a different mindset!… the idea that we can all have a different theory/thought process and flourish is a good thing!!

  3. Vonnie Kennedy

     /  December 11, 2010

    Hey Lynne,

    I think what I like about Jane the most is not that she looks great at 72, plastic surgery or not, it’s that she’s passionate about whatever is important to her at the time. She’s screwed up a lot in her life – the whole Hanoi Jane era, the unconventional life with Tom Hayden, and all the other controlling men she’ been with, the work-out videos – but at the time, she was very passionate about it and thought it was the right thing to do.

    And even though she says can finally live without a man, I don’t think she can. And I know she’d like to think she’s going to age gracefully like most of us, I don’t think she can do that either. She still a little girl inside so she couldn’t never write a book about being brave.

    I respect your opinion, Lynne, and I have more to say but I think it’s turning into a blog post of my own. Thanks for the inspiration! 🙂

    Anyway –

  4. Vonnie, YOU inspired ME!! Go for it, girlfriend. And Jane’s getting married again: http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/7437753-oscarwinning-jane-fonda-going-to-marry-fourth-time-at-72


     /  December 11, 2010

    She could take a lesson from Diana Nyad….training for her Florida to Cuba Swim @ 61 years old….modeling a normal bathing suit and giving daily fitness tips for women!

  6. I totally agree with you Lynne! I think women who age naturally are so beautiful! I love my hair turning gray and my laugh lines…if I ever even think of doing something so extreme I give you permission to shoot me!

    • Tammy, by any standard, you are beautiful! You’re curious, smart, happy, loving, athletic, giving, and cheerful. I’ve got pix from our wine-tasting day! I’ll send them.

  7. Annah

     /  December 12, 2010

    I love Jane Fonda — she’s done it her way all along, even if in hindsight she might have done it differently. I get what she’s saying: “I didn’t want to look kind of tired and jowly any more.” I don’t want to ever get any “work” done either, but it’s tough looking tired when you’re not. I’m not tired! I’m just tired of looking tired.
    I can see how people would see it as pure vanity, wanting to stop the clock, wanting to be young again. But I don’t want to be younger or even look younger — I just don’t want to look perpetually exhausted and angry when my face is at rest.
    That being said, I will probably never get any work done — for me, it’s too expensive, too risky, too self-indulgent. But I won’t blame others for caving.

  8. Annah, I have a couple of vertical lines between my eyebrows, and I used to get Botox to make them go away. I’m kind of an intense person, and I think it makes me look even more that way – don’t want to scare little kids. But most of the time I’m so busy I forget about it. Thanks for commenting.

  9. Nanci

     /  December 12, 2010

    Hi Lynne,
    I love you and I value your opinion, but I don’t necessarily agree with you on this one.
    Our whole lives we do things to make ourselves more attractive, makeup, cute clothes, diet, shaving legs and underarms,push up bras, anti-age creams, botox… the list goes on. Plastic surgery is more expensive and dangerous, but I see it as just another step. If it makes someone feel better about themselves then it’s the right thing for them. I don’t see it as a cop out… Indulgent, self centered, maybe, just like everything else in that list, but unless we are all willing to go au natural I can’t condemn someone for taking any step that works for them.
    Jane Fonda and other celebrities are in the public eye and are commented upon constantly. I am glad that I don’t have that kind of pressure to be a certain way.

  10. No, Nanci, don’t worry – I don’t want everybody to agree with me, and I value all of the opinions I see here! But maybe I didn’t make my point clear, so forgive me but I’ll restate it: she’s being dishonest to get plastic surgery and then modeling this artificially enhanced body on the cover of her DVD to sell the benefits of exercise. It’d be like a woman getting a boob job and then hawking a breast enhancement cream.

    And secondly, I hunger for examples of women who don’t feel so compelled about their appearance, because I think appearance is a red herring, as I believe it represents lack of acceptance of age. This is disappointing to me, when I see it manifested by such a successful person as Jane Fonda. Thanks for weighing in, Nanci.

  11. Rae

     /  December 12, 2010

    I understand your point..FINALLY…it’s about being honest with who we are, back to the point about making money..that is what it is about…YES, her comments are NOT honest!!! THANK YOU ! for getting past the “cobwebs”!!! AGAIN, I appreciate your comments!

  12. I agree with all you wrote ~ in theory. But any woman who’s aged a bit knows how difficult seeing the changes in the mirror really are. Can you imagine how difficult it is for a woman like Jane who has always had the beauty think lurking not so deeply under all her passionate causes? Thank goodness, she’s still in the public eye and not hiding somewhere. She’s one of the women I love to watch. I feel for her. I feel for all of us. Things need to change but reality is tough.

    • You’re so compassionate, Jamie. For Jane, a person in the public eye, there is nothing more important to the media, it seems, than how they look. And I agree with Nanci, that it must be horrible to be judged constantly in that way. I may not be able to change the world, but I can change myself. For my New Year’s Resolution, I vow to never again remark that a person looks “old” unless I mean it as a compliment.

  13. I think I see where you’re going here, Lynne. How tragic that our culture emphasizes outward beauty and youth so much that someone like Jane would bow to the pressure and undergo plastic surgery before putting her photo on an exercise book. Yes, by her own admission, it’s “caving.” I can understand her desire not to “look jowly any more,” but you’re right — it’s dishonest!

  14. Nanci

     /  December 12, 2010

    I’m afraid I don’t “get” the dishonest part. She has a fabulous body, and I think it’s her own… not enhanced by tummy tucks etc. (not sure if she still has the breast implants) . It’s the exercise that she is selling, not the face. On top of that she has admitted to having the work done. I think that is brave. It opens her up for all sorts of discourse, including ours.
    I don’t know what her motivation was, perhaps one day she just looked at herself and said, I don’t like this and I can do something about it….
    It is tragic and funny in a way that cultures throughout history have valued feminine beauty over substance. Perhaps a more enlightened age will change that. Til then, it is what it is. We are all part of it.

    • Annah

       /  December 12, 2010

      Nanci, I’m with you. I don’t see anything dishonest about having her face “done” when it’s exercise she’s selling, especially when she’s admitting to it and calling herself out for it. As you said before, it’s a continuum — who’s to say who’s cheating or being dishonest by taking any number of measures to look your best. Is laser skin resurfacing cheating? Is hair color dishonest? Where’s the line? Lynne, you yourself used the word “beautiful” as the first in a list of adjectives for Jane; we’re all part of the pressure. On the other hand, I admire your resolve to never again remark on someone looking old; it makes me realize just how often I make that awful remark myself — especially about myself.

    • Exactly, Nanci – I want to bring about that “more enlightened age”! I don’t want to be “part of it.” Is that so naive of me? I have said that my New Year’s Resolution is to never again say that a person “looks old”, unless I mean it as a compliment. You say “it is what it is” but we could change that.

      Yes, I agree, throughout the ages, firm skin and perky breasts have been revered (by male-dominated cultures) but what if we started talking about all the things that age GIVES us? What if it gave us freedom from trying to look young? What a joy that would be, to be proud of our age. I’m so excited about this.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I remember our impassioned discussions back at Jurupa Unified. I miss that, and I miss you.

  15. You know what, ladies? I’m watching that Barbara Walters special where she interviewed Oprah a few nights ago (http://abc.go.com/watch/abc-news-specials/SH559036/VD55101804/a-barbara-walters-special-oprah-the-next-chapter), and I’m seeing that Oprah doesn’t try to look young. She looks like she does a little Botox, and she does the makeup and hair, but the rest of her is regular middle-aged woman. I’m thinking she could be a model for how to look your best but still not apologizing for your age.

  16. Nanci

     /  December 12, 2010

    I miss you too and would love to be having this discussion in person…wrinkles and all (-:
    However, I am trying to get to the meat of your thoughts.
    I saw the Oprah thing too and she is really open, honest and real, but how is being injected with a toxic substance different from other forms of cosmetic enhancement? I don’t get it. Is it upsetting that Jane has a fabulous and young figure rather than the soft womanly thing O has going?
    Looking at Jane’s real pics shows that she still has a more mature look. Have you seen the airbrushed cover pics of O? She surely can’t look that young without enhancement…and does all this really matter?
    I.ve got this Zenish “Do no harm ” thing going on and I just don’t see the harm… We are not talking about impressionable youngsters starving to model bodies, we’re talking about mature women making decisions about their own bodies.

  17. Great points. Yes, I see the hypocricy of my statement, but I’m still rolling this idea around in my head, so bear with me. Here’s what I was trying to say: that it harms us if that’s all we see lifted up as an example of how we, ideally, should look. If, as Jane said, “jowly” is bad, for example, then we either cut off our jowls or dislike our face for having them. But “jowly” is normal for us at our age! What if our culture decried the cutting and sewing of a healthy face? It’s considered bad form to criticize a woman for this choice, and in a sense I understand that, but in my opinion it’s tragic that we become acculturated to desire it. Jane looks in the mirror and says, “I look better”, but I believe that what she is really saying is “I am in compliance. Therefore I feel better about my appearance.”

  18. Lynne, I so agree with you. I hate that these women feel so much pressure to cut into themselves and their bodies to appear plastic. It’s not like they even look good like that. Our culture is so vanity-driven it’s pathetic. Can I join your movement?

    • Responding to Nanci’s comment, there is harm in slicing and botoxing and stretching for perfection that is unachievable in a natural sense. All these women are doing it not for themselves, but because of societal pressure stemming from the media, their jobs as actresses or public figures. If it wasn’t in place, these beautiful and strong women would not have done it.

      Just adding my two cents…

  19. Nanci

     /  December 13, 2010

    So, I am trying to understand. Is it harmful to apply blush to unnaturally enhance your looks, or wear a push up bra to put your breast in an unnatural position… heels to make your legs longer and leaner?
    Are we talking about a matter of degree? Setting a limit?

    • Morning, early bird! I’m leaning this way, Nanc: look good, feel good, but no cutting.
      But I’m not making rules for anybody but myself.

  20. So what can we do to change things? If we want to give our daughters the gift of self-acceptance then we need to model it by shying away from the pressure to “fix” ourselves. I said in the above post that we could, ideally, get to a place where older women look one way, and younger women another, and it’s all good. We might start by celebrating that which we love about being older, and I’ll start a post tomorrow on that subject. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  21. Rae

     /  December 13, 2010

    I’ve “waffled” on this topic too many times haha! ….Another thought~ Having plastic surgery and then promoting an exercise video is DECEPTIVE MARKETING at the very least..your original thought Lynne about her dishonesty is so true. I guess we just have to “weed out” the dishonest ones and as you say, “we smart ones of a certain age” can show our clout by spending our dollars on something that truly has merit!

  22. Another great discussion on a topic that I’m passionate about. I think we may under-estimate the risks of cosmetic plastic surgery. Try Goggling “cosmetic surgery gone bad” to see what I mean. Even when it “works” it often looks quite unnatural.

    The bigger issue is the expectation or pressure many women feel to look young–even hot–into their 40s, 50s, 60s, and so on. Looking one’s age is equated with letting one’s self go which is ridiculous. All the focus on anti-aging is ridiculous. This needs to change. How do we make that happen? Is it by individual example alone?

    • I guess so! I don’t see the media trumpeting the coolness of a 70-year old who looks 70. So I guess it’s up to us, but we’ve been here before, right?

      Maybe we could try practicing “laissez faire” – live and let live. We don’t measure ourselves by an age standard. Period. Whew, how weird would that be? And what a relief!!!!

      And yes, it would have to be on an individual basis, but I’m going to be talking about it every chance I get, and maybe others will too, because we’ve come too far to slip backwards. And right now, I feel like I’m living in junior high!

  23. Thank you, Lynne, for writing a comment on my Lear’s Magazine post – and I’m delighted you shared your blog. I am now a devoted reader. In appreciation of your thoughtful study of Jane Fonda’s new look, I celebrated by giving a nosejob to my profile picture. No anesthesia, no recovery, but I did miss the time off and the pain pills just a touch. Cheers!

    • You crack me up, Linda! When I first learned how to play with Photoshop, of course I went right to work on my bustline. I loved seeing your reference to Lear’s. I miss that old rag. Such class.

  24. Fayeroe

     /  December 22, 2010

    Wow! I do not feel in any way that I have the right to criticize Ms. Fonda. What she does with her face doesn’t impact me in any form or fashion. I admire her big heart (think of what she has done in Atlanta for girls) and I admire her work ethic and her commitment to living a caring and loving life.

    I’m stunned at how many people here feel “betrayed” or “lied to” by Ms. Fonda. She is a celebrity. She is a product and she has never, ever denied her place in the Hollywood “production” arena.

    I am a very good photographer. I don’t think a client would think less of me if they learned that I DO NOT develop my own film. I never have mastered that skill and I pay someone else to do it. I took the photograph and I print the photograph. I deliver what I promise. I believe that Ms. Fonda does the same.

    And I have only seen one of Ms. Fonda’s films. “On Golden Pond”.

    • Hi, Fayeroe, nice to see you here at AST. I agree that Fonda has done so much. I read her book and understand how much she has evolved and even suffered. What I felt disappointed about (for me and for her) is that she felt she couldn’t sell those new DVDs without getting SURGERY on that face, first. Instead, she missed a chance to really stand out, try something new, inspire millions with the message that we middle-agers don’t have to look twenty to have a rip-roaring fab impression of ourselves. I don’t want you to think I don’t respect Jane Fonda. I do, for all the reasons you mentioned. But she is missing the boat, as more of us square our shoulders and say, “I’m 50 (or 60,70,80, or 90) and I’m not going to disrespect myself by trying to look 20. I’m fab right now.” Thanks for weighing in, and I hope you’ll stop by again.

  25. Rae

     /  December 23, 2010

    Using the example of your skills as a photographer and having others develop your work is comparing apples to oranges….

    What has most likely brought you success is your expertise in capturing a particular moment, having a keen eye for what interests people, etc… I doubt your potential clients care who develops it.

    When I purchase an exercise video and see a photo of a slim and trim individual, I want to believe that she got that wonderful body because of the workouts she was promoting in the video.

    I can understand her having a facelift, there is no exercise that corrects that area. If she has had “other work” done, I feel she is not being honest with her potential customers.
    Best to you,

  26. That’s a good point, Rae. The photographer is the artist who sees the scene and captures it, no small feat. In Jane’s case, you make the connection clearer than I did. Thanks.

  1. The Passion of Jane Fonda « Reflections of a Boomer Babe
  2. My Blog in Review for 2010 | Any Shiny Thing

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  • Lynne Spreen

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    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.

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  • 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."

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