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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

Fifty Shades of Blue

Click picture for Ellen’s reading of on Fifty Shades.

Fifty Shades of Grey is about a girl learning to deprive, limit, and change herself to hang onto a man. Anastasia, who is a virgin, of course, wants to please Mr. Beater because he’s so sad, boo hoo, and maybe she can fix him if she lets him beat her and tie her up enough.

When it first came out, I bought the book because I misunderstood what it was about, but then I figured, hey, millions of happy readers can’t be wrong.



It was such drek. If anybody really bit her lower lip as much as Anastasia, it would be hamburger. Also, I tried looking up from under my lashes but I didn’t look seductive. I looked like Lurch.

I tried reading it twice but gave up after about twenty pages. Then my friend made me promise. She’s like, twenty years younger than me and really smart, so this one time I thought, okay, let’s see what the young ‘un might be on to.

God. Back to ageism (wherein youth suffers.)

The sex scenes were okay, but holy crap (as Anastasia likes to say, thereby stealing my favorite expression), it’s just mindless. Basically, you’ve got a girl getting beaten regularly (oh, call it what you will, it’s brutal), and then a guy loving on her after that, all skin ointment and candlelight. He’s a stalker and a control freak, and I don’t give a shit if he was tortured and abused as a little kid. How many of our girls buy that barrel of swill, thinking they can heal a bad guy who isn’t really bad, he’s just damaged, poor thing.

I did. I put up with years of mental, if not physical abuse, because I felt sorry for a guy(s). It took me years to mature my way out of the idea that a man’s history of suffering meant he had some kind of credit coming, in the form of, say, not working while he “found himself.”

Anastasia tries to analyze whether she really wants to pay the price for her association with Grey, but she keeps losing her perspective because he is so pretty. Seriously, should looks earn the bearer that kind of power? It’s just a temporary outward appearance, girly. What if he were middle-aged and ugly? Nobody would think this story enticing. And I kept imagining my granddaughter, twenty years from now, being treated this way – maybe it’s stupid to say that but it grounded me. Of course, if it were my granddaughter I’d get a SWAT team and rescue her, then send her to counseling and therapy.

Aside from the fact that I hated the “beat me, I love you” message of this stupid book , millions of readers are hooked, because they want to know what happens next. I admit, I do too. But I think I’ll just ask somebody how it ends.

PS: To all the youngsters reading this, continuing jealousy in a mate is not a good thing. My fave advice columnist, Carolyn Hax, recommends reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker.

Leave a comment


  1. Stories like that never appeal to me. I don’t get the attraction.

  2. Thank you for explaining this book to me. I keep hearing about it, but in hushed ways. That was my first clue that I’d hate it. And now having read your review, I’m sure that I’d not like it.

    Passive women + abusive men ≠ a good story. Ever.

    • It’s like when you’re in junior high and you feel alone because every one of your girlfriends is excited about something so appalling that you begin to think you were left here by space aliens to gather data.

  3. You captured my thoughts, exactly, Lynne. I got about half-way through, first, because I was curious, then, hoping for a cheap thrill, and finally, wishing ‘Miss Steele’ would take the riding crop and beat the crap out of her deranged lover.

    As a writer, I almost called it quits at the beginning after counting how many times the author used, I muttered, he murmured, and I frowned, on the same page. How such lousy writing can become a bestseller is beyond me.

    As a woman, I’m not a prude and have read some pretty ‘out there’ stuff, but the mental health of this young virgin (and the young women reading it) overcame any thoughts of sexual fantasy.

    I can only hope that this novel became a bestseller as a result of the buzz and not the content. If this is ‘soccer mom’ erotica, then we boomer women need to drive out to suburbia and have a serious talk with these chicks.

    Great review, Lynne – thanks for sharing.

    • Vonnie, I think two things sell the book: one, there’s a certain amount of dramatic tension (will she stand up for herself and reject him totally, or give in, or work out a compromise?), and two, there’s sensationalism. Save your bucks.

  4. I’m not sure which is more disturbing; the imagination that thinks this type of story is appealing or those who read it and agree.

  5. I guess this means you won’t be reading the other two books in the series? Female author E.L.James presses all the right buttons and cashes in on sensationalism. Her smiling photo, and those from her U.S. book tour of the rooms packed with eager young women, make me shudder. Excellent analogy, Lynne. (And I’m going to try drek in Words with Friends.)

    • EL James is as smart as the woman who wrote Thin Thighs in Thirty Days a couple decades ago. Made out like a bandit.

  6. Kathy Shattuck

     /  June 1, 2012

    Lynne, I loved your review, your straight talk is refreshing…and of course I loved Ellen’s take on it too! I saw her show the day she performed this skit. If anybody can sum up the gist of something, the two of you can.

    I haven’t, and won’t, read this book. You’re review is the first I’ve read, but normally I won’t even read reviews when I’ve already made of up my mind about something I have no intention of reading.

    The hype on this book was the reason. I never read books for their notoriety, mainly because I don’t read what volumes of people read. I never read books for the sex angle, either. There are reasons why people write, and read, these types of books, and the meanings have no relevance to good writing. Sensationalism is lost on me.

    This doesn’t mean that some of what I read is absent of sexual scenes, it just means that there has to be a meaningful relevance to the story, which puts it in just one of many categories to help us understand what is needed to be learned, or understood as a reader, from the author’s perspective.

    Lynne, I knew your perspective on this book would be a superior one, and it was!

    • Thanks, Kathy. I love reading about sex. See below. But this book sends a horrible message to young women.

  7. Here’s the thing about this story-it’s age old-this one not done well simply because the writing was not good. in my humble, when you’re writing erotica, it better be penned well because ‘suspending disbelief’ is a lot harder when it’s poorly written.
    The narrative arc is also age old: girl ‘endures’ while she works her magic to change him. Many of us have been there. What’s curious is that we like going back there via story tellers. I’ve written erotica and read it—‘The Story of O’ is a classic and one that this author probably read before writing this series—it’s the same story, different century & ‘O’ really was HOT. I also read ‘Surrender’ which is really about a woman’s empowerment through sexual surrender…& i loved it.
    Okay, now you know how base I really am…:)
    Good blog Lynne…as usual…

  8. Kathy Shattuck

     /  June 1, 2012

    Just a question. There isn’t a story that hasn’t been written, if a dozen times, but do we need to perpetuate the stupidity and ignorance of young people/or women in our novels?

    • Good question…I have no answer–i do think that this paradigm shifts with time….I’m intrigued by the thought of taking an old theme and modernizing it-which is what I think she attempted to do, much like the screenwriter of ‘Pretty Woman’ attempted to do….I have curiosity about a woman’s sexual power…how she uses it to get needs met…I don’t think this will change–so how do we use it more effectively? It’s not going away… This interests to me & could be one reason why this book is so dang popular……..it interests other women too…??

      • Kathy Shattuck

         /  June 2, 2012

        The answer to my question would be, No, in all of its simplicity, in MHO. The deeper question would be, why do we perpetuate acts such as, submissiveness, beatings, etc., that are clearly psychologically perverted, which in these cases perpetuates the lack of humane equality in men and women relationships. Does the woman learn from a relationship of being beaten, and staying in that relationship? What’s the attraction to females, either being in the submissive role, or trying to gain power by using herself in the process. Using ‘sexual power’ to get needs met is debasing and ridiculously stupid….and to use it more “effectively’ is just perpetuating that stupidity. The key word is not using, it’s “being used”.

  9. Good review, Lynne. I haven’t read this book (and don’t intend to). Too often, all the buzz surrounding something means the something can’t possibly live up to the chatter! Then, too, I’m concerned about the message it’s sending young women — that it’s okay to try to change an abuser if he’s hot. With all the supposedly good books being written, it’s unfortunate and aggravating that drivel like this is what’s getting published. There, I said it!

    • I have to admit I’m pissed that she’s getting rich off something so lame. Wish I’d thought of it. But watch the Ellen video – it’s hysterical!

  10. Kathy S and anyone else who’s interested, you might check out this movie on Netflix; here’s the trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5pM1fW6hNs&feature=related

    • Kathy Shattuck

       /  June 2, 2012

      Thanks for this trailer, Lynne. I found words in this trailer that rang bells: I agree…..

      “Subconscious” – is a major way for media to invade our thought processes, without even knowing it’s being done….and the harder this push, the more is needed to convey these degrading issues as normal….which includes, also, the negative outlooks perpetuated in novels. And women, themselves, perpetuate this, by writing these novels.

      “Learned Behavior” – parents handing down bad behavior, generation after generation, until children know nothing else.

      “Standing for the right principles” – I feel the only way for change to happen is, when you recognize that change is necessary, stand up for what you believe, if at all possible. But, it’s not a simple thing to do. For women being abused, it’s such a hard choice to make, breaking out of the mold and asking for help. The learned behavior is there, taken hold, beaten into the woman by that man/woman he/she worships.

      If there is one thing I will teach my grand kids, it’s how to use your own mind, and never fall into that feeling of dependency on anyone but yourself. Of course we can ask for help, or lean on someone when we are in need, but find someone you can trust….and this is also a learned process…learn to know who and what to trust. Life experiences will get you there, good writing material….. good and positive mentors and educators is what I believe in.

      I simply will not perpetuate the negative attitudes in a novel, by buying that novel. If there are these attitudes within a story, then that writer damn well resolve them, showing the pros and cons into a positive outcome by the end of the story, is all I can say. Of course not all stories have a happen ending….. But this story sounds so badly written, I couldn’t expect this writer to make those thoughts clear to a reader, if she can’t understand them herself.

  11. Pennie

     /  June 2, 2012

    Lynne. Thanks for the review. I really did not want to read it, but I am glad to know what it is about so I can “keep up”. I guess we boomers are not the targeted demographic – we are too wise and experienced to believe the drivel!

    • Yah, Pennie, but unfortunately my boomer friends are weighing in 2-1 that they liked it. I guess mainly for the sex. But God, there are better books for that, and it doesn’t involve a domineering weasel.

  12. Great discussion, Lynne and it pretty much echoes the discussions I’ve been having with my local Boomer friends. From those who have read it,they say the writing is poor and the topic is degrading and offensive to women. Several have started but not finished it. I have no intention of reading it but I do find it curious that Boomer women are flocking to it in droves?? Isn’t abuse bad enough? Why should we support a book that glamorizes it all in the name of “best selling” literature? Your review is spot on with what many others are saying. Well, one thing for sure, it has sparked lots of discussion and controversary!

    • I just don’t know, Kathy. I don’t get what people see in this book, But maybe you have to endure domestic violence to understand how unsexy it is.

  13. Am I the only guy on this comment thread? Hope that’s OK.

    Having rescued my eldest daughter (now 39) from a string of violent guys like “Grey” (none were rich) I was shocked when my wife raved about the story. She claimed that Anastasia “changed” him and that it was her power to change a bad guy into a wholesome guy that was attractive.


    I don’t think so. I think the SNL skit was more accurate. Raw, vicariously scary sex is attractive. Men watch pornos. Women read them. Erotica is not a new category. This author, partly due to the anonymity of the ebook reader, wrote the first socially acceptable literary porn.

    I was not able to make it fifty pages in but your assessment sounds like what I was expecting. Thanks for posting it.

    • Hey Seeley, you are more than welcome to share the guy point of view any time you like. And I am shocked that women ARE raving about the story. It’s confusing to understand how they can like it. And esp. with what your daughter went thru. Glad she’s okay now.

      • Kathy Shattuck

         /  June 4, 2012

        Seeley James, I’m very glad you weighed in on this subject. I love a man’s POV. I probably shouldn’t keep posting on this, since I haven’t read the book…but the graver issues seems to be, as just one aspect you’ve pointed out is, this protagonist, Anastasia, “changed the bad guy into a wholesome guy”. This is hog wash, and if this is the idea this writer is transmitting to women, she ought to have HER head examined!

        I’m stepping out on a limb now…..don’t shoot me! What it’s sounding like to me is, women who love erotica, and can get it in any way shape or form, especially now that we have e-readers (no more brown paper bags to cover the cover), will ignore any sound literary writing, along with theme substance, or structure. There, again, proves Romance Novels are #1 in the industry, badly written crap and all. I wonder why this is? How’s your home life, women?

  14. I’m stunned that a book like this could be so popular today. Haven’t we learned anything? I have not read the book, nor will I after reading your review, Lynn. I endured an abusive first marriage and can see no reason to read anything that would remind me of those days. Erotica and abuse are vastly different things. Thanks for posting your review.

    • And thanks for commenting, Linda. The only thing impressive about this book is that EL James is a damn smart girl to whip out this crap and make so much money doing so.


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  • Lynne Spreen

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  • 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.

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  • 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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