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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

Aging: One Long Downhill Slide?

A few days ago, a blogger friend wrote that she was discouraged about getting older. She posted this:

I’m kicking, running and screaming from the downhill slide. How did/are you all handling the realities of aging? What’s your secret weapon (person, place or thing)?

The blogger got a lot of input from her discussion group. Here were some of the suggestions:

          • Exercise
          • Spanx
          • Meditation
          • Good food
          • A wardrobe update
          • Change to more age-appropriate makeup style
          • Have a positive outlook

All good ideas, but here was mine:

      • Why do you consider aging a downhill slide?

Life is what you make it. If you see yourself as cranky, crotchety, wrinkled and sexless, you probably are, in which case, it’s time for an attitude make-over. I mean, I get the thing about death and all, but if you’re sixty, you might have 25-30 (or even more) good years left. That’s a gift! That’s as long as it took to work your career, or create a fully-formed batch of offspring.

Hey, I’m not in denial about the crappy side of getting old, but a bad attitude about aging can hurt you. According to Barbara Strauch in her wonderful book, The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, seniors who were tested for memory did better when they were first given positive information about aging. The group that was told negative things? They didn’t do as well.

You can dispute the study, but you’ve lived long enough to know that attitudes and words matter. What happens if parents repeatedly tell a child she’s stupid, incompetent, clumsy, or bad? What will happen to that kid? Why is it different for us?

Margaret Gullette, a researcher at Brandeis University, says we’re victims of the “ideology of decline.” We’ve allowed ourselves to be “aged by culture,” and taught to think of ourselves in an “age graded” way, based on the sense that “the body fails at midlife and this bodily failure matters more than anything else,” while the positive aspects of aging, such as maturity, competence, and compassion, are not seen as age-related. According to Gullette,

(This) ideology works to enclose us in self doubt, embarrassment, shame, humiliation, despair…By learning to concentrate on an ‘aging’ body, the twentieth century midlife subject learns how isolated and helpless he or she is.

If we’re allowing ourselves to be “aged by culture,” maybe we should look to a different culture. My good friend, Julie Mahoney, told me that the Japanese have no word for menopause. The closest they come is konenki. Literally translated, ko means “renewal and regeneration,” nen means “year” or “years,” and ki means “season” or “energy.” Isn’t that beautiful?

So, I challenge you to counter our hair-tearing assumptions about aging. If you need scientific backup,  I wrote here about your incredible aging brain.

And here is Isabella Rossellini with her “Surely you jest” attitude about aging.

Finally, here’s how my Mom got over on those who would devalue her due to her age and diminutive stature.

Okay, I’ll stop with the links or you’ll never get anything done. Have a great weekend.

Leave a comment

43 Comments

  1. I have a lovely friend who’s in her mid-70s and she’s accepted nothing of the conventional wisdom regarding aging, other than “it happens, get on with life”. She’s a wonder to behold and is now my role model. She never mentions her age or how things were in the “good old days” – she lives in the present, keeps active, goes out to lunch with her daughters and their friends, is active in volunteering and a million other things. I’ve never heard her complain about inevitable aches and pains…she just gets on with her life and it’s fantastic to be around her because her attitude rubs off positively on everyone around her. If I were to tell her she was spiralling downward in an inevitable one-way journey, she’d probably narrow her eyes at me and ask, take a sip of her champagne and ask, “what the HELL are you talking about?”.
    A great post, Lynne, I really enjoyed reading it.

    Reply
    • YOU NAILED IT.
      ATKL, what a thrill that is to read about your friend. That’s what I’M talkin’ about! Seriously, that is EXACTLY what I am trying to encourage! To me, that’s the difference between living in fear or living an empowered, fearless life. Thank you so much for this. I can’t wait to share it everywhere.

      Reply
  2. Another uplifting, tell-it-like-it-is, post Lynne. There are so many positive aspects to attaining the midlife medal! Though I gotta say that life on this side of menopause is so much better than it was when I was in the middle of it. Truly, it’s only by the grace of God that no one got seriously maimed during some of those crazy meno-moments I experienced.

    Reply
    • Linda, making that crossing – it’s a rite of passage, for sure. And being on the other side is RICH. Although there are sometimes casualties 😉

      Reply
  3. My mom is 94 and although she has battled arthritis all her life, the last twenty years have been some of the best in her life. She lives in a beautiful retirement home, has good friends, stays active. She can no longer see to read or write so she listens to books on tape and also NPR. She sings in the Chorus, and since she can no longer read the words to the songs even in large print, she rides her scooter down the hall to a friend’s room; they look up the songs on the computer and Mom memorizes them. She was a speech major in college and she still gives recitations – long, complex poems she’s had by heart for 60 years. Attitude is everything.

    Reply
    • Kathryn, we all want your mom. What an incredible gift she is giving you: a model for aging well. Sometimes when my mom gets blue, wondering what her purpose is now at 87, I say, “You’re giving us kids (there are 4 of us) ideas for how to live when I get to be your age.” I think she sees it. Funny how you never stop being a mom.

      Reply
  4. Snoring Dog Studio

     /  March 1, 2013

    I really want to walk away from older people who say things like, “Getting old sucks.” They are such downers! Do they wish for the alternative to it? And, there IS ONLY ONE. Geez. What a great post. Our attitudes are powerful influences on how we handle stress, deal with adversity and appreciate what we have. But I think pessimistic people are bound to be even more so in their older years. I just steer clear of them.

    Reply
    • That’s the answer, Dog. We don’t live forever, that sucks, true. But what are you going to do about it? Might as well enjoy every day. Those downer-people can drag you down, so good strategy.

      Reply
  5. Love it Lynne, how right you are. I hope that I’m aging “gracefully”, not kicking and screaming to the crematory. I totally agree it’s all in the attitude and since I’ve always been accused of having an attitude I guess now’s when it’s paying off 🙂
    Thanks it’s a joy to read your posts.

    Reply
    • Debbie, I thrive on the community. Your comments, and the wise and funny thoughts I get to read from my friends here? That’s what it’s all about. Have a great weekend.

      Reply
  6. I wrote a post on the Japanese word shibui, The Japanese have a love of beauty that only comes over time, the proverbial aged fine wine, but more than that. They value people of age because with age comes a quality which involves complexity, the imperfections and patina that only time can bring, The Japanese people are wise!

    Reply
    • They appreciate the complexity. I love that.
      The more I learn about the gifts of maturity, the more determined I am to help change our culture. What a great way to age – resigned to mortality but not weighed down by its inevitability, and still able to enjoy ourselves. Thanks, Lynn.

      Reply
  7. I discovered your blog a few months ago and you are my new hero. I just turned 60 – it’s so new to me that even saying it is weird – and I love your whole approach to this aging thing.

    Reply
    • May, I’m so glad you like it. I can’t take credit – if the folks who make comments here at AST didn’t weigh in with their great ideas and stories, I’d be chopped liver. So thanks for coming by and hope to hear from you again, often. Happy Birthday!

      Reply
  8. I’m 70 and am having the best time of my life. I don’t think it’s a down hill ride. It’s mind expanding and so good for the soul.

    Reply
    • Jzrart, love the idea of “mind expanding”. Yes, if we LET ourselves! Which means we have to kiss goodbye our tendency to denigrate ourselves over wiggly thighs and double chins. It’s all about the brain, and the heart, at this age! We can’t miss this chance to love our lives. Keep shouting it from the rooftops – we need your voice! Thanks for coming by.

      Reply
  9. Lynne great minds think alike…attitude is everything. Even though some days I feel so stiff and achey, it’s like I am trapped in the body of 90-year- old, being around kids keeps me truly young at heart. I am sure your grandkids have the same effect on you – simultaneously energizing and exhausting!

    Reply
    • Yes, Pat. Kind of crippling, actually, from a physical standpoint. In the last 3 days I walked over 4 miles each day, but even though it hurts, that’s GREAT exercise, and what we’re supposed to do at this age. Plus the babies benefit. A huge win-win. Happy birthday!

      Reply
  10. Lynne, very happy to have found you. I’m 56. I find the Internet has put me into contact with a lot of people who are either 25 years younger than I, or 20 years older. I think it helps to stay connected across the generations. And, of course, within them:).

    Reply
    • Lisa, I have a mentor who is 29, and a girlfriend/fellow writer who is 81 and has the same stars in her eyes that I do. I think if we can forget the numbers, we’d be better off! BTW, your blog is of such quality, I signed up right away and can’t wait to read more. Best wishes.

      Reply
  11. I don’t see the downhill slide as much as I see the unwillingness to do what I don’t want to do anymore. This time of life is more pleasing to me, personally, than any other time has been. I pushed a lot of me aside for the sake of others. I don’t do that much anymore and I really dig it.
    I’ve always been a bit of a hypochondriac-typical of health care folks-so I’ve do what I can to ensure that those nasty secondary conditions that come from lack of exercise, depression & poor diet stay the hell away from me….
    But none of us are getting out alive….
    🙂
    Good blog, Lynne, per your usual.

    Reply
    • Marla, great to hear from you! You’re an example of good living, from what I see. You must be happy and healthy; it shows. I still can’t get out of my head how you perched on that bench at the Newport writers conference, all pretzeled up like the yogi you are. An inspiration.

      Reply
  12. Another “shoot-from-the-hip” spot-on post, Lynne! I agree, the key is to just keep moving past all those aches and pains and focus on living and what we want to do vs our age in years. It’s only a number. Aging is the price we pay for surviving all the stressors and ravages of life and we need to claim it as our badge of honor. I have earned every gray hair and and painful joint I have!! I worked too hard to get where I am now . I would never want to go back and relive everything I had to go through to gain all this wisdom from my mistakes and missteps of my youth. Love how you remind us about all this in your entertaining, no-nonsense way.:-)

    Reply
    • Thanks for saying so, Kathy. Your words are very meaningful to me in that I know you have suffered so much, and you have endured and now you’re joyful. To hear you say “I earned it” gives me a vision: I see you on an Olympic podium, holding a torch up high and grinning. God bless you, Sis.

      Reply
  13. cydmadsen

     /  March 4, 2013

    I don’t want to suggest we grow forgetful as we age, but I’d forgotten you were addressing this subject 🙂 I’d also forgotten that the free classes I can now take at the state university is called the SENIOR CITIZEN Program. What? What did they just call me? It absolutely does not compute in my brain, and for that I’m grateful. Of course we gain aches and pains as we age and all our bits and bobs aren’t where they used to be, but it’s an exchange, not a loss. I’ve gained much more on this side of 60 than I ever had when my body was younger.

    I don’t think aging and mortality sink down to the bone until we lose our own parents. Those are the people who have always been in our worlds, and when they’re gone, normal is gone and a sense of urgency takes over. Life settles into a slower pace as everything becomes more vivid, more real. My husband and I lost the entire generation above us within 18 months, and there was a point when we looked at each other and said, “We’re the elders the family now looks to as the wise sages. God help us all.”

    If life isn’t an adventure before we hit that mythical point called Age, it won’t be an adventure afterwards. Downhill slide? It’s all a view from the crest of the hill, just a different perspective.

    Reply
    • Cyd, I love your humor about it. God help the young ‘uns if we’re the example! But here’s what I wonder: why don’t we, in midlife, get to call ourselves orphans when we lose both parents? Because it feels just that horrible – or it will, I should say, in my case. I have my Mom still, thank God. And you are right – it’s largely about perspective. All we can do is try to have a positive one.

      Reply
      • cydmadsen

         /  March 4, 2013

        We’ve felt like orphans many times, and it just doesn’t fit for some reason. It is odd, which makes it fairly normal. Life is an odd bit of business, best to enjoy the ride and keep laughing.

        Reply
  14. Lynne, time after time your writing is so spot on. Do we focus on the “downhill slide” aspects of aging or on making the most of the years we are privileged to have? I vote for the latter.

    I like this post and the comments on it so much that my blog post this week is going to be telling people about this blog post and encouraging them to come here to read it. 🙂

    Reply
  15. I’ve never understood this idea that life is over at age 50. Fortunately, I’ve always been a free spirit so not going along with what is considered conventional wisdom is EZPZ for me. But like you, I see all sorts of woman worry themselves into a tizzy about getting older. They make me sad, but all I can do is lead by example.

    Reply
    • Your example is reassuring, Ally. We need to see each other doing things unconventionally. It gives the rest of us permission to live our one precious life fully, as much to our making as possible and ethical.

      Reply
      • Why thank you. You flatter me. But I give all the credit to my mother who did things her way– quietly, politely, with a tad of rebellion in her heart. I’m only following her lead.

        Reply
  16. I feel like raising my arms in the air and letting out a big “wheeee!” on the slide after reading your post and these fantastic comments. Attitude and gratitude are everything. Thanks for an uplifting reminder Lynne.

    Reply
    • Barbara, it is great to kind of “sit together” and yak about issues, isn’t it? I treasure that. I’m so grateful for my AST buddies. Getting older seems almost fun when you’ve got a bunch of girlfriends traveling the path with you.

      Reply
  17. Every now and then it crosses my mind that the “age thing” could be payback for our (MY!) misspent youth. After all, we are the ones that said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” What did we know?

    Love your perspective that with one’s next 25-30 years, there’s enough time to “create a fully-formed batch of offspring.” Just please–please, please, please–tell me that’s not how I have to spend these glorious years. LOL

    You said, “If you see yourself as cranky, crotchety, wrinkled and sexless, you probably are, in which case, it’s time for an attitude make-over.” Best advice EV-er!

    Reply
    • Susan, don’t worry about the offspring. This time around, it’s us. We’re the project now. Going to spend a little time on ourselves!

      Reply
  18. KO

     /  March 6, 2013

    Lynne – What a great group of women you’ve attracted with your blog! Yes, we age, and hopefully we discover that inner beauty and wisdom that comes with age. I look back at how I wasted much of my youth, but even that has become important to where I am now and my outlook on life. My body doesn’t function the way my mind wishes it would, but as long as I stay active it keeps my spirit alive. I have my daughters to keep me going. Now, if I could acquire the grandchildren as you have, it would be an new workout tool for me. I may be sliding downhill but I’m taking a bottle of wine with me.

    Reply
    • It is a great group of friends, isn’t it, Kathy? And you just bring that bottle with you to Jekyll Island. I’m thinking early May next year?

      Reply
  19. David Gillaspie

     /  March 18, 2013

    Age is so double sided. We’re glad for more experienced, but remembering how that experience would have come in handy is still tough.

    Age plays out in stark terms in a gym. Baby boomers are either in denial and still working toward their maximum lifts, or they’re in health maintenance trying to slow the slide toward…the end?

    I tell them to pick one thing each month and make it better. From calves to necks, there’s something waiting to be ‘better than it ever was.’

    They tell me to rest my vocal chords.

    Reply
  1. Life at 60: Is Aging Nothing But a Downhill Slide? | Savoring Your Sixties

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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.

    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

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