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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.

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  • 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

The Convenient Accusation of Dementia

The young woman was upset about her mother. “Mom bought me a house a few years ago, and believe me, I’m grateful,” she said to the advice columnist. “But I’ve had some financial setbacks, like losing my job in the recession and having to file bankruptcy. I’m doing the best I can to pay Mom back, but the other day she complained to my aunt about my financial dependency. I can’t believe my mother revealed this confidence. She’s normally so private. I’m worried she’s starting to show signs of dementia.”

The advice columnist responded, “She might just be resentful about your financial situation, and kept it to herself all these years. But definitely try to get her to go with you to her doctor,” she said. “Have her get a full checkup…”

I don’t like what you did. I think you need to see your doctor.

Maybe some of us DO get old and cranky, and maybe we shoot our mouths off about not wanting to be doormats any more. Maybe we’ve seen enough bad behavior by this point that we’re way less tolerant of it, and we’re comfortable saying so out loud. How convenient to assume we’re losing our marbles.

Impending dementia provides a handy explanation for discomfiting behavior. (For younger people, we cluck that they “may be bipolar.”) Neither assessment should be made casually. If you see something, observe without panicking, and if there’s a pattern over time, discuss it privately with a professional. If you receive guidance to take it further, so be it. But don’t jump into it haphazardly.

Humans like to control their environment. A crabby senior might look like a candidate for muzzling but tread carefully. An irresponsible charge of dementia can cause us to resent you and begin second-guessing ourselves. Life is fast-moving and complicated these days. Plenty of people forget things, sound stupid, or lose their tempers. Ageism alert: if you wouldn’t accuse a young person of dementia in a certain situation, don’t accuse an old person of it either.

Please don’t be mad at me. I swear I’m in my right mind. Such as it is.

Leave a comment


  1. My guess is that Mom spilled the beans out of worry and frustration. I agree with you, the advice columnist overreacted…though suggesting medical attention is a nice Cover-Your-Ass kind of statement!

  2. Snoring Dog Studio

     /  August 2, 2013

    It concerns me – the use of that word. It could easily become another way to exercise ageism, to marginalize the elderly. I’ve seen dementia and it is a complex, complicated and frustrating thing. Taking care of someone and communicating with someone who has it takes a lot of skill and patience. That was absolutely awful advice from that columnist. Awful.

  3. It has been my observation that people lose their filters as they get older. My mother-in-law who would never say anything hurtful to anyone became quite good at speaking her mind. It was a shock. My own mother lost the filter that hid her selfishness. I’m quite excited to see what will float to the top when my own filter goes.

    The columnist was just covering her behind. Her filter loss is already exposed. lol Great post!

    • Thanks, DOD. I see your point, but I hesitate to agree about the “losing our filters” thing, because it’s a variation on the theme. Maybe instead of losing anything, we’re gaining confidence to speak the truth, finally. Maybe we were over-editing ourselves earlier in life, and now we’re more real; the world is then better off and lucky to have us, because we’re not hiding our light under a basket anymore. Enjoy, world!

  4. As a seventy year old, I thank you for this post. I can relate to the mother whose daughter is having finacial difficulties. At my age when I’m doing everything I can for my kids, and they’re still going under, I need someone to talk to about it. Dementia? No way!

    • You’re very welcome. My mom, who is 88, talks to me about what it’s like being her age, but she is guarded about expressing her darker thoughts with others, for fear they’ll evaluate and judge her vis a vis the end of her life. Why the hell can’t we all just relax and accept the variations on the human theme?

  5. Frustrations pile UP. Why are we not allowed to vent when overwhelmed without being labelled? In this situation, it sounds like the daughter has hit a snag. Now both are hurt without understanding each other’s emotional situation.

    • It’s just so effing easy to judge. Oh, she’s becoming demented; he’s bipolar; she’s OCD. The one thing I thought we were learning from our more recent explorations of the autism spectrum was how different humans are at a particular stage of life, let alone along the whole life span. We’re all weird and have our own quirks; it doesn’t mean anything! Or, to quote poor old (late) Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

  6. That ranks up there with men accusing women of having PMS when the problem is they were a jerk and wouldn’t own up to their behavior.

    Good post – I really like the topics you write about. It’s a good niche and one I can relate to.


  7. Another thought provoking post. This is just another example of blanket assumptions applied to older people — a convenient label for any behavior that is unpleasant, inconvenient, or embarrassing. After a certain age, many of us adopt a “who gives a rat’s ass?” attitude. Rather than demented, I think we’re enlightened.

  8. Oh, Lynne, I love this. It reminds me of my 90 year old mom who after years of stuffing her feelings, does not hesitate to shoot from the hip. I’m convinced her feistiness is keeping her young. IMO, I think jumping to labels is easier than dealing with the feelings and frustrations behind the behavior.

    • Kathy, your last sentence should be carved onto a national monument. I’m going to use it to share this on G+. You hit it squarely. If I get to be 90 with all my marbles, I might act nuts just because I can, and what the hell can anybody do about it?! Imagine living in a world where almost everybody is younger than you – you’d have to be pissed off. I would, anyway. Stupid whippersnappers.

  9. Strategies of the Spirit

     /  August 3, 2013

    Loved this! There is a tsunami of baby boom aging women coming up. Some of us will indeed have cognitive challenges, but, for a while at least, most of us will not. We can be the generation that changes the merciless stereotype that denigrates and dismisses older women. (I did seven SoulCollage workshops last year using Pinkola-Estes “Dangerous Old Woman” audio stories as a springboard. We had a great time! Very empowering. Interesting that this story started with an upset about financial matters. In New York State the age when “elder abuse” begins to become an issue is 65, with financial abuse the most common form.

    • Thanks for mentioning the Pinkola-Estes “Dangerous Old Woman” stories…I had not heard of this and intend to read it ASAP. Hope you’ll stop by often. Best wishes in all you do.

      • Strategies of the Spirit

         /  August 3, 2013

        they are best listened to on a the CD or MP3 download at SoundsTrue.com She is a Jungian storytelller with many wonderful collections…

  10. I finally cured myself of the disease to please after years of being ‘nice’ and ‘not making waves’. I’m glad my kids don’t live near me or they’d be shipping me off the to care center of no return. Yikes!!

    Great post – I think you should publish it where the stupid whippersnappers can read it as well as we addle-brained boomers. LOL!

  11. Just shoot me now! I have heard my children say these things about the other parents. I cannot be long before it is my turn! I just try to be a little nuts ALL the time. Maybe they won’t notice when the time comes.

  12. Lynne, first let me thank you for using the bottom photo to illustrate this post. Ha ha ha ha ha! Gotta love Bette Davis!!
    Second: It took me a while to get time to read this, so I left it idling patiently in my inbox for a while. I wanted to give it my full attention. I agree with another commenter: You nailed it on this one.
    Now I’m just wondering if you’re working on a post regarding China’s new (as of today) law: Those who do not visit their elderly (60 or over) parents are subject to prosecution. Please give us your thoughts!

    • Hah. I assume this would be China’s effort to mitigate any responsibility the state might otherwise feel to care for its elderly, but not having researched it, I can’t say. Can you imagine an overworked, unhappy, solo (because of the one child per household rule) adult child making a mandatory visit to avoid civil penalty? What would the conversation between son (because they killed so many girl babies, it’s probably a boy – and he’s probably single) and mother (because women outlive men) sound like? But maybe I’m too cynical.

      • Girl, I love your sassy-ness! I can’t imagine what the conversation would be like. I can’t imagine trying to legislate, then enforce, filial allegiance. What if your elderly father molested you when you were a kid? Are you still required to visit him?

  13. I always said that I will wear whatever I want whenever I want, when I am old. Allowances for the elderly. It would be far better to enjoy seniors than to accuse and marginalize them. I’m with you. I’m also nearing the age of jeopardy of being accused. I can see it all clearly.

    • Christine, there are so many in our demographic, sheer numbers should overwhelm any resistance! BTW, I have a writer friend who dresses with such flair; he says writers have a duty to look interesting. I love his attitude and I think I’m going to adapt it to aging.


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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."

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  • Blogs I Follow

  • This Blog Got Five Stars!

Still the Lucky Few

Reflections on Life as a Senior

Writing Contemplative life Essays

Examining experiences and exploring possibilities

Live & Learn

David Kanigan


Helping each other master the art of a senior life.

How to Make, Market and Sell Ebooks

self-publishing tips for authors

Waiting for the Karma Truck

thoughts on the spaces in between

Writing Out Loud

A Place of Observation

Guerrilla Aging

Navigating the Third Half of Life

Memoir Writer's Journey

Sharing hope one story at a time


Life in the Boomer Lane

Musings of a former hula hoop champion

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