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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

Amour, the Movie

imgresAmour is a difficult film to watch, but worth it. If you’re feeling discouraged about mortality, Amour will put things in perspective.

It’s a stunning film, one that stays with you. Depressing? Actually, it didn’t hit me that way, maybe because I was a bit confused about the ending, so went online to gain clarity. There I found an essay asserting this isn’t the way most of us will end our days, and the film is ageist in painting elderhood with such despair. I hope so.

The rest of this post contains some spoilage, so you might choose to stop reading here.

Anne and Georges love each other deeply and in spite of their advanced age enjoy a rich life. Then she has a stroke, at which time both of them reveal their strength and in his case, heroism.

After the first stroke, Anne reveals to Georges that she would prefer to die. She tries and fails to refuse food and liquids. Then she has a second stroke and loses the ability to enforce her decision. This is one of the main aspects of the film that resonates with me, what most of us fear – that we’ll wait too long to make the choice, or that we’ll have no choice and will have to live out our final days (years?) regardless of the impact on our loved ones.

The upside of Amour was that it put things in perspective. My aches and pains seemed laughable and my existential fears no more than childish superstitions compared to the reality portrayed in this movie. I was also left with the determination, should I ever be struck by a horrible terminal affliction, to move immediately to a state that permits me to end my life when I chose.

Did you see Amour? What did you think, and/or how did it make you feel? If you haven’t seen the trailer, here it is.

POLL RESULTS: If you’re interested in the poll results from earlier this week, click here. Thanks again for your input.

Leave a comment


  1. Another Spreen blog that makes me think. I checked every other to help you, but you want to know the truth? I like Fridays. Amour was one of those that Susan and I couldn’t get through. I said to her, this is the pace it is going to stay. I must have been convincing because she dropped it too and often doesn’t. Now, reading your post, I kind of wish we hadn’t, well almost. I try to ramp up the guilt, but can’t. Glad your read that what happened in Amour is not the future for most of us. Still, while not guilt, fear.

    • Fear is appropriate in proportion. You don’t know how it will end so why give any energy to the negative? Which is what this movie is. It won awards for the acting, and rightly so, but it also paints a picture of the most extremely horrific way a couple of people could die. I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody just because of that. A person would be just as happy watching this one: All Together with Jane Fonda speaking French! yes, subtitles. But still. Much more upbeat about aging. http://youtu.be/wAs-B9Hos4o

  2. Lynne, I saw the movie. And I was also confused about the ending. I found it to be a movie I’ll never forget. But far closer to depressing than inspiring.

    • David, it represented a very small example of How We Die. I think the originators were just starting to deal with their mortality and freaked out.

  3. I haven’t seen it – and I’m not sure I will. Having watched my father deteriorate over years is too close to the movie’s subject matter and my memories are not yet blurred or emotion-free..

    • Don’t, Mimi. See the one I suggested to Fitz: http://youtu.be/wAs-B9Hos4o. Or Marigold Hotel. No sense rubbing your nose in sadness.

      • I really enjoyed Marigold Hotel (I have yet to see anything with Judy Dench in it which I don’t like, and the whole cast was really a treat)..

      • Sue Shoemaker

         /  September 13, 2013

        This movie looks GREAT. Has it been released in the US?

        • Sue, the Jane Fonda one was in 2012, so it probably was in one or two art-house theaters before going to video. Because there is not ONE damn car chase so what the hell good is it? But seriously, it’s on Netflix. You could watch it on your computer since it’s one of their “Play Instantly” movies.

          • Sue Shoemaker

             /  September 13, 2013

            Thanks, Lynne! I still haven’t gotten into Netflix…but I know that’s in my future… 🙂

  4. Linda Smih

     /  September 13, 2013

    I saw the movie and after processing it one of the things that struck me was how isolated they were and wondered how that came to be. Further thought took me to how their love for each other was isolating keeping others out, perhaps even their daughter. I believe a core theme was how devoted this couple were to each other, however the negative side of that was that they were alone with their suffering and I don’t think it has to be like this.

    • An astute observation, Linda. Also, the film maker chose to film most of the scenes in the most depressing light imaginable. However, he made his point. For example I thought he really captured the horror of a nightmare, and it seemed logical the husband would have them, under the circumstances. But yes, I agree, for all her prominence and their sophistication, why would they have isolated themselves so? A very good point.

  5. Sue Shoemaker

     /  September 13, 2013

    For some reason, I was not “compelled” to see it like I was with THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL. Maybe it’s because I am kind of “picky” about the movies I permit my brain to see. I stopped watching horror movies around the time that the Freddy Krueger movies came on the scene. I had read or heard at some point that our brain doesn’t know that what we are viewing in a movie is not “real”…that’s why we have physiological reactions when we watch something that “disturbs” our brain. About the same time I stopped reading Stephen King books…for the same reason. I am one of those people who has such a good imagination, that if I put something into my brain, I can’t help but think about it at times when it’s least helpful. As a result…only what I deem to be “the good stuff” gets in, and AMOUR didn’t make the cut.

    • Sue! I can’t believe you’re the same as me! For the same reason I never saw Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and even Hunger Games. I can’t differentiate pretend emotion (movies) from reality. To this day I wish I’d never watched Sophie’s Choice, and that was what, 20 years ago? But on the positive, it’s a great characteristic for a writer to have!

  6. Yes, a very tough film, but I liked it. The acting was great and it made me use my brain to find my way through its ins and outs. If a film, or a play for that matter, makes me think beyond my own limitations, I consider it successful. And in no way did I consider it a “horror” film. It’s simply about dying. A part of life that many of us are afraid to look at.

  7. Sue Shoemaker

     /  September 13, 2013

    Never considered this movie to be a “horror” flick…and yes, I agree with Joan that many of us are afraid to think about or “look at” dying. Since I am a Hospice volunteer, I get to consider what it means to die “in real life.” I don’t need a movie to help me get that understanding.

    Now…back to what I was was saying before…the last scary book I read was PET SEMATARY…and I was parenting two little boys at the time, and something awful happens to a little boy in the book. THAT WAS IT…I was done.

    As much as I love Meryl Streep movies…never did, never will see SOPHIE’S CHOICE…which came out almost 30 years ago. Again, with two little boys at the time, I knew enough about the movie to know that it wasn’t for me.

  8. Shelley Charlesworth

     /  September 13, 2013

    I haven’t seen the movie – it’s sounds like it would be worthwhile but I’m feeling like some prior posters- it’s perhaps too disturbing for me. I know what you mean about fearing the end. I’m not afraid of dying – but of lingering on and on. And I am fearful of waiting too long to make the choice, or that I’ll have no choice and will have to live out my final days (years?) in a decrepit condition.

    Don’t those states that allow suicide require you to be a resident of at least 6 months? What state beside Oregon allows suicide for terminal people?

    It was good for me to learn about the “Zurich cocktail”.

    An American man was suffering from ALS and becoming more and more dependent on his wife for shaving, bathing, feeding. he went to Zurich because they allow suicide tourism.

    I saw his story on tv on kpbs [ FRONTLINE ] but you can watch this suicide tourist program on-line :


    (LMS: I deleted the two videos you said you posted in error, Shelley.)

  9. Shelley Charlesworth

     /  September 13, 2013

    I’m sorry – the wrong youtube got posted twice.
    Here are the 2 I thought I was posting:

  10. God I love you Lynne. You put those BIG important issues right out on the table. I want to have that choice if I have a stroke or affliction that diminishes my quality of life. AMEN sista!

  11. suegas@comcast.net

     /  September 13, 2013

    Lynn, thought based on your review of the movie Amour subject matter you might be interested in this….. Sue Gaston

    This a legitimate issue which needs support. Pls see the numerous articles about this case on the internet! When you read them you will be angry about this charge and concerned about your rights to make your own end of life decisions.

    Sept 2013

    Pennsylvania nurse and loving daughter Barbara Mancini faces up to 10 years in prison for allegedly “assisting suicide” in the death of her 93-year-old, terminally ill father, Joe Yourshaw. Joe was receiving hospice care because he wanted to die peacefully at home. Barbara was caring for her father in his living room when he took morphine to relieve his severe pain. An ambulance took Joe to the hospital, and a police captain arrested Barbara.

    This is a chilling example of government authorities criminalizing a most intimate, personal decision. Would you want them to question yours? Sign the petition and stand with Barbara. That’s why I signed a petition to Kathleen Kane, Attorney General, which says:

    “Stop the unjust prosecution of Barbara Mancini and drop the felony charge against her.”

    Click here to add your name: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/attorney-general-kane?source=s.fwd&r_by=8749942

  12. Watched the trailer and 1 of the videos. Sorry, but this is just wrong. It is murder. You are either murdering yourself or helping somebody else to murder themselves. Plus, it’s a good way to “get rid of the old lady” so you can move on. I hope my husband never encourages or helps me to do this. I am glad it is still illegal in most places. What’s to stop us from getting rid of anybody who is a bother, or who is unwanted? This is where godless socialism ends up. As for Barbara, if she didn’t overdose her father, but he took too much morphine himself, why is she being arrested?

    • Ellie, I’m sorry you feel that way. There are differing opinions on this subject, and I think all of them are passionately held. As to your last sentence, that is definitely the question!


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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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