Sunday, May 10, 2009

Oh, look! A blog...

Yes, I'm still here. And, I've been reading! Let's see if I can remember everything I've read since I last posted (in no particular order)....

First, I discovered Chris Bohjalian. Not sure how I managed to miss him before, but I picked up my first book by him, Midwives, in March, and now my goal is to not overdose on him a la Jodi Picoult. He's written so many books that I've never read that I'm afraid I'll over-saturate my brain with Bohjalian and end up feeling "meh" about is writing.

Midwives chronicles the story of Sybil Danforth, a midwife who, after years of assisting with successful home births, is present at a birth where the mother dies. She is accused of involuntary manslaughter and sent to trial. Narrated years later by her daughter who was 14 years old at the time of the trial (and who, in her adult life, is an obstetrician), the novel weaves an incredible mix of suspense, character development, and ethical dilemma (there's a constant sense, to me, of "what would YOU have done?" in the narrative) into a captivating story.

Over a year ago, I read The Birth House, and was disappointed because it didn't go deeply enough into the challenges of midwifery and the community that centers around childbirth in the home, surrounded by the proverbial village as opposed to the masked, gloved OB/surgeon. Bohjalian's book finally gave me the story I had been wanting to read way back then in The Birth House.

Before You Know Kindness was equally as captivating. Spencer McCullough, a public relations executive for FERAL, a PETA-esque animal rights group, is shot in the shoulder, by his daughter, using his brother-in-law's gun. It's an accident. Right?

The family is pushed to its limits as one branch of the family is pitted against the other by FERAL, which uses McCullough's shooting as an excuse to sue the gun company involved. Through the characters, the ideal of animal activist vegan faces off with the idea of sport hunter. In the same way that Tom Perrotta's The Abstinance Teacher illustrated how the flaws of extremist belief, Before You Know Kindness follows a family on a journey to reconcile their philosophical differences while loyalties and egos are stretched to the limit.

Another writer I'd not found before. Marisa De Los Santos tells the story of Cornelia, a quirky, tiny urbanite, obsessed with old movies and finding love. This character is impossible not to fall in love with. Looking for her own Jimmy Stewart (unless she can find Carey Grant), she is woo'd by Martin Grace, who walks into her little Philadelphia cafe one day and sweeps her off her feet. At least for a time...

This is also the story of Clare Hobbes, an 11-year old girl, whose mother is smack-dab in the middle of one hell of a nervous breakdown, leaving Clare to fend for herself. For months, Clare tries to hold things together so people don't her mother is falling apart at the seams. The one person she tries to enlist help from, her estranged father, essentially pats Clare on the head and tells her to run along. So when her mother leaves her on the side of the road, Clare is forced to find a way to make sense of her life.

The way in which these two characters' lives intertwine is just great writing. Both characters are fleshed out so thoroughly, I could almost touch them. I loved the way the book made me consider my connections to other people and how we are essentially a giant network of lives, ready to collide at any time, and change the course of our world's forever.

I am currently reading the second book in this series, Belong To Me. When I picked it up, I didn't realize it was a continuation of Cornelia's life. And? Loving it so far.

Oh, I was so bummed when I finished this book. Quite literally, I was sobbing at the end. Told in flashback, by a dying mother to her already elderly son, These Granite Islands chronicles the life, and specifically one summer of Isobel. A somewhat ambivalent wife and mother, Isobel stays behind in town one summer while her husband takes her sons out to an island camp.

It is during this summer that Isobel meets Cathryn, a mysterious, moody, married urban woman, who is carrying on an affair with Jack, a forest ranger. Scandalized by the affair, but drawn in by Cathryn's warmth and candor, Isobel becomes Cathryn's closest friend and accomplice in hiding the affair from Cathryn's husband.

When the lovers disappear, as if into thin air, Isobel is left contemplating not only the woman she considered to be her best friend, but also her own life and the choices she's made in her life.

Like the History of Love, this is the type of book I need to read again. The first read was just me plowing through it, in love with Isobel and the characters around her.

I finished the book one night after having lied down with my 3 year old son to help him fall back to sleep. As I listened to Ethan breathing next to me, I thought of this woman, 60 years after this fateful summer, at the end of her life, telling her story to the only of her children to survive her, and I was just overcome with emotion. Our lives are so brief, and pass so quickly. All of our relationships, from those that come and go to those that bind through blood, make us who we are. Who knows what we will see when we get to the end of our own lives and look back. What will we remember? Who will be there next to us? What stories from our lives will be important enough to share when we get to that point? Yeah, I didn't sleep a whole lot that night. But it was worth it.

After having seen "Slumdog Millionaire", I became one of eleventy billion people to be horrified by the slums of Mumbai and went in search of a novel that might help me understand the social make-up of a society that allows so many of it's people to live in such horrendous poverty and squalor. What I found was a story of two women, separated by class, pride and the weight of societal expectation.

Bhima is Sera's servant. They are as close to "friends" as they could possibly be, given that Bhima inhabits the slums and Sera is a rich widow. Sera cannot help but flinch if Bhima touches her, but she feels badly for it.

The novel takes us back through both Bhima's and Sera's lives, their disappointments with love, their search for meaning in their lives--in both cases, the lives of their children. The parallels between two women in such different positions in life was staggering, but so was, as the title suggests, the space between them.

As a bleeding heart fan of the underdog, I found it much easier to feel for Bhima, even though Sera's story was also compelling. What I loved about this novel was it's developing theme that privilege and money does not equal inner strength.

I'm looking forward to reading more of this author's books as well.

1 comment:

KMW said...

I've read Love Walked In and The Space Between us. I found Love Walked In a light satisfying read. Glad to know that the story continues, I'll certainly check that out.

For some reason, I did not like the Space Between Us. I guess there wasn't enough in either woman to make me like them enough to really care. That sounds harsh.

Right now I'm reading the new John Irving book. It's good! Good characters.