Sunday, March 29, 2015

It started as just a book club...

The Book Club by Mary Alice Monroe
One of our Borders Book Club members wanted us to read and discuss this, because she felt our own club was reflected within this story in many ways. In searching for a cover photo for my posting, I was rather amazed at all of them I found, six in all, with the one directly to the right being the cover on my copy. I guess they all "work" with the story contained within. This book reminded me of many others concerned with a group of women who become close friends, when initially drawn together as a group of strangers, united by nothing more than a common this case, reading books! 

It showed great fortitude and strength on my part to put this book down on Sunday night (I had begun reading it late Saturday night) with only 120 pages to go. I really wanted to finish it before going to bed, but also knew I had to work the next day, so I went to bed like a good girl should! But I thought about this book throughout the day and what was going to happen in the end.

This was an unexpectedly poignant and rather intense read compared to some other books I have read with a similar premise, I feel as if this one depicted more conflict within the group/between members than others have done. However, it could just be that Monroe's writing made it seem more compelling to me. Monroe's writing was more direct and action-driven than other authors of similarly themed novels I have read--there just seemed to be more unresolved conflict and ongoing tension, though not too much. One of our book club members felt these women spoke to each other a bit too directly, rather disrespectfully at times, whereas, we do not typically do that to each other within our group. (Yay, us! :)) There were spots where the language seemed a bit too "flowery" for one of our members, and I felt some of the "romantic encounters" were a bit more detailed than necessary, plus, in all, I found Eve and Paul's relationship just a bit "too good" to be believed, though I wish each of us could find our "knight in shining armor" as she seemed to do. All of us enjoyed reading this one!

Eve is just one of the five women depicted in this novel. And although we learn many of the more intimate details of all the women's lives, it is Eve's story about which we learn first. Monroe's writing is absolutely excellent, in my opinion. Eve Porter's husband, Tom, is departing on yet another business trip: 

     She was his trusty sidekick, or as Tom often put it, he was the captain and she the 
        Lately, however, she felt the ship was going down. For no reason she could 
     articulate, she'd begun looking for lifeboats. It wasn't so much that she doubted the 
     competence of Tom, it was just that the buttons of his jacket didn't shine quite as bright 
     anymore. Or perhaps the voyage was just too long. 
        Eve shook these mutinous thoughts out of her mind and stepped out into the morning
     air. "Today will be a good day," she said firmly, silencing her heart murmuring, "He will   
     not ruin my day." (13)

I love the marine analogy Monroe uses here to express the rift that has developed between Eve and Tom. 

     Today was the first day of summer, she realized, her spirits lifting like a kite. She loved 
     milestones of any sort: birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, checks on the calendar, 
     notches on a growth chart. Today would be special, brand-new. She felt it deep inside. 
     ... She was relieved to have the grind of the school year finished. She missed playing 
     with her children. (13)
I had to chuckle at the last comment; that's how I felt when I was a stay-at-home mom. I loved time spent with my children and truly interacted and "played" with them as much as possible. And what a milestone awaited Eve and her much change! As Tom flew out of the house, hurriedly packing his cases in the car, stating he would call later, give her his room number, 
     She nodded and opened her mouth to say goodbye, to wish him a good trip, maybe to 
     say I love you, but he'd already turned his back.
     ... "Her eyes swam in water, and through the white noise of pain in her ears, she heard 
     the car door slam... When the sound of his car disappeared, she felt a tremendous 
     sense of loss. They couldn't continue on like this, she thought, sniffing loudly. When he 
     came home they'd have a long talk, maybe go out to dinner. (18) 
I have felt that same "white noise of pain" in my ears. Have you? That passage perfectly described how I've felt several times in my life. And the idea of not hugging, kissing, or at least saying "I love you," when your loved one leaves...that spoke volumes to me of just how alienated they were from each other. My husband and I have a solemn pact to always kiss each other (at the very least} when we separate for any reason; this was his idea, a carry-over from his relationship with his mother and a very good one, in my opinion! I highly recommend it!

There are so many details I would love to include in a review, but I will do my best to pare it down. :) Doris is the stay-at-home mom who organizes everything and everyone, down to the smallest detail and is seen as rather overbearing, particularly by Annie who is the successful lawyer/professional woman of the group with the perfectly romantic marriage. Gabriella is the plump mother of four who begins working more and more hours as a nurse to makeup for the fact her husband is unemployed. Midge is the single bohemian artist living in a loft, and like Doris, does not have the socially-acceptable svelte slender body type, but does have an overbearing and very judgmental mother. *(I could relate to that!)

Doris and Annie are the two book club members who are probably the least compatible among the five. I had to laugh at her inner dialogue as Doris watched Annie:

     No matter how much money she spent, Doris knew she'd never look like that. Deep in   
     her heart, Doris was convinced it was a secret cult that thin, attractive, successful 
     women kept to themselves just to drive plump, dumpy women like herself crazy. (25)
Hah! And yet, my heart went out to Doris, for I could relate to her feelings of inadequacy based upon nothing more than her physical appearance! So sad that our society makes us feel this way. And although she had money, her marriage was perhaps not what she thought it had been for the past 25 years. Annie develops her own challenges later on, as does Gabriella, as well as Midge. Though I think I could relate most to Midge's challenge of accepting the fact that her mother was moving to be near her:
     As far as she's concerned, everything I do is wrong. She doesn't want to talk, she wants 
     to tell. She doesn't want to just shop, she wants to dictate what I buy. Who I see. What I 
     do. God, that woman is so controlling. I moved out of her house at eighteen because I 
     couldn't stand it then. What makes her think I can stand it now? Why does she think I 
     live alone? (164) 
Following my divorce, my mother was determined to live with me--she even made herself homeless in the hopes I would relent! Midge's description exactly reflects my own mother, with the exception that Edith at least had her own friends, whereas my mother did not, so she was even more smothering! Yep! I resonated with Midge on this 100%! Poor woman...

I loved the discussions about what books should be selected for their book club:

     But we still have to read all kinds of books, books we might never pick up on our own. 
     And there's no way I'd dissect and study a book on my own as much as we do in the 
     group. So sometimes a book I think I'll hate turns out to be wonderful after all. ... I think 
     it's a mistake to only read literary books, or nonfiction, or classics. Or any one genre. 
     Then we'd be stuck. I'm curious about those books that get the buzz, or make the Times 
     list.  (113-114) 
And that sums up what we try to accomplish with the Borders Book Club; we always try to select a variety of books to read and discuss. I agree that diverse reading experiences help develop our understanding of writing styles, themes, and most importantly, others' perspectives. 

I could relate to these realizations of returning to full-time work:

     She wasn't young anymore. She didn't have the same energy. She expected more 
     respect. And now she also had her children to care for. (151)
I notice the decreased energy and my intolerance for those who cannot respect others, particularly me, within the workplace! :)
        Friendships were easy when life was going smoothly. What was hard was to be there 
     for your friend when life got rough and the friendship was neither easy nor fun. The 
     challenge was to forgive the friend when she failed. (343)
And this sums it up so very well. This book demonstrated the ways in which as a group we can all try to help each other as much as possible, yet no one person can always be there for the other every single time...and that's okay, we must learn to forgive and be grateful for the help from those who are available and capable of giving it at the time. 

I think you would definitely like this book if you have enjoyed Kate Jacobs' Friday Night Knitting Club series (The Friday Night Knitting Club, Knit Two, Knit the Season), Marie Bostwick's Cobbled Court Quilt Series, or Terri Dulong's Cedar Key series (Spinning Forward, Casting About, Sunrise on Cedar Key, Postcards from Cedar Key, Secrets on Cedar Key, Farewell to Cedar Key). And I'm sure there are many others. Strangers can become close friends who love and genuinely care for each other. 

Have you read this book? Did you feel it was realistic? Intense? Similar to others?

You can be assured that I will read more of Mary Alice Monroe's books in the future! 
Any recommendations? 

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