Sunday, July 31, 2016

Literary Wives #22!!

by Emma Chapman
Honestly, at 188 pages I was willing to put this one down. 
This writing did not resonate well for me. I was BORED. 
Overall, by the book's end I feel Chapman accomplished 
what she wanted to accomplish,
which is to "create a conversation," according to 
her interactive website for this book.
(The title is linked to that website, if you care to investigate.)
I only placed about 15 markers in this book, 
which is way less than usual. 
Obviously there was much less that truly 
'got my attention' than with most books I read.
In the end, I guess the real question is who do you believe?

Be sure to check out the reviews of the other co-hosting bloggers:
Emily @ The Bookshelf of Emily J
Ariel @ One Little Library
Naomi @ Consumed by Ink
Kay @ whatmeread
And last, but by no means least, our newest co-host,
Kate @ Kate Rae Davis 

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Access all our previous reviews on my Literary Wives page!

If I had not known my maternal aunt who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia so well, and hadn't worked with mentally ill/emotionally challenged clients in case management, I might not believe it possible for Marta to have imagined everything. However, I believe it is very possible. It is so scary what the mind can do...and unless you've been up close and personal to someone or those whose minds "trick" them, as my aunt used to say, I think it is unbelievable. Do you agree? Or disagree?

How To Be a Good Wife is actually the title of the book Marta's mother-in-law, Hector's mother, gave to her as a wedding present. She also came over on Saturdays to instruct Marta how to be a good wife to her son, Hector. Hector is much older than Marta. Hector is rather obviously a bit strange himself.
Hector had insisted we clean the house from top to bottom, 
and though it seemed pointless to me if she was to do it all over again, I did as he asked. Everything needed to be perfect, he repeated, she would notice the slightest mark. 
It was only later, his mother tutting under her breath as she corrected my work while Hector 
stood with his fists clenched, that I saw he had involved me in a lifelong battle between them. (7)
By page 7 I have determined all three of these people are all messed up. (Okay, that's the nice version of what I was really thinking.) :) Really. What mother-in-law would act like that if she wasn't a bit cuckoo? And what a strange relationship she and her son have. This scene made me shiver. Yuck! This is just icky. 

Hector has bought Marta a china doll each of the 25 years they have been married. They all 'live' in a china cabinet with a glass door and today, one of them is turned around backward! This is not how they are kept. Who could have done this, Marta wonders. Marta has not been taking her pills. She had stopped taking them years ago, too, when Kylan (their son) was 11 or 12 years old.
...I stopped taking my pills because I wanted something to happen. 
I suppose I wanted him to notice me again.
I almost welcomed the weariness that came without them: 
the heavy darkness I dimly remembered which began to follow me around again. (13)
Kylan is their only child and as so many of us mothers do, she put all her energy into raising him, but once he started becoming his own person and not needing (or wanting) her all the time, she became unmoored...and very bored. Unfortunately, Marta had no real hobbies or interests other than caring for her child, the house, and her husband...because, after all...she was supposed to be "a good wife." 

Interestingly, as Marta keeps recalling her own daily routine: by this time she is on her way to the market, by this time of day is starting to cook supper, etc., I couldn't help but think of my aunt. She was very similar in organizing her time and days--extremely regimented. I used to think that was a bit strange, but it worked for her and she certainly got things done. 
...Kylan isn't here again and the silent house makes me want to scream. 
He isn't coming back this time, and there's no reason for me to hold it together.
There is even less to do these days. 
Skipping my pills is like an experiment, one I allow to continue because in my worst moments,
I long for something bad to happen. If it does,
maybe Kylan will come back and help to take care of me. (14)
So, by page 14 there has been virtually nothing 'normal' about her, her husband, or her mother-in-law. On page 1 she is smoking a cigarette, admitting she didn't realize she was a "smoker." I keep shaking my head while reading this, trying to make sure the words match what I think I'm reading... 

And poor Kylan. He is totally clueless. He's just a young adult trying to make his own life, but...she keeps trying to hang on. Meanwhile, Hector appears to be a 'normal' father to Kylan, allowing him to make his own life, etc. He doesn't appear to try to control his son's life, just his wife's. Which could be more 'normal' than not, if she indeed does suffer from mental illness. 

Marta keeps having visions of a girl. Hector keeps telling her there is nothing, that she is imagining everything. 
I don't want to push the girl away, to deny these things I have been seeing. 
There's a sense that it would be fruitless anyway: like trying to sink a cork in a basin full of water.
It will always rise to the surface again. (79)

Obviously, Hector is quite overbearing. I would say he acts like an abuser typically acts, wanting to control every aspect of their life/her life, and expecting 'perfection' from her. Although he has been and is solicitous, there seems to be an undertone to everything he says and does of control for the sake of control. I was reminded of Old Nick and Ma in Room as I read this book. Though Donoghue's writing in Room definitely kept my attention, whereas I really had to keep trying and trudging along through the first 188 pages of this book. I guess it felt the way life was feeling for a fog, dreamlike much of the time, disconnected, so if that was Chapman's intent, she accomplished her goal, but for me, it was no fun. I admit, however, throughout the last 100 pages or so, it worked for me. Well, "worked" might not be an accurate description, but it did at least grab my attention. At least it was interesting to me. 

Then Hector admits he's been suspended from his teaching job while investigation continues into charges of an inappropriate relationship between himself and a female student. Marta observed him hugging one of his students outside the school building after hours. She suspects him of other such relationships, too. Hector has always forbidden her to leave the local area. Why? For her own good...or his? She thinks she remembers a name. But her son, who searches online is unable to find anything related to that name. Someone else lives at the address she remembers and they have no specific information about the former occupants. 
I could believe either of them is telling the truth.
Though I believe the fact that Kylan cannot locate any mention of her name online
rather forced me to believe Hector over Marta. 
Though just because you search, doesn't mean the results will be comprehensive,
and it is always impossible to open each and every link returned by a search, 
many times there are thousands or tens of thousands. 
I could believe the worst of Hector. I really could. And that was very creepy. 

And now for the overall Literary Wives question:

What does this book say about wives
or about the experience of being a wife?

Per Hector and his mother, a woman must always be perfect 
to be a wife/"good" wife. The book. That was sick. 
Especially the quotes Marta would throw out:

Comfort him in times of stress.
Talk to him in a low, soft voice to reassure him of your support. (66)

Find little jobs that will make his life easier and more pleasant. (63)

Clear away any untidiness. 
Catering to his comfort will give you an immense sense of  personal satisfaction. (63)

Take small mouthfuls of food, like a baby bird, 
and make sure to chew daintily with your mouth closed. (46)

Let your husband take care of the correspondence and finances of the household.
Make it your job to be pretty and gay. (15)

Children need order and routine: to be surrounded by stability. (13)

You must persevere when cleaning glass, mirrors and silver.
The smudges cling on: they do not want to be removed. (6)

Your husband belongs in the outside world.
The house is your domain, and your responsibility. (4)

Make your home a place of peace and order. (1)

Are you gagging yet? 'Cause I was at the very first one on the very first page. When was this supposedly written in the 1930's? Wait! Maybe medieval times? EGAD! Talk about subservience! So per Hector (and his mother, Mildred) 'following the rules' as set forth in this book is the role of a wife. 'Just do as your told, little girl! And everything will be all right.' Being a wife to Hector involves waiting on him hand and foot and doing whatever he tells you to do. There is absolutely no consideration or thought for your happiness; that obviously does not count. It is meaningless, not even in the overall equation of marriage. It is as if he is willing to 'help' Marta only when she and/or her behavior becomes inconvenient for him. 

Now, with all that negativity I just spewed, admittedly, some of these dictums are common sense. We should strive to make our home a place of peace and order. Typically, everyone is happier when that occurs. As partners, we should comfort each other and try to help make each other's lives less stressful. Though there is no mention or thought of the husband being emotionally supportive of his wife. I want to write the book entitled How To Be a Good Husband as a counterpoint! ;) Being Hector's wife is strictly a one-dimensional role/relationship--do everything to please him, period! Never think of yourself. Never consider yourself. Period. 

I would love to have read the message Marta left for Katya in the copy she gifted her.

I felt very sorry for Marta. 
Either way, whether she was 'right' or Hector was 'right,' her life was hell.

De Smet, Iowa comes into its own as a real town!

by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I love this older cover image to the left!
I can imagine that as Laura walking down the 
ever-growing Main Street in De Smet. 

As I read through this series I keep thinking there will eventually be ONE of these books that really doesn't 
'grab my attention' or resonate with me very well...
But, thankfully, that day never comes! :)
Each book is enthralling and endearing in its own way. 
I am thrilled my grandchildren will have the opportunity 
to read these and won't miss out on them 
as I somehow managed to do as a child! :)

Work has kept me so busy that I've 
not had much time to blog. 
But here is my review of this month's 
Little House Read-Along 2016 installment, just before month's end. 
In case you were unaware, Bex of 
An Armchair by the Sea and myself are cohosting a Little House Read-Along 
this year. You can join in whenever you please...or not. You're welcome to 
peruse all the reviews or 
some of them, etc. 
Whatever works for you! 
We post a link-up introductory posting 
at the beginning of each month and 
then I add links to all the month's reviews at my #littlehouseRAL home pageso you can access everything there
I've even been able to add a couple of reviews that were not necessarily part of this 
read-along (with permission of the bloggers), so it provides much diversity! 

This month's book was just so much fun! It was wonderful to see how Laura did eventually learn to enjoy living in town. Of course, she was now a teenager (a 'grown woman' in her day), and I believe it helped that Nellie Oleson was forced to live in the country, pretty far from town, so she couldn't berate the Ingalls as "country girls" any more! In fact, the opposite was now true! Though the Ingalls only moved to Pa's store in town during the winter. The rest of the time (the growing season) they spent on their claim, raising crops and a garden, and preserving food. So really, they had the best of both worlds.

Pa shocked everyone by asking one evening at supper,
"How would you like to work in town, Laura?" Laura could not say a word. 
Neither could any of the others. They all sat as if they were frozen. 
Grace's blue eyes stared over the rim of her tin cup, Carrie's teeth stayed bitten into 
a slice of bread, and Mary's hand held her fork stopped in the air. 
Ma let tea go pouring from the teapot's spout into Pa's brimming cup. 
Just in time, she quickly set down the teapot. (1)
I did kinda have to laugh at Ma's immediate reaction,
"A job? For a girl? In town?" Ma said. "Why, what kind of a job--" Then quickly she said,
"No, Charles, I won't have Laura working out in a hotel among all kinds of strangers."
"Who said such a thing?" Pa demanded. 
"No girl of ours'll do that, not while I'm alive and kicking." (2)
These books just make me realize all the more how differently society felt about so many things back then compared to now...
"What other kind of work can there be? And Laura not old enough to teach school yet." (2)
Laura only had to be 16 years old and pass an exam to become a certified teacher. (Wow...only 16! And just one test!)
All in the minute before Pa began to explain, Laura thought of the town, 
and of the homestead claim where they were all so happy now in the springtime, 
and she did not want anything changed. She did not want to work in town. (2)
What patience!
After all, they had all just barely survived that horrid long winter of 7 months of blizzards! 

Then we get a description of the springtime thus far and how wonderfully happy Laura (and I think they all were) to get back out on the land. Having 'bucket-fed' calves on my grandmother's farm as a youngster, I could relate to Laura's patience with teaching the young calf how to drink it's milk. (In order to milk the cow, the calf would need to eat by other means...) I realized how much easier I had it! 

And they still had to battle the 'varmints' for their food! Not grasshoppers this time, but the "striped gophers" ate the seed corn as fast as Pa planted it. The blackbird flocks were so huge as to block the sunshine, as they ate the corn right out of the husks! There was always a struggle awaiting these frontier settlers. And as you can imagine, inside the house was just as bad, if not worse! (Remember, there were no plastic containers or bags back then!) There were so many mice that it was quite a coup when Pa managed to bring home a little bitty kitty for them to raise and keep as a mouser! When it was still just a very tiny thing, it managed to "catch" a mouse, which ended up being much more a "cat-and-mouse fight" since the mouse repeatedly bit the little kitty until it finally managed to climb onto the mouse's back and bite into its neck from on top, and properly killed the mouse in the end. Though they had to doctor all the bites the poor little dear had suffered!  Poor little kitty!! :( But it certainly proved its worth--already! And, it's not like you could just go to the store to purchase baby chickens or cats. You had to rely upon others' kindness or purchase them from people you could locate who had extras to sell. Fortunately, Mrs. Broast gave them a very generous start for their chicken flock! 

It turns out that one of the storekeepers in town, Clancy, has opened a dry goods store and has purchased a sewing machine which his wife will run, but they want "a good handy girl to help with the hand sewing." The pay is "twenty-five cents a day and dinner." All Laura can think of is the money she might be able to contribute to Mary's college fund. I guess this is one of the things I appreciate the most about this series...they are all interested in how they can help each other, there is very little selfishness at all among the members of this family, or even amongst the community members. Though to be sure there is some, but they seem to get shut down pretty quickly by the other community members. As with the shopkeeper who was going to charge such outrageous amounts for the wheat that Cap and Almanzo had driven through the blizzard some 40 miles to get, all to prevent the local people from starving during that last winter. Pa and the others talked sense to the man and he quickly changed his mind, realizing he would be relying upon these same people to purchase from him in the spring and summer...and they wouldn't forget (or forgive) his unbridled greed in this, their moment of need. Ma gives her permission and Laura begins walking to town every morning with Pa. That was one of the selling points for Ma, knowing that Laura would not be strictly alone once she was in town. 

We learn through Laura's eyes just how much the town has changed and how it has expanded to be almost unrecognizable to her, just since a few months earlier! It is while at work one day that Laura witnesses two drunk men falling out the door of one saloon, singing and swaying along the street, kicking out screens in shop's front doors as they go, until they finally go through one door into the other saloon in town. She was laughing at their song and actions, but Ma was not amused, as she told everyone at home the story that evening. As Pa says,
"Two saloons in this town are just two saloons too many."
"It's a pity more men don't say the same," said Ma. "I begin to believe that if there isn't a stop put to the liquor traffic, women must bestir themselves and have something to say about it."
Pa twinkled at her, "Seems to me you have plenty to say, Caroline. 
Ma never left me in doubt as to the evil of drink, nor you either." (55)
I was reminded of my own experiences with my first marriage. But then, we now know what a disaster Prohibition was, so it is simply dependent upon each of us to control ourselves and moderate our alcohol consumption. 

Pa takes Carrie and Laura into town with him for the July 4th celebrations. And one of the politicians gives them some free fireworks, which they choose to save until they're home so they can share them with Grace. ( considerate!) It is during this celebration that I am once again amazed at some of the differences between now and then. The lemonade was stored in open barrels, with a dipper in each one. Each person just used the dipper to drink from, just as they did in the school for water, etc. We wouldn't think of sharing a drinking utensil with everyone and anyone now, would we? You'd better have a strong immune system, 'cause you were certainly going to be exposed to alot of germs and bacteria! :) It is during these patriotic speeches that Laura realizes:
Americans won't obey any king on earth. Americans are free. 
That means they have to obey their own consciences. 
No king bosses Pa; he has to boss himself. 
Why (she thought), when I am a little older, 
Pa and Ma will stop telling me what to do, and there isn't anyone else 
who has a right to give me orders. I will have to make myself be good.
Her whole mind seemed to be lighted up by that thought. This is what it means to be free.
It means, you have to be good. (76)
I love this realization! Yes, Laura, you will be 'on your own' in the adult world before long. 

Carrie and Laura also watch the horse race and those lovely two Morgan horses, driven by Almanzo, win, even though they are hauling a "high heavy peddler's cart," rather than a one- or two-seater buggy like all the other teams, those being much lighter. With all the other teams hauling just buggies, Laura realizes the Morgans must lose, but she roots for them anyway. I loved the description of the last team of horses in the lead being "whipped" by their owner, as Almanzo draws even with him/them, but Almanzo holds no whip and simply speaks to his team of horses and they pull ahead and win the race in the last seconds! I'm lovin' Almanzo! He was a "horse whisperer" before his time! And Laura is totally enamored with those horses. I'm not sure she's really considered Almanzo so much, but she would do just about anything for a ride behind those beautiful horses. When she learns Almanzo's sister will be the schoolteacher in the fall, she is so hopeful to be liked by her and thereby get just such a ride! 
Mary's brand-new fancy dress for college.

Mary is able to attend college and there are many weeks of advance planning, and work to complete, to have everything ready to send her off to Vinton, Iowa, by train! They must make clothes for her, including underwear, knit socks, etc. I admit I physically squirmed as they described tightening Mary's stays so her dress would fit, as planned. Yuck!! Ma and Pa are gone a whole week for their trip to drop Mary off. While they're gone, Laura, Cassie, and Grace, all work hard to completely clean the house as a surprise for Ma. Though once Grace had hold of the "blacking" for the stove, she created more work for the other two! :) (I was reminded of a similar blacking incident in the Anne of Green Gables series!) When Ma and Pa return, they are very surprised at all the housework done! They were thoughtful enough to being each of the three girls a gift. And they had earned it with all the work they'd done during that week! A picture book for Grace, and autograph albums for Carrie and Laura. I had forgotten about autograph albums! It was a big deal when I was in school for classmates (and upperclassmen, if you were really lucky) to autograph your yearbook, which rather took the place of autograph albums. But I remember them from grade school! 

Ingalls' detailed writing is so descriptive and intriguing. As Laura and Carrie set out on the First Day of School that fall when Miss Wilder would be teaching:
The coolness of night still lingered in the early sunlight. 
Under the high blue sky the green of the prairie was fading to soft brown and mauve. 
A little wind wandered over it carrying the fragrance of ripening grasses and the pungent 
smell of wild sunflowers. All along the road the yellow blossoms were nodding, 
and in its grassy middle they struck the soft thumps against the swinging dinner pail. 
Laura walked in one wheel track, and Carrie in the other. (125)
I was struck at how much healthier and much more enjoyable it would be to walk to work in these conditions rather than drive a car a bunch of miles! Pa had already hauled haystacks into town and stored them next to the barn so that he wouldn't need to haul hay through the winter for heat and to feed the livestock. 

Fearing another October blizzard, Pa moves them into town early in the fall. And this year they have their own provisions to take with them:
"We will have coal to burn and something to eat all winter, 
if the trains can't get through," Pa gloated. (143) 
I could feel Pa's pride as he stated this! How wonderful that they had all worked and been able to provide for themselves this year. :) A job well done! I cracked up as I read about Laura finding book of Tennyson's poems and actually putting it away and leaving it alone. That was really good of her. She was so thoughtful! I can remember locating Christmas gifts as a child and having to keep my own secrets. It was tough! 

Laura rocking the desk, as told!
(She looks fierce, doesn't she?!?)
Miss Wilder and Nellie Oleson prove to be quite good pals and Miss Wilder is very mean to Laura and Carrie. Laura can rather handle the mean actions thrust at her, but she becomes livid when Miss Wilder darn near makes Carrie faint. Carrie had never fully recovered from the previous hard winter and doing without food and being so cold. As Laura talked about Carrie's headaches, I had a pang of empathy for her. What would we do now without all our fancy over-the-counter and/or prescribed medications to prevent or calm headaches? Poor Carrie! Having suffered from sinus headaches as a child, I could relate! Laura and Carrie are dismissed early from school that day, and the School Board completes a surprise visit soon thereafter. It is obvious that Miss Wilder has no idea how to keep order amongst the students as they boys are constantly making noise, up and out of their seats, etc. I had to laugh at the idea of Laura blaming herself for the boys' bad behavior! Trust me, as a former schoolteacher, they would have done it anyway, with or without anyone else's seeming approval; if a teacher is unable to maintain some modicum of control in the classroom, it is his/her own fault! :)

Left to right: Ma, Grace, Laura, Pa, Carrie, and Mary.
No date given...
Needless to say, Miss Wilder's contract was NOT renewed and Mr. Clewett was hired and he was an excellent teacher as well as active community member! (Of course, in that day, it would be much easier to maintain discipline in a schoolhouse if you were a male. Not much of anyone listened a whole lot to females or were necessarily taught to respect them...but, with that said, Miss Wilder was not a good teacher in so many ways!) 

Laura and one of her best friends, Mary Power, were invited to the first "Sociable" in town even though it did cost a dime. It was supposedly for the Ladies' Aid Society, though Ma was unaware one was bring organized. They did not have fun, it was basically an adult affair, they were the only two teens in attendance. Then Laura and Mary are invited to a supper party which was to be a birthday party for one of the boys in school. The dinner served was excellent and the girls had fun when the four teens were allowed to go downstairs by themselves. It was prior to the Sociable that Laura decided she wanted to cut and curl bangs just as Mary had...Ma was rather adamant initially: 
Laura with her
"lunatic fringe"! 
"Oh, Ma, I do wish you'd let me cut bangs," she almost begged. 
"Mary Power wears them, and they are so stylish."
"Your hair looks nice the way it is," said Ma. 
"Mary Power is a nice girl, but I think 
the new hair style is well called a 'lunatic fringe.'" (203)  
Ha! Ha! I did have to laugh at that. The older generation(s) are typically opposed to much change, aren't they? I hope I'm not...
I try not to be. 

I delighted in reading about the establishment of the Literary Society and it's various performances and activities! It was at the first such meeting that Pa suggested there be no "officers" or "organization," per se:
"From what I've seen, the trouble with organizing a thing is that pretty soon folks get to paying more attention to the organization than to what they're organized for. 
I take it we're pretty well agreed right now on what we want. 
If we start organizing and electing, the chances are we won't be as well agreed...
So I suggest, let's just go straight ahead and do what we want to do, without any officers. 
We've got the schoolteacher, Mr. Clewett, to act as leader. Let him give out a program, 
every meeting, for the next meeting. Anybody that gets a good idea can speak up for it, 
and anybody that's called on will pitch in and do his share in the programs the best he can, 
to give everybody a good time." (214)
Mrs. Bradley singing
along with her organ!
That Pa is one wise man. And as a result of the Spelling Bee held at the first meeting, we discover he is indeed a very smart man in many ways. And Mr. Fuller rather redeems himself after the herding antelope debacle during the previous winter by proving himself to be a good speller, too. Ma lasted to one of the remaining few, as did Laura. Pa won the whole thing! At another Literary Society meeting on a Friday night, Mrs. Bradley sang a beautiful solo. And another found a group of five of the men performing in "black face." I was reminded that this was acceptable at one point in time, whereas, it certainly would not be now...and that, in my opinion, is a change for the better! I thought it rather funny that none of his own family recognized Pa as one of these performers! He was tricky! And I could relate when Ma was obviously upset at the idea of him possibly  having shaved his beard for it--but he didn't! I could relate to her distress at the thought, for I love my own husband's beard!! I'm always sorry when he trims it down to a mustache and goatee in the summer. :) Though I do understand--it gets hot!
Although it offends our sensibilities now, I guess
I can understand it was not considered offensive
to these settlers at the time...
(Thank goodness we've evolved!)
It was not long after the start of Friday night Literary Society meetings that the week-long revival started. Although Laura would rather stay home and study for both her teaching certificate exam and the school's Exhibition in which she has the largest part, reciting the history of the United States. I had to laugh when the girls at school were discussing the upcoming revival meetings that were every night for a week, and Laura stated "she should stay home and study," and Nellie Oleson burst out,
"Why, people who don't go to revival meetings 
are atheists!" (274)
Ah, yes, you must profess a belief in Christianity...or else! In my opinion, it is unfortunate that U.S. society overall seems to still hold on to this prejudice to a great degree. 
Almanzo sees Laura home!

But the revival meetings are much more exciting for Laura than she might have imagined. Although Almanzo did pick her up one day in the buggy and drive her to school, she had not been with him since that day, but he would tug on her sleeve after revival and ask to "see her home." The first time she couldn't speak; she was unable to say anything! However, the second time and each thereafter she overcame her nervousness. Though I'm not sure she ever truly understood why he might seek her out. Poor Laura had an inferiority complex much as every teenage female tends to have--she wished her body was different and her hair and...well, you know. I suppose males can also be plagued with such self-doubt, it not only a female affliction. Though I believe Almanzo a self-confident person overall.  

Although Carrie is very nervous about the school's Exhibition, she performs flawlessly, as does Laura! In fact, it is through this performance that suddenly Laura is offered a position as schoolteacher although she will not be 16 for two more months! She is shocked when Mr. Broast and his buddy from back east, Mr. Brewster, tell her just not to mention her age. The examiner comes to her house just after she accepts the position and she passes with flying colors, as we would expect! She is so excited that she will be making money and will be able to help Ma and Pa provide for Mary's education and she will be able to come home for the summer! How exciting! 

I am so excited for the next installment! 
I want to know when and exactly how 
she and Almanzo get together 
and how she fares running a classroom! 
I'm certain she will be successful. 
How could she not?
With Pa as her father and Ma as her mother? :)
Join us next month for 
I love this older cover image on the left.
I bet I can guess whose horses those are! :)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Transition Not So Easily Done--'City girl' to sustainable farmer...

Home to Woefield by Susan Juby
(Published as The Woefield Poultry Collective in Canada)
Prudence is a published author. 
Well, to be honest and forthcoming, she did write a YA book entitled 
The Sun Doesn't Forgivea "parable about the ramifications of global warming 
and the need for personal responsibility." (Just what every teen wants to read, eh?)
She realizes her "book deal was largely a matter of timing," and a good friend's 
well-meaning advocacy with her publisher, stating this book was "a sure thing."
She was "booked to speak at nearly every middle and high school in the state" 
by the publishing company.
Although the teachers weren't very interested in the subject...
they were enthusiasm personified compared to the kids, who were often actively hostile.
I was chum in the shark tank at my readings. (5)
Yep! This is it! This self-deprecating mildly mocking humor makes this book such an enjoyable read. Juby's sarcasm and wit are timely and well-done.
We learn that Prudence really dreams of becoming a sustainable farmer. 
...for me there came that moment during every visit 
to the farmers' market when I wanted more.
I wanted to be the one standing behind the folding table, 
a truck of organic produce at my back, displaying my heirloom tomatoes and baby potatoes. I want to be the one handing over glossy leaves of swiss chard at a reasonable price and talking knowledgeably about my mushroom patch. 
The one looking cold and somewhat chapped about the face 
and hands, yet more alive than anyone else in 
unfashionable rubber boots and dirty pants. 
Obviously, I had no desire to be the one in the lace-edged 
bonnet accompanied by a stern-faced, black-hatted man 
and a brood of six children. 
I want to be that other person at the farmers' market. 
The one with ideals and produce to sell. (1)

This, however, would be an 'unsustainable dream' for an occupant of a "six-hundred-square-foot apartment" in Brooklyn. A person who has never actually lived where she might grow anything other than a plant in a pot. Unless, or until...that person inherits her only remaining relative's farm, located on Vancouver Island off the coast of Canada. 
I'm just sorry that Uncle Harold had to die for my dream of moving to the country to come true. (7)

I admit to being a bit put off by the first character introduced in this rural Canadian community, Seth. If I hadn't recently read (and truly disliked) Smashed, Squashed, Splattered, Chewed, Chunked and Spewed I probably wouldn't have been so sensitive about this type of totally disrespectful, dysfunctional, addicted 'teenager-wannabe' who is well beyond the age when he should be out of his mother's house and making a life for himself, if not for that recent reading debacle previously mentioned, I could have easily accepted this and gone on... But I really had to talk myself into reading beyond this first character's introduction, and to recognize it was simply my negative reaction to the other book that had me so leery of dysfunctional characters, and I should give Juby a chance. I think I was fearful that every character would be as dislikable, but that didn't prove to be the case and I was glad I ventured on! Virtually every character in this book has their own unique challenges (or has had), but only Seth appeared truly unable to cope with overcoming his challenges, and eventually he seems to be making much progress. Prudence retains her eternal optimism throughout the book, which, admittedly seemed a bit surrealistic at times, but it worked overall. 

Needless to say, Earl, who had stayed on the farm with Prudence's Great-Uncle Harold for decades is shocked to learn he is only entitled to 10% of the earnings from or sale of the farm. Whereas Prudence has inherited the actual land and buildings. Though it sounds as if the land isn't fertile/productive, basically full of rock once you dig down a few inches. So Prudence wisely decides to haul in dirt and create raised beds for the organic produce she intends to raise. Once she realizes there is no barn, she begins asking whether "rural people still enjoy barn raising." Earl is a grumbler and a grump and the juxtaposition of these two constantly being together creates much humor, as he grumbles indistinctly about "goddamn Mennonites." ;) Prudence worked as a barista in New York and the coffee she served "could burn the nuts off a lumberjack," according to Earl, who likened it to "drinking engine grease." 

The aforementioned Seth is displaced from his bedroom in his mother's house by her boyfriend, who is moving in and will be using the extra bedroom to store his remote control helicopter parts. No kidding... :) So he loads up his stuff and walks across the road to knock on Prudence's door, asking for a place to stay, which she grants to him, in exchange for work. I immediately suspect this little deal will probably not last long, given that Seth appears to be a fairly unmotivated person about anything much other than consuming alcohol. Oh, and, of all the irony...blogging! ;) He maintains two blogs, one about heavy metal bands and the other about celebrity gossip. 

Prudence then inherits chickens from Sara Spratt, a very smart and motivated child of eleven years of age who is determined to be a leader. As you might expect, Sara actually ends up living on the farm, too. Her mother basically drops her off, abandoning her, as she goes somewhere to get some help for her emotional instability, and hopefully to file for divorce from an abusive husband. Since there is no outbuilding where the chickens can live, they undertake to construct one:
The building of Sara Spratt's chicken coop took approximately the same amount of sweat, swearing and human sacrifice as the Pyramids. Possibly a little more. (69)
Ha! Ha! It did indeed. The first trip to Home Depot by Earl and Seth proved only so fruitful, since Earl only purchased about half of the materials on Sara's list. Their is a very humorous chapter about Prudence's trip to purchase the remaining materials! It seems staff to help customers are few and far between, and most know how to hide and avoid being 'helpful' at all! Then the actual construction process...let's just say that Sara had to come in and specifically direct the construction since neither Earl nor Seth had a clue what they were trying to do. I might not have believed this possible if I hadn't been in a similar situation myself at the age of 12. My uncle, who was the "Farm Director" for a local radio station, farmed one of the small farms owned by the station. When it came time for him to plant crops that first spring, he could not figure out how to setup the planter, so I stayed with them one weekend, reading the manual and walking him through it all. Seriously. He was NOT just humoring me. He really had no idea. Thinking of that always makes me chuckle. So I could relate to Sara's plight. 

I had to laugh because Earl felt that Prudence wasn't "quite right," a little "slow." Sara has only one friend, Bethany, from the Poultry Club.
She's kind of slow but not exactly retarded. I
t makes it hard because you don't know whether to encourage her to try to be smarter 
or be nice to her for trying, the way you would if she was definitely retarded. 
Earl, the man who works at Woefield, seems a little like Bethany.
He might not be handicapped but he doesn't seem totally normal either. (78)
Though honestly, who truly is "normal"? I contend there is no such thing! :) Sara obviously feels Earl is somewhat impaired. If it weren't for Prudence I'm not sure any of them would have a chance of improving themselves, except Sara--she is one determined young lady! And Sara is struggling with Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, as well as the Bible, both of which have been given to her by Bethany's parents, who also take her to church with them every Sunday. I could relate to this, as I became absorbed in a "church" when I was just a bit older than Sara. In retrospect, the tween and teen years are the most likely for such belief systems to seem appealing, or at least interesting, as hormones are surging and emotions tend to run amok within us during these years. Much of religious belief, in my humble opinion, can be tracked to emotional appeal, or even manipulation, at its extreme. 

Sara is determined they care for Bertie, the lone half-shorn sheep. However, once they try to trim her way overgrown, distorted hooves, and then try to shear her, chaos ensues and blood is everywhere...on Gertie, Seth, and Earl! It is just as Prudence is attempting to sort all this out that an extremely handsome man in an oversized gas-guzzling pickup truck shows up. This would be Dr. Eustace Smith, the local veterinarian, checking to see if they had a sheep and what condition it was in. Prudence feels it necessary to lie, though the truth is eventually revealed. Dr. Smith is useful though since he evidently overcame his own addiction challenges and becomes Seth's "sponsor" as he tries to quit drinking. And there is the fact that Prudence seems to be wild about him and he really likes her. On their first date, Prudence thinks to herself:
I really wanted to let him know that I disapproved of industrial farming techniques and 
the vets who made it possible for farmers to raise animals in unnatural conditions. 
But I didn't want to get too strident because that would 
ruin our date and he was very good-looking. 
"I disapprove of industrial farming," I said. "Just so you know." 
"I'm not crazy about the Canucks lineup this year. And you are very pretty," he said.
His knee was back on mine. 
I decided to change his values later. (194)
Ha! Ha! I guess there's a time and a place for everything, right?!? :)

What I appreciated most about this book was the way these characters all interacted with one another and learned to get along, even to respect each other for their abilities and skills, learning to overlook less desirable characteristics. And isn't that really what life is about? Perhaps two of the most unlikely to become friends were Sara and Earl, though Sara begins talking to Earl one evening:
I went and sat on the porch with him and told him how my dad hit my mom with the tuna casserole. He told me some things about when he was a kid and said that families was damned complicated. It was the first time he swore the whole night, which was a sign that he's trying. 
I think Earl is one of my best friends that I know. (199)
Awwww...that's so sweet! Seth talks Sara into trying to cheat at the poultry show, which is discovered by one of the judges who is kind enough to simply withdraw Alec Baldwin from the competition rather than reporting it. The scenes at the local fair brought back memories of my sons showing hogs and us spending our days at the county fair. Of course, I was running a 4-H booth and spent a whole day grilling porkburgers and hamburgers. Have you ever run one of those open grills in the hottest part of the midwestern US summer? How about ALL. DAY. LONG? After a couple of hours I my arms and face were like a greased hog, no one could have grabbed me and held on to me if they tried. Thank goodness I was wearing an long apron which covered most of my clothing, 'cause I felt as if I'd been "grilled" by the end of the day! :) I looked it, too!

Sara lands in the hospital, Seth ends up showing Miss Frizz for her and winning first prize, Prudence hosts a huge blue grass music concert at the farm that she believes is going to create enough profit to catch up the farm payments, and...Earl is reunited with his brother.

This was definitely an "all's well that ends well" book.
The characterization was bit superficial for me.
I enjoyed it, but not as much as Naomi @ Consumed by Ink did!
Here is her review!
Unlike Naomi, I would not directly relate this one to The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
which I adored

Have you read a book by Susan Juby? 
I might give Alice, I Think a try. 
It is classified as "Young Adult."
And if I have the opportunity 
which as you might expect, 
is a sequel to this book. 

What have you read lately 
that you "enjoyed," 
but did not "love"?