Monday, March 7, 2022

Literary Wives #51

 I'm Fine and Neither Are You
Camille Pagan

This is the 51st book read and reviewed for the Literary Wives online book discussion group! 

Check us out on Facebook and Twitter #LiteraryWives!

The Literary Wives virtual book club "meets" every third month/once per quarter 
to discuss a book with the word "wife" or "wives" in the title or 
a book that discusses marriage but whose title lacks either of these words. 

We are particularly interested in the way(s) in which wives are portrayed in literature. 
We try to answer this question:

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

Each of us extends our discussion into more specific areas we can 
personally relate to which makes for enlightening comparisons!

We read books across genres and hope to generate discussion about each title.
And...YOU can join us! 
That's right!
Literary Wives Has Openings! 
Some members have recently resigned and we will miss them!
We are anxious to recruit a few new members into the club!
If you are interested in becoming one of those, 
please let us know!
You can comment here 
or on one of the other cohost's blogs (listed below)
to inform us of your interest:
                                             Kay of WHATMEREAD

You might ask...
What Does Literary Wives Membership Involve?
You only need to be a reader interested in 
discussing how literature depicts wives and marriage.
We read and review four books per year. 
You would need to post a review on your blog on 
the first Monday of March, June, September, and December.
That's it! 

And NOW is the time! 
Our next book review isn't until June 6, 2022,
and we are just beginning the book selection process for the next two years!
You would begin by reviewing our listing of books to be considered, 
then voting for your favorites to help compile a listing of the 8 top vote-getters!
This process is set to begin once we have some new members!

We wish to expand the Literary Wives club and hope you will join us! 

And now on to my review of I'm Fine and Neither Are You
As is typical for me, I knew little to nothing about this book before reading it. And I was blown away! I found it to be a very compelling read and as noted in my Goodreads review, found it to be the most realistic book I've read regarding marriage and was thrilled there was no depiction of yet another man/husband who refused to remain faithful to his wife/partner! (My disclaimer: I do not believe "marriage" or any other long-term relationship must include only one "male" and one "female." Any combination makes a couple, in my opinion! But for this discussion we are concentrating on this marriage between Penelope and Sanjay.)

I appreciated the fact that although these two people were from diverse backgrounds that aspect of their lives together was not emphasized. Pagán just wrote about this couple, noting Sanjay's Indian parents and background, but not making that the core of their story or relationship together. I felt this leant a more relatable and realistic emphasis on their marriage.

Penelope and Sanjay have two children, the younger, Miles at 6 years old, and the elder, Stevie (named for Sanjay's musical hero Stevie Ray Vaughn) at nearly 8 years of age. They have been married 11 years and stress is starting to erode their marriage relationship... At least for Penelope, the stress is becoming unbearable as she is the adult responsible for  everything: making sure they have toilet paper in the house as well as all other groceries, planning and preparing all meals, doing laundry, scheduling household repairs, coordinating their children's schedules and transportation, and earning the only consistently reliable income to support them all... Too much. Way too much... I should know. This was my life at 10 years of marriage as well. I could definitely relate to Penelope's feeling that she "wanted out" of this marriage. I could remember the same feeling...

Sanjay and Penelope met while working and living in New York and then after knowing each other for 10 years and having been together for 7 of those years. When Stevie was 6 months old, they are moving to the midwestern US so Sanjay can attend medical school. Penelope was reticent about his plan, feeling Sanjay was pursuing a medical career to please his parents rather than pursuing what truly interested him...which was writing and music. Writing about music, actually! 

They move and Penny begins working full-time in development for this midwestern university, making just enough to support her family, which now includes not one, but two children. Sanjay quit medical school after the first year and became a stay-at-home parent, though he accomplished little more in a day's time than caring for the children--no cleaning or laundry, etc., which still fell to Penny to do. Thank goodness she has a best friend, Jenny, whose presence makes it bearable for Penny to keep doing the day-to-day routine drudgery of work, kids, laundry, dishes, sleep, repeat... Though Penny discovers there is much about Jenny that she did not know...

Jenny's marriage and life appeared to be "pristine" in all ways, though the reality of her life was much different. Jenny suffered with endometriosis, requiring pain relievers. She was addicted to opioids. She and her husband, Matt, avoided each other as much as possible--their relationship was distant and flawed, at best. He chose to travel for his job at every opportunity and she immersed herself in an extremely successful blogging life. They had one child, Cecily, who was within two months of Miles' age. As is typical for most any survivors of a loved one's downfall, both Matt and Penny keep thinking of the "what-ifs" regarding Jenny's demise...what if they had done this differently or said this instead of that in the past and saved Jenny? I believe it is only natural to have such thoughts.

In the wake of Penelope's discoveries of Jenny's 'behind the scenes' traumatic life, she  decides that she must change her life so she can be less stressed out and happier or at least more relaxed and comfortable day in and day out with her family, work, and very little to no leisure time. Jenny's last text message to Penny read
If you're not happy, make a change(80)
Penny realizes that although Jenny can no longer do this, she can. Sanjay agrees to her solution: each of them will present the other with a listing of three things they want the other to change about themselves in order to restore their marriage to a better place and make a more enjoyable, happier, home life for all four of them. And, the main caveat is that they must each be honest with the other person. Totally honest. As Sanjay states,
To be honest with you, Penny, I worry that too much honesty might be a bad idea. (91)
I admit to nodding my head in agreement as I read that sentence. After two 20+-year relationships I would agree that not every single thing needs to be honestly communicated to the other person at all times...

As Penelope thinks,
There was a reason that instead of daydreaming about my husband taking me passionately 
against a wall, I fantasized about replacing him with a wife. (61)
Let's just say that Sanjay was not keeping up with his role as the "stay-at-home parent" in many ways. Penelope was still doing all the housework, paying all the bills, doing all the grocery shopping and meal planning, etc. He was there for the children, but that was about it. She wants him to start doing more around the house, etc., since she is the only one working full-time outside the home. He readily agrees and follows through. 

He wants more sex. Admittedly, when Penelope thinks about it, they are rarely having sex/making love any more. And she realizes she misses it as well, though being stressed out every day and bone tired every night makes it difficult for her to even imagine it. But she does start trying...

Penny's second request of Sanjay is that he start making more financial contributions to the family, i.e. he get a job. Even a part-time job that would allow him more time to write would be a help. Fortunately, he immediately agrees that he has been "coasting" way too long and the financial burden and stress all falls unfairly on Penny. 

Penny's third request is that Sanjay actually "be there" when he "is there." Rather than not listening to and participating in family conversations/interactions, he should be an active participant. For her and the children, rather than looking at his phone or staring out the window, he should actively listen. Though this is a bit more difficult for Sanjay to envision, he eventually realizes she is correct, and adjusts accordingly. 

Sanjay's second request of Penny is to be more honest and quit trying to look as if she is "just fine" and nothing is wrong all the time. Of course, once she decides to finally stand up to the obnoxious 'barge in your house at any time' neighbor, Lorrie, is the one time her daughter, Olive, is with her and unfortunately, Penny yells at her,
"I'm going to need you to knock before coming into our house...
And when you knock, you are going to wait until Sanjay or I answers and asks you to enter. 
You cannot keep walking in like you live here, because it's terrifying. Okay?" (161)
And then,
[Olive] stood in front of me, teeth bared. "You're a mean lady!" she spat. "Mean!" (161)
After which Sanjay admits that maybe this wasn't exactly what he meant about being more honest... :)

In the end, this marriage is definitely strengthened though there were a few hitches along the way: Penny somewhat alienating Matt and Cecily due to her honest advocacy for Cecily's well-being, and Penny agonizing over Sanjay's confession that he quit the band due to an uncomfortable interest that one of his band mates, Christina (a female), appeared to have taken in him. Penny and Sanjay spend four days back in New York together and this helps them overcome some of the rigid routine of their married life once they return to the Midwest. Sanjay gets a full-time job and a literary agent, and he and Penelope are tackling life head-on as true partners. And, Sanjay helps reunite Penny with her estranged father as he begins battling stomach cancer. Since her mother had abandoned her family when Penny was young, her father had to be a single parent and his way of handling that was to travel all the time for work while Penny cared for her younger brother, Nick. This is one big reason Penny feels bound to advocate for Cecily in the wake of her mother's death. 

Pagán seems to advocate for a "wife" who is real and honest about her needs and desires. Though this does require a "husband" willing to listen and change. And for the "wife" to also listen and change. It should be compromise on both sides. I often used to tell my ex-husband that we needed to work on our relationship/marriage as the children grew up so that we would have a healthy relationship once we were empty-nesters. Little did I know he had no intention of remaining in a relationship with me, but I could definitely relate to Penelope's plight and I was very glad that Sanjay truly loved and respected her and was also willing to work on their relationship/marriage! 

I will definitely plan to read more of Pagán's writing. As a matter of fact, I would appreciate at least a sequel to this book. It would be interesting to see where Penelope and Sanjay end up after this...   

Literary Wives will return on June 6th with another review! Join us! 

Please check out the other co-hosts' reviews:

Noami of Consumed by Ink

Happy reading!

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Literary Wives #47

 Every Note Played by Lisa Genova

This is the 47th book read and reviewed for the Literary Wives online book discussion group! 
Check us out on Facebook and Twitter #LiteraryWives!

I have been totally out of it with regard to Literary Wives for quite some time now, 
but am determined to get back into this group on a regular basis. 
I have been reading the books but never getting a review posted.
As you can tell, I have neglected my blog for a very long time now. 
I also hope to remedy that and return to posting reviews much more routinely.

Please check out the other co-hosts' reviews:

Lisa Genova is one of my all-time favorite authors and I have now read all five of her books.
I can highly recommend each and every one of them. 
Each book features a character enduring a neurological disease. 
In this book we meet Richard, a professional pianist diagnosed with ALS and we learn of the changes to his physical body as well as his distressed mental health. 
But there is so much more than that included in Genova's books. 
Her characters are complex and realistic and she includes many more issues than just the main character's diagnoses and physical/mental decline. 
With all of this, Genova's humor comes through to relieve any depressive edge.

Richard Evans first encounters Karina in Sherman Leiper's Techniques class at Curtis. It takes all semester before he finally has the courage to speak to her. He is enamored with her Polish accent. Karina was born in Zabrze, Poland and emigrated to the United States by herself before she was even 20 years old. Her piano teacher, Mr. Borowitz, taught all his students to play Chopin:
In Poland, Chopin is as revered as Pop John Paul II and God. Poland's Holy Trinity (p 9)
That did make me laugh! Karina lost no time in leaving home because she was determined to not have the same life as her mother--remaining in Zabrze, married to a coal miner, and trying to raise five children. As she states,
Raised under Russian oppression, she'd seen more than a lifetime's worth of weeping 
before she could tie her own shoes. (p 119)

While Richard is a well-known virtuoso worldwide, Karina gives piano lessons in her living room. Most of her students take piano lessons so they can add "plays piano" to their college applications. None of them are serious enough (nor evidently skilled enough) to pursue piano  beyond high school. Eventually we learn that Karina actually outshone Richard when they were students. Her piano playing was much more emotive than his. But then Karina discovered and became enamored with jazz and began concentrating on that rather than classical music, enabling Richard to be the 'best' classical pianist at Curtis. Meanwhile, Richard accepts a faculty position at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, so they leave New York City where Karina was beginning to play jazz in local clubs. She finds upon landing in Boston that there is no such live jazz there as in New York, wondering if Richard was already aware of that fact... After just two years as a faculty member, Richard's musicianship jumps to a new/higher level--he is playing with emotion and 'feels' the music as never before. He begins playing concert tours around the world and allows Karina to relocate them wherever she would like. She selects a Boston suburb where she raises Grace, their sole child, basically as a single parent since Richard travels constantly. 

Grace moves a thousand miles away for college and Grace is lonely. First, Richard leaves as their marriage dissolves and the divorce is finalized, and then her daughter.
She's forty-five and divorced. Single. In Poland, she'd be considered a disgrace. 
But she's been in America now for over half her life. 
Her situation is common in this secular culture and imposes no shame. Yet, she feels ashamed. 
You can take the girl out of Poland, but you can't take Poland out of the girl. (p 15)
While attending a high school graduation party for one of her students she learns from a mutual friend that Richard has been diagnosed with ALS and canceled the rest of his current concert tour.

And now for that Literary Wives question:
What does this book say about wives 
or about the experience of being a wife? 

I admired Karina's fortitude for suggesting and then following through with Richard's move back into 'their' house. She received the house free and clear in the divorce settlement and Richard moved to a fourth-floor walkup in an elite area complete with an exorbitant mortgage. Though she visited him upon learning of his diagnosis, to say the visit was a wasted effort is an understatement as it ends with her breaking a bottle of his expensive wine on the kitchen counter just before she walks out. 
Part of her believes she caused his illness, 
even though she knows that such thinking is narcisistically absurd. How many times has she wished him dead? 
Now he's dying, and she's a despicable, hellbound, horrible woman for ever wishing such a thing, and worse, for having derived sick pleasure from it. (p 26)

Eventually Richards ends up with three aides who care for him a total of 4 hours throughout each day. But he makes a rash decision one day to take a walk by himself once his arms are both paralyzed and hanging uselessly at his sides. Needless to say, he becomes very tired after just walking three blocks and sits on a park bench to rest. It is as he is trying to make it back home that the laxative administered to him that morning decides to work. He is desperate and uses his voice-activated cell phone to call his neighbors for help, neither of whom are home. When he decides to call the home healthcare company he inadvertently gets Karina, who just so happens to be in the city for a doctor's appointment and is only a mile or so away. It is in the aftermath of getting Richard cleaned up, etc., that she realizes he needs more care than he can afford since he can't work and he must sell his place for enough to cover the high mortgage he owes. It is then she realizes he must move "home" and she must care for him. His father nor either of his two brothers would or could take over his care, and unfortunately, his mother died when he was just 19 years old. In effect, she is "it." Karina makes room for him in the den. Though he doesn't particularly like the fact that the door to the den must be left open, 
...a lack of privacy traded for the ability to come and go without needing to call 
for Karina to come and open the door. Like letting the dog out. 
He's an animal in a cage. A pig in a pen. An ex-husband in the old den. (p 130)
Again, I had to laugh!

Richard was quite aware that moving Karina from New York to Boston would deprive her of further refining her jazz playing at live venues. But he did it anyway. Turns out, he vehemently despises jazz music. He considers it to be "noise." In effect, as with so many of the books we've read and reviewed, the wife abandons her dream to follow the husband wherever he wants to go to pursue his dream. And then, Richard keeps having affairs with other women while on the road. Though he keeps referring to what Karina did to ruin their marriage, it isn't until almost the end of the book that we learn she had purposefully deceived him about having more children following Grace's birth. She had an IUD implanted and when she wanted to have it removed 10 years later, discovered the procedure would require surgery, so she had to confess to Richard about her decade-long deception. It wasn't just bad luck that she had never gotten pregnant, she had planned for no more children although he wanted more. (Of course he did! It's not as if he would be home to help raise them or anything!) 

In the wake of the divorce, and while he was married,
Richard's relationships with women had about the same shelf life as a carton of milk. (p 53)
The one who stayed longest actually left not long after the ALS diagnosis. 
To everyone's disappointment, he's never been able to love a woman the way he loves the piano. 
Not even Karina. (p 53)
He loves women, appreciates them as much as any man, but ultimately they find themselves 
achingly hungry with him. And he refuses to feed them. 
His artistry for playing piano seduces them. His lack of artistry as a man is why they leave. (p 54)
Richard even admits to his daughter, Grace, that he did chose the piano over her. Therefore, he spent little time with her and really doesn't know her, nor does she know him. 

As chewing and swallowing become more difficult, ALS patients lose weight. His NP at the ALS clinic recommends "high-fat, high-density foods and liquids" to help stabilize his weight. He replies, "Everything my cardiologist recommends." Kathy then admits, "We're not going to worry about heart disease." Richard thinks to himself,
Right. A heart attack would be a blessing. (p 59)

Early on when Richard could still use his left hand, he held a note with the pedal and just listened to it until it was gone...
Every note played is a life and death. (p 50)

Although Richard and Karina are initially in love, eventually, they each find ways to hurt the other throughout the years of their marriage. I believe such things can and do happen in some long-term relationships. (Probably more so than we know...) Resentment grows and actions are taken regardless of the other person's wishes or needs. I believe Karina would have been perfectly happy to remain in New York playing jazz and childless. It was totally unfair and selfish for Richard to knowingly move her to an area where she would have little to no opportunity to play jazz. He was imposing his own musical preferences upon her and ruining her chance at a successful career. Then he not only carries on affairs with other women while still married, but even leaves proof where he knows Karina can and probably will discover it. She's right, he is a "prick"! 

Once Grace is born Karina then makes sure she doesn't get pregnant again, while pretending to Richard that they're just unable to conceive... She didn't want to be stuck raising five children as he mother had done...

Although it was not fair of Karina to keep the birth control a secret, IMO, Richard deceived her first and foremost by moving her away from the New York jazz scene and then defying his marriage vows by screwing around with other women. Neither of them is without fault, but I believe Richard is much more to blame for the alienation and eventual divorce. 

Have you read this one? If so, what were your thoughts?
Feel free to comment below!

Join us on Monday, June 7th as we review 
Monogamy by Sue Miller

Friday, May 8, 2020

What is that building with the birdie sailing back and forth?

The Embassy of Cambodia 
by Zadie Smith
This is a 70-page novella published on the New Yorker website in February, 2013. 
It is available to read for free! 

I have read On Beauty and Swing Time by Zadie Smith 
and was cnurious to read another of her books. 
I am honestly undecided about her writing. 
I enjoyed both On Beauty and Swing Time
but I wouldn't consider either book as a "favorite read."
Although I rarely read ebooks, 
I felt this is short enough I could 
survive reading it in the digital format. :)'s free! :)

Fatou passes this building for the first time as she heads to the heated pool in the health center adjacent to the Embassy. This is, as far as most people are aware, the only embassy built in a suburb, Willesden, and not located in the center of the city. The people of Willesden being more "prosaic" than "poetic":
I doubt there is a man or woman among us, for example, who--upon passing 
the Embassy of Cambodia for the first time--did not immediately 
think: 'genocide.' (p 3)
This made me stop and consider, since that was one of the first words that crossed my mind... 

We learn that Fatou is a chambermaid who has taught herself to swim while at the Carib Beach Resort in Accra. No tourist ever ventured on the trash-covered beach at the Resort and employees were not allowed to use the hotel's pool. So Fatou rose and sank with the water's motion in the early morning hours each Sunday as she taught herself to swim in this "cold and treacherous sea." The only way she is able to enter the health center and swim in their pool is by using free guest passes stolen from her employer, the Derawals. But she can only do this on Mondays as both Mr. and Mrs. Derawal are both working on this one day each week. 

Badminton is being played inside the embassy's high walls with only the shuttlecock visible as it arches over the net with each hit: "Pock, smash, Pock, smash." The only arrivals to the Embassy that Fatou has ever seen are white males with backpacks--no one who looks to be in the least "Cambodian." She assumes they are seeking visas. Although a basketball goal was newly visible above the Embassy's high wall, there never appeared to be anyone playing basketball--only the "Pock, smash, Pock, smash" of badminton play could be heard.

Fatou has confirmed her assumption that she is not actually a slave upon reading an abandoned article describing the life of a Sudanese girl kept in a rich man's London house   as a slave. It was her father, not a kidnapper, who took her from the Ivory Coast to Accra in Ghana at age 16, where they both obtained work at the same hotel. From there he sent her to Libya then on to Italy at age 18. And although she has not seen her passport since her arrival, nor is she paid a wage by the Derawals since that money is retained by them as payment for her room and board while living there, she can come and go as she pleases. She is not restricted to the Derawal residence. For example, she meets a friend, Andrew, on Sunday mornings to attend church and he treats her to coffee and cake afterwards at a Tunisian cafe. 

Andrew is educated and Fatou feels she can have "deep" discussions with him, unlike anyone else in her everyday life in London. One day they discuss the Holocaust versus the genocide in Rwanda, and the resulting worldwide knowledge. Fatou expresses her belief that Africans "have more pain" than other ethnicities in the world, e.g. the Chinese. They briefly discuss the Khmer Rouge policies in Cambodia--forcing all the New People (who live in cities) to move to the country and become "Old People." Andrew explained you would be killed for wearing glasses as that implied you "thought too much." 

Following Fatou's baptism and conversion to Christianity, she realizes her daily life is still the same routine. She emphasizes that she can recognize the "Devil" in people, rather than concentrating on "God's love." We learn that a Russian raped her while working in a hotel, so she is not a virgin...

Fatou performs the Heimlich maneuver to save one of the four children in Derawal household from choking, and then is fired within the next day or two. For no apparent reason other than they need "a housekeeper who cleans properly," not a nanny, and she pays too much attention to the children. 

Fatou calls Andrew, the only other person she knows in London, and he will meet her four hours later. They will sleep in shifts, etc., as she moves into his apartment. He assures her he respects her and it will all work out.

Fatou could speak English and some Italian, and was obviously more well-read than you might assume, considering her background. Though her life was obviously a very lonely one with no one but this Andrew to help her at all while in London. No mention was made of her father, so we assume he simply sent her to a place where he believed she could have a better future.

I am always so sad when parents feel they must separate themselves from their children to possibly provide a better life for the children. I just feel so grateful not to have ever been put in a similar situation, as a child or a parent...

I felt this story was at the very least poignant and bittersweet. 
Perhaps Fatou is not technically a "slave" in the strictest sense of the word, 
but her life doesn't appear to be very different in many ways, at least to me.

Have you read this?
What are your thoughts?

I don't believe Zadie Smith's writing is ever particularly 'cheery' or entertaining,
but she does make me think and consider...

Happy reading!

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Return Journey by Maeve Binchy

The Return Journey by Maeve Binchy

This book is one that has been in my house for years. 
It perfectly satisfied a prompt 
for an April 2020 reading challenge, 
so I finally picked it up
and read it! 

Maeve Binchy is one of my absolute favorite authors. 
Although she died in 2012, 
I will be collecting and reading all books 
authored by her that I have not yet read...

I mainly read for characterization, 
and in that respect, 
she is one of the masters!

This is an absolutely delightful collection of short stories.

In "The Return Journey" Gina travels to her mother's home country, where her mother has never visited after emigrated to the United States from Ireland. During that visit, Gina meets a man and decides to settle down in her mother's childhood hometown. History repeating itself...?

Ms. Grant and Mr. Green each manage to somehow pick up "The Wrong Suitcase" at the airport, each not realizing their error until opening the case in their possession. As they meet to exchange cases, they shake hands and simultaneously claim not to have read the other's unison...each then realizing the other was lying. :) Human nature! We are curious about each other, aren't we?

"Miss Vogel's Vacation" is a lovely story about a woman who takes life as it comes...disappointments and all, retaining a positive attitude. In the end, she realizes she has had it much better than some whom she felt had cheated her out of a 'better' life. Good for Miss Vogel!

Shane and Moya in "Package Tour" believe themselves to be soul-mates... Until they plan to travel together and each of them is preparing to pack. Then differences arise that are seemingly insurmountable. They both wonder why this disparity couldn't have been discovered before they fell in love? Personally, I felt that if they did indeed love each other, they could have managed...but that's just me! :)

In "The Apprenticeship," both Florrie and Camilla manage to raise themselves to a much higher social status than that to which they were born. As Camilla is marrying an elite male, Florrie realizes that in their training to 'marry up' on the social ladder they have overlooked the concept of love in a relationship. She vows to incorporate this into her life as she searches for an acceptable spouse. Quite naturally, my thought is, "Uh-oh. That may prove to be the downfall of your training!" :)

Lena gets a lesson on "love" in "The Business Trip." She has managed to convince herself that she is "in love" with her boss. However, her aunt Maggie, feels otherwise and encourages her to use the opportunity of this time spent alone with Shay to learn more about him so she can determine (1) how well she truly knows him, and (2) whether he really is the person she believes him to be. Lena feels a sense of relief as she determines Shay is incompatible with her attitudes and behaviors...and anxiously anticipates arriving home to begin life anew after four years of devotion to a person she only thought she knew... Awwwww...

"The Crossing" depicts an all-too-familiar occurrence of connecting intensely with a total stranger and then parting ways without ever exchange contact information or expecting to see the other person again. This is so true, isn't it? We often glean information and/or insights from strangers that prove to be very beneficial, yet, the other person never knows of their impact because we never communicate with them again after that initial meeting. Life can be very strange sometimes. :)

Paul the Purser gets a very good lesson in "implicit bias" when he becomes rather obsessed with a trio of passengers which includes the one male, Charlie, and "The Women in Hats," Bonnie and Charlotte. The woman he has already befriended on this voyage, Helen, informs him in no uncertain terms that while he believes others should willingly accept the fact that he is gay and is devoted to a male partner, he is unable to drop his own prejudice against overweight people, especially a "fat" female. This was very interesting. Helen tells him in no uncertain terms of his despicable behavior that has deeply offended her. But she refuses to divulge her connection to the issue. I just love Maeve Binchy's ability to write such simple yet powerful stories within only 18 pages.

In all their "Excitement," Rose and Ted plans what appears to be a concrete immovable plan to have an overnight tryst, away from both of their respective spouses and families. However, both discover relatives at the same hotel where they have a reservation and end up with no more "excitement" than returning to their families without the extramarital sex they had planned to obtain. This was quite humorous! 

In "Holiday Weather" Frankie and Robert are planning their usual annual vacation together when plans are interrupted at the last minute--the destination is changed and Robert must work the whole week. This gives Frankie time to get to know Shane, the innkeeper better. She decides to stay in Ireland before the week ends... Robert is married. Interestingly, once chaos inserts itself into their plans, and neither of them is any longer in 'control' of their situation, previously unrevealed incompatible aspects of their personalities emerge...and the relationship ends. I suppose it is easy to maintain an extramarital affair when everything remains under your control, but if not, perhaps alter egoes show themselves...

Victor in "Victor and St. Valentine" is perhaps one of the last truly romantic males. He was raised in a household where Valentine's Day was intensely celebrated, but has learned as an adult, that the females he has known overall do not appreciate honest "Valentine" sentiments. Until as an electrician, he gets to know Mrs. Todd, one of his clients, very well and ends up offering to escort her to Australia to visit her granddaughter, Amy. It is Amy who gives Victor his first adult Valentine's gift and card, and I believe Victor may well end up in Australia permanently! :)

In "Cross Lines" Martin and Kay demonstrate just how incorrect our first impressions can be until we actually speak with and get to know a person. They make assumptions about each other simply from visual input, then they actually have a conversation. Again, strangers meet and impart information/opinions, and then assume they will have no further contact. However, as each of them rides in separate taxis to their hotel, they are unknowingly headed to the same place and will most likely encounter each ot her again, very soon! 

In "A Holiday with Your Father" Rose fantasizes about the relationship between a younger female and older wheelchair-bound male she observes in the airport. She is immediately jealous as she assumes he woman is his daughter and they are traveling together by choice. She wants her father to travel with her. But when she broaches the subject with her own father yet again, he insists he still cannot do so, but perhaps once he is retired... And she finally agrees they could discuss it then. Rather poignant. And I was jealous! Having never had my biological father in my life, nor living with a stepfather, etc., I believe I have always fantasized a close father-daughter relationship and all that might entail. Though who knows? Perhaps I would have despised him in the end...but I will never know as he has been dead 20+ years. 

Even if short stories aren't necessarily your thing, I can highly recommend this collection.
They certainly worked well for me!

Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

#MeToo: Essays... Part 2

#MeToo: Essays About How and Why This Happened, 
What it Means and How to Make Sure It Never Happens Again 
by Lisa Perkins
I established a 30-day free trial account on scribd to mainly listen to the audiobook of poetry, Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, to satisfy the 2020 Read Harder Challenge prompt #8.
I rarely listen to audiobooks and didn't wish to pay for something I wouldn't listen to again. 
If you happen to listen to this, be sure to listen to his interview at the end. 
It is definitely noteworthy! I did find Reynolds' narration to be wonderful 
and would highly recommend this audiobook.
However, I will also own the actual book and read it as well. 
Just because I overall prefer a book in my hands. But on to #MeToo.

This review will cover the last half of this book. You can find Part 1 of this review here
Thus far I have been very impressed, 
as well as sometimes shocked at these revelations of 
males' aggressive, abusive, and misogynistic behaviors toward females.
But I also realize that I am now at a much different place in my life. 
As an older female, I don't give a damn! If you are a male and you're even halfway considering mistreating or abusing me, you'd better carry a big stick with you! 
'Cause I'm comin' after you with whatever I have on hand...and I know some moves!
So beware! And, honestly, I have always been much more combative in this regard than most of the other females I've known throughout my life, no matter at what age.
My husband researched interpersonal violence between males and females for his PhD. 
Before we were even dating, in those first 9 months as very best friends, I once asked 
him if I demonstrated enough self-confidence to hopefully avoid being attacked. 
His response? "If a male selected you as a potential victim, he needs to do something else.
You are definitely not a woman any man with sense would dare mess with." 
(I am paraphrasing from memory.) I just remember feeling proud of that. 
Now, back to the book!

Katherine Ramsland describes the concept of narcissistic immunity in "Tit for Tat." These repeat offenders who often take big risks
have a talent for rebounding from setbacks because they're certain of their invulnerability. This comes not just from their repeated success, 
but also from the knowledge that those who know what they're doing 
won't stop them. (p 81)
Ramsland goes on to describe a situation where a male was implicitly stating he would give her what she wanted if she gave him what he wanted. And then everyone would be happy and satisfied. Was this ever expressed in explicit terms? No, of course not. As Ramsland states,
Situations of subtle compromise are probably the most frequent abuse of power, 
and the most difficult to identify as sexual misconduct, 
because the aggressor can easily say he was misunderstood. 
He slips away, leaving his target violated in a non-specific way. 
Even if she complains, it's difficult to make anything stick. 
She will also be labeled in some negative way, not to mention ostracized. (p 78)
And this is how the cycle perpetuates itself with no male ever being held accountable.

Predators plan. They use "deflection, social miscues, and misinformation" to exude charm and success which work to "falsely engender trust" in a very relaxed and confident manner. So change must occur on both a cultural and personal level. We need to learn about sexual predators as well as our own vulnerabilities to help this collective movement make a better world for everyone, but particularly those historically deemed to be most vulnerable and socially subjugated by males--females!

Catherine Gigante-Brown describes how and why she believes 
"I was only..." are three of the most dangerous words in the English language.
"I was only joking."
"I was only trying to help."
"I was only..."
No. You weren't. (p 89)
Not the best friend's uncle who put his hand on her crotch at age 12. Not the nice blind man who ran the newsstand and forced his tongue down her throat for a "friendly" good-bye kiss at age 17. And especially not the man in the park who said of her at age 19, "We're following her. I like the way her ass jiggles when she walks." These are weak excuses offered by men--only because they're caught! To her credit she confronted the last man in the crowded public park and ended up shaming him into an apology. 
Yes means yes. No means no. (p 89)
And no man has a right to assault a woman. Period. Until you ask and the answer is "yes," just don't. As the author notes, it feels good to stand up for herself, but 40 years later she must still do so. It will not stop until we view each other with respect, kindness, and acceptance...
It starts here. It starts now. It starts with us. (p 90)
We will raise our young girls to be self-confident self-assured individuals who will defend themselves any time and anywhere by confronting and calling out these abusers.

Kate Mara addresses an issue I'd never experienced or considered before in "Me Too: Protecting Men from Themselves." Once she informed her mother that her own uncle (her mother's own brother) had attempted to rape her but she'd been lucky enough to get away, her mother's reply was to never tell her father because he would kill the man. At age 12, Kate agreed. But wait! Now this child must somehow keep herself out of harm's way when visiting her own grandmother (with whom her uncle lived) AND protect her father from the truth that would make him lose control and murder someone, his own brother-in-law. It is this cycle of "silence and violence" that also helps perpetuate the misogynistic culture of our time and the past. Men can't be trusted to respect women and yet those who would be their most intense defenders also cannot be trusted to control their violent behaviors...? My immediate thought? Men are messed up!

Jude M. Lucien points out in "Men, Women and #MeToo" males are also sexually assaulted and seem to have no recourse for reporting such abuse. None. It is just unacceptable for a male to claim that he was assaulted. It seems like such an aberration. A near impossibility. Likewise to a great degree for any female sexually assaulted by another female. However, Lucien is very clear about the vast difference between a female victim of male sexual assault and the other two scenarios--it boils own to the "fear" culture created by the continued and unchecked misogynistic behaviors of men toward women. Women must always operate by a different set of social/cultural rules than those of men: (1) never ride in an elevator alone with a male, (2) never walk alone at night in a parking garage, (3) never walk alone anywhere after dark, etc. As Lucien states,
Women have physically violated my sexual boundaries many more times 
than have men because my sexual relationships have always been with women. 
But all those years that men catcalled, bra-snapped, commented and 
attempted to rape me structured my life in a way that those women simply can't. 
(p 99)

"Every Book I Have Ever Written is a #MeToo Novel" (The grammar nerd in me realizes it should read an #MeToo...) by Trinity Blacio describes how using her own helplessness against sexual assault in her youthful past is reflected in her very strong and self-sufficient female protagonists. In her worlds women support each other and have each other's backs. Where an 8-year-old can feel comfortable confiding to her mother of her stepfather's inappropriate behaviors toward her. Where a 15-year-old can confide to her father that the employee who took her on a date at her father's behest took her to an abandoned cabin and date-raped her and feel vindicated that a process was followed to hold the 20-year-old accountable beyond just losing his job... 
And if for some reason she doesn't have those options, 
perhaps she'll read a novel where she'll see her reflection 
and know that she will survive, and, maybe, save the world. (p 104)

In "#NotMe's Instead of #MeToo's" by Nikki Prince details the trauma in the aftermath of molestation by a family member and family friend, before she even reached age 10. She believed herself to be "voiceless" and said nothing about it until she was in her 20's. She still has dreams about these incidents. As the mother of both a son and a daughter she believes we must start by educating our children at home, with reinforcement occurring at school. Teaching them agency for their own bodies and that when something doesn't feel good or right, they have a voice. (The one thing she didn't mention is to be sure to back them up fully if/when they do come to you as a parent.)
This is for me, this is for my children, and this is for the world to hear. 
We are here, we are the #MeToo's, and we will not remain silent ever again.
Let's make a world where there are #NotMe's instead of #MeToo's. (p 107)

"Not Them Too" by Louisa Bacio. Imagine that it is your first job in publishing and you're in the elevator with the Vice President for Advertising and he says
"Are those $1000-a-night fuck-me pumps?" (p 109)
What do you say? Alone with a man in an work! And this happens! Of course, this was not the incident to occur to Louisa. The editorial director informed her she would not be allowed to travel as part of her job because she was "female and attractive." The staff was 98% male. Good old misogynistic patriarchy at work! Don't change male behavior, instead, restrict the life of females to prevent 'incidents'. Ugh! At another magazine on her first day of work one of the senior editors (the only female one) called her into her office and explained that she would never be able to advance because there was 
only "room" for one female editor and it was going to be her. 
That troubled magazine went bankrupt, and when the doors closed 
there was only one female editor: It was [Louisa]. (p 109)
This story made me smile! Louisa goes on to describe the scariest occurrence that happened in her own home. Her roommate befriended two strange men and had them follow her home in their car.  Fortunately, Louisa awakened as they were walking down the hall toward her room, saying 
"Can we look at your roommate? Is she pretty?" A man's voice woke me in the middle of the night. I was 23, in grad school. "She's asleep," my roommate said.
"It's all right. We won't do anything. Just look at her."
I lay in bed, listening to footsteps come down the hallway, and stop outside my closed bedroom door. The doorknob rattled, and turned.
At that moment, I jumped out of bed, yanked on the handle, and screamed:
"What the fuck do you think you're doing? Get out of my house!" (p 111)
Louisa chased them out, locked the door, and promptly evicted her roommate the very next day. She now has two daughters and is
...teaching [them] how to stand up for themselves. Hell no, not them too! (p 112)

In "Why We #MeToo" Jennifer Wedmore describes how she 
became two people, the one who suffered during the night/early morning, and the one who got up and went to school and functioned normally. (p 114)
This occurred for 10 years of her life as a young girl. She also describes other much more minor incidents where men "accidentally" brushed up against her, etc., throughout her life. 
The everyday fear women have of walking to our car by ourselves or walking by a group of men must stop! We should feel safe in our environments! (p 114)
Then she mentions being "afraid" to ask her teenage daughter if she has experienced any such incidents... That seems hypocritical to me. If you don't ask, you won't know, and then you can' help her talk it out and decide how best to handle it in the future. We need to enable girls/women to expose these incidents so they can know it is not their fault and how best to counteract such behaviors. 

As Gen Ryan states in "Until When #MeToo":
The problem isn't with women not coming forward, because as we have seen 
recently in the media that women are flocking and coming together more than ever. 
It's how, as a society, we view the female. (p 117)
Females' every detail of their life experience, background, and history are examined to find fault. Ryan claims that a society, we [must] stop villainizing the victims and start holding the [offending] individuals  accountable for their actions. (p 119)
I am anxious for exactly that! Perhaps convicting and imprisonment of Harvey Weinstein is a positive sign for lasting change. I have my fingers crossed!

Carmela Caruso describes how a "friend" became an attacker in "Doing What We've Always Done: Gender Roles and Sexual Assault." This person was someone who lived in the same small town and Carmela saw around town off and on. They would exchange simple greetings: "Hello," etc. One night he invited her to join himself and some of his friends at a restaurant. He ended up walking her home even though she had told him point blank she did not want him to go with her and she was not going to have sex with him. (She was feeling uncomfortable about him at that point in time. Once in her house he tried to have sex with her several times and she kept refusing to cooperate, saying "No!" A couple of months later he approaches her asking why she never contacted him. She stated she felt he had sexually assaulted her and he was genuinely surprised...and apologized. He explained that
he'd been in a similar situation many times before and found women 
thought they should act distant and unavailable to 
avoid being labeled a "whore" or "slut" for wanting sex. 
Men, he said, were expected to show force to which the woman, 
throwing down her feigned resistance, would respond. 
It's what women wanted, he said. (p 124)
I would love to think this was simply a bullshit answer, but I believe there are males who have never been taught nor learned otherwise. Strictly caveman stuff! You can't make this shit up! Now she better understands the statistic that 85% of women who are sexually assaulted know their attacker. How sad... She also cites generic statistics regarding the likelihood any accusations will never make it to court and the victim/woman will be vilified and made out to be the reason for the assault. 

"For Men the 'MeToo' Movement Should Be More Than a Hashtag" by Ivan Natividad
Tarana Burke, a Broolyn-based youth activist, first used the words "Me Too" to found a movement meant 
as a rallying cry to support young women 
who had survived sexual abuse, assault and exploitation. (p 127)
To let them know they were not alone. Because, unfortunately, they are only one of many...
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, every 98 seconds someone in our country is sexually assaulted, and one out of every six women has been the victim of an attempted or competed rape in her lifetime.
Moreover, 90% of adult rape victims are female, 
and females ages 16 to 19 are four times more likely 
than the general population to be victims of 
rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. (p 128)
No wonder that within 24 hours of the launch of the #MeToo movement, there were more than 12 million Facebook posts, comments and reactions made. TWELVE MILLION. Let that number sink in. Within 24 hours. Unbelievable. And so scary! Ivan describes being able to shrug off uninvited sexual touching as a young man simply because, unlike a woman, he had no danger to fear. 
Never did I worry about being followed down a dark alley afterward.
Never did I worry about a woman stalking me at my house or 
place of work because I did not reciprocate their advances. (p 129)
Best estimates are that only 6 of every 1,000 rapists end up in prison. Natividad believes men can help make permanent changes for the better by not "supporting or condoning a culture that hyper-sexualizes women." 
We can redefine our masculinity to detach it from abusive stereotypical behavior. 
Our character is based on what we do, not what we think we believe. (p 130)
So do more than just like certain #MeToo comments/posts on social media, actually begin to set a good example for sons, brothers, cousins, or just other males who are complete strangers. Call others out on their inappropriate behaviors/attitudes/actions and be sure you are acting everyone, including females! Will it make you everyone's 'best friend'? Perhaps not. But those who choose to spend time with you will be comfortable with you...

"For Guys Reading #MeToo Testimonies" by Courtney E. Martin. 
Feel the excruciating pain of complicity. (p 133)
Martin encourages men to read the stories of #MeToo and then just sit. Close their eyes and sit...and feel. Feel what it must be like to live in a world filled with "sexual harassment and assault" a man. Much as Martin tries to deal with the fact that she is "white" and yet not in the least bit associated with white supremacists and the hatred and violence they spew. But she must deal as part of that culture by the fact that her skin is also white. (I can relate to that...) So as much as a specific male may have never mistreated or abused a woman, he is still part of the culture by definition, just as she is part of white supremacy. She encourages men to feel what they feel and then talk with other men about their feelings...
A world this riddled with sexual harassment and abuse will never be healed 
by a hashtag, that's for sure. Yet this moment could be the first one 
in which you choose to do something different, to lay the first brick 
in a world that is built differently, a world safe for women's bodies 
and men's feelings, a world worthy of everyone's wholeness. (p 135)
Hallelujah! You preach it, sister! 

"The Wild Feminine Freed #MeToo" by Jamie Della. Jamie studies wicca and writes about this religion. Her emphasis is on the feminine goddess. 
If only we remembered that they key to freedom hides in our womb. 
We must claim our sovereignty by owning the power of the pussy.
Our liberation awaits when we draw out the lusty Baba Yaga: 
the Goddess who dares us to go boldly in the direction of our bliss, 
face our fears and liberate our shame. (p 137)
We should revel in our femininity and let no one shame us for that! 

"Our Bodies Are Not the Problem" by Liz DeBetta
She has a very poignant concise poem and claims that women must make others uncomfortable before things can change for the better. It is nor our bodies that are problematic, but others' refusal to respect women as people!

"Hush" by Sherri Donovan
A poem definitely worth reading! 

"Sexual Harassment on the Job from HR's Perspective" by Marina Jumiga
Marina describes her experience with pursuing an HR complaint on behalf of another employee in her facility who was "tapped on the butt" as acknowledgement, when a simple "Hello!" would have sufficed. the employee was eventually reprimanded and terminated and training was completed by all other employees. Sign-in sheets were used to prove training was completed so that no employee could claim ignorance of the sexual harassment policy. Very smart!! 

"Why the #MeToo Movement Is a Call to Arms for Men Everywhere" by Mark Radcliffe
As Mark saw all of the #MeToo Facebook postings from his female friends, he realized that as a man
it's not enough for us men to just not assault women. We have to do more.
Not just not be part of the problem, but actively be part of the solution. (p 155)
Agreed! It is time for men to act as role models for other men. Past time!
If their days are filled with dread/fear/anxiety/oppression, 
then their lives are forever worsened. 
And we share those lives with them--if one part suffers, every part suffers with it. 
As a result, women are understandably less open with us, less trusting of us, 
and less able to be fully alive and present in our lives as well. 
And this simply cannot be. (p 155)
Men need to mentor other men. Edmund Burke once wrote, 
"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (p 155)
That is so true. Silence is complicity... But how to do more?
...start by simply being the kind of friend/boyfriend/husband/colleague 
that a woman feels comfortable discussing her assault with. (p 155)
Be that person who believes her...
This is just the beginning. 
The real challenge is...working on our fellow men. Every. Single. Day. 
Being an agent of change in the daily conversations we're a part of. 
When an entire conversation with "the boys" at a restaurant is 
about the waitress' ass, what are we doing to change that? (p 156)
Saying nothing is complicity. 
Because if their moral compass won't compel them to act differently, 
then we must make the consequences of their actions force them to change--
both in their behavior and attitudes. 
And if we do that, then we will no longer be fully complicit in a world that results in umpteen million women having to post "#MeToo" in their Facebook feed today.
So gentlemen, let's pledge to have a lot more difficult conversations between ourselves, so that there are fewer difficult "#MeToo" posts 
from the women in our lives. (p 158)

"Politics is My #MeToo" by Alessandra Biaggi.
...we are just beginning. The road is long, and we will grow weary, 
but we must never give up or give in. I am honored to join the stories of my sisters; together our voices will reverberate--throughout the streets, rounding corners that echo through the halls of Congress and state legislatures; that rip through industries, which have historically protected predators and upheld systems of abuse. 
Enough. Our message--spoken + written = united. #MeToo (p 162)

I must admit I am so ignorant I was unaware there was such a thing as 
a "nondisclosure agreement" to cover up abuse. 
Let us hope this is the beginning of the ending of such nonsense.
And that men are held responsible for their behaviors.

Happy reading!