Monday, April 27, 2015

The worst of the worst launder more than just money!?!

Al Capone Does My Shirts: A Novel 

I just needed a break from the adult book world and what better distraction than children's literature? Admittedly, this is one of the very few books to which I was mainly attracted by the title. I just had to see what it was all about! Was I ever pleasantly surprised! This is so much more than a "kids" book! (As is so often the case!) :)

I have loved all the Newbery Medal and Newbery Honor books I've read, and this Honor book was no exception! I guess I had never really considered the total setup with a community like that on Alcatraz. Firstly, of course, the geographic location of an island forces isolation to themselves upon everyone living there. Secondly, I would have never considered that perhaps Alcatraz Island was a much safer and more secure environment than that of San Francisco just across the bay. Thirdly, we must remember the time, it was the depression--there were few jobs and so very many people were unemployed. At this time in US history, most females did not work outside the home, so it was mostly males competing for jobs and they were extremely scarce... 

Moose introduces us to his world on page 3:
        The convicts we have are the kind other prisons don't want. I never knew prisons 
     could be picky, but I guess they can. You get to Alcatraz by being the worst of the worst.
     Unless you're me. I came here because my mother said I had to. (3)
Yes, Moose, that is typically what happens at age 12--we go where our parents tell us to go! Live with our parents, wherever that might be... :) 

       I peek out the front window of our new apartment and look up to see a little glass room 
     lit bright in the dark night. This is the dock guard tower, a popcorn stand on stilts where
     somebody's dad sits with enough firepower to blow us all to smithereens. The only guns
     on the island are up high in the towers or the catwalks, because one flick of the wrist and
     a gun carried by a guard is a gun carried by a criminal. The keys to all the boats are
     kept up there for the same reason. They even have a crapper in each tower so the
     guards don't have to come down to take a leak. (4)
Yikes! That's some scary stuff! I don't think I would be thrilled with those living arrangements! But when you're 12 that's probably exciting, especially to your peers not living there!

Moose's dad explains the laundry system on Alcatraz:
     We don't put the laundry out until Wednesday. Comes back Monday.
       "Mom doesn't have to do it?"
       He shakes his head. "The convicts do the washing here."
       "The convicts wash my shirts, as in murderer convicts and kidnapper convicts, and     
     then I'm supposed to wear them?"
       He laughs. (34)
This knowledge proves to come in handy for Moose, Piper, and some of the other kids living on Alcatraz. Though what can seem good in the know...

We soon learn that Moose's sister, Natalie, has some not-so-normal behaviors and habits.
        Sometimes Nat's tantrums go on and on for days and nothing makes them stop. It's 
     impossible to know what will set her off. (9) 
I immediately feel for Natalie's whole family, but particularly Moose. I always think life is much harder for the more "normal"/socially acceptable sibling(s). :( This is one of my favorite parts of this series. Natalie's challenges feel so real and are depicted so realistically, so I was not at all surprised to learn that Choldenko's real-life sister deals with the symptoms of autism. No wonder she can depict Natalie so accurately! And sweetly! And so smart is so many ways! Natalie was definitely my favorite character. And who could resist her frequent proclamation, "Natalie Flanagan's whole family." :) 
     Natalie's age is always ten. Every year my mom has a party for her and she turns ten
     again. My mom started counting Nat's age this screwy way a long time ago. It was just
     easier to have her younger than me. Then my mother could be happy for each new thing
     I did, without it being another thing Natalie couldn't do. (12) 
I can understand this coping mechanism on his mom's part. 

Then enter Theresa Mattaman, "little Eleanor Roosevelt," who is trying to push her way into their apartment, and "Natalie-the-screamer" on the other side of the door, inside the apartment. As Moose thinks, "What they say about females being the weaker sex is the biggest lie in the world." :)

Moose describes himself:
     I don't like getting in trouble. I was born responsible. It's a curse. (16)
However, I wonder how much of that is inborn for Moose and how much is the result of constantly being held responsible for Natalie's well-being and behavior. That would be a lot of pressure for a child!

       Natalie turns all the way around and looks me straight in the eye in that weird way she
     has of suddenly being present after weeks of being somewhere else. (23)
Moose begins wondering whether Natalie may realize this is the first day she will go to school, for although they've built up the Esther P. Marinoff,
     "...somehow in all this talking, we ignored the major thing.
       You don't come home from the Esther P. Marinoff. Every morning when the sun comes
     up, that's where Natalie will be. (23)
Ooohhh, poor Natalie. Her parents don't tell her the truth that this is a "residential" school and she won't be returning home every night, fearing (rightfully so) it will upset her immeasurably, and yet, she is NOT stupid, she can sense the mood... 

Moose mistakenly assumed Natalie was interested in history since she had loved it when he read to her from a history book, 
       But it didn't take long to realize it wasn't history Natalie was interested in. It's the 
     indexes she loves. Any subject will do. (26)
      Sometimes is seems easier to be Natalie. People force her to do stuff. I have to force 
     myself. (42)
However, Natalie only lasts one day at Esther P. Marinoff, and since his Dad must work, Moose accompanies his mother to pick her up.
     Here we go again... Before the Esther P. Marinoff, the Barriman School was "It" and 
     before that the heat treatments and before that the aluminum formula before that UCLA. 
       At UCLA they made us cut Natalie's hair. Shaved it right off. They tested her like she 
     was some kind of insect. (65)
I remember my grandmother desperately searching for treatment for my aunt who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. It is desperation that you feel, particularly back in the early 1960's when there was basically NOTHING available, so I can only imagine in the 1930's!!

And wouldn't you like to be baby Rocky, who can rightfully claim (when he's older, of course!) that Al Capone's mother once rocked you and stopped your crying as an infant? :) So the kids' ruse to meet Al Capone's mother while on the boat to Alcatraz did work, however, Mrs. Capone never did see her own son, as she was so traumatized by the strip search which revealed nothing more than the metal stays in her old-fashioned corset had set off the metal detector. She refused to stay on the island. 
       I can't get over this. I keep thinking about when Al Capone was a baby. I'll bet his 
     mama sang him the same song she sang to Rocky. I'll bet she held his hand when they 
     crossed the street, packed his lunch for school, and sewed his name in his jacket--A. 
     Capone so everyone would know it was his.  
       I'll bet she wishes she could do it all over again too...if only Al were little and she could.
Ah, yes, some of these criminals might have had just such a "normal" upbringing...

Moose uncharacteristically leaves Natalie unattended for a period of time while he looks for "convict" baseballs that may have gone over the wall from the inside. When he returns,
       "Hey, Nat, everything okay here? You just been playing your game, right?"
       "105," she says.
       "105?" I ask. (141)
Though at the time Moose believes she is talking about the numbers of rocks with which she is playing or the number of birds she has counted, he doesn't realize until near the end of the book just what this number truly means to Natalie. 

Then Moose asks his father the one question I'm sure most siblings of "different" children ask eventually,
       "Did I cause Natalie to be the way she is?" The question seems to come from 
     somewhere deep inside of me. 
       "Moose?" My father freezes, his eyes riveted on me.
       "Something I did? You said she got worse when she was three. That's when I was 
     born. Was it me?" I concentrate on the rug.
       "Moose." My dad grabs my shoulders and he looks straight into my eyes. "I don't 
     know," he says, taking a teary breath, "what caused Natalie to be sick. I don't think 
     anyone knows that. But I do know this." He bites his lip, his voice so full of feeling, he's 
     having trouble speaking. "Absolutely...absolutely for sure it had nothing, nothing at all to 
     do with you. (173)

These characters are so real. 
Choldenko does a great job of delineating the children and their inter-relationships, 
as well as the adults on the island. 
She includes a summary of her research and what was factual and what she fictionalized. 
I think children would enjoy this book. I certainly did. 
So much so, that I read the next two in the series
Does it sound interesting? Imaginative? 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Engaged Anne--principal and meddler of the best kind!

Anne of Windy Poplars
by L.M. Montgomery
I am so very glad I took advantage of ReederReads' Green Gables Read-Along!

We get to know Anne as the principal of Summertime High School, living on Spook's Lane in Windy Poplars. As Anne writes to Gilbert,
     Isn't that an address? Did you ever hear anything
     so delicious? Windy Poplars is the name of my new
     home and I love it. I also love Spook's Lane, which
     has no legal existence. It should be Trent Street
     but it is never called Trent Street... It's dusk
     dearest. (In passing, isn't 'dusk' a lovely word? I
     like it better than twilight. It sounds so velvety
     and shadowy and...and...dusky.) In daylight I
     belong to the the night to sleep and
     eternity. But in the dusk I'm free from both and
     belong only to myself...and you. (3)

     I wended my way to the graveyard this evening, Anne wrote to Gilbert... I
     think 'wend your way' is a lovely phrase and I try to work it in whenever I
     can. (51)
I'm so glad to see that Anne has yet to lose her fascination with words, nor her imaginative beliefs! Anne is Anne is Anne...and I'm always thrilled with that knowledge as I read each of these books. She becomes so familiar and well-known at the start and never loses that least to me! (And, in case you're wondering, like Anne, I also try to use certain favorite words or phrases whenever possible!)

The first person she and Mrs. Lynde meet in town is Mrs. Braddock who immediately warns her of the "Royal family":
     ...a third cousin of theirs applied for the Principalship and they all think he
     should have got it. When your application was accepted the whole kit and
     kaboodle of them threw back their heads and howled. Well, people are like
     that. We have to take them as we find them, you know. They'll be as smooth
     as cream to you but they'll work against you every time. I'm not wanting to
     discourage you, but forewarned is forearmed. I hope you'll make good just
     to spite them. (6)
Ah, that good ol' two-faced business--nice to your face, nasty behind your back! I was once told by a minister's wife that she had learned, the first church members who fall all over themselves to ingratiate you and praise you upon your arrival in a new church, are typically the first to stab you in the back, much as the Pringles are known to be. So very sad, "that's what," as Mrs. Lynde would say! But I loved Mrs. Braddock for telling Anne in a most factual and positive way without lowering herself to the Pringles' level of snide hypocrisy!

Anne lucks out by beating the new banker in town to the "tower room" at Windy Poplars and lives with the two widows and Rebecca Dew, of whom she writes to Gilbert,
     You can't separate those names, Gilbert. It's impossible...though the
     widows do it. They call her Rebecca when they speak to her. I don't know
     how they manage it. (10)
And the way Aunt Kate and Aunt Chatty (everyone calls them 'aunt'!) use reverse psychology with Rebecca Dew is hysterical! First to get her to agree to take Anne as a boarder and then to keep Dusty Miller living with them! So funny!

     No matter how often and long I'm away from [Green Gables], the minute a
     vacation comes I'm part of it again as if I have never been away, and my
     heart is torn over leaving it. But I know I'll like it here. And it likes me. I
     always know whether a house likes me or not. (12)
Fanciful Anne! Knowing whether a house likes her or not! :) We learn much about Anne's life during these three years through the letters she writes to Gilbert, as well as narrative. I typically love epistolary novels (The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows always comes to mind as a beautiful example.) I so enjoyed imagining Gilbert's reactions as he read Anne's long letters!

Regarding her trials and tribulations with the Pringles:
     School has been 'keeping' for two weeks now and I've got things pretty well
     organized. But Mrs. Braddock was right...the Pringles are my problem. And
     as yet I don't see exactly how I'm going to solve it in spite of my lucky
     clovers. ...they are as smooth as cream, and as slippery.

     My room is full of Pringles and a good many students who bear another
     name have Pringle blood in them. The ring-leader of them seems to be Jen
     Pringle, a green-eyed bantling who looks as Becky Sharp must have looked
     at fourteen. I believe she is deliberately organizing a subtle campaign of
     insubordination and disrespect, with which I am going to find it hard to cope.
     (17) [Confession: I had to google Becky Sharp, having never read Vanity
But just as Anne believes she has lost this 'war,' as so often happens with her, she lucks out and gains some valuable historical information pertinent to the Pringles that salvages her relationship with them, being accepted by all of them, making her secure in her three-year contract as principal and much happier since she admits that she still can't stand not to be 'liked' by everyone, just as she felt as a child. Interestingly, as I read this I thought of a person who told me their goal in life was to "make everyone love me." This made me uneasy, because it is so unrealistic, not everyone will love any one person, so while you can hopefully establish respectful relationships with most people you encounter, it is impossible to make each person love or even like you. But I assume that Anne was referring to the ability to establish effective and respectful relationships, at least I am making that my interpretation of her desire. :)

One of the main themes of all the Green Gables books I've read thus far is the idea of Anne simply trying to be the best person she can be, even when meddling into other peoples' lives and affairs, and these actions turning out to save her in many ways. For example, her private nurturing of Sophy Sinclair's desire and talent to act, thereby thwarting Jen Pringle, the lead actress in the High School play , when she claimed to be sick the day of the performance, hoping to destroy any hope of Anne's success as the faculty sponsor of the event. This allowed Sophy to stand in and experience success which lead her to become a very successful actress as an adult, and saving Anne from defeat! Anne's persistence to get to know and like Katherine which led the woman to change careers and find happiness she had never hoped to discover within herself.

Perhaps the two most poignant stories of all in this book: Little Elizabeth's hope that her father would rescue her from life with her Grandmother and The Woman, and that bit of magic as Lewis and Anne deliver Little Fellow's picture to his father, altering his life perspective for the better! And finally, perhaps the funniest and most realistic to me, her part in the Hazel and Terry marriage debacle, or so it seemed... Anne's life continues to contain one adventure after another, as she puts herself 'out there' in society and tries to 'do good' for others as much as she is able...

I believe this may well be my second favorite book of this series so far, after the first book, Anne of Green Gables. How about your favorite(s) within this series? And if you haven't read them, you really should. In my opinion this is classic/children's literature at it's best! 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A great visit with six authors--all in one day!!

CHG Book & Author Luncheon
Friday, April 17, 2015

I just had the most amazing experience this past Friday...well, it actually stemmed from an amazing experience one year ago, in April 2014!! I did not post about attending this event last year, though I was so thrilled with it! So I'll make up for that'll learn (Probably more than you ever wanted to know!) all about this annual event that brings close to 1,000 readers and 4-6 authors together for a time of camaraderie and sharing each other's company! 

Firstly, in February of 2014 one of my coworkers asked if I would like to use her ticket to attend a "Book Author event." Well...of course...I really, well, I just really had to take a look at my rather crowded social calendar to determine whether this would fit into my schedule or not... Okay, not! I'm lying! I IMMEDIATELY said YES!!! (And yes, I may have YELLED it!) What is it? When? How much does it cost, etc., etc., etc. I'm sure she was sorry she'd ever offered her ticket to me within those first few minutes! But really...what else could she expect from a book nerd like me! 

As it turned out, she is a member of the Christamore House Guild (CHG), whose sole mission is to raise money to support the Christamore Houselocated just west of the IUPUI main campus in Indianapolis, Indiana. Inside this rather innocuous looking building, life teems with learning, helping, respecting, and most of all, conscientious caring! This is some of what I have learned in one year's time about this organization. It is much more than a community center, or preschool, or home for the elderly; it is a safe haven for community children in those after-school hours with many opportunities to expand and develop intellectually and socially, and engage in civic enrichment activities. 

What more could you ask from a non-profit? It is as all-inclusive as any such organization I've seen, and considering my employment in social work, I've seen a few! But it was just one event last spring that initiated my interest in membership. As I investigated that opportunity, I became convinced I could spare some time and money to help this Guild support this community center's worthy endeavors! What is more noble or effective than helping people improve their lives? Nothing, in my humble opinion. What began as a totally self-indulgent event for me, became so much more...and I am so grateful for this unique opportunity to give to and help others! 

So, last year's Book & Author Luncheon included (Listed alphabetically, to avoid any suggestion of favorites!):

Krista Bremer--My Accidental Jihad
Carol Cassella--Gemini
     I also loved Oxygen!
Robin Oliveira--I Always Loved You
     I adored her historical fiction novel My Name is Mary Sutter!
Chris Pavone--The Accident
     Also loved The Expats, the first in this series.
Ayelet Waldman--Love & Treasure
     Though I did read and review Red Hook Road

It was too late for me to actually read many of these books prior to attending the event, though I had been lucky enough to meet Carol Cassella on March 17, 2014, at the Gemini book release party held at The Elliott Bay Book Company while on vacation in Seattle, Washington. I was also able to meet so many others of my absolute favorite authors at that event! (But that's a whole 'nother blog post just waiting to be written!) I did read some other books written by some of these authors, but not THESE books specifically. Just not enough time! 

I did much better this year, particularly since I had advance notice of the authors to be included and their latest releases. This year's event included these authors/books:

Marisa de los Santos--The Precious One 
     She is listed first due to "seniority"/longevity--I have read and adored all her other 
     books, as well as this one!
Dwight Ritter--Growin' Up White
     Second because this is one of the best books I have ever read! Period!
Bryan Reardon--Finding Jake
     Third because initially I felt Ritter's book hit me a bit harder than Reardon's, though in
     the aftermath, I believe these two could tie for second! :)
Elizabeth Berg (The Dream Lover)
     Fourth because I have read and really liked Open House with my book club. 
     Unfortunately, this book was only released two days prior to the event, and I was 
     unable to take time off work to read it... :( But it will be high on my TBR list to read 
     and review as soon as possible. I'm excited, because I believe this is her first historical 
     fiction novel and I love historical fiction!
Jane Green--Saving Grace
     Fourth because this is the only book of hers I've read, and while it wasn't as creepy as
     I feared it might be, it just wasn't a theme with which I was enamored, from the 
     start! Though I really appreciated her writing and will definitely read more of her 
     books, including The Beach House which she claims to be her own favorite!
Amanda Eyre Ward--The Same Sky 
     I loved speaking with Ms. Ward and listening to her speak about her writing process 
     and research for this book. This is a very timely issue and a heartbreaking one. I just 
     prefer much more detailed characterization and didn't feel as if I got to know these 
     characters as well as I would have liked to. But the good news is...I am definitely in 
     the minority since it is currently rated 3.89 with 1,421 ratings on Goodreads! I have 
     marked another one of her books and intend to read it, just to compare--maybe it was 
     just this specific book...

Admittedly, I feel as if I've "cheated" by just using my Goodreads reviews for almost all of these books, but I like to process and take time with my blog posts of reviews, so those are still being composed! To be released in the (hopefully very near) future. :)

My point here is that sometimes life leads us to surprisingly pleasant and fulfilling experiences in the most unexpected ways. I try to keep myself open to new ideas and opportunities to expand my horizons, and this has proven to be invaluable in the enjoyment of my life! And next year, I will have had a much more active role in this event as a 2nd-year CHG member! 

Have you read any of these books? Have you met any of these authors? Obviously, I have some catching up to do with regard to reading last year's books! 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Classics Club Spin #9--book #2 on my list!

The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein

Uhm...I probably should have investigated this book a bit more before committing to read it for a spin! It contains 926 pages! Yikes! Oh, well, after April 25 I'll have I'm sure! Sure I'm sure! Yeah...sure! :)

As I read more about this book, it is evidently VERY repetitive!! Something I don't appreciate about the books I read? Repetition! Yikes again!!

But I will persevere nonethless. I mean, I did FINALLY make it through The Golden Notebook, so I'm sure Stein won't present a more insurmountable challenge than Lessing did...right?!? 

And with 36 reviews on Goodreads, it is an average of 3.76/5.00. That's good...right?!? Right! 

And here is a rejection letter that made me chuckle!

But...this is a classic piece of literature and I am so curious to read Stein's writing--I am still enthralled to read and review this one! So onward and upward!!

Here are some of the covers I discovered...with the edition I wish to read to the right.

Do you envy or pity me at this point for this selection? :)

I really hope to have a review posted on May 15th! Check back to see how I do with this commitment! (I may be ready to be committed before I finish it!)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

But who will save Marissa and Jack?

Saving Grace by Jane Green
This is the first of Jane Green's novels I've ever read. It will not be the last! Although it took more than 50 pages for me to really get into this book, I honestly believe that was due more to the nature of other books I'd recently read and my fear that this would be just another "obsessive character" book. Fortunately, that fear was unfounded! I had just read three books that I considered to be intense: The Girl On the Train, The Round House, and The Bishop's Wife (Literary Wives review to be posted Monday, April 6th!), and when I started reading this I just couldn't continue until I'd read something "not so intense"! (Hence, reviews of Choldenko's Al Capone series for kids will be posted soon!)

This book was not as creepy as I'd feared it might be; it was much more centered on Grace's recovery than I expected, and that made this reading experience much more enjoyable for me. If not for the fact that I will be meeting the author later this month, I would have probably selected a different book written by her to read first. I own several more of her books and look forward to reading them! 

Obviously, life with Ted was no picnic! An efficient assistant had made life so much easier for Grace, in that Ted was cared for and appeased most of the time. I would describe his personality as mercurial, at best, but definitely emotionally and verbally abusive at worst. 
        She has learned that if she removes herself, he will frequently take his rage 
     elsewhere, distance allowing it to simmer before disappearing. But if Grace is 
     there, if he sees her, she becomes an unwilling victim of a predator who will not 
     leave her alone until he is sure she is completely destroyed. 
        He doesn't mean it, she thinks, when he is back to being kind, loving, 
     appreciative. He has terrible mood swings, which is part of what makes him a 
     creative genius. I should be grateful, she tells herself. If Ted weren't allowed to be 
     this kind of person, he wouldn't be able to write the books he does, wouldn't be the 
     success he is. 
        I mustn't take it personally, she tells herself all the time, even as she feels her 
     ears ringing with stress. (2)

And what is that?!? Ahhhh...rationalization of an abuse victim, that's what! I would like to think Ted could have been just as successful if he had learned to be more even-tempered. Grace has always learned to tiptoe around others' behaviors, as she constantly had to do with her own mother, in order to cope. She eventually realizes that living with Ted mirrors living with her mother in many ways. This reminded me of the psychological theory that most people recreate their childhood environments in adulthood, selecting partners exhibiting much the same behaviors as their main caregivers. To a great degree, I feel I followed this same path in my first marriage, so I could relate to Grace. However, if I had had the financial wherewithal to support myself, as Grace evidently did, I like to believe I would have ended my first marriage at least 12 years earlier than I did. So I admit to a certain frustration that Grace persisted to endure his irrational abusive behaviors.  

        Whatever her passions, whatever her work, still, she has time for Ted. She must 
     make time for Ted, ensure he is the number one priority in her life. Whatever is 
     going on in Grace's life, and it is by no means as easy as it sounds, from the 
     outside, Grace's life looks perfect. 
     ...she had learned to hide her secrets and shame well. (13)

        Much of her life, she realizes, is spent cleaning up after Ted. Apologizing for 
     him, or charming those who have been snubbed. It has become a reflex, an 
     automatic response to his rudeness. She recognizes dismay, or shock, and sweeps in 
     to make it all better. (35)  

I always wonder just how many people are in similar situations. I believe many many more than we might easily imagine! 

     All he had to do was bellow her name--no time, no patience for emails, or texts--and
     Ellen would appear, framed in the doorway, notebook and pen always in hand, 
     ready to do whatever Ted wanted... 
        She headed off his moods before he had a chance to take them out on anyone 
     else; on Grace. She masked how temperamental he had become. (17)

Without an assistant like Ellen to constantly care for and appease Ted, Grace's life was unbearable. I could understand her frustration and impatience, but one of the practical lessons to be learned from reading this book was: you MUST ALWAYS diligently check all references before hiring a person. In her haste to improve her own daily life, Grace was far too hasty in hiring Beth.

        "But you got references on her?"
        "I couldn't get hold of anyone by phone, the numbers were out of service, but she 
     gave me their email and the references were glowing. Of course, now I have to 
     wonder if she was behind it."
        "A Gmail account?"
        "Hotmail, I think."..."Same difference. I never thought...God, how utterly stupid 
     am I? It never occurred to me to question it at the time."

Grace totally disregarded her own niggling suspicions in order to have some peace in her personal life. The first time Beth talks to Ted:

        "It's an honor to meet you,"..."I've been a reader of your work for years."
        Interesting, notes Grace. She didn't say "fan." Everyone says "fan." What does it 
     mean that she said "reader"? It feels as if it was a word chosen deliberately, as if 
     she wanted to praise him and elevate herself at the same time. (39)

If only she had maintained her suspicious attitude toward Beth, perhaps she could have stopped her. Grace's was not an easy position, and I feel that most of us might well have done the same thing, though I hope I would have just dissolved the marriage unless Ted was willing to make genuine efforts to at least change into a bearable, if not respectful, life partner... So many times we want to "be nice" and think the best of others, but if you are inviting someone into your personal life and allowing them to manage much of your daily life (especially finances), you must be objective and as thorough as possible in getting to know this person first. 

While it seems impossible to me that a con artist like Beth/Betsy/Liz is allowed to continue bilking people of all their money and destroying their lives, perhaps this is accurate as there are no written contracts of employment, and the victims have willingly allowed this person access to all their personal information. I keep reminding myself that I'm sure the overwhelming majority of such "personal assistants" are honest and trustworthy; that in real life such situations are rare. At least I hope so. Once she has made up her mind to hire Beth, pending reference checks: 

        What a relief not to have to mother her husband; for her husband needs not just a
     wife, but someone to hold his hand, soothe his soul, keep him calm, and there is 
     only so much Grace is able to do. (42)

I resonated so well with Grace's desire to have her relationship with her mother approach something much closer to "normal" or even bearable, if not actually pleasurable or loving. 

     "I should know by now that I can't ever expect anything. I should know by now that 
     nothing has ever changed, nothing will ever change. I can't help her. I've spent my 
     life trying to help her, but I can't." (66) 
Though her mother had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as a daughter, I also never gave up hope that a respectful, kind, and caring person would be revealed to me in my mother's soul, particularly since she herself had never been officially diagnosed with any such disorder, there was hope, right?!?. :) 

I could relate to the immense relief and "new life" feeling Grace had after her first therapy session, though unfortunately, this psychiatrist was intent on diagnosing and medicating her with multiple drugs. I had two visits with a therapist who informed me that unless I could be diagnosed and placed on medication within the first six months, I would not be able to continue as her patient. Needless to say, that was my last session with her. I hadn't gotten much out of either session anyway. In fact, she talked about herself for at least half of both sessions! After all, my intention was NOT to serve as her therapist! :) 

Have you read this book yet? You will need to do so to learn who Marissa and Jack are... :) Have you read any other of Green's books? What did you think? I would definitely recommend this one--I resonated with it much more than I thought I might. YAY!!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Literary Wives #14: Not the innocuous read you might believe it to be...

The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison
I believe we have definitely mixed it up a bit with this selection for the Literary Wives online book discussion group! 

Check out the other co-hosting bloggers' reviews:

Emily at The Bookshelf of Emily J
Naomi at Consumed by Ink
Kay at whatmeread

I am uncertain exactly what I expected when I began reading this book, but it wasn't anything as grisly and psychologically wrong as what I encountered within the last 50 pages! Such a bland title is quite the fooler, in my opinion! Sure am glad I had over two weeks to decompress after finishing it! I needed it. I am told there was a real-life murder mystery very similar to this in the Mormon community not so many years ago. I can only assume that may have provided the impetus for this book. Unfortunately, although the author's stated intention was to enlighten readers about female roles within Mormon communities, my main takeaway was the ability of perpetrators to hide behind masks of public personas they have created to falsely represent themselves as upstanding citizens to be respected and revered. Additionally, I was forced to imagine the numbers of females who may have endured similar abuse with no revelation of the abuser's identity. Scary! We should all be aware of statistics citing the lack of rape reporting, particularly if it is incestuous, among the general populace, let alone within a "closed" society as described here. Two weeks later this is STILL my immediate reaction!

For me, Linda was definitely a sympathetic character, though my own personal opinions/attitudes definitely colored my reactions to her and her life. This had nothing to do with her working as a full-time stay-at-home mom--I've been there and done that! It had everything to do with my belief that these women are trapped in a belief system, community, and political system that continually denounces them and affords them little to no power or prestige. As a "secular humanist," myself, I find this unbelievable and untenable. I personally cannot imagine being told what to do, when to do it, and in many instances how to do it by the all-powerful males in my life. I'm uncertain just how typical her husband, Kurt, might be as a Bishop within the Mormon system of life. It seemed he might be much more lenient and liberal in his relationship with Linda than most of the other husbands depicted. But perhaps I am wrong in that assumption.

I keep remembering something learned in a Sociology course years ago: The diversity among the members within any one group (intra-group) is just as great as the diversity among/between members of any different groups (inter-group) within that same society. These same crimes do occur outside the community of Mormon believers, but I sincerely wonder what type of influence such a closed and rigid culture might have in aiding and abetting these "partriarchal" criminal behaviors. (This may well just be my own prejudice showing.) I was reminded of the many ways patriarchal religious systems appear to me to be very similar in their treatment of and attitudes toward women, though again, there is great variation among the self-proclaimed believers within religious systems, else there would be no subdivisions or break-away groups within each religious sect.

Once Jared and Kelly leave the "Bishop's" house, Kurt tells Linda that Carrie has left her husband, Jared, and daughter, Kelly, with only a note stating that she will not return...
        I'm surprised she left Kelly,"... I was more than surprised, I was in knots about it. A mother 
     leaving a child, it was--unfathomable to me. What pain had she been in? What had she been 
     thinking? It was one thing to file for divorce and to ask your husband to leave the house. Or even to 
     take your daughter and find an apartment. To leave her behind, and in the middle of the night 
     without a proper goodbye...I shivered. 
        "It's hard to know what goes on in the mind of a woman," said Kurt. 
        I hated when Kurt said things like that. "It is not that hard. Women are just as sensible as men,"   
     said. "If you understand what their lives are like." (6)
In my opinion this translates to: "If you understand just how little power and control women have in this system." And this is the author's intended theme: to depict women's lives, especially within the Mormon system. 

I was later struck by the extreme irony of Kurt's talk presented at Carrie's funeral service:

     He talked about Christ's atonement covering all sins, even the sins that we think are the worst. 
     Pedophiles, murderers, and adulteresses. He read Christ's response to the Pharisees about the 
     woman caught in adultery. He didn't specifically talk about Carrie being an adulteress but he did 
     look out at the audience and ask directly who here was so clean of sin that they could cast the
     first stone. (232)
For me, this brought the realization that in some places on this planet, females can still be stoned to death...all in the name of religious law. What a travesty of humanity. :(
     Except for a niggling feeling on that first day, everything Aaron Weston had done had made me 
     believe him to be a deeply caring father and a devout, humble Mormon. His talk was one of the 
     best I had ever heard... (234)

As her grandfather, Aaron addresses Kelly directly in his talk at his daughter's/her mother's funeral:
     "...I know that Carrie is waiting to see Kelly again. It may be a hundred years, but she will wait 
     there still, and she will be as beautiful as she was the last day that she saw you."
     "There will only be forgiveness between you. She will be cleaned from all her sins and so will you 
     and you will be two shining daughters of God forever. (234)
Linda's thoughts after hearing both her husband, Kurt's talk, and Carrie's father, Aaron West's, talk at Carrie's funeral:
     If Kurt was good at speechmaking, Aaron Weston was ten times better. I was wiping at my face
     and wishing that I had brought more tissues. People sometimes said they'd had a feeling about a 
     man who would turn out to be a prophet, that the Holy Spirit had whispered that this man would
     be the leader of the Mormon Church someday. I felt like that about Aaron Weston at that moment. 
     He was the man who should raise his granddaughter. I had no doubt of that. (234)

In rereading portions of this book to compose a review, I am struck by what I feel to be an out-and-out criticism of the hypocrisy of religion. Talk about charisma! This guy could convince "the Pope to buy condoms," as I've heard people say. I am sympathetic toward those so easily manipulated by their own emotions, however, I feel that is much of the reason for the success and continued influence of organized religion. It is an emotional ploy played out on those who are responsive to it. 

I believe each religion began as mankind's attempt to understand and explain the world and their place in it, but it has all too often been used by humans to fool other so many ways. It is very sad and yet so true; many times the most unethical and evil among us create a societal "shield" of religion behind which they can hide themselves and their evil deeds. In this book, a patriarchal religion definitely aids criminals to hide unbelievable crimes. In order to retain hope for mankind overall, I try to keep reminding myself, that is NOT true of almost all believers--they use their religion for good and it provides them with a sense of security and comfort...but there are always "a few bad apples in every barrel"...and some have a true gift for convincing others.

We must remember some people are simply too scarred and beaten down by those they should be able to trust unequivocally for love, respect, and security, to ever fully recover, no matter what. It always makes me even sadder to learn of family members abusing, mistreating, or permanently harming their own kin; for so many times that causes irreparable damage from which victims can never fully recover to cope with life. Every one of us should be more aware of this as a possibility among people with whom we interact.

And now for the wifely questions! 

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

For me, the Mormon community defines a wife as totally subordinate to a man/men/her husband. As I mentioned before, Kurt appeared to be an exception among the Mormon men portrayed in the book, in that he did at least allow Linda to express herself. However, she was expected to give of her time and effort to support the people of his bishopric at his behest, with no acknowledgement of her efforts. I felt for Linda's need to talk about her own daughter; unfortunately, there was no avenue for this, since it was just considered to be "God's will" and she should accept it and get over it. It was rather obvious that Linda and Kurt's adult sons were not "sold" on the devout Mormon religion their parents practiced; some were already living elsewhere with wives who were self-sufficient professionals employed outside the home full-time, and there appeared to be much more of an equal partnership within their marriages. I believe this reflects the current US trend--movement away from organized religion to a practical application of honesty, integrity, kindness, generosity, and respect, all to be demonstrated in the most mundane actions and behaviors of daily life. Good thoughts and intentions define good behaviors and actions. Pretty simple, with no deities, no rituals.

2) In what way does this woman define "wife"--or in what way is she defined by "wife"?

Oh, all these women appeared to be totally defined by their role as wife, wife to a man, to serve that man, in whatever way he determines. There was no question of a wife acting outside that role, unless they were not living in the bishopric among other Mormons. I was fascinated with all the doctrines regarding the location of a marriage ceremony determining whether a couple would be together after death, etc. I guess all that doctrine works for some, but not for me...

I found this to be an enlightening read with regard to the Mormon religion. I have known Mormon believers through the years, but none as "devout" or hard line as the people described herein. Personally, this bishopric was a scary prospect overall. What are your thoughts?