Saturday, November 26, 2016

Love is really at the heart of life, no matter the location!

This is one of the very first books the Borders Book Club read. 
It is one of my favorite books ever...and particularly of those I've read set in Afghanistan. 
While working at Borders I often recommended it as an alternative to The Kite Runner
I particularly appreciate the fact that BUaMS presents a much more diverse 
group of characters, and thereby, I believe, 
is more approachable for many readers than TKR might be. 
One of my favorite first sentences in any book appears here:
My name is Fawad, and my mother tells me I was born under the shadow of the Taliban. (3)
Immediately followed by
Because she said no more, I imagined her stepping out of the sunshine and into the dark,
crouching in a corner to protect the stomach that was hiding me, 
while a man with a stick watched over us, ready to beat me into the world. (3)
Yikes! I guess that sounds about right, given what I've read of the Taliban... In speaking of his friends, Spandi, Jahid, and Jamilla:
...all of us were born during the time of the Taliban, but I only heard my mother talk of them as men making shadows, so I guess if she'd ever learned to write she might have been a poet. 
Instead, and as Allah willed it, she swept the floors of the rich for a handful of afs 
that she hid in her clothes and guarded through the night. (3)

In discussing his friend, Jahid's age:
We don't celebrate birthdays in Afghanistan; we only remember victories and death. (4)
Ah. Life is truly a challenge for so many people in this world. Those of us who have no direct knowledge of such challenges to survival are truly lucky and should be appreciative of our opportunities. Of Jahid, Fawad's mother admonishes him to "keep away"...from that "dirty little thief." 
How my mother actually thought I could keep away from Jahid was anyone's guess.
But this is a common problem with adults: they ask for the impossible 
and then make your life a misery when you can't obey them. 
The fact is I lived under the same roof as Jahid, along with his fat cow of a mother, 
his donkey of a father, and two more of their dirty-faced children, Wahid and Obaidullah. (5)
Ooohhh...I can only guess that Fawad is repeating that which his mother has stated to him regarding the descriptions of his relatives. Her family had lost everything once the Taliban gained rule over the country. 
I was no expert, but it was pretty clear my mother was depressed. (6)
And who wouldn't be? Going from owning your own home to being dependent upon the generosity of your sister and her husband for food and shelter for you and your son, and to have lost your other child, your only daughter. 

It is obvious that respect for others and using respectful language is not the norm for Afghans. At one point Fawad and Jahid are fighting about money and their respective mothers, and Fawad is cruel...
My country can be a tough place to live in if you're poor, but it's even tougher if you're poor 
and ugly. And now Jahid was like stone, a stone that knows he will never find a woman 
who will willingly marry him, but whose father might agree for the right price. (9)
Therefore, Jahid was saving money to purchase a wife as an adult. Though Fawad understood his goal, he still blamed Jahid for not turning over more money to his family to help meet living expenses. How horrifying to realize as a child that the money you collect is vital to your family's survival. Their is no true childhood for these young ones; adult responsibility is thrust upon them very early. And being poor and ugly? Unfortunately, that combination is a huge challenge in any culture/society. 

Fawad describes how vendors would setup tents to sell goods to tourists at a higher price than could be found in the local bazaar.
...if they walked twenty minutes into the heaving mess of Kabul's river bazaar, 
they would find all these items for half the price, but the foreigners were either 
too scared or too lazy to make the journey--and too rich to care about the extra dollars 
that would feed most of our families for a Jahid noted, 
their laziness was good for business. (10)
It is not long before Fawad's mom lands a job as a housekeeper and cook for a group of foreigners living in a house in a 'better,' more protected part of the city, behind barbed wire fencing with armed guards. 

In this house are three foreigners: Georgie, James, and May. Each of them is very different from the other and none of them is Muslim. This is a culture shock to Fawad and his mother, who have never lived with non-believers. Needless to say, Fawad is exposed to way more than he would otherwise have experienced if not living in this particular house. He spends his nights spying on them by creeping throughout the house. One night James allows him to drink beer and he gets drunk, vomiting all over himself, leaving him with a vicious hangover the next day. Consuming alcohol is an Islamic sin, so his mother makes Fawad take a job in Pir "the Madman" Hederi's shop. Per is blind and very old, though wise in his own ways as he talks to Fawad and eventually Jamilla, whom he also hires at Fawad's request. 
Despite Pir's crazy old-man ways,...there was always something a little real to his words. (195)

Fawad falls in love with Georgie at first sight and is quite annoyed at the way Khalid treats her, not calling for days and weeks, then just showing up unexpectedly and unannounced. 
His voice was deep and low, and it suited his face, which was strong and 
framed by thick black hair, a trim black beard, and heavy eyebrows. 
He looked like an Afghan film star, and I hated him for it. (44)
Ah, yes, definitely a bit of jealousy there. Fawad has a love/hate relationship with Haji Khalid Khan throughout most of the book, until he learns that he is NOT a drug runner and completely innocent of the most vile gossip circulating about him. And...that he truly does love Georgie and finally 'does right by her.' 

The Taliban cede control of Afghanistan and the new conquerors are welcomed by the citizens who share their food and wares with the soldiers. However, as Per tells the children, the Taliban were also similarly welcomed "like saviors."
Your mother was right: when they first arrived everybody more or less loved them. 
The country was being bombed to hell by warlords who worked only to fill their own pockets,   
and the people were scared and tired of being scared. 
Suddenly this group of fighters emerged from Kandahar promising order, preaching Islam, 
and hanging child rapists. Who wouldn't welcome them? (47)
The Taliban proved to be "bastards" whose leaders were even illiterate, but they learned to rule through fear, and therefore succeeded in controlling the country. 
God, Afghanistan, and the Taliban were complicated subjects when put together, 
and difficult to make sense of, especially when you were only a boy, because the bottom line 
was this: a good Muslim should never question the ways of the Almighty. 
A good Muslim would trust in God to provide, no matter what, and even if He didn't provide, 
a good Muslim would trust that the hunger, death, fighting, and disease that came to visit 
his door were all part of God's plan. And given that knowledge, the Taliban planning minister 
must have been right and his regime must also have been part of God's plan for Afghanistan. 
And that's quite an argument when you're taking over a country. (49)
And, in my humble opinion, that is one of the dangers of "organized religion": believing that you have absolutely no control or impact upon your own life...that some deity "will provide." Dangerous ground...rife for manipulation.

When a leader tells illiterate people what their 'holy book' says, how can they argue? They cannot since they can neither read nor write. 
...that's why the best weapon the Afghan people have against the Taliban or any other terrible power that may choose to put itself in Afghanistan is education. (50)
Exactly! Otherwise you are sheep willing to be led to the slaughter! As Ismerai, Khalid's uncle says,
Education is the key to Afghanistan's successful future...because it fights ignorance and intolerance and brings the blessing of opportunity. 
When a man has knowledge he has power--the power to make informed decisions; 
the power to distinguish truth from lies, 
and the power to shape his own destiny in accordance with God's will. (50)
I admit to wondering what just happened here in the US! Our country has just "elected" (well, per the electoral college system, anyway) a man who is quite ignorant and simply power-hungry...but I digress. :(

Jahid states it fairly succinctly as he and Fawad consider whether Khalid is into drugs:
Jahid shrugged. Show me a rich man in Afghanistan who isn't mixed up in drugs.
It doesn't make him a bad man, does it? This 'stoop growing poppy' shit is the West's problem,
not ours. It's all their people who are injecting the stuff and contracting AIDS off each other. We're just trying to get by. (68)
I do believe that until Afghans are provided with a decent alternative to growing poppies this agricultural crop will continue to be grown and processed. Although ongoing efforts have and are being made to this end, I'm sure there is much more progress needed. Isn't there always? And what of the 'end users'? He is correct. If 'the West' didn't purchase and use it, there would be little to no market for poppies as a cash crop. I agree with his analysis.

Fawad reflects upon his first Christmas spent with the foreigners...
As I lay in my room, I looked back on the day with all of its color and surprises--
a day when the rich sat with the poor, the Godless with the believers, 
the foreigners with Afghans, the men with women, and the children with adults. 
It was how a perfect world might be if people didn't keep strangling one another 
in rules and laws and fear. Were we really so different from one another? (83-84)
Fawad is wise beyond his years. No, we are not really so different, but we allow ourselves to be convinced that we are...and why do we keep allowing that to occur? I truly believe we have enough people to make a significant difference among humanity that believe we are very much more similar than dissimilar, but we allow political leaders to divide us. The recent US presidential campaign is, sadly, a demonstration of a significant minority even in the United States who are easily manipulated into believing they want to remain isolated as a homogenous group with little to no diversity.

Immediately following this one beautiful day, Fawad's mother becomes ill with cholera. Although this disease acts very quickly and the fatality rate is overwhelmingly high, May and Georgie are able to treat her systems and keep her hydrated so that she is able to survive and fully recover. It is at this time that Fawad learns of May's preference for women and her plans to adopt a baby if she wishes to have a family in the future. He learns it is possible in the US for same-sex couples to marry and make a life together just as any heterosexual couple. This conversation shocks Fawad who decides
I always knew the West was filled with crazy ideas, like scientists 
believing we all come from monkeys, but this was just incredible. 
I decided...I'd write to President Karzai to warn him. 
There could be such a thing as too much democracy, 
and he should be made aware of that fact. (92)
Oh, I had to laugh at this realization! I could easily understand how shocking such revelations might be to a boy of about 10 years of age who had led a very sheltered life, living only among those who believed and behaved as he was being raised to do. 😮

Fawad must remain in the house while his mother convalesces at a neighbor's house until she has regained her strength and can return. During this time, Fawad defends May's honor, realizes that one of the guards at the house loves his mother, and forms closer relationships with all three of the foreigners, particularly with Georgie. And then...tragedy really does strike, in the form of a bomb set off in the market place and shots being fired at Haji Khan. Fawad learns about the death of one friend and the near death of another friend, and the power of love. Fawad comes to the realization that
I could see that away from the politicians and their arguments, 
away from the suicide bombers and their murders, 
and away from the soldiers and their guns, people were good. 
Afghan people were good... I knew I had to try to hold on to at least that truth. (208)
Truer words were never spoken or written. 
Though not just Afghan people, ALL people the world over...are good.
We must not allow anyone to override this one truth. 
We all fight the same battles to survive and thrive.
Each of us must overcome challenges to do so.
We are definitely much more similar than dissimilar.
We are one, in the end.

I am so very glad to have revisited this wonderful book as part of 
Bex's Re-Readathon #4 this past summer!

I can hardly wait for my interview with Andrea Busfield!

I will also re-read her second book, 

And I am so anxious to read 
her newest release, 

What is one of your favorite books
set in Afghanistan?

Happy reading

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Pack mentality? Or simply humanity?

I was not as enamored with this book as others were.
And, interestingly, I thought I might not be...
Overall, it was simply a bit too brutal for me.
Though as a friend of mine pointed out--
in her opinion it was "human nature." 
Perhaps I'm just too optimistic about "human nature"...
It has garnered the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize and 
Obviously, others liked it much better than I did...
Perhaps I just didn't appreciate what I perceived as a demonstration of the 'basest' of humanity's characteristics and behaviors. 
I much prefer consideration of humanity  
beyond these basest of characteristics/behaviors. 
This distinction applies to the recent U.S. presidential election, too. I much prefer those who think beyond immediate power and control 
to consider guiding philosophies and the long-term consequences and effects 
such policies might have upon others.

I believe I am one of the few people who was never truly enthralled by a system of "gods," be they Greek or Roman or...?? Basing this book upon a bet between two of these gods was a bit off-putting...I despise believing that as humans we have no input or control over our world. I much prefer to believe we are all held accountable for our behaviors and actions as they all contribute to and compose the "Universal flow" of energy, in either a negative or positive way. 
The gods are compelled by rhythm--as is the universe, as are all the creatures in it. (96)
Pretty simple, but it works for me! :) 

So Hermes and Apollo were sitting in a bar drinking: wasn't the alcohol that intoxicated them. It was the worship their presence elicited. (13)
Ah, yes, the worship can be intoxicating to those who are most egocentric among us. (Admittedly, this makes me think of the fact that DT wishes to continue holding "rallies" if he becomes POTUS. Yes, the adulation can become addictive, can it not? Particularly to those who are the most self-absorbed among us.) 
Human intelligence is not a gift. It's an occasionally useful plague. (15)
I leave Apollo's above comment to your interpretation... This bet was based upon even one of these 15 dogs being "happy" at the time of its death...

These dogs...already possessed a common language. It was language stripped to its essence, a language in which what mattered was social standing and physical need. (17)
However, upon being imbued with 'human intelligence' these dogs' world changed drastically...or did it in the end? So many items in their world which had not had any specific meaning, all of a sudden, meant so much. They were able to discern color and describe feelings, and interact on a much more complex level, but what did this 'intelligence' gain for them? One of these first realizations described a phenomenon I have often wondered about: Taking babies from a mother dog. 
[Rosie] then wondered what had happened to the last litter she'd whelped. 
It suddenly seemed grossly unfair that one should go through the trouble 
of having pups only to lose track of them. (15)
This reminded me of a Gary Larson cartoon from many years ago: 
Do we humans ever consider such actions from the animal mother's viewpoint? I think not...
After all, we humans are so much "smarter" than "dumb animals," right?!? :(
Well...we most certainly get the prize for the most arrogant! 

This book demonstrated that most all humans were unable to notice and understand, or chose to ignore, the behaviors of their "pets" once said pet could relate to the humans at their own intelligence level, since virtually all of them were unable to speak English to make themselves easily understood. This group of 12 learned to travel in groups of only 2 or 3 to keep humans from noticing them much. 
It wasn't that humans were inevitably dangerous, but they were unpredictable. (26)
Sounds a bit familiar, doesn't it? ;) 

I admit I loved Prince, the poet, 
...the only one who entirely embraced the change in consciousness. 
It was as if he'd discovered a new way of seeing, 
an angle that made all that he had known strange and wonderful. (27)
I believe it is those among us who can keep this sense of 'discovery' alive in themselves who become our most creative artists, whatever the medium. 

Two of the female dogs were preparing to sleep after a fight had erupted between two of the male dogs in the pack:
--The males fight for any reason.
--It has nothing to do with us... (30)
Oh, really? The older I get the more I believe any negativity makes an impact...and not a good one! As one faction plans to "lose" some of the group, they discuss how their own smaller group will function:
There will be two [rules]... No language but proper dog language, and no ways but dog ways.
We will live like we were meant to...
We will have no masters. Dogs without masters are the only true dogs. (33)
There is a part of me that wonders if our 'domesticated' animals might not feel as if they would be better off 'in the wild.' It was Lawrence Anthony (author of The Elephant Whisperer) who said, "The only good cage is an empty cage." While I have loved all the "pets" I've ever had, and many were never "in the house," I just wonder how they feel at times, or perhaps with each generation they are less and less "wild"? Yes, this is how my thought processes...well...process! I trust our feline companions are "happy" living with us, as well as those who live outside the house. But I can only assume this is true. 

There are those who lead and also murder in order to cull the 'pack' down to those who only wish to live life in the "old way." This seemed all too surreal to me, as a reflection of humanity's basest of behaviors, only allow those who agree with you and also reject the ability to grow beyond their current state of consciousness to live--kill the others. I always think of Hitler as a penultimate example, yet this continues in so many places in today's world, and we have certainly heard similar exclusionary rhetoric during the most recent U.S. presidential campaign. I cannot help but be scared by people who espouse such narrow-mindedness, prejudice, and ultimately, egocentricity. It does require an openness to learn and grow in order to not only accept but appreciate the diversity in our world, particularly among the members our own species. It was these murderous scenes that introduced a level of violence that makes me uncomfortable--just too grisly for me! 

It was Majnoun's relationship with Nira that proved the most fascinating to me. It is through their interactions that investigation of the underlying philosophies and foundations of 'government,' 'religion,' and 'love' are stated and discussed. 
The more Nira spoke of these things, the more difficult it was for Majnoun to believe that any group of masters--especially human ones--could act in concert, whatever the purpose or end. 
So that both 'government' and 'religion' began to seem like very bad ideas. (49)
Oh boy...again I was reminded of this presidential election cycle... The concept of 'love' was totally beyond Majnoun, particularly when Nira mentioned the feeling he had toward his mother. Again, as noted above, the familial relationship for 'domesticated' animals is virtually meaningless as family members are typically separated from each other very soon after birth. 

Majnoun does reconnect with Benjy, one member of the original group that attacked him. Benjy related another viscious attack upon one of their own, though the other dog had died, as Majnoun had not, since he was rescued by Nira and Miguel and nursed back to health from the brink of death. Benjy is quite the self-serving liar, and although he 
...was as solemn as could be, as if relating an injustice...The truth was, though, 
that he had felt admiration for the conspirators. Some part of him admired the four dogs still. 
They had been swift and clear, and one had to admit that clarity, however terrifying it might be, 
was at least admirable. It was perhaps even beautiful. He could only aspire to it. 
It was an ideal that, realistically speaking, a dog of his size and stature could never attain,
clarity being an expression of power. (61)
This reminded me of the fact that power has historically been granted to the stronger and more aggressive amongst us. And then to note that "clarity" can also be used to gain and maintain power and control. Again, I was reminded of Hitler and his 'power of clarity,' which honestly leads me directly to DT and his seemingly 'powerful rhetoric' during this last US presidential election. Though Hitler did at least have valid economic plans and did revive Germany's economy which at it's lowest point suffered from an inflation rate of 1023!! Yes, you read that correctly! Ten to the 23rd zeroeth power!! Unbelievable. Those people had nothing and no hope of anything until a leader came along who took control...they just had no idea how much control and manipulation he would exert. And this is my fear of DT who espouses meaningless fear-mongering rhetoric in hopes of...what? It is his unpredictability that scares me most. As cited above. Blend with that his obvious lack of respect for anyone but himself and his 'hate speech' and I cannot help but be scared...and I'm "white"! Benjy believes that the leader, Atticus's, unpredictability is "a danger to them all."
It remained to be seen, however, what good would come from Atticus's reign. (62)
And that is exactly how I feel about DT. I cannot begin to imagine any "good" to be had from his "reign" over the US, particularly given how autocratic and despotic his rhetoric has been...

Zeus, the father to both Hermes and Apollo is appalled when he discovers this bet between his sons and in their discussion, Hermes laughs as Apollo questions their father:
You're not suggesting humans are brutes, are you?
The only thing certain about humans is their brutishness...You two are worse than humans. (92)
Although my initial reaction is to take offense, these past few weeks have shown that perhaps Zeus is correct... :( 

A sense of conscience, guilt, and shame does change the old hierarchy of the pack, or at least causes "doubt" amongst at least some of its members. Even Atticus, arguably the most brutal and dictatorial, and leader, of the pack suffers from these emotions somewhat. Even following the old social structures still can get out of control on occasion with no forethought of the future long-term consequences. 

The most deceitful and scheming of all the dogs, Benjy, eventually comes to his own gruesome and long drawn out death.
Benjy's greatest wish was for a place where the echelon 
was clear to all, where the powerful cared for the weak 
and the weak gave their respect without being coerced.
He longed for balance, order, right and pleasure. 
It was this place that Benjy glimpsed as he died, and the glimpse brought him solace. 
Were it meaningful to speak of death as a state of being, 
one could say that Benjy died into hope itself. (117)
This led to quite a discussion between Hermes and Apollo regarding Benjy's "happiness" at the time of his death. As Apollo said, "Hope has nothing to do with happiness..."
Hope was a dimension of the mortal, nothing more. (118)

Although, as Hermes considered further,
The problem was death itself. No immortal could think of death without yearning for it. 
That yearning was, no doubt, what had led Hermes to imagine a happy death without being sufficiently clear as to the nature of the happiness.
-- I think, he said to his brother, that we should broaden the definition of happiness. 
It would be generous of you to include hope or ...
Apollo cut him off.
-- Are we suddenly human that we need to argue about words?
Hiding his thoughts, Hermes said 
-- No
but for the first time in all this business he experienced 
something surprisingly like resentment. (118)
Aha! So the gods are forced to begin thinking a bit more philosophically as well... surprised Majnoun to discover that works of art--Tokyo Story, Mansfield Park,
Mahler's Fourth Symphony, and so on--were not understandable in the way people were. 
These works were, it seemed, created to evade understanding while inviting it. (131)
I can't imagine a better definition of "art." And it was the poetic dog, Prince, who did manage to die happily...imagining himself reunited with Kim, his original master...the boy of his youth.
Having had several different dogs in my "family" as a child, 
I found this ending to be especially poignant...
hoping that I had made my own four-legged companions as happy as Kim had made Prince.

While this was not one of my favorite reads, it was thought-provoking.
And yet, one of my close friends who does not enjoy symbolism, etc., 
liked reading this book more than I did...
And that is what I love about reading--so many interpretations unique to each individual!

Have you read any thought-provoking books lately?

Happy Reading

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Welcome back! To me!! :)

Firstly, allow me to apologize for being away for so very very long! :(
My last blog post was October 2nd!! 
It has been a whole month! Plus...
The good news is...I AM BACK!! :)
And the even BETTER NEWS is 
that I have been released from "work hell" 
and have a different job, as of October 24th. 
What. A. Relief! Really! A. Huge. RELIEF!!
And, what's really interesting is that 
this job is actually my "old" job!! 
Hah! This has been a very interesting journey! 
I am back working with the best group of people 
I have ever had the pleasure 
of working with in this lifetime! 
And...I only work 40 hours per week! Whoo! Whoo!
No more overwhelming workload 
and responsibility requiring me 
to work 60-hour weeks!

Courage does not always roar. Sometimes, it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying,                ‘I will try again tomorrow.’

Maryanne Radanbacher – Author

The above quote described how I would feel at the end of each workday 
in my previous position...
determined to force myself to return again...for another day...of work hell. :)

I am slowly but surely returning to a 'normal' lifestyle with personal time to fill! 

I get to have dates again! 
Not only with my husband, but also with friends!

I get to do what I love to do all through the workday: help people!

I am the front desk person for the department...
and that is what I love to do!

I really do think that any deep crisis 
is an opportunity to make 
your life extraordinary in some way.
Martha Beck - Author

That job was a 'crisis' for me!

I have never before been so appreciative 
of my job and coworkers as I am now!
And that is how my life is now extraordinary!
My appreciation is so much more intense 
than it was before!

Speaking of crisis...
I had decided I wouldn't mention yesterday's election, can we not be petrified of the next four years.
I certainly am...and that is why I intend to laugh as much as possible
and remain just as positive as possible.
Thank goodness we don't have TV in our house. 
At least I don't have to be reminded... 

Though I admit I do agree with DT on ONE thing...

Actually, why the hell do we still have an electoral college?
I fail to see it's value. 
The POTUS should be selected in the same way as any other elected official--
whoever gets the most votes. 
And I would feel the same if HC and DT's roles were reversed.
We need to change that!

Meantime, I want a "do over"
of Tuesday, November 8th!

I hope to post at least two reviews yet this week!

Anxious to get back in the swing of blogging and reading!

Any changes in your life lately?

Happy reading

Monday, October 3, 2016

Literary Wives #23!!

American Housewife by Helen Ellis
Here is the NPR review of Helen Ellis' second book in 15 years.
The NPR reviewer obviously liked this one much better than I did.
Overall, this collection was "okay" for me, 
but some of the more gruesome stories were definitely NOT "my cup of tea," as they say. 
I admit that I was fascinated by this cover image. 
What a hoot! Especially the can-sized rollers. 

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

Check us out on Facebook!

Access all our previous reviews on my Literary Wives page!

I really enjoyed the first story, "What I Do All Day." 
There were some gems in here. For example, the first sentence:
Inspired by Beyoncé, I stallion-walk to the toaster. (3)
That's funny. 
(Though not as funny to me as it evidently is to many others! :))
And this woman is obviously beyond OCD:
Fearing cold and flu season, 
I fist-bump the credit card signature pad. 
Back home, I get a sickening feeling and am relieved 
to find out it is just my husband's coat 
hung the wrong way in a closet. (3)
Oh, yeah...thank goodness! Honestly, I had to roll my eyes at this! My thought? Oh, good, it's actually hung up and in a closet! Great! That's progress! This first story describes her preparation for a party she 'and her husband' are throwing that night. I did laugh at her observations:
I see everyone out and face the cold hard fact that no one will ever load my dishwasher right...
I fix myself a hot chocolate because it is a gateway drug to reading.
I think I couldn't love my husband more, and then he vacuums all the glitter. (5)
This story was indicative of many of these stories, in that it described the mundane activities and yet also some of the bright moments. I had to nod and say "Awww..." about her husband vacuuming! :)

The second story, "The Wainscoting War," was rather entertaining until it got a bit grisly for me. I can indeed see how neighbors could disagree over a common area's decor, and although I can easily imagine how neighbors might bicker back and forth without ever meeting face to face or communicating directly as adults should do, and this could escalate, it did become ludicrous...and then just downright grisly. I think I was particularly turned off because the grisly part involved pet kitties...and you should know by now how I feel about kitties! I became disillusioned at that point, and turned off.

"Dumpster Diving with the Stars" is the third story and probably one of my favorites. A down-and-out author takes a friend's suggestion and participates in a 'reality show' of the same name. I did chuckle several times as I read this. Firstly, I despise 'reality shows' and when I was still watching TV the first three or four had just started running and I watched each of them once. That was enough for me. Besides, they're basically all scripted anyway, so much as WWF, it is NOT spontaneous anyway, and is nothing but DRAMA! Personally, I work to eliminate as much drama as I can from my daily life. The last thing I want is more of it, especially the back-biting two-faced insincere behaviors depicted and dramatized to the max as portrayed on these shows. I did, however, find the analysis of the interviewer's intentions and the Scientologist couple's responses and behaviors a bit fascinating. This writer realizes that as a "reality game show fan,...I'm manipulated to root for certain contestants." And as she has a major lead going into the final challenge, she realizes "[t]he producers aren't happy about it." After all, she's just a writer... I did get a kick out of her list of Cardinal Reality Rules--#7 of which is "Forge unlikely friendships." 

"Southern Lady Code" had some humorous entries, and probably truisms, as Ellis is from Alabama! 
"You are so bad!" is Southern Lady code for: 
That is the tackiest thing I've ever heard and I am delighted that you shared it with me.
"She's a character" means drunk.
"She's outdoorsy" means lesbian. (74)

"Hello! Welcome to Book Club" describes a book club that is nothing like I have ever experienced--thankfully! You must select a 'book club name' and Jane, the club's "grande dame" is "ninety years young." She pays for everything for everyone in the book club. Things like an education at Smith, or fertility treatments, or... It seems there are NO secrets among these women! Rather creepy overall. I much prefer my own book club, thank you very much! 

The first sentence of "The Fitter": "The fitter is mine." And continues...
Myrtle Babcock can get her flabby pancake tits out of his face.
He's sizing her up in her ill-fitting turtleneck that's off-white and thin 
because it's been through the wash too many times.
Her "nude" athletic bra shows through like she's smuggling ferrets. (95)
This specific passage made me laugh because...I once saw a woman who worked for the same institution where I worked who was dressed in just such a 'white' turtleneck but who didn't even deign to wear a bra! She was older and her boobs sagged worse than mine do (at age 60 and after nursing three children) and she acted as if she had no idea how she looked. It was ridiculous. I mentally would shake my head and wonder what she thought when she looked in a mirror. How could she not see what the rest of the world saw? (But then I am the same woman who went to work one day with my shirt on wrong side I saw her a total of three times during the years I worked there and each time she wore the same turtleneck and no bra. I was amazed that evidently no one felt uncomfortable in her presence at work. I sure would have. Not that I think it is a must to wear a bra, that is, in my opinion, your decision to make, but to wear a rather sheer top where your nipples are sticking out, seemingly at least an inch, and NOTHING is left to the imagination, at work, in an office, that is unacceptable. Perhaps that is just my own quirky opinion. 
A good bra is fine, but a great bra is life changing.
It gives you the confidence of a homecoming queen.
It's a tiara for your ta-tas. (97)
So it is for these reasons that The Fitter is "pilgrimage-worthy" and women travel hundreds of miles for his services. (Confession: I have NEVER been truly 'fitted' for a bra by anyone, so I have no idea. And I have NEVER called breasts "ta-tas" or any other nickname...they're breasts, just as a penis is a penis. Honestly, I just don't get our aversion to the anatomically-correct names. It's much simpler, in my opinion.) 

We learn that this woman just happens to be The Fitter's SECOND wife, although she is protective as hell and I initially believed she was his first/only wife! (No wonder she's particularly protective, eh?) Though by the story's end we learn she is gravely ill and is trying to hide it from The Fitter/her husband. Perhaps she believed he would "dump" her if he discovered she couldn't work with him and sell the bras? I don't know, but she is doing her best to hang her life and her husband. She is upset when she notices that Myrtle has removed ALL her clothing under the kimono, not just her turtleneck and bra. I did have to laugh when she noticed that Myrtle has also "painted her toes." (I'm sure she means 'toenails,' not actual "toes.")
A French pedicure is an investment. 
A French pedicure is what some women get to go on their honeymoons. 
When The Fitter and I went on our honeymoon, I had my toenails painted red. 
Red is what good wives wear. French pedicures make your toes look like fingers. 
You look grabby. French pedicures are for man thieves. (101)
I did laugh at this line of reasoning. I've never thought of red nail polish as being what "good wives wear," since a friend of mine, as well as her husband, calls it "fuck-me red" when she's wearing red polish! :) The wife admits
...I know I'm not fine. The sicker I get, the more business booms. (107)
It seems The Fitter is quite a catch for any woman in this area--he's got money! And each one is already hoping to be wife #3. Geez. Heartless. Cruel. Greedy.

In "How to Be a Grown-Ass Lady" Ellis lists 8 steps:
Step 1: Take your husband's money.
Step 2: Lose yourself in marriage. 
Make love to your husband sometimes two times a week.
Remember what a good kisser he is. 
Touch places and perform acts that he wouldn't want you to write that you touched and performed.
Enjoy the embarrassment. Learn that life's more fun when you're loose. (119)
Step 3: Make your own mantra.
Think up a new and improved list of writing commandments.
Step 4: Support the literary community.
Step 5: Become a gay man's arm candy.
Step 6: Buy art.
Step 7: Become a muse.
Step 8: Develop a signature look.
It is worth noting that each section after the first one ends with "Make love to your husband when he says..." However, at the very end of Step 8: 
Ask your husband, "Will you still love me if I quit writing for good?"
Make love to him, no matter what he says. (129)
This is about a writer who sold one novel and it has been six years and she is working 5o hours per week as a secretary, then finally quits when her husband says he'll support them so she can write full time...etc. 

"Dead Doormen" was my least favorite story. I was reminded of How To Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman. Her mother-in-law was the one who decided she was acceptable as a wife. This occurred as a result of their first meeting at his parent's home. His mother spilled some red wine on her cream-colored carpet, and she immediately went down onto her knees and used "a bottle of cleanser [she] kept in her purse" and her napkin to clean it. 
She said to my husband, "This one's quick. Prepared. Appreciative. Thorough. 
She'll get rid of a mess before you can make it." (134)
I'm feeling a bit nauseous after reading this. So to be a good wife, you must simply clean up after him, BEFORE he makes a mess? Yikes! They inherit his parent's apartment. The kitchen is the only room in this four-bedroom apartment that this woman calls "her own." She replaces broken appliances "with what I can afford off the Internet with [her] debit card allowance," admitting she "saved eight years for a commercial chest freezer." This woman is a good wife who honors and obeys, though 
My husband is cheap. He shouts. He doesn't like me to go out. (139)
Oh, boy. What a life....not! But it seems she does more than just 'honor and obey." She actually 'takes care' of the doormen. Boy, does she...and probably not at all in the way you are me, it's nothing sexual. Then they 'return' to her. As ghosts, I guess. I did not enjoy this one at all. My reaction in one word? Sick. 

"Pageant Protection" was another sick one, though I personally do not in any way enjoy or condone dressing little girls up to look like adults and parading them in public to earn trophies and titles. But I also could never condone someone kidnapping a girl from her parents! Even if the child herself had requested it? 

"Take it From Cats" was very short. The ending was my favorite part:
If you're not interested, don't look interested. You don't have to chase very bird that you see. (160)
So very true...

"My Novel is Brought to You By the Good People at Tampax" deals with a writer selling her soul to have her novel published. :) Tampax is willing to publish her novel...with just a few unwritten requirements: she must market the novel and make sure it sells a certain amount...or... Let's just say that her husband has disappeared and she must now "earn" him back... There were some parts of this which rang true. I do know that one publisher actually sequestered an author in a hotel and the editor would visit him each evening, taking what the author had written that day and returning the edited pages from the previous day's output. This continued until the book was finished. I know an author whose book was retitled by the publisher because it sounded much like another best-selling book's title. Another author told me that she had written a much more far-reaching and "happy ending" to her novel, but the publisher removed it, stating it was too happy. So I do know that publishers can get a bit, uhm, overbearing... But, conversely, one of the very best books I've read isn't selling much at all because the author self-published and is struggling to market his book. So I'm sure these are all issues and probabilities to be considered.

As the NPR reviewer noted in this review mentioned above, several stories in this book dealt with writers experiencing difficulty books published...and this is only the second book Ellis has published in 15 years. Is there a bit of autobiographical material included here? I certainly hope not in the "Dead Doormen" or "The Wainscoting War"! But perhaps there is in some of the others, especially the last one. 

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

One story describes a wife as "committed," though that wife killed people, in the belief that she was helping her husband. But I doubt he would even care, since he was obviously not in the least bit interested in truly sharing his life with her, he really just wanted someone to clean the house, cook, and wait on him hand and foot. Unlike Marta in How to Be a Good Wife, however, I am relatively certain this wife in "Dead Doormen" was undoubtedly suffering from psychoses! Though both of these men, Hector in HtBaGW and this man, seem to simply desire someone to be "the perfect wife," staying home and keeping the house spotlessly clean and cooking and serving her husband. Though there are other husbands who are depicted more as partners in other stories. 

In many of these stories a wife is performing the most mundane of everyday activities: grocery shopping, dusting, cooking, organizing the household, etc. And as a result of all this seemingly inane work, there are some enjoyable times, when husband and wife seem to work together to some degree. When the husband vacuums the glitter after a party, or offers to support them both so the wife can quit her secretarial job to become a full-time writer. 

I particularly appreciated the Scientologist actors who were married and participating in a reality game show. It was rather obvious that they were doing so to prove false the rumors circulating regarding his gender/sexuality as being not entirely hetero... I felt it forced her to consider to what lengths she might go to help her own husband, whether in a similar situation or even something quite different. And to consider the fact that her husband was supporting her decision to participate in this seemingly inane endeavor, all in the name of 'research.' This exemplified the effects of media upon individuals who are "famous" and in the limelight. Once rumors take hold it can ruin people, regardless of the veracity of such 'gossip.' And, really, where is the line drawn for media interference? It seems there are no lines any more. I remember an NPR segment about this very subject. Supposedly, the first time someone's personal life was made public and ruined a famous person was Gary Hart's presidential nomination bid in the 1980's. One name: Donna Rice. This was the first time such personal information was used to destroy a man's career. At least in politics. Especially presidential politics. But there have certainly been many more since then. I admired the Scientologist's wife for helping her husband in this way, or at least trying. 

In the last story about Tampax publishing a book, I did appreciate the fact that this woman was determined to earn her husband back, no matter what it required! That is dedication and commitment! 

To be a full-time stay-at-home wife when there are no children to care for might be a challenge for some, especially if there isn't much money. But even if there is enough money, some women just need to work outside the home to be happy and healthier. Neither one is wrong or right, this is a choice each woman/couple must make. However, someone must do all those mundane routine activities/tasks, so either a couple will share duties or one of them will be burdened with virtually all of them, or they will hire help. I was a stay-at-home mother for 13 years and loved it, but many friends would ask me how I could do it. They were unable to even imagine being at home all day long with their children. Some had tried and were just too unhappy. What works for one doesn't work for the other. It seems most of these women in American Housewife were at home but without children...and I could see how that might be a strain for both the wife and partner. In my opinion, couples must be willing to figure out what works best for them both. 

Ellis rarely names her protagonist or her partner in these stories. 
I feel this lends even more of a disconnected feeling to the characters and their stories. 
It is, I think, more difficult for a reader to connect to unnamed characters overall. 
Would you agree? 

I can't say I got much from reading this one. 
It was just "okay" and I would not recommend rushing to it,
though I know others have loved it. 
It just didn't resonate much for me. 

Join us on 
Monday, December 5th 
for our impressions of 
Mrs. Hemingway 
by Naomi Wood
 This will be especially 
interesting since 
Literary Wives
read and reviewed 
The Paris Wife 
by Paula McClain
over two years ago! 

Happy reading