Tag Archives: positive thinking

#AnneofGreenGables #20BooksofSummer #readwomen

Standard
#AnneofGreenGables #20BooksofSummer #readwomen

When I reviewed Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca, I was under the assumption that most of my readers had read it and thus included spoilers. Turns out, I was wrong! Anne of Green Gables (1908) by L.M. Montgomery is the beloved classic that has sold over 50 million copies world wide. Despite it’s success, I’ve decided to not include any spoilers — I’ve learned from my mistake! I want to add that I’ve seen the made-for-TV miniseries of this book many times; therefore, I knew the plot.

Green Gables is a farmstead located in Avonlea on Prince Edward Island in Canada. Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are a brother and sister (a fact not blatantly stated until the very end) who never married or had children of their own, and thus they live together. They’re getting old, though — Matthew is 60 and has a bad heart — so they tell a friend who tells a relative who is going to an orphanage to pass along the message that the Cuthbert’s want to adopt a boy of about 11 to help on their farm. Not exactly a realistic way to initiate an adoption!

Terribly shy Matthew sets off in his buggy to pick up the orphan boy at the train station only to find a girl — a redheaded, skinny, freckled, highly-talkative girl! Will Marilla consent to keep her, when they don’t have any use for some girl? Based on the title of the book, you can assume yes, they do, but the delight of the novel is getting to know Anne and her strong personality, and seeing how people react to her.

Much like in the first chapter of Rebecca, there are numerous descriptions of foliage. Should a person not like Rebecca, it’s thanks to all those plants! The novel smooths out, though, and focuses mostly on rhododendrons and azaleas, which were easy enough to Google. But Anne of Green Gables has all the plant life — flowers, trees, and ferns alike — and it gets overwhelming if you’re like me and can name/recognize almost no plants. Thanks to the TV miniseries, I could picture Avonlea, though plant-lovers would rejoice in the words alone.

Many reviewers talk about Anne’s imagination (it’s huge) and her temper (it’s bad). I want to look a bit deeper at this book to give you food for thought. For instance, how we render children culpable unfairly. Notice that when Anne does something foolish, she is humiliated and must repent. Yet, many of the foolish things she does are the result of an adult’s misdoing. Example: Anne bakes a cake for the new minister and his wife, and she wants to do her very best! Despite a little cold, she bakes the cake with all the love she can muster. But it’s a disaster, and the cake tastes awful. Marilla scolds Anne to pieces, but it’s Marilla who filled an old vanilla jar with anodyne liniment (which, according to the National Museum of American History is not used for cake baking). Anne couldn’t smell the difference due to her cold, and label said vanilla! Other such blunders are Marilla’s fault, but Anne is repeatedly described as impractical, flighty, and sometimes bad. In the end, readers laugh at Anne’s mistakes, but the book also got me thinking about the way we treat children.

bad cake

Most everyone befriends Anne and finds her unique and delightful. While we’re told that she has very little formal schooling due to her orphan days, she’s very smart, creative, and uses a large vocabulary. Although I was totally enjoying Anne, I was also wondering if this book hurts the reality of orphans. Is everyone expecting the children they adopt to be the next Anne? I’m sure many children moved from home to home have deep emotional issues, mainly lack of trust and education (moving from home to home prevents regular schooling). It’s a romanticized novel for sure — why is Anne so smart without school or a stable home? — though when you are in the throes of Green Gables, it’s hard to care about reality.

In fact, you really need to let go of reality. Anne is friends with adults and children alike, and she has a “bosom friend,” the best friend ever, with whom she never ever fights or becomes jealous of.

bosom friends.gif

This disastrous 2016 combined with Anne of Green Gables made me on-again/off-again bitter. If only I moved to Canada, I thought, I could be happy and live a simple life. But that’s just silliness on my part. Avonlea (and Prince Edward Island) is so tiny that there is no diversity in Anne’s world. There are no people of color, LGBT characters, or families from anywhere beyond Avonlea (there are disparaging remarks about Arabs, French, people from U.S., Italians, even those from Nova Scotia). If people in Avonlea are fighting, it’s over small things, like whether or not they should say whatever comes to their minds, or be more tactful.

It doesn’t seem like I’ve said much nice about Anne of Green Gables. I think the magic of this book is that it’s escapism at its best, and it’s funny and endearing. I raced through the pages, sometimes letting my eyes go faster than my brain, requiring me to go back and re-read sentences. I was hungry to go faster because the book is so good.

Take for instance the characters. Two main characters are so stern that Anne’s creativity is sure to rile them up. There’s Mrs. Rachel Lynde:

“…for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed….”

rachel.gif

And then there’s Marilla:

“Here sat Marilla Cuthbert, when she sat at all, always slightly distrustful of sunshine, which seemed to her too dancing and irresponsible a thing for a world which was meant to be taken seriously.”

marilla

Compare these two stiff women to Anne:

“You’re not eating anything,” said Marilla sharply, eying her as if it were a serious shortcoming.

Anne sighed.

“I can’t. I’m in the depths of despair. Can you eat when you are in the depths of despair?”

“I’ve never been in the depths of despair, so I can’t say,” responded Marilla.

“Weren’t you? Well, did you ever try to imagine you were in the depths of despair?”

“No, I didn’t.”

depths of despair.gif

The shenanigans that ensue from the intermingling of these three personalities is worth the read alone! Anne of Green Gables is also very funny. When Anne falls off of a roof after being dared to walk it’s peak, bosom buddy Diana runs up:

“Anne, are you killed?” shrieked Diana, throwing herself on her knees beside her friend. “Oh, Anne, dear Anne, speak just one word to me and tell me if you’re killed.”

As if the dead can tell you they’re dead! Ha!

As Anne grows and matures and does her best in school and at home, she is recognized for her efforts. Mrs. Rachel Lynde says, “You’re a credit to your friends, Anne, that’s what, and we’re all proud of you.” And isn’t that a great feeling? I can’t remember a time in my life when doing good meant I reflected well on my friends. Competition to be the best is a selfish, angry beast, one we’ve cultivated to the extreme. For me, in high school, it was getting 1st chair violin, regardless of how well the orchestra did. In grad school, it was who wrote the best stories and published the most, despite writing not being a competitive activity. Even while blogging, I’m aware that we’re all working to have the most likes and comments and shares. I want to be a credit to my friends and community. And that’s the beauty of Anne of Green Gables. It’s an unrealistic world, but you want to emulate it to be a better person.

My copy is part of an eight-book box set released from Bantam Books in 1998. There is a map of Prince Edward Island and a brief biography of L.M. Montgomery in the back.

20booksfinal

#20BooksofSummer

This book was read as part of Cathy 746‘s challenge to read 20 books between June 1st and September 5th. Here’s the roster:

  1. Harley and Me by Bernadette Murphy
  2. On Air by Robin Stratton
  3. Single Stroke Seven by Lavinia Ludlow
  4. Girls of Usually by Lori Horvitz
  5. Retelling by Tsipi Keller
  6. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  7. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  8. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
  9. Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America by Jonathan Kozol
  10. Terror in Taffeta by Marla Cooper
  11. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  12. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  13. Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  14. Anne of Windy Poplars by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  15. Anne’s House of Dreams by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  16. Anne of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  17. Rainbow Valley by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  18. Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  19. Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher by Monica Nolan
  20. Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore

Jackpot

Standard
Jackpot

Jackpot by Tsipi Keller

published by Spuyten Duyvil press, 2004

Tsipi Keller wrote an intense trio of books that all “psychological portraits” of women. In her “Meet the Writer” feature, Keller referred to the books as a trilogy; however, the novels are not related. I’ve read two, and they have the same creepy, deeply psychological feel to them. I read Elsa first, which was published in 2014, after Keller sent it to me for review. I was disturbed by it, but intrigued to read more from this author, so she sent me the other two books. Jackpot came in 2004, and Retelling came in 2006. I’ll read Retelling soon; the synopsis is chilling.

In Jackpot, Tsipi Keller is a master of making the reader concerned about the well-being of the main character. Maggie is a 26-year-old woman living in New York City who has always been a middle-class, hand-me-downs kind of person. She meets 25-year-old Robin at a job she got with a temp agency, and the narrator notes Maggie is the one who really pushed for them to remain friends after their short-lived jobs are finished. Maggie feels that over time the two became close friends, but any reader will find this hard to believe on the first page. Robin loves to refer to Maggie as “sweetie” in a way that sounds demeaning. She criticizes Maggie, saying she is “naive and not assertive enough,” “insecure,” “negative,” “too cheerful,” “such a baby,” “so shrewd,” and has a “common variety of social phobia or something worse.” Notice how many of these contradict.

There is so much doubt and hesitancy in Maggie, and she has a number of reasons to feel that way. The story starts with Maggie sitting in Robin’s living room. They are supposed to go out to dinner, but Robin instead brings up going on a trip to Paradise Island in the Bahamas. A description of Robin is very important to know:

Good breeding and class; it is clear that Robin never lacked for anything. Robin. who is secretive about her exact money situation, but lets it be known she comes from wealth, every so often dropping a hint or two about her glamorous parents in L.A. She is lavish when it comes to her own needs, but calculating and quite the tightwad when it comes to others.

Why doesn’t Robin go with her friend Lucy, like she did last time, Maggie wants to know. Robin simply says she wants to go with Maggie. This is five pages in, and already I’m so worried about Maggie. In response to Robin saying she wants to vacation with Maggie, not Lucy, Maggie thinks:

So, it is all in her head. She must accept the possibility that Robin has no ulterior motives, that Robin is just being Robin, and that her own convoluted thoughts and distrust are a direct result of her middle-class circumstances, circumstances she’d do well to forget and put behind her. She should feel privileged, and frequently she does, that Robin has accepted her as a friend. At times she even wonders why Robin sticks with her.

If Maggie is worried, surely the reader should be too (*warning bells*). And since when are we “lucky” when certain people like us? A character so self-doubting is sure to be abused in some way. Robin sits there oinking on a bag of candy without offering Maggie any. When Maggie decides yes, she’ll go to Paradise Island, Robin practically throws her out of the apartment, exclaiming, “I don’t know what’s the matter with me, but I couldn’t go out [to dinner] if you paid me. You sure you don’t mind? I feel a little guilty.” Maggie says she doesn’t mind, but she cries all the way home. More warning bells.

Robin is immediately juxtaposed with Susan, Maggie’s co-worker. Susan plays a tiny role in the book, mostly to show readers what a good friend actually looks like and expose thoroughly what a horrible human Robin is, in case you doubt it. The author taking this extra step set off more bells, as if she did not want readers to forget nice people aren’t like Robin. But when Maggie is with Susan, two important things happen: she drinks way too much and gets sloppy drunk, and she admits that she was married from ages 20-23 to a man who had sexual issues. Maggie’s ex-husband claimed he didn’t like the way her vagina smelled and thus only wanted her to perform oral sex. Or, Maggie admits, he “insisted she wear a veil or a scarf over her face during sex. He asked her to pretend she was a prostitute or a stranger.” More warning bells! There is a deep problem with sex and shame waiting to bubble up in the novel…you can just tell.

There isn’t a change in Maggie’s personality until she and Robin get on the plane for the Bahamas. Robin is extra grumpy, and Maggie notices that Robin is just a bit fat. Maggie is incredibly thin and lithe, so she feels smug. Maggie immediately scolds herself for being petty. But at the hotel she learns Robin has packed beautiful party dresses, whereas Maggie packed casuals (because Robin told her to). More warning bells! Where is Robin going in party dresses that she hasn’t told Maggie about? Then Maggie sees Robin reading an airport book and mentally belittles her for reading such trash. Immediately, she feels bad again. Maggie believes, “She wants to love Robin always, she wants Robin to love her back. Everything is so much simpler when she can trust Robin.” Which means she doesn’t always trust Robin, right? There’s also this connection between wanting Robin’s love and being shamed by her ex-husband that’s rather brilliant. Tsipi Keller doesn’t have Maggie seek love in another man, but in friendship, which is different from many books. But a page later, Robin says, “Once we get there, you won’t need me, I promise. You’ll be having too much fun.” Does this mean Robin is going to ditch Maggie?

Maggie goes swimming in the ocean, and when she returns to the towel where Robin rests, she finds a man, too. He and Robin laugh at everything Maggie says, even things that aren’t funny. Robin makes sly remarks like “See what I told you?” and Maggie wonders why this guy is so tan when he says he just got in from New Jersey that day. Things feel suspicious! At this point, I’m just waiting for something terrible to happen.

And Robin does start to disappear. Maggie turns around and Robin is gone, like when they go gambling in the hotel casino. Eventually, Maggie starts thinking “fuck Robin” a lot. I feel Maggie’s change in attitude is a bit quick. While I felt suspicious building up to Robin disappearing, Maggie didn’t. She was naive and hopeful, so the quick turn around didn’t quite make sense to me.

Then Maggie slowly tries to emulate Robin. She walks around naked in front of the maid, but immediately regrets it. The author shows the reader that Maggie wants to be something new, someone who isn’t middle class, someone who doesn’t have a vagina “odor.” Maggie’s body, she believes, is better than Robin’s, and Robin’s money can’t really change that. Maggie’s body, when she feels like she’s in control of it, gives her a power she’s never had before.

Then Robin full-on abandons Maggie, sneaking into the room in the middle of the night to grab her things and leave on a yacht with an old man. And everything goes to hell. The author ties together Maggie getting drunk with her co-worker way back in the beginning with her drunken state on vacation, suggesting Maggie gets drunk more often than her sweet, intelligent character would if she weren’t so damaged. Maggie starts hanging out in the hotel casino all night, drinking, not eating, and blacking out. She becomes conscious again when a man starts to have intercourse with her. He’s not wearing a condom…but his repetitive apologies make her want to laugh at him! She then starts crying about losing money at the casino, so he leaves $100 on the bed.

While my first thought is Maggie has been raped and she should go home (Robin’s not even there anymore), Tsipi Keller continues the story in the Bahamas. Various versions of the above scene play out (blacking out and rape), and I started making the connection that while Maggie isn’t asking for money to have sex with strangers, it’s happening nonetheless. How does this continue to happen?

Woven throughout the novel are examples of sexual traumas Maggie’s experienced: as a 13-year-old girl newly in bras, a man grabbed her breast and was disappointed to find padding. Maggie remembers feeling shame that she “failed to please him” in some way. At about seven a strange man molests her after tricking her into his home. Another time, when she played hide-and-seek at a friends house, the friend’s dad pulled her aside and made her touch his genitals. So much sexual abuse in one story, the but the more I read and listen to my friends, the more I realize these examples are common. Because Maggie’s body was out of her control when she was a girl, the novel suggests, she can use her body to gain control over her life as an adult. And if she’s going to get molested and raped anyway, why not profit from it?

To be honest, it took me a while to realize this. I couldn’t understand why Maggie was totally losing it. Two of the abuses she suffered as a child are lumped together in the book. If they were spread out, or perhaps closer to the scenes during which strange men are using her body, like a moment she remembers when she regains consciousness, I may have made the connection faster.

Truly, there is a lot to think about in this book. The ending isn’t the end because women experience sexual trauma at all ages, and how they deal with it varies. I don’t feel as if I’ve given any spoilers because the book doesn’t have a “the end” feel to it. Some events in the last chapters I found difficult to put together, but after mulling over it all for a few days, I realized that I did race through this book, wondering what would happen. I was worried about Maggie and wanted to figure out Robin’s approach to life. Therefore, I recommend this book and highly suggest you read the trio together.

I want to thank Tsipi Keller for sending me a reviewer’s copy of her book in exchange for an honest review.

Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology

Standard
Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology

Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology

edited by Donna Jarrell and Ira Sukrungruang

320 pages

published by Mariner Books, Jan 2005

Donna Jarrell’s and Ira Sukrungruang’s anthologies (they also have a fat fiction anthology — see below) have become important to me. Fall of 2013 I taught from the fiction anthology as part of a Contemporary Fiction class. None of my students were even chubby, let alone fat, so the anthology meant little to them–at first. I found that some of them were so thin because they had obsessive parents. One young man’s father was obese and constantly trying to work it off. Another your woman’s mother was a personal trainer who warned over and over the dangers of eating the “wrong foods” and becoming fat.

However, when I read this nonfiction anthology, I felt a deeper connection because these were real people explaining in words that I often couldn’t put together the way they felt about fat. The authors are not all fat or obese; some are quite thin, but write to explain how they feel about seeing or being with fat people.

donna.jpg

Donna Jarrell

In “Letting Myself Go,” Sallie Tisdale weights about 165 lbs, a weight many fat people would kill to be. She is a frequent dieter. She notes, “The pettiness is never far away; concern with my weight evokes the smallest, meanest parts of me. I look at another woman passing on the street and think, At least I’m not that fat.” I myself have had such thoughts, and so Tisdale made me consider how I internalize the bodies of others.

Natalie Kusz writes in “On Being Invisible” that she takes up more space, but is less seen. She points out, “The fact is, the old racist attitude that ‘all black (or Asian or Latin) people look alike’ also applies to fat people, with the same main corollary: We look alike to other beings because they cannot see us at all.” I was surprised by this comparison and began to reassess the way I look at people I see who take up more room. Do I look away? Do I see these people as all the same because they have one shared quality?

“Tight Fits” by Ira Sukrungruang is more like a guide with examples. How does an obese person get around the challenges of getting into small places, like airplane seats or sacred temples in Thailand. The goal seems to be to avoid embarrassment, and I felt embarrassed that I’ve considered such tactics myself (only in different scenarios). The accommodations for others can feel endless when you are abandoned for being “too big.”

ira

Ira Sukrungruang (pretty much the only man allowed on Grab the Lapels so far)

Atul Gawande describes “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Eating” from a doctor’s point of view. Gawande is always concerned that his patient will regain all of the weight lost after gastric bypass surgery. It turns out that he learns the patient is also concerned. Is this problem bigger than his desires? I really liked seeing the exchanges between the doctor and patient outside of the hospital because the doctor could give facts from a medical standpoint while still engaging with the human patient who fears for his life and wonders how quality it can be if he remains morbidly obese.

I thought it was a fantastic choice on the part of the editors to put Sondra Solovay’s piece “Now You See Me, Now You Don’t” right after Gawande’s essay. While Gawande describes the high success rates of G.B. surgery and how it is the best option medical science has, Solovay points out immediately that she had a friend who was 310 lbs looking happy in on the steps of a pyramid in El Salvador. And how that friend had G.B. surgery and died. What this achieves is showing readers that no matter which option is the best in terms of losing weight, they can all be dangerous. Should the 310 lb friend have continued her life at 310 lbs? A friend of mine who had G.B. surgery and became pregnant and then regained most of the weight pointed out to me that she cut up her insides to get society to look at her. She has a lot of health problems now, and I’m not sure how long she’ll be a mother to her toddler.

Steven A. Shaw celebrates being a chubby man in “Fat Guys Kick Ass.” This is mostly a list of ways that fat guys are better lovers and boyfriends who are stronger but more peaceful. This is a very fun-loving piece that makes me rethink what others feel internally. Not all fat people feel bad inside, I must remember.

Many other readers have commented on the remaining essays (written by giants like David Sedaris and Anne Lamott or that describe a thin person’s hate for fat individuals, like Irvin Yalom or the “hoggers”), but one that struck me was “Fat Like Him” by Lori Gottlieb. She was so happy when she didn’t know that Tim, who was on the other end of her email, was fat. When they are together, she is embarrassed that people will think she’s with him and she calls him a friend. At home, though, they have fantastic sex and she is very happy with him. However, I read that Gottlieb’s essay is mostly untrue. This could be the result of her stretching the truth, or it could be that her ex is humiliated, and why wouldn’t he be? This is the sort of thing that really requires prior approval since the situation is so specific (no one will not know who this guy is in real life whether we call him “Tim” or not).

Overall, this book made me assess myself and the way others perceive me and the way I perceive them, regardless of size, but with fat in mind.

My quick thoughts on the What Are You Looking At? The First Fat Fiction Anthology

The stories in this collection were really great. When I read the title of the anthology, my first thought was the Raymond Carver story “Fat,” and it was in there. BUT! I kept wondering…is this all there is out there in terms of “fat-fiction”? No one else writes any? Makes me want to write more of it…also makes me wonder if people don’t really want to read it and that is why I can’t get any published. Also, I’m really surprised that most of the reviews of this book comment that the reader expected this to be an uplifting anthology. It can be really difficult to turn a physical/psychological problem into something feel-good. I wasn’t expecting that at all.

Noah’s Wife

Standard
Noah’s Wife

noahswifeTitle: Noah’s Wife

Written by: Lindsay Starck

Published: by Putnam; on sale January 26, 2016

Pre-Order: here

Read Samples: You can read the prologue and chapters 1 and 2 on Lindsay’s website!

Lindsay Starck’s debut novel is a loose retelling of the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark. The main points carried over into Noah’s Wife are that there is a man named Noah whose purpose is to save, and there are animals, so if you aren’t terribly familiar with the Biblical story, you still know enough!

The story begins with just how rainy it is in one small town. In fact, it has been raining for years. Although a number of townspeople have left, there are many resolute individuals who won’t abandon their homes and memories. The town used to be quite prosperous due to their zoo, but no one goes to the zoo in the rain.

Lindsay Starck’s writing style is beautiful, a fact on which all reviewers comment. Here is a sample from the beginning describing the people in the town where it never stops raining:

“They are not always happy, or at peace. They miss their shadows. Sometimes when they step outside in the morning the first drop of rain on their plastic ponchos echoes in their ears with the resounding toll of a funeral bell. Sometimes when they return home in the faint gray light of evening, they cannot bear the hoarse whispers of their rusted wind chimes and they cannot bear the sight of the water steadily rising in their rain gauges. They despair; and they are sick of despair. With swift and sudden anger they take up the shining cylinders and they hurl the water into the grass and they fling the gauges with great force toward the concrete, standing and watching while the glass shatters and breaks. At the moment of impact they feel something crack within their very souls and then they go inside — repentant — to find a broom and sweep up a pile of pieces that are jagged and clear.”

After meeting the perpetually wet town, we are then introduced to Noah and told how he meets his wife. They are on a whale watching trip, and when the waves get rough and she gets scared, he reassures her that everything will work out. This deep faith that Noah has it what his wife loves about him.

The rainy town despairs greatly, and everyone stops going to church. When the old minister in the rainy town walks into the river one day and doesn’t come out (was it an accident or not?), the run-down church has a vacancy. Noah volunteers to take on the challenge of saving this water-logged town. The challenge tests Noah greatly, and his marriage strains under the weight of it. It’s hard to believe Noah could ever falter, as he is depicted as handsome, confident, and a natural leader, a man to whom his previous congregation flocked in droves.

In Noah’s Wife, readers are introduced to a slew of characters. Many of them are referred to by their relationships to others, such as “Mrs. McGinn’s daughter” or “Dr. Yu’s father” or, of course, “Noah’s Wife.” While all of the characters’ names are eventually revealed, Noah’s wife’s name remains a mystery the entirety of the novel.

And that is a purposeful choice.

Noah’s wife is interesting. Though she had never been to church in her life, she marries a minister. She is the perfect helpmate, always the assistant and never the leader: “Where else would she be, if not here [with Noah]? What would she be doing, if she were not helping him?” Small challenges appear to overwhelm her because her path is that of Noah’s, so she’s not used to making decisions. She has faith in her husband, her husband has faith in God, and that is all fine and dandy. But when the zoo in the town floods and everyone must help rescue and rehome the animals, Noah’s wife struggles under the expectations put on her:

“Animals are much easier [than people], reflects Noah’s wife. Their wants and their needs are obvious, open, straightforward: they are hungry, tired, satisfied, afraid. The townspeople, on the other hand, with their emotions in knots and their hopes and dreams and fears all tangled up in themselves and their neighbors — well, what would make her think she could handle all of that? That is Noah’s job; not hers.”

Of course, given that Noah’s wife earns the title of the book, we can expect the story to challenge her to her breaking point and that she will have to make some tough choices that are not typical for her, so there is a lot of build up in the book with a highly satisfying — and surprising — pay off.

The foil to Noah’s wife is Mrs. McGinn. She basically runs the town. She barks and people stand at attention. I loved that Mrs. McGinn was this terribly unlikable person who wanted things accomplished and questions answered. She’s aggressive and bossy when no one else has direction (or a clue).

One image that really stuck with me showed Mrs. McGinn’s fearlessness. After the zoo has been flooded and animals have been rescued, there is still some damage. She pokes a boa constrictor in the gutter. And then, “Mrs. McGinn steps away from the snake. ‘That one is definitely dead,’ she declares.” There is no fear of this terrifying animal. In fact, when a new person comes to town, “Mrs. McGinn wields her umbrella like a weapon.” I love the fencing imagery that Starck expertly weaves in, giving the story a bit of a fable feel.

In the end, though, we learn that Mrs. McGinn has been married four times because three husbands cheated on her (the current husband has a temper, but has not strayed). She may be the strongest character in the book, but she is still a breakable human and must be carried (sometimes literally), too.

Leesl is a third interesting character because she serves as yet another foil to Mrs. McGinn and Noah’s wife. She is practically a “nobody,” like Noah’s wife without Noah, but that’s the way she prefers it. People are worried for her because she is so alone:

“‘I’m not alone!’ proclaims Leesl, coming to her own defense when she hears them. ‘Look! Do you want to see a picture of my cats?’ The townspeople do not want to see a picture of Leesl’s cats. They have seen all the pictures before. Only Mrs. McGinn glances dutifully at the photo as she sighs. In truth, the main reason why she is so concerned about Leesl is because she believes that a place is as stable as its most unstable citizen…”

Leesl is many things: she is “never surprised” and “not expressive.” She serves as a bit of light in the story, though. When Noah’s first sermon in the new church doesn’t go as planned, and congregants break out into arguments about why the rain won’t stop, Leesl panics and begins playing the organ over them. This moment is almost circus-like, and I found it funny. But when a deeper sadness takes over the town, Leesl plays her organ in the empty church as loudly as she can because she doesn’t know what else to do, and here I was greatly saddened by the image.

There are many, many characters you will get to know in Noah’s Wife, and these are just three of my favorite. You learn each character so well that before you know it, you have the backstory and future dreams of many people, causing you to feel like you’re part of the town and these are your neighbors.

Getting to know a bunch of characters isn’t enough, though; there has to be a deeper message in a novel, especially one that is almost 400 pages. A few messages I got from Lindsay Starck’s book is that love is an abstract concept, and people’s definitions vary much more than I had personally thought. To Mrs. McGinn, love, like beauty, is not painless. For Dr. Yu, Noah’s wife’s best friend, love means that the ones we love never find mates that we feel are good enough for them. For Leesl, love means not being with the one she loves and instead yearning for them. For Mrs. McGinn’s daughter, who has witnessed her mother’s many divorces, love means monogamy, and she tells her fiance (the zookeeper) to list off the animals that mate for life in what almost sounds like verbal foreplay.

In a novel about people who won’t leave what is obviously a doomed town, there of course has to be a theme about hope. I was worried that the message would be we all just need a dose of hope and we’ll be good to go, which is a pill I can’t swallow. But that’s just not the case. There are times characters have hope that leads to nothing, and times when hope is just the right thing. It can’t be a safety blanket to make things perfect; hope must be used wisely.

Sometimes hope, and seeking reasons to have hope, is not good. I felt it deeply when I read, “What [Maruo’s] friends and neighbors do not understand as well as he does…is that there are no signs except the ones we choose to read.” While Mauro’s sentiment could be read in a positive light, another character is straight depressing: “Sometimes there isn’t any way to make the best of things. . . . And I think that to insist that there is — that everything happens for a reason, et cetera — well, oftentimes that’s nothing but a good looking lie.” A third sentiment is that we don’t deserve our misery . . . or our happiness. These things come to us, and we navigate our lives as they are dealt. Noah’s Wife gave me a lot to think about instead of forcing a message upon me, which I appreciated and felt showed the author’s faith in her audience.

In the end, the message appears to be one about choice: do we follow or lead, be happy or gloomy, realistic or faithful? Do others define us through our relationships to them, or do we define ourselves?

Don’t forget that Lindsay and I did an interview late 2015! You can read more about Lindsay’s inspirations and how she completed this novel.

lindsayDisclaimer: Lindsay Starck and I attended the MFA program at the University of Notre Dame together from 2008-2010 where original character sketches for this novel were created and workshopped. I want very much for Lindsay’s novel to do well, and thus, for these reasons, I am a biased reviewer.

Furiously Happy

Standard
Furiously Happy

furiously-happyLast week, I reviewed Jenny Lawson’s first memoir, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir). Since then, my number of visitors to Grab the Lapels has increased by a lot (though I will admit someone was earnestly looking for “Steven Hawkings Wife” and found me). Like most people, I had to immediately get my hands on Lawson’s brand new memoir, Furiously Happy (Flatiron Books, Sept. 2015). On the cover, we get yet another taxidermied animal, this one named Rory. Some fans have taken to photoshopping Rory around and sharing him at #WheresRory. Honestly, I couldn’t quit calling the book FUR-iously Happy thanks to that thrilled corpse.

Last time, Lawson spent ten years composing a single memoir. This time, she got it down to somewhere around three. As a result, the stories are contemporary and do make reference to current cultural markers. Furiously Happy at times felt like commentary on what’s up with people today while remaining true to the memoir genre. Again, Lawson include fights with head-shaking husband Victor (I’m so glad they didn’t divorce; I was sure they would), and there are mentions of daughter Hailey, but Lawson respects her child’s privacy and mostly leaves Hailey out of it.

In my review of Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, I complained that Lawson mentioned huge topics (like anorexia) and then ran from them, like digging deep into a certain topic was too hard. It’s you’re going to write a memoir, though, readers are asking you to go to those hard places. And, in Furiously Happy, Lawson does. She spends much time talking about mental illness and embracing a diagnosis in a way that allows her to protect and understand herself and reach out to others. Lawson explains medicine:

The side effects and troubles with taking medication are very real and (if you have a chronic mental illness) are something you have to deal with for the rest of your life. Even if a drug is working for a while, it might stop working and you’ll have to start all over again with something new, which can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening.

Lawson also explains how mental illness is one that people don’t take seriously, which is unfair:

Clearly I wasn’t as sick as I said I was if the medication didn’t work for me. And that sort of makes sense, because when you have cancer the doctor gives you the best medicine and if it doesn’t shrink the tumor immediately then that’s a pretty clear sign you were just faking it for attention. I mean, cancer is a serious, often fatal disease we’ve spent billions of dollars studying and treating so obviously a patient would never have to try multiple drugs, surgeries, radiation, etc., to find what will work specifically for them.

By Shawnte Orion @ShawnteOrion

By Shawnte Orion
@ShawnteOrion

This sort of deep exploration of American’s understanding of metal illness and how that definition affects Lawson is a theme throughout the memoir. She brilliantly encourages readers to join the conversation in order to make mental illness less taboo, as many readers have already done at her blog and on Twitter. Lawson herself reaches out for help, sharing one pleading post from her blog as an example.

Even Victor prompts his wife to explore herself more deeply during a mock interview. Lawson admits that there were so many interviews after the success of Let’s Pretend this Never Happened that this time she’ll include interview Q & A in the book so she won’t have to suffer the crippling anxiety. Victor points out, “It seems like by this point in a book about depression you would have explained what depression is.” Lawson replies, “It’s hard to define.” Victor prods, “Well, this is a book, so maybe try.” Here, I applauded Victor for expressing my very thoughts while reading Let’s Pretend this Never Happened, and I was thrilled when Lawson tries again and again to define depression. Meanwhile, Victor says, “Hmm” and “So…?” and “I want to be helpful but I don’t know if that means that I should ask you to elaborate or tell you to stop elaborating.”

Of course, the main feature of Furiously Happy is how funny it is. Lawson combines her self-analysis with humorous storytelling. When it comes to beauty aids, Lawson doesn’t believe in adding to the body, like Botox or augmentations, but instead she is for stripping away. She writes, “Somehow that all seems healthier to me. Or at least more likely to make me less of who I am. Which is probably pretty unhealthy, now that I think about it.”

One of my favorites was when Lawson was missing, sending Victor into a panic. She can only explain how she was at a “surprise funeral”:

In a nutshell, I stopped at a nearby cemetery because I love the quiet, but unfortunately I unwittingly pulled into the cemetery minutes after a funeral procession had pulled in. I would have driven off…but when I turned to reverse I saw a line of cars right behind me and that’s when I realized I was fucked….I wanted to explain that I was just browsing but thought it would sound weird, so I just got out and went to the funeral, which was odd because I avoid most social occasions of people I know and love and here I was, willingly participating in the burial of a dead stranger.

It’s good to read that Jenny Lawson is still taking life one step at a time and promoting the #FuriouslyHappy way of thinking to combat all the assholes and bad days. I’m happy to know that Victor is still there, even when they seem so ill-matched (he has a retirement fund, whereas the author keeps change in a drawer–though not quarters; those are for gum). I was also pleased to see that while not in color, the photos were bigger/clearer this time. Overall, Furiously Happy is a much more introspective book that doesn’t lose the humor, and I recommend you read it.

By Manning The Merciless @pooinanalleyway

By Manning The Merciless
@pooinanalleyway

Bright-Sided

Standard

brightsided“Keep Calm and Stay Positive.”

“Everyday is a second chance.”

“S.M.I.L.E.–See Miracles in Life Everyday.”

“Positive Mind. Positive vibes. Positive life.”

I ask myself, what do positive quotes teach us, other than “every day” and “everyday” are used interchangeably without fail? Barbara Ehrenreich, a highly credible journalist with 16 books under her belt and whose work appears in college textbooks, must have asked a similar question before she started writing Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America. Published in 2009 by Metropolitan Books, Bright-Sided is the examination of positive thinking, both in the individual and how it became a product, and how positive thinking developed and changed the American landscape. Ehrenreich uses personal anecdotes, along with dozens of sources, to examine the bad side of happy. Early on, Ehrenreich defines “positive thinking” for readers, establishing her key term so that everyone works with the same definition. This move demonstrates the willingness to reach out to her audience and clarify the abstract term.

Bright-Sided is an academic text, though the content affects the average American–especially the blue- and white-collar workers. The diction is complicated at times, and I see the moves Ehrenreich makes to integrate and effectively use sources. Of course, I am an English professor, so understanding rhetorical moves is part of my job. However, I can see how the book would turn off some readers for its level of difficulty.

Bright-Sided is a book many will shun for the subject matter alone. Americans love happiness. But Ehrenreich’s credibility is not to be pushed aside. First, the author’s impressive resume establishes her credibility; she is someone we should listen to because she’s devoted her life to uncovering unfair practices in the United States. Secondly, the author isn’t only a journalist; she has a PhD in biology, from which she lends expertise to examine happiness peddlers who claim that biology and happiness are related, and explaining equations that don’t actually work in the laws of science. Thirdly, Ehrenreich uses personal anecdotes from her experience with breast cancer.

The author describes the way cancer patients are told that a positive attitude can help their survival rate, but then supports her theory that positive thinking is useless by quoting studies that find positive-minded patients are no more likely to beat cancer than those who aren’t. The only people who benefit from positive attitudes in the cancer ward, says Ehrenreich, are the nurses and family members, who are worn down by sadness and death.

The author also investigates breast cancer charities and how they (possibly unintentionally) infantilize women. Everything is pink, supporters buy teddy bears, and female patients are given care packages that include crayons. Ehrenreich wonders if men are given the same tools of self-expression. Though there aren’t as many studies and quotes in this section, the author’s curious attitude and personal experience make her argument believable.

One thing many “positive thinking” coaches tell their clients is to avoid the news. Ehrenreich furthers her argument that positive thinking is undermining American by pointing out that news allows its consumers to make change, petition, or even maintain awareness. Sure, you may be sad, but you can also send money to funds after a natural disaster, for example, to help those in need. Ignorance doesn’t benefit anyone, except the ignorant person. Looking at news consumption helps the author solidify her point that Americans are weakened by the desire to be happy no matter what.

After her personal anecdote and researching the business of selling happiness, Ehrenreich steps back to look at the source of positive thinking in America: Calvinism. People were so depressed due to their restrictive religion that practically forbids happiness that their feelings manifested in bodily illness. Now, here is where things got confusing for me. If a positive attitude doesn’t lead to a more healthy physical state, why does depression cause bodily harm? I never found a satisfactory reason in Bright-Sided, but that may be due to the book getting more complex. Take this passage, for example, a response to “New Age” positive thinkers bringing quantum physics into the happiness debate:

In the words of Nobel physicist Murray Gell-Mann, this is so much “quantum flapdoodle.” For one thing, quantum effects comes into play at a level vastly smaller than our bodies, our nerve cells, and even the molecules involved in the conduction of neuronal impulses. Responding to What the Bleep Do We Know?, which heavily invokes quantum physics to explain the law of attraction, the estimable Michael Shermer notes that “for a system to be described quantum-mechanically, its typical mass (m), speed (v) and distance (d) must be on the order of Planck’s constant (h) [6.626 x 10 to the -34 power joule-seconds],” which is far beyond tiny.

If you stopped reading my quote, I’m not surprised. I have a basic understand of biology, but here Ehrenreich is asking the reader to follow along with a basic understanding of quantum physics, which I haven’t studied, nor do I recall learning about in physics class back in 12th grade. Who is the audience, I ask? Perhaps the author had faith that her readers would take her interpretation of Shermer’s quote (“which is far beyond tiny”) as is, and I understand that she’s basically saying that quantum theories can’t be applied to happiness because our bodies are too big (for what, I’m not sure), but I do know that I don’t like guessing at what an author means.

After her exploration of quantum physics and Calvanism, Ehrenreich discusses mega-churches. Here, I was engaged again. The thing I like best about Barbara Ehrenreich’s work is that she doesn’t only research her topic, she gets in there—good old-fashioned investigative journalism. So, there she is, in the mega-church, a place I find ridiculous for its distant relationship to church, a point Ehrenreich gets to. Mega-churches don’t have crosses or steeples or communion. They’re often set up in old warehouses, staff hundreds of people, and break out feel-good guitar music. The “pastor” isn’t necessarily a religious person, but rather a spiritual peddler. There is no requirement of seminary school or Bible study or anything, other than how to SELL. Selling happiness is what it’s about. The author brings in some bemusing and amusing claims from religious leaders of mega-churches, such as the “pastor’s” wife who didn’t have money for a plane ticket and prayed (or yelled at?) God to make that plane ticket ready when she got to the airport or else. The plane ticket is an example of the “laws of attraction” principle that positive thinkers apply to happiness. If you want it hard enough, if you think about it excessively, the thing you want (money, job, love, etc.) will know you’re putting your vibe out there and come to you. Ehrenreich isn’t poking fun at the woman; in fact, the author is always a bit distant, a requirement for a good journalist whose job is to deliver information, not distort it with personal bias.

At the end of this 235-page piece, Ehrenreich really hits her point home by looking at contemporary America, including how businesses bring in positive-thinking coaches and buy positive-thinking books for each of their employees, amounting to hundreds of books for some companies, causing works like Who Moved My Cheese? to hit the bestseller list. The funny thing is I remember my mom’s boss giving everyone Who Moved My Cheese? and reading it myself. Such books convince readers that being fired is just a “new opportunity” and that anger or sadness for losing a job is “whining.” We’ve shamed ourselves into being happy, essentially, and also made ourselves more careless:

Robert Reich once observed, a bit ambivalently, that “American optimism carries over into our economy, which is one reason why we’ve always been a nation of inventors and tinkerers, of innovators and experimenters….Optimism also explains why we spend so much and save so little….Our willingness to go deep into debt and keep spending is intimately related to our optimism.”

Again, Ehrenriech uses a source to support her claims that the desire to be happy all the time is weakening our country. In fact, she has 16 pages of end notes, for which I am impressed. When I look at my course textbook, essays are published without so much as a citation, for a reason unknown to me, but I do know that giving credit to sources bolsters Ehrenreich’s credibility and demonstrates the huge amount of research that went into the topic.

Lastly, the author looks at the flip side of the argument: if we shouldn’t be happy, are we supposed to be sad? No, the author argues. While these are polar emotions, they are not the only ones. Diligence is what keeps us from making stupid decisions. Notice how animals are always on alert, the author notes, and that if danger presents itself, animals in a group sound the alarm. The goal is to “see things as they are.” She notes the emphasis in college on critical thinking, which involves asking questions to get to the truth of things, and I can verify that lessons on critical thinking are in every Composition textbook I see. While I appreciated Ehrenreich’s response to how people should be, I wanted to see more of her sources. Mostly, she offers brief examples, such as how pilots don’t “hope” they can land the plane, and that politicians don’t cross their fingers to win an election; they work hard to make the reality they most desire happen. It’s in this final chapter that the author pulls way back on studies and anecdotes and hopes—maybe just a little—that her readers agree with reality as a better option than blind happiness.

*This book was procured from my public library. I have no personal nor professional relationship with the author.

It’s Probably Nothing

Standard

It’s Probably Nothing* (*or how I learned to stop worrying and love my implants) by Micki Myers is a “memoir in poems” about surviving cancer published by Simon and Schuster (2013). The poems are broken into four “stages,” mimicking the four stages of cancer, though may not actually reflect Myers’s experience (I don’t recall her cancer spreading). The poetry collection is meant to be funny while taking a short look at the life of a cancer survivor.

It’s Probably Nothing is not funny, for the most part. This is bad; the book is advertised as funny–even the coconut bra on the cover suggests some laughs–and is meant to “make you laugh in cancer’s face.” Then again, the fact that it’s not funny is also really good. Laughing about cancer seems rather obnoxious to me, even though I recognize that what people are really saying is that we must laugh at what challenges us in order to not go to a dark, defeatist place. But are dark places really so bad? Myers tries to make the reader laugh about her disturbing genetics:

“When I look up all my female ancestors on Ancestry.com

to see if the rumors are true

–that they all had breast cancer–

I see they’re all marked with a green leaf

instead of a pink ribbon,

which would be far more useful.

Apparently they all died of Dutch elm disease.”

While I emitted a “heh” at the last line of the poem, the sheer overwhelming feeling of an entire “tree” being “rotten,” in a sense, is terrifying. I can’t think of more disturbing news that would make me feel defeated–especially since Myers has young children who will inherit these genetics. What Meyers has written feels more deadly than funny. Relating all deaths to one cause, though, makes the poem more like a punch, which resonated long after I turned the page. I wondered what causes of death are in my own tree, and a book that asks me to think is always one I appreciate.

Instead of funny, the majority of the poems described terrifying experiences I couldn’t have imagined, which impacted me emotionally for days. Myers describes having a sample of tissue taken, which the doctor assures her won’t hurt:

“In fact, this procedure involves

lying belly-down on the table

with your boob hanging through a hole

and squashed between two plates,

head twisted to one side,

while a machine inserts a hollow needle

as thick as a pencil into your breast”

In order to find out if the cancer has traveled to her lymph nodes, Myers must do another test, one that sounds more primitive than I had imagined modern medicine would allow:

“When I say ‘injected into the breast,’ I mean

a nurse rolls up a towel, asks me to bite down on it,

(‘Trust me about this,’ she says),

then pushes a large needle into my nipple.

Into, not through.

Through ain’t got shit on this.”

My negative feelings about these descriptive poems stemmed from the fact that they were more truth that I wanted to know. Such truth is a strength of the collection, though, as not knowing about things that can hurt doesn’t benefit me in any way. Claiming the poems are funny, however, made me ill-prepared for the serious nature of the collection.

If you look back at the poems from which I’ve quoted, you may notice that the line breaks don’t add much in terms of creating meaning or musicality. Some of them read more like prose poems. Some are all clumped together as one large stanza. The point of the book seemed more about communicating Myers’s experiences instead of focusing on language, rhythm, and sound. Had the author paid more attention to these qualities, the poems may have taken on a different tone, something less like a bunch of Tweets. Here is an example of what I mean:

“Cancer’s almost worth it just for the drugs.

Or just the names of the drugs.

I thought this was a nickname

for what they had prescribed me

for a sore throat, a bit of jargon

they used for fun, but the label

on the bottle said Magic Swizzle

and the pharmacist winked

when he handed it to me, saying

‘Lucky you–this stuff is the shit.'”

However, learning more about the drugs Myers was prescribed, the painful tests, and how coming back from cancer looks much like Benjamin Button is what really made this poetry collection worth the read. Myers doesn’t dwell on what I typically read about in cancer memoirs–nausea, loss of hair, denial–but on what it’s like should you actually end up with cancer. Because the collection is so quick to read and informative, I was able to overlook the choice of genre and just go with it.

The subtitle of the collection (*or how I learned to stop worrying and love my implants) is a bit misleading, as there didn’t seem to be much worry about the implants. Instead, Myers finally fits into sexy lingerie and her breasts are “repaired” of the damage caused by breastfeeding. Yet, again, the author teaches her readers a few things: 1) Implants are not made of fat, so her body temperature is hard to keep up without the insulation; 2) men now feel like they are permitted to feel her breasts because; 3) she can’t feel her breasts at all; and 4) her nipples no longer become erect when she enters the cold section of the grocery store. Myers’s list truly surprised me, making me think of the various functions of my own breasts and how I would be without them. I learned a lot from this poetry collection.

Overall, It’s Probably Nothing* (*or how I learned to stop worrying and love my implants) had quite a bit of false advertising, probably to make the poetry collection sound digestible to the average reader. In the United States, the percentage of people who read poetry is abysmal (about 6.7%), and cancer isn’t exactly an uplifting topic. However, if you get past the “it’s funny” marketing, you’ll find some information and descriptions that make it worth the read.

*This book was procured from the public library.

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy

Standard

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy
by Helen Fielding
Random House Audio, 2013
10 Discs
Read by Samantha Bond

She’s back! It’s Bridget Jones, “Jonesey” to her lovers, and she’s still weighing her body, counting her calories, and having way too many “alcohol units.”

Then again, years have passed. Mrs. Bridget Darcy is 51 and has two small children, Billy and Mabel. And where is Mark? He’s not there, but a simple Google search, I am sure, will spoil this for you.

The other mothers at the school appear to judge her every morning for her tardiness and chaotic arrivals, especially the head mother, Nicorette (oops, Nicolette). Even Billy’s instructor Mr. Wallaker, who oversees the children as the are picked up and dropped off, greets Bridget with his scolding face and demands for more discipline. She’s also trying to sell a script for a movie, an updated version of Hedda Gabbler (one she hasn’t researched very well).

Bridget’s also journeying into technology: Twitter (and how does one get followers? aren’t people simply supposed to love/adore/flock to you? can Twitter followers tell if one is getting fat?), texting (instead of waiting for phone calls from men), Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, e-mail, MarriedAffair.co.uk, Xbox, iPads, iPods, Plants vs. Zombies, etc., etc., etc. The book is written in a style that matches the technology. For instance, if you’re reading Tweets, the page shows @JoneseyBJ. Of course, with the audiobook, you’ll hear Samantha Bond read “atJoneseyBJ” each time. This can get a bit overwhelming when there is a series of Tweets. However, Samantha Bond is a great voice actress, one who puts a lot of emotion into the characters. Bridget having sex with her 30-year-old “boy toy” comes to life thanks to Bond. On the page, sexy time is simply “Mmmm.” With Bond, you might just feel a bit saucy yourself. On top of that, I realized I started thinking in Bond’s voice for quite a while after listening to all 10 discs in my car. What fun! *Note to self: don’t speak faux British aloud.

There are three men who stand out in the novel: Leatherjacketman, Roxster, and Mr. Wallacker. Each represents a different kind of man: the one whose name we can easily forget (though don’t sell him short!), the one who is flirty and 29 (soon to be 30!), and the one who scolds Bridget and constantly asks her if she’s “OK.” In the previous two novels, Bridget probably would have killed for a man to show concern about her situation; she was a terribly desperate woman who also tried to make her way in the world and be honest with herself (even if she couldn’t always be honest with others).

In Mad About the Boy, I was pleased to see a stronger Bridget. She loves her kids more than any of her own needs, and it shows. This creates sympathy for her character, one we may not have had in the previous novels. She also responds strongly to one of Mr. Wallaker’s “Are you OK”s:  Bridget let’s Mr. Wallaker know that just because she is a single mother does not mean she needs to be singled out as a failure, or looking like a failure, and that she does not need his help or pity. This stronger Bridget appears more in this third installation, whereas she mostly only peaked out while drunk in books one and two.

The woman are different, too. Jude, I must say, is the same weak-willed pushover she was inDiary and Edge of Reason, so that was disappointing. Shazzer now lives in the U.S., so that, too, is disappointing. However, a new character, the 60-year-old Talitha is a fantastic addition. She paves the way for younger women (meaning Bridget, who is 51) by explaining that she is still a sexual being, a sexy woman, and how to date younger men to fulfill her wants/needs. Then again, she’s awfully fake, too: Botox, hair extensions, a thin waist–all things she refers to as “altering the signposts” in order to fight against middle age. She does stand out as a guide for Bridget, whereas previously Bridget’s friends had 3 different opinions from 3 personalities.

Overall, I wasn’t sure until 2/3 through if Bridget needed a man who would replace Mark Darcy, or if she would simply shag herself happy and be a single mom. Fielding misleads you a bit in that way, which is horribly fun to listen to (if you can get over all the adverbs, though I love when Talitha “growls dramatically”). It’s not an intellectual novel (nor did I expect it to be), but it was a fun one for right before the holiday season (and at the end of the semester), when there can be little to laugh about as people “flat tire” you with their shopping carts to get the last Doc McStuffin doll on the shelf.