Archive for the ‘Elizabeth Graver’ Category

ASuddenLightAfter loving The Art of Racing in the Rain and seeing Garth Stein at a book signing, I was impatient for his next book, A Sudden Light, which was recently released. As it turned out, it is a family saga, which I happen to like (End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver and The Big House by Henry Howe Colt, as examples.) Unfortunately, A Sudden Light didn’t live up to my expectations nor the two other family sagas mentioned.

Elijah Riddell made his fortune clear-cutting forests in the U.S. Northwest in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His wealth was shown by the enormous estate (200+ acres) near Seattle called North Estate. In Elijah’s time, first sons inherited the family business, however Elijah’s first son, Ben, turned out to be a conservationist. His beliefs were like those of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, where we (people, nature, all things) are connected and he somehow convinced his father that to make amends for his devastation of the beautiful forests, he should let North Estate return to its natural form at some point.

It is now 1990 and there is nothing left of Riddell’s fortune except the house. His progeny have squandered whatever was left to them. Elijah’s grandson, Samuel who appears to be in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease, inhabits the house. His children, Jones and Serena, want him to sign a Power of Attorney so that they can sell the house and land, refinance their lives and be rich again. Samuel, however, wants to follow Elijah’s wishes.

Jones, who as a young adult moved to Connecticut, married and had a son, Trevor, has come back to Seattle, ostensibly to help his younger sister accomplish this task. He has brought fourteen year old Trevor with him. Trevor is soon caught up in the Riddell history, the house and his gorgeous Aunt Serena and initially is in favor of selling the land, hoping new found riches will help his estranged parents reunite.

Trevor’s only problem is that Ben comes to him in nightly dreams, revealing deep secrets, explaining why Elijah’s wishes should be adhered to and more. As a fourteen year old, Trevor is confused about so many things in life, including, in this case, what is right and what is wrong.

I will readily admit that I do believe all things are connected. We read today of the continued clear-cutting of the Amazon and who knows what climatic and environmental devastation that will cause. We see the impact of global warming. And who is to say that our spirits don’t reside somewhere that can be reached. I won’t dismiss that idea. However in A Sudden Light it is way to blatant. There’s no mystery, no shroud or fogginess and it takes away from the story.

Additionally, while the story is supposedly being told by a mature Trevor in a fourteen year old voice, the voice isn’t believable. Sometimes it seems too old, sometimes too young.

Finally, A Sudden Light is the story of a dysfunctional family. But much of that dysfunction is lost in the spirit world of the story.

After bagging the two previous books I started, I felt committed to this book, so I finished it. However, I’m not sure I would have if I hadn’t put down two previous books.

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EndOfThePointI just want to congratulate Elizabeth Graver. Her The End of the Point was on Kirkus’ Best Fiction of 2013 list. The other book I want to note is Ivy Pochoda’s Visitation Street. Another book worthy of being on the list. Finally, congratulations to all the authors and books on the list.VisitationStreet

The Young Adult List comes out in early December. I can’t wait for that one.

Here’s the link to the fiction list, if you’re interested. https://www.kirkusreviews.com/issue/best-of-2013/section/fiction/

Happy reading.


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EndOfThePointSusan mentioned that she likes reading the inscriptions at the beginning of books and that made me take particular note of the inscription in Elizabeth Graver’s latest novel, The End of the Point. “When I began to tell you children about the different ways in which plants sent their young out into the world, I had no idea that I should take so much time and cover so many pages with the subject.” This is a quote from Mrs. William Starr Dana, author of the children’s book Plants and Their Children (more about this book later), and purportedly the great grandmother in Graver’s story. The quote, however, summarizes, in part, what Ms. Graver’s book is all about…sending our children out into the world.

It is also about ‘home’. The End of the Point is the secondBigHouse family saga set in Cape Cod that I’ve read recently, the first being The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home by George Howe Colt, the former being fiction and the latter non-fiction.

The End of the Point describes the Porter clan who summer in Ashaunt, MA, near Buzzards Bay. It is in four parts, each narrated by a different person:  1942 narrated by Bea, the Scottish nanny to the Porter’s youngest daughter, Janie; 1947-1961 narrated by Helen, Janie’s older sister; 1970 narrated by Charlie, Helen’s son, named after her brother who died during WW II and 1999, told in the third person. Bea describes how the second World War intruded on the serene life of Cape Cod and her life in particular…the opportunities taken and possibly the regrets for those not taken. Helen, always the strong willed daughter recounts her life, her struggles to achieve in a man’s world and how her treatment of Charlie may have been part of his struggle to find himself, although the 1970s were certainly an era in which many college students were ‘lost’. In the last segment, Helen, Janie and their other sister, Dossy, are in their later years, one suffering from cancer, one from mental instability.

In all of their worlds of turmoil, though, the one place that seemed to bring peace and calmness is Ashaunt, the Big House (funny, in both books, the main house was called the Big House). Even amidst the hubbub of growing and extended families, Ashaunt was the refuge from troubles, its natural beauty (even in the face of land sales and new home construction) and sense of home easing the mind.

Graver has provided stories of some very strong women: Bea, in her quiet way, has her strong sense of duty to the Porter children, at times to the detriment of her own life; Helen, the wild child has the drive to succeed in academia’s male world; Gaga (Helen’s mother) runs her family while her husband is wheelchair bound for most of his later life and Janie, seemingly the sanest of all Porter girls makes a strong life for herself, her husband and six children. Even Charlie, a lost boy since his early teens, ‘finds himself’ in the end. Each character could very well be the focus of a novel, each has a story to tell, especially Bea and Helen.

I know the strong feeling of wanting to provide a ‘home’ for our children, a place that they can seek refuge and comfort, regroup and go back out into the world rejuvenated. The Big House(s) described in these books and the families that occupied those houses gave their children their sense of well-being and being home. I’m suggesting you read both books, The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver and The Big House by George Howe Colt.

Now I said I’d mention Plants and Their Children by Mrs. William Starr Dana (aka Frances Theodora Parsons).Plants and their Children

Frances Theodora Parsons was an American botanist and author active in the United States during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She was an active supporter of the Republican Party as well as the Progressive Party. She was also an advocate of women’s suffrage. Frances started taking walks in the countryside after the death of her first husband (William Starr Dana). These strolls inspired her most important and popular book, How to Know the Wildflowers (1893), the first field guide to North American wildflowers. It was something of a sensation, the first printing selling out in five days. The work went through several editions in Parsons’s lifetime and has remained in print into the 21st century. Plants and Their Children, written in 1896 was named one of the 50 best children’s books of its time and was suggested for reading to young children in the classroom. The inscription at the opening of The End of the Point (I only gave you a snippet of it) interested me so I did a little (very little) research and after reading that Plants and Their Children was named one of the 50 best children’s books of its time, I was compelled to buy it. I’ll let you know how it is.

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