Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Ms. LaCour can pack a lot into three days, which is the time span of her latest novel, We Are Okay.  (By the way, it only took me two days to read, it’s that engrossing.) Mabel’s mother died when she was  young and she lived with her grandfather, each having their own bedroom and sharing the common space of the kitchen, living room and dining room. Respecting each other’s privacy, neither ventured into the inner sanctum of the other.

But one summer day after high school graduation, Gramps doesn’t answer when Marin comes home. Busy with summer fun and new girlfriend, Mabel, Marin has pretty much ignored Gramps, minimizing his failing health. Fearing the worst, Marin enters her grandfather’s bedroom, which actually consists of a sitting room and adjoining room and discovers something she never thought existed and which changed her opinion of Gramps forever.

The police are called and a shaken Marin is taken to the police station but rather than go home with Mabel’s parents (who are almost like a second set of parents) she slips out the back door and boards a bus from California to upstate New York and college with nothing but the shirt on her back, her cell phone and her debit card, even though school doesn’t start for two weeks. She ignores Mabel’s frantic texts for weeks before they dwindle into non-existence.

However, Mabel hasn’t given up and visits Marin at school for three days over Christmas break, which is where the story unfolds.

Through the action of the present and flashbacks to the previous summer, readers understand the torture that these two young women underwent, the loss of a grandparent, the loss of a friend. But it also reinforces the concept of family which is not just biological commonality. Mabel and Marin are endearing characters. You like them immediately. Their pain is understandable. The awkwardness of their reunion is palpable.

We Are Okay is both happy and sad and wonderful. And should you like it, don’t forget Everything Leads to You and Hold Still.

Read Full Post »

Although she doesn’t know this, Agnes Magnusdottir will be the last BurialRites convict executed in Iceland. This occurred in 1830. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent is her story. Convicted in 1828 of killing two men, Natan Ketilsson and Petur Jonsson, burning down Natan’s house and stealing his property, Agnes, along with a young girl, Sigridur Gudmundsdottir and a seventeen year old man, Fridrik Sigurdsson, were imprisoned. Sigga won an appeal and spent her remaining lifetime in a Danish textile prison. Fridrik and Agnes, at some point prior to their execution, were moved to different households to serve out their pre-execution days in servitude. Agnes was housed with District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife Margret and their daughters Lauga and Steina. Each was allowed to choose a priest to provide spiritual guidance, get them to admit and repent their crimes and seek the Lord, prior to their execution. Agnes chose Thorvardur Jonsson (Toti), an Assistant Reverend who had provided a kindness to her years before.

Burial Rites is really two stories in one novel. There is the historical aspect of the book. In the 1800s, Iceland was under Danish rule. There was abject poverty in the country, as evidenced by the primitive living conditions that Agnes suffered in her assigned home. The weather was harsh and people’s basic needs of food and shelter was barely met. The conditions at prison were inhumane. Prisoners were beaten at whim, had little food, lacked clothing for warmth and rarely bathed, if at all. The description of Agnes as initially seen by Margret, is beyond belief. The Danish monarchy took an active interest in the case and handed down verdict and decrees, which Iceland was bound to carry out.

The second story in Burial Rites is Agnes’. Her history as an abandoned illegitimate child, intelligent but poor, forced to find work wherever she could pulls at the heartstrings. Naïve, a person who has had no close friends or relatives, who has been shown no love or tenderness, Agnes misunderstood people’s motives, not recognizing true affection rather than manipulation. Her changing relationship with Margret, especially, after the initial shock that they must harbor a murderess, is gripping and touching. The bond that arises between Agnes and Toti, his caring, compassion and steadfastness, are remarkable.

Burial Rites is not my genre of book, therefore, you can guess Susan recommended it to me. Once I got into it, I didn’t want to put it down. Kent’s writing is descriptive…the bleak landscape of Iceland, especially in winter. The characters are intriguing, District Officer Jonsson and his family, Natan, Fridrik, Sigga, Toti all evolve skillfully through Ken’s lens. Kent juxtaposes man’s inhumanity to man against man’s compassion to his fellow man.

Burial Rites is a great book discussion book as well as a good book for your own enlightenment. It can be a fast read or you can slow down and savor the language and think about humanity. That choice is yours.

Read Full Post »

DeathOfSantiniGosh, what to say about The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy. I could and will say that if you read The Great Santini, you’ve read some of this Conroy biography, but certainly not all of it. I could say I liked the book but it’s not a book you ‘like’, it’s a book you get sucked into because there’s so much raw emotion going on…love, hate, racism, abuse, family, sorrow, joy. When I first started reading The Death of Santini, I was appalled at Don Conroy’s treatment of his wife and children and no one would have faulted me for putting the book down. But on I went, to the very last page.GreatSantini

The Death of Santini is a raw book, not filled with flowery language. It is the factual recounting of Pat Conroy’s life as the son of Don and Peg Conroy, the union of an Irish Catholic from Chicago and a poor southern girl from the Appalachian mountains whose mother abandoned her family at the height of the depression, leaving them with nothing. Pat and his six siblings moved around a lot, the life of a Marine family, were the recipients of beatings from an abusive father and the fallout from this was everlasting and widespread and powerful.

I’m not sure why Conroy felt compelled to write this book since it’s predecessor, though fiction, pretty well recounted many incidents in the current book. It felt like he had to purge himself of his demons, his guilt at standing idly by while siblings were abused, his hatred, or more accurately love-hate emotion towards his father, his adoration of his beautiful but surely imperfect mother, his dives into the depths of depression, his distance from his sister.

But as you read, you see Conroy’s problem. Children love their parents, typically, yet both his parents, to some extent, were abusive. What is a boy and then a man supposed to feel? Two of his siblings were spiraling towards mental illness, yet his parents refused to acknowledge it and Pat was powerless.

As Conroy introduces you to his northern and southern relatives you learn so many things: (1) abuse, while maybe not genetically transferred, certainly runs in families and is transferred to following generations, nor is it limited to liberally or conservatively thinking people, (2) racism is not only a Southern emotion, (3) the impact of dysfunctional families is widespread and deep.

I’ll conclude by telling you, as I did in the beginning, I’m not sure I ‘liked” The Death of Santini. I’m glad I read it and will highly recommend it to others, but did I like it? Hmmmm. No. If you’re looking for a literary masterpiece with flowery language, I suggest you look elsewhere. The Death of Santini is, at times, disjointed (as is this review) and repetitious within itself. However, it has a cast of interesting, unimaginable characters that some of the most able fiction writers could never conceive. It didn’t make me laugh. It didn’t make me cry. Coming from a ‘relatively’ normal family, I think it made me sit there in disbelief.

Read Full Post »