Life, Gaming, Depression, Excercise, MARRIED! School…

Well, if you thought I’d fallen off the face of the Earth, I didn’t. Life has been a bit busy for me. I got into playing World of Warcraft, for one. Then I got lazy about writing reviews, though I kept reading. Then I got burned out on reading. Then I lost my home internet. Then I battled some bad bit of depression. Fought my way out of that by excercising and bike riding. While biking, I met a man, who became the most important person in the world to me.

Got MARRIED on March 6th, 2012 (our anniversary is 3-6-12… fun for math geeks 😀 )

Been a newlywed since then, so I have to get out of the BED to read a book 😉

Started back at school and am working at getting a degree in Criminal Justice. So now there’s less time for book-reading.

I’m missing it, though… and writing essays and research papers is reminding me of what I’m missing, so I’m going to try to get back into blogging.  I can’t promise it’ll be all book reviews, though. It may be a bit of everything from marriage, raising kids, school work… books, even, lol.

I might add that WORDPRESS has changed a bit since I last posted.  Not sure if I like it or not.

I promise not to wait another two years and a half to post again 😉

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Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan

Title:  Of Bees and Mist

Author:  Erick Setiawan

Paperback:  405 (Advaced Reader’s Edition)

Published:  August 2009

ISBN:  9781615233502

Acquired:  Received from Barnes & Noble’s First Look online book club

Challenges:  ARC Reading Challenge 2010, New Author Challenge 2010

“If you have something to say, then say it,” said Meridia.  “I know you’ve been talking to Mama behind my back.”

A smile slow and calculating parted the girl’s lips.  The liveliness in her eyes extended to her mouth, which now took on a delight almost to fiendish for her thirteen years.

“You’re wearing… the necklace Mama gave you.  You wear it three, four times a week.”… Malin’s laugh leapt up with contempt.  “You’re just like the rest of them.  So easily fooled.  When I first met you, I thought you had it in you to stick it to her….  Can’t you see how cheap that necklace is?  I wouldn’t be surprised if she fished it out of  a garbage bin.  And yet you wear it like it’s the most precious thing you own.”

“I wear it because I like it.  Mama was generous enough to give it to me.”

“Have you listened to yourself lately?  Every other sentence you say is ‘ Mama this and Mama that.’  It makes me sick to hear you go on!  Well, she’s not your mother and she never will be.  Why do you bend to her every wish?  Why does everyone?  If you only knew the things she says behind your back.”

 –Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan, pages 128-129

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan is descibed on the back of the book as an adult fable, and I had to Google “fable” to understand how they could call it this, as my previous understanding of the term was “a short story told for the purpose to entertain an audience while teaching them a life lesson.”  You know, “Moral of the story is…”  But Of Bees and Mist is not a short story, and I’m not exactly sure if it’s got a moral. 

According to Google, there are two specific definitions of “fable” that can apply to this book:

A fable is a succinct story, in prose or verse, that features animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature which are anthropomorphized.

A story about mythical or supernatural beings or events.

In Of Bees and Mist, Setiawan tells the story of two families of strong matriarchs who are brought together by the marriage of Daniel and Meridia.  Eva, Daniel’s mother, is a larger-than-life personality with poise and charm and sweeps everyone up into the palm of her hand by her charisma.  Once in her grasp, however, she expects them to do her bidding and never argue or suffer the consequences.  She takes particular aim at her own husband, Elias, as well as her youngest daughter, Permony, of whom she has always seen as competition for her husband’s affection.  She continually nags, berates and cajoles them for differing reasons and effects.  With Elias, she peppers him with swarming bees at all hours, particularly at night when he’s trying to rest (she naps during the day so she can keep at him) until he breaks from exhaustion and flies off the handle.  As to Permony, Eva treats her as the whipping girl and gets out her frustration and irritation on the young girl.  When Meridia comes along and takes up Permony’s cause, expresses her own opinion and shows herself to be both beautiful and intelligent, Eva can’t stand it.  She levels her sights to destroy her new daughter-in-law.

The second mother in the equation is Ravenna, who has gained a reputation in their small town as not being quite right in the head.  A great deal of the time, Ravenna lives in her own world, mumbling her own private language to herself while constantly cooking for no one in particular.  She lives her life behind a veil of forgetfulness, hiding from a past no one will talk about.  However, occasionally she finds her way to the surface, and is a force to be reckoned with.  Her essence and spirit has lasting power and Meridia is able to sustain herself in between Ravenna’s moments of sanity.  Whereas Eva has a vile and evil presence that drives people to bitterness and contention, Ravenna has a soothing and calming effect, bringing peace with her and driving out Eva’s bees.  It is between these two women that the battle of Good versus Evil seems to play out.

Along with the bees that pour from Eva’s lips to attack those at whom she directs them, there are other supernatural elements.  There are the three different mists that are characters in their own right in the book.  The white mist that encases the house that Meridia grew up in which keeps it the temperature and hearts within the home cold.  The yellow mist that comes in the evenings to take Gabriel, Meridia’s father, away to his mistress’s house and the blue mist that brings him back in the mornings.  There is a ghost that inhabits the mirrors, as well as fireflies that visit, protect and guide Meridia, and roses and marigolds that seem to war for dominance over Eva’s lawn.  AND, there is Hannah, Meridia’s best friend from childhood, who returns for visits with her as an adult when times are hard for her.  No one ever sees Hannah, but I don’t think she’s Meridia’s imaginary friend.

The worst evil Eva commits is to make a deal with a man whom she knows is wicked to marry her daughter in order to profit monetarily from the match.  Worse yet, when her daughter confesses to discovering the man to be part beast (a pig-man), and to raping young girls in their basement, Eva sends her back to him.  Telling her daughter she doesn’t want a scandal surrounding her name.  For Eva, saving face and her pride are her most precious treasures.

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Honestly, Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan is a complex story with many facets.  One of the things I found most amazing was that Setiawan hung so many guns on every room of a mansion in this book, and fired them all.  There are no strings left untied, everything was used.  Another thing I was impressed by reading Of Bees and Mist is the difference in storytelling between Western and Eastern cultural style.  This book really showed off the Oriental thought process of fluidity, connectivity and moments of experience, whereas in the Occidental custom, storytelling and philosophy is linear and cause-and-effect.  Because of this, Of Bees and Mist doesn’t follow the “this-then that-then that happened” but was more like friezes in the lives of the characters within, with the balance of their lives being weighed out in the end.

I may re-read this book later… I haven’t decided.  There were just so many aspects of the story that I think I’d could still get more out of it.  Overall, Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan is a fantastic story that sweeps the reader along.  I was surprised how much time and pages went by as I read.  Though I’m not exactly sure why I’m not giving this a 5 out of 5, it’s still a great book, and so I’m giving it 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

homers-odysseyTitle:  Homer’s Odyssey:  A Fearless Feline Tale, Or How I Learned About Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat

Author:  Gwen Cooper

Hardback:  289 pages

ISBN:  9780385343855

Challenges:  ARC Challenge

The last thing Gwen Cooper wanted was another cat. She already had two, not to mention a phenomenally underpaying job and a recently broken heart. Then Gwen’s veterinarian called with a story about a three-week-old eyeless kitten who’d been abandoned. It was love at first sight.

Everyone warned that Homer would always be an “underachiever,” never as playful or independent as other cats. But the kitten nobody believed in quickly grew into a three-pound dynamo, a tiny daredevil with a giant heart who eagerly made friends with every human who crossed his path. Homer scaled seven-foot bookcases with ease and leapt five feet into the air to catch flies in mid-buzz. He survived being trapped alone for days after 9/11 in an apartment near the World Trade Center, and even saved Gwen’s life when he chased off an intruder who broke into their home in the middle of the night.

But it was Homer’s unswerving loyalty, his infinite capacity for love, and his joy in the face of all obstacles that inspired Gwen daily and transformed her life. And by the time she met the man she would marry, she realized Homer had taught her the most important lesson of all:  Love isn’t something you see with your eyes.

Homer’s Odyssey is the once-in-a-lifetime story of an extraordinary cat and his human companion.  It celebrates the refusal to accept limits -on love, ability, or hope against overwhelming odds.  By turns jubilant and moving, it’s a memoir for anybody who’s ever fallen completely and helplessly in love with a pet.

-Inside dust cover of Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper

Okay… breathe…  I’m going to do my best to review this book on the its merits alone, and not gush about the author herself.  It would be easy for me to go on about how, upon hearing that my daughter, also named Gwen, loves animals and has a black cat, was really excited by the book when I got my advanced reader copy and wanted me to read it to her, emailed me for my address and not only sent her a signed copy of the finished book with a beautiful hand-written card and pictures of Homer, but also sent her a copy of the audio book.  AND that, with all that she’s got going on in her life with book-signings, fundraisers and feeling under the weather, she still takes time message us and even remembers my daughter’s cat’s name.  But this is a review of the book, not the author, so I will focus my attention on that.

Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper is a memoir of how the things that we might never choose on our own can be exactly what we need.  It is about recognizing value in someone or something and building your life around it.  It is about how, by looking at life and love through the eyes of another, we take on the traits we admire in that person.  In Gwen Cooper’s case, that person was a blind wonder cat, through whom she learned courage, how to love, and perseverance.

One thing I really like about this book is the format.  It’s set up as a journey from who and where Gwen was when she got the call from the vet about the eyeless kitten whom nobody wanted and would likely be put down if she, his last chance, didn’t adopt him, continues through jobs and moves and romances, and ends with what she has learned and insights she has gained through knowing and loving and living with Homer.  But, each chapter is also a tale in and of itself, making it a book that can be devoured straight through (honestly, it’s very hard to put down) or you can nibble on it and ponder each lesson.  Also, each chapter begins with a picture, usually of Homer, but occasionally of Scarlett or Vashti, Homer’s big sisters, and a quote from the other Homer, the Greek storyteller.

Another thing that I enjoyed with this book is Gwen’s sense of humor.  There are so many laugh-out-loud moments,  like bringing her date in and the two of them being greeted by a cat who not only discovered the tampons, but how to unwrap them, proudly carrying them in his mouth to show to his mommy.  Also, there is a quality to her writing that made me feel like we’ve been friends for years.

Like life, though, the book isn’t all sunshine and roses.  There are real dangers and some terrifying moments, like waking up to find a burglar in her apartment.  As well as the heart wrenching days after September 11th, when Gwen tried desperately to get back to her cats who were trapped in their apartment, just blocks from where the two towers had stood.

I found Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper to be moving and inspirational, at times hilarious and touching, and am thankful that there was a vet who refused to accept that an eyeless kitten was better off being put down, that Gwen Cooper was in the vet’s contacts list and opened her heart to him, and that she has shared Homer and his wisdom with all of us.  I give Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper 5 out of 5 stars.  It’s one of my favorites and I’ll be rereading it again and again 🙂

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards

Title:  The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Author:  Kim Edwards

Paperback:  401 pages

Date Published:  2006

Publisher:  Penguin Books

ISBN:  0143037145

The head crowned.  In three more pushes it emerged, and then the body slid into his waiting hands and the baby cried out, its blue skin pinking up.

It was a boy, red-faced and dark-haired, his eyes alert, suspicious of the lights and the cold bright slap of air.  The doctor tied the umbilical cord and cut it.  My son, he allowed himself to think.  My son.

“Where is the baby?” his wife asked, opening her eyes and pushing hair away from her flushed face.  “Is everything all right?”

“It’s a boy,” the doctor said, smiling down at her.  “We have a son.  You’ll see him as soon as he’s clean.  He’s absolutely perfect.”

His wife’s face, soft with relief and exhaustion, suddenly tightened with another contraction… he understood what was happening… “Nurse?” the doctor said, “I need you here.  Right now.”

…”Twins?” the nurse asked.

…This baby was smaller and came easily… “It’s a girl,” he said, and cradled her like a football… The blue eyes were cloudy, the hair jet black, but he barely noticed all of this.  What he was looking at were the unmistakable features, the eyes turned up as if with laughter, the epcantha fold across the lids, the flattened nose… A mongoloid.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards, pages 15-16

When Norah Henry goes into labor during a blizzard (I know, very Lifetime Movie, right?), Dr. David Henry is forced to deliver their children himself.  There is only one other person present at the delivery, the office nurse, Caroline Gill.  When David realizes that his newborn daughter has Down’s Syndrome, he passes her to Caroline with the directions to a “home for the feeble-minded,” and the name of the person to talk to there.  His intentions are to tell his wife, who is passed out from the anaesthetic gas, about their daughter’s condition when she comes to, however, when the moment arrives, he lies to her and tells her the girl is dead and her body sent to be buried in the family cemetery on his partner’s farm.  In her grief, Norah plans and announces a memorial for the lost child, “Phoebe,” and informs David of all this after it’s been made public, sticking him fast to the story he told her of the baby’s death.

Caroline, after seeing the deplorable conditions of the place David has sent his daughter to be dumped off and after being informed that the person to whom she was to speak no longer works there, decides to keep Phoebe.  Caroline, now in her early 30s, has spent her whole life waiting for her life to begin, waiting to be someone and to make a difference, she takes Phoebe and moves to Pittsburgh to raise her as her own.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards is the unfolding of the outcome of David’s decision.  It shows how this one secret, and really, much more that David has kept all his life, erects a wall between him and his family.  In his attempt to spare his wife and son the pain of having a daughter and sister who’s condition he believes will be a burden on them their entire life, he has only substituted one pain for another.  By the time he realizes his lie has caused more heartache than the truth ever could, his family has become individuals, islands unto themselves, lonely and feeling like they could never be good enough for the rest.

Because this book does a great job at recreating the sentiments of the time period toward special needs children, there are times when what’s being said is offensive.  My two older girls have special needs, and when the nurse in the Pittsburgh hospital asks Caroline if she really wants her to save Phoebe’s life, it rankled me as much as it did Caroline.  The book doesn’t crank out a happily ever after scenario, nor does it become an “Oh my God, yet another tragedy” soap opera, instead it presents a plausible, heart-felt outcome.

Things to keep in mind if you plan to read this book:  It is a real look at what life is like raising a child with special needs, and raising that child into adulthood.  It is a lifetime of events, and therefore can seem long, but it doesn’t drag.  Also, it does have heavy and sad moments, the character’s don’t do “the right thing” and there are no heroes… except maybe Paul and Phoebe, and even then maybe just Phoebe.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards can help the reader have more compassion for caretakers of special needs children, as well as having a moral that the truth is always the better way to go, that the best of intentions is often the surest and straightest path to Hell.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

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P.S.  Do NOT watch the Lifetime movie of this.  It is officially the WORST book to movie EVER! EVER EVER EVER EVER EVERI give that POS movie NEGATIVE infinity out of 5 stars.  It made the characters appear flat and shallow, it changed parts of the story that didn’t need changed and it was just plain crap.  Anyone who says they didn’t like the book because the characters were shallow and selfish, I have to wonder if they really read the book or watched the movie.

Emma by Jane Austen

Title:  Emma

Author:  Jane Austen

Paperback:  416 pages

Date Published: 1997

Publisher:  Wordsworth Editions Ltd

ISBN:  1853260282

The very first subject, after being seated, was Maple Grove, ‘My brother, Mr Suckling’s seat’; a comparison of Hartfield to Maple Grove… ‘Very like Maple Grove indeed! She was quite struck by the likeness! That room was the very shape and size of the morning-room at Maple Grove; her sister’s favourite room.’ Mr Elton was appealed to. ‘Was not it astonishingly like? She could really almost fancy herself at Maple Grove.

‘And the staircase. You know, as I came in, I observed how very like the staircase was; placed exactly in the same part of the house. I really could not help exclaiming! I assure you, Miss Woodhouse, it is very delightful to me to be reminded of a place I am so extremely partial to as Maple Grove. I have so many happy months there!’ (with a little sigh of sentiment.) ‘A charming place, undoubtedly. Everybody who sees it is struck by its beauty; but to me it has been quite a home. Whenever you are transplanted, like me, Miss Woodhouse, you will understand how very delightful it is to meet with anything at all like what one has left behind. I always say this is quite one of the evils of matrimony.’

Emma made as slight a reply as she could; but it was fully sufficient for Mrs Elton, who only wanted to be talking herself.

Emma by Jane Austen, pages 217-218

I finished this book almost a week ago after being stuck in it for about six months.  I’ve wanted to give it time to sit and think about it before making an official judgment by way of a review.  And, while I still say it was the hardest Austen book so far and my least favorite, I have to admit a serious amount of respect for the women of the era.  I’m definitely grateful times have changed since then!

Long and short of things, Emma Woodhouse more or less grew up the Miss Woodhouse of her father’s home, meaning she was the society keeper.  The golden daughter, beautiful and clever, she has never been denied anything by her father, who’s a bit of a hypochondriac, nor by her governess Miss Taylor, who has just married Mr. Weston in the beginning of the novel.  Emma believes she is responsible for making this match and decides to aim her powers at the single vicar, Mr. Elton.  Her brother-in-law’s brother, Mr. Knightly, however, admonishes her to leave match-making be, to let love take its course, but she doesn’t listen (OF COURSE!) and this sets a series of events into motion that forces Emma to grow up and re-evaluate her own position and judgments and that of those around her. 

What Austen does in Emma is to recreate the sense of isolation and near-claustrophobic sensations of the life and choices living as an early 19thcentury English woman.  She equates the life of a governess as a polite form of slavery.  She also conveys the sense of captivity and inertial force of the class stratification of the era.  Everyone had a place, and everyone had acceptable and unacceptable pools of “friends” within the system to choose from:  Either their equal or many levels beneaththem so as to help improve them, but no one only a little below them.. lest they degrade themselves.  Those who tried to improve their social standing by latching onto those above them and trying the seem their equal were treated with civil incivility:  Invitations “forgotten,” stories told to remind them where they belong, arguments about things immaterial that vented hostilities and prejudices.

Emma by Jane Austen presents the parlor life of  emotional constipation and gilded-cage existence without choices beyond who to invite for dinner that ran on and on until death was begged for.  In this day and age, when I can tell my neighbor flat-out, he’s an ass, and go on.  He and I live a life of pretending the other doesn’t exist, which works well.

The book also conveys the sense of the inescapable lot assigned to a person because of who one’s family is and what they’ve done.  Harriet is a persona somewhat non grata because her parentage is unknown.  She could never expect to marry a gentleman, because no respectable man would take in the chance of social disaster if her father ever turned out to be a criminal or worse.  You are who your grandparents were, and if you screw up your life, you ruin your grandchildren’s chances for a future, destroy your siblings’ reputation and shame your parents. 

It amounted to a suffocating life where the most seemingly trivial choices could destroy one’s life and reputation.  While Emma by Jane Austen is not one of my favorites, it’s a worthwhile book to read.  I’m glad to have read it, as much as I am glad I’m DONE reading it.  4 out of 5 stars.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

Title:  Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day

Author:  Winifred Watson

Paperback:  234 pages

Publisher:  Persephone Books Ltd

Publish Date:  2008

ISBN:  9781906462024

…She must state her errand and go.  She must give up her position of equality as Miss LaFosse’s ally and take her correct one of humble applicant for a job, which she felt in her bones she would never get.

She knew too much about the private affairs of Miss LaFosse.  Miss Pettigrew had endured many hard knocks from human nature and understood how intolerable to a mistress such a situation would be.  She felt a hopeless, bitter unhappiness invade her.  But there was nothing she could do.  She must at last get her presence explained and end this wonderful adventure.

She couldn’t bear to do it.  She had never in her life before wanted more to stay in any place.  She felt she couldn’t endure to leave this happy, careless atmosphere… where some one was kind to her and thought her wonderful…  She felt the tears of loneliness and exclusion sting her eyes.

… Oh, if only for once the Lord would be good and cause some miracle to happen to keep her here, to see for one day how life could be lived, so that for all the rest of her dull, uneventful days, when things grew bad, she could look back in her mind and dwell on the time when for one perfect day she, Miss Pettigrew lived.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, pages 52-53

I have not enjoyed reading a book as much as I did reading Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson since my last Stephanie Plum book!  I literally laughed out loud in several spots, and wore a silly grin of delicious pleasure throughout most of the book. 

There was something about Miss Pettigrew, weird as this sounds, that reminded me of Amelia Bedelia.  Perhaps it’s that both characters are domestics, Amelia being a maid and Miss Pettigrew a governess, and both have a charming simplicity about them.  Both characters are not very bright nor skilled in their professions, yet they are greatly cherished by both their employers and readers alike.  Both are unfamiliar with the slang phraseology used (it has never left my memory when Amelia was asked to “draw the curtains” she pulled out paper and pen), and seem to be out of a different era altogether from the rest of the characters in their worlds.

Miss Pettigrew had spent all but the last ten years of her life in the northern, more provincial areas of England before moving to London.  The forty-year-old spinster is the daughter of a clergyman, has lived a virtuous life, has never tasted alcohol nor worn make-up, and has never been flirted with, kissed, or otherwise known the affections of a man.  When she arrives at Miss LaFosse’s door, she is there to apply for a position of governess, painfully aware that if she does not get the job, she will be homeless and will be forced to go to the workhouse.

However, it is quickly apparent that the starlet LaFosse not only doesn’t have any children, but is the antithesis of everything Miss Pettigrew has ever been or known.  In the span of a few hours, she observes her would-be employer physically amorous with three different men and LaFosse tells her of even more men who have professed love for her.

LaFosse invites Pettigrew into her exciting world of glamor, flirtations, vices, night clubs and parties, and all sorts of naughtiness, as her friend and equal.  Miss Pettigrew is led away from her “dowdy, spinster governess” self like a daughter of Hamlin and LaFosse the pied-piper, and decides that if she could just have this life of the other half for just one day, the memories of that day could carry her through all the bad remaining in her life.

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is not only a fun little tale the adventures of a woman who finally decides to LIVE, it is also a peak into a past era.  Set in the mid to late 30s, the reader is treated to a fascinating glimpse of the society of women in a time when “talkies” are a new, exciting thing and telegrams are still sent, when Vaudeville acts and stage performers were on equal ground with film stars, and where the “upstairs-downstairs” mentality still abounded along with the old families-versus-new money tiffs, though social mindsets were beginning to change.

I cannot say that this book was profound or changed me, if all books were like that I’d probably stop reading, but it was a treat and a joy to escape in.  The writing isn’t hard, though some of the words are out of date and I had to look a few up (curate, “funked it,”and a Chesterfield are a few that threw me… and “cheroots?”  I divined there were something between a cigar and a cigarette given the context).

For the gift of laughter and rapturous pleasure this book brings the reader, I give Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson 5 out of 5 stars.  It’s  a classic and now one of my favorite books 😀

hated it!didn't like itit was okayliked itLoved it!

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day has been adapted (albeit loosely from the looks of the trailer) into a movie. I’ve added it to my Netflix queue, but I’ll probably wait a bit before getting it. Like most people, I get so frustrated and angry when Hollywood ruins a book I really love. BUT… I thought I’d include the trailer for your viewing pleasure 🙂 It does look like an equally fun movie.

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin

Title: Matrimony
Author: Joshua Henkin
Paperback: 291 pages
Publisher: Vintage (division of Random House, Inc.)
Publish Date: August 2008
ISBN: 9780307277169

“So how’s your book going?”

“Glacially,” Julian said. “It’s like that joke about Joyce Carol Oates. Someone calls her up and her secretary says, ‘I’m sorry, Miss Oates can’t come to the phone right now, she’s busy writing a book,” and the person says, ‘That’s okay, I’ll hold.’ Only with me it’s the opposite. Rip Van Winkle wakes up twenty years later and I’m still writing my novel… I’ve been at it almost ten years,” he said. “I’ve got two hundred and fifty pages, though I’ve probably thrown out twenty for every one I’ve kept. I’m laying waste to whole forests.”

“What’s the book about?”

Julian hesitated. Even to Mia, he hadn’t confided much; he didn’t want to jinx himself. Growing up, he’d had a special cup he drank from and a lucky number, eight. When he watched the Metsat Shea Stadium in 1973, five years old, in the corporate box seats with his father, he always wore his baseball glove… because he believed it made the Mets play better… Writers, Julian believed, came in all types, but one way or another they were control freaks, and superstition was nothing if not an attempt to exert control. Besides, he thought a good novel resisted summary; it had to speak for itself. Still, he felt he owed Carter an answer, for Carter was his friend and he’d written fiction, too.

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin, page 142

First of all, I want to say that when I first received an email from Josh to review and host a giveaway for Matrimony, I was preparing for a real life visit from my Second Life boyfriend. I was excited and in love, and all that other ooey-gooey stuff brought on by the overproduction of the brain chemicals dopamine and oxytocin. I read the summary and it sounded sweet and lovely and wonderful. However, by the time the book arrived, things between him and I had started going south (reality really ruins fantasy), and I didn’t want to read about happy people falling in love and living happy lives with each other and living happily ever after. So, I drug my feet so hard that I’m surprised I don’t have grooves in my floors.

Then Josh sent another email excusing me from the review having not read the book, and asking me if I still wanted host the book giveaway. I felt guilty for not following through on my side of it, deciding to grin and bear the book , and facetiously set the giveaway for the first day of Lent, stating the two sacraments, marriage and penance, went well together.

So I sat down Sunday morning and started reading Matrimony. Immediately I realized this book was, by far, NOT what I had expected. Josh’s characters are shocking and quirky, vibrant and memorable, drawing me in and guaranteeing I would read the book through to the final punctuation mark.

Julian’s roommate is convinced the other guys on their dorm floor pee in the communal shower and resolves to wear flip-flops when bathing. His writing professor, embittered by the treatment of his novel in a failed attempt to turn it into a movie, refuses to admit anyone who writes with the intention to write books for the film industry. What’s more, Professor Chesterfield writes commandments on the blackboard, 117 by year’s end, like “THOU SHALT NOT USE THE WORD ‘KERPLUNK’ IN YOUR SHORT STORIES,” and “ THOU SHALT NEVER USE PASS-THE-SALT DIALOGUE.

It is in this writing class Julian meets Carter Heinz, and the two become best friends. During their freshman year, Carter meets and falls in love with Pilar, as does Julian with Mia when they meet in the dorm’s laundry room. Thus begins Matrimony, as Henkin takes the reader on a 15 year journey in the life of Julian Wainright, born to wealth but refusing the comforts and connections the privilege would bring, his struggles to fulfill his dream to publish his novel, and the joys and heartaches life brings.

Unlike Sinclair’s Jungle, whose characters make small gains in one chapter, only to have catastrophic losses in the next, until you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all, the ups and downs the lives of the characters in Matrimony are believable and to whom the reader can fully relate. When Mia feels lost and alone as she watches her mother waste away from breast cancer, I wanted to hug her and comfort her and tell I knew what she was going through because my father died from cancer. I was reassured by Julian’s difficulties as a writer, knowing I’m not alone in my own feelings in my own sluggish progress with my novel. And when trouble arises between the couple after Julian learns about an infidelity nine years before, I completely understood his sense of betrayal and loss.

But Henkin hasn’t just written a compelling and involving tale of characters so real that you expect to find them at the grocery store or mall, Matrimony offers lessons in writing that I’ve taken to heart and inspires the reader to action. After reading how Mia copes with their separation, foregoing the comfort of their bed, sleeping instead on the futon from their college days and hoping to catch Julian‘s scent in it, I realized I was holding on to a person, knowing our relationship has ended.

After his visit, I had taken the bed sheet he’d slept on, folded it up and put it away, refusing to wash it because HE was in it; his skin cells, hair and scent were woven into the threads themselves. However, after reading Mia’s feelings, thoughts and actions, I grabbed the sheet and threw it in the washer, letting go of the hurt and disappointment and sense of loss of what could have been. I deleted his phone numbers from my phone and his address from my computer. Then I took a long look at the months I spent in Second Life, and asked myself what did I haveto show for it. The answer I arrived at was this: For the five months I spent escaping to a virtual (fantasy is a better term) world, I had neglected my responsibilities to my family, the housekeeping, to my reading and blogging, to paying bills, became forgetful of appointments and activities, and have had one of the worst cases of winter depression (I have Seasonal Affected Disorder) that I have had in a long time. I have very little good to show for it. Once I realized this, I removed everything related to Second Life from my computer and I’m debating canceling my account (I have decided to wait a month before doing something that drastic, though, as I’vealready paid the rent for my apartment). Though it was painful at first, I feel a profound sense of relief and freedom at having made a decision and taken action, taking control of the situation instead of being a passive victim of life.

I have told all of that to say this: The difference between a good read and a great book is whether or not the reader is changed and compelled to act on that change. A good read is enjoyable and fun, but is forgotten in a year or two; it is the chips and Twinkies of the literary world. Contrastingly, a great book may be an uncomfortable labor to take in, but the reader cannot walk away the same person he or she was before opening the cover and peeking within; it is the manna that sustained the Israelites for forty years of desert wandering, and is preserved for future generations’ understanding and inspiration. Great books become classics, and Matrimony, if there is any wisdom in the reading world, will be counted among them.

For its truth, wisdom, tangible characters, its meaningful and timely content, and its power to inspire and to illicit change, I give Matrimony by Joshua Henkin 5 out of 5 stars, two thumbs and toes up, and a perfect ten (even the German judge agrees). It ranks among the few books I’ve read that becomes a permanent resident of my library. I know I will reread this book, which is very rare for me. I just cannot praise Matrimony enough.

Thank you, Josh, for writing this book and for inviting me to experience and share it. *sniff… tear* 🙂

 

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