Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg

home-repairTitle:  Home Repair

Author:  Liz Rosenberg

Paperback:  352 pages

ISBN:  9780061734564

Challenges:  ARC Challenge

But it was more than facing the clutter and the mess, this grip of cold gloom that surrounded her.  She had never been prone to depression, not even after Ivan died, but what she suffered now felt like a disease of the soul.  She wandered aimlessly around the house.  The flowers in their clay pots out on the front porch were long dead and withered.  A few brown leaves stuck out from the stems.  She seemed to be staring at the demise of everything.  Everything she’d already lost, all the losses still to come.  It all headed toward grief in the end.  Humans were soap bubbles, clinging to any solid surface.  They rested briefly, then were gone.  Her mother would be gone soon, and not long after, it would be herself, and one day even her own children…

A chill stabbed her heart.  Why on earth bother?  Why clean, take out the trash, make the beds.  Why not let it all alone to rot?

- Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg, pages 183-184 (ARE)

I’d first like to thank Jennifer, aka Book Club Girl, for the opportunity to read Home Repair and participate in a discussion with Liz Rosenberg, the book’s author.  You can listen to her July 8th broadcast on Blog Talk Radio with the author by clicking here.  It was my first time participating in a live discussion with an author, and was an interesting experience.  It would definitely be more interesting to have the author’s voice at a book club discussion more often.

One of the things that sticks out most for me with Home Repair is that it truly has a feeling of authenticity.  Often in books, when the tragic or fantastic occurs, it feels contrived or manufactured, a vehicle for the author to get the characters from one point to another, or to teach a lesson.  However, with this book, the events feel natural.  When Eve and her seventeen-year-old son, Marcus, get into a fight about him going for a ride in his friend’s new sports car, it had a very familiar feeling to me, a mother of two teens of my own.  The events that followed the argument also felt familiar and made me think back to something that had happened within my own family.  Another aspect of Home Repair that I kept thinking of while reading it was that the characters were very real to me.  At times I could see my own mother in Charlotte, Eve’s mom, with Eve playing my part, at other times Mrs. Dunrea could’ve been me.  Also, Rosenberg has set Home Repair in her home town of Bignhamton, New York, adding even more realism to the book.

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg begins on a bright, sunny and unseasonably mild day as Eve holds a garage sale to clear out some of the clutter in her family of four’s life.  As the day progresses, she becomes aware that her husband, Chuck, has taken the opportunity to clear out for good.  Eve is left with the task of explaining to her two children, Marcus and Noni, that he’s left them, and to somehow manage to dig down within herself and soldier on.  The book takes us on a year journey as Eve rediscovers who she is, develops friendships and connections with new and different people, and deepens her relationships with those she already knows.  When her mother moves up from Tennessee to “help,” Eve is faced with her mother’s own eventual mortality and humanness, as she struggles in the in-between land of mother caring for her own children while being a child caring for her mother.  Home Repair is the story of healing, family and friendship that will stay with you and gives hope that “This too shall pass.”

“Why does anyone get married?  Why do middle-aged men leave their wives, or women abandon their families and run off to Tahiti?  Why does anyone bother to become friends with anyone, or adopt a child, or own a pet, for that matter?  We’re all going to die sooner or later, if that’s what you’re thinking,”  Charlotte said.  “That’s life.  Nothing we do can change that.  We’re all going to someday say good-bye.  We’re all going to have to cry, little girl,” she said, putting one hand out to touch Eve’s hair.  The touch did not quite happen, but hovered, and then settled back down, like a butterfly, still quivering.  “We might as well be happy while we can.”

-Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg, page 324 (ARE)

Home Repair by Liz Rosenberg is a comfort, homey read that reminds us that we’re not alone and gives us hope.  It tells us that we’re stronger than we think and love is the best home repair.  I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbank

Title:  Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank:  And Other Words of Delicate Southern Wisdom

Author:  Celia Rivenbark

Hardback:  262 pages

Date Published:  September 2006

PublisherSt. Martin’s Press

ISBN:  9780312339937

When my daughter announced her class was taking a field trip, I involuntarily shrieked “No!” but then had to realize that it was doubtful the kindergarten classes were going to prison or the dookie factory.

Indeed, it was the zoo.  This would be safe and fun, I thought.  Animals frolicking – what could go wrong?

Well, for starters, the baboon, who was frankly obsessed with amorous activities that didn’t require a partner.

“What’s he doing?” a few of the kids asked.

My husband, who was the only man who had come along to chaperone, decided he would deal with this question, and deal with it he did.

“That’s just the traditional baboon way of waving hello,” he said, sounding remarkably poised and knowledgeable.

“Oh,” a little boy in the class said.  “Should we wave back?”

“Oh, God no.”

Next up:  the “desert habitat” where an ancient camel proceeded to amuse the children by leaning down to eat his own shit.  Without even moving his legs, the giraffe savored every bite as if it were the Christmas ham.

Oooh, icky gross! I think I’m gonna hurl!

“It’s just nature,” said one of the kids, trying to comfort my husband.

-Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbark, pages 53-54

I first heard about Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbark on the April Books Brought Home Library Thing thread (the discussion starts going around message 174).  It created quite a stir, as everyone passed around their “bad parents and monstrous children” horror stories.  With the conversations circulating, as well as it’s hilarious-but-shocking title, I knew I wanted to read this book.  So I clicked on over to BookMooch, entered the title in the search bar, and voila! mooched the only copy available. 

When it arrived in the mail on Saturday, I cracked open the book and just glanced at the title of the first chapter:  There’s Always Tomorrow(land):  “If You Really Loved Me, You’d Buy Me Pal Mickey”.   The chapter’s about Celia planning and taking her family to Disney World.  Before I realized it, I was at the end of the chapter, ripped envelope still in my lap, and bladder barely holding its ground after all the laughter.  The whole book is like that, and you just about have to tear the book from your hands to put it down to make dinner, sleep or even go to the bathroom (okay, I admit it… Celia went there, too).

With the charm of a Southern Belle, and a snarky, sarcastic wit, Miss Celia expresses all that it is to be a mother/wife/career woman/person with the sense God gave a goose in this day and age.  She tells of her experience trying to buy size 7 clothes for her six-year-old, and only finding outfits that’d make a Vegas showgirl feel naked.  Later, she points out that grown women in character-embossed clothes need to grow up, which points out the Topsy-turvy nature of the American culture today:  Children dressing like sexually mature adults and grown-ups dressing like school kids at play.

Each chapter’s title both encompasses its contents, while being surprising and tongue-in-cheek.  A few examples of this are:

  • Yo Yo Yo!  Where Can a Sista Get a Cowgirl Outfit?:  Holidays Make This Mama Wanna Get in Your Grille
  • Weary Mom to Uppity Teens:  At Least I Know Where the Continent of Chile Is
  • Field Trip, Fornification, and a Shit-Eating Giraffe:  Who Says School Can’t Be Fun?
  • Montel’s Smoking Weed:  (But Will He Share With Sylvia the Psychic?)
  • Reality Bites:  Super Skanks Lewinsky and Hilton Are Fun to Watch, but Those 100-Pound Toddlers Rule!
  • The Butcher’s Great, the Baker’s Suffering:  But How Is the Anti-Carb Frenzy Affecting the Candlestick Maker?
  • The Paradoxical Male:  Smart Enough to Find “Me Time,” but Dumb Enough to Get Stuck Buying the Tampons
  • If It Ain’t On eBay, It Ain’t Worth Having:  (Whoa!  Is That Willie Nelson’s Face in Your Grits?)
  • Politicians Serve Up McValues:  (With Extra Cheese on the Side)

Amidst the humor and anecdotes, Rivenbark manages to slip in facts and evidence that support her position, but  you’re too busy laughing and enjoying her company to realize “Hey, there’s serious journalism going on here!”

I enjoyed Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbark  immensely, and am going to buy a new copy from Amazon and have it shipped to my mom for Mother’s Day (don’t tell her, or you’ll ruin the surprise!).  All the way through, I could just hear my mom’s voice in Rivenbark, and I know she’ll enjoy it as much as I did.  While the book won’t stay with me as far as remembering specifics, the feeling of fun and laughter will live on, and I’m sure that when I re-read this review a year from now, I’ll remember specifics in the chapters mention, and laugh again.  For the joy it’s given me and will give to my mom and myself in the future, I give Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank by Celia Rivenbark 4 iout of 5 Krispy Kreme donuts :-D

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In this video clip, Celia Rivenbark opens up a book signing by reading an anecdote in an email from a friend.

One More Year by Sana Krasikov

Title:  One More Year
Autor: Sana Krasikov
Pages: 196
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (a division of Random House, Inc.)
Publish Date: August 2008
ISBN: 9780385524391

She was tired, tired of waiting for some big event to happen in her life, while things only dragged on and on… Everything in her life was about waiting.

-Better Half, p 91

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One More Yearis a collection of eight short stories by Sana Krasikov. It is a lopsided effort. A couple of the stories are brilliant, one is a one of the worst things I’ve read lately, and the rest are, mneh.

Unfortunately, the first story in this book, Companion, is about a Russian divorcee named Ilona. She lives in an apartment with Earl Brauer and their relationship is never clear. Is she the live-in nurse? Is she just a friend and roommate? It is a confusing arrangement, and the only thing I am certain of is that Ilona is a self-centered twit who isn’t worth my time to read about. Earl isn’t much better, but at least I can understand a feel a slight twinge of sympathy. He’s lonely and she’s a user, but where he also loses me is that he’s manipulative. This story was so bad, I would have pitched the book had it not been an ARC to review. 0 stars for this one.

The two stories that I felt were brilliantly written and had great character development were Asal and The Repatriates. Asal is the story of Gulia, the unofficial wife of Rashid, who was previously married to a druggie wife-beater with an overbearing mother. She wants Rashid to divorce his legal wife so they can marry, just like he promised. When he won’t do this, she leaves for America to let him stew in his juices. When the call finally comes that he’s going through with it, Gulia’s joy is short lived. (4 out of 5 stars)

It wasn’t despair that had made Nasrin do it, she thought, it was simple vengeance. How did one compete with insanity, she wondered.

-Asal, page 65

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One thing that I liked about The Repatriates is that it shows the occasional immigrant who, upon coming to the US, believes their homeland is the best in the world. I’ve known several Vietnamese who talk this way, and have a Cuban friend who is always on about the marvelous things communism has done for his country. But they always do this with their feet planted firmly on the green grass of a free country, which always irks me.

The first line of The Repatriates tells it all:

The last days of Grisha and Lera Arsenyev’s marriage might have been a story fashioned out of commonplace warnings.

It’s the story of religious fanaticism, delusions of grandeur and trickery, and what it’s like to wake up and realized you’ve been duped by someone who was supposed to love and honor you. (4 out of five stars)

The rest of the stories are mostly just okay. Some are better than others, but nothing I’d buy a book for.

Maia in Yonkers: Maia came to New York City to work for more money than she could make back in the Ukraine. She flies her teenage son to visit her, and he proves that Americans don’t have the corner market on surly teens. (2.5 stars)
Debt: Seems to be about my relatives… Lev and his wife receive an unexpected visit from his niece and her husband. But, like my relatives, she’s come to ask for money. AND like my relatives, if he tells her no, she’ll write him off as a selfish money-hoarder. (2 stars)
Better Half: After staying in America, Anya marries Ryan who turns out to be a pot-smoking dreamer who’s abusive and paranoid-jealous. He hides her paperwork she needs to get her permanent alien status, among other butthole things, and yet… ugh, I wanted to slap her. (3 stars, maybe 3.5)
The Alternate: A man seizes the opportunity to have dinner with the daughter of his old college sweetheart with the hope of an affair. Mneh… (1 star)
There Will Be No Fourth Rome: Another stupid woman putting her freedom on the line for her boyfriend. DUH! Nona says it best in this story, “Don’t you just wish you could kill people lie that with your thoughts?” You see, that’s why I choose to stay single.(3 stars)

This book could be renamed “Women Waiting Around for Their Boyfriends to Divorce Their Wives”. The title “One More Year” comes from the second story; Maia tells her son she’s staying in America for one more year, to which he reminds her she said that last year.

What this book does well is present a picture of Georgia and Moscow the west has not seen. A world of dower-faced, bitter people who are only after what they can graft and out-right steal from anyone, even their friends and family… especially their friends and family. I suppose, if this is a true portrait, it is a mentality born from so much poverty and oppression. Even after they leave the old country and set up in America, they bring the same mindsets with them. In this, Krasikov’s characters are real and imperfect, even if they are loathsome.

However, I think Krasikov tries to put too many characters in her stories, making it impossible to develop them properly. It’s possible they’d make better novels. Another problem I had with this book is I found several parts confusing; places I wasn’t sure who was saying what or what was even going on. There were several times I came jerking to a stop over punctuation, sometimes too much and others not enough. One of those times was a sentence with a comma that tore up the effectiveness of the thought. I read and reread it, trying to figure out what she had meant to say, finally saying, “I hate that sentence” before moving on. I think the fact that the first story was so bad the rest of the book was tainted by that.

For much of this book, I can’t help but think One More Year is the kind of commercialized book Nam Le wrote about in The Boat‘s first story: Ethnic lit for ethnic sake, not for the quality of the writing. “She’s from the Ukraine! Buy her book!” Oddly enough, like Nam Le, she’s a Iowa Workshop writer. Hmm… maybe the fellow student in “Love and Honor” wasn’t from China after all.

After totalling up all the stars and dividing by 8, One More Yearreceives an overall 2.5 stars. Mneh.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Title:  A Thouensand Splendid Suns
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Publisher: Riverhead Books (the Penguin Group)
Publish Date: 2007
ISBN: 9781594489501

…it was not regret any longer but a sensation of abundant people that washed over her. She thought of her entry into this world, the harami child of a lowly villager, an unintended thing, a pitiable regrettable accident. A weed. And yet she was leaving the world as a woman who had loved and been loved back. She was leaving it as a friend, a companion, a guardian. A mother. A person of consequence at last… This was a legitimate end to a life of illegitimate beginnings.

The second novel by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns is both complimentary and contrasting to The Kite Runner. The first novel, masculine and brutal, while the second feminine with the underlining current of endurance and sacrifice. Both books are about Kabul, Afghanistan, where Hosseini is from, and both books are tales of survival. While The Kite Runner is a book about a family who left Afghanistan after the soviet invasion and takeover, A Thousand Splendid Suns is about a family who stayed in Kabul throughout nearly all the almost thirty years of the city’s turbulence and war. Both have messages of love and sacrifice.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is an emotional story of two women, Mariam and Laila, who are married to a violent and malicious man. Their husband, Rasheed, reminded me of a concept I had read in Harlan Coben’s Hold Tight: Evil people are always evil, and when they are given the approval to be cruel they will do so with great relish. Rasheed had been a wicked, controlling violent man before the Taliban, but with the absolute freedom of men to do whatever they want to their female family members, Rasheed’s true abusive nature becomes his unabashed identity. He can do whatever, whenever, he wants to the women, and no police will save them because it’s a family matter, no court would believe them because he’s a man and they are women, a class of people who are “only slightly less contemptable than a communist.”

…you’ll learn nothing of value in those schools. There is only one… skill a woman like you and me needs in life, and they don’t teach it in school… Only one skill. And it’s this: tahamul. Endure.

This book is a beautiful story of a deep love and companionship of two women, of their ability to endure beyond their imaginations, of survival, and of the ultimate sacrifice love can make: The laying down of one’s life for another. It is the story of redemption and reunion, Mariam’s illegitimate and loveless life being redeem by the love Laila, Aziza, and Zalmai give her and the reunion of the star-crossed lovers.

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a visceral account of life in a war zone, the horror, the sounds and the bodies. It is beautiful at times with poetic passages and loving moments between characters, while revealing the life of oppression women were forced to endure during the Taliban rule in Afghanistan. It is haunting, depressing, joyful, and hopeful.

… like a rock in a riverbed, enduring without complaint, her grace not sullied but shaped by the turbulence that washes over her.

For me, whenever the events were stamped with the date, winter of 1993, Summer of 1994, Fall of 1999, etc, I thought of what was going on in my life at the same time, birth of my daughters in clean hospitals, having water that poured from my tap, using an indoor flushing toilet and bathroom with a shower. Not to mention I could walk my kids to the park and not worry about them getting killed by sniper fire and taking it for granted my daughter wouldn’t be raped by soldiers passing by. Never once fearing we’d take a trip out of town and returned to find our house now the possession of the government.

Because this book is graphic and shows the reality of war and domestic violence, this book is not for people who are sensitive to such things. There are several passages that will rip your heart out, and several that makes your stomach sink with dread and worry for Mariam and Laila. I am sure there are people who find the story too depressing to finish.

I didn’t think it was possible that I could like this better than The Kite Runner, but I do. The focus on the women, their struggles, their endurance, their support of one another, and their ability to dream and hope for escape and freedom despite all they go through is humbling and encouraging. I feel a sense of kinship to them, a sense of shared suffering and not giving up, fighting back in the face of hopeless odds. It has a softer and steadier voice than The Kite Runner, as if told by a female narrator instead of a man. It is an incredible journey of forgiveness and redemption.

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