What can I possibly say about this week that won’t devolve into whining, swearing and weeping? It was a rough one. We had artic cold, transportation woes, some water, and a whole lot of winter discontent. The real sorrow here is that it is only the end of the first week of January. We have a whole lot of winter to slog through yet. But there is hope! While I was walking to the train last night I noticed something. Something magical. Something that made my heart soar.
It was still light out.
At 5:00 p.m.
So while we are still in the thick of it, there are glimmers that it won’t be forever. It will just feel that way.
This week we have Chechnya, dysfunction (of course), deception, Scientology, The Street, precocity, danger (!), and mental illness.
Let us begin!
Barbara M. is not in Paris but there is a war on. “It took me a while to get into A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra but I’m now about half way through and I find it hard to put down. This is not an easy book to read. The writing is beautiful and the characters are well drawn but the subject is not an easy one to read about. The novel takes place in war-torn Chechnya from 1994 to 2004. The chapters are not chronological but the time line at the top of each chapter lets you know what year it is. After having witnessed the abduction of her father by Russian soldiers eight-year-old Havaa is rescued by her neighbor Akhmed, an incompetent doctor, and brought to a hospital for safe keeping. Sonja, a surgeon who returned to Chechnya to find her sister after having lived in London, is in charge of the hospital and reluctantly allows the girl to stay. This book is intense, disturbing and impelling.”
Pat T. seems bewildered. ” I think I enjoyed reading Pat Conroy's latest book The Death of Santini? Conroy recounts his childhood, dealing with an abusive military father, an anguished mother who thought of herself as a character in Gone with the Wind and six younger siblings all struggling with the dysfunctional family dynamics. This memoir is a roller coast of emotions, and what surprised me the most was how Conroy and some of his siblings came around to see their father, Don Conroy, as a more likable character after he left behind his military career having served in WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War. Their story exemplifies the power of family and forgiveness.”
Sweet Ann has just finished Memories of a Marriage by Louis Begley. It doesn’t seem like the sort of thing she should be reading. “I picked this book up because I was intrigued by the story of someone, in this case the narrator of the novel, Philip, who tries to uncover what unraveled the marriage of a couple he knows. He runs in to Lucy De Bough many years after her divorce and death of her ex-husband, Thomas. At first, Philip does not want to get together with her to hear her rants against him, but he is drawn in and soon he is uncovering the depths of hatred and deception in this marriage. Lucy knew from the beginning that Thomas was not for her but she went for it and thought it would work. Thomas knew there were problems in the beginning and he tried hard to make it work. For Philip, uncovering what happened in his friends' marriage becomes a mission to him because he is a writer who hopes to use what he uncovers in a novel of his own. The writing is very good but be advised the style of writing is meditative as Philip at seventy looks back to times past.”
Abby is reading about a cult that she is more than a little obsessed with. “Scientology fascinates me. Frankly I’m a little surprised it took me so long to get to Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill. Please note the middle name of the author, Miscavige. Jenna is the niece of controversial Scientology leader David Miscavige. Born into Scientology, a faith that believes in treating children as small versions of adults, her high-ranking parents were transferred away from her and she was left to fend for herself at a remote ranch herself under the care of zealots. At age 7, she was required to sign a billion year contact committing her life (and future lives) to service in the elite Sea Org. The level of responsibility placed on children in the church is appalling at best and in my opinion, criminal. I believe Hill has done her best to recount her life in Scientology accurately and I found the book both interesting and infuriating. “
The Fabulous Babs B. has just finished The Prince of Risk by Christopher Reich. Babs loves herself a thriller. “Bobby Astor runs a very successful hedge fund and is about to make the biggest transaction of his life by betting on the devaluation of China's currency. This is a financial thriller that deals with international mercenaries, billionaires (and a particularly nasty one at that) and foreign leaders. The plot thickens when Bobby's father, the Chief Executive of the New York Stock Exchange is murdered along with the head of the Federal Reserve. As Bobby tries to solve the mystery of these deaths, he has to deal with his ex-wife, a Special Agent for the FBI who is trying to stop a group of international terrorists. Their goal? Infiltrate NYC, specifically the New York Stock Exchange. The New York Times calls this author 'the John Grisham of Wall Street’. I can see why!”
Steph reported to me that indeed there was weeping at the end of this one but she loved it. “At the moment I am desperate to finish Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan, a middle grade novel that has lots of Newbery Award buzz. Willow is a twelve-year-old girl who is literally a genius. She is obsessed with plants, her many precise habits, and completely befuddled by middle school. Her life changes utterly when her parents are killed and she is forced to take refuge in the family of the closest thing she has to a friend, her very odd counselor. The voice is so strong; Willow only writes one-sentence paragraphs, and they are illuminated with a naïve precocity that is both funny and heartbreaking. Even though I am excited to finish it tonight, I think I may need to wait until I’m home because this one will lead to some weeping at the end. While it’s technically a kids’ book like The Book Thief, it’s really good for all ages. It is incredible.”
Miss Elisabeth of the CL is doing some very adult reading! Look out! “This week I’m reading The Gift of Fear: Survival Signs that Protect Us from Violence by Gavin de Becker. An author I greatly admire said recently that this book should be required reading for all women, so I decided to pick it up. In the book, de Becker, a behavioral specialist who has worked on over 20,000 cases, gives readers a cornucopia of tools to help protect them from danger. They all boil down to one thing: intuition kept our cave-dwelling forbearers alive, and it could keep us alive, too, if we would stop drowning it out with “logic.” De Becker persuasively argues that even while we are actively trying to judge a situation, our subconscious has already judged the situation and made decisions on how best to protect us. We expose ourselves to danger when we override our natural fears. De Becker also distinguishes between fears that we’ve accumulated that can be dismissed, like being afraid of horror movies, and base fears, which we should always listen to. By recounting scores of true stories as well as citing decades of research which work to prove his points, The Gift of Fear is an enthralling, though definitely heavy, read. I highly recommend it.”
Our Very Special MUOMS was cancelled this week due to some rather wet and wild activity on Wednesday. We will be a go for February 5th where Steph and I will present a program we are very excited about. Join us! There will be handouts! Anyway, as my final bit of preparation I read The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. Matthew and Simon are brothers and the blurb on the inside cover tells you everything you need to know as you sink into this wonderful first novel. ‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you are going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’ Yes, Simon dies and Matthew struggles with that and his descent into schizophrenia. I think that Matthew has to be one of my favorite narrators for the year thus far and Filer’s sensitive portrayal of mental illness makes for a great read.