Housekeeping - A Book Review

HousekeepingHousekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reviewing this book is a difficult task. It is a book that many times I wished to toss aside because it is not an easy book to read. Having said that, I can't think of another book with more beautiful prose, nor can I think of an author other than Marilynne Robinson who writes with such brilliant, sparse prose while capturing the essence of the themes about which she writes.

It is a book about families and difficult family relationships and how family stories that impact generations. "Families are a sorrow, and that's the truth." It is about loss. "Memory is the sense of loss, and loss pulls us after it." It is finding and having connections when on feels cut off and isolated from the rest of the world. "Having a sister or a friend is like sitting at night in a lighted house." It is about identity and isolation.

The setting of the story speaks of such isolation. There seems to be no reason why anyone would be drawn to live in town where the story takes place. The house where the main characters live is perhaps one the most memorable houses I have ever read about. Odd in its location, design, and livability, it mirrors the oddness of those whom have lived there.

Robinson often weaves throughout the story a tale of the great loss that happened when a train derailed and plunged into the lake. The lake is one of the centerpieces of the setting for this book. The shock and grief of that event and the tragedies that followed the train wreck are woven throughout the book. The book is about the deep waters of emotional trauma that the survivors continue to cope as the go about the living out their lives. Each character seems to be alone in a below the surface place of turmoil.

I was relieved, as other readers have said, when I finished the book, but I am also glad I read it. There are so many facets to this book. I will have to re-read it to grasp the depth of it all.

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I've Been Reading...

Summer is for reading.  
I remember when I was in high school, I could hardly wait to lose myself in a great novel.
I haven't changed.

I still love to lose myself in a great novel.  I wish I had kept a list of all the books I've read throughout my lifetime.  I did attempt to put a list together on Goodreads.  Then, I neglected putting in the latest book I finished because it felt too much like I had to write a book report.  I hated writing book reports in school.  I guess deep down inside I felt guilty when I used to assign book reports when I was teaching.  I could feel my students' pain at times.  Book reports were a necessary evil in the high school English/Language Arts classroom.  It was an expectation that students read and then write about what they read.  

I have a few friends whom I can always count on to ask, "What are you reading?"  I love to discuss the books I read.  And I love hearing what other people are reading.  Only reading itself is better than having a good book talk.    I guess one of the things I miss the most about not being in the classroom either as a student or as a teacher is "book talks."  Even though I might really dislike writing about a book, there is also a bit of an empty feeling that I get if I can't talk about a book I just finished.  So, here is a bit about what I've been reading.  

I've been hooked on Susan Howatch lately.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
How did I miss reading Susan Howatch until now?  I've just finished reading three of her novels.  Now, I am hooked on reading her books.

As another reviewier has said, "reading The Rich Are Different made me remember why I love reading." This was true for me also.  I love reading when I've found a great story that allows me to become immersed in the book. I find it hard to put the book down.  I think about the story lines.  I think about the characters as if I know them personally.

Early in this story Howatch introduces the reader to Paul Van Zale, a millionaire investment banker from New York who during the 1920's has gone to England on bank business.  He is a flawed, but powerful character, whose worst fear is being known for the weakness he must hide from the world. He is a man interested in the classics.  Powerful, ruthless, rich, he constantly worries about appearances.  He longs for intimacy, but sees relationships as transactional only.  He is a banker after all.

While he is in England, he is introduced to Dinah Slade,  a much younger damsel in distress.  By a wily scheme she is presented to him in the most creative and fantastical way.  She is smart, ambitious, and also interested in the classics.  Paul Van Zale has met his match in Dinah.  Cunning and intelligent, she is destined to become a rich and powerful woman in her own right.  She just needs to find someone to fund her ventures and save her ancestral  home. Paul is that person.  Duplicitous to the core, Paul can't be trusted, and he cannot trust.  This truth provides a foundation for a classic struggle that will be a theme  that forms one of the central plot lines in the book.   Will Paul ultimately solve Dinah's problem of saving her beloved home and heritage, or will she in the end be the only one who can save it?

Some have compared the story to a retelling of the story of Julius Caesar, Mark Anthony, and Cleopatra.  Certainly all the  themes of greed, ambition, love, and deception are found in the story.

This story is timeless.  The setting is brilliant because where can one tell a story about greed, excesses, and amoral behavior better than in the setting of the banking industry during the 1920's.  The characters are developed excellently as the narrator changes throughout the novel.  In the beginning, the story is told through Paul Van Zale.  Then, the other main characters develop the telling of the story through their voices.  I admire Howatch's character development.  She is the master at doing that.

She weaves together a story so well that even through one is sad to finish the book, one is also deeply satisfied by the reading of a good piece of writing.  Few write sagas as well as Susan Howatch.

Now, I am off to read the next book in this series.  I am hooked.

Book Review ~ A Natural Woman by Carole King

A Natural Woman: A MemoirA Natural Woman: A Memoir by Carole King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love Carole King. I respect her as a person and a performer even more since I read her memoir.  She is an amazing woman in so many ways.  When I consider how much her music is the sound track for my life, I am even more amazed at her talent for writing song lyrics and music.

I found the story of her life is far from ordinary.  She has really lived quite a remarkable life in many ways.  Her life has been filled with much heartbreak and chaos.  She is also a rock of stability in so many ways.  She is an incredibly strong woman who can milk a goat, live in wild, write music that will remain long after she is gone, raise children, marry men who don't deserve her, and even survive physical abuse.  I had no idea that she had been a victim of spousal abuse before I read her book.

When I attended her Denver Troubadour Tour Concert where she performed with James Taylor in 2010, I was just weeks past the traumatic death of my 34 year old daughter.  I credit her performance with giving  me much of  the inspiration to keep on living my life fully the best way I could.  Carole King spoke to me with her music, her demeanor, and her vibrancy.  She helped bring me out of the shock of grief that had a hold on the core of my life.

As I watched her perform, I knew I would survive and thrive again.  Here was a woman from my generation who had traveled many hard roads, but she could still convincingly belt out her music.  Age and life experiences only made her ability to sing more authentic than than it had been before. Life experience made gave her more depth, more richness.   Natural woman indeed.  Rocking those curly, gray locks of hair while wearing high heels and age appropriate but still sexy attire, only added to her youthful appearance.  This woman does not hide behind styled and colored hair, or wrinkle erasers.  Face lifts have not altered her iconic looks.  She is natural.  Her blue, sparkling eyes and big smile are ageless.

That being said, I was disappointed in her book.  I read her story with interest, but I did not enjoy her writing style.  She is a song writer.  That is her genre.  Memoir is not her forte.  She exceeds the norm in most areas, but not in writing a book.

I glad I bought the book.  I'm glad I read it.  She is truly an amazing woman.  I was just disappointed in her ability to connect with her readers, who already have such a connection to her through her music,  even though she has a story to tell that is absolutely fascinating.

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