Today's Grateful List/31 December 2015

  • Going to get answers no matter what

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Fallen Beauty (Read This One. I Mean It.)

Basic synopsis: Laura is a young woman whose youthful indiscretion results in the birth of her daughter in the narrow-minded town where she grew up. It is 1928 and the birth provokes the loss of most of her seamstress business, though her sister Marie remains her faithful companion. Not far away, the poetess Edna St. Vincent Millay lives with her husband Eugen, giving wild, uninhibited parties and flaunting her bohemian lifestyle to the shock and horror of the townspeople. Though Laura tries to avoid Millay when she asks for a new wardrobe for her upcoming reading tour, with finances tight and her curiosity piqued, Laura succumbs and in the process learns more about herself than she'd dared.

Now for the truth: I wasn't at all sure I'd become a fan of this novel until I was more than halfway through. Laura's refusal to name her lover drove me crazy at first, knowing there would be a big, shocking reveal later that I assumed wouldn't be all that shocking (and I was so wrong on this count). But as the story moved along, Laura's morals and fortitude wore away at my hesitance; I found that not only did I like her, I also championed her because of her denial to give into the town bullies. Laura's deep love for her child is a constant throughout the story, and her growth, mostly at the behest of taking care of the child, elevates her character from sad pariah to determined architect of her own future. Laura's a part of me now, and for that alone I would give this book 5 solid stars.

The biggest issue I had with Fallen Beauty lies with the portrayal of Millay, though I assume it's a mostly factual telling. Millay is not a sympathetic character beyond the fact that she may have had some emotional disturbance. Her treatment of her long-suffering husband, her insistence on being the center of the universe, her complete disregard for how her actions impacted others all add up to a woman who, while brilliant, was not likable at all. I don't believe the author intended her to be so, however; I do think she wanted to show a side of Millay that, despite her selfish reasons, helped another to find her backbone. Other than that, I spent most of the novel wanting to slap Millay for her whims and utter narcissism, and if that was the aim of the author, she succeeded brilliantly.

Mostly, however, this story is Laura's: Her refusal to give in, her desperation to take care of her child, her sense of wonder which could never be completely extinguished. When the climax of the story is reached, it is gripping and emotionally impactful for all. I was taken in by the transformation of spirit and the accepting nature of Laura, which stood in contrast to the vapid Millay, who still provides Laura with the missing element of her life: forgiveness. This novel is well written and totally, wholly encompassing.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Lost Lake

One thing is for certain: Sarah Addison Allen knows how to tell a story. So much so, that even when you know where you are headed, you are sucked in and absorbed as if you had no clue.

Lost Lake, the author's fifth book, is the story of Kate, who has lost her young husband to an accident, and her daughter, Devin. Kate has allowed herself a year to be "asleep": she's gone through the motions but wasn't entirely aware of anything. But just as she's about to move into her mother-in-law's home, Kate takes Devin on a totally random trip to visit her Great Aunt Eby, who owns a run down camp in Florida. Upon arrival, they discover that Eby is about to sell the camp, and this is the one last fling for her regular three campers and Eby's friend Lisette. Allowing themselves to be taken in by the atmosphere and sense of belonging, Kate and Devin come to realize that they cannot allow the direction they've been taking in life, especially once Kate is reunited with childhood love Wes. Add in a magical alligator and an attempt to overcome a childhood tragedy, and you have the gist of a story that is so much more than that.

Lost Lake is filled with little gems of wisdom and the sense of finding yourself, no matter your age or circumstances. There is a backstory to Eby that's fascinating (even if I didn't especially care for Lisette's dependence upon her friend). I adore the magical elements, which are just enough that you can believe that they might actually be true. The stories of Selma and Bulahdeen, two of the regular campers, add to the tale in that it's clear that no matter what your age, it's not too late to find friends and be useful. But this is mostly Kate's tale of coming back to life, and it's here that the story really shines. Devin is a delight and Kate finding her backbone is the best part.

I'm convinced that Sarah Addison Allen could write the phone book and I'd find it fascinating. This story is a wonderful tale of hope and love and I highly recommend it.


Sunday, February 09, 2014

A Quickie…Good Children's Lit!

Young Lydia's life is turned upside down when she unexpectedly loses both her parents and her baby sister to the Spanish influenza outbreak in 1918. Going from a loving household to her uncle's overcrowded farm seems bad enough, but when it becomes apparent that her aunt does not welcome either Lydia or her brother Daniel, they are sent to live at the local Shaker settlement. Along with her sadness over losing her home, there's the trepidation of not knowing anyone and the feeling of if she will like her new home. All of these emotions play out in the journal Lydia keeps where she records her daily activities.

Like a Willow Tree is a very well written look at the losses a young girl faced after the devastation of the Spanish influenza epidemic and also a worthwhile glimpse into the daily life of the Shaker religion. Prior to reading this novel, I knew very little about the actual religious practices of Shakers; this novel shares those by using real life leaders of the movement, interweaving them into the life of Lydia. While at times the style of writing is very old-fashioned and stiff, it is still indicative of the time Lydia would've been alive as a young girl trying to find her way. This is an enjoyable snapshot of a time in history which very few people know much about. Recommended.