Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Woman In White

Regarded as the first mystery novel, The Woman In White tells the story of Laura Fairlie, a young, beautiful heiress engaged to marry an older baron, Sir Percival Glyde. Before the marriage, a drawing master, William Hartwright, comes to Limmeridge House to give Laura and her half-sister, Marian Halcombe, art lessons. On his way to their country home, he crosses path during the night with a mysterious and troubled woman wearing all white.

Her appearance begins to unravel the secret of Sir Glyde, whom Laura Fairlie eventually marries. The marriage is doomed not only due to Glyde's obsession with keeping his secret in tact, but also because Mr. Hartwright and Laura Fairlie fell in love.

Throw in a truly terrific villian, Count Fosco, maids, cooks, doctors and lawyers all giving their own versions of the truth and what's left is an authentic mystery loaded with plot twists and turns developed through many interesting characters.

The author, Wilkie Collins, was a contemporary of Charles Dickens, although I have to admit that this was the only book of his I'd ever heard of. He's a talented author and uses several different voices quite convincingly to tell this story.

I appreciated the book more from a historical standpoint than its storytelling. While I found the first two-thirds of the book to be intriguing the climax of the story unfortunately happened with several hundred pages still left for the much less fun wrap up. Oh, several things still needed to be figured out for us readers to be completely satisfied, but, in spite of Collins putting Mr. Hartwright in danger a few times, the book became a little too comfortable and predictable. I knew the smooth ending was coming, but it took a long time to get there!

I'm glad I read it, though. It's very readable for being written in the mid 1800s, more so than Dickens, I would say, and an all-together entertaining story.


So - the big news is I've found myself a bookgroup! I rank finding a bookgroup I enjoy right up there with finding an OB/GYN, hair stylist, pediatrician, dentist, and babysitter after a move. I'm simply not settled until I have a group with whom I can meet and discuss things.

I was told the group planned on discussing Away by Amy Bloom, so I hoped beyond hope that I could find it at the library instead of buying the unproven book. I did and I'm lucky I did.

This is NOT a book I enjoyed. Apparently, Amy Bloom is a successful short story author and Away is her first attempt at a novel. Unfortunately for us readers, Away, while a novel's size in length, does not contain a novel's size plot. It has lots of side stories and a sort of light at the end of the tunnel to get you to keep reading, but a journey is not a plot and I found myself weary of the main character, Lillian Leyb, and her journey to find her possibly alive daughter, Sophie.

More than that, I found Lillian's character, the one and only consistant character from beginning to end, to be underdeveloped. I knew the kinds of shoes she wore, but I was given very little information about her personality. Did she enjoy being a mother? Did she love her husband? Does she want to be an American? The author writes her as extremely motivated without detailing her motivation. It's frustrating.

Her story begins as she looks for work and opportunity as a newly landed immigrant in New York City during the 1920s. Destitute and alone after the murder of her family in Russia, there is a coldness and lack of feelings to her actions. She seems to believe and act upon the philosophy that a desired end justifies any means.

Again, the story flounders because Bloom never really tells us what end Lillian wants. For the first 100 pages, she seems to merely want security but not necessarily happiness. When she receives news of her daughter who is possibly alive and possibly living in Siberia, the story suddenly changes and her sole desire is her daughter. The story's dramatic change from an immigrant's survival guide to a not-without-my-daughter drama doesn't work. The stories aren't really necessary tied together and the novel unravels into a series of short stories - none of which are particularly enjoyable as they each describe Lillian among the morally bankrupt as she impossibly attempts to find her daughter.

The delays and harships along the way (and along the way I mean from New York to Siberia via Alaska) have an almost circus-like horror to them. Any one of the situations Bloom puts Lillian in, starting with the massacre she witnesses while still in Russia) would be enough to defeat the strongest of women - if not kill them. Add to the implausibility of Lillian's survival the lack of background development to even care that mother and daughter are reunited and Away becomes a very fragmented and unfulfilling story.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Guernsey is a small Island in the English Channel that was controlled for five years by German forces during World War II. After the war, a young female British author, Juliet Ashton, finds herself unwillingly on a book tour to promote her book, Izzy Bickerstaff Goes To War. She's tired of the war, tired of writing under a pseudonym and tired of trying to be funny and lighthearted about such a horrible topic. Unfortunately, her mind draws a blank when it comes to knowing what else to write about. All of this information is delightfully given through amusing letters to her editor, Sidney.

While on tour, she receives a letter written by Dawsey Adams, a native of Guernsey, who has stumbled across her name written in a book by Charles Lamb. Seeking more information on this author, Juliet and Dawsey begin a correspondence that soon involves a dozen or so members of what is known as the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

The letters include informations about the conditions during the War, zany character sketches that Island life seems to be best at producing and an emerging story that Juliet eventually realizes is her next book topic. To gather more information for her book, she decides to travel to Guernsey to meet these people she has come to know through letters face-to-face.

I have to include one fabulous quote. It will put a smile on the face of any blogger that has risked a meeting with a fellow blogger for the first time:

As the mail boat lurched into the harbor, I saw St. Peter Port rising up from the sea on terraces, with a church on the top like a cake decoration, and I realized that my heart was galloping. As much as I tried to persuade myself it was the thrill of the scenery, I knew better. All those people I've come to know and even love a little, waiting to see -- me. And I, without any paper to hide behind. Sidney, in these past two or three years, I have become better at writing than living -- and think what you do to my writing. On the page, I'm perfectly charming, but that's just a trick I learned. It has nothing to do with me. At least, that's what I was thinking as the mail boat came toward the pier. I had a cowardly impulse to throw my red cape overboard and pretend I was someone else.

In spite of it's long and confusing title, this is a book I happily recommend to everyone. It's chaming, uplifting, well written, funny, clean, historical, romantic and, best of all...a very easy read. I've read a few disparaging reviews that attack the book for being World War II fluff or not an accurate representation of what a female author in 1946 would sound like in letters. To them I say...fiddlesticks. If you want the nitty gritty of World War II or a proper British tone, have at a long list of other books already available.

If, however, you want to jump into small-town life on Guernsey, remember the thrill of letter writing, and enjoy a collaborative "na-na-na-na-na-na!" at resident busy-body Adelaide Addison - read this book! I have a happy hunch you won't be disappointed.

A Town Like Alice

A Town Like Alice reminds me so much of my favorite book, Mrs. Mike. Both catalog the difficulties and triumphs of living in remote areas. Both are historical. Both have a strong and engaging female protagonist who are in love with a man responsibly tied to a piece of land. Neither are fluffy Harlequins but make that pit in the bottom of your stomach churn with romance.

In short, I loved it. A Town Like Alice follows Jean Paget, a Scottish woman who was raised by her parents in Malay (now known as Malaysia), returns to work there as an adult and ultimately finds herself trapped there as a Prisoner of War when the Japanese invade the Island during World War II.

Her captivity is accurately described as horrible, with starvation and long marches from town to town killing many women and children. But, it also shows that unique ability of women to nurture, even in the most degrading situations. When she meets Joe Harman, an Australian ringger (cowboy) and fellow POW, he tells Jean about his home and work near Alice Springs, a bonza town in the heart of the Outback. The two extremely lonely and isolated characters become friends. Eventually, when Joe steals five chickens to feed the sick and hungry women and children, Jean is interrogated and punished until Joe confesses and is later crucified by a cruel Japanese leader.

The story's narration is directed by an elderly British attorney, Noel Strachan, who is put in charge of a trust Jean's uncle leaves her. Even with the narration in his control, most of the story is told through Jean sharing her memories to Noel. Eventually, I found Noel's involvement and third party perspective very satisfying, mostly because it allowed the author to cover a greater amount of time without seeming overly jumpy.

The book was written in 1950 and feels like it at times. The attitudes of segregation and thoughtless charactitures of minorities creates feelings of discomfort at times. It's not done with malice, and the story isn't about racial barriers at all, so I didn't find it offensive. If anything, it allows an unapologetic view that probably most white people had at the time - which is actually an interesting glimpse on its own.

I appreciated this book - for its less frequently told story of female prisoners of war and for its celebration of the human spirit.

Flowers For Algernon

This book will get me up to date and hopefully I'll lose that feeling of being behind and unorganized. Maybe. At least in this area of my life.

This was another book I saw on the most commonly banned book shelf at my library. I may have read it before, because I sort of knew the story already. Although if I did, it was when I was much too young to understand the depths of this novel.

I loved it. I really loved it. I even cried at the end, which is so, so rare these days (unless I read Nicholas Sparks who always seems to get me at the end. Blast him.).

Charlie Gordon is a thirty-two mentally retarded man with an IQ of 70. He works as a janitor and errand boy in a bakery and considers his life good and happy because he has lots and lots of friends. He is aware, however, of not being very smart. He thinks if he can learn to read and write properly, he'll be smart and able to understand and participate in what everyone else is talking about.

When an opportunity to undergo an experimental surgery as part of a neuro-psychological study to artificially increase intelligence arises, he happily signs on. He can't wait to become smart.

Algernon is the name of a mouse who has reached unprecedented levels of intelligence following the same surgical procedure. Charlie, the first human subject, mirrors Algernon's success and reaches levels of intelligence far beyond what the doctors behind the study are capable of understanding. Alongside his increased intelligence are emerging emotional capabilities, such as romantic feelings towards women, and troubling memories he was previously unable to remember or understand with his lower IQ, about his childhood and friends.

The entire story is important and poignant. The author, Daniel Keyes, includes part of Plato's, The Republic, to begin the story. Plato writes:

Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderment of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees any one whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other; or, if he have a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the den.

I don't know if he read Plato's words and then wrote this story, or if he serendipitously found it afterward, but it is the perfect prologue. As Charlie adjusts his sight from living in the den of his limited mind to the brighter light of understanding, the growing pains the rest of us have had years to adjust and become accustomed to, are uncomfortable and awkward.

Likewise, at the peak of Charlie's intelligence, when he viewed the world around him in the brightest light possible, Charlie understands the flaws of the experiment that those who developed it were unable to see. With that understanding, the tragedy of watching him lose his grip on so much knowledge feels overwhelming.

As far as being commonly banned, I have no idea, at all, how this could be. The only thing even mildly questionable, to me, is Charlie's struggle to come to terms with the negative sexual conditioning he received from his mother as a boy. As he begins to express the feelings he has for women in general, and specifically towards Alice, a woman he loves, he struggles to understand, beyond theoretically, the complexities of the male-female relationship. While these situations are included, I actually think it's a critical part of the discussion of light and dark. Perhaps not for middle schoolers, but definitely for those of us who live with our own conditioning and judgment.

I highly recommend reading this. Even if you know you've read it long ago for school, read it again as an adult. And then test your own eyes.

Slaughterhouse Five

I've never read Kurt Vonnegut, but have been told by enough readers that he's one of their favorite authors to pick up one of his books. When I passed by a shelf at my library that was full of the most commonly banned books in America, and found Slaughterhouse Five, with its distinctive "V" embellishing the front cover in plain view, I thought to my rebel self, "Perfect."

On any given day, I'm going to be an opponent of book banning. If any one person has a problem with a book, I fully embrace that person's agency to not read, never read, and with as much influence as they believe they have, persuade others to do the same.

ban1 [ban]
- verb - banned, ban·ning,
1.to prohibit, forbid, or bar; interdict: to ban nuclear weapons; The dictator banned all newspapers and books that criticized his regime.
a.to pronounce an ecclesiastical curse upon.
b.to curse; execrate.

Waaaaay too extreme an action for this book, and, really, for any book. Notice the sentence in italics used above. Notice it contained the word "dictator".

Banned or not, I found Vonnegut's part memoir/part novel about free will and war in general, but the bombing campaign against Dresden, Germany during World War II in particular, to be extremely provocative.

The plot is not your straightforward, everyday war novel plot. Rather, Vonnegut puts his character, Billy Pilgrim, an unambitious and fearful optometrist from New York, in the war and makes him the unwilling companion of a psychopath. As Billy becomes "unstuck in time" and later abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, the novel takes several unexpected twists.

It sounds weird, which it is, but not overly so. Somehow, even when describing the Tralfamadorian's ability to see in four dimensions, their ability to see everything that has ever happened at once but their choice to concentrate instead on any one moment of their lives, the hands that comes out of their bodies pointing straight up and their telepathic communication, it doesn't seem like a gimmick. Not only does it provide comic relief to a horrific subject matter, but it also allows Vonnegut to write a parallel perspective - perhaps his but probably more what he thinks the masses believe. As Billy Pilgrim narrates each scene, he does so with this Tralfamadorian understanding of time. The atrocities he faces in the rail car that takes him from France to Germany as a POW, the complete destruction and death of a once beautiful city and the execution of a good man are written with the matter-of factness and reality that would have been impossible for him to describe in detail otherwise.

I think part of the uproar, if there still is any, is over its age appropriateness. I know this is required reading for a lot of high school students, and while I think a mature and interested reader could appreciate the opinion Vonnegut attempts to give form to, the language, description and attitude of the book could easily offend many a student and parent.

It would be a hard thing to be an English teacher and give a "required reading list" to your class. You want to choose books that create discussion and trigger thought, which this book certainly does. However, just as I feel no book should truly be banned, I equally feel that every reader should have a choice as to what they read. But then, how do you have a class? I don't know.

As Billy Pilgrim famously says, "So it goes."

The Last Jihad

I cannot remember who recommended this to me, but I'm fairly certain I was told to read it because it's not the kind of book I normally check out. Jay - yes. Me - no.

I knew right away that it might not be my kind of book after seeing the rave reviews by both Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on the back cover. Hmmmm. In spite of their warning, I forged ahead.

The Last Jihad takes place in 2011 - ten years after the the World Trade Center attacks and enough time later for the current president to have persuaded the American people that he's just about vanquished every foe. With a 70% approval rating and the economy stronger than ever, the War on Terror is declared won.

During his victory tour in his hometown of Denver, Colorado (described with annoying detail. O.K. I believe you. You've been to Denver), his motorcade is attacked by a kamikaze pilot.

This attack is coordinated by none other than Saddam Hussein, who the author unfortunately didn't realize would be an obsolete bad guy when he wrote this in 2001. It was hard to muster up the anxiety about a nuclear attack on Israel, and the United State's own necessary response because the villains were who they were. I know I could have replaced Saddam with an actual living bad guy, but with its cheesy dialogue and a cast of confusing characters - it required too much effort.

I passed the book to Jay when I was done, thinking he might enjoy it and he returned it to the library after only a few short chapters. He told me, "If this is what you think the books I read are like, then you must think I'm some sort of idiot."

I stand corrected.

(I'm so not going to get away with this comment after describing his head as "not petite." I'm still digging myself out of that hole).

I Fell Bad About My Neck

I think Nora Roberts is an almost David Sedaris. Not quite as funny, probably because her topics are safer and less random. She writes about female things, with great wit and perspective, and I enjoyed each chapter. However, it's been several weeks and now I find the entire book a bit unmemorable. Regardless, it was a nice lighthearted, pick-up-when-I-only-have-a-few-minutes-to-read kind of boo

The Shadow of the Wind

Originally written in Spanish and a European best-seller after it was published in 2001, Carlos Ruiz Zafón's book, Shadow of the Wind, was translated into English in 2004 and has become a best-seller in the United States as well.

In addition to its commercial success, I have only heard good things about this book from readers I respect. With that kind of eager anticipation, I delved into this book, finishing it in two days.

Daniel Sempere and his father own a rare bookstore set in post Spanish Civil War Barcelona, where they have lived alone together after his mother died in his early youth. When Daniel is ten years-old, his father takes him to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, to choose a novel in its midst to take care of and insure against being lost forever. Daniel chooses a book entitled The Shadow of the Wind, written by Julian Carax. He begins reading his new treasure that very night and, completely engrossed, finishes it by the next day.

Determined to find more books written by Carax, Daniel soon learns that the book and its author are surrounded by shadows. For years, an unknown person identifying himself as a character in Carax's book, Lain Coubert, whose name means "The Devil", has been collecting all of Carax's books wherever they are and burning them. When he learns of Daniel's ownership and subsequent inquiries, he corners Daniel on the streets of Barcelona and warns him of what will happen if he doesn't hand over his copy of The Shadow of the Wind. To preserve the endangered book, he once again hides it in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and continues his quest to find out what happened to Carax.

The language throughout the entire novel is truly beautiful. I remember at one point, early in the novel, the author casually using the word "nib" in place of pen and thinking, "This is a translation?" The prose can be really fancy at times, but as the characters' lives are surrounded by great books, it doesn't seem out of place or pompous to use these less familiar words.

The plot is complicated and well developed. I honestly didn't know who the bad guy burning all the books was until the guy I thought it was was killed. The pace fantastically pulsed and the mixture of romance, suspense and history were all tastefully woven together.

With that gushing aside, I found myself a little disappointed with this book. I'm not exactly sure what I was expecting, but I know it was more than The Shadow of the Wind offered. I fear my disappointment is a result of the classic case of having too high of expectations.

My main disappointment involves the characters, their motivation and their perspectives. There are many characters throughout the book, past and present day, and there was one I absolutely fell in ove with, Fermin Romero de Torres - Daniel's hilarious, enthusiastic, and unbalanced sidekick. His humor and methods of getting things done gave the story a very necessary comedic lift. Besides Fermin and probably Daniel's father, however, who isn't even very well developed, the rest of the characters had me wondering at their extreme behavior.

It begins with Daniel, at age ten, when he becomes obsessed with beautiful, older and blind Clara, a woman who, thankfully, is not equally infatuated with Daniel. Clara never seems to possess any quality, other than being blind and requiring being read to, that warrants Daniel's unwavering love. I didn't understand his motivation to become so completely romantically devoted to a woman at such a young age and I don't feel like it was explained, either. He simply was. Until he caught her in flagrante delicato with her piano teacher. And then he wasn't.

Almost all of the supporting characters do extreme things or are punished extremely for doing normal things. Every woman who has sex the first time gets pregnant. Every father of said daughters tries to kill the impregnator. Every friend of a boy who falls in love ends up hating his friend. There is just a lot of insane people. It's all very dramatic. Which makes for an interesting story, but not altogether very likely.

There is also some perspective problems. Frequently throughout the story, Daniel unravels Carax's past by listening to Carax's peers recall their memories. Each time, the person remembers things that they could not have known. They weren't there. Looks or words between a couple. Promises made in secret. It happens with Carax's boyhood friend who becomes a priest. It happens again with Penelope's, Carax's love interest, nanny, and again with a woman who worked at the company where Carax's books were published. By the end, this flagrant abuse of recollection bothered me. As interesting as Daniel's first person narrative was, if more information was needed to fill in the holes, an omnipresent third person narrative seems more honest and appropriate.

Sadly, this is what I do when books fail to meet their expectations. The imperfections glare at me and I mention them - even when a book is really good. And this book is really good. It just fell short of its hype.

Love Walked In

I liked this book. I really did. But it's not going to sound like it.

Loved Walked In was recommended to me by Becky K., a blogger whose taste in books I take seriously. Once I began reading, I couldn't put the book down because the writing is intimate - very conversational - so you feel like you're reading a lengthy, but funny and interesting, personal letter from your best friend. I admit that I was disappointed with de la Santos's too frequent and flippant use of the F bomb because the other language she uses is so enjoyable. She's a poet, after all, and can string together some really pretty words. I suppose her defense is that it went with Cornelia's conversational tone, and, like many people nowadays, Cornelia casually peppers her everyday language with vulgarities, but I felt like it took away from a book that was on track to be great.

If the unnecessary language was strike one, then the overly tidy ending was strike two. Love Walked In begins when Cornelia Brown, a pretty, 85 pound 31 year-old woman obsessed with old-style Hollywood romances and working in a Philadelphia coffee shop, meets Martin Grace, a Cary Grant look alike who changes her life forever after he walks into her cafe. Cornelia's story, told in a funny parenthetical filled first person narrative, alternates with eleven year-old Clare Hobb's, who describes her increasingly desperate situation as her mother succumbs to manic depression in a much more direct third person (I mention the different voices because the change really is noticeable and, at first, a little disconcerting). Cornelia and Clare cross paths halfway through the book.

It doesn't feel predictable until it is. There were so many plot twists throughout the first two-thirds of the story, things not going the way you'd expect them to, that its tied-up-in-a-pretty-bow ending didn't feel right. It's a good ending in that everyone's happy and everyone wins (at least the characters whose relevance still matters by the end) , but happily ever after isn't always the best way to end a story.

I AM glad I read it. It's charming and well written, interesting and funny. The criticism comes from it not being as great as it could have been.

Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim

What if you could write about whatever you wanted? What if no topics were off limits, no person's feelings or privacy taken into consideration, no personal flaws purposely left unmentioned in order to be protected from ridicule?

You would probably write exactly like David Sedaris.

To actually write like David Sedaris, however, you'd also have to be intelligent, impeccably attentive to details and most importantly - uncommonly funny. With that winning combination, Sedaris's unencumbered writing creates a truly fascinating look into his life and way of thinking.

Take, for instance, a neighborhood family that supposedly doesn't watch any television. You've know them, or at least heard about them. But have you hidden yourself in bushes outside their house watching them at night? Sedaris spied on this family with fascination, watching them interact at the dinner table during the evenings and feeling sorry for the absence of television in their lives. After watching one of their children at school being left out of a joke that made reference to a TV show, Sedaris writes, "It occurred to me that they needed a guide, someone who could point out all the things they were unable to understand. I could have done it on weekends, but friendship would have taken away their mystery and interfered with the good feeling I got from pitying them. So I kept my distance."

Then, when this same family showed up for Trick-Or-Treating the day after Halloween, Sedaris expresses what must be universally believed: "Asking for candy on Halloween was called trick-or-treating, but asking for candy on November first was called begging, and it made people uncomfortable. This was one of the things you were supposed to learn simply by being alive, and it angered me that the Tomkeys did not understand it."

The subject matter varies wildly from chapter to chapter, but each contains Sedaris's hilarious spin on what would probably appear to most outsiders, nothing to write home about. Although there are several uncomfortable chapters that touch on situations involving his homosexuality, his willingness to expose himself, and, I suppose his willingness to expose his loved ones, give his writing an important and appreciated perspective. It's so enjoyably honest! I mean, he writes about going through the Anne Frank House while simultaneous apartment hunting and wanting to live there because it's "cute." Totally irreverent. But when he talks about ripping out the wood stove so that the fireplace would be the focal point and thinking the attic, with its charming dormer windows, could be his office...it ends up being really funny.

The best chapter for me was called Six To Eight Black Men when he describes in laugh-out-loud detail the Christmas traditions in the Netherlands. Of course he begins the chapter by pointing out some of the more unusual local gun laws in various states of the USA, mentioning as an interesting fact that in Michigan - blind people are allowed to hunt...alone. As the chapter nears its end, and you wonder what the two stories have to do with each other, he finishes by sharing his thoughts while sitting in a Dutch train station. "I couldn't help but feel second-rate. Yes, the Netherlands was a small country, but it had six to eight black men and a really good bedtime story. Being a fairly competitive person, I felt jealous, then bitter. I was edging toward hostile when I remembered the blind hunter tramping off alone into the Michigan forest. He may bag a deer, or he may happily shoot a camper in the stomach. He may find his way back to the car, or he may wander around for a week or two before stumbling through your back door. We don't know for sure, but in pinning that license to his chest, he inspires the sort of narrative that ultimately makes me proud to be an American."

Funny, funny stuff.

Crossing To Safety

Written by Wallace Stegner, author of one of my all-time favorite books Angle of Repose, Crossing To Safety describes with beautiful prose the art and act of friendship.

Two couples, Larry and Sally Morgan and Sid and Charity Lang, are both young couples living in Madison, Wiscosin during the Great Depression. Larry and Sid both have teaching jobs in the English Department at the university and Sally and Charity are both pregnant with similar due dates. The friendship between the four of them are instant and fully requited, and, as the novel begins with the Morgans visiting the Langs in their later years, obviously life long.

The title of the book comes from a poem written by Robert Frost that goes:

“I could give all to Time except-except

What I myself have held. But why declare

The things forbidden that while the Customs slept

I have crossed to Safety with? For I am There

And what I would not part with I have kept.”

I regrettably admit that I don't usually understand poetry without someone explaining to me its meaning. I think...I think this has to do with the intangible but still very real benefits of meaningful relationships. That those benefits exist even after death. But I could be wrong.

Like many, I assume, I long for that kind of meaningful friendship. One incredible thing about this book is that it adds to my longing without particularly making me want to BE a part of the book. The characters Stegner creates are so vividly real, I know...just know, that I couldn't be great friends with Charity. She's way too controlling. Likewise, I'd walk all over Sally. I need an equal sharer! Unfortunately, like almost every other character in the book, I don't have enough respect for Sid and Larry is much too full of himself to enjoy for long periods of time.

While I don't want to be their friends, in particular, I still envy their friendship. I want something similar. Only I want that one great friendship to be with people that don't bug me.

This book contains no great drama - no affairs or divorces, deaths or mysterious crimes - the journey of their friendship is compelling enough. He describes with such detail the universal jealousies, the generosity and benevolence of close friends, as well as the inevitable judgment that we make about others' relationships.

It's more than just a story about friendship and marriage, however. The characters themselves are literary looking glasses, exposing our own ambitions, priorities, tolerance, vices, pride, loyalty and egos. If you enjoy literature, and don't need an exotic story but find satisfaction in honest reality, you'll probably enjoy this quiet gem.