Sunday, March 16, 2014

THE WEIRD SISTERS – Eleanor Brown

Weird. Can that be a sentence on its own? Well the book is weird, the characters are weird, and the title reference to Macbeth is weird because it lead me to think the sisters were going to be witches! They were not witches, they were just “weird.” It is a beauty though, nice iridescent white cover with beautiful and delicate green vines meandering over the cover and through the title. There is also a quotation on the front saying, “See, we love each other. We just don't happen to like each other very much,” which is apropos considering as the reader I didn't particularly like any of them either. The first person plural narrative also gave me pause. At first I kept thinking there must be a fourth person watching the other three referring to “we” all the time, but then there was only the three, therefore a collective first person. Recently I have come across some other contemporary writers using that voice such as Buddha in the Attic by Otsuka but it isn't my favorite.

My friend Wendy says I am weird because since high school, I have loved Shakespeare. I tell her good teachers made it real to me and taught me to appreciate Shakespearean references in contemporary media whether it is in literature, television, or simply in everyday references. This book is full of such references and quotations as well although to ad nauseam sometimes. Three eccentric adult sisters return home with the idea of ministering to their mother who is suffering from breast cancer. Each is really escaping from her failures and fears and is shocked to find her siblings also home. They find themselves revisiting their relationships with each other, dealing with their emotionally distant, renowned Shakespeare scholar/college professor father who insists on answering questions with rhymes, couplets, and quotations from plays, and figure out where they want to go with their futures. All that while dealing with a seriously ill mother and the eccentricities of their small college town in rural Ohio.

The sisters names are all from Shakespeare too and I am sure the author chose them to compliment each personality. The oldest is Rosalind named from “As You Like It” and is so controlling she cannot let the others make decisions but also cannot move on with her fiance to craft a new life on her own. Bianca from “The Taming of the Shrew” is bossy, bitchy, over-sexed, deep in debt, and at a loss for how to start over. Cordelia from “King Lear” has returned home after years of drifting as a drugged hippie, pregnant, and facing 30 with no skills or education.

The plots fit together nicely actually. As the family progresses down the path of surgery, chemotherapy, and rehab with the mother, the women also grow, change, evolve, and move on. For me it was fun to fit in the idea of a whole family who has lived for many decades with no TV, with a penchant for books, and a love of a centuries-dead writer as their compass. I liked it, but what I didn't like was the one plot line of spinster-librarian bowing out and prodding the library board to hire a non-librarian (Bianca) to fill her shoes, indicating that being a librarian isn't rocket-science. What! Librarianship isn't hard, you don't need a degree? Librarians beware when reading this book. But “All's Well that Ends Well” (wink wink).


Monday, March 10, 2014

ALONG THE WAY: THE JOURNEY OF A FATHER AND SON – Martin Sheen & Emelio Estevez with Hope Edelman

I do hate it when I write a review and forget to post it! This one is from August 2013 who knows why it slipped past my attention. Oh well... My church study group decided we wanted to watch the movie The Way with Martin Sheen and Emelio Estevez and also to read their book. We rented the DVD from the library, purchased our books, and met at a group members house this time instead of church. We made popcorn and cookies and had quite a nice party of it. After the movie we discussed both it and the book Along the Way. Great idea. I would recommend both to any discussion group.

The Way is a full length movie. A pilgrim story in which a busy professional father, Tom, must go to Europe to claim the remains and possessions of his son Daniel. Daniel died tragically while hiking the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St. James), a centuries-old pilgrimage over Spanish mountain country to the Cathedral de Santiago. After getting to Spain and collecting his son's things and his ashes Tom decides to make his own pilgrimage and scatter the ashes along the way that Daniel planned to hike. He even uses Daniel's backpack and hiking gear. On his trek Tom rethinks his relationship with his son and also even though he wants to be alone and to be left alone he ends up traveling with three other pilgrims. While hiking together they each work through some serious issues. It may sound dull but it is a really good story and the characters are unique and worth getting to know.

The book Along the Way is a memoir examining the relationship of this father and son. It is a delightful read, is not a “tell-all” of family skeletons, and most definitely not where you would go to get the dirt on Charlie Sheen's recent meltdowns. In dual first person voice Martin and Emelio have written alternating chapters which fit together quite nicely in this respectful book of a mature father and adult son reflecting on their relationship. The construction of the book is a back and forth type of dialog between the chapters. I understand that Hope Edelman conducted interviews with the two, constructed the manuscript, then submitted it to them for review and editing. The tone is respectful even when the chapters contain scenes of family trials, episodes of Martin's drunkenness, and Emilio's misbehavior.

Along the Way begins with Ramon Estevez (Martin's given name) childhood being raised in Dayton, Ohio one of ten children of immigrants. His mother was Irish and his father Spanish. He was raised with lots of love but little support for his desire to be an actor. He was young, just 21, when he married and started his own family. Times were very hard for an aspiring actor with so many responsibilities. With candor, telling stories that had to be painful, Sheen makes it clear how he struggled with being a father, husband, actor and alcoholic. Raised Catholic he also talks often of faith.

While not as philosophical as Sheen, Estevez also reveals his own foibles, struggles, and vices during his journey from “Brat Pack” actor, too young father, and budding screen writer to mature father, son, and responsible adult. The love of family, respect for each other, and dedication to becoming the best persons they can be is elucidated in this lovely book. The vehicle that makes the chapters flow into each other is the backstory of their working together on their move The Way, and their trek to the homeland to meet the relatives in Spain where Sheen's father had been raised. The same area in Spain is where Estevez has chosen to settle and have a vineyard. I would read this book again and I would watch the film again. They make me think and they make me feel hopeful.