Monday, September 29, 2014

LIFE AFTER LIFE – KATE ATKINSON

Oops, didn't get my book finished for book club! Well dang it, when a month has 5 Mondays it's hard to keep appointments straight! Never-the-less I did finally get it finished, then it took me a few days to decide if I liked it. It wasn't one of the best I have read, but it was interesting. At some place in the middle it got put aside for a day or two so I could ponder.

When I tell friends I just read a “born again” novel their eyebrows raise because they all know that being a hard-core mainstream protestant I don't go in for any of that charismatic fallderoll. (I don't mind those who do, to each his own, and every person needs to find his or her own path.) But, this isn't that kind of “born again.” Ursula, the protagonist is literally reborn many times, thence living many parts of her life over.

The first chapter is but a page and a half. Ursula is 30 (in 1930) and assassinates Hitler only to be instantly killed herself. The next chapter is her stillbirth during a snowstorm in 1910 taking less than a page and a half. Next chapter – birth again, but this time the doctor arrives in time to resuscitate her. The chapters then begin to get longer and the method of death comes later, and often quite shockingly. It was necessary to put a sticky note on the contents page so in order to go back and check each time a new chapter started to get my bearings. I have never done that before! Markers on footnote pages and on map pages yes, but never on the contents page. Many chapters/lives take place leading up to and during World War Two. Even though every time she starts a segment of her life over she doesn't remember the other life, each reliving leaves some residual impressions and dark fears. She even tells a psychotherapist that she feels that her life seems like a palimpsest which it actually is!

Some of my friends who read it didn't like the jumping from time periods and the lost feeling of not knowing where you were each new chapter. That was disconcerting at times, but I liked it constructed that way. If you want to read this book and don't like that style I guess you could read all the chapters by date, as I have heard some have done with Frazier's book Cold Mountain. Probably the author wants us to feel as disjointed as Ursula does sometimes. The characterization is really good, her family is quirky, but also full of poignant and often sad people. My only big beef is that in several re-livings there is a murderer of young girls. Sometimes the murders are evaded and sometimes don't. He is seen by the reader but never unmasked in the book, and he appears to never see justice. I hate it when that happens, even though I know in real life many, if not most, murders go unsolved.


Since this review ended sooner than I thought please allow me to digress about my discount used book from abebooks.com. I read most of my books from the library, but if it is for a reading group I often like to buy old and used copies so I can write in the margins or pass them along to friends and family. Now, I love abebooks.com but once in a while the description does not accurately describe my purchase as it did not this time. A few times I have complained to them but I gave that up as too much of a nuisance. I wanted a beautiful hard copy to put in my personal library, but the one I received is a discarded copy from a library which apparently does not use bookends. (Some of you will know what I mean.) My copy has lain too long at an angle on the shelf, the spine is broken in three places, and the beautiful decorative front end page has been torn out. I truly hate it when the sales description says, “good” when the piece is actually simply “acceptable.” One for my garage sale next summer. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

LIMBO

Limbo is a funny word. When I was a child in Van Wert, Ohio some of my elementary friends talked about a thing called "limbo" and they meant a place an unrepentant or unbaptized person went upon death which was not Hell but not Heaven. Sometimes I could give them money to put in a little can for their church and they would pray these people out of limbo, or so they said, if I am remembering it correctly. It was always a little scary to me and I never really bought it, so as the word "limbo" evolved over the decades to be used as in Webter's online third and fourth definition (an intermediate or transitional place or state; a state of uncertainty) I am now more comfortable using it. Well, that is where I have felt I have been since April 22, 2014 when my mother passed away. I never ever, even when we were told in October that she would never get better, imagined my life without my mother. She was an only child, I was her only daughter, I had only sons and only grandsons. It was just she and I for so many years and for the last six she lived with me. Limbo for me has followed. Isn't it a strange coincidence my first blog is about a girl in limbo?

RIP Marjorie Ellen Griesinger Chapman 1926-2014



IF I STAY – Gayle Forman

I work part-time in a public library in a very small town and last week a young girl came in to sign up for a library card. All went well until she was asked if she was looking for anything in particular. “Yes, If I Stay,” she said. “So sorry was the reply, we don't have that one,” and we knew because that was not the first inquiry and since the movie is newly in the cinema it is in demand. I hate hate hate it when that happens, I feel we should be able to get books fast and as soon as there is any indication it will be in demand. But such is not the case in small towns in Indiana with tiny budgets. Nevertheless, I then rushed out to buy it, read it, and donate it to the library so I don't have to witness any other eager teen's dismay.

If there is anyone who hasn't contemplated the state of “limbo” (that transitional state of not being in one place and yet not fully in the other) I have never met them. As a matter of fact that seemed to be a frequent topic among my school friends when I was about 11 or 12. No one seems to know if there really is such a state or what it would feel like to be thus. If I Stay is a tale of a girl not only in limbo following a car accident, but realizing she is to make the decision to pass on into death where all of her immediate family have gone, or to stay on the earth and live on which means bearing unquestionable grief, pain, and uncertainty.

Sounds like a painful read doesn't it? But it isn't! It is most certainly a teen book but as an adult I fully enjoyed it. It is fascinating to follow Mia from the scene of the accident to the hospital waiting room where she watches her extended family grapple with their own grief, worry, and acceptance. She must weigh the consequences of either of her choices as they do also. Some beg her to stay, but some give her permission to go if she wants to, and both of those feel like gifts to her and measures of lovingly granting her freedom.

I liked the structure of the book with alternate chapters being in the present then in the past. Characterizations were deftly written making the reader feel vested in many characters. Mia's parents are not portrayed as perfect and certainly not as traditional, which is refreshing. Friends, like Henry, and Kim have problems and foibles of their own that they are working through.


The love story between Mia and Adam is also non-traditional but feels real. This small book is an afternoon read and I am pretty sure should be a satisfying little movie. In the end of my copy there is a section of book club discussion questions, but better than that a little bit about where Mia is four years later. It will make you want to pick up the sequel.