Olympic Reading Challenge: Update

Lest you think I’ve dropped from the face of the earth or lost myself wandering in the streets of Beijing, fear not!  I have been home all along, participating in my own version of the Olympiad, furiously reading American authors.

Going into the final days of the games, I have four more books to share.

The Story of My Father, by Sue Miller: Every time I read Miller’s work, I find something new to admire.   In this beautifully written memoir, she shares her experience caring for her father during his “long goodbye,” (Alzheimer’s Disease).  This slim volume is less about the minutae of the disease, and more about Miller’s coming to terms with the role she is to play in her father’s life and her ability (or lack thereof) to control the outcome.  “What I depairingly concluded,” she writes, “was that my presence didn’t matter…it couldn’t ever change anything.  That was a lesson I had to learn over and over…he would get worse no matter what I did.”  She also explores the power of writing as a means of coping with the experience.  “It is by the making of the story, and by everything that changed in my understanding of him and of myself as I made it, that I have been, as the writer that I am, also consoled.” 

The Bright Forever, by Lee Martin: Definitely my pick for the “best book you’re not reading this summer,” this story of the tragedy that befalls a small midwestern community in the early 70’s and changes the lives of its inhabitants forever, is written so perfectly that I had a difficult time putting it down.  Martin writes from multiple viewpoints, working back and forth over the story like a weaver working his loom.  He keeps you in suspense from start to finish, and paints a perfect picture of small town America and its citizens in prose that is elegant and rich.  “I opened the bedroom closet, stepped inside, and closed the door.  There in the dark, I breathed in air that was still familiar to me, still a comfort, not dirtied up with the smells the policeman left.  I picked out what I knew: the powdery smell of my Secret deodorant cream on my uniform dresses, Ray’s Hai Karate cologne on his good shirts, the smells of sweat and mortar and clay bricks on his twill work suits.  I ran my hands over that twill, petting the shirts and pants, and at one point I put my arms around a shirt and I hugged it to me, just like when I was a young girl mooning over a boy, only inside I knew I was old and at the end of something.  The shirt was all air.  It caved in when I tried to hold it, and I cried because I missed Ray so much, and maybe, just maybe, I sensed somewhere deep inside me that he wasn’t ever coming home.”

These Is My Words, by Nancy E. Turner: I’ve always been fond of historical novels and novels written in the form of diary entries, so Turner’s novelization of a girl’s diary about her experience growing into womanhood in the Arizona territories during the last days of the 19th century offers the perfect combination of both characteristics.  Sarah Prine, full of fire, courage, and spirit, sets out with her family to conquer the west.  Along the way she meets devastating hardships, but finds love, family, and strength.  Turner certainly did her research for this novel, for it is rich with detail about everyday life for these intrepid souls (sometimes a bit too rich for this tenderfoot!)  But Sarah’s hopes and fears are timeless, really – her longing for a safe home, a healthy, happy family to love, and her beloved books to cherish, are all very familiar, even to those readers firmly lodged in the 21st century.  “I wish I had a gift for my family but I don’t, so I went to everyone this morning and said Merry Christmas and hugged them and told them they are my Christmas present just being alive.  Next year, we will have Christmas in a house I hope, and have gingerbread men and mince pie and roasted goose, then I said, it will be with a new baby in the family and ths is a fine gift for all of us.”

So Long At The Fair, Christina Schwarz: Schwarz’ tale of small town life is less successful than Martin’s, although thematically it’s similar – the interwoven lives of friends and neighbors, and the long term cost of betrayal and deception.  Somehow, I can never seem to care over much about the characters involved, for they seem shallow and selfish.  Relationships gone awry are at the core of this novel, and it seems obvious to the reader that none of these couples are destined to be together.  Ginny, the one character who seems worthy of the reader’s sympathy, has more insight into relationships than all the others put together.  “What happened whey you were married, she realized, was that, although you began as two independent people, you eventually gre in certain ways to accomodate your partner’s weaknessess and let other parts of you atrophy in deference to his strengths.  It was a fine system as long as it endured, but if you extricated yourself from it, you couldn’t help but be, at least for a time, deformed.”

And now I’m off to the stacks to get ready for my next event…tune in later for results 🙂

4 thoughts on “Olympic Reading Challenge: Update

  1. I read The Bright Forever last year and was quite impressed with how Martin worked the story, it was unique and hard to read.
    I’ve got several Sue Miller books on the list – this just adds one more.

  2. I don’t know that I dare look – I now have two Laurie Colwin novels sitting on my shelves since my last visit!! But I will certainly read more Sue Miller. I think she’s wonderful.

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