Thursday, November 29, 2012

Just Jennifer

Love Saves the Day by Gwen Cooper (Bantam, January 2013)

Let me admit outright, I am not a fan of books narrated by animals, no matter how cute they animal is.  Gwen Cooper the author of the bestselling memoir Homer’s Odyssey, turns her hand to fiction, with Prudence, a Lower East Side narrates the story of how she and Sarah came to become family and what happens when she goes to live with Sarah’s daughter Laura and heals a lifetime of hurt.  It was the Lower East Side setting that peaked my interest with details of the once un-gentrified section of the city.  Cooper has done a great deal of research to get everyday life in the seventies and eighties right; she also extends the setting to the emergence of alternative and punk rock in the nineteen sixties and those who lived through it.  Her characters are pleasantly flawed and we don’t realize that there were deep seeded reasons for Laura and Sarah’s estrangement and difficult relationship.  Loves Saves the Day shows the fierce side of love and the gentle side of love that slowly creeps up on a person and changes them right down to their very socks---or white feet if you’re a cat. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Just Jennifer

Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman (Ballantine Books, January 2013)

In the remote Adirondack village of Wedeskyull, New York, Nora Hamilton wakes up one snowy morning to find her policeman husband hanging in their basement.  Brendan, by all appearances, was a solid husband, was looking to start a family with Nora and was a steady, stable policeman.  Nora finds it impossible to believe that Brendan committed suicide and begins to learn more about his life before her, uncovering a town full of secrets that date back to Brendan’s childhood.  Nora learns that Brendan was prescribed sleeping pills a week before his death, leading people to believe his death was premeditated.  A mother-in-law, who is distant at best toward Nora, though most often cold, hides secrets from decades ago; secrets that may help Nora discover what drove Brendan to kill himself.  The more Nora learns about her husband and life in Wedeskyull, with the help of a local newspaper reporter, the more she realizes she didn’t know Brendan as well as she thought.  As secrets are uncovered and revealed, life in an idyllic town begins to unravel and more people will be hurt before all the truths are exposed and Nora feels she is able to give rest to Brendan.  Well-drawn characters and a solid setting add to the intricate plot of this first novel by Morristown resident Milchman.

Just Jennifer

Chanel Bonfire by Wendy Lawless (Gallery, January 2013)

In her memoir, actress Wendy Lawless writes about growing up in the seventies and eighties with a Joan Crawford like mother.  Gerogann Rae was adopted into an abusive home in Kansas and her main goal became to escape her life; she married Jimmy Lawless, an actor, at a young age and gave birth to her daughters, Wendy and Robin (Robbie) within two years of each other and followed her young husband to North Carolina and then to Michigan while he pursued his career.  Georgann quickly became bored with her lifestyle and married millionaire Oliver Rae who moved her and her daughters to the Dakota Hotel on the Upper West Side in Manhattan and provided a good life for the girls, including private school, but again, Georgann grew disinterested and filed for divorce, moving the girls across town, but not before she made her first of several suicide attempts.  The emotional and occasional physical, abuse continued as the girls grew into teenagers, living in London and Connecticut, and finally Boston.  Wendy, the older child, tried to protect Robbie whose clashes with Georgann were more often and more violent than Wendy’s.  As Wendy grew to realize that she was not responsible for her mother, and that her mother had lied to her many times over the years, she sought help and began to build a life for herself, though she would carry the scars of the damage her mother had inflicted for many years.
Told with brutal honesty, Wendy juxtaposes her abusive upbringing with a lifestyle that, by all appearances, was one of a privileged child and teenager.  She spares no details as she describes her fight to regain  some semblance of normalcy and to escape the cycle of abusive and self-hatred.