Saturday, November 23, 2013

Just Jennifer

Teaching the Cat to Sit by Michelle Theall (Gallery Books, February 25, 2014)

This memoir is unsettling, riveting and very heartwarming and hopeful all at the same time.  Theall is very honest in her exploration of her relationship with her family, the one into which she was born and the one she created and how Catholicism affected many aspects of her life growing up, her relationship with her mother and her adulthood living life as a gay woman with a life partner and a son they want baptized.   Growing up in the conservative Bible Best of Texas was not easy for a tomboy; a troubled relationship with her mother who often blamed Michelle for her depression, pulling out her Catholicism and using guilt as tool, made life even more difficult for Michelle.  Finally admitting she was gay was a great relief to Michelle, and coming out to her parents seemed a next logical step as she was certain they already knew.  They didn’t and were not as accepting as Michelle had thought; neither was the Church in which she had grown up in and turned to in times of trouble (Michelle was diagnosed with MS in 2003).  The local parish at first refused to baptize Michelle and her partner’s adopted son (who was a student at the parish’s school) and then held a baptism at a time other than right after a mass when the rite is normally conducted, encouraging it to be a community event.  Shortly after, the pastor, using Catholic doctrine and the Archdiocesan rules, decides that children of gay parents are no longer welcomed in the school setting Michelle off on a writing campaign (culminating in this book) fighting for her rights as a parent and her son’s rights as an innocent, even as she jeopardizes her relationship with her own family.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Just Jennifer

Perfect by Rachel Joyce (Random House, January 2014)

When eleven-year-old Byron’s best friend James tells him that two seconds are to be added to time in order to realign recorded time with the rotation of the earth, the already worried young boy becomes even more so with far-reaching consequences.  One morning Byron awakens and everything seems normal: his school uniform is laid out, he and his sister have their usual breakfast tussle and his mother Diana drives them to school.  This morning, the fog on the moor is extra dense and Byron’s mother takes a different route; a quick glance at his watch makes Byron certain that this is the moment the two seconds are being added and as he does, something happens that his mother and sister do not seem to notice but something that haunts Byron for weeks to come.  Not sure to whom to turn, he tells James what has happened as James is sure to concoct a plan.  As Byron confronts his mother about the occurrence, a chain of events is set off with irrevocable consequences.  Rachel Joyce’s characters are pitch-perfect and empathetic; Diana reminds us of something inside ourselves of which we’d rather not be reminded and we ache for Byron as he wants to protect his mother and do the right thing at the same time, not sure where the two meet and not having any idea what chain of events will be set off; but one thing is certain, once he starts off on the path, nothing can ever be same again.

Just Jennifer

The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon (Doubleday, January 28, 2014)

A fictionalized retelling of the true and still unsolved disappearance of New York City Justice Joseph Crater in 1930, Lawhon’s novel re-imagines the events that led up to the judge’s last moments, what might have happened and the three women most involved in Crater’s life were affected by the disappearance and what they each might have known.  Set amid the glamour and corruption of prohibition and Tammany Hall, Lawhon recreates the world of Broadway chorus girls, mobsters and underground speakeasies with authenticity.  Each woman is introduced and then slowly woven into the story that becomes Crater’s disappearance and presumed death, each with her own secret that will fiercely be protected as they each finding themselves doing things they could never imagine.  A true-life murder mystery with bigger than life, real or based on real characters, The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress convincingly explores what might have happened with surprises up until the very end.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Just Jennifer

The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking by Olivia Laing (Picador, December 31, 2013)

U.K. writer and critic Olivia Laing came to America to follow the trails of six of the twentieth-centuries most notable authors---and drinkers.  Following the lives, literally, of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Raymond Carver, John Cheever and poet John Berryman, Laing explores not only how drinking affected their lives and writing, but how their work influenced their drinking.  Echo Spring is a nod to the liquor cabinet where Brick keeps his Echo Spring Bourbon in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but Laing doesn’t stop there as she weaves in and out of the writers’ lives, making connections between them that will be new to many readers.  The child of an alcoholic family (her mother’s lover was an alcoholic), Laing has a unique insider’s view of alcoholism and as she traces a path from New York City to New Orleans to Key West across the United States to the Pacific Northwest, she muses not only on the past lives of the writers but of her own family.  With her lyrical prose, Laing brings to life a side of these men no often seen as she weaves together a portrait of not only despair and loss, but one of hope and the possibility of recovery.  An evocative, personal book it is honest and well-researched at the same time, drawing the reader in with lasting effects.