Nunez, Elizabeth. Anne In-Between. New York: Akashic Books, 2009.
Reason read: Anna In-Between reflects on childhood. Every time my birthday nears, so do I. Read for myself.
Thirty-nine year old Anna returns to her parents’ home in the Caribbean islands. Anna has been in New York City as an in-demand editor for almost eighteen years, returning to her Caribbean home periodically for short visits. She returns, not because of a longing for her country, but only to check in on her aging parents. They appreciate the visits but feel Anna has lost touch with her roots. It is as if Anna cannot wait to bolt from her childhood memories, the color of her mixed-race skin, and her emotional parents.
On this particular trip, Anna discovers her mother has advanced stage breast cancer and is appalled her parents have been aware of the growing tumors all along. It is inconceivable they chose not to do anything about the disease growing in Beatrice’s breast. With Anna’s insistence of medical care ever increasing, Anna’s parents finally visit a doctor to begin treating the disease with chemotherapy. Anna’s mother, however, draws the line at traveling to the United States for necessary-for-survival surgery, strongly believing her dark skin will warrant sub par treatment.
Mother and daughter are locked in a cultural battle; mother accusing daughter of becoming too Americanized as if it were akin to catching a different debilitating disease. [As an aside, their fight reminded me of my own battles. My mother is convinced I no longer have the capacity to take care of my childhood home; as if the ways of Monhegan are too foreign to me as now I live with running water, working lights, and an automatic thermostat.] Anna In-Between is the dance of expectation. Mothers want so much for their daughters that reality seems like a constant disappointment, an “you can never do anything right” attitude. Been there! Beatrice is not entirely to blame in all this. Anna has her assumptions, too. She has so much pent up resentment towards her mother she thinks Beatrice blames her for a failed marriage, is disappointed in Anna’s less than impressive career, and is embarrassed by Anna’s less than impeccable appearance. It is hard for Anna to empathize; to see Beatrice as human when she feels like such a failure herself. I won’t spoil the plot, but I can say Nunez’s gift is a satisfactory non-ending with a healthy dose of hope. For Anna and Beatrice.
Interestingly enough, Nunez refers to the locale of Anna In-Between as “the island” as if she doesn’t want to put a pin the map of where the story actually takes place.
Author fact: Nunez was born in Trinidad.
Book trivia: Anna In-Between was reviewed by Edwidge Danticat. I just finished reading The Farming of Bones by Danticat last month.
Nancy said: Pearl said she has enjoyed the novels of Nunez and made mention of Anna In-Between (Book Lust To Go p 58).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean – Trinidad and Tobago” (p 58).
I am consistently running (yay). My head is finally screwed on straight – somewhat (yay). Things are not perfect but I can say February is mostly fixed.
- The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber – in honor of Charles Dickens and his birthday being in February. Weird, I know.
- Anna In-Between by Elizabeth Nunez – in honor of my childhood.
- Little Havana Blues: A Cuban-American Literature Anthology edited by Virgil Suarez and Delia Poey – in honor of Cuba’s reformed constitution.
- The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley – in honor of February being friendship month.
- Rome and a Villa by Eleanor Clark – in honor of Clark’s birthday.
- All Deliberate Speed: Reflections on the First Half Century of Brown v. Board of Education by Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. – in honor of February being Civil Rights month.
- Barrow’s Boys: A stirring Story of Daring, Fortitude, and Outright Lunacy by Fergus Fleming – in honor of Exploration month.
- Making Tracks by Matt Weber – a Christmas gift from my sister.
January is a month of great indecision. I can’t decide if I want to say more…
If there is one thing I can say for the January books, it is that most all of the fiction made mention of great music. Some musicians I knew, some I didn’t. Some songs I knew, some I didn’t. I had fun looking it all up though.
- Sanctuary by Ken Bruen (EB & print). Music: Philip Fogarty, Anne Lardi, Rolling Stones, Snow Patrol, Johnny Duhan.
- The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (EB & print).
- Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland (EB & print). Music: Lucinda Williams, Slim Dusty, Nick Cave, The Warumpi Band, Ry Cooder.
- The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett (EB & print). Music: Charles Tenet.
- Graced Land by Laura Kalpakian (EB & print). Music: Elvis, Elvis, and more Elvis.
- The Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel (print). Music: Leonard Cohen, Beethoven, and the fictional heavy metal band, Panda Bear Soup.
- The Passage to India by E.M. Forster (EB & print).
- Barcardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten (EB & print).
- Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset (EB & print).
- The Persuader by Lee Child (EB & AB).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Fine, Thanks by Mary Dunnewold (EB). Music: Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, Mose Allison, Talking Heads, Aaron Copeland (can you tell, Dunnewold really likes music!).
Dunnewold, Mary. Fine, Thanks: Stories from the Cancerland Jungle. Texas: Black Rose Writing, 2019.
Release date: 10/24/19.
Reason read: this was a November pick for the Early Review Program from LibraryThing. I haven’t posted one of these in awhile (didn’t get chosen for October, forgot to make a selection for December, and November – this one -only came just recently).
My very first surprise takeaway from reading Fine, Thanks is how calm and pragmatic Mary is while describing her relationship with breast cancer. How is this possible when she went went a healthy mammogram to a “cancer everywhere” magnetic resonance image less than a year later? From discovery, treatment, and recovery there is a smattering of humor, a touch of sarcasm, more than a healthy strain of emotional bravery, and yes, to be expected, anger. For the most part, she is detailed and detached in such a way that a reader can relate in the abstract if he or she has never experienced breast cancer, or nod knowingly if it has been a nightmare reality. I have to wonder how many people diagnosed with any stage of breast cancer have whispered a sage yesyesyes at every truthful, clear-headed, powerful sentence Dunnewold wrote? Even when she points out the obvious I found myself making note of my emphatic agreement. For example, it is common sense that people would pay more attention to something when it relates to them directly. The greater the relationship the more one is willing and apt to sit up and take notice. But when Dunnewold points that out it becomes something different. Yes. She writes like a storytelling river; at times a crashing torrent of yelling words and roiling feelings. At other times her words are a gentle trickle of quiet and graceful acceptance.
Confessional: My favorite moment was not the height of her bravery during diagnosis or even treatment, but rather when she ended her search for religion. Odd as that may seem, it’s true. Her viewpoint awoke something deep within me. Not in the jolting sense of an abrupt aha moment. there was no visible lightning strike. But rather in the slow dawning of discovery; the way that a patch of sunlight plods across the carpet illuminating a slight discoloration in the pile never noticed before. A subtle stain. Oh. Ohhhh…now I see. There were a few of those moments.
Second favorite part – the laugh out loud moment or as I call it, the “snort coffee out the nose” moment was when Dunnewold described the “unanticipated side effect of cancer” in conjunction with pie crust. She owes me a cup of coffee.
As an aside, what is it about animals? I was f.i.n.e. with the ending of Fine, Thanks. I could close the book with a sigh of satisfaction…until I got to the epilogue. Having just helped my sister adopt a dog named Rubie…ugh.
Armstrong, Lance. It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life.New York: Berkley Books, 2001.
I read this in one sitting, again as a passenger on a trip from Maine. I had the luck (?) of traffic on my side so instead of the usual 4.5 hours to get home it took us over six.
I will be 100% honest. I don’t know what to think about this book. When I first finished it I was expecting some sort of lesson to be learned, some sort of moral to the story. Instead I found the ending as well, an ending. The end. I’m not sure why it wasn’t more for me. I guess it’s because in comparison with Matthew Long’s recovery back to athletics Long’s process was more drawn out, more detailed. I felt that Long’s experience was more painful and not as easy to cope with emotionally. I think that was due, in part, to how little time Armstrong spent describing his road to recovery. In comparison to Long, Armstrong made it a much simpler process with much less emotion. To be fair, one man was hit by a bus and another was hit by cancer in three different areas of his body. Only two similarities really rise between the two men. Both men were ordained by doctors to die and both had an insane willpower to defy all odds and, ultimately, get back to the sports they loved so much.
Everyone knows Lance Armstrong’s story – man with cancer defies the odds and wins the Tour de France a shocking seven consecutive times. But, as the title of Armstrong’s story suggests it’s not about the bike. Instead it is about a different kind of competition. Fighting cancer. Ultimately, as near death moments will do, cancer changed him. It woke him up to the possibilities of a fuller, more meaningful life. He never would have become a philanthropist without the experience of personal pain. It’s Not about the Bike is that journey from hotshot cyclist to a powerhouse with a greater purpose.
Favorite lines: “If there is a defining characteristic of a man as opposed to a boy, maybe it’s patience” (p 65). “During our lives we’re faced with so many different elements as well, we experience so many setbacks, and fight such hand-to-hand battle with failure, head down in the rain, just trying to stay upright and to have a little hope” (p 69). Finally, “We watched the World Series and tried to act like we were interested in the outcome – as much as anybody really cares about baseball before brain surgery” (p 110 – 111).
Author fact(s): Two of my favorite details about Armstrong as the person (and not the writer) is he is also a marathoner (three times) and allegedly agnostic.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Teens” (p 23)
Packard, Georgeann. Fall Asleep Forgetting. New York: Permanent Press, 2010.
I have a love-hate relationship with books like Fall Asleep Forgetting. The problem is Packard’s writing is too good. Like a delicious meal I couldn’t slow down when it came to eating it up; devouring whole chapters at a time. What’s wrong with that? In truth, this is a book meant to be savored slowly. The writing is delectable, deliriously rich and expressive. One minor distraction is character focus is a little out of focus. I would have preferred Claude as the obvious heroine rather than swirled in a mishmash of other incredibly strong personalities. Because Fall Asleep Forgetting really is about Claude and her strange involvement with a married couple, Paul and Sloan, that fact really needs to be teased out. Paul is dying and his wife is bisexual and mentally ill…sort of. Claude is caught up in their relationship until it becomes her relationship, her obsession, but as I mentioned before, she is not the only one. There is nine-year-old Six and her parents Rae and Sonny, Cherry the transvestite owner of the trailer park where most everyone lives and her partner Barton, and elderly Mr. and Mrs. Saugerties. Each one of these characters has a unique and tantalizing story.
Quotes that I really hope are kept: “Once your parents hate you for who you are, the scorn of others in mere child’s play” (p 42), and “I see now that equal parts repulsion and attraction make for the most voracious form of lust” (p 124).
Personal note: I was really excited to see e.e. cummings quoted at the beginning of the chapter called “The Curving Support of Feather Pillows” (p 129). ‘Milly and Maggie and Molly and May’ is a great poem. My only argument would be against calling it a poem about just Maggie because Milly, Molly and May all had important parts.
October is a full month of spooky. October is a small 5k charity run and a 10k walk. October is homehome and everything emotional. October is also Mary’s memorial, the death of a few trees (finally) and the end of warmer weather. For books October is the hope of:
- Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters ~ in honor of National Crime Prevention month
- The Feminine Mystique by Betty Freidan ~ in honor of October being Breast Cancer Awareness month
- The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis ~ in honor of October being Group Reading Month
- Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis ~ in honor of Halloween (sci-fi being a little scary to read)
- A Fine and Private Place by Peter Beagle ~ in honor of Halloween ( a story about ghosts)
- House on the Strand by ~Daphne Du Maurier~ in honor of National Starman Month
For LibraryThing ~ I did get an October Early Review book. As always, I don’t want to name it until I actually see it.
McMurtry, Larry. Terms of Endearment. New York: Signet, 1975.
I really should have a “on a whim” category because this was not on my list to read this month. In fact, this was not on my list to read until May 2010. Here’s what happened. I was home, had no desire to slog through Herzog, saw Terms of Endearment on my mother’s bookshelf (saw it there for years and years), knew it was on The List somewhere, and in a split second decided to read it. I don’t regret the decision. I was able to read it, start to finish, within two days.
Terms of Endearment is the kind of book that makes you feel things. Larry McMurtry has the ability to make you change your mind about the people you meet…several times over. In the beginning I saw Terms as a story about a bunch of miserable people. I was shocked by the hatred these people carried around (see ‘shocking quotes’ below). I didn’t think I would like a single character. I saw Aurora as nasty and Emma as just plain pathetic. By the end of the book I had completely changed my mind about everything and everyone.
The premise for Terms of Endearment is really quite simple. It’s the story of a mother and daughter and the relationships that orbit around them. Aurora is a Boston widow transplanted to Houston, Texas. She has five different “suitors” who tolerate her abrasive tongue and haughty manner and despite all that, continuously vie for her hand in marriage. At first she appears caustic and self-centered. Selfish and conniving, she bends situations to suite her ever-changing needs. Her story takes up the first 324 pages and by the end of it you realize she is a woman of conviction who simply tells it like it is. Emma, her daughter, at first appears to be one of Aurora’s victims – always manipulated and belittled. The strength of their relationship and the depth of their love for one another isn’t readily apparent until life gets complicated for Emma. Emma hasn’t married well. She hasn’t been educated and she has bad hair. On the surface she is poor and pathetic. But, true to McMurtry form, by the end Emma is a strong, defiant woman.
My only disappointment about Terms of Endearment is the inclusion of Book II, Emma’s story. 324 pages are dedicated to Aurora while Emma gets the last 47. I don’t really understand the need for separate “books” when Emma’s story – her bad marriage to Flap, her pregnancy, her lifestyle and relationship with her mother – are all woven seamlessly into Aurora’s story. Emma’s portion of the book seems weak and it’s inclusion, an afterthought.
Shocking quotes: “She was convinced that she could have stood in the driveway dripping blood, both arms amputated at the elbow, and Cecil would still have driven up, said “Hi Toots,” smiled broadly, and squeezed her stump” (p 16).
“She would have liked to have a heavy chain in her hand, and if she had had one she would have hit him with it, right across the lower part of his spine. If it broke his back, so much the better” (p 32).
BookLust Twist: In Book Lust in the chapter called, “Three-Hanky Reads” (p236).
I was invited to a Girls’ Night In last Friday. It sounded amazing. Pedicures, manicures, massage, pampering, girly time. Despite the temptation of all those pedicures and manicures I concentrated on another cure. By 5:30pm I was hitting the streets training for Just ‘Cause. I don’t think I can call walking “training” without a little smile on my face, but after five miles my hips told me differently. They gently reminded me I may not be able to finish twenty let alone times three. Doesn’t matter. I’m here for the cure. I’m broken but I’m still beautiful.
The Sunday sunshine saw me out again. This time I had kisa drop me off at the public library. I’d walk home from there. 5.5 miles if I did it right. I’m noticing my new neighborhood. My new town is beautiful but in a very broken way. Bottles dropped by alcoholics who have had more than their share. Gamblers casting off their loser scratch cards by the hundreds. Flattened things. Unrecognizable things. Dirty things. Things that make my eyes slide away. My favorite moment: a young cat peers out from under a sodden, mangled box with worry in his eyes. I smile with conspiracy. Have no fear. I won’t give you away. Stay stone still and no one will take you away to anywhere. We will walk on by. Promise.
I have decided there are more important things than worrying about what everyone else is doing. I watch people become sulky and sullen when they don’t get what they want and I’ve decided it’s none of their business anyway. Instead, I will pour my energy into something more worthwhile. Petty you is not pretty to me. Everyone will be in for a shock. Maybe I’ll get that pedicure after all. In pink. Then I can say I am living it right. Broken, but beyond beautiful.
Carver, Raymond. “What the Doctor Said.” All of Us, New York: Vintage Contemporaries, 2000.
“What the Doctor Said” is about a patient receiving word from his (?) doctor that he has cancer, a cancer so lethal the doctor “stopped counting” the tumors on one lung. You can’t pray but it won’t make a difference. It’s heart breaking and stark. The message is beyond clear. You. Are. Going. To. Die. No bones about it. No hope. No cure. No way out. Imagine that. You are D-E-A-D.
This poem is perfect timing for me. I have mentioned before I have signed up for a cancer walk. 60 miles in three days. The attitude is yeah-yeah another charity. I’ve even gotten an eye roll. I hear the words: So what? Big freakin’ deal. I shouldn’t take it personally, but it still amazes me. No one has asked how they can help. No one has asked ‘how can we donate to the cause?’ They can’t wrap their brains around the fact that this walk could save a life. This walk, this dollar donated might make a difference. It’s amazing. It’s as if the world has become cynical enough to say “you won’t make a difference so I won’t throw my money away.”
What happens when you get a life threatening illness? What happens when you are told you will die? How does it make you feel to have someone say it won’t help you? The attitude is “so why don’t you go ahead and die? It will be painful but just die because I can’t make a difference. I won’t make a difference.”
Drives me nuts.
It’s like a mantra. Things happen for a reason. Things happen for a reason. Things happen for a reason. I know this to be true. We didn’t succeed with the first few houses because they were not ours to have. Something bigger and better lay at the end of Ivy. The timing was all wrong in November. February couldn’t be more perfect. Things happen for a reason.
When my friend decided not to walk the twenty miles for Project Bread. I was not surprised, yet disappointed all the same. It took me a day to think things through. Would I walk without? Would I want to? It took me a week to bail myself out. Things happen for a reason. In reality, walking for hunger is a good cause for someone else. I am wedded to the crusade against cancer and domestic abuse. Been there, done that. Keep doing this. I decided to walk away from the Project Bread walk and find my Just Cause. 60 miles in three days. For breast cancer. This I can do. This I don’t mind doing on my own. I walk for Nor. I walk for me. This is the walk I am meant to walk.
When my friend of 35 years had a heart attack I had mixed emotions. A long history of ups and downs, goods and bads clouded my real emotion – fear. You don’t want people your own age to die. It’s not your time so it shouldn’t be theirs. Butbutbut, things happen for a reason. For the past three months I have wallowed in self indulgences. Since Thanksgiving I have been giving into temptations of every persuasion. Fat and lazy, I have become. When someone told me I looked beautiful I knew it was a lie. A sweet lie, but a lie none the less. I’m heavy. My heart failing friend woke selfish me, myself & moi up. Things happen for a reason. As soon as this house thing happens I am running back to healthy. I swear.
When a good, good friend brought up a painful memory it was hard to face it. Hard to take ownership of it and say yes, I really did do that. It’s unimaginable now, but yes, I really, really did that. Blame game. Pointing you out for no reason other than to strike out. Things happen for a reason. I’m glad you brought up the past and that awful time. I’m still struggling with what happened and more importantly, why butbutbut I’m done burying that past. I can dig it up and say I take responsibility for being so awful to you. I take all the blame for the blame game. It wasn’t you. Never was you. Sorry I said it was you. I’m seeing things better now that I’m so removed.
I think I found my next charity event. In memory of Noreen.
It has taken me some time to come to terms with her passing. Doesn’t seem right. More than doesn’t feel fair. I’ll say it yet again – cancer just isn’t fair.
They came to the island as love birds; a dating, doting couple. Binoculars and a sense of biology, they came to the island year after year to love the birds. The years gave way to marriage, kids, property, and a dog. A sense of belonging to the community became so strong the island couldn’t remember a time without them. It was as if they had always been there.
I don’t remember the first time I met her. It was that long ago. I can only remember her as I last saw her four months ago. Feisty and forcing fresh baked cookies on us, she commanded from the couch. Slipping water through a straw she surveyed the world outside her kingdom. A huge picture window afforded her a priceless view. She smiled as she watched a pheasant family creep jauntily through the high grass. Father pheasant’s neck arched and stretched searching for bugs, pecking as he went. His eyes were bright, watchful and wary. He paused as if to say I know you are there and she paused, the glass lifted halfway to her lips, as if her stillness could keep him there.
Binoculars, books and Bean gear. She was always ready for the birds. She kept a journal of the season’s best spyings. A log of feathered friends encountered throughout the seasons. As she grew sicker, too ill to hike her ornithology conquests had to be counted from the couch. Her bird’s eye view of the birds was limited to the ones who came to her big picture window. Mostly it was the pheasants. Soon she could tell us how many families were in the area. How many babies were born that year. Always the pheasants. They became her friends. That is why when I see a family of pheasants I will always think of her.
My sister gave me a book on awareness. At this current moment the book is nowhere near me and I’m too lazy to get it. So, I won’t be telling you the title at this time. But, I’ve added it to my January list of books to read and I will be “reviewing” it in my half-azzed manner.
What got me thinking is the idea of mind over matter. December was an awful month because I let it be. My car was in the shop no less than five times. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be such a big deal. Kisa and I carpool all the time, but it sucked something out of me. A sense of independence was lost. I lost sensibility, too – trying to make plans without transportation was just plan stupid.
We “lost” three houses. Since we never really had them, technically, I’m overreacting. I’m making a big deal out of this real estate game. I’m letting my emotions get the better of me whenever the houses get away. I guess I make it emotional because it seems like we have been losing for so long.
We lost two friends. That we did. When N died all I could focus on was 49 was too young to die. Her kids are teenagers – at that perfect age when mom just starts to become human, possibly even a friend. I couldn’t get to the point of relief that she was no longer suffering, no longer fighting a decade long battle. When T died all I could focus on was how stupid it is to be alive. Senseless and stupid. I’m angry because I’m selfish.
Death has had me mean. When someone blurted out “he’s just going to die anyway” I wanted to agree, I wanted to say, “I think you’re right” but I couldn’t . You don’t wish death on someone just because the statistics say it’s time. What is time to someone 22, 49 or 92?
December was an awful month for work, too. I vow to give reviews in November next year. To plan better. To direct better. The whining will stop. The whimpering will stop. I had a chance to talk to my boss one on one. He said the sign of a good leader is recognizing exhaustion; knowing when you are dangerously close to your breaking point and need a break. He ordered me to take the entire vacation off and do something a little less “urgent” with the time. It was the best advice someone could give me. He doesn’t need to know I didn’t refuse work from somewhere else!
So now I’ve meditated on most of what bothered me in December. Most of it was out of my control, but I let it get to me just the same. In the process I learned a valuable lesson. Let go. I didn’t send Christmas cards to people who have never sent me one. I’ve given my last gift to someone who never has the decency to say thank you. I’ve let go of superficial signs of sentiment. It’s time to pay attention to what really matters.
I got the call during the worst moment. I was dealing with a bad attitude. I was trying not to deal out a bad attitude just the same. “She died” was all my mother said. For a moment I couldn’t speak. My mouth gaped open, I nearly dropped the phone, the world slowed down and drained away. Silence. She died. Just like that. Mother, wife, friend, neighbor. Gone. Just like that.
Send me Superman to take away this sorrow. Send me Superman to keep me strong. Send them Superman, too. I think of her kids, her husband, her community and hear their hurt loud and clear. Send them every super hero heart to love them during this trying time.