Day 1187: Edgar & Lucy

Cover for Edgar & LucyBefore I start my review, I realized I forgot to check the spin number on Friday morning. It seems as if Classics Club always picks the number for the most obscure book on my list. This time, I get to read Le Morte D’Arthur.

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Eight-year-old Edgar has no idea about the terrible events that took place when he was a baby. He lives with his mother, Lucy, and his grandmother Florence, who tells him innocuous lies about Frank, his father and her son.

Lucy and Florence have not been getting along lately. Lucy, still traumatized by her husband’s death, has been drinking too much and seeing men, when old-fashioned Florence would like her to be a perpetual widow. But Florence dies, and a series of misunderstandings and accidents at the time of her death place Edgar in danger.

Although I wouldn’t describe Edgar & Lucy as a thriller, it kept me pinned to the page much like a good thriller would, and the novel has some thriller-like plot characteristics. But really, it is a thorough examination of several characters under trying circumstances. And one of them is a ghost.

This novel is highly unusual. At times, it is almost meditative while at other times it reveals its characters’ minds as almost hallucinogenically original. If you decide to read it, I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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Day 600: My Father’s Eyes

Cover for My Father's EyesWhen she was in high school, author Sheila Allee discovered that her father had a brother she didn’t know existed. Melrose Allee, nicknamed Pie, was born with profound intellectual disabilities. Once Allee’s father “Dub,” who had taken much of the burden for Melrose’s care, left home in 1937, his parents placed Melrose in Austin State School. Even though her father was angry with his parents and swore to get his brother out, he never did, and Melrose eventually became an unmentioned subject.

Sheila could not understand how her family could have institutionalized her uncle in the first place and even worse, how they could have left him for years, unvisited. When she moved to Austin as an adult, she set about finding Melrose, eventually locating him in Travis State School in 1991.

This short book is the touching story of Allee’s own self-discovery through the agency of her impaired uncle. It is also the story of her discovery of the profoundly disturbing beliefs and practices surrounding the mentally handicapped that were practiced in this country in the first half of the 20th century.

In the interests of full disclosure, I know Ms. Allee, and I received a copy of her book in return for an honest review.

Day 594: The House We Grew Up In

Cover for The House We Grew Up InIn some ways The House We Grew Up In hit home for me, but ultimately I felt it both was a bit unlikely and found too easy a solution for large problems. It is about a family trying to cope with a terrible event and with their mother’s mental illness.

We meet the Bird family at various stages of their lives, beginning when the oldest daughter Meg is about ten. As Easter is mother Lorelei’s favorite holiday, many of the events in the novel are set at that time.

In her mid-thirties, Lorelei Bird is a vibrant, beautiful woman, but there are already signs of what will become her obsession. Her kitchen is cheerfully cluttered and serves as the gathering spot for friends and neighbors. Lorelei’s husband Colin is a gentle, loving man, but when the wading pool gets punctured and Lorelei argues for keeping it anyway, he remarks mildly that they already have several punctured pools in storage. The kitchen wall is gay with children’s drawings, but when any of the children draw something new, Colin hastily claims it to put in his files.

When Lorelei’s youngest children are sixteen, tragedy strikes. From a seemingly happy family, the Birds disintegrate into unhappy adults. Meg, apparently the most well-adjusted and practical, is rigid and judgmental and  fanatical about neatness. Bethany, slightly younger, is afraid to leave home and carries on an inappropriate affair for years. Rory simply leaves, seldom to be seen again.

Lorelei dumps Colin for a relationship with Vicky, the next-door neighbor. By the time of her death, twenty years later, she has accumulated so much junk in the house that only narrow pathways are open and she lives in one soft chair. All her loved ones have left her because they can’t live in the environment she has created.

With her death, the scattered family reassembles to try to clean out the house. As they exchange information, they slowly begin to understand some family secrets.

In some ways, the novel affected me because I have a family member who is a hoarder, although not yet on the scale of Lorelei. Still, we have an unusable room and some junk piled up even in the public rooms. It is very difficult to deal with.

http://www.netgalley.comYet, I felt that the novel was too easy. First, it gives every member of the immediate family severe emotional problems, which I actually found unlikely. Then it clears them up magically at the end after a few conversations. Not happening. The ending moves the novel in my mind from a thoughtful examination of the problems caused by unresolved tragedies and mental illness to something more closely resembling a sitcom ending.



Day 586: Wit’s End

Cover for Wit's EndRima Lansill finds herself suddenly without a family. Both her parents are dead: her mother when she was young and her father just recently of cancer. It is not so much her father’s death that has rocked her, though, but that of her younger brother Oliver in a drunk-driving accident. Rima is upset enough to want to get away from Cleveland for awhile, so she is happy to accept the invitation of her godmother to stay at her house of Wit’s End in Santa Cruz, California.

Rima’s godmother is the famous mystery writer A. B. Early—Addison—whose sleuth is Maxwell Lane. Rima has read all of Addison’s books but has never actually met her, as there was some sort of rift between Addison and Bim, Rima’s father. Rima wonders if it was caused by Addison having used Bim’s name for the murderer in one of her books.

Taking sleuthing tips from Maxwell Lane himself, Rima decides to try to find out what happened and just what her father’s relationship to Addison was. Addison herself is not very forthcoming, but some letters Rima finds in Maxwell’s fan mail show knowledge of the real Bim, not the fictional murderer. And these letters arrived from the home of what used to be a cult.

I have now read three Fowler novels, and they all construct an interesting tale full of well-meaning characters (although We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves leaves the others in its dust). There are some alarming moments in Wit’s End, but mostly what it offers is comfort and a new home for the main character. I have categorized it as a mystery, but the mystery is really only something to hang the characters and atmosphere on, as the book club is in The Jane Austen Book Club. Wit’s End is a fun bit of very light reading.



Day 533: The Descendants

Cover for The DescendantsIf you have seen the movie The Descendants, the book will not provide you with very many surprises. But that is looking at things the wrong way around. Perhaps the novel provides a stronger sense of betrayal and even more sympathy with the characters.

He may live in balmy Hawaii, but Matt King is struggling. His wife Joanie is in a coma after a boat-racing accident. He has been the type of father who is always working; now he is becoming conscious of his deficiencies as a parent. He finds his ten-year-old daughter Scottie harming herself. Then he learns that the reason his wife sent his teenage daughter Alex away to boarding school was because she discovered drugs in her room.

Added to all this turmoil is a decision he must soon make about his family’s property. A trust is being wound up and prime real estate could be sold. Some cousins want the most money while others favor a local developer. With the majority vote, Matt has the power to decide what the family will do with the land.

After Matt picks up Alex from boarding school, she explains a big blowup she had with her mother over Christmas. Alex had discovered Joanie was having an affair.

Joanie’s doctors decide that she is brain dead, so Matt begins gathering her friends and family to say goodbye. Learning from friends that Joanie had planned to leave him for her lover, Matt decides he should notify him too.

It is in trying to identify and contact this man that Matt discovers Joanie’s affair was a much bigger betrayal than he thought. He is also brought to consider what he owes to his Hawaiian ancestors, from whom his family inherited their property.

Although narrated in a light style that is sometimes funny, The Descendants deals with such issues as grief, anger, death, and infidelity. It is surprisingly affecting, and you feel you know and like Matt, his daughters, and their friend Sid. Most of the characters are well-meaning people who are trying to do the right thing. I enjoyed this novel.