A Snowy November Skiing at Garnet Hill with Friends






Friday, January 20, 2017

Unexpected Absence and New Reads

I'm astonished that I haven't posted an entry since New Year's Day. That long, really? I have a lot of catching up to do. There are so many books I've read that I haven't commented on. And I still haven't written about my favorite reads of 2016! Yikes.

I've been pre-occupied because my mother became extremely ill and passed away a week ago last Thursday night. The good news is that my mother's end of life was short and her doctors and nurses worked so hard to make sure she did not suffer. It seems that the medical community is making this more of a priority these days, even more than they did just eight years ago, for example, when my uncle died. Why, they even have special M.D.s now, whose specialty is "palliative care." So my mother had a palliative care specialist and an internist working together to help her. Both were women and were outstanding--very compassionate. My brother and I are so grateful for the care she received.

So back to my reading life:
Reading is not coming easily to me right now. I'm trying, though.

Under the Influence (2016) by Joyce Maynard is my favorite book of 2017 so far. I read it during the first week in January. It's obvious to me that I now need to read more of Maynard's fiction. This novel is exceptionally well done, and is a fascinating character study, a page-turner, and leaves the reader with so much to think about afterwards. I'm in awe of Maynard's skills and talents. I must read more of her novels.

It's about a woman who had a problem with alcohol and fought to beat it, successfully. So the "Under the Influence" title is not  so much about her former addiction to alcohol as it is her addictive relationship with an extremely wealthy couple of her age who "befriend" her--a relationship that threatens her individuality, her family (a young son), and her sense of place and balance in the world.
Highly recommended!

I'm now reading Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler, a debut novel published in 2016.
Tess, a very young woman (age 21 or so) leaves her home in Ohio for New York City. She has had a neglected upbringing and longs to escape to the city--for something bigger than herself. She manages to get a job at a top restaurant and enters the life of backwaiters, waiters, sous-chefs, the mean and terrible Chef, and the enigmatic owner Howard.
This novel does one thing very well--it portrays the lives and experiences of those working in a top restaurant and the various relationships among the servers and workers who labor there. But at 352 pages, it is much, much too repetitive, an observation which is really a critique of the plot.

I see this novel as a compendium of sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of the restaurant-worker's experience. But I feel that we are left with as little character analysis as might appear in a short story. The story doesn't really move. I keep waiting for things to change, and have read almost all of it now, and I don't think much more is going to happen.

Whenever I cast doubt on a novel, I always hope that some reader will comment and explain why they liked a book and why. Please feel very free. I love to hear reader's opinions!



10 comments:

  1. I'm sorry to hear the news about your mother but glad to hear that her care was so good. That will have been a relief to all concerned. I believe she was a good age though.

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    1. Thank you, Katrina. There was nothing more that I could have wished to have done for my mother. The care exceeded my expectations far and wide. Whew! And Mom was a good age. She was 93, the same age as her oldest sister, my Aunt Ruth, who also had the same birthday.
      She was completely and totally well until two days before she died. I am so thankful.
      Best to you, Katrina, and to Jack,
      Judith

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  2. Oh Judith, I'm so sorry to hear about your mother! It must be a great comfort to you to know she did not suffer.

    Under the Influence is on my wish list, so I'm glad to know you enjoyed it. I haven't read Maynard yet, but have been meaning to for some time. Unfortunately Sweetbitter was a DNF for me. With two twenty-something daughters living in Manhattan,it was not what I wanted to read!

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    1. JoAnn,
      Thank you for your thoughts!
      I completely understand your concerns regarding Sweetbitter--my brother has four sons between the ages of 17-26. He worries about them constantly.
      I think it is so hard for parents today--"launching" young people is so much more difficult than when I was their age, that's for sure.

      I think you will find much to appreciate in Under the Influence.
      J.

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  3. I am very sorry to hear about your mother, Judith. From my experience with each of my parents' deaths, the grief struck me in unexpected ways, and one was just being very very tired. I am not surprised that reading is difficult now. I will keep you in my thoughts.

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    1. Tracy,
      Thank you for sharing how your grief affected you. I have been exhausted beyond belief, this past week, and on the days Mom was hospitalized. I am still, 8 days later, at loose ends, and having difficulty doing things.
      But I am starting to read in fits and starts.
      Your thoughts have meant a great deal to me. Thank you.

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  4. My heartfelt condolences on the passing of your mother. I'm glad to hear that the medical professionals were able to ease her last days, and I know how that can be a source of comfort to those left behind.

    I find rereading old comfortable books during emotional, stressful times to be the best medicine.

    Sweetbitter sounds like a good premise, but the writing is falling short of the premise. You may have gotten as much out of it as is reasonably there.

    Best wishes as you deal with the loss of your mother. May you find peace in the days ahead.

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    1. Jane,
      Thank you for responding. It is an enormous comfort to know that medical professionals are truly making an effort to ease the passage through the end of life. I felt I was able to be much stronger, because of their assistance.
      And you are so right about those old, comfortable books! I must pull one out tonight. For me, that may mean a children's chapter book.
      And, yes, I've laid Sweetbitter aside for now.
      Best wishes to you,
      J.

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  5. My condolences on your loss. No wonder you are having a tough time concentrating. Be kind to yourself and take all the time you need. One thing I've always noticed is that the books I read when I am grieving stand out in a lasting way, connected forever to my memories of the loss, so it makes me smile that alcohol plays a role in both these stories you've mentioned (maybe I'm misremembering the second novel). Be well!

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    1. I really appreciate the advice, "Take all the time you need." It is taking me some time to get up and running. I am reading, though, and at least with that, I am not standing still. Thank you for responding!!!
      Judith

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