Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book 32 - Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

I didn't know this, but this book came out in 1961/1962 and was a finalist for a book award, along with Catch-22. The novel is set in 1955 and features April and Frank Wheeler as the protagonists. The book starts with an awfully produced and acted amateur play starring April and viewed by Frank ad their other suburban neighbors. Frank and April's relationship quickly deteriorates (although there is a question as to whether it was any good to begin with), with extramarital affairs a la Mad Men making appearances and April convincing Frank that they need to uproot the family (they have two youngish children) in order to move to Paris. Many unexpected twists throw wrenches into the plans...I don't want to give too much more away.

I felt that this book was at heart a tragedy with the American Dream dying a death at the center of it all - Frank and April seem to have it all with a family, stability and a beautiful home in the suburbs and yet, they hate each other and their lives and their surroundings. The way that it was written was so beautiful and inescapable that I felt drawn in, watching a train wreck that I couldn't rip my eyes away from. I liked how Yates dealt with the everyday life of the middle class of the 50's - he didn't tell the story all from one person's perspective either. We learned about April from April, Frank from Frank etc. and this was really effective in showing us how miserable or clueless certain people were. I wish that I hadn't seen the movie beforehand because I had certain appearances stuck in my mind of what the characters looked like and what their mannerisms were and so I think that this ruined a truly beautiful book for me, even though it was only by a little bit. Definitely a must read.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Book 31 Buffalo Lockjaw by Greg Ames

I didn't know what to expect from this book. A book about Buffalo, NY (a depressed town) wasn't very promising. But I tried to keep an open mind. This novel is about a young man in his late twenties named James whose mother is in the grips of ever worsening dementia. James finds himself struggling with both the physical and mental decline that accompanies the disease - his mother is in a nursing home where she receives 24 hour medical care and hygiene care. He is keenly aware of the irony of the situation - his mother was a nurse who not only dealt with and cared for people with dementia and Alzheimer's Disease but also advocated for the right of the patient to make all of end of life cares including when to kill themselves. He also worries about his father, who now lives alone in a big house in Buffalo, visiting his wife everyday and getting older everyday without he (because James lives in NYC) or his sites (who is in the Pacific Northwest) around to help.

I didn't really like James all that much but I didn't think that I was supposed to. On some level, I empathized with him. He drinks way too much and is unsuccessful by conventional definitions - while he longs to write the Great American novel, his employment in this novel involves him wiring smarmy one liners for a greeting card company. His one seemingly redeeming quality, was his dedication to his mother - he constantly agonizes over what she would want to see happen to herself now with the disease, he carefully flosses her teeth after the meals he attends with there and once, when she has to be changed after going in her adult diapers, he attempts to convince the nurses that he should be allowed to help them change and clean her.

I felt that this book was one way of poignantly presenting a side of the physician assisted suicide debate by blending what the life of someone suffering from a terminal and degenerative disease like Alzheimer's or dementia with a little bit of the science (in the voice of James' mother ironically, who wrote frequently about P.A.S. before she became ill). He doesn't offer a specific answer as to whether it is right or wrong, but I got the sense that he was sympathetic to the cause if you will. It was a wonderful novel and I hope that he writes more soon!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Book 30 -Once Upon a Secret by Mimi Alford

There isn't a whole lot to this book - I mean, really, I think that people nowadays aren't all that worked up about extramarital affairs and Presidents post-Bill Clinton and we all knew that JFK had his mistresses so what was one more? And quite frankly, Mimi Alford's naiveté made her look more the fool than the President (although he did look cruel too - but again, we all knew that didn't we?). I found myself having to suspend my disbelief for some of it - really, Mimi, you (a virgin) let him have sex with you after four days of working in the White House? And then, when you went back to school, he called you on the communal pay phone all the time without fail and no one had any clue as to what is going on? Sure.

Initially, I think it's quite clear, that I didn't feel badly for Ms. Alford - I found her to be a willing participant in the affair that continued for 18 months and included weekend trips during the school year and being whisked around the country and to the Caribbean in the President's entourage. It also included being taken care of financially - she never paid for these trips - and it included being given two expensive hits (two that she told us about...). I did feel some sadness and empathy when she began to talk about the impact that this affair had on her marriae. There was overlap between her affair with JFK and her dating of the man that would become her husband. She was sleeping with JFK for some time where she was also in a fairly serious relations with her soon to be husband. And when she finally told her fiancee about what had happened, he was so upset that not only did he essentially sexually assault her (he had sex with her to lay claim to her), but he ordered her never to talk about it again to him or anyone else and proceeded to marry her, resulting in a 20 year joyless marriage. I found this to be the most tragic part of the story because it caused a tremendous strain on not only Mimi and her husband but on their children and on everything that went on in their life.

I think that this book served as a way for Mimi Alford to "purge" herself of her demons and the blackness that resulted from this affair. That's all it was - it wsn't necessarily well written and isn't steamy, graphic or a tell all in that sense. Not a must read, IMHO.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

If you liked The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, you will want to read this dystopian novel, which has won a number of awards in th...