Sunday, November 28, 2021

Florence Adler Swims Forever

Florence Adler Swims Forever
  Florence Adler Swims Forever
Author:  Rachel Beanland
Publication Information:  Simon & Schuster. 2020. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1982132469 / 978-1982132460

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Gussie Feldman didn't enjoy swimming but she did like to lie on the wet sand, in the shadow of Atlantic City's Steel Pier, and wait for the tiniest ripple of a wave to wash over her."

Favorite Quote:  "Every family has its issues. I offer my family's up to you only as explanation for why I'm such a pain in the ass."

Florence Adler is a swimmer. She is training to swim the Channel. Something happens during a training swim, and Florence Adler drowns. In a book named for Florence Adler, this is sadly the extent of Florence's own story. Per the author's note, Florence is based on a member of the author's family. It is an homage to this individual such that their story may never be forgotten.

The book really is the story of Florence's family. Her parents. Her sister. Her niece. Her childhood friend who was perhaps more than a friend. A young woman who is a new addition to Florence's family. In the context of the loss of Florence, this book is the story of this family of flawed characters, their histories, and their futures. At the same time, it is a story of a time and a place - Atlantic City and the Jersey Shore and the impending Nazi threat. It is a story also of being Jewish in this time and place.

The stated plot of the book is that Florence dies. Florence's sister is in the hospital due to a high risk pregnancy. The family decides to keep Florence's death a secret until after the baby is form.

It takes a bit of reading to determine that with the actual plot of the book casts a broader net with the stories of each of the people in Florence's life. The start of the book is a challenge because I look for the stated story, and I find myself thinking about the "right" or "wrong" of the family's decision to keep the death a secret. Then, I settle in, and the characters become real. Getting involved in the individual stories takes me as the reader away from the "right" or "wrong" of the book's central premise. It just is.

Each chapter comes from the perspective of one of these individuals, bringing to life their emotions and context. Florence's parents Joseph and Esther struggle with mourning one daughter while trying to protect the other. Their story, however, goes much further back as other secrets emerge from their lives. Florence's sister Fannie is kept in the dark but suffers her own grief at what she thinks if Florence's desertion. Fannie's husband Isaac has secrets of his own that impact his own family and Fannie's family; his story only just touches Florence's. Gussie, Fannie's young daughter, is scared and confused by the adult world around her. Stuart, Florence's friend who hoped to be more, struggles with his own family expectations above and beyond his relationship with Florence. Anna, a guest in the Adler home, brings in the plight of the Jewish immigrants looking to escape the Nazi regime.

In some ways, there is a lot going on in this book. Yet, somehow, it works, and the characters and this family feel real. Even at the end, I find myself wondering. What happens when Fannie finds out? How does Simon reconcile with his decisions? How do Anna and her family survive the war? What happens next? I want to turn the page and keep the story going.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

The Accidental Book Club

  The Accidental Book Club
Author:  Jennifer Scott
Publication Information:  Berkley. May 6, 2014. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0451418824 / 978-0451418821

Book Source:  I read this book as a selection of a local book club.

Opening Sentence:  "Jean Vison dumped a fistful of chopped roasted red peppers into a pan of macaroni and cheese, and stirred, hoping doing so would make her dish pass as 'gourmet.'"

Favorite Quote:  "God. How was that possible? How was it possible that they'd lived an entire lifetime together and had never gotten around to jotting up to Wyoming for a long weekend? What had they been doing with the time instead? ... Pointless chores, or weekends spent in silence over some silly disagreement or running children to birthday parties of kids they didn't even know. Why did they choose those things? Why did they construct a life of tedium, always putting off wishes and dreams for another day that ultimately would not come?"

The Accidental Book Club was a monthly read for our book club. Our member who selected it said she chose it for the title, the description, and the role a (or really our specific one) book club plays in our lives. I completely and whole heartedly agree!

This book club, likes ours, discusses books, of course. However, the conversation ventures so much further into the lives of each member. The group of women provide support, wisdom, experience, friendship, laughter, and a shoulder to cry on.

Jean, Loretta, Dorothy, May, Mitzi, and Janet are such a group. Each is at a different stage of her life and dealing with their own unique issues. Loss of a spouse. Illness of a child. Divorce. Dating. Troubled grandchild. Yet, somehow, this group comes together to provide each what even their own family perhaps does not. They becomes a family of their own choosing.

The premise of the book resonates as I am fortunate enough to have a supportive sisterhood such as this one. The emotional support in it resonates. 

However, the characters themselves and the situations I find less real. Some things such as the author visit are over the top. Some things such as the turnaround of a troubled teen seem to easily resolved. In addition, some of the character's inability to speak up for themselves was frustrating (think doormat!).

Although the book is based around the club, ultimately, it is mostly Jean's story. It is about her daughter's alcoholism and disintegrating marriage. It is about the two adults in the relationship - Laura and Curt - and their inability to parent or even care for their own daughter.

In the middle of all of these women with their angst, Bailey, the angry, acting-out, seeking-attention ends up my favorite character. That is perhaps because she is the one who evolves the most during the course of the book. Her change from a surly troubled teen into a seemingly happier, sunnier teenager is dramatic and   somewhat contrived. Nevertheless, it is the evolution of a character that keeps the interest in the story. It makes her perhaps the most developed of the character (not that that is saying much in this case).

Books with "book" or anything "booklike" in the title always draw me in. I might have picked this book up even if not the choice of my book club. It was a quick and easy read and "okay." Knowing what meaning being in a book club has for me, I expected and hoped for more.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.