Saturday, May 20, 2023

The Summer Place

The Summer Place
  The Summer Place
Author:  Jennifer Weiner
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2022. 432 pages.
ISBN:  1501133578 / 978-1501133572

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

Opening Sentence:  "For forty years, the house had stood, silvery cedar and gleaming glass, on the edge of the dune, overlooking the waters of Cape Cod Bay."

Favorite Quote:  "A person's happiness is his own business. Or hers."

Sarah Danhauser is one woman. Around her are...
  • Ruby, her stepdaughter who wants to pull a wedding together in 3 months. Whether or not she wants to be married is a different question.
  • Ruby's birth mother, who walked out on her but is now back for the wedding.
  • Sarah's mother Veronica.
  • Sarah's twin brother Sam who is dealing with issues of his own.
  • Sarah's husband Eli who has seems estranged since the beginning of the wedding.
  • Sarah's son Connor.
Surrounding Sarah is also the life of New York brownstones and Cape Cod beach houses.

Where this book is going... "Staying married ... was a choice." And "A Little selfishness could be healthy. It could even be what saved your life. That, she thought, was a message more girls and women could stand to hear, a thing that few were every taught." A valuable message, but unfortunately lost in the context of this story.

This summer beach read is about family secrets and a wedding weekend to bring them all out. It is about reminiscing about and testing the paths not taken. It is about communication or lack thereof. It is about family and love.

The premise is a common one and a relatable one, except for that kind of wealth. The multigenerational approach indicates the presence of multiple perspectives with different life experiences. The location indicates an immersion in a beautiful place. 

Unfortunately, the book goes from those beginnings to focus on different things. The family secrets and relationships do come out but in a way as to be far-fetched. The "secrets" also attempt to bring in so many different elements that each individual one gets lost. In addition, several characters end up a representative of an element being highlighted rather than a fully rounded individual. It's is more a checklist of relationship combinations. The multigenerational approach gets subsumed by descriptions of relationships that may or may not be across generational lines. The location ends up playing no real part of the story; the beauty of the place does not truly feature in the book.

On top of that, this book has scenes that are graphic. There is no real warning, and that is not my thing. Romance, yes, perhaps. Graphic sexual descriptions, no thank you. The fact that these encounters introduce the possibility of incest raises the question. Why? Just why?

Too much, too scattered, and ultimately, not for me.

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

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives

Bomb Shelter
  Bomb Shelter: Love, Time, and Other Explosives
Author:  Mary Laura Philpott
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2022. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1982160780 / 978-1982160784

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

Opening Sentence:  "I remember now standing with my face to the horizon in the waist-deep tide of the Gulf of Mexico, making up a dance routine."

Favorite Quote:  "It's true: There will always be threats lurking under the water where we play, danger hiding in the attic and rolling down the street on heavy wheels, unexpected explosions in our brains and ours hearts and the sky. There will always be bombs, and we will never able to save everyone we care about. To know that and to try anyway is to be fully alive, The closes thing to shelter we can offer one another is love, as deep and wide and in as many forms as we can give it. Thank you for having me."

In the author's own words, "Bomb Shelter asks the question: How do any of us keep going when we can’t ever be sure what’s coming next?" The image on the cover is of a box turtle who lives in the author's back yard. Why a box turtle? According to the author, Frank the turtle is the perfect cover image because he literally carries a shelter with him at all times to keep him safe through whatever may arise.

The book comes from a "lifelong worrier" whose worries all come to fruition one night when she finds her teenager on the floor unconscious. The book is not really about the aftermath of her son's illness and diagnosis. That is the starting point.

The book is rather a series of essays on the realization of this fear, of other fears particularly about those we love, and the ability to navigate through life keeping this fear at bay. The titles of the individual essays range from "Pinwheel," to "To the Woman Screaming on the Quad," to "The Great Fortune of Ordinary Sadness," to "Spatchcock This." The topics of the essays are just as varied, ranging from her son's illness, to the family dog, to the turtle in the back yard, to the COVID-19 pandemic, to empty nester emotions. Several of the essays have been previously published through outlets such as The New York Times and The Atlantic.

My reaction to the essays varies as is expected in an any book using this format. It depends which of the situations and emotions resonate with my own experiences. Some I find myself laughing along with and nodding my head. Some I find myself skimming because they are not relevant to me or the experiences like the pandemic are too close to my own reality for me to want to read about as yet.

On occasion, I do find the writing style challenging. I find myself having to re-read to parse out and understand the meaning. For example, "...I was beginning to understand for the first time what would later, in other circumstances, hit me harder: that time was a finite resource. The more time you had in life, if you were lucky, the more opportunities you had to love and be loved, and the, at a certain point, the tide would turn, and time would start to run out, taking the ones you love with it." I absolutely agree with the central thought that time is precious and short. However, that is a lot of phrases strung together with commas to wade through to get to that point. The same point more simply put would be more powerful to me.

The book at times feels long, even at under 300 pages. Perhaps, that is the essay format for me and its inability to tell a cohesive story. Perhaps, it is repetition of the same themes throughout. Perhaps, it is reading an entire collection of essays in book format rather than pieces individually here and there. I come to the conclusion that while the individual essays are interesting, perhaps I am not the right reader for this book format.

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