Advertisements

Archive for the ‘coming of age’ Tag

A Look at Lost Causes   Leave a comment

30183198

It’s always good to learn something new from a book, but I admit I hadn’t expected it to be the explanation of the distinction between rowing and paddling. I got this and only a little more in History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund. I anticipated many references to the predatory animal.

Instead, the theme is about parental neglect, in one case benign and another intentional based on religious beliefs. (This reference is meant as foreshadowing, which the novel heavily incorporates.)

Linda, the teenage narrator, lives with her parents in a cabin once part of a commune. They are the only ones left from that off-the-grid lifestyle. The setting is a mostly-isolated wooded area on a northern Minnesota lake. Linda is an observer, rather than a participant. Her parents have a minor role in her life since she generally navigates the world on her own.

A family moves in across the lake and captivates Linda’s imagination. She watches them from a distance, but eventually meets Patra and Paul, the mother and her young son. She soon becomes part of their world by babysitting and being away from her own home.

Interspersed with the development of the relationships among the characters are references to a trial (thus the foreshadowing) and descriptions of Linda’s life as a young adult.

The narrative is slow paced which doesn’t improve as discomfort surfaces when Leo, who’d been away on business, returns to his wife and child.

By the way, paddling is what propels canoes; rowing is done in boats.

History of Wolves
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2017
279 pages

Advertisements

  Leave a comment

16130435
Coming of age can be a mystery, and Karen Brown has combined the two genres in The Longings of Wayward Girls.

The story begins with a 1974 news clipping about the abduction of a young girl, Laura Loomis, and moves back and forth between 1979 and the early 2000s. Laura remains a mystery throughout, while other secrets surface its place. The narrative instead focuses on Sadie Watkins as a creative, energetic young teenager and later as a married mother of two. It hardly seems possible that the two characters are the same; the adult Sadie lacks imagination. That is, until Ray Filey returns to town.

Set in a rural New England community, Brown’s descriptions of the landscape and close-knit neighborhood are intriguing and easy to visualize. The novel is also evocative of a time when parents thought nothing of letting their children roam nearby woods and streets. Or, when parents (in this case, mostly mothers) chain-smoked and drank their way through summer afternoons and evenings.

Sadie teeters on the edge of being a mean girl with childhood friend, Betty, following her lead. Ray is a few years older than Sadie. As a girl she was aware of his presence, although he was never part of her circle of friends. His interest in her as a woman is intriguing, but Sadie’s response to his appearance doesn’t entirely make sense, nor do her actions. However, Brown’s merging of the two themes does offersenough interest to see the novel to its conclusion.

The Longings of Wayward Girls
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Washington Square Press, 2013
337 pages

Unrequited Life   2 comments

Virginsuicide

First published twenty years ago, The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides remains poignant and rich with dark humor. The account of the Lisbon sisters, whose mere existence – and ultimate demise – captured the attention of their entire community, is told in a plural form of the third person voice representing the neighborhood’s teenage boys. It’s not quite the “royal we” but is an interesting technique nonetheless.

Eugenides’s narrative takes place in a quiet Detroit suburb. Seasons are noted by references to fish-flies, fallen leaves and holiday lights. For the Lisbons, however, there are complications. The narrator(s) rely on observation and references to interviews conducted with other neighbors, teachers and clergy. Mention is also made of several “exhibits” which include medical reports and photographs.

The five sisters range in age from 13 to 17, and the youngest is the first to kill herself. It’s clear not just from this suicide which takes place early in the novel, but also from the title, that the others will follow suit. The narrators share this sense of the girls’ impending self-destruction. Eugenides masterfully creates tension, and toys with the reader suggesting the possibility that, perhaps, the girls will be unsuccessful.

However, this is not a work simply about teen angst with no way out. It is a coming of age chronicle and a love story. The narrator(s) are forever changed by their connection to the Lisbon family, but the impression is that would have been true even without suicide as part of the tale.

The Virgin Suicides

Four Bookmarks
Picador, 1993
243 pages

My Favorite Book of 2013 — So Far   2 comments

I took last week off; I read, I hiked, I ate too much, I slept some, I wrote a bit, but mostly I decided to take a break from the Blue Page Special. In the process, I discovered that I missed it.

TellWolves

I just finished reading Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt and can’t stop thinking about it. Although the writing doesn’t fall into the take-your-breath-away category, the story certainly does. I still want to spend time with the characters: June, a 14-year-old misfit; Greta, her super-achieving sister; Finn, their deceased uncle; and Toby, Finn’s lover.

June is devastated when Finn, her best friend, dies of AIDS. She struggles, then Toby enters her life, and she continues to flounder. Except now she has someone to help her keep Finn’s memory alive. Toby and Finn lived together and, even though she spent a lot of time in their apartment, June never knew about Toby. This aspect has the potential to be implausible; instead, it enhances June’s character as a naïve teenager. Another potentially hard-to-believe feature is the bond that develops between the young girl and the thirty-something Toby.  Remarkably, there is never anything creepy or uncomfortable about it. This is largely due to their love for Finn, and the tentative manner in which their friendship evolves. Equally important is the sisters’ relationship.

Brunt masterfully creates relationships that are rich, painful, and grow before our very eyes. The novel is about friendship, first loves, misplaced jealousy and sibling relationships. Set in the mid 1980s, AIDS has just begun to make itself felt in American culture. Yet, that is simply a background element. This is a coming-of-age story that considers the way people change based on age, interests, opportunities, and circumstances.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks

The Dial Press, 2012

355 pages