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Archive for the ‘memories’ Tag

Family Ties   Leave a comment

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One house, 13 siblings, ghosts and the city of Detroit provide the foundation for The Turner House by Angela Flournoy. Thank goodness she provides a family tree to keep track of Francis and Viola Turner’s offspring. It helps that much of the present-day story focuses on Cha Cha, the eldest of the Turner children, and Lelah, the youngest. They’re separated by 23 years; their issues are familiar but not quite cliches.

Flournoy also takes the reader back to 1944 when Francis leaves Viola and young son in his rural Arkansas hometown to seek a better life in Detroit. Francis plans to send for his family once he’s settled. He stays away for more than a year, leaving Viola to consider other options.

This backdrop is interspersed with how the family has coped through the years. Francis is dead, Cha Cha has grandchildren of his own; even Lelah is a grandmother. Few have intact marriages or relationships, yet the family is close-knit. The house, the one in which all 13 Turners grew up, is empty and fallen into disrepair. Viola is no longer well enough to live on her own; she lives with Cha Cha and his wife in the suburbs.

The house, vividly described with Pepto Bismo pink bedroom walls, narrow stairs and large porch reflects the rise and fall of Detroit. Once alive with the large family’s comings and goings, its monetary worth is practically non-existent. The brothers and sisters, though, are mixed in their assessment of its sentimental value.

The Turner House
Four Bookmarks
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015
338 pages

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Maternal Ties   Leave a comment

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My Name is Lucy Barton is a statement and not only the title of Elizabeth Strout’s new novel. It’s an affirmation as Lucy reflects on the relationship with her mother, which is like a faulty wire: occasionally there’s no connection.

Lucy is from a rural Illinois town where growing up her family lived so far below the poverty line as to make it seem something to attain. Lucy’s life is revealed as she lies in a hospital bed with a view of the Chrysler Building in New York City talking with her mother whom she hasn’t seen or spoken with in years. Strout is methodical as she merges Lucy’s past with the present.

The rich, stark pacing and imagery serve to expose family dynamics in the narrative. That is, Strout’s writing provides enough detail to shape a situation or character, but not so much that there is little left to the imagination. In fact, this is what makes some aspects harrowing: imagining what life was like for young Lucy. She lived with her older siblings and parents in a garage until age 11.

Her mother’s brief presence provides the vehicle to see Lucy’s past; the extended hospitalization gives Lucy time to consider her adult life as a mother, wife and writer.

Lucy should despise her parents and her past, yet she doesn’t. Her family was shunned and her parents were apparently abusive in their neglect. Lucy is grateful for her mother’s presence. The mother-daughter bond, at least from Lucy’s perspective, overrides past sins.

My Name is Lucy Barton
Four and a half Bookmarks
Random House, 2016
191 pages

Sharing the Bookshelf   Leave a comment

Although it’s only been in the hands of the general public for little more than a month, the reviews for Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman have been mixed. Now I see why, it’s difficult to know whether this is because long-standing images have been shattered, if the story is less engaging or if the writing simply isn’t as strong as To Kill a Mockingbird: an integral part of American culture since its publication 55 years ago. The 1961 Pulitzer Prize winning novel is still taught in classrooms, and Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch in the movie adaptation remains iconic.

Jean Louise Finch, aka Scout, returns to Maycomb, Ala., from New York City. Atticus is ailing and many of the familiar characters from Mockingbird reappear to remind Scout, and readers, how some things change and some never do.

Scout’s memories are mixed with her current day events as she begins to see her hometown and, especially, her father in a new, unflattering light.

My take is that the story, albeit worth reading, is less engrossing due to lackluster prose. In fact, I found it easy to put down and had to remind myself of its imminent library due date.

Racism and human imperfection are looming themes. Given what’s happening across the country, the former continues needing to be more openly addressed. Perhaps it takes seeing Atticus Finch as a racist, despite his efforts at justification, for us to see the deep-rooted problem. As for the latter, that’s something we just have to accept.

Go Set a Watchman
Three-and-three-quarter-bookmarks
Harper-Collins, 2015
278 pages

Good Times for Breakfast   2 comments

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A friend, who is only slightly younger than me, remembered going to Bon Ton’s Café when she was a child with her grandmother. Although it wasn’t my recollection, I smiled at the idea of a restaurant and its food evoking a fond memory. Bon Ton’s, on the corner of Colorado Avenue and 26th Street in Old Colorado City, has been serving food for years (and years), and plating up some memories in the process.

Bon Ton’s is like a favorite sweater. It’s comfortable, dependable and, if frayed around the edges, familiar. Of course, it helps that the food is consistent. It’s only open for breakfast and lunch, so the menu, printed like a newspaper, features all the offerings. For breakfast, standard egg dishes, pancakes, French toast and several Southwestern items, identified by the presence of green chile, are available. Traditional lunch fare includes burgers and sandwiches.

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I’ve enjoyed the Vegetable Scrambler in the past as much for the fresh vegies cooked with scrambled eggs as for the crunchy hash browns also on the plate. I was tempted by the thought of the hash browns  — a yin and yang of crispy and creamy shredded potatoes, — but I really wanted a pancake. My friend offered to give me her spuds because she said she wouldn’t be able to eat everything she ordered. She was in the holiday spirit.

My plate-size, golden pancake with maple syrup was exactly what I wanted, as were the hash browns. They’re the stuff of memories.

Bon Ton’s Café
Four Plates
2601 W. Colorado Ave.
Colorado Springs