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Archive for the ‘parenting’ Tag

Get Lost   Leave a comment

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Watch Me Disappear is disappointing. Sorry. There’s no hemming and hawing on this one. Yet, I read all 300-plus pages waiting for some redeeming elements. Some surfaced only to quickly fade. It wasn’t exactly a slog, but it was far from a nice walk in the woods.

There is a hike, though; at least references to one, which is part of the story.

Jonathan and Billie Flanagan, with Olive their 16-year-old daughter, live in Berkeley. By all appearances they’re a happy family. He’s a workaholic for a hi-tech publication, Billie is an out-doorsy bon vivant, stay-at-home mom occasional graphic designer with a past, of course. Olive is a bright introvert at a private school.

The narrative follows the grief-stricken father and daughter dealing with the presumed-dead Billie who, nearly a year earlier, goes missing while on a solo backpacking trek on a section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Jonathan quits his job to write a memoir about Billie, the love of his life. Interspersed among the chapters are pages Jonathan has written. They reveal as much about him as about Billie. Meanwhile, Olive begins having visions of her mother offering hints as to her possible whereabouts. Thus, the two begin separate searches to find the missing woman.

Part of the problem with Janelle Brown’s novel is that it’s predictable; the few surprises are just that, too few. It doesn’t help that Olive is the only appealing character or that the ending – and this reveals nothing – is very tidy.

Watch Me Disappear
Two-and-a-half Bookmarks
Spiegel & Grau, 2017
358 pages

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Parenting Gone Awry   Leave a comment

Imperfect Birds

Anne Lamott’s Imperfect Birds is either a wake-up call or a near-miss experience for parents and their kids. Either way, it’s a disheartening look at teenagers, parenting, and community. The first paragraph sets the tone: “… a teenager died nearly every year after a party and kids routinely went from high school to psych wards, halfway houses, or jail.” The first thing I’d do is move, no matter how idyllic the little town, where the story’s set, with its appealing proximity to San Francisco.

Lamott writes with purpose, honesty and humor. Yet her characters are not likeable. Rosie is an entitled high school senior, facing real and difficult situations where peer pressure, availability of drugs, and opportunities for sex are abundant. Elizabeth and James, Rosie’s mother and stepfather, know these dangers exist, but are reluctant to parent. Why should they? Rosie’s a good student and involved at church. Plus, as a consummate liar she successfully overrides her parents’ arbitrary concerns.

It doesn’t help that Elizabeth is a recovering alcoholic – except it should. She shouldn’t be such an easy mark. James doesn’t fare much better, although he tries. Elizabeth’s fault is her desire to be Rosie’s friend first and parent second. The book does lend itself to a discussion about parenting.

If Lamott’s goal is to show how blind loving parents can be, she’s successful. When Elizabeth and James finally see the light, it’s not through their personal epiphanies, rather from Rosie forgetting to keep the wool over her own eyes.

Imperfect Birds
Three Bookmarks
Riverhead Books, 2010
317 pages

Laugh Out Loud Parenting   Leave a comment

fatdad

I hadn’t heard of Jim Gaffigan before his appearance on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” this past spring. Then I saw his name as an author on the library’s list of most requested books. I thought he was funny and decided to get in line for Dad is Fat. It was actually a long line. Although I enjoyed the book, I have to wonder if the library only ordered one copy.

Gaffigan writes about his life as the father of five young children. He, his wife and their brood live in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City. It’s a small space full of chaos, fun and lots of love. No aspect of parenting is off limits. He addresses everything from attending church to going to the park, from getting babysitters to sleeping — at least trying to. He writes, “I love the fact that if my children wake up scared or are feeling lonely, they can come in our bed. I just wish each and every one of them didn’t do it every single night.”

His humor blends sarcasm with self-deprecation. He considers his wife a saint, albeit a fertile one. Gaffigan is in the right career as a comedian, and his voice adjusts well to the page.

The book provides several laugh-out-loud moments, but after a while they start to wear thin. For people of a certain age, his family may sound reminiscent of sit-coms from the 1960s. Perhaps someday it will be the basis of one on a cable channel.

Dad is Fat
Three Bookmarks
Crown Archetype, 2013
274 pages

Parenting Without Boundaries   2 comments


If you read Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin be sure you have
someone with whom you can talk about it.

This disturbing, yet compelling, story unfolds through a series of letters written by
Eva to her absent husband, Franklin. The purpose of the letters is to try to under-
stand how their 15-year-old son, Kevin, could murder seven classmates, a teacher,
and a school cafeteria worker.

Through a clear almost detached, yet very personal, perspective Eva expresses the
difficulty she has in relinquishing her independence to become a mother. Following
Kevin’s birth, she continues to lack a natural maternal instinct. Still, Eva is not
without heartfelt emotion and empathy; she simply has difficulty showing these traits
to Kevin.

On the other hand, neither is Franklin completely blameless; although his side of the
story is not told. As seen through Eva’s eyes, Franklin maintains a vise-like grip on
the image of a happy, American family. His perception does not include discipline,
respect to others, or a recognition that there are two sides to every story.

Kevin is simply a bad kid, albeit an exceptionally bright one. The concept of uncon-
ditional love falters under Shriver’s pen. Parents are bound to examine their parent-
ing style and question whether it is the right approach. It is easy to be critical of
Eva and Franklin, but it’s hard to know if anyone else could have parented Kevin with
a different outcome.

We Need to Talk About Kevin
Three Bookmarks
HarperCollins, 2006
432 pages

(I wrote this review several years ago, but decided to post it here.)

Mothers and Sons   Leave a comment

As the mother of sons I was compelled to read The Mama’s Boy Myth:
Why Keeping
Our Sons Close Makes Them Stronger by Kate Stone
Lombardi. My oldest, in his mid-20s, often boasts of being a “mama’s boy,”
however, my other two have yet to claim to the same title. Nonetheless, I
feel close to all three. Of course, they don’t tell me everything, but they share
quite a lot. More importantly, I no longer feel the way I did when they were
younger: that our relationship would stop flourishing as they got older. That
is not happening at all, and, according to Lombardi, I am not the only mother
enjoying this experience.

Lombardi combines interviews with mothers of sons, excerpts from studies,
personal experience, and historic trends that have led her to conclude there
is nothing wrong with strong bonds between moms and their boys. In fact,
she highlights a number of benefits for males. These include possessing more
expressive and thoughtful qualities. Yet until now, little has been written to
correct the bum rap directed toward moms if their sons were too sensitive or
socially inept; and having a male role model was considered the way to over-
come “problems” caused by a mom with tight apron strings.

Dads, as Lombardi notes, don’t face such scrutiny in their relationships with
daughters. All parents should be encouraged to maintain close ties with their
children. For moms it should happen without Oedipus’s looming shadow.

The Mama’s Boy Myth: Why Keeping Ours Sons Close Makes Them Stronger
Three Bookmarks
Penguin Group, 2012
324 pages (includes notes)

Posted May 13, 2012 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

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