Archive for the ‘parents’ Tag

Friends and Guests   Leave a comment


Rules For Visiting is much more than a guide for would-be guests (and hosts) to follow. Rather, Jessica Francis Kane’s novel is an introspective look at how one moves through life based on the influences family and friends have on that journey.

May Attaway is a 40-year-old, single gardener. She pays more attention to the flora than to most people and situations. She’s observant when it comes to nature, but hasn’t mastered the art of social niceties. She has a few friends, but no one with whom she is in regular contact. It doesn’t occur to her that Leo, her car mechanic and the owner of a local taco shop, could be more than an acquaintance. Nor has she considered a co-worker would be more than a colleague.

When given a bonus at work for four weeks off with pay, May deliberates how to spend the time and ultimately decides to visit the four people she considers friends. Each represents different phases of her life.

The visits are spaced throughout different seasons. Between the trips, May ponders the relationships with her deceased mother, other family members and neighbors. The author deftly reminds the reader of May’s true passion through the many references of plants (including their formal scientific names). She also includes drawings of trees by Edward Carey marking the five sections of the book.

It’s no surprise that May learns much about herself and the importance of friendship in travels, but the process is nonetheless refreshing.

Rules for Visiting
Four Bookmarks
Penguin Press, 2019
287 pages


Whining While Dining   Leave a comment


Most parents, whether with young children or those who remember when their kids were small, are familiar with meals being a time for whining and dining.  Herman Koch’s The Dinner applies the concept at a very different level.

In Amsterdam, where the story takes place, two couples meet one evening at an upscale restaurant. The novel is narrated by Paul who is unhappy about the location, the companionship and, ultimately, the reason for getting together. Paul whines, a lot. He, with his wife, is joined by his brother and sister-in-law. The dining establishment is pretentious and so is his brother, Serge. Paul’s lack of enthusiasm is understandable, although none of Koch’s characters are worth embracing.

Initially, Paul’s attitude seems justified. Serge comes across as shallow, and the food does sound haughty: “The ‘grapes’ were lying beside a deep-purple piece of lettuce, a full two inches of empty plate away from the actual main course — ‘filet of guinea fowl wrapped in paper-thin German bacon.’”

As the novel and meal progress, it’s evident that the story is less about the five courses than about Paul, in addition to his son and nephew. The latter are the impetus for the couple getting together; the parents share a lot of responsibility when it comes to dealing with a criminal act committed by their boys.

By meal’s end, what has been served are layers of rationale that demonstrate how far some parents go to protect their children. Thankfully, there’s no to-go box for this repast.

The Dinner
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Hogarth, 2012
292 pages

Family Affairs   Leave a comment


I’m not entirely sure how I feel about The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis. Mathis has created a family, beginning in 1925 continuing through 1980, of which Hattie is the matriarch. The tribes, her 11 children and one grandchild, are revealed in single, captured episodes (chapters) reflecting a lifetime of longing and emotional neglect. On one hand Hattie is a mother who loves her children too much; yet, she doesn’t love them well.

Parents are not always infallible, and Hattie makes no apologies for her shortcomings. The first chapter, about her twins, and later that of her daughter, Rosie, are told through Hattie’s eyes; the rest of the stories are shared from her children’s perspectives. These include looks back on their childhoods and a glimpse of them as adults. No one fares well, and the question surfaces: how much is a parent’s responsibility? Except that’s not the only issue here.

Hattie and her husband, August, share the burden of poverty and heartache. Their relationship, however, is grounded more in the physical than sentimental realm. Consequently, her nine offspring struggle with everything from sexuality to religion, from addiction to mental illness. How would life had been different if Hattie’s first two children, twins Philadelphia and Jubilee, not died in infancy? It’s possible they would have grown up to be just as miserable as their siblings.

Mathis’s writing is the redeeming element: evocative and haunting. What she writes may be difficult to read, but how she does it is memorable.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie
Probably Four Bookmarks
Alfred A. Knopf, 2012
243 pages