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Archive for the ‘siblings’ Tag

The Intersection of Fate, Life and Death   Leave a comment

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Fate and the power of suggestion collide in Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists. It’s 1969 and it’s in the midst of summer’s heat and doldrums when siblings Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon Gold need a distraction. They seek out a woman known to foretell the exact date on which one will die. The children are 13, 11, 9 and 7, respectively. This seemingly-innocent adventure profoundly and ultimately affects each of their lives.

The narrative then jumps to the late 1970s. Each chapter focuses on one of the Golds, their interactions with each other, the choices they make and how that long-ago visit to the psychic is embedded in their lives.

The fortune teller, along with Eddie O’Donoghue, a police officer turned FBI agent, are characters who move in and out of the story through often unlikely scenarios. They alternately represent good and evil. Their presence is unnerving if only because they’re initially perceived as simply passing through. Yet, it becomes clear that the author doesn’t want the reader to relegate them to cameo appearances.

The Immortalists
Four-and-a-half Bookmarks
G.P. Putnam’s sons, 201
346 pages

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Food, Families and Fate   Leave a comment

The Comfort Food Diaries

Emily Nunn knows food. She wrote about it as a staff writer for The New Yorker and Chicago Tribune, among other publications. She also knows heartbreak and self-damaging behavior, which she shares in The Comfort Food Diaries.

A description of her seemingly-ideal life in Chicago where she lives with her boyfriend, dubbed “the engineer” and his lovely daughter, “the princess,” fades quickly. After Nunn learns that her brother has committed suicide she begins her own self-destructive tailspin through alcoholism and ending the romantic relationship.

Nunn reveals her backstory as she seeks to find balance in her life. The loss of her brother, her parents’ dysfunctional marriage – and ultimate divorce – her relationship with other siblings, relatives and friends fill the pages. At the suggestion of a friend, she embarks on a “comfort food tour.”

The direction of this tour is different than what I anticipated. Rather than a road trip around different parts of the country in search of consolation fare, Nunn sojourns to the places of her past and the role of food in her past and present. This isn’t a one-food-fits-all look at comfort, it is only about Nunn and her perceptions.

My family, for example, has dishes deemed “classics” in lieu of comfort foods. Not because they are universal, instead because they’re unique to us. Nunn, with her family and friends, has her own.

In addition to narrating her quest, Nunn shares recipes with her memories and new experiences. Her writing style is conversational and honest. She also knows how to whet the appetite.

The Comfort Food Diaries: My Quest for the Perfect Dish to Mend a Broken Heart
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Atria Books, 2017
310 pages

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

Family Dinners   Leave a comment

BreadandButter
Bread & Butter is bound to appeal to foodies. Author Michelle Wildgen combines her talents as a writer with her past restaurant experience to tell the story of three brothers with two competing eateries in their hometown.

Leo and Britt have been running Winesap, their fashionable restaurant for more than a decade. When their younger brother, Harry, returns home they find it difficult to be enthusiastic about his plans to open another upscale establishment in a weak economy. Yet, it’s not just the competition that has the older two apprehensive. Harry has bounced around from educational pursuits to various jobs in the years since he’s been gone. Leo and Britt are certain Harry lacks the stamina, knowledge and commitment to run a successful business. They see him as a neophyte, and Harry, who wants their support, is driven to prove them wrong.

Wildgen has created likeable, sometimes exasperating, characters whose voices and situations ring true. Eventually, Britt signs on as Harry’s partner while maintaining his front-of-house role at Winesap. Tensions mount as expectations, many unfounded, lead to several surprises when Harry’s place opens for business.

Descriptions of food, prepping for dinner service and the relationships among the employees (and owners) are vivid and realistic.

Ultimately, the siblings have credible culinary chops; they also have difficulty relinquishing family issues precipitated by birth order. This tends to bog things down a bit. Wildgen emphasizes that sometimes family members are often seen as what we want them to be, rather than who they truly are.

Bread & Butter
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Doubleday, 2014
314 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

Family Holiday on Ice   5 comments

Mark Haddon’s The Red House is a metaphor for the definition of family;  the meaning can be obscured by comfort or serve as boundaries through which no one should cross. Haddon emphasizes the latter. Estranged brother and sister, Richard and Angela, meet for a family vacation shortly after their mother’s death. Richard’s a doctor and newly married to his second wife. Her 16-year-old daughter is part of the package. Angela and her husband have three children, but she mourns the still-born daughter she lost 18 years ago. These eight family members spend a week together in the English countryside as they tentatively reveal themselves to each other – some with better results than others.

Haddon’s approach is interesting. Each chapter represents one day of the vacation, and everyone’s perspective is provided to set the scene. Initially, it’s difficult, even confusing, keeping track of who’s who. However, as the storyline evolves, more about Angela’s grief is explained, not just from her viewpoint but her husband’s, too. Also, Richard is not as professionally secure as he projects, this from his wife.

Haddon blends the familiar (sulky teenagers) with the uncomfortable (sulky parents). Slowly, observations and experiences round out each character. Jumping from one person to another becomes less awkward. Mostly, the time together leads to everyone’s better understanding of him or herself. Haddon writes, “Behind everything there is a house … compared to which every other house is larger or colder or more luxurious.” Sounds a lot like the way all families are perceived.

The Red House
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Doubleday, 2012
264 pages

Family Pride   2 comments

This week my younger brother reaches a milestone birthday. Late last year he published
a book. Both of these events are significant, but it’s the latter that makes me exceptionally
proud and very jealous. He wrote a book! And it’s published! Although I have the copy he
gave me, when I saw the book  in a bookstore, I was thrilled beyond words – so I took a
photo.

Once I decided to start my blog I knew I did not want to review meals made by friends or
myself, and I thought I should not review books written by friends or family members. I
didn’t really think the issue would arise regarding books by people I know; but it has, and
I feel the same. I don’t want to review my brother’s book because of my background as a
journalist and my, perhaps misplaced, desire for objectivity. I can say with all sincerity he
has written an attractive, informative book about architect Wallace Neff whose fascinating
building process involved the use of balloons and concrete. I’d never heard of this before.
I can say the book is well-researched and well-written. But I can’t, I won’t, rate it because
to say I love it could be misconstrued as sisterly-love-induced bias. Conversely, if I say I
despise it that could be chalked up to good old fashioned sibling rivalry. I don’t hate it, and
I do love my brother.

Happy Birthday, Jeffrey! Keep writing. You make me envious – and proud!

No Nails, No Lumber: The Bubble Houses of Wallace Neff
By Jeffrey Head
Princeton Architectural Press, 2011
176 pages