Book #51 was The Grace that Keeps this World, by Tom Bailey. I picked this book up because I was intrigued by the title but also because of the blurb on the cover by Leif Enger. It's the story of a tragedy, and you pretty much know this from the first page. The story is told in many different voices, and each one is so lovingly and carefully rendered that you feel you get to know all of the characters. Gary Hazen is a strong, dominant father whose influence on his two sons they both appreciate and resent. I completely believed in this family: the wife who works constantly to maintain the kind of stark, self-sufficient life that she and her husband have chosen, the two sons who want to please their father but have lives of their own that they feel obligated to hide from him. The book is beautifully written and I recommend it.
My brother loaned me the next book several years ago, and I finally read it this week. The book was Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury. This is the lushly written story of Douglas Spaulding, a 12-year-old, and the summer of 1928. The metaphor of the title is the wine his grandfather makes every year from the dandelions in his yard; each one represents one day of the summer, and the wine preserves those beautiful summer days, just as Bradbury's writing does. I think my favorite part was the old man who makes surreptitious phone calls to Mexico, just so he can listen to the noises of a city far away. Since this is mostly a book about enjoying the here and now, I'm not sure what that preference says about me.
I saw a friend reading book #53, Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld, and asked her about it. I had the impression it was a YA novel, and that was inaccurate. When my friend left the country in December she gave me this book, and I am just now getting a chance to read it. It's a disturbing story of Lee Fiora, a girl from the midwest who attends an exclusive east coast boarding school on a scholarship. Disturbing because Lee, to whose every self-absorbed musing we are privy, thinks so little of her own worth that she wastes four years in constant terror of what others think of her, how she should respond, what she should say or do to maintain a certain image of herself. Most sad is the relationship she has with a boy in her class who visits her dorm room at night but then doesn't acknowledge her during the day in front of his friends. "Excruciating," says one of the blurbs on the back, and that's exactly the right word. Since I, like Lee, attended boarding school on a scholarship, you might think I would relate to her, but my situation was so different, and my school was so different, that I really couldn't. Well, I could relate at some level to her painful insecurity, much as I'd rather not admit it, and since I have in my possession a journal I wrote at the age of 17, I have to confess that I was almost equally self-absorbed as Lee. But I don't think I ever thought of myself as completely worthless the way Lee appears to. This is probably a good book for someone who teaches teenagers to read but I can't say I especially enjoyed it.
This post is linked to the September 11th Saturday Review of Books.
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