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  • Review of Home by Marilynne Robinson

    HomeHome by Marilynne Robinson
    My rating: 4 of 5 stars

    I loved Gilead by Marilynne Robinson so much. The review is here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/....

    But with Home, I had a different experience. I wasn't compelled through most of the book. At about the three-quarter mark, things started to happen and I felt my interest quicken. But here's a summary of my impressions, and my apologies to those who loved it so much they recommended it to me:

    1. I was disappointed to see this other, peevish, nasty side of Rev. Ames.
    2. I didn't like the Rev. Boughton very much at all.
    3. Jack is tedious and pathetic.
    4. Glory almost breaks free but then doesn't.

    Robinson really makes me wait for it, building my conflict between compassion and resentment for Jack. And just when I lose faith in him, there's a scene where the old misogynist/bigot Rev. Boughton asks to see Jack and his brother together in his room, and Jack insists Glory be included. As if he sees her as an equal to the men, rather than just the servant her father expects.

    In this, I felt Jack himself was a Rorschach test for the reader, in that while he seems almost feral, a man born without skin with which to hide himself from the world, easily wounded and always untrusting, you want to abandon him, but can you? If so, who are you? What are your values - what are your limits?

    So now Glory has decided to stop being codependent with her "fiancé", and switch her ministrations and self-sacrifice to her dying father and her feral brother. This is an arc? This is growth? What is Robinson's meaning, at the end of the story, when Glory decides to stay in a town she has said she hates, in a house she agrees to preserve as a monument/mausoleum to the family? It can only be read as failure to respect oneself in favor of service to others! This troubles me deeply.

    I apologize for the length of this next excerpt, but I have to reproduce it, because it's so telling:

    "(Glory) had tried to take care of (Jack), to help him, and from time to time he had let her believe she did. That old habit of hers, of making a kind of happiness for herself out of the thought that she could be his rescuer, when there was seldom much reason to believe that rescue would have any particular attraction for him. That old illusion that she could help her father with the grief Jack caused, the grief Jack was, when it was as far beyond her power to soothe or mitigate as the betrayal of Judas Iscariot. She had been alone with her parents when Jack left, and she had been alone with her father when he returned. There was a symmetry in that that might have seemed like design to her and beguiled her with the implication that their fates were indeed intertwined. Or returning herself to that silent house might simply have returned her to a s state of mind more appropriate to her adolescence. A lonely schoolgirl at thirty-eight. Now, there was a painful thought.

    "She recalled certain moments in which she could see that Jack had withdrawn from her and was looking through or beyond her, making some new appraisal of her trustworthiness, perhaps, or her usefulness, or simply and abruptly losing interest in her together with whatever else happened just then...She found no consistency in these moments, nothing she could interpret. He was himself. That is what their father had always said, and by it he had meant that Jack was jostled along in the stream of (the family's) vigor and purpose and their good intentions, their habits and certitudes, and was never really a part of any of it. He had eaten their food and slept beneath their roof, wearing the clothes and speaking the dialect of their slightly self-enamored and distinctly clerical family..."

    God! Who hasn't known people like this - men like this, children like this - who take and take and take from an ever-hopeful spouse or family and yet never seem quite able to be satisfied, or fulfilled, or happy! When all the sacrificial loving family member ever wants is for that feral person to be happy. Or at least safe.

    Like I said, Rorschach.

    And in this, I have to admit, Robinson delivers again, most profoundly, in pulling back the curtains and showing us, right down to the faint beat of a pulse along a pale wrist, the impact on a family of such a lone wolf. Not that the wolf doesn't suffer. Not that we don't all feel empathy as we struggle to surface from this mire, gulping and gasping air, sorry for Glory who remains below, yet intent on saving ourselves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

    The Beginner's GoodbyeThe Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    After reading some of the reviews, I felt a bit off-kilter, as if I'm seeing something that wasn't intended by the author.

    Nevertheless, here's my impression: this story is about a man who, because of his physical limitations, resists closeness with other people, to the point that he marries a woman who seems certain to want the same, arm's length relationship. It's only after she dies that he begins to sense that he was wrong about that. During the grieving process, he comes to realize he's been living an arm's-length life.

    I love stories about people who come out of a fog and change their lives, empowered by the realization that they've been missing something important - that their reasoning was flawed, but it doesn't have to remain that way. And Anne Tyler is such a great wordsmith, anything she writes is wonderful. This book is perhaps a bit too subtle to win the raving applause it deserves.

    View all my reviews

  • Review of Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

    Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    As I read Lean In, I was intrigued at being able to get inside the head of a dynamic, smart woman who is one generation younger than me, and see the corporate world through her eyes. One of the cultural questions she answered for me was this: why are younger women so averse to the terms "feminist" and "feminism"? Apparently, Sheryl Sandberg and her contemporaries believe(d) the following:

    1. Equality having arrived, there's no need for feminism anymore
    2. Feminists are man-haters who resist makeup and the shaving of one's legs

    Okay, #2 was a bit tongue-in-cheek. However, having observed conditions in the real world for a few years now, Sandberg has come to see that the playing field is not and will not be level until more women occupy positions of power in the corporate hierarchy. She doesn't suggest that this is due to any malicious intent on the part of men, but rather it's simply a matter of ignorance.

    To illustrate, she describes having to park far away from her office door when hugely and uncomfortably pregnant. When she designated preferred parking spots to accommodate pregnant workers, no one complained. It was seen as logical. But prior to her taking her place in the C-suite, the issue hadn't been raised.

    Sandberg talks about not slowing down out of consideration for what might happen in the nebulous future. The example she gives, now famous, is of a young woman confiding her fears of not wanting to accept a job with a lot of responsibility due to the impact it might have on her family. The woman was planning ahead - she didn't even have a boyfriend yet.

    With this example, Sandberg makes the point that women, having been highly trained and educated, are waving off promotional opportunities. The jury is still out as to why, but she suggests, and I agree, that part of the reason is this: in corporate America, a woman's decision to go through pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and child-rearing is viewed as a private matter that should not impact her ability to work long hours and irregular schedules, including lengthy and frequent travel as needed. Rightly fearing this may drive her insane, a woman who wants a family may leap off the corporate ladder at a very early stage.

    Sandberg argues that if a young woman stayed on it long enough to secure a more powerful position, she would be able to exert more control over her work life (a perspective the young woman must trust will happen, since at her current low place on the corporate ladder she can only see her lack of power and control.) After a few promotions, she will be able to delegate some of her work to subordinates, afford more help at home, and influence workplace policies that unfairly impact women and families. Who can find fault with this argument?

    Sandberg is honest about her own mistakes, and I found that charming. For example, I was amazed that, for all her intelligence and education, she didn't originally intend to negotiate her starting salary with Facebook. Luckily a nice man (her husband) set her straight, and she made a counter offer to Zuckerberg. Reams of guidance have been written about how this error could have impeded her in later years, both at Facebook and with future employers, yet she didn't know. For other women who have not yet made this horrifying discovery, please read Ask for It by Babcock and Laschever (http://www.amazon.com/Ask-Women-Power...) which in addition to being enlightening and entertaining, offers tons of strategies for preparing yourself to negotiate. And not just for salaries. After reading that book I saved $150 on furniture I was going to buy anyway, by asking one question.

    But back to Lean In.

    I was also surprised that she wasn't well informed about how women can sabotage other women in the workplace, particularly women in power. This is an unfortunate truth with roots in biology, and is brilliantly explained in the amazing book, In the Company of Women by Heim and Murphy (http://www.amazon.com/Company-Women-I...) which I reviewed here:
    http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... This also suggests the reasons Sandberg was hit with such a backlash for the well-intentioned Lean In.

    There is so much more to say about Lean In, but let me close with this: I enjoyed learning how this stellar corporate executive struggled, made mistakes, and ultimately learned some strategies that will enable her, her family, and the women (and men) in her corporation to thrive. It's not perfect, and sometimes it's not even pretty, but part of the lesson is to let go of the need for perfection.

    The other message, younger women, is to get as far and as fast as you can before starting your families. Don't opt out just because it looks too hard from where you're sitting now. The view improves with each rung on the ladder.

    View all my reviews

A Boomer Love Letter

I know I’m a pain in the @$$ to my sweet husband. I’m ridden with angst and existential questions, and I can’t always keep them to myself.

But I did make his breakfast this morning, a scramble of eggbeaters, mushrooms, organic spinach and shallots, and sun-dried tomatoes. So it evens out.

Bill is happily retired, but my hair’s on fire. He’s thrilled with my brain-and-heart-bashing efforts to start a new business. I write and teach, and I drive all over hell and back and spend money and blabber about all the cool stuff I’m learning and the people I’m meeting. I mean, he’s lucky, right? To have such a vibrant, interesting wife.

But still, sometimes I can see he’s humoring me with my worrying and contemplating and all. And then I’m also shallow. I was growing my hair longer because I thought it would hide my neck (see Nora Ephron) but ultimately I had to accept that I am too lazy to care and anyway I’m always squawking about being okay with your age and all, but this was a turning point, because I’m never going to try it again. So I gave all my curlers and hair products away, again.

He just watched and waited. He loves my hair short. Is it too Stepford of me to say I’m grateful for that? Good thing his eyesight isn’t that great anymore. In fact, living in a 55+ community is good that way. We all think we look better than we do. Nobody notices my neck.

He acts like I’m the prize, but I think he is. Bill plays tennis three times a week. He’s six three, down to two-twenty since he started working on his cholesterol. Legs up to here, olive skin, and a devious brain. He’s endlessly interesting and evolving. Feels like we’ve been together all our lives, but we’ve both been married before – twice. Sometimes we get our marriages mixed up. I’ll say, “Didn’t we go to Santa Fe that one winter?” and he’ll say, “Must’ve been a different husband.” You’d think that’d be embarrassing but we’re over it. Another good thing about being older.

This week we celebrated our fifteenth anniversary, which means I’m moving into the pole position – married to him longer than either of his two exes. He says with his first wife he was spoiled and entitled; with his second he tried to make amends by being a doormat, but she wiped her feet on him. So now, forged and tempered by heartache and loss, he’s perfect for me.

He lost his wedding ring a few years ago. It fell into the guts of his recliner. We rolled that chair all over the living room trying to get the ring to shake out, and we could hear it, but no good. Short of getting a chain saw. We figured when the chair wore out, we’d do just that, but the years passed and we forgot which of the two identical chairs it was in. Then we gave the chairs to my son.

The other day Danny texted me. He had the ring. I got a box, and on our anniversary dinner, I gave the ring to Bill and asked him to marry me again.

He said no.

Just kidding.

Leave a comment

49 Comments

  1. What a wonderful story, Lynne. You are very blessed in your marriage, I think.
    As for the hair, yeah, me too and the creams for rubbing into the neck too. I stopped colouring my hair years ago, and while I do buy those creams to help me look younger, I never really make it a priority, so they languish forgotten in the cupboard.
    But it may make you feel free, not to be thinking about that stuff. I turned 65 a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday two people told me I was looking great. And lots of people tell me other women pay good money to have the hair colour I have. So, you see, what you see in the mirror is not what other people see! Good luck with not buying more curlers!

    Carol

    Reply
    • Carol, you and I have the same haircut. I can’t wait for summer, at which time I don’t think I’ll even use the blow dryer once! Ahhhh, time: the greatest luxury of all.

      Reply
  2. I love this Love Letter. (And then comes the time you’re just glad you have hair to grow.)

    Reply
  3. Lynne, this is my favorite piece of all, and I love everything you write. You’ve captured so much in such a short space: how we age, how our relationships age, how we evolve together.

    Reply
  4. I love this.
    But, God,, I don’t dare let my partner Sara read that piece. She hates to wear her ring. Wouldn’t want her to get the idea of losing it to the depths of her recliner.
    Hope you have a great weekend.
    Hugs,
    Kathy

    Reply
  5. The Itty Bitty Boomer

     /  April 27, 2012

    Sweet! I love it! And can so relate … though I still color my hair … lol! But the rest of it resonates so over the top! This third marriage of mine is so much more relaxed and easy going …. and yet the love is so vastly different in positive ways … aren’t we lucky?

    Happy Friday!

    Reply
  6. Renee… thanks for turning me on to this! Love your breezy nonchalence & humor, Lynne, as well as the heartfelt feelings beneath — very, very sweet! Okay — gotta share MY wedding ring story: Larry & I were in Antigua, Guatemala and on the way to the airport when for some reason I looked on his finger and saw his wedding ring was missing. He thought he had taken off the ring and left it on the nightstand, but because we were traveling with our nervous nellie “have to get to the airport 4 hours ahead” friends … we didn’t turn back for the ring, even though we were only 20 minutes away from the hotel. Larry called and tried in his broken Spanish to get them to send it (they said they’d found it) but it never came. I was kinda pissed off because I didn’t think he’d made enough effort to find it — but whatever, it’s just a ring… TWO years later, he returned to Guatemala, stayed at the same hotel on his way out of the country and happened to ask about the ring — and the guy turned around, went into the office and came out with it! It’s amazing how the second (or third) marriage just doesn’t have the same crazy baggage, isn’t it??! AND I’m moving into pole position (love that phrase) in our 16th year, too … whoppeee!

    Reply
  7. ryoko861

     /  April 27, 2012

    That’s a very cool story!! Here’s to 15 more years of marital bliss!

    Reply
  8. Sue

     /  April 27, 2012

    I agree with a previous comment…. this is my favorite blog to date. Sounds like you have a great marriage and you haven’t lost yourself in the process. Sounds like your husband can finally be his real self as well. Lucky you! Bravo.

    Reply
    • Thing is, Sue, I keep trying to lose myself in the process, since that’s how I was raised, but Bill won’t let me. It’s so frustrating. I have no one to blame, dammit.

      Reply
  9. Kathy Shattuck

     /  April 27, 2012

    Lynne, you crack me up! (in a good way) Your “dead on, dead pan” humor is great. I love this piece, the sincerity of it….and it felt free, to me, to hear these comments of yours that accompany your marriage.

    I’ve never remarried, only because I knew these men were one in a million, and working at finding that one, just wore me out thinking about it. I think too much as it is!

    I know life isn’t all bliss…that will never happen, but to be able to have a partner such as yours, who can share your life with a sense of peace, is simply a miracle. I wish you all the – more – happiness life can give you.
    xo
    Kathy

    Reply
  10. I know what you mean about the existential angst – if a ring falls in the recliner and nobody hears it…
    What a great testimony to married life as we get older – thanks!
    (Rolled over here from Life In the Boomer Lane, BTW.)

    Reply
  11. Peggy

     /  April 27, 2012

    Great story, Lynn! Loved it. Thanks.

    Reply
  12. Peggy

     /  April 27, 2012

    Lynne…Okay….I have to remember HOW to spell your name. Sorry.

    Reply
  13. Wendy

     /  April 27, 2012

    Loved you love letter! Too too funny! I will have a smile on my face for awhile. Happy anniversary!

    Reply
  14. I love your husband even though we’ve never met. Of course I’ve always loved you so it’s okay. Your story made me happy and smiling. You’re a great writer and person. Your stories open us to thoughtful wondering and possibilities.

    Reply
  15. Aw, Lynne, this is just splendid! What a loving bunch of things to say about getting older, marriage, and our acceptance of the inevitable. I love that you and Bill have both finally found that “special someone” in each other. And that your son found the missing ring!

    Reply
    • If it weren’t for Danny I wouldn’t have found BILL!!!! That kid is awesome. He led us to each other in the first place.

      Reply
  16. penwoman

     /  April 27, 2012

    Lynne, I can so relate to this. My life has been similar to yours, including former marriages, and happily married now (20 years in October), plus the fact that I just cut my hair short, don’t blow-dry it, and am stopping coloring it after many years and much expense. Maybe it’s a right of passage of some sort that leads us to embrace what is natural as we age. Or maybe it’s just a giving-in to what is real. Whatever the reason, it sure feels good. Excellent article!

    Reply
    • Amanda, i love the similarities in our lives. And yes, being older can be so freeing if we finally accept that we CAN MAKE OUR OWN RULES.

      I don’t get manicures anymore. Isn’t that shocking?!

      Reply
  17. How does he live with you ?? LOL

    Reply
  18. I like your husband, and I like you too – first time I’ve been to your blog and I’m so glad to have found you! I bet he’s going to love getting that ring on your anniversary.

    Reply
  19. I think her hair cut looks great – short n sassy! I’ll never forget having my ponytail chopped off at age 23. Never let it grow long again. My cut is so simple – some days I forget to comb it and no one notices the difference.
    Your Bill sounds like a real keeper. Loved this story!

    Reply
  20. Love really is better the second time around… although I don’t want my wife to find out since our marriage is her first.

    Reply
  21. What a heartwarming story told in true Lynne-like fashion! I loved it. And I love that you and Bill have found each other. I feel like I’ve met him, a real keeper for sure. BTW, short hair is stylish and sassy, just like you :-)

    Reply
  22. Ha,ha – Lynne, I LOVE your love letter to Bill! He is very lucky to have such a beautiful, vibrant, interesting and funny wife. I’m happy you had such a lovely anniversary celebration, because I think you are perfect for each other. As one who “spoiled, tempered and forged” him, I am glad to know that you are reaping the rewards :) You two were made for and complete each other.
    Preparing to celebrate our 24th(!) anniversary in June, my Bill and I are doing the same – after all this time, he still delights and surprises me! Building from what was good and learning and growing from what wasn’t allows us “experienced” spouses to be much more relaxed and understanding with each other.
    My love to you both, and may you continue discovering new reasons to feel lucky-in-love!

    Reply
    • Leslie, so much of the quality of my life, the joy in my life, is a direct result of the hard work you did in the early years – work for which you reaped no benefit. Thank you for shaping and teaching him, and happy anniversary!

      Reply
  23. Ha! How amazing that you got the ring back in time for your anniversary! (And HAPPY ANNIVERSARY.) :)

    Reply
    • And that I’m friends with one of the exes (the nice one – Leslie, above). BTW cool website. And I CAN raise one eyebrow.

      Reply
  24. Oh my gosh Lynne, you’re living my life, the only difference is that we’ve been married 25 years. Same hair thing, He has same two ex’s. all the worry, learing and reaching are same for me me. This was a wonderful article that enabled me me to smile at myself and accept that I am not the only obsessed 50+ woman in the world. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Bette, there’s one other: Kathy Pooler, above. Between the three of us, we could power a small city! But how cool to know you and I have so much in common. That is a joy and a comfort. Have a productive week, my friend!

      Reply
  25. Very cute. You’re most fortunate to find a man with whom you feel so connected – this time around. I enjoy my marriage and my husband who’s a very good friend. If anything were to happen to our union I can’t fathom finding another person who would be able to tolerate my eccentricity, let alone, thrive with it.

    I didn’t realize you’re forging a business; I thought you were writing and publishing. Very cool mid-life direction.

    Reply
    • “Forging a business” = writing, speaking, teaching, learning, publishing, networking, selling; rinse and repeat!

      Reply

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  • Review of Private Life by Jane Smiley

    Private LifePrivate Life by Jane Smiley
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    Maybe this book is better than my capacity to appreciate. I don't tend toward writing that is obscure, or dense (or makes me feel dense). However, sometimes it's better to roll along with the storytelling and let the deeper meaning work its way up from subconscious to conscious.

    The ending of this book is extremely powerful. Margaret, due to the traumatic incident that happened when she was five, lived in a fog her entire life, married to a wacko genius, and not waking up until she was in her sixties and everything/everyone is sad and tired. Yet she seems to catch fire, fueled by bitterness, in the very last 3 sentences of the epilogue. It was a long time to wait for the enlightenment.

    I gave the book 3 stars because there's too much backstory too soon, making it hard for me to develop an interest. Once there, I felt frustrated at the repetitious nature of Margaret's obtuseness, even though she's a bright woman, and her deferring to Andrew, even though this is what people - women especially - do.

    It went on for her whole life! That she was living in a cloud due to, I believe, the trauma of the childhood incident, and that she was ill served by those around her, didn't make it any easier to like this story. I know Smiley is a master writer, and I feel like a goof not giving her a better rating, but this is my honest reaction.

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  • Review of Up At The Villa by Somerset Maugham

    Up at the VillaUp at the Villa by W. Somerset Maugham
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Very much enjoyed this short book, which I read in one night. The settings are lush, dialogue snappy, and the characters realistic and strong. The plot and writing are compelling. I enjoyed it because a theme might be, "people are not what they appear to be." A character acts one way and you think, okay, he's good and upstanding. And maybe he IS, but the "why" of it is enlightening. Maugham is a respected author for a reason. What talent! A very good story.

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  • Review of Benediction by Kent Haruf

    BenedictionBenediction by Kent Haruf
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    Ever in search of stories about midlife and beyond, I set up a page on facebook (www.Facebook.com/midlife.fiction) and asked for suggestions. I got 38 great recommendations, and I hope to read and review every one of them. Herewith, then: Benediction by Kent Haruf. What a masterpiece.

    Benediction centers around an elderly man who is dying, but the story encompasses many rich characters, and their small stories touched me. In fact, I think this is what made the book so special for me: I saw a little bit of myself in each of them. Each one resonated. I felt again what it was like to be a lost little girl, a lonely divorcee, a misunderstood introspective, a grieving wife, a person who is coping with serious illness. I longed for the small-town atmosphere described here (the Fourth of July fireworks over the high school football field is a stellar short story all by itself.)

    Although the central character is dying, the book is not negative. Far from it - Benediction reflects on the everyday goodness (and tawdriness) of people. His characters are beset by the normal difficulties of life yet buoyed by simple beauties and kindnesses.

    Yet, nothing in Haruf's writing is overly dramatic or in the least saccharine. In fact, that's one of the aspects of Benediction I enjoyed the most: being surprised by tears on the completion of a plainly-written paragraph, phrase or description.

    I couldn't stop reading excerpts to my husband, since he also loves beautifully crafted writing. This book put me in mind of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. If I could describe it in one word, it would be "elegiac."

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