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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

Backstabbing Women, Part 2

I’ve spent my life denying it, but now that I’m older, I have to raise the white flag. Women can be backstabbers. Before you respond in horror, let me explain.

A few weeks ago we talked about women undermining and sniping at each other, and I said that, while I hate to think it’s anything more than sour grapes, I found out there actually is some basis in fact for this behavior. I said I would do some research and get back to you. Okay, I’m no sociologist, and my research consisted of finishing the very good book, In the Company of Women – Indirect Aggression Among Women: Why We Hurt Each Other and How To Stop.

The good news is that women are able to accomplish SO much together, and when they support each other, are unstoppable!

The bad news is, women are different from men, which means, they’re different from what you think you know, because usually the researchers study men, especially in the workplace. Lots of us women try to act like men as we climb the corporate ladder, and that makes life even more difficult. We struggle and sometimes fail without knowing why. We’re discouraged and confused, but if you find the work of Drs. Pat Heim and Susan Murphy believable, there’s a logical reason for the difference, and while the authors have documented their assertions exhaustively, I think you can boil it down to this:

Men relate to each other hierarchically, whereas women relate to each other as peers.

Men form a team, fight for their positions in the hierarchy, and then settle in, happy to know where they fit. The leader may not be liked or even respected, but everybody accepts that he’s in the driver’s seat. If a guy decides to make a run for the top, there’s bloodletting, but once he gets there, everybody settles down again. Think of male herd animals fighting for the right to mate and I think you’ll get the idea.

But women! Women aspire to a horizontal structure. Think of, again, a herd of females. They guard each other. They eat together. In most species, their babies are born at the same time and defended collectively. I know we’re not horses or antelope, but consider this: with very few exceptions, we like to think we’re all equal. If a woman does something to rise above other women, or appears to think more highly of herself than is considered seemly, look out! The authors assert that, in the corporate setting, higher-level women have to make sure the lower-level women receive some kind of emotional or status-related compensation in order to maintain balance in the power relationship. Otherwise, they’ll see her as too big for her britches and make sure she fails.

I would go into more detail, but there isn’t enough space in this post. Below, I’ll list the points I found amazing or profound, and you can let me know if you’d like me to elaborate on any of them in future posts.  In any case, you can read the book. It’s fascinating, and it’s written by women, in a way that is very respectful OF women.

  • Women are somewhat more comfortable with a powerful woman who plays down her importance than one who does not.
  • For a positive relationship to be possible between two women, the self-esteem and power of both must be approximately even. (There are exceptions, as in a mentoring relationship.) This is called the “Power Dead-Even Rule,” and although it has profound impacts on all female relationships, it is invisible to most women.
  • The female stress response (“tend and befriend”) results in the release of oxytocin, a calming chemical. In times of stress, women seek out other women with whom to commiserate, which is great for their mental health, but tends to get the team all riled up against the person who caused the problem in the first place. Hence cliques and sabotage develop. (If the source of the stress is a woman, OMG. What a nightmare. As the new VP of Something, she’s trying to fit in with the largely male brass and probably doesn’t even know about the Power Dead-Even Rule, poor thing. She’s trying to rule like a man and unknowingly shooting herself in the Louboutin.)
  • The authors propound what they call “chip theory,” in that individual women hold a certain number of chips (positive attributes or actions). Beauty is a chip. Wealth is a chip. A high-level career is a chip. Poise is a chip. A great husband is a chip, as are teenagers who don’t steal cars or get drunk in public. Chips are constantly exchanged with others to maintain even stature between women, and we do this naturally. If you get a compliment, chances are you’ll put yourself down in response, so as to keep the complimenter feeling good, too. That’s chip management, and it’s the strategy we use, consciously or not, to adhere to the Power Dead-Even Rule.
  • The authors, who have trained over 20,000 people in Fortune 500 companies, say they often hear frustration from upwardly-mobile women who “don’t have time for such foolishness.” The authors respond: you can pay now or pay later, and later is when you lose control over the situation. Women have been fired for failure to succeed, and often, nobody can figure out why! But the “why” is that they were pulled under and drowned because they didn’t understand what their sisters needed.
  • Most women care deeply about other women. We are all in this together. Without women in our lives, we feel lonely and incomplete, but nearly every one of us bears the scars of being attacked by other women, sometimes en masse, and we were disillusioned and discouraged over it.

Bottom line, there are biological, psychological, social and cultural reasons why women relate to each other the way we do, and you can ignore it, or you can decide to add the knowledge to your skill set and save yourself a lot of grief. There’s more to this book than what I’ve written, including some great self-tests and suggested strategies. I absolutely recommend it.

In other news…

Since Dakota Blues was published, I’ve been honored to have been interviewed by some fantastic bloggers! I don’t want to play favorites, because I’m grateful to each one for their interest and for letting me share their space. You might want to check them out in any event because they are kindred spirits, women journeying on paths similar to yours. Here they are:

Kathy Pooler’s blog, Memoir Writer’s Journey

Daisy Hickman’s blog, Sunny Room Studio

Joyce Richman’s blog, ActThreeDotNet

Deb Haupt moderating the General Fiction Forum on B&N.com

Carol Mann’s blog on Writing, Creativity and Other Phenomena

 

Leave a comment

38 Comments

  1. On In the Company of Women, on one hand I’d love to read this book. On the other, I feel like I could have written it.

    On Dakota Blues , congratulations! I’m sure I couldn’t have written that one. :-)

    Reply
  2. This is an interesting post. My masters degree in psychology focused on women’s issues. I’ll have to check this book out :)

    Reply
    • Laura, it was fascinating to me, because I didn’t want to believe it, but the authors are credible and they base it in their own extensive experience AND lots of research. Plus, it resonates. I’d be interested in knowing what you think after you read it. If you have time, would you let us know?

      Reply
  3. afterthekidsleave

     /  August 24, 2012

    Thanks for this–a really fascinating look at a problem that’s perplexed me for ages.

    Reply
  4. I’ll be reading this one–although it’s a little like closing the barn door a year and two months after the horses all dashed away. :-/

    Reply
  5. I was JUST disagreeing with my husband the other night when he said all of us are competitive. My feeling was (and is) that women are cooperative. I don’t see the competitive gene so much – at least not to clamor for a spot in a hierarchy. We foster a sense of community.
    However – I see and have experienced the “chip” theory you mentioned. Even if it’s subliminal – it’s certainly there. Would like to read this book – even if only for the self-tests. I’ll bet it would be revealing.

    Reply
  6. I spent 20 years in an almost ‘all woman’ profession’-from entry level to Director of Nursing positions mostly manned by women. This is where I observed first hand what ‘In the Company of Women’ authors studied-woman are tough on each other….really tough. We are also ‘circle the wagons around’ kind, too. I saw that clearly during Hillary Clinton’s run/post run. When she lost, a % went over to the other side to support Palin. Good post, Lynn, Thanks.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the affirmation, Marla. It’s a delicate matter, because I don’t want to seem unfriendly to my sisters, but there’s something to it. My way of looking at it is, if we know what we need, we can ask each other for it, and keep from hurting each other by accident.

      Reply
  7. Hi Lynne, I read your article and I think it is great, but you should use more than one source to evaluate the qualities. The book you source is written by people who have an interest in promoting the corporate structure and agenda. They are probably making suggestions designed to benefit women in the corporate by sacrificing their individuality. (Conformity)
    In the 60’s the corporate philosophy toward employees became: We do not have a commitment to you as an individual. They expected the employee to use their skills to benefit the corporation without expecting lifetime employment and social benefits. They actually stated the new generation should not expect the corporations to have loyal obligations for employees and employees should expect to have more than one career. It was considered their duty to train on their own to move on. This led to the deterioration of benefits for the working class. High level corporate officers negotiated personal benefit packages and the rest were left to fend for packages on their own. These officers had professional mangers handling their mutual funds. The lower levels had stock based benefits without the expertise to manage retirement plans. We witnessed retired people losing their retirement because they did not have experts managing their funds.
    We are experiencing the downside of this corporate thinking today. The philosophy is global not communal and this creates the shifting economic cultures to the detriment of existing structures.
    If you read this article and ask yourself where the chip theory fits into this concept, I think you might find the chip system has benefited our communities and our children. Maybe men should think about their presumption that our system is superior.
    http://www.mibiz.com/news/sustainable-biz/18617-to-b-or-not-to-b-state-considering-new-sustainably-minded-business-classification.html

    Reply
    • Jim, your always-thoughtful comments are always appreciated. I esp. like your idea that chip theory would benefit everybody if more of us adhered to it. But most male CEOs, according to this book, are more mystified than anything else. Why do women need such coddling, they ask? I see it more as making sure the whole community is healthy, as opposed to winner-take-all.
      I appreciate the link.

      Reply
  8. I think there’s something to it too, but there’s also clearly an issue with how men relate to a powerful woman, such as Hillary Clinton. Why so much energy in trying to limit how far women can go in business or politics? And why do women as a group make less money than men? I doubt that other women have much influence on that one way or the other. I wonder whether the book gets into those topics.

    Reply
    • Madeleine, yes, at the end of this book, in the “what can YOU do to change things” section, the authors ask women to do a couple of things that stuck in my mind. One is, if you’re in a following position, be a good follower, even if it doesn’t feel right. Try to learn to be a better follower, to ensure success for the whole team. And another was, if you’re in an upper-level position as a woman, recognize that there IS a glass ceiling, reach down, and help the rest of us up. I liked both those ideas, because I have a suspicion that the corporate boys club is diggin’ it whenever we women claw each other – because while we’re busy tearing each other down, there’s less competition. And that’s why they denigrate Hillary, and foment denigration among us. (Remember how Hillary’s approval ratings went up when she cried? Anything she could do to look less powerful was a plus with women, but what a quandary!! You can’t have that in the person seeking a top world position.)

      Reply
  9. Very interesting research you found, Lynn. Although most of mylife I’ve worked well with women and have many women friends, I have encounter a couple of times where I encountered problems in the workplace. And to be honest sometimes, either unconsciously or clueless, I missed signals that were telling me to watch my back. You are doing such a great job of bringing up interesting topics and inviting us to participate by sharing our comments and exploring our life. I always look forward to your what next topics.Thanks again.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Dolores. It’s a delicate issue, but it resonated for me. Some things just feel right – even if they’re a bit disappointing to give credence to.

      Reply
  10. Fascinating post, Lynne! I haven’t read this book, but it sounds as if I should. Even though my days of working for somebody else are way over, I’m always looking for advice on relating to clients, many of whom are women. Thanks for the links to your self-publicity efforts, too!

    Reply
    • Yes, Debbie! The fact that you are a business woman means you have many chips – independence, wisdom, commercial success – which might be threatening to the balance. And if you’ve got clients, you’re totally working for somebody else. Lots of somebody elses!

      Reply
  11. Lynne here: I just want to draw your attention to an excerpt from the latest Time Magazine in re: the female Olympic athletes, according to Teri McKeever, the very first women’s swim coach. Quoting the article, “McKeever says it’s about understanding that while male and female athletes want the same thing – to win- they use different methods to achieve victory. ‘As a coach, you want to allow the athlete to be empowered to be their best,’ she says. ‘And men and women typically go about that journey in different ways.’ For the female swimmers, making the Olympic rookies and the veterans comfortable enough to share their fears and experiences built bonds that conquered performance anxiety and led to a 14-medal tally.”
    Lynne: Which sounds to me like the same concepts touted by Murphy and Heim.

    Reply
  12. Fascinating post, Lynne about gender differences related to teamwork and group behaviors, both in the book and in the Time article. Like Marla, I have spent my entire 44 years of Nursing dealing predominantly with women, from entry level staff positions to top level nursing administrative positions. Women do stick together, care about one another and form lasting bonds. But I have also experienced the opposite. Many women in top leadership positions whom I have dealt with have tried to act like men and been very difficult to work “under.”- kind of overkill-callous, bullying and controlling-Interestingly unlike many male bosses I have had.

    I really like how you take it one step further to elaborate on what can be done about the differences- have a team player spirit and try to help others along the way.,despite a glass ceiling.

    Thanks for another great post, Lynne and for your link to my blog. And again, hearty congratulations on Dakota Blues!

    Kathy

    Reply
    • Thanks, Kathy. One of the authors, Susan Murphy, spent some time in hospital administration so some of her examples of behavior come right out of the nursing experience.

      Reply
  13. Wow. Thank you, Lynne, for synthesizing the book and sharing the authors’ opinions. In conversation with a table of women recently, an ER nurse talked about the difficulty of including alternative healing in a hospital setting. I muttered, yeah, men. She sharply asked why I assumed that. She shared that it was the women doctors who fought hardest agin’ it. Because they learned their place watching the males. The world will change when women have more women in positions of power to admire, emulate and model. Then some of the harmony that women bring will be appreciated and, with any luck at all, honored.

    Reply
    • Yes, Zig. And those of us who are older and now realize what’s going on can muzzle our fears and egos and cultivate the new culture, one that will allow women to thrive. At least, that’s my dream.

      Reply
  14. OK. I’m convinced. I’m definitely going to read this book. Yesterday on the radio, the DJs were talking about a senior VP who came in and interrupted a meeting they were having with their producer without so much as an apology or even notice that he was interrupting. It was really interesting to hear what the callers had to say. The man all said, “He’s the boss – he can do what he wants.” The women all said, “It’s rude. We’re all human beings. Just be considerate.”

    Reply
  15. Sue Shoemaker

     /  April 13, 2013

    Something I have wondered about…does it make a difference if a girl is raised with or without sisters?

    Reply
    • Sue, are you that girl? Were you raised with only brothers? And are you asking because you feel differently about the woman-woman dynamic? If so, this would be an interesting thing to investigate. If it is true, I’d guess it’s about the girl being socialized more as a guy than as a girl, which sounds like a good thing to me. The feminine side will always be strong, but a little coaching in the ways of the Other Side would have to be a bonus.

      Reply
  16. Sue Shoemaker

     /  April 13, 2013

    Yes…I was that girl raised between two brothers, by very determined parents. Mom AND Dad served in the Navy during WWII. Mom’s “mantra” during our adolescent years was…DON’T BE HERD MINDED. It was her way of protecting us from “peer pressure”…and it helped to create some angst in my young life.

    You can imagine what a shock it was to go off to college and live with ALL women. College was hard enough, but add to that the socialization with women who “knew” and “understood” on some level that “invisible” rule…”The Power Dead-Even Rule.” CONFUSION was the name of the game I was playing.

    It wasn’t until I read a couple of books by Anne Wilson Schaef that I began to make some sense out of the behaviors, by men and women, that had created such confusion in my mind as an adult.

    Thanks for sharing your review and your insights regarding this book. The “chip theory” is interesting. Just as beauty is a “chip”…it may be that youth is a “chip” too. It’s funny…those are two chips we do nothing to “earn”…they just “happen.” They are both way outside of our control, and yet our lives as women are deeply affected by “societal expectations” regarding beauty and youth.

    (You do know that Hillary does not have a sister.)

    Reply
    • And it shows!
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Sue. I’ll check out the Schaef books. (I had sisters and they were so much more tuned into the woman thing. I was the dork of the three of us.)

      Reply
  17. Sue Shoemaker

     /  April 13, 2013

    Here is a link to a fairly recent (Feb. 2010) interview with Anne Wilson Schaef. If you are able to find the time to listen, it will give you a good overview of some of the topics she has covered in her books.
    http://jari.podbean.com/2010/02/01/interview-with-anne-wilson-schaef/

    This evening I am enjoying DAKOTA BLUES on my iPad…thank you!

    Reply
  18. Sue Shoemaker

     /  April 14, 2013

    I loved your book! Your characters and the lives they “created” were believable. I have known women like the ones who “settled” for lives of “quiet desperation.” Having taken three Road Scholar programs in the past year…I believe I am beginning to get to know more women like the ones in the CRS group.

    Your book hit “close to home” for several reasons…the first being that my husband and I enjoyed a 38 day “road trip” this winter that included two nights in Moab as well as a drive along I-70 through the mountains in Colorado.

    The second connection has to do with Karen’s “friendship” with Frieda. In the past six months, I have developed a friendship with a 93 year old woman who has been living at the local Hospice Residence where I volunteer. When I travel, I take pictures with my iPad, and she just loves looking at the pictures. It took us about three “visits” to look at all of the pictures from the winter road trip. This week I’m heading to Philadelphia with a high school band…she said she is looking forward to “going with me” through the pictures I take.

    Also, Frieda’s last name, Richter…is the same name as the people who lived across the road from my paternal grandmother…who was a German immigrant from the Austria-Hungary region. The town she grew up in, Molidorf, was destroyed in WWII.

    One final thing…I am married to a farmer and live on a farm in a rural area in the Thumb of Michigan with peaceful and wide open spaces. We are both “adult orphans”…so I could relate to Karen’s thought about being an “orphan” after her mother died.

    Reply
    • Wow, Sue, what a bunch of coincidences! I’m so glad it was meaningful to you. I felt so connected with my German/Hungarian relatives after visiting Dickinson…to think that now it’s all been spoiled by the oil boom just breaks my heart. So Dakota Blues is like a eulogy for that sweet little town. Thanks so much for telling me about all your connections to my story. I hope it gives you pleasure to know that I didn’t make up the immigrant tales; those were based on what my Mom told me. How rich life can be! Have a great week.

      Reply
  19. Sue Shoemaker

     /  April 15, 2013

    You mention how DAKOTA BLUES is like a eulogy for Dickinson. While I was looking on the Internet to see how to spell Molidorf…I found out that in 2008, a memorial was built in honor of that little town that no longer exists. Another kind of eulogy:
    http://www.molidorf.com/MolidorfMemorial.htm

    Reply
    • Sad, sad, sad. The village where my mom’s farm was, and where my dad is buried, the town of Lefor, is currently listed as a ghost town, but our relatives have told us people are moving in, desperate for any place to live due to the oil crush. Wish I could find a place on the web to have a discussion about ND. I’m sure I could find one if I looked. Thanks for the link to Molidorf. Where do all the memories go? What of all the struggles, life, death, babies born, crops coming in, celebrations and wakes? Just a marker? (Snap out of it, Lynne.)

      Reply
  20. Sue Shoemaker

     /  May 27, 2013

    There is a new book (published May 16, 2013) entitled STILETTO NETWORK that is about women helping other women in the business world. Just wondering if anyone here has read it. Also wondering if it is a “sign” of a positive movement of women who have embraced what they have learned from books like IN THE COMPANY OF WOMEN, which was published in 2003. Could this be the beginning of a trend?

    (I have to admit the title of the newer book scares me…never have been, never will, be a fan of stilettos.)

    Reply
    • And a stiletto is also a knife! So I agree with you there. But just FYI, I don’t know if anybody will see your question as this post is pretty old. You’d get better results posting it on Facebook. Happy Memorial Day, Sue.

      Reply
      • Sue Shoemaker

         /  May 27, 2013

        Thanks for responding so quickly, Lynn. Hope you are experiencing the kind of Memorial Day that brings you happiness too!

        Actually…I’m reading the book right now. I got the “pages for free” on Amazon and found that I was really interested in reading more. So far, I am finding that it is a book of stories about women helping women be the best they can be. (Glad I didn’t let the “scary title” stop me!)

        Thanks for the suggestion about using FB…however, I’m just not sure of where to post it on FB.

        Reply
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  • Lynne Spreen

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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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