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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.

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  • 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

Who Decides Your Life Course?

Recently, Oprah said most people, especially women, lead their lives following a course that is not their own.

No kidding.

I mean, you’ve noticed, right? How a woman will partner up with a guy, and pretty soon she sounds like him. Maybe even looks like him, body-wise. She used to be thin, now she’s not. She used to be debt-free, now she’s a spendthrift. Used to be politically apathetic, but now she’s a passionate partisan.

This phenomenon fascinates me. I want to write a book about it, a novel of four women who, over the course of a summer all realize they’ve fallen victim to this. I don’t really want to write about a younger woman – I figure we all did it when in our teens and twenties, but then you start to figure out who you are and what you need, and theoretically, you don’t become the clone anymore. No, the people who interest me are the older women who are still stuck in this mire, whether they know it or not, and whether they change or not.

Of course, this is only a problem if it’s a problem. Sometimes people influence each other for the better. In some ways, I’m my husband’s mini-me, but that’s more a case of God shaking her head in despair and sending me a car salesman, due to the fact that I desperately needed somebody to show me how not to be such a doormat and martyr. But I’m not talking about the good influencers, and neither was Oprah. She said,

Unless you find a course that is truly your own, you betray yourself, and then you’re no different than the person who betrayed or hurt you.

Sometimes pain is sweet. The fact that we’re not “allowed” to clean up the garage, because he insists on things being a certain way, means we get license to complain without actually having to do anything about it. Not taking the reins is a relief, sometimes. So is the feeling of being limited by somebody else – it’s how a lot of us were raised, right? We’re told to be obedient, follow the rules, let the other person go first, give up our seat, be flexible. It becomes a habit. Pretty soon you’re afraid to take the reins, but it’s okay – you’re comfortable with it. Resentful, but comfortable.

Let me ask you this: What if you had no limitations? What if you could do, create, live, or be exactly what you wanted in the days, weeks, months, years to come? What goals would be on your list, and how fantastic would it be to realize those goals? Now, ask yourself what is standing in your way, and what can you do, if anything, to get around it? If you’re tempted to shrug and say, “Nothing,” I have a titillating question for you: are you happier with that answer than with the alternative?

Leave a comment

25 Comments

  1. Fascinating exploration of influence and the need to take some action of your own. As for having a plan for living with no limitations, I’ll have to get back to you on that. I’m so accustomed to making do with what is, that I don’t believe that I ever think that way. Limits are everywhere, so I adapt. But maybe I’m really just allowing myself to be influenced by others. Interesting.

    Reply
  2. This was a fascinating post for me, today, Lynne. My post today is about betrayal and how it is affecting my life. I know that no matter how bad that betrayal is, I will go forward and let it somehow free me. Just writing about it has been somewhat cathartic. I was a counselor for women and I helped them move on and free themselves, yet I have not done so in many aspects. Thanks for this.

    Hugs,
    Laura

    Reply
    • Laura, that’s such a sad story! How could she do that to you? I sure hope you can get resolution on this. People are unbelievable!

      For those who haven’t seen your blog post, click here: http://imsovintage.blogspot.com/ Laura, would you keep us updated on what you find out and how this ends up?

      Reply
  3. This post made me feel uncomfortable. It hit me where I live…. and yet in this world of “expendability” it’s also important to make allowances to get along with your pack. The question is, “Where is the balance?” I haven’t found it.

    Reply
    • Nanci, that’s the question. I’ve learned to ask myself, often and loudly, (and then I stand there, arms crossed, waiting for myself to answer) “What do YOU want?” Sometimes I get in such a rut of going along to get along, that the question is jarring in that I don’t know the answer!

      Reply
  4. I hadn’t really thought about a lack of limitations. It has started me thinking… Thank you for such insights into my world.

    Reply
  5. Wow Lynn, that’s a lot to think about. I’ve been married for 35 years, and yes while it’s a life sentence :) I don’t think I would have done anything differently. Yes there were trying times, yes there were times I gave in, but I never gave up my own identity even through the years of being Erin’s mom, or Bill’s wife.
    Now for your titillating question, and it’s a good one. But it’s so out of my realm of thinking that I’ll have to give it a lot of thought. But also I want to say that however limited my existence is I’m happy in it, surrounded by my limited thinking spouse, my way out there family and my very talented and keeps my young daughter.
    Thanks for making me put my thinking cap on when all I wanted to do today was check how many minuets per pound do I cook my Turkey.
    Deb

    Reply
    • Deb, your comment made me laugh out loud! Isn’t that the truth, that we start out looking for one simple thing on the web and then we’re down the rabbit hole. But you sound like you’ve got things pretty much figured out. You might be one of those people who isn’t screwed up, in which case, felicitations and congrats! Nothing wrong with being happy!

      Reply
  6. Fascinating post once again, Lynne. Sadly, I too have noticed this, but it’s not only women who give up their “selves” — men do it also, though perhaps to a lesser degree. Do they quit being themselves to appease a stronger-willed, more vocal partner? Or do they simply take the road of least resistance? Whatever, it diminishes the entire human race when even one of us trades our individuality and creativity for sameness and acquiescence. You’re onto a splendid idea for a book — I can see lots of possibilities for it!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Debbie! I want to call it Stockholm Summer (after Stockholm Syndrome). And yes, men do it too, no question. Sometimes for the good. Like, when I met Bill, he was living as if the concept of cholesterol, transfats, etc. hadn’t yet been invented. So I’ve influenced him in a small way for the better!

      Reply
  7. Lynne I think society as a whole has been allowed to rob many people, men and women alike, of who they really are, and the God given passion within each. St. Irenaeous is quoted as saying, “The glory of God is man fully alive…” I don’t think being a wife, mother, grandmother, career person, athlete, writer, painter, etc is the whole of who we truly are, only the parts. And what makes us fully alive is when we’re willing to take a chance and discover the rest.

    Reply
  8. This is such a rich topic, Lynne. I finally stepped out of my 26 year marriage because of this kind of simmering and eventually boiling discontent.

    Reply
  9. I’m not sure how to phrase this in a non-inflammatory way. Please know that it’s just a thought, not a judgment. To wit, OWN is one of the pre-sets on my satellite radio. In fact, the following thought occurred to me when I was listening to her interview with Eckhart Tolle the other morning.

    That said, Oprah owes a great deal of her success to the women who are following the course she has set for them and which she seems to have based very much on the course that Maya Angelou set for her.

    Both are admirable women who have led extraordinary lives, but to read books or buy certain products or eat certain foods or believe certain things because Oprah does is not following one’s own course. Or maybe it is.

    I’m just thinking out loud. Thanks for letting me do that.

    Reply
    • Hey, Hippie, we all benefit from your thinking out loud. Glad you did. I think Oprah is amazing in a lot of ways, but she’s just one voice. I quote her because she’s an easy cultural reference point. I’m a little lazy that way.

      Reply
  10. PS I’m loving this morning’s discussion. You guys rock.

    Reply
  11. Powerful stuff here! I, too, need time to imagine me with no limitations, especially after being married for 38 years.

    Reply
  12. dhaupt3

     /  November 17, 2012

    Okay, I’ve finally put my limitations away and am now living somewhere with trade winds blowing through my open windows, have found my hubby a great hobby so I have enough time alone not to drown him in the ocean and spend my mornings sipping coffee and my evenings sipping cheap white wine while reading, reviewing, blogging, moderating and keeping up with all my favorite authors, bloggers and e-friends all over the world. That leaves my afternoons free to shop, have lunch at a local bistro and people watch.
    Sound like fun?
    Lynne I’ve had so much fun with this question, it’s kept it’s claws in me for a couple of days and isn’t that the best applause to you for making each of us do so.
    I always look forward to your comments and your articles and am constantly reminded that even though our “roads” may never intersect I’m so glad I got to e-know you.
    Deb

    Reply
    • The same here, Deb! I wish we could see each other for morning coffee or lunches but at least I know you are out there in cyberspace. I love your imagery BTW.
      The question has haunted me because I was raised to accept the iron hand of others. One day I realized I was hiding behind my restrictions, and I also realized that freeing myself of those restrictions would require me to do something with the resulting freedom.
      Now I’m married to a guy who truly places no restrictions on me, and that means I have to be responsible for pursuing my own dreams! Or shutting up! A whole new way of looking at things.
      Happy Thanksgiving!

      Reply
  13. Interesting … a colleague said to me the other day — do what makes you happy. I said happy is such a strong word. I think for a lot of us being content feels good. The big grab for happy might fail, or you might find it doesn’t make you happy after all, and then you’ve quite possibly lost contentment.

    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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