Once upon a time, I read this book without having read the first one. I reviewed it fairly well at the time, but upon finally reading the first book, it made me think that I needed to reread this book. And hoo boy, would I write this review differently had I done that. I usually don't say this, but since I seem to be in an experimental/long-winded phase of writing book reviews these days, what the hell. So I'm going to write this review a second time, from a different perspective.
First off...this second go at this review goes below the spoiler cut for spoiling the ending of book one! Man, I had no idea that I'd done that (though I guess reading the book's back cover would do that as well). I foolishly assumed that the big spoiler dropped early on was something that readers of the first book would have been aware of!
I am not a "literary" reader. Overall, I tend to like very few books that are dubbed "intellectual" or "profound" or anything that deep. Mostly I just find those sorts of books to be depressing, or frustrating, or incomprehensible. Which, y'know, made life fun as an Englisih major :P Mostly I read things that are genre because that's what entertains me, and most of the time, people actually use logic and figure things out and explain them and make their world building work. In this book? WHO THE HELL KNOWS WHAT THE SMACK IS GOING ON HERE.
I am stumped as to how to write this review. I am stumped as to what the hell to rate this book, to the point where I am considering just calling it a "?" I can see why some folks, who are by far more intellectual than I, give it high ratings. However, I think most of the rest of us will mostly just be confused and lost. I am not a person who is prone to seasickness, but I'd imagine that reading this book gives you the mental equivalent of that feeling. Every few pages, SOMETHING MAJOR CHANGES. Out of the blue, frequently with no logical reason that you can figure out for doing so. The waves never stop tossing, the storm never lets up, and lightning strikes occur constantly.
I read some other folks's reviews online in hopes of figuring out what to do with mine. This one from BoingBoing was a glowing review, but this line in it stuck out to me:
"Carroll is the omnipotent god of his characters and situations, and he is totally in control of every variable, so that we trust him throughout, even though he never plays fair. "
This last bit is incredibly true. This book does not play fair. There is no way in hell that you can deduce on your own what the hell is going on without the author having to just eventually flat out tell you. Ass pulls are going on all over the place.
This review was more along the lines of how I felt about it:
"Personally, it has been several days since I finished it, and I still can't decide quite how I feel about it. There were times when I was listening when I was struck by the truth of a point that Jonathan Carroll was making, and the simplicity of the language and the elegance of the writing with which that point was made. Other times, though, I'd draw back from the story, particularly when another bizarre paranormal element was introduced in service of some Deep Truth about the Nature of the Self, and think to myself: "Really? I mean, really?"
So what is this book about? I'll attempt to explain:
A few folks on the planet were supposed to die, and then somehow survived their freak deaths. Ben Gould was supposed to have fallen and bashed his head in, but he survived it. Danielle Voyles survived a freak head injury. After that, both of them are developing weird magical powers out of the blue. Ben starts having psychic flashes of Danielle's life, but when he tries to talk to her, she literally can't see that he's there. Ben feels weirded out about this, which makes him frustratingly distant from his girlfriend, German (yes, that's her name, not her ethnicity/language). German has just moved out in frustration, but still sees Ben due to having custody of their mutual dog, Pilot. They're still in love, but are totally baffled as to wtf is going on. Eventually Ben tells German what is going on and sends her to talk to Danielle, but that goes weirdly.
The title ghost, Ling, was supposed to haunt the world and take Ben's place trying to figure stuff out after he died. But since he didn't die, she's stuck. The Angel of Death, Stanley, tells her to just hang around and watch him and see what the hell is happening while they figure out what kind of glitch is keeping people from dying, or whatever it is. Ling technically falls in love with German while watching her with Ben, but this has little, if anything, to do with the story and who the hell cares.
Then some random homeless bum named Stewart Parrish kills the Angel of Death (or...something...), and starts running around space and time trying to kill Ben for some reason. Ling and the verzes--some kind of earless white guard dogs--protect Ben and run around with him in the past a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, trying to dodge this guy. Stewart Parrish goes back in time and grabs an object that's sacred to German and then by using the object and threats of killing her dog, tries to get her to help him find where Ben is hiding in the past. Stewart seems to be the representation of Making Things Go Back The Way That They Were, a la Jack on Tru Calling.
Honestly, it just gets fucking weirder and weirder and less related to any kind of anything at all. These people basically lose their resemblance to how any humans would act and suddenly everything is happening in this weird netherworld where Danielle starts interacting with all of her past selves and Ben is suddenly pulling powers out of his ass and sharing them with German and Pilot and he doesn't know why he suddenly knows what he's doing and Ling starts becoming human for no good reason and suddenly everyone in Danielle's apartment building starts reliving the one best moment of their lives and....At this point, I give up on trying to explain what is going on, and I'll resort to quoting the book blurb:
"The Ghost in Love is about what happens to us when we discover that we have become the masters of our own fate. No excuses, no outside forces or gods to blame—the responsibility is all our own. It’s also about love, ghosts that happen to be gourmet cooks, talking dogs, and picnicking in the rain with yourself at twenty different ages."
Well, yes. Technically that happens.
Now, don't get me wrong: that plot idea of becoming master of your own fate after you haven't totally died is good. That's interesting. The author does take some fascinating mental side trips along the way that are incredibly cool. I'll list the memorable stuff:
German's lost thing, which was a rock that a cute boy gave her and made her feel like she was valuable and loved. I really liked this description, and we all have our "lost things" that we feel something about and it pangs us to lose them. If I suddenly got my lost thing back, I'd be thrilled--even though the circumstances that German gets hers in are kinda bad.
Danielle figuring out that even though she started shoplifting at age 12, it was her 6-year-old self that led her to start the shoplifting. This leads her to realize that we're all influenced by our past selves, which have different feelings on things than the current one does, and we have to figure out how to cope with all of our selves somehow.
Danielle has a "picnic" with all of her past selves, most of which are asking her how things are going to come out. She has an interesting time trying to figure out what, exactly, to tell them. And if you think about that, that would be a dilemma, wouldn't it? She is also prompted to start asking her past selves about their memories, which are clearer to them then they are to her now, which leads her to... well, that I'll discuss below the spoiler cut.*
Pilot is a fully realized participating, talking character in this one, who does take action and has thoughts and does the best he can in an ever-shifting landscape. I don't know why he's suddenly the reincarnation of Ben's dead girlfriend, or what that has to do with anything, or who the hell cares (not Pilot, he's horrified and easily blackmailed into doing something at the threat of being told that in the next life they'd somehow make him become human again)., but his reaction to such is kind of amusing.
On the human side, German is the most well done character, cheerfully sketched out and realized. Though unfortunately, she seems to lose that as the book gets weirder and starts to focus on the weird shit that Ben and Danielle are doing. By the end she feels like another ghost self, or something.
It's a good thing the book is relatively short (just over 300 pages) and a quick read. I don't know why I stuck with it, other than I read it on a random Sunday when I had a few hours to kill and was trying to figure out a weird knitting problem, but had it been longer I probably would have keeled over instead of "oh hell, I'm just going to plow through this sucker and finish it."
But on the other hand:
There's no way to figure out what the hell is going on. Every few pages, there's yet another dramatic ass pull sea change going on.
The characters kind of lose their humanity, or to some degree just kind of lose their ties to reality, or what a normal person would be like...Who the hell is Ben, by the end of this book? I don't know. There's too many of him (literally) and I don't know what I am supposed to make of what has happened to him. Uh...okay...I...guess?
People rapidly lose their ability to have logic. Things just happen, out of the blue, and suddenly at least one character (probably Ben) Knows how to deal with it, and poof, there it is! Are these people even on Earth any more? Who knows? ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN! AND DOES! TOTALLY AT RANDOM! Do these people even go to work and have jobs any more?
Is this a happy ending? I...guess...? Does it work? Fuck if I know.
Overall, the philosophy of this book definitely gives you something to THINK about. I cannot deny that. But would I recommend that folks read this? I think the answer is "probably not." It is not precisely bad, per se. There are some nuggets of goodness in here. But will you understand what's going on? PROBABLY NOT. And that's why it's getting a two and a half star rating. If you are super intellectual and snobby (in which case, you probably don't usually read my book reviews because I don't read your sort of thing), you'll probably get this book and understand it and love it, and good for you! For you, it will probably be five stars! But the rest of us? Yeah, I have no idea how one finds their way around this author's works. "Lost" doesn't even begin to describe.
The back of the book has the following quote from the author:
"The Grail legends are usually about men with swords and women getting rescued. I thought, "You know, I want the women to have the swords." It's all about them doing their things, they get lots of sex, and they fall in love, but that's not the point of the story for them. They are the heroes."
That sounds so promising...it's just a shame that I wasn't really feeling this story, somehow, for whatever reason.
800 years ago, Alais, a young married woman, found out that her dad was in charge of keeping the safety of one of the three books that one uses to summon the Holy Grail. After he dies, she ends up in charge of the book, running for it while her evil sister is looking for her. There's some marital drama and separation on her end, along with her young friend who has a whopping crush on her that isn't mutual.
In the modern era, her reincarnation, Alice Tanner, is roped into working on an archaological dig run by a friend of hers in France. She comes across some corpses and a ring in a cave and is suddenly dragged into the drama of 800 years ago. Everyone is once again scrambing for the Holy Grail...
Frankly, I just plain had a hard time reading this book. I think it is just Not For Me. Even though I have taken French, this book is VERY FRENCH and very European and very foreign to me in general, and I found it hard to follow as a crass American. I appreciate that it was female-centered (female heroines and villains), certainly, and that they're taking an active role in things. I just...was mostly confused and not super attached to anyone.
I mildly sympathized with Alais's struggles, though there's a big chunk of "one, two, skip a few" going on in her story that kind of annoyed me--at one point we're just told what happened to her for the next ten years and we don't really know too much about why that is. I didn't feel super strongly about her relationship with her husband because that's not mentioned very often, but I guess it works at least a little from what we see of it. There's one big honking revelation about one character--in all honesty, I thought that was really cool--but how it came about isn't mentioned until the very end, which seems odd. There's also...well, let's say that the foreshadowing comes from one guy knowing WAY too many details than he should, I guess.
As for the modern-day characters, I didn't really feel strongly about anyone. The so-called romance between Alice and Will just kinda...shows up and they briefly interact and then I guess they're in love or something? Huh? Also, hasn't he been dating someone else recently? I'm not real thrilled at having characters named "Audric" and "Authie" in the same story because I kept mixing them up--awkward when one of them is a bad guy. Am I supposed to care about Shelagh? I don't think so because it doesn't seem like anyone does.
Overall, I was mostly just confused. Had I not gotten this book for cheap and had been shopping in a bookstore and possibly paying full price for it, I doubt I would have bought or finished it really.
I picked this one up as kind of a fluke. I haven't really been super interested in fictional books about knitting lately--mostly I just kind of feel like it's all the same sort of plot. But I needed a hardback book to get me through the weekend while I was running around the Bay Area (I read one paperback, one e-book, and one hardback at the same time, depending on the portability needs of my life situation) and my current hardback is Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell and that's such a giant brick that it's living at my work. So I grabbed this one off the top of the pile of bathroom reading and took it along. But while this book has its weaknesses, it was a lot better than I was expecting it to be. Sure, it's about knitting, but it's also a really poignant meditation on long-term grief and how to deal with it. I don't normally read books on grief either--The Year Of Magical Thinking is about where I wanted to stop with that--but this is a good one.
Mary's five-year-old daughter Stella died unexpectedly of meningitis. She's been utterly crushed ever since. Her mother Mamie hasn't been terribly helpful--she was always distant to Mary growing up, and was an alcoholic to boot until she took up knitting. Now that Mamie lives in Mexico, she couldn't even be arsed to show up to her granddaughter's funeral. However, Mamie suggested that Mary take up knitting....and called up her old friend Alice who runs a knit shop. Alice called with an offer of a lesson, and Mary goes along and tries to learn how to make a scarf. Alice has a knitting circle of people who have all had whopping grief issues, and as Mary progresses in her knitting skills, she gets to know the other members and find out what bad things happened to them and how they're coping with it. A lot of emphasis is put on how just giving your hands something to do and your brain something else to think about really, really helps. Now, god knows I know from experience, but reading this book suddenly made me want to kind of force people I know in difficulties to knit, even the ones who have no interest or ability. (Don't worry, I'm not gonna become a knit nag.)
I mentioned that this book had its weaknesses. Well, it pretty much kind of boils down to one medium-sized one: whenever a character decides to tell Mary what his or her tragic story is, it comes off as a monologue. This especially comes off as kind of odd when Mary barely knows the person and yet here they are, trotting out their sad tale. And while I can't say for sure they haven't been told what Mary's deal is by Alice when Mary wasn't there (Mary doesn't tell her entire story until the end of the book, though you get the gist of it from the start), it is kind of like, "This is the first time we've hung out alone together, why are you telling me the story of your horrible tragedy right now?" It seemed....theatrical and kind of off from how real people would behave. Call me crazy, but revealing major tragedies in great detail seems like something that most folks might wait a while to tell you. Now, this effect lessens as the book goes on--both in that Mary gets to know some people better before they reveal their life stories, and in that the stories become more conversational and less "I could totally use this as a monologue at my next audition." Heck, some characters actually keep it fairly short or end abruptly, as humans do.
But that said....I'd probably watch a show of monologues done from this book. They are good, after all. I was genuinely touched and even a little teary-feeling at times, and that's saying something coming from blackhearted me. Mary's journey is slow and not easy, and it takes her a long time to adjust to things and get back into working and to deal with her family relationships. I found that to be pretty realistic. But people eventually manage to resolve their feelings and move on, and it's beautiful.
I'm going to give it four stars. Even if you're not into knitting, if you've had some whopping bad thing happen to you in your life, this is a good one to read.
Rella Lee Jones has always wanted to be a country singer. Upon graduating from high school, she wants to leave...if she can just figure out that whole "I don't have a car and thus can't move" problem. It doesn't help matters too much that the money she makes at her job usually goes to her parents at home, and that she just had to leave her job due to sexual harassment. She feels like she's never going to move after all. But after unexpectedly being allowed to use the car of an elderly relative for the summer, Retta heads the hell out for Nashville, 2.5 hours away, to make her fame and fortune.
Of course, it's gotta start out as a hard luck story--this is Tennessee, after all. She gets a parking ticket, hits a wall, gets harassed by a cop, and mugged in fairly quick succession. Luckily for Retta, she makes a few friends--the owner of the business that tows her car, a college girl working retail, the shifty staff of a rundown hotel. Even though she's flat-out homeless, she manages to survive somehow and get some singing in. But when her parents' marriage goes awry, Retta returns home and wonders if she's obligated to stay there rather than chase after her dreams. She's got the talent, but how do you get noticed when you're living in your car and struggling to afford gas and food?
This is an old school tale of Making It In Country. (Dolly Parton read this book and endorsed it!) Retta is a nice girl with the occasional "grr" moment so she's not too perfect. She struggles, but you know that like Mary Tyler Moore, she's gonna make it after all in the end. There's a variety of characters ranging from the occasional creep to the super miraculously helpful. You don't see that much of her parents, but you definitely get the feel of how their marriage is going and what they're like to deal with. Her friends are loyal. I also like that this book doesn't really do a romance in it beyond Retta's love of singing--there's a crush object that crops up here and there, but nothing major-- it keeps things focused and you aren't expecting her to get some kind of romantic rescue from her troubles. (Then again, I guess Ricky Dean, the car guy, kind of fulfills that role.) Things are a little too miraculous at times, but it's contrasted enough with the life of being a homeless teenage girl enough to not be too off. It's a sweet story. And I will say that as a songwriter, Retta is really very good. Her song about parents splitting up was especially good and I really wish I could hear it recorded. Even though we can't hear Retta sing, you do believe she has the goods to make it.
On the caveat side...I can't believe I of all people am mentioning this, but what time does this story take place in? Honestly, it feels like it's out of the 1980's or something. Except for the fact that Retta is gifted with a cell phone so she's able to call home (and that is needed in the plot), it really feels old school. The book was published in 2010, and since there's no date on the story proper, I have to assume it is taking place in the modern era. And...there is no Internet in the world of this story whatsoever. Heck, when Retta makes the newspaper, the young adult characters actually read a newspaper and talk about getting copies of it. I remember those days, but those days were awhile ago.
Okay, so Retta is homeless for like 95% of the novel and her friend paying the phone bills probably couldn't afford a smart phone and Retta really doesn't have the ability to go online. But for a book that's about figuring out your niche and how to market yourself and send around demos and blah blah blah, taking place in probably around 2009, it's incredibly huge to NOT mention the Internet.I think it's a fine line these days to write a YA novel that stays classic and isn't totally tied to writing about teens using social media/texting/online stuff/bragging about their iPhones, when these days teens are constantly using those things and dropping the brand names IRL. (See this review for further commentary on this topic.) God knows I feel like a book is dated when I read teens raving about their Nokias or Blackberrys, and iPhones will probably be just as dated two years from now. But much as I super despise social media and refuse to participate in it, I'm aware that anyone looking for fame has to be pimping the shit out of themselves online these days. Leaving it out of Retta's journey entirely just plain DOES NOT WORK for pluasibility if the story takes place in this day and age. At the very least, Emerson the college girl should be volunteering to set up a website for her or something. I think it might have been better to just say officially that the story takes place earlier in time--hey, it worked in Maybe This Time. But who knows, maybe the marketing folks for this book said it had to take place now so it would sell or something.
Anyway... I'll give it three and a half stars. A pleasant read, with sweet characters. It just...well, feels a bit distractedly off in time.
It was one of those things that all the girls when I was growing up did at some point: read a thoroughly trashy V.C. Andrews novel.
For those of you who didn't do it, V.C. Andrews was a woman who presumably came from a very fucked up family in which rampant amounts of incest went on. Or at least, one ah, seriously wonders. And thus, all of her books are super sick family sagas with incest or pseudo-incest going on all over the place. It's trainwreck reading, and something you can't help but find deeply enjoyable when you're a teenager. "OMG THIS IS SOOOOOOOOOOO FUCKED UP MUST TELL EVERYONE I KNOW!!!!111111"
However, alas for the cash cow, V.C. died pretty soon into the start of her career. However, a ghostwriter was procured, and the fellow actually did a freaking brilliant job of mimicking Andrews's twisted style, to the point where I couldn't really tell the difference between which stories she wrote versus what he wrote. Or did, anyway. I'm not sure what's gone down with this "author" in the last bunch of years, but looking at the plots of later books, I had actually suspected that they changed ghostwriters. According to the Internet, this doesn't seem to be the case.. But maybe publishers decided they wanted something less...you know, V.C. Andrews-y with their later series? I'm not sure what the heck it was, but when I came across a free copy of this book, I decided to do a compare and contrast sort of thing.
This is the fifth book in a series featuring the Wildflowers, a.k.a. the "Orphans With Parents," four girls who met in therapy. That's a shocker in itself--people in V.C. Andrews books HAVING THERAPY?!?! I've looked at the plotlines for the first four books and I'd say that 3 out of 4 girls don't sound nearly as V.C. Andrews-ish as usual. But this book is told from the POV of Cathy Carson, who is definitely the most V.C. Andrews-y of the four girls. At this point in the book, the girls are done with therapy officially, but still are hanging around as BFF's. It's hard for Cathy to do though, since her adoptive mother/half sister Geraldine is a typical V.C. Andrews evil adult relative in that she constantly bitches Cathy out, doesn't want her to do anything or have friends or look remotely sexy or find out anything about her past, etc. She also is totally fine with leaving Cathy trapped in an attic, where the only way out is to jump out and break a limb. (Oh, Flowers in the Attic hints...) To her credit, she did throw her child molester husband out after the last book, but how long is that going to last?
Cathy's secret family story, which we find out in full detail in this book, is definitely a true V.C. Andrews mess of psuedo-incest and hidden parentage and full on fucking crazy, the likes of which I'll detail in the spoiler cut just for kicks.* Anyway, she finds out this stuff, and then one day finds Geraldine conveniently dead. Cathy assumed it was a heart attack, but given the condition of the woman's face, you'll reasonably suspect otherwise. Rather than calling the cops, Cathy calls her friends, who decide that since Cathy is still seventeen and has a year to go until she comes into the family trust fund and there's nobody else to prevent her from going into foster care....why don't they just bury Geraldine in the backyard and fake her for the next year? Geraldine didn't like to leave the house anyway. So Cathy starts redoing the house and faking being Geraldine on the phone and throwing parties and meeting a boy. Unfortunately, her child-molesting adoptive father wants back into her life, and seems to be able to figure out what's going on here. (Which is kinda obvious, even before you find out why Howard knows more about this than you'd figure.)
Now, the stuff I've mentioned is pretty typical of the ol' "sick Gothic incest crazy" stories. However, the rest of the book is...oddly ah, normal. Like having these kids go to therapy-- though Geraldine is typical in being all, "ugh, therapy, nobody should ever tell their secrets to anybody, ever." And despite the Orphans With Parents scenario, the other girls are fairly sane for what they've gone through. Their friendships are decent and nice, and other than the "covering up a dead body" sort of thing, just seem too sane for this sort of story. And Cathy is actually honest with her new boyfriend, Stuart, about what went down. And when Stuart finds out about it, he does what a sane person would do and is all, "I'm not going to squeal on you for this, but dear god, I am not going to aid and abet this crazy either." Holy crap, a sane dude in a V.C. Andrews novel? AMAZING. But also totally wrong for the established tone. The ending of the book has a briefly summarized happy ending, which again, is not so V.C. either.
As a story itself...it's okay. Probably about three and a half stars, overall. As as "V.C. Andrews" story, it seems somewhat too sane to pass as being written by the same (ghostwriter) author, though, which is kind of jarring.
Once upon a time, there was an author named V.C. Andrews that wrote amazingly trainwreck style novels about crazy incestuous Gothic-esque families. The girls of my generation would read them for the sheer "WTF?" factor. The author was clearly obsessed with incest--we can probably all take a guess as to why-- and wrote a famously scandalous series about it.
Then the author died, and a ghostwriter was acquired to oh, keep up the good work. And to be fair, the new author carried on so well that you really couldn't tell the difference, except now that the incest isn't flat out actually happening with blood relatives so much as it is a situation of "Hm, which of these hot guys is my real blood brother?" I read the earlier books in this series--a new one created by the new author--yonks ago, so they aren't reviewed here. But this one definitely fits the previous style.
In previous books in this series, as I recall: Once upon a time, the Culter family patriarch raped his daughter-in-law Laura Sue. The resulting child, Dawn, was, ah...fake(?) kidnapped and raised by the Longchamp family as one of their own. Dawn had no idea she was "stolen"/adopted until she was older and found out she was related to the big shot Cutler family. "Grandmother" Lillian was a nasty old coot that ran the family with an iron fist, her stepdad is a momma's boy, her mother is a vain twat, and the dude Dawn was dating in school, Phillip, turned out to be her blood half-brother. AWKWARD. Oh well, that freed Dawn up to be able to ah, express true love to her adopted brother Jimmy...Yeah. And I forgot, her little sister Clara Sue is an awful twat too. In book 2, Dawn went off to music school and got seduced/impregnated/abandoned by her famous music teacher. Good ol' Grandma shipped her off to some hellhole during her pregnancy and then again had the baby adopted elsewhere and forged Dawn's consent.
At this point (the start of Twilight's Child, the book I'm reviewing today) Grandmother is dead, Dawn has inherited the hotel/business, she's back together with Jimmy, and she even gets her baby Christie back once she proves that her consent was faked. (Rather easily.) She and Jimmy get engaged, and they're off to happily-ever-after-land...BWAHAHAHAHA!!! Nope, family drama is always kicking in.
Actual brother Phillip is still in love with Dawn, won't let go or shut up about it to her, acts all pervy, tries to rape her once, and marries a woman that he basically turns into his personal Dawn doll.
Dawn's stepfather/brother (hah) is mentally ill and dies. Oddly enough, Dawn is the only one who gives a shit. His so-called wife makes it clear she doesn't care, and his kids don't either. Class-ay.
Clara Sue is a trashy hobag that likes to periodically kidnap little Christie, and at one point, beats the living shit out of a pregnant Dawn, causing a miscarriage. I am happy to spoil the charming detail that Clara Sue eventually dies in a horrific tractor-trailer turnover. Couldn't have happened to a nicer girl.
Dawn's mother Laura Sue blithely proceeds to skip off and marry the dude she used to be having an affair with, Bronson Alcott. (The name? Really?) Bronson is Clara Sue's father, which in one of his less saintly moments, Dawn gets to pitch in Clara Sue'es money-grubbing face.
Bronson is an odd duck. On the one hand, for most of his scenes in the book he seems to be giving off "I would totally fuck both the mother *and* the daughter" vibes. Again, class-ay. On the other hand, (a) other than being inappropriately flirty with Dawn, he doesn't actually make a move, and (b) he does tell a moving story about how when he was younger, he prioritized his ill little sister over Laura Sue, so she ran off and married Randolph. Good choice for him, I say. Alas, Bronson's taste in women sucks. But whatever. Later, Laura Sue loses her sanity over Clara Sue's tractor-trailer death.
Back to the drama list...
Jimmy's youngest sister Fern was taken away and adopted as a baby. He eventually tracks her down, and 10-year-old Fern is now being raised by rich, cold parents in NYC. Fern hates them, has found out she's adopted, and wants to live with Jimmy and Dawn. She claims her adoptive father sexually abused her, and somehow this information is used to let Jimmy and Dawn take her in. (The legal plausibility of adoption in these books makes you wonder.) Fern turns out to be a bad seed from the getgo, and Jimmy and Dawn are clearly not hard-assed enough by nature to deal with this. (But let's face it, some folks are born bad and whatever the parents do doesn't stop the badness.) Anyhoo, she's Clara Sue, Round Two.
And finally, Dawn's babydaddy, having trashed his career with his own shitty behavior, tries to blackmail Dawn. Dawn's lawyer shuts that shit down right quick.
The things you notice about this world are:
Dawn is the second strongest/sanest person in the bunch--I think Jimmy wins the #1 slot though. Of course, look at her competition. Throughout the book, people keep pointing out how Dawn is becoming more like her evil "grandmother." Dawn doesn't like that, but the more shenanigans that go on, the more you realize that Lillian needed to become a hardass when surrounded by this much crazy. Hell, Dawn could use MORE hardassery when it comes to dealing with Fern. Trying to be nice only gets you...not very far with this cast of nuts.
I find it hilarious that there isn't much objection from people (other than Clara Sue) about Dawn marrying her not-blood-sibling brother. Really, folks? If Jimmy wasn't the only non-nutbag here, I'd be less in favor of it (hah), but clearly Dawn grabbed on to the only non-nut she had to grab. Meanwhile, her bio-brother goes more and more off the rails, especially when he is all 'INCEST BABIES YAY I CAN TOTALLY DO IT FOR YA, DAWN!" Yes, because making incest babies totally helps up the sanity levels on the family tree.
Dawn's downfalls in life are:
Most of the time she's too nice to jerkoffs, though she has her moments here and there. Girl won't stand for having anyone try to extort her for cash, so I'm proud there. On the other hand, sometimes it really bites her in the ass--like moving Clara Sue's shit out. Hoo boy, karmic something went down there.
Covering up shit does not go well for her. You'd think that having all of these freaky-ass secrets about her own life might teach a girl that honesty with one's husband is the best policy. Or that COVERING UP FOR SHITBAGS in order to save their thoroughly undeserving asses isn't worth it.
Really, the downfall of V.C. Andrews girls is being too nice. Dawn, come on: your brother would be quite happy to rape you. This would be a PRETTY JUSTIFIABLE REASON to boot his ass off the premises. And when your sister literally beats the baby out of you, *you* should not be the one advocating for her to be invited to events, especially when you know she's unhinged. And really, why protect Phillip or babydaddy from "Jimmy's temper?" Dude ain't a rageaholic. He doesn't give any beatdowns that I've seen (though the book could use some). And it's not like Jimmy would be unjustified to be pissed at these dicks. Sheesh, Dawn, next time you wonder why your marriage feels like it's cracking, this is why. The book ends in a tentative "Well, some shit's not as bad as it used to be" note, which is as happy as "V.C. Andrews" books get in the middle.
So, what should one make of this? Is it entertaining? In a soap opera way, hell yeah. It delivers an insane incest family drama in spades. It's one lone woman and man fighting a sea of crazies and jerks, trying to hold back the tide. You know it's most likely a losing battle, but you gotta admire a girl who keeps up the fight and does her best to keep and make happiness, even if being Too Nice to assholes will probably do her in. I don't like the somewhat self-sabotage-y-ness of Dawn (I can't quite say she's dumb, so much as overly optimistic). I can't quite say it's great literature, but it's great fun and a trainwreck read.
Ruth Saunders is an aspiring TV show writer with one whopping disadvantage: after getting in a car accident at the age of 3, half of her face is totally messed up and always will be. And yet, the girl had the nerve to move to the land of pretty people to start writing for television, so good for her. Ruth got raised by her grandmother after her parents died in the accident and her grandmother moved with her to LA to take up a career as being an extra. (Her grandmother is coooooool.) And after a few years working on one show and a few more working for the awesome Two Daves, she's finally gotten her own show! "The Next Best Thing" is about a girl and her grandmother moving to Miama Golden Girls-style to see if they can make it after all. Huzzah!
...And then it all goes downhill. Ruth wanted to write a funny yet endearing show about a girl who has issues about her appearance--though instead of scars, Ruth intended her main character to not be skinny. She wanted to cast interesting people, and then the network makes the decisions for her. The lead they picked out suddenly loses a drastic amount of weight and refuses to gain in back, forcing the entire pilot to be reshot. The network insists on adding in an awful scene done by an higher-up guy, they insist on adding another actress Ruth can't stand...in short, the show's already ruined by Executive Meddling, and this book proves like no other that showrunners really have zero power at all over what they want to get on the air. On this level, it's a sad story and you know from the getgo that (much like the author's real life experience) the show has to be doomed. However, I really enjoyed how the ending went down and while I'm not sure how plausible that is, I liked it quite a lot.
There's also Ruth's personal life. Her grandmother gets engaged and is going to move out, which throws Ruth a bit. And after her boyfriend dumps her for getting more success than he has, she realizes that she's actually secretly in love with one of the Daves. Which reminds me: I haven't gotten into the Daves yet, but as mentors to Ruth, they are ADORABLE and I wanted to hang out with them all the time myself. Big Dave, when he's on scene, is a hoot. The man keeps a giant jar of K-Y on his desk for...well, it's Hollywood. And then there's Little Dave, the Dave that Ruth realizes that she loves. He's a genuinely sweet dude...but he already has a hot girlfriend. And he's always dating hot girls. Having previously been burnt the one time she got involved with a coworker, Ruth's reluctant to believe in that again. This part also ends well, though I have one spoilery thing to discuss behind the spoiler cut on that.*
Overall, I enjoyed it. The story of a show gone wrong is rather sad (though yeah, figures), but it's interesting, and I liked the main characters a lot. I do think the ending is a little bit one, two, skip a few--it kind of barely covers the show even being ON the air and I wish the book had been a bit longer so it would cover that experience--but all in all, I'm giving it four stars.
Here's the brief plot setup of this book: Danielle Meyers has been abandoned by her entire family--except for the best friend she met in high school who adopted her and took her in. The two of them are diehard close, despite the best friend, Smidge, being....one of the most pain-in-the-ass, difficult folks that I am glad I can never meet in real life. Smidge settled down and had a husband and family in the small town south, while Danielle moved to LA, started her own business, got married and divorced. While on their yearly vacation trip together, Smidge breaks the news that her lung cancer's back...and this time it's incurable. And she wants Danielle to take over her life--marry her husband Henry and parent her daughter Jenny. Danielle agrees, even though this is obviously a problematic idea at best--not to mention that she doesn't want to marry Henry and is pretty effing sure Henry feels mutually. Danielle puts her life and love life on hold while she stays with Smidge, and Smidge refuses to tell anyone else that the cancer has returned.
(Note: given the subject matter, it's uh...well, I gave up on trying to not spoil. You know right off the bat where it's going and I can't pretend otherwise for the sake of "not spoiling.")
I had serious doubts about reading this book before I bought it, and that's why this review is gonna be so effing long: I'm gonna talk you into buying it despite my doubts.
My reasons for not wanting to buy it were (a) depressing subject matter, since most of the time I avoid books involving impending death. And (b) because I read the first eight or so chapters online before the book was published and uh...dear god, I hated Smidge and wanted her to die. Given the subject matter...yeah....awkward. Before you even meet the woman on the page, you are hearing about what a pain in the ass she is, how flat out (Southern) rude and insulting she is to Danielle, how she'll throw out or ruin your stuff on the spot if she doesn't approve of it, how she doesn't even really regard Danielle as her own person so much as just an extension of Smidge, and how she can't even be arsed to pick Danielle up at the airport. I was thinking, "What a damn JERK. Why the hell are you putting up with this?!"
And I say this as someone who has had jerky-ish friends in the past (though not in recent years, thank god), and as someone who knows darned well what it is like to only be regarded as another body of the same person (hi, Mom). I know from being in this situation what it is like to be best friend to a lion, and I have been fairly spineless in the past about putting up with whatever the friend or mom dished out myself because I know what it's like when the lion is unhappy. (I love that description in the book.) But even I was all, "Why am I supposed to care about Smidge? Good lord, she's an asshole."
And yeah, well, she is. Most of the time she is one, even throughout the rest of the book, even with cancer killing her. She is one of those charming (when she wants to be) drama queen types who think the world revolves around her, and get what they want all of the time. Except for, well, cancer. Smidge may honestly drive you nutterpants reading this book or make you want to quit reading altogether, and I am not going to lie about it. However...I can say this as someone who started hating her guts...I guess you get used to her? Or at least, Smidge's general world-revolving drama-y jerkiness bothered me less as the story went on, especially when you get why she's making the bad choices that she's doing. Not that I agree with them, mind you, but she had a logic from her point of view. And things do not always stay at the point of Smidge ruling the world and everyone around her argumentatively. She doesn't soften a hell of a lot despite the cancer--she shows more humanity for it, but she still has a temper and makes stupid choices and the like even with an anvil hanging over her head. I appreciated that she didn't become an out-of-character saint or lose her personality due to it, even if I found that personality difficult.
As a character, Smidge is horrifying but believable. I wouldn't want to deal with her in real life whatsoever, but in fiction, she works. I'm just glad she's fictional. Plus, well, occasionally I just plain had to approve of the shit she got up to. My favorite moment was Smidge's graffiti response to some woman being called a slut on a bathroom stall: "While you are wasting your life writing on the bottom of a shit-stained wall, Alexa's out getting laid. Life is short. Flush your tampons." BWAHAHAHAHAH. Upon flipping through the book while debating whether or not to buy it, I found that line and decided to. I can kinda picture that as Smidge's thoroughly inappropriate tombstone saying. Okay, nobody would actually put that on one, but it sums up her 'tude so very well...
I'm not sure if I think it's the best idea to start out the book with hearing about how bad Smidge is before you meet her, mind you--it nearly killed the idea of me reading the book itself, and if it had been written by another author, I don't think I would have given the book a chance after the first few chapters. But I like the author's other works, so eventually I caved in and bought this one anyway. Maybe it might have helped from my point of view to explain earlier why Danielle is so hooked on Smidge, since once we got to the part where she explained how her parents never wanted her and both walked out on her, you get why she stuck with the only person who ever stuck with her her whole life. And how Danielle will stay until the end, even if the idea of marrying Henry doesn't appeal. Then it makes more sense.
And eventually, Danielle starts taking charge of things. She makes the choice to stop putting up with her clients' demands and job when her priorities change, and I deeply enjoyed the moment where she decides to take charge of Smidge, for a change. You go, girl. While Danielle may still go along with some of Smidge's choices, she also chooses them for herself rather than because it's easier to let the lion have her way. Danielle's development is quiet compared to Smidge's--but who wouldn't be in comparison?--but it works. I was actually rather sad to get to the last few chapters of the book, which are more "one, two, skip a few" than the rest of it, because I wished the book could have been longer, or had a sequel covering the post-Smidge years. I would have liked to have seen how that worked on some level. I also wish I knew how Jenny (the book is written as a long letter to Jenny at age 25, after she and Danielle have been estranged for years) responded to the book, but, well, it's reasonable that you don't find that out.
The handling of Jenny in this book--who's 13 and starting the rebellion years as this goes down--is entirely realistic. Danielle's recollections of Jenny are entirely bittersweet, and the hints of more here and there that are coloring Danielle's thoughts even as she doesn't elaborate on them are intriguing. Danielle's not at all shy about calling Jenny out on her teenage behavior, or how noting awkward a younger Danielle was while trying to parent. When you eventually find out why Jenny now hates Danielle, it's sad, but does fit with the world and situation of the story. And you hope that maybe someday, there's a reconciliation.
I would also like to say, as a permanently single woman who can't even claim "At least you can say you were married," I appreciated this book flat out calling out the situation of what happens when your friend is married and you're not and there is JUDGING going on of you. I've told folks that yes, I feel judged daily on not having the husband/house/baby, even if I don't want 2 out of 3 of those, and I mostly get blown off by people saying that isn't true. Maybe that's because I'm a Californian rather than a Southerner and we pretend that marriage isn't everything for women here, but part of why Danielle doesn't tell Smidge off is that she knows darned well that by Southern standards, she is a loser and cannot combat that with arguments. "No husband. No kids. You ain't got a house," is what Smidge judges on. "But in a situation where she's listing my flaws, it doesn't matter why I don't have those things. I don't have them. And to Smidge, having those things would prove I'd done something right with my life. Husband. Kids. House. They're the merit badges earned by grown women." MERIT BADGES EARNED BY GROWN WOMEN. That is SO EFFING TRUE. And while it depresses me like hell that that is a real thing in life, I love that the author flat out admits that this happens and single ladies feel like that.
As for the men of the story, I loved Tucker, who is the voice of sanity and reason in this one. For a fellow who never got over his fiancee ditching him, he's remarkably clear-headed elsewhere as to what exactly Smidge is and how he doesn't buy into her world domination act. Which is refreshing to see in Smidgeland. And he will call things as he sees them to Danielle. I deeply enjoyed that. His "forbidden" (by Smidge) quiet budding romance with Danielle is handled well on all counts, especially the end. The line "Sometimes our hearts make decisions long before our heads get into the game" is what made ME tear up, and I'm a blackhearted bitch who didn't cry at the cancer death.
On the other hand, Henry seems like a perfect fellow who pretty much puts up with whatever Smidge dishes out--I suppose that's ideal for a relationship with her. But since Smidge insists on leaving Henry on the sidelines for everything, you don't get to know him well. I did like the moments of personality you saw of him--such as the time he had a phone conversation with Danielle about her divorce, or when he gets fed up with Danielle later--but I still couldn't help but wonder why the hell he is apparently the only one in the book who hasn't well...figured out what is up with Smidge long before she has to admit it. Yeah, yeah, I know, la la la denial is powerful, but it got a little too farfetched for me with that. I do think it's pretty ah...strange...that nobody, but nobody, calls Smidge on obviously looking sicker and that the obvious has probably happened. When it becomes clear that other folks have deduced it, it's a relief to Danielle AND the audience too. Though it still made me seriously wonder about Henry as a person if he genuinely had NO IDEA what was going on for months on end. I would have had more respect for him if we'd had some indication that he knew or suspected (even the kid suspects!), but he's offstage enough that I don't really know if he did or not. I think we're supposed to deduce that he was that in denial/in the dark, and that doesn't make him look good. But that may just be me. I am not a person inclined towards denial.
Overall, I'm going to give this book three and a half stars. Whether or not you can deal with reading about Smidge is up to you, but if you can take it, it's a darned good book.
(Note: Brief update. Hah, I THOUGHT there was a Farrah Fawcett movie with this plot... Nice in-joke!)
After reading Wendy and the Lost Boys, I decided to do some play reading. Which will make for an odd review here, I think.
Uncommon Women and Others: This play is based off of Wendy's strange experiences at going to Mount Holyoke for college during the sexual revolution. In the midst of transition, the school was going from a place where Gracious Living was practiced to well...ladies boinking whoever they like and wearing pants. It sounded like it was a schizophrenic time in Wendy and the Lost Boys, and it comes across that way too in this play. I'll admit that uh...I had problems with relating to this play. It's just so foreign of an environment to me--and I speak as someone who's been in a college environment for a long-ass time. Somehow the weird world that these women were living in threw me off enough that I had a really hard time getting into it. Sure, there was the occasional moment of relating to the women's 21-year-old angst as to what their future plans are, but mostly I just wasn't into it.
I'll also admit that this play might make more sense if you see it staged (a la Shakespeare), because I don't really get why the play starts out with the women meeting up for lunch around 10 years after college, then spends most of the play in college, then cuts back to 10 years later and that's it. It also didn't really seem like it had much plot beyond "coming of age," really. So by itself I'd probably give it two stars...but really, this may be just my problem and it may just be Not For Me.
Isn't It Romantic (note: it isn't!): Isn't It Romantic, on the other hand, I related to greatly. It honestly felt pretty fresh and current to me, seeing as it deals with the perennial issue of "who should I settle down with, if anyone at all?" It features Janie, a girl who starts dating a Jewish doctor. Perfect, right? And he's okay as a person...though he certainly uh, Takes Charge a lot, and suddenly decides stuff for Janie without telling her that they're moving in together and things like that. And he calls her Monkey, which ain't her favorite romantic endearment ever. The other featured girl is Harriet, a career woman who starts sleeping with her boss's boss, who unabashedly has a girlfriend at home and doesn't give a shit about her. It's obviously doomed from the getgo there.
I loved this quote on the problem: "Well, if you live with him, you won't have to wonder who'll hold you at night, what will happen if you don't pay your taxes, or even, if you want children, who you could possibly get to be the father. You won't read articles in magazines about single women and have to think of the fifty different reasons why you're different from that. You won't begin to notice younger men on the street or think I'm not really hurting a married man's wife if I have an affair with him, because if it's not me, it'll be somebody else. But Janie, how could you sleep next to a man as nice as Marty and lie to him and say I love you?" Good point.
I liked how Janie resolved things, though Harriet's resolution--a last minute engagement to a guy she's known two weeks-- is frustrating for everybody. By itself, I give it four stars.
The Heidi Chronicles: Heidi was my first introduction to Wendy Wasserstein and the only one here I've seen live. I loved it. Though I'll admit that I find it harder to get into just reading it in play form, and it seems a little wordy and weird in places. It's a play that covers the same old issue that women who never settled down with a man have all the time, and yet is really, really set in the time period (60's-80's) what with all of the political commentary and snarking. It features Heidi, a woman who becomes an art historian and who never does settle down with a guy even though other folks do. Her life fits into the feminist movement, and yet she always feels alone in her life circumstances somehow. Her best friend since high school, Susan, goes through a drastic amount of changes. Her gay best friend Peter comes out of the closet and lives life as he wants to.
She has a downright hypnotic relationship over the years with Scoop Rosenbaum, a lawyer/journalist fellow who even Heidi describes as a "charming creep." And by god, he is. He's unabashed about what you get with him--not faithfulness at all--and pops in and out of Heidi's life over the years. I'll always remember seeing the first scene between them in the theater--even though the actor playing him wasn't the hottest thing going, and indeed the fellow is being irritating when he meets Heidi at a dance--there is something THERE that grabs you. It's Scoop's line at the end of the scene that just gets me in the gut somehow and makes you root for him despite his mostly-douchiness:
"Maybe I'll remember it one day when I'm thirty-five and watching my son's performance as Johnny Appleseed. Maybe I'll look at my wife, who puts up with me, and flash on when I was editor of a crackpot liberal newspaper and thought I could fall in love with Heidi Holland, the canvassing art historian, that first snowy night in Manchester, New Hampshire, 1968."
Well, maybe it makes more sense when you watch it. But at the time I was all, DAMN, THIS ACTOR IS GOOD. So's the line, really.
Anyway, Scoop marries another woman because he'd rather settle for someone who will be his wifey-poo rather than Heidi, who'd want to be equals. And while we're told Heidi dates others over the years, somehow Scoop continues to be an off-and-on friend in her life. And Heidi seems adrift, like in her speech on "Women, Where Are We Going." She hasn't prepared a speech ahead of time, but instead talks about being in the locker room with a random assortment of women--single and hot, old ladies, moms--and feeling both worthless and superior at the same time. "It's just that I feel stranded. And I thought the whole point was that we wouldn't feel stranded. I thought the point was that we were all in this together." Good point. You really feel for Heidi in that moment--as well as in a TV interview when the men on stage literally drown her out. Eventually Heidi figures out a way to feel less stranded. As a focus on the plight of the modern adult single woman, this play rocks. Four stars.
Overall, I'll give this three and a half stars. I'd probably skip "Uncommon Women" in a reread, but the other two are gut punchers in a good way.