Wednesday, February 25, 2015

China Bayles, former Criminal Lawyer, now herbalist/amateur sleuth!

Thyme of Death by Susan Wittig Albert

This was the February 2015 read for our Borders Book Club!
And it was unanimous among the four members participating--
we all really liked it or loved it!
This book was nominated for both an Agatha and an Anthony Award for Best First Mystery!
Honestly, I think it should have won, for so many reasons!

Each of our book club members was really impressed with China's skill at analyzing and evaluating the evidence as she investigated...well, really, she was the first upon the various scenes of death except one! So whether she wanted to know the murderer's identity or not, it was probably the smart thing to do since she was somewhat implicated as the murderer...When asked why she left the practice of law to become an herbalist, China's stock answer is "plants don't argue"! (Very true!) She continues, 

     "They also don't lie, cheat, connive, or hit below the belt. ... I left 
     the law because I stopped believing in the partnership between 
     justice and the legal system. I also left because the practice of law 
     was changing me into somebody I didn't like very much, somebody more arrogant, 
     more competitive, more cutthroat than I knew myself to be. If I stayed in much longer, I 
     knew what I'd become--a carbon copy of the senior partners in our firm, four men who 
     lived for their work, whose lives were empty of anything else." (page 8)

I can certainly understand her need to switch career paths! Why herbs?

     "...because when I was a kid I was crazy about growing things. It was a trait I inherited 
     from my father's mother, who had what was probably the finest herb garden in New 
     Orleans parish. I inherited Gran's name, too. China Bayles." (page 8)

And in comparing these two jobs:

        It gives me a lift to see cellophane packages of Thyme and Seasons basil and rosemary and marjoram displayed in [the] produce section, along with some little ceramic pots of chives I'd sold them a couple of weeks ago. I feel every bit as proud of those chives as I ever felt about a well-done legal brief. I haven't figured out whether that judgment represents an overvaluation of my chives or an undervaluation of my briefs. (page 186)

Albert's sense of humor comes through in this book and makes it an even more enjoyable read. 

How nice that China and Ruby were able to "cover" for each other's business since they were next door to each other, so neither one 

     "is irrevocably tied to her shop. Even if you love what you're doing, some days a one-
     person business feels like a one-ton albatross." (page 10)

Yes, it can... I think too often people go into business for themselves thinking they'll never again NOT want to go into work. But it does happen, hopefully not as often or as intensely as when you're working for "the man"!

Jo, one of China's very closest friends in Pecan Springs is dealing with cancer,  

        "My connection to my own mother is strained, to put it mildly, and Jo filled an empty 
     place in my life." (page 19)

Jo truly took China under her wing when she first moved to Pecan Springs. In so many ways she was the motherly figure in China's life that she'd not had before. I could relate to the thoughts China had immediately after Jo's death about how she thought she'd have so much longer to say her goodbyes, etc. So many times that is how it seems.

China and I share similar relationships with our mothers, although mine was not an alcoholic as hers was. In reviewing Jo's lack of a close relationship with her own daughter, China muses, 

        I wonder whether any of us really knew our mothers, yet whether we could ever be 
     successful in knowing ourselves apart from them. (page 27)

As I become older than "middle-aged" I often feel a bit sad to think none of my three sons really understand who I am in so many ways. Though I wonder if it is possible for our children to know us as our closest friends do... However, it is so sad to realize the true reason Jo shut Meredith (her daughter) our of her life--I believe she may well have underestimated Meredith's ability to accept and appreciate her regardless... Though as China comments to Jo,

        "Maybe she thought you wouldn't approve. Maybe she wanted to protect you. Maybe 
     she wanted you to keep loving her." I stopped, struck by a disconcerting thought. Until I 
     was fifteen or sixteen, Leatha tried to cover up her drinking, keep it a secret from me. I'd 
     thought she hid it because she was ashamed of seeming weak beside my father's 
     towering strength. But maybe my mother, like Jo, had wanted to protect her daughter, 
     wanted her to keep loving her. I slid uneasily away from the thought. I'd built up a 
     reserve of energizing, sustaining anger against Leatha. It was useful. I wanted to hold 
     on to it. (page 148)

I could have written that paragraph, my own feelings toward my mother were so aptly described in those last three sentences! In the aftermath of her death, it is taking years for me to release the negativity and judgement those statements describe. 

Although China and Ruby are best friends, they are very different people in many ways. China is pragmatic and practical and Ruby tends to be a "free thinker" into "New Age alternative therapies"--she had Jo on the "Healing Path"! (In my opinion Ruby is simply a "hippie"!) They complement each other to create an effective team, particularly for investigations. We were all rather surprised at how Jo actually died in the end...It was certainly not what we expected!

In the course of the story, I'm certain I suspected each character of being the murderer at least two different times! (Except for China and Ruby, of course!) Albert masterfully weaves many false leads into the story, while retaining the cohesiveness and flow of the prose. There is a car chase, and a greedy murderer is caught! We all agreed that Albert deserved many kudos for making a lesbian relationship so prominent in this book which was published as long ago as 1992; it added more depth and resonance overall. 

A solid not-so-easily-solved mystery, concise storytelling, and this first book introduces the main (and I assume recurring-throughout-the-series) characters in a way that makes me want to know more about them. There are currently 22 books in this series, and yes...I do intend to read them all. Albert is one of my favorite writers! Pick one up!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Schoolmarm, surrogate mother, and village improver by age 16!

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

This second book in the series is just as enjoyable as the first! I love an author who can successfully introduce new characters and expand the plot with each series installment, and Montgomery does just that. New loves, old loves, reunited loves, old neighbors, new neighbors, new house partners, and...a whole new adventure for Anne! At beginning and end!

I never cease to be amazed by the short childhoods--adult roles when only 13, 14, 15, or 16! I still can't imagine that! Though I do realize times were different, lifespans shorter, etc., but this makes me more aware of the extremely long childhood we have now.

As a former schoolteacher, I can fully realize Anne's idealistic ambitions regarding discipline and guidance to her students. And, overall, I do agree with her philosophy, but as she learns, there are some students for whom kindness and a respectful role model are just not enough to earn their respect and cooperation! Though the event with Anthony Pye represents nothing so much to her as a true lapse of her underlying pedagogy and an action never to be repeated, it did however, change Anthony's assessment of her permanently--in a good way! It does provide an opportunity for Mrs. Allan to philosophize with Anne later: 
  "Well, we all make mistakes, dear, so just put it behind you. We should 
regret our mistakes and learn from them, but never carry them forward into 
the future with us. (page 130)
Definitely words to live by! Objectively, Anne realizes that her students taught her much more the she taught them, "lessons of tenderness, self control, innocent wisdom, lore of childish hearts." (page 253) Isn't that so true? If we pay attention we can learn so much!!

Perhaps one of the most poignant and interesting themes is the demonstration of neighbor helping neighbor, even to the point of allowing another person to live in our own home with you when they would otherwise be homeless. I do realize that unlike now, people living in these villages were quite isolated, hence they must help each other or watch "neighbors" suffer. However, even given that, Marilla's kindness and generosity is, to me, unlimited and ever amazing. I am so glad Anne was the type person to willingly sacrifice for Marilla's health and well-being, for Marilla is certainly very deserving of such consideration in return! And in the end, it has afforded Anne further possibilities for development, beyond what she might have imagined possible in the recent past!

There were several "Stephanie Plum" moments in this book. (Yes, I do love the Evanovich series!) They definitely made me laugh out loud! (1) Anne is thoroughly vexed when she sees her jersey cow, Dolly, out in the middle of Mr. Harrison's "field of late oats" yet once again! She and Diana wade out into the field, getting all muddy in the process, and on impulse Anne sells Dolly outright to Mr. Shearer as he drives past on the road. Only one hitch...the just-sold jersey cow was actually Mr. Harrison's own, for as Anne checked once she reached home, Dolly was out in her pen right where she belonged the whole time! But Anne works out a trade with Mr. Harrison and all parties are satisfied. (I think the cake she delivers to him helps soften him up a bit!) (2) Anne is in no mood for silliness on the day she teaches with a severe toothache and insists upon forcing a student to place an otherwise innocent-looking package into the stove in the middle of the school house...let's just say "fireworks ensued"... ;)  (3) Little did Anne know that borrowing a platter would end up with her literally stuck in a roof, as the rain poured down and she waited for help! Now THAT was funny! :)

Davy and Dora add much to Marilla and Anne's lives; much frustration on occasion, at least with Davy's mischievousness! 
  With all his faults he's really a dear little chap. I can't help loving him, 
Marilla, it may be a dreadful thing to say, but honestly, I like Davy better 
than Dora, for all she's so good."
  I don't know but that I do, myself," confessed Marilla, "and it isn't fair, for 
Dora isn't a bit of trouble. There couldn't be a better child and you'd hardly 
know she was in the house."
  "Dora is too good," said Anne. "She'd behave just as well if there wasn't a 
soul to tell her what to do. She was born already brought up, so she doesn't 
need us; and I think," concluded Anne, hitting on a very vital truth, "that we 
always love best the people who need us. Davy needs us badly." 
  "He certainly needs something," agreed Marilla. "Rachel Lynde would say it 
was a good spanking." (page 82-83)

However, Anne inadvertently proffers a good motivation to Davy--to be as good as Paul Irving--the student with whom she most closely identifies and her one truly "kindred spirit" among all the school children. Paul has an imagination similar to Anne's, particularly when she was his age, whereas Davy is a very literal fellow. But that does not deter Davy from trying to be Anne's favorite or to at least measure up to Paul! Anne and Davy discuss the fact that it is "very bad indeed" to tell "whoppers," uhm...I mean "falsehoods"!
  "Then," said Davy decidedly, "Marilla is bad, for she tells them. And she's 
worse'n me, for I didn't know it was wrong, but she does."
  "Davy Keith, Marilla never told a story in her life," said Anne indignantly. 
  "She did so. She told me last Tuesday that something dreadful would
happen to me if I didn't say my prayers every night. And I haven't said them 
for over a week, just to see what would happen...and nothing has," 
concluded Davy in an aggrieved tone.
  Anne choked back a mad desire to laugh with the conviction that it would   
be fatal, and then earnestly set about saving Marilla's reputation.
  "Why, Davy Keith,' she said solemnly, "something dreadful has happened 
to you this very day."
  Davy looked skeptical. "I s'pose you mean being sent to bed without any supper," he said scornfully, "but that isn't dreadful. Course I don't like it, but 
I've been sent to bed so much since I come here that I'm getting used to it. And you don't save anything by making me go without supper either, for I always eat twice as much for breakfast." (pages 80-81)
I felt as if I should stifle my own laughter as I read this passage! There are many times during the years of parenting my own three sons that I experienced just such situations, and actually sometimes I did laugh...just because!! The children's comments were so honest and heartfelt, and the logic at times so literal and therefore seemingly skewed! :)

One thing I can always appreciate about Anne is that she doesn't really gossip. As with her knowledge of Judson Parker's underhanded behavior in selling his vote; I believe she is correct when she says she would have never said a word to anyone else. Now that I can respect! 

There are two relationships revealed in this book that were split asunder due to wounded pride, anger, and holding grudges. Thankfully, these couples were reunited, but, as Gilbert states,   
  "...wouldn't it have been more beautiful...if there had been no separation or misunderstanding...if they had come hand in hand all the way through life, with no memories behind them but those which belonged to each other?" 
  For a moment Anne's heart fluttered queerly and for the first time her eyes faltered under Gilbert's gaze and a rosy flush stained the paleness of her face. It was as if a veil that had hung before her inner consciousness had been lifted, giving to her view a revelation of unsuspected feelings and realities. Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one's life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one's side like an old friend through quiet ways..."  (page 276)   

Gilbert "had made up his mind...that his future must be worthy of his goddess...he meant to keep himself worthy of Anne's friendship and perhaps some distant day, her love..." (page 168)                                
That Gilbert is a woman's dream come true, is he not? Anne deserves such pure devotion, in my opinion! 

Have you read this second book in the Green Gables series? I am so glad I joined the Green Gables Read-Along! Join us!         

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Can "faith" accomplish the impossible? Pt 2

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry 
by Rachel Joyce
Part 2: The Walk and...the end, the beginning, or both?
There was so much to discuss and I wanted to use so many direct quotes, I have split this review into two parts. I love Joyce's writing style.
Read Part 1 here...

          They believed in him. 
          They had looked at him in his yachting shoes, and listened to what he said,
     and they had made a decision in their hearts and minds to ignore the evidence 
     and to imagine something bigger and something infinitely more beautiful than 
     the obvious. Remembering his own doubt, Harold was humbled. 
          "That is so kind," he said softly. He shook their hands and thanked them. 
          The waitress nipped her face toward his and kissed the air above his ear. 
          (page 58)

Here was acceptance as poor Harold had never had before in his life. Good for him! Each of us should feel this, yet hopefully much earlier in life! And we learn that Harold is also capable of giving such acceptance...

At one of his stops early on, Harold meets a man who proceeds to confess to him that he travels to this town once a week to meet with a young male lover, something he claims no one else knows about him... He has noticed a hole in one of his young partner's trainers and is considering whether to buy a new pair for him or not...

          Harold sat in silence. The silver-haired gentleman was in truth nothing like the 

     man Harold had first imagined him to be. He was a chap like himself, with a     
     unique pain; and yet there would be no knowing that if you passed him in the   
     street, or sat opposite him in the cafe and did not share his teacake. Harold 
     pictured the gentleman on a station platform, smart in his suit, looking no 
     different from anyone else. It must be the same all over England. People were 
     buying milk, or filling their cars with petrol, or even posting letters. And what no 
     one else knew was the appalling weight of the thing they were carrying inside. The 
     inhuman effort it took sometimes to be normal, and a part of things that appeared 
     both easy and everyday. The loneliness of that. Moved and humbled, he passed his 
     paper napkins. 
          "I think I would buy him new trainers," said Harold. He dared to lift his eyes to 
     meet those of the silver-haired gentleman. The irises were a watery blue; the whites
     so pink they appeared sore. It tore at Harold's heart, but he didn't look away. Briefly
     the two men sat, not speaking, until a lightness filled Harold and caused him to 
     offer a smile. He understood that in walking to atone for the mistakes he had made, 
     it was also his journey to accept the strangeness of others. As a passerby, he was in
     a place where everything, not only the land, was open. People would feel free to 
     talk, and he was free to listen. To carry a little of them as he went. He had 
     neglected so many things that he owed this small piece of generosity to Queenie 
     and the past. 
          The gentleman smiled too. "Thank you." He wiped his mouth and his fingers, 
     then the rim of his cup. As he stood he said, "I don't suppose our paths will cross 
     again but I am glad we met. I am glad we talked."
           They shook hands and parted, and left the remains of the teacake behind. 
               (page 89)

Beautifully expressed, poignant and so very true!! :) For me, this was a brilliant summary of Harold's trip. Reminiscent of the theme in Joyce's eshort-story, A Faraway Smell of Lemon; we never know what small bit of interaction will actually change someone's life for the better. So often it may well be just a few minutes spent listening to and accepting them, and truly hearing them. Though we learn that Harold has always had this skill to some degree.

When he catches Queenie in the supply cupboard at work, she is quite upset and depressed about her treatment at the hands of the other employees, and he listens and speaks with her briefly, then offers his hand to gently lead her out. Much to his surprise, she accepts, then signals the interaction is at an end:

     Then she smoothed her skirt, as if Harold were a crease and she needed to brush  

     him off. (page 67)

I just love this metaphor! All is back to reality with this one motion. Yet we also learn that with his own son he is not as compassionate as he might have been.

     Better still, in the absence of words, he might have taken David in his arms. But he 

     had not. He'd done none of those things. He felt the boy's fear so keenly, he could 
     see no way round it. The morning his son looked up at his father and asked for 
     help, Harold gave nothing. He fled to his car and went to work.
          Why must he remember? 
          He hunched his shoulders and drove his feet harder, as if he wasn't so much 
     walking to Queenie as away from himself. (page 70)

Aha! Yes, so true...I believe he was trying to escape...himself...Maureen...his he saw it, his failures... This is evidenced by his walking harder and faster as memories flood his mind, trying to suppress them as he has done before. And how better to remember and think about the past than to completely isolate yourself as Harold did. I'm convinced individuals do not spend enough time alone in our "modern world" so that we can just think and consider. 

          He couldn't help feeling that, even though Maureen had not said it, what she was

    implying about his retirement fund was correct. He should not be spending it solely 
    on himself and without her approval.
         Though, God knows, it was a long time since he had done anything to impress 
     her. (page 78)

There was a part of me that disagreed with the idea of his retirement to only be spent upon consensual agreement. After all, it is his retirement... However, if their marriage was healthy at this point, I guess there would be discussion before money is spent, especially considering the fact that Maureen had not worked outside the home and was therefore reliant upon Harold's income. 

Joyce does intersperse some humor; I laughed out loud when Harold noticed vehicles as he walked alongside the road:   

          There were single drivers, and he supposed they must be office workers because 

     their faces appeared fixed as if the joy had been squeezed away... (page 17) 

Hah! There are many mornings when I'm sure my face reflects that same feeling as I commute to work! :)

It was David who reminded Maureen that she had indeed met Queenie who had arrived at their house one day with an "urgent" message for which Maureen had failed to deliver to him. So much as Alice in Wife 22, Maureen had intimate knowledge about Harold's job, though in this case it was the fact that someone else took the fall for him and was fired because of his own actions, unlike Alice's husband William, who was himself fired as a direct result of his own behaviors. I keep wondering if, like Alice, Maureen will never reveal her knowledge, or if she will eventually disclose to  Harold what she knows. I believe this is why Maureen was able to accept Harold's rash decision to keep walking toward Queenie; otherwise, I doubt she would have been able to accept it at all. 

Harold's rather humorous memory of his mother's one and only letter to him: 

          Dear son,...New Zealand is a wonderful plase. I had to go. Muthering was not 

     me. Send my best regards to your dad. It wasn't her leaving that was the worst part. 
     It was the fact she couldn't even spell her explanation. (page 104)

It is more than obvious that David and Harold never truly communicated. At age 18, Harold tries to speak with him about his recent admission to Cambridge and David totally ignores him:

          Harold had wanted to take him in his arms and hold on tight. He wanted to say, 

     You beautiful boy of mine; how do you get to be so clever, when I am not? But he 
     had looked at David's impenetrable face and said, "Well, gosh. That's good. Golly."
          (page 106)

While most teens seem to be uncommunicative, we have hints throughout the book that David's personality was darker than most...even as a teen! 

There are clues throughout the book about the ways in which Harold and Maureen's relationship is changing, although they're apart, or perhaps due to their being apart from each other. Maureen seems to immediately feel relieved, but soon realizes even the TV and radio cannot "fill" the house. She moves back into the main bedroom and tells Harold, though he assumes she has then moved his belongings to the other bedroom where she's been sleeping alone all these years. It is the theme of their first meeting that is used to denote their burgeoning remembrance of life as a couple. 

Although well meaning, many strangers end up joining Harold and actually delaying and interrupting his progress to a great degree, even commercializing it. Though it is from one of these people that he learns that Queenie has actually perked up to a great degree since his initial message regarding his intention to see her. 

          Harold walked with these strangers and listened. He judged no one... He had 

     learned that it was the smallness of people that filled him with wonder and 
     tenderness, and the loneliness of that too. The world was made up of people   
     putting one foot in front of the other; and a life might appear ordinary simply 
     because the person living it had been doing so for a long time. Harold could no 
     longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the 
     same, and also unique; and that this was the dilemma of being human. 
          He walked so surely it was as if all his life he had been waiting to get up from 
     his chair. (page 158)

So we are left with many lessons about humanity and life; and we can only guess as to the impact this has made upon Maureen and Harold's future as a couple and as human beings. Though I feel hopeful that they have now truly reunited and will live together much more happily than they have done in the past. Although Harold does complete his "journey" in many ways, is he able to truly save Queenie? Or is he the one saved?

This book sparked much discussion amongst our book club members. While philosophical, it was easily read and understood.
 Obviously, I recommend it!    

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Can "faith" accomplish the impossible? Pt 1

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry 
by Rachel Joyce
Part 1: Committing to the Walk
There was so much to discuss and I wanted to use so many direct quotes, I have split this review into two parts. I love Joyce's writing style. (Part 2 is here.)

This cover picture should appear to be "bigger than life," as that is how I would term Harold's goal: to walk across England (600 or 700 miles, if I remember correctly) to visit a former coworker who is suffering from cancer and in hospice, thereby keeping her alive... He wants her to promise to "wait for him"; to stay alive until he arrives. Initially, he believes he can not only keep her alive, but he may be able to "cure" her through his pilgrimage of faith. It is obvious from the start of this book that Harold and Maureen's marriage is considerably less than happy. And as she did in the eshort-story A Faraway Smell of Lemon, Joyce slowly but surely reveals the historic details of this relationship, delineating the reasons for their discontent with each other. They were sleeping in separate beds, never speaking to one another except about the most mundane daily activities, most certainly never about their feelings, desires, regrets...nothing meaningful in an intimate long-term relationship. 

I wonder if readers who have not experienced a failed or failing long-term relationship would resonate as well with this particular book. (Our book club's youngest member did not...) I certainly could and did, but I have similar situations in my own past which made it rather easy to connect with these two characters. Though initially I felt Maureen acted quite bitchy (I even noted "henpecked Harold" on page 4), I eventually realized that each of these characters had simply coped in the best way they knew how with their own life experiences. I will say I believe alcoholism is somewhat an inherited behavioral tendency, though that doesn't deny the fact that individuals can and do choose their own path, avoiding it entirely. I have witnessed two people from my past who wasted themselves away much as David did, though unlike him, they died of "natural causes" in the end. I cannot imagine discovering your child in the situation that Harold had...there are no words for me to adequately express what I believe that may feel like, not for either parent. I believe that to be the most grievous situation any parent could endure.  

          The day he was born his mother had looked at the bundle in her arms, 
and felt 
     appalled. She was young, with a peony-bud mouth and a husband who had seemed 
     a good idea before the war and a bad one after it. A Child was the last thing she 
     wanted or needed. The boy learned quickly that the best way to get along in life 
     was to keep a low profile; to appear absent even when present. (page 25)

This was the Borders Book Club read for January 2015, and we all agreed that Harold really had no way of developing interpersonal skills given his childhood: his mother literally packed a suitcase, left it by the door, and then walked out with it when he was a very young child, never to be seen or heard from again. Thereafter, his father had a succession of "aunts" living with them until Harold turned 16, when his father placed an overcoat on him, and sent him out the door. (I actually have known someone who was similarly left to his own devices at the age of 16 by his own parents. Sad...) I believe this accounted for his stoic personality and disconnectedness as an adult, especially with his own wife and son. 

          Mothering had come so naturally to Maureen. It was as if another woman had
     been waiting inside her all along, ready to slip out. She knew how to swing her body 
     so that a baby slept; how to soften her voice; how to curl her hand to support his 
     head. She knew what temperature the water should be in his bath, and when he 
     needed to nap, and how to knit him blue wool socks. He had no idea she knew these 
     things and he had watched with awe, like a spectator from the shadows. It both 
     deepened his love for her and lifted her apart, so that just at the moment when he 
     thought their marriage would intensify, it seemed to lose its way, or at least set 
     them in different places. He peered at his baby son, with his solemn eyes, and felt 
     consumed with fear. What if he was hungry? What if he was unhappy? What if other 
     boys hit him when he went to school? There was so much to protect him from, He 
     wondered if other men found the new responsibility of parenting as terrifying, or 
     whether it had been a a fault that was only in himself. It was different these days. 
     You saw men pushing buggies and feeding babies with no worries at all. 
          "I hope I haven't upset you?" said the woman beside him.
          "No, no." He stood and shook her hand.
          "I'm glad you stopped," she said. "I'm glad you asked for water." He returned to 
     the road before she could see that he was crying. (page 51)

I can see how the "other partner" may feel "left out" when the more innately nurturing of the two parents perfectly cares for a child, and given Harold's own life experience, he immediately retreated from the situation and was only a peripheral part of their relationship through the years. And that didn't appear to improve over time--Harold shares the story of Queenie being the first female hired at the brewery with Maureen and David:

          "Is that supposed to be interesting?" David had said. ...

          Maureen smiled. Harold didn't expect her to stand up for him because she loved 
     her son, and that was right, of course. He only wished that sometimes he didn't feel 
     so outside, as if what bonded them was their disassociation from him. (page 54)

Awww...poor Harold!! :(

It appears that his frustration with life culminates in his continuing to walk further and further when he ostensibly left his home to simply post a reply to Queenie's letter from the nearest postbox. I felt very sorry for Harold when he called the hospice and left the following message for Queenie:

          Tell her Harold Fry is on his way. All she has to do is wait. Because I am g
oing to 
     save her, you see. I will keep walking and she must keep living. Will you say that?
          I'm setting off right now. As long as I walk, she must live. Please tell her this 
     time I won't let her down.
          Harold stared at the ribbon of road that lay ahead, and the glowering wall that 
     was Dartmoor, and then the yachting shoes that were his feet. He asked himself 
     what in heaven's name he'd just done. Overhead a seagull cracked its wings and 
     laughed. (page 19)

We learn that he had totally misinterpreted his brief conversation with the "Girl in the Garage," having not heard the ending. I did feel some pity for Harold at this point, yet somehow, I also admired his strength of belief and hope/faith in his own ability to make amends for all the years he had ignored Queenie, and in such a dramatic fashion. 

          He was already different from the man who had set foot from Kingsbridge, and 
     even from the small hotel. He was not someone off to the postbox. He was walking 
     to Queenie Hennessy. He was beginning again. (page 53)

Ah...and will this journey provide a new beginning...for whom? for him? for Queenie? for Maureen? for David? for everyone?

After the first night Harold briefly considered returning home and properly planning for this sojourn,

          But planning his route would involve both serious consideration and 
waiting, and 
     there was no time for either of those things. Besides, Maureen would only give 
     voice to the truth he was doing his best to avoid. The days when he might expect 
     her help or her encouragement, or whatever it was he still wanted, were long since
          If he went home now, if he even consulted a map, he knew he would never go 
     to Berwick. (page 26)

It's true, isn't it? Sometimes we just have to take a leap of faith and go for it, no matter how crazy it may seem to others...or even to ourselves, we just have to know...can we do it? 

Maureen's first night alone she is pondering: 

          Queenie Hennessy. After all these years. The memory of something long 
     shivered deep inside her. (page 24)

And her thoughts later:

          So when Harold said he was walking to Berwick, did he mean that once 
he got 
     there, he was staying?
          Well, he could go if he wanted. She should have seen it coming. Like mother, 
     like son; although she had not met Joan, and Harold never spoke of her. What kind 
     of woman packs a suitcase and leaves, without even a note? Yes, Harold could go. 
     There were times when she herself had been tempted to call it a day. It was David 
     who kept her at home, not marital love. She could no longer recall the details of 
     how she had first met Harold, or what she had seen in him; only that he had 
     picked her up at some municipal dance, and that on meeting him, her mother had 
     found him common. 
          "Your father and I had better things in mind," she had said, in that clipped way 
     of hers.
          In those days Maureen had not been one to listen to other people. So what if he 
     had no education. So what if he had no class. So what if he rented a basement room 
     and did so many jobs he barely slept. She looked at him and her heart tipped 
     sideways. She would be the love he'd never had. Wife, mother, friend. She would 
     be everything. (page 58)

Aha! So she was going to save and nurture him...bad bad start to a relationship! Why do we women tend to do that? :( An effective long-term relationship is a partnership, not a parenting relationship with one person managing/caring for the other all the time. 

          Sometimes she looked back to the past and wondered where the reckless
     woman was that she had been.
          Maureen went through his papers, but there was nothing to explain why he was 
     walking to Queenie. There were no letters. No photographs. No half-scribbled 
     directions. All she discovered in his bedside drawer was a picture of herself just 
     after they were married, and another crumpled black-and-white one of David that 
     Harold must have hidden there, because she clearly remembered sticking it in an 
     album. The silence reminded her of the months after David had left, when the 
     house itself seemed to hold its breath. She put on the television in the sitting 
     room, and the radio in the kitchen, but still it was too empty and quiet.
          Had he been waiting for Queenie for twenty years? Had Queenie Hennessy been 
     waiting for him? (page 58)

By now I was really wondering...exactly what had transpired with Queenie over 20 years ago? 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Meet Anne--voluble and imaginative child logophile...

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Reeder Reads has established a Green Gables Read-Along for 2015.

Here is the reading schedule:
January: Anne of Green Gables
February: Anne of Avonlea
March: Anne of the Island
April: Anne of Windy Poplars
May: Anne's House of Dreams
June: Anne of Ingleside
July: Rainbow Valley
August: Rilla of Ingleside

I finished reading the first installment, Anne of Green Gables, on January 15th, 2015, but am just now posting my review on February 8th, 2015! Although I honestly don't remember ever reading this book when young, there were parts that seemed so familiar...but it's neither here nor there because now I have definitely read it. Perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of this book was the idea of Anne's redemption by Matthew and Mirella; finally she has a real "home" and a real "life" other than that as an orphan/slave/housekeeper/governess. Although she had learned useful and practical child-rearing skills, such as how to treat croup, she certainly had no time to be a child, per se. How awful! My heart went out to her. I believe Matthew was perhaps my favorite character. I got such a kick out of his reluctance to "do the raising" of Anne, yet he was willing to sneakily "put his oar in" to stand up for Anne when he felt Mirella was being a bit too strict/tough on her, though he had promised Marilla he wouldn't do that. :) After all, "Matthew would have thought anyone who praised Anne was 'all right.'" She was definitely the "apple of his eye," and Anne recognized almost immediately that she and Matthew were "kindred spirits."  

Mirella and Matthew were brother and sister, still living on and running the Cuthbert family farm. She had established herself as a very stoic personality, whereas, he appeared to be a very shy person, who communicated little, even with Mirella! Then along comes this strange little girl, Anne Shirley, who seemingly chatters incessantly, uses words that are way too big for a child of her age to use (I could relate to that!), and has no social filter about what she says to whom. Matthew traveled the 8 miles to Bright River to pick up an orphan boy to help him on the farm, but the only child there was this scrawny little girl.  I felt these communicative characteristics were perhaps a result of her never before being allowed free reign, so to speak, over her actions/behaviors. She had lived with people who simply used her as a virtual slave, expecting her to perform household and child-rearing tasks, with no time to "play" or actually be a child, not even her own person! She was forced into an adult role as a child, so when she arrives at the Cuthberts' doorstep, it is virtually the first time she is allowed to express herself, and express herself she does! :) 

Anne has obviously learned to use her imagination as an escape (or coping mechanism) from the drudgery of her daily life, and she hesitates not to share her imaginative wanderings with everyone and anyone!
     I just love pretty clothes. And I've never had a pretty dress in my life that I can 
     remember--but of course it's all the more to look forward to, isn't it? And then I 
     can imagine that I'm dressed gorgeously. This morning when I left the asylum I 
     felt so ashamed because I had to wear this horrid old wincey dress. All the 
     orphans had to wear them, you know. A merchant in Hopeton last winter 
     donated three hundred yards of wincey to the asylum. Some people said it was 
     because he couldn't sell it, but I'd rather believe that it was out of the kindness 
     of his heart, wouldn't you? (p. 14)
For me, this paragraph pretty much sums up Anne's personality and thought process when she first arrived at age 11. Although Matthew seems to be a very kind person and actually enjoys Anne's company on the drive back to Green Gables, even he thinks of her as a "freckled witch" who was "very different" from the "well-bred" little girls he had seen. Some of the verbiage of this book dates it: "orphan asylum," Anne's claim it wouldn't be so hard to keep her temper is people didn't "twit her about her looks," but the story is timeless. 

Then Marilla sends Anne to Sunday School:
     She did not think she liked Miss Rogerson, and she felt very miserable; every
     other little girl in the class had puffed sleeves. Anne felt that life was really 
     not worth living without puffed sleeves. (p. 81)
Ah, how quickly we become accustomed to prettier dresses and then desire more. :) And how melodramatic and typical for a pre-teen female is that last sentence? :) In the aftermath of Anne's report of her first experience at church:
     Marilla felt helplessly that all this should be sternly reproved, but she was 
     hampered by the undeniable fact that some of the things Anne had said, 
     especially about the minister's sermons and Mr. Bell's prayers, was what she
     herself had really thought deep down in her heart for years, but had never 
     given expression to. It almost seemed to her that those secret. unuttered,. 
     critical thoughts had suddenly taken visible and accusing shape and form in the
     person of this outspoken morsel of neglected humanity. (p. 83)      

Anne's broken ankle reveals several things. Marilla watches as the Barry family and other girls approach with Anne:
     At that moment Marilla had a revelation. In the sudden stab of fear that 
     pierced to her very heart she realized what Anne had come to mean to her. 
     She would have admitted that she liked Anne--nay, that she was very fond of
     Anne. But now she knew as she hurried wildly down the slope that Anne was
     dearer to her than anything on earth. (p. 186)
For not only was Anne redeemed by Matthew and Marilla, but she also redeemed them and brought more love to them in their life than she might ever realize. 

In speaking of those true friends who visited while her ankle healed, Anne states:
     ...even Superintendent Bell came to see me, and he's really a very fine man. Not 
     a kindred spirit, of course; but still I like him and I'm awfully sorry I ever 
     criticized his prayers. I believe now he really does mean them, only he has got 
     into the habit of saying them as if he didn't. He could get over that if he'd take 
     a little trouble. I gave him a good broad hint. I told him how I tried to make my 
     own little private prayers interesting. (p. 188)
She was a good-hearted soul, always trying to help others, in whatever way she thought possible. 

Montomery's use of language is virtually unmatched, in my opinion. I could relate so easily to Anne's outspoken ways, Marilla's realization that her own unspoken thoughts were given voice by this "morsel," and Matthew's oft-repeated, "Well, now, I dunno..." All are priceless! Anne uses her imagination to immediately rename some of the Green Gables' landmarks: "The Avenue" becomes "The White Way of Delight," Barry's pond" becomes "The Lake of Shining Waters." I could particularly relate to the descriptions of nature through Anne's imaginative, appreciative, and fresh eyes.

Marilla becomes very angry with Anne early on for her angry outburst at Rachel Lynde for calling her "skinny and homely" with "hair as red as carrots." As Marilla leaves Anne in her room until she can apologize to Mrs. Lynde, she is 
     grievously troubled in mind and vexed in soul. She was as angry with herself as 
     with Anne, because whenever she recalled Mrs. Rachel's dumfounded countenance 
     her lips twitched with amusement and she felt a most reprehensible desire to 
     laugh. (p. 69) 
Anne holds out on apologizing, "bravely facing the long years of solitary imprisonment before her." (Her imagination is boundless!) Matthew sneaks into the house to Anne's room upstairs while Marilla is out and asks Anne to apologize, stating that his sister's a "dreadful determined woman--dreadful determined," and it is "terrible lonesome downstairs" without Anne. Anne agrees to "do it for him."

Finally, of Anne and Matthew:
     Those two were the best of friends and Matthew thanked his stars many a time 
     and oft that he had nothing to do with bringing her up. That was Marilla's 
     exclusive duty; if it had been his he would have been worried over frequent 
     conflicts between inclination and said duty. As it was he was free to 'spoil 
     Anne,'--Marilla's phrasing--as much as he liked. But it was not such a bad 
     arrangement after all; a little 'appreciation' sometimes does quite as much good 
     as all the conscientious 'bringing up' in the world.

In the aftermath of Matthew's death, Marilla speaks to Anne: 
     I don't know what I'd do if you weren't here--if you'd never come. Oh, Anne, I 
     know I've been kind of strict and harsh with you maybe--but you mustn't think 
     I didn't love you as well as Matthew did, for all that. I want to tell you now when 
     I can. It's never been easy for me to say things out of my heart, but at times like 
     this it's easier. I love you as dear as if you were my own flesh and blood and 
     you've been my joy and comfort ever since you came to Green Gables. (p. 296)
I was very impressed that she took advantage of an opportunity to express her true feelings to Anne. How many of us wait too long to do this with people who are so important to us in our lives? Too many, is my guess. 

I am so glad for Anne and Gilbert's friendship. He was certainly kind to her and I suspect he will play more of a role in the next book(s) as we progress through her life.

Have you read this series? As a child? If not, join along!! It's rather fun! Although I fully admit...I cried, really cried. :)

Join me later this month to discuss Anne of Avonlea