Jenna Carmichael’s wedding will be perfect. Her mother, Beth, has made sure of it. Knowing she was dying, Beth left the Notebook, suggestions for each aspect of Jenna’s big day. “…song lyrics often make good readings. Try the Beatles. No one has ever gone wrong with the Beatles.”
Taking Beth’s suggestions as unquestionable and gospel, Jenna and her older sister Margot, different as can be, do everything they can to stick to their mother’s wishes, but even with or perhaps because of her input, each family member still keenly feels the loss.
The Carmichaels and the Grahams, the groom’s family, are loving, but as in any family, tension and long-held resentments surface. Brothers and sisters rail against their traditional positions. The father of the bride desperately misses his former wife and questions his current marriage. The sister of the bride wonders where she stands with the man she’s secretly been dating. The groom’s mother and father – married twice – navigate an old rift, namely the woman with whom he cheated and had a child.
As everyone tries to come together, the Notebook and the carefully laid plans are threatened, leaving everyone to realize that in holding tight to the past, good or bad, they may be threatening their own futures.
A perfect summer read, add Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand to your Goodreads shelf.
*This book was sent to me by the publisher Little, Brown in exchange for an honest review.
I am an unabashed fan of David Sedaris and have been, from the first time I cracked open Naked on an airplane and embarrassed my sister by laughing out loud for the greater majority of the flight. Since my Sedaris reading was all pre-blog, I haven’t had an opportunity to share my love until today*. When I read that his latest book would come out this week, I decided I would gift it to myself for my birthday. Then, lo and behold, this book (actually two copies) appeared on my doorstep last month. I may have been a little excited, considering I’d just driven home from Dallas (a five-hour drive) but plopped down and read this in one sitting.
After the disappointment of When You Are Engulfed in Flames, I was nervous about Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. I needn’t have been. One of the first stories describes how Sedaris’s father wouldÂ drop trou each evening, remaining all business up top but sporting his undies for all and sundry to see, regardless of who or what was about. He talks about his parents, and their parenting methods, comparing them to modern parents: “I don’t know how these couples do it, spend hours each night tucking their kids in, reading them books … then rereading them if the child so orders. In my house, our parents put us to bed with two simple words: “Shut up.” That was always the last thing we heard before our lights were turned off. Our artwork did not hang on the refrigerator or anywhere near it, because our parents recognized it for what it was: crap. They did not live in a child’s house, we lived in theirs.” Harsh as it sounds, Sedaris successfully points out the pretty massive changes in our societal view and treatment of children now as compared to many of our own childhoods.
Along with his typical essays are short, fictitious monologues (which I could have done without), a form he says he’s learned from teens who perform “Forensics” for judges, and Sedaris is sharp tongued in the monologues, pointing out the absurdity of all of us – a man who justifies murder because of gay marriage, a woman writing to berate her sister for a cheap wedding gift after she’s stolen the sister’s intended – but he’s just as pointedly critical of himself. He discusses his compulsive diary writing: “I tried rereading it recently and came away wondering, Who is this exhausting drug addict? I wanted to deny him, but that’s the terrible power of a diary: it not only calls forth the person you used to be but rubs your nose in him, reminding you that not all change is evolutionary. More often than not, you didn’t learn from your mistakesâ€¦”
Although not as packed with laughs as perhaps Naked or Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Sedaris’s collection reflects a maturing essayist and humorist. Yet even with the moments of sincerity and sobering self examination, Letâ€™s Explore DiabetesÂ is the bold, funny, and mildly offensive return to the Sedaris for which most have long waited.
Add this to your Goodreads shelf.
*Which I’ll do in this review but also as I hand out copies of Me Talk Pretty One Day for World Book Night. Yippee!
*I received this book from the publisher Little, Brown and Company in exchange for an honest review.
Two sisters sit, side by side, in the backseat of an old car. Amity and Sorrow.
Their hands are hot and close together. A strip of white fabric loops between them, tying them together, wrist to wrist.
…in the car, there was only driving and darkness, the watching of their mother, the roads behind them and the sound of her sister, sobbing, as home stretched away from them, mile after mile.
Amaranth leaves home in desperation, driving without ceasing to leave behind the polygamous cult in which she has conceived and raised her daughters. Neither Amity nor Sorrow has ever known the world outside the compound, but Amaranth has torn the girls from their home after reaching devastating clarity about its ills. A car crash ends their flight, and Bradley, a struggling farmer, comes to their aid.
Amity is, much as her name implies, open to meeting new people, excited about this adventure and only intermittently worried about breaking the rules of her father and spiritual leader. Sorrow, on the other hand, is bereft. Her fierce love of her father and her place within the cult as the Oracle has been ripped from her by a mother who seems not to understand her grief. Amaranth, though, isn’t neglectful of her daughters but simply guilt ridden and horrified by the life she led within the compound.
One of 50 wives, Amaranth looks back on her life before Zachariah, the group’s leader. She recalls the moment she realizes that one, two, three wives will not be enough for him. But she also remembers the love she felt for her sister wives, women who became her strength and her solace. Wrapped up in her own thoughts and her own desire for safety – which she suspects she may be able to find in Bradley – she isn’t cognizant of the girls’ confusion.
Told from both Amaranth and Amity’s perspective, Amity & Sorrow is a strange book. The time period is even difficult to pin down because of the rural locale and the ignorance of the girls. Sorrow is by far the least sympathetic character, but that’s partially because her story is never explored. While that narrative choice makes sense in terms of her zeal for the compound (perhaps making her narrative a bit off kilter), it also restricted her characterization, so that she appeared insane, less a character than a symbol or victim. She becomes, instead, the sacrificial lamb, the deluded child-woman unable to make her own decisions or see beyond the cult.
The book is disturbing in its implications; however, the distance created by the isolation of the characters and their disconnectedness from one another made for odd but enthralling reading.
Add this book to your Goodreads shelf.
*The publisher Little, Brown and Company sent me this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Time rained down on Clare. 8:30 a.m., on the clock hanging above the breakfast alcove. Twenty-five years of pretending Ireland never existed.
She would have to step again into that air terminal. Stare into the dark waters of the River Liffey. Look over her shoulder at every instant.
Clare Moorhouse is the wife of the British diplomat in Paris. An American with Irish roots, Clare finds out rather suddenly that her husband’s post may be moved to Dublin and that she has half a day to prepare for a dinner party. Unsettled by the news because of an incident in her past, Clare tries to focus on the matter at hand but is constantly distracted by a figure from her past she sees over and over again in the market, on the street, through the florist’s shop window. Is he really there? Or is Clare so fixated on the guilt in her past that she conjures him? Over the course of one day full of planning, pacifying the cook, and trying to figure out why her son has suddenly arrived home from boarding school, Clare must face her unexpected guest and welcome or banish the memories that come with him.
Clare is of Irish descent, and though she’s told her husband she’s never been to Ireland, it’s not quite true. Twenty years earlier, she flew to Ireland carrying something for her lover, something she is now sure had sinister repercussions in a war-torn country. A move to Ireland terrifies her because of her secret, though she’s sure no one could trace the incident to her. As she plans a seating chart and arranges silverware orders, the brief summer she spent with Nyall plays back to her, and a chance meeting in the street with an accused terrorist brings her ever closer to ruin. Her son is unexpectedly home from school, and something is wrong, but she doesn’t have the time or energy to find out what, not today. Not when she sees Nyall across every street corner and in her mind.
An Unexpected Guest is a quiet novel, and what I mean by quiet is that it is a novel that is very interior. Aside from brief scenes with dialogue, almost all the novel is narrated from Clare’s mind, her thoughts and her recollections. Her life is very ordered. Married to a diplomat, life must be ordered, particularly when the difference between having salmon or whitefish for dinner is the difference between pleasing and insulting foreign dignitaries. This day, though, Clare is in disarray – at least on the inside. The strength of a domestic novel lies in its central internal debate (as picking out flowers, choosing cuts of meat, and polishing silver is only so entertaining), and An Unexpected Guest is no different; however, the several oddly-related coincidences that fuel the external actions seemed a little too convenient in drawing out Clare’s emotional reaction.
Read this if you like domestic novels and/or enjoyed Mrs. Dalloway or The Hours.