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Favorites: The Giant’s House by Elizabeth McCracken

29 Apr

This unconventional love story is beautiful, and one of my favorites.  Peggy, a lonely twenty-six year old librarian, narrates the novel, describing the long, slow process of falling in love with the town giant, James.  Peggy meets James when he’s just eleven, and through their love of books they first become friends, and then ultimately lovers.  Both are socially isolated – Peggy because she lets no one in, James because, despite his friendliness, his physicality and medical problems make it difficult to form lasting bonds.

There’s something about their relationship that you don’t see depicted in books very often.  The relationship is based very much on need, rather than want or lust. This isn’t a one-note chick lit romance where girl meets boy, fireworks explode, and they live happily ever after in a permanent state of love-at-first sight.

And their relationship changes over time.  As James grows up, he needs different things from their friendship, and so does Peggy.  And their relationship evolves.  Their relationship changes to accomodate James’s adolescence, his growing circle of friends, Peggy’s desire to be more than a librarian. Continue reading

Favorites: Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susann

22 Apr

“You’ve got to climb Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls.”

This book is, and always will be, in my top five favorites. I’ve re-read it on countless vacations. This is trashy, sensational writing about sex, drugs and Hollywood. And it’s wonderful.  While the title is probably mostly known from the 1967 film adaptation starring Patty Duke as Neely O’Hara, Sharon Tate as Jennifer North and Barbara Parkins as Anne Welles, the book was a runaway sensation in its own right.

The book stands the test of time because Hollywood still peddles these stories when they market actresses today. You have Anne Welles, the blond, moneyed, uptight New England girl trying to make it on her own in New York. And Neely O’Hara, the gypsy girl who comes from nothing, upstages the biggest star of her day and becomes an international sensation. And finally, Jennifer North, the homespun girl who is gets “discovered” out of the blue, achieving super stardom.

When you get the one thing you’ve always wanted, what comes next? Continue reading

Favorites: I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

15 Apr

This much at least, I’ve figured out. I know this much is true. Wally Lamb, I Know This Much is True.

Wally Lamb’s novel is a family drama in the traditional sense.  The nuclear and extended family can serve as a snow globe for an author; a tiny mirror of what’s happening in America reflected in a familiar set of characters – father, mother, children. And the generational chasm representing changing social values is certainly present here.

But here,  the primary focus is on why we love our families. In I Know This Much is True, identical twins Dominick and Thomas Birdsey are raised by a shy, dreamy mother and abusive step-father.  Dominick is the steady force in the family, while Thomas descends into schizophrenia, eventually chopping his hand off in the middle of a public library, landing himself in a criminal mental institution, as their mother dies of cancer.

Familial love trumps all in this book that should be terribly depressing.  We see a thousand reasons Dominick should hate his brother. His mother. His step-father. In Thomas, Dominick is forced to watch his physical mirror image destroyed by mental illness, and forced to sacrifice his own relationships to save Thomas from abuse at the hands of a corrupt institution.  After his mother dies, Dominick struggles to understand her through his grandfather’s egotistical family history.  Trying to keep his business afloat, Dominick slowly comprehends his step-fathers life and motivations, and figures out who his biological father is.

Ultimately, the book is about Dominick’s simultaneous hatred and resentment towards his family, and how he reconciles those feelings with his undying love for his brother, mother, step-father, wife. Family is sacred, but this book shows how hard it can be to maintain the sanctity of the family.

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