Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was a quick read for me this past spring. I enjoyed it yet, Flynn’s magic lay not in writing a psychological mystery of amazing literary prowess, or even much thoughtfulness, but in making a book that rippled with suspense. Gone Girl was addictive. Gone Girl was a good book, but The Silent Wife is better. A.S.A Harrison wrote The Silent Wife last year but she died before she could see it published.
Jodi and Todd, married for more than twenty years, have survived because they were willing to see each others’ strengths and ignore their weaknesses. It is a rattling account of a familiar story, a stalwart woman and a cheating husband living in relative peace until something sets it off.
Todd’s most recent girlfriend tells him she’s pregnant. He leaves Jodi, even evicting her out of their condo. Because the two had never married, Jodi, the one with a low-income, finds out she has no claim on her home. Jodi feels threatened, and entitled to more after putting up with Todd and his infidelity for twenty years. Todd’s actions erode Jodi’s sanity, and she falls apart until she murders him.
The book’s strength is sheer interest in the characters. From the get go (first page) the reader knows Jodi will kill Todd, so the reader is interested in the set up, not the how. I particularly enjoyed the scenes where Jodi, a trained psychotherapist, recounts therapy she has attended in the past. Attending therapy was for her own professional development, but these flash backs revealed not only Jodi’s family history, but also theory about human behaviour. It ultimately shows the reader why Jodi, someone so sane and grounded, could murder her ex-husband. The book is heavy with description, particularly the scenes of Jodi slipping into depression, but the frill of the writing is how the reader becomes a type of therapist to Jodi.
Unfortunately, this will be A.S.A Harrison’s only fiction book as she passed away. You can read about the fascinating story of her life as an artist in Toronto in this article.
people interesting in racial inequality in 1960s Mississippi
Kathryn Stockett‘s debut novel called The Help is a rapid and easy read. I spend a great deal of time delving in thick literature because it’s what I love, but surely one enjoys a break for a soft and girly read every now and then.
The Help is about the lives of black maids in the 1960s Deep South. Stockett reveals the tension of love and hatred that the maids feel towards the families they work for. Skeeter is a young white woman who grew up on a cotton plantation. After university gradation she returns to Jackson Mississippi, but has a hard time meeting traditional expectations for women of the time. She has a secret dream to be a writer or a journalist in the editing business. Although she seems to have no real drive for her dream, she applies for random jobs in large cities. It’s a feeble attempt at escape.
A few events occur that highlight the huge injustices in her town between the “help” and the women they work for. In fact, Skeeter’s own mother fired the family maid out of sheer racism. Skeeter feels convicted to act and enlists the help of two maids, Aibileen and Minny, to write a book from the point of view of the domestic help. Both Minny and Aibileen have spent their entire adult life being maids for white families of Jackson Mississippi.
With great difficulty, and with the help of Aibileen and Minny, Skeeter is able to gather narratives and stories of the lives of The Help. They publish it anonymously to protect the women from losing their jobs or reputations among the white families in Jackson. The book is popular, and creates a stir in Jackson and all over the country. The voice of the maids is heard.
I enjoyed this book. I felt like the plot was thoughtful. I was emotionally involved in the lives of the maids and their sufferings through the injustices. What a hard existence.
However, I didn’t LOVE this book. The characters were slightly flat. Skeeter, in particular, was not believable. I didn’t feel like she was compassionate towards the maids. It was more of a decision of the mind, rather than the heart.
There was also something a touch “draggy” about it. I finished it, but the last 2/3rds felt forced.
The Help was published in 2009, and they have already made it into a movie. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard it’s good. Check out the trailer. It made me tear up a bit, because I’m a bit of a sap.
-people who love the romanticized pre-revolution Russia
-those who enjoy a good realistic romance (not just women!)
-people interested in Tolstoy
I found this book on the new Hamilton Public Library’s Bibliocommons. For those Hamiltonians who don’t know about Bibliocommons, it is a catalogue that is much more user-friendly than the old one. It looks and feels like Amazon. Some friendly neighbour had The Last Station by Jay Parini on their list of interesting books. I was also pleased to find out it was made into a movie with James McAvoy (swoon, swoon).
The Last Station is about the last year of Leo Tolstoy’s life. Tolstoy, often considered the best novelist in the history of human kind, was also an incredibly interesting man. The events of the book are based on facts taken from Tolstoy’s letters and diaries, and also the letters and diaries of those who were closest to him before he died. Despite a happy marriage, the last years of Tolstoy’s marriage to his wife Sofiya were characterized by strife and disunity. As Tolstoy became more and more anarchistic in his final years, he felt very troubled by his life of luxury and entitlement. He had been born into an aristocratic family, but his deepest desire was to denounce all wealth and rights to his books, this unfortunately (for his wife and children) was to be extended to his will and would mean a diminished inheritance.
Sofiya does not share her husband’s lofty ideals. Her fear of losing money and entitlements drives her to insanity. She is deeply depressed and torn between the hatred of having to accept whatever fate her ideological husband decides, and the deep love for the man she has devoted her life to. I actually hated her dramatic character, paranoia, and her inability to appreciate her husband’s lifestyle, although I truly felt sympathy for her situation. It would’ve sucked to be a woman in that time, because whatever your husband wanted, you just had to go along with it.
There is another plot in the story involving Tolstoy’s idealistic secretary Bulgakov, who has come to serve Tolstoy in his final days. At Telyatinki, the Tolstoyian commune set up near his estate there is a lovely and emancipated woman named Masha whom he falls for deeply. Bulgakov, like Tolstoy is forced to choose between his vow of abstinence, and pursuit of higher things; there is no room for romantic love and lust. While Bulgakov is uniting his soul with Masha, Tolstoy is gaining the courage to leave his wife and to sign the will which gives all the publishing rights of his novels to the public.
Masha is relocated by higher powers in Telyatinki to serve a different commune in Moscow; she was too much of a distraction for Bulgakov. Tolstoy leaves his lovely wife of 48 years and on his way to Caucasus in a train, he falls gravely ill. He dies in a stationmaster’s cottage with the entire country watching. The book ends pleasantly though, with Bulgakov and Masha returning to Moscow together.
In Parini’s book, both pairs of lovers are separated. Tolstoy and his wife love each other very much, but neither could concede to give in to each other. It was heart breaking. Often our image of people married for a long time, is one of concession and quiet love, not of heart-break and betrayal. Masha and Bulgakov are separated by the idealistic world around them, but they are able to see that life is much more complex than a set of ideas. It is good to hold conviction, but not at the expense of things we hold dear. There are things in life we can love intrinsically and not because they are bringing about the betterment of society. It almost reminds me of Luke 14:26 (“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.”) I am not trying to be controversial, but it’s hard to feel like Jesus means to put loftiness over love, disunity over unity.
In Bulgakov, we see the balance of love. Not in an “all-consuming love-must-be-our-guiding-principle” way, but a love set deep in perspective. He was living a convicted and intentional life, full of love.