Sunday, September 22, 2013

What to Keep and What to Let Go

Objects of My Affection, by Jill Smolinski

What do you do when your 19-year old son has a serious drug problem? For Lucy Bloom, the answer is simple and clear: Whatever It Takes. For Lucy, getting her son into a rehab program literally takes everything she has, including her relationship with the love of her life.

After she sells her home to pay for the rehab and her relationship ends because her partner does not want his life turned upside down by a teenage drug user, she finds herself broke and living with a friend and her family. When she is offered the job of helping an eccentric and somewhat notorious artist clean up her house, the job looks like a lifeline. Unfortunately, Marva Meier Rios is as cantankerous as she is eccentric and she blocks progress on the project at every turn.

Lucy's efforts to clear out the clutter is resisted at every turn, but Lucy is determined to finish the project. For better or worse, the job throws her back into contact with her ex-lover and in conflict with secrets Marva herself is determined to preserve.

And then Lucy's son leaves rehab and demands that she pay for treatment at Betty Ford and Lucy's plans for a rosy future for herself and her rehabilitated son collapse again.

In a strange way, this is a kind of "coming of age" story. Lucy has to give up her fantasy future with her son and come to terms with the boundaries between her life and his. It is a deep challenge many parents have to face and, perhaps, especially wrenching for a single parent.

This is a good story, well written and well told. I especially liked the parallel between the things -- and people -- we hang on to and the ones we finally have to let go.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Last Lion: A Three Volume Biography of Winston Churchill

Visions of Glory: 1874 to 1932 (992 pages)
Alone: 1932 to 1940 (800 pages)
Defender of the Realm: 1940 to 1965 (1232 pages)

If you're interested in history and politics, The Last Lion, a three volume biography of Winston Churchill is a must read. Can you imagine an author with the audacity to create a fictional character who was a member of Queen Victoria's Calvary in the Boer War, a major leader in the WWI and, finally, Prime Minister of England in WWII, standing alone against Hitler for two long years?

Sometimes, truth is grander than fiction because those are the barest bones of Winston Churchill's story, and still, author William Manchester has so much more to tell. Churchill was above all else, a wordsmith who left behind volumes of writing including a stints as a war correspondent, a columnist, and an author of books. In addition, he wrote out all of his speeches to parliament both as a member and as Prime Minister. And he wrote letters – tons of letters.

The result is that we have a record of his thoughts, concerns, insights, ideas, flights of fancy and more, often in his own words and just as often in the words of others through diaries, letters, and commentary. Manchester seems to have sorted through it all and gives the reader a masterful picture of Churchill as a warrior, an artist, and a leader. The author shows us a giant of a man who was seriously flawed, frequently frustrated, and determined beyond belief.

This is a great biography of a man who quite literally changed the course of the world at a critical time and one not to be missed. I confess, though, I did not read it. I listened to it from an audio version downloaded from the library and it's a strategy I highly recommend.

For one thing, downloading books from the library is free and convenient. For another, I was able to enjoy the book while I walked my dog, did dishes, waited in line at the bank, and a thousand other things. Otherwise, I would still be plodding through the nearly three thousand pages. It's a daunting task.

Finally, the first two volumes were written by Manchester who died before he completed the third volume. The final book was completed by Paul Reid. Manchester's volume two was published in 1989 and the last volume was published near the end of 2012. It is my hope that the availability of an audio version will make the book more assessible.