Daily Archives: March 24, 2007

29. I fell in love again

The other day I went to a cafe with a couple of friends. The wine is on wine racks and you can pick out your bottle, the staff will open it and you can drink it with dinner. None of us know a whole lot about wine – I know to avoid certain kinds and labels, but don’t really know what’s good or not. So Alison decided on a cab/shiraz/merlot blend from Australia – not because she liked the brand or the wine inside, but because she liked the look of the label (shown on the right). I was slightly concerned. The wine was fine though. Sometimes judging a book by its cover doesn’t work, but sometimes it does.

Another time it worked out well was when I was shopping at Target. I don’t know what I was looking for, but a CD caught my eye. Normally I stick with musicians I know and like or were recommended to me. I’d been thinking a lot about my hometown in Illinois, so when I saw the title “Illinoise” in bright yellow letters I looked a little closer. The names of the songs were amusing and I felt like I needed a new CD anyway. So I bought it even though I’d never heard of the artist, Sufjan Stevens.

I played it when I got home and both my husband and his friend (from Illinois – and musician himself) immediately loved the songs on it. I did too. Our favorite, as a family, is probably his most famous so far – especially if you’ve seen Little Miss Sunshine. We sing along with it when we drive back to Illinois just as we enter Chicago.

Review: The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth TaleIn sixth grade my friend, Eugenia, introduced me to the genre of Gothic novel. I’d fill a grocery bag full of them at the library, take them home, devour them in a week, then return to the library the following Saturday, hungry for more.

By the time I discovered the Brontës, I’d read most of the contemporary Gothic novels at the library and decided to go to the source. I’d just returned from a visit to Bronte country and was embarrassed to admit that I’d never read any of their works. So my sophomore year in college I read Wuthering Heights in 15-minute increments before I began my homework each day.

I finally grew out of Gothic novels and moved on to other genres. But when I heard about The Thirteenth Tale, I had to buy it. I had no option. I had to read it.

The Thirteenth Tale sat on my bookshelf for months waiting to be read. It wasn’t quiet about it either. It whispered to me each time I passed. “Read me. Read me.” Because I had other things to read first, I was not able to abide by its request. Until last weekend…

“It’s my profession. I’m a storyteller,” Vida Winter explains when defending the numerous lies she’s previously told about her past.

Her real past, the truth, as told to Margaret Lea, proves to be the best story of them all, filled with characters so rich, so colorful they could have stepped out of novels written by the Brontë sisters, Wilkie Collins or George Elliot. Set in the same Yorkshire moors that inspired the Brontë sisters, Vida Winter’s life story reads like a real Gothic mystery.

When Margaret Lea, the daughter of an antiquarian bookstore owner, discovers she had a twin sister who died at their birth she understands her feelings of aloneness. She comforts herself with the unwanted books of her father’s bookshop – her only companions other than her protective father and distant mother. When the famous author, Vida Winter, approaches Margaret to write her biography, Margaret is not so sure, but visits Ms Winter in her Yorkshire home. As Vida Winter reveals her story to Margaret, both Margaret and the reader are immersed in an unforgettable tale spanning three generations.

Isabelle Angelfield was odd.

Isabelle Angelfield was born during a rainstorm.

It is impossible to know whether or not these facts are connected. But when, two and a half decades later, Isablle left home for the second time, people in the village looked back and remembered the endlessness of the rain on the day of her birth. Some remembered as if it was yesterday that the doctor was late, delayed by the floods caused by the river having burst its banks. Others recalled beyond the shadow of a doubt that the cord had been wrapped round the baby’s neck, almost strangling her before she could be born. Yes, it was a difficult birth, all right, for on the stroke of six, just as the baby was born, the doctor rang the bell, hadn’t the mother passed away, out of this world and into the next? So if the weather had been fine, and the doctor had been earlier and if the cord had not deprived the baby of oxygen, and if the mother had not died…

And if, and if, and if. Such thinking is pointless. Isabelle was as Isabelle was, and that is all there is to say about the matter.

If you are a fan of gothic novels, this book is a must. Even if you’ve never read a Gothic novel, you should still check this book out. It is a can’t-put-it down/stay-up-all-night kind of read.

Review: The Awakening

In 1994 shortly after the birth of my second child I took a class for renewal of my teaching certificate. The class was on women in education and focused on women in literature. It was an eye opening class for me, and I was exposed to a number of woman writers such as Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Kate Chopin.When my book group was looking for a different kind of novel to read than we’d been reading, someone suggested Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. I immediately agreed with this choice mostly because this book stood, unread, on my bookshelf, but also because I liked what little I’d already read by Chopin.

After publication, this book was banned, was unsuccessful and severely criticized for its subject matter.

The Awakening is a story about 28 year-old Edna Pontellier who, while on vacation with her two young children and husband, finds she is dissatisfiled with her life. She admits to not feeling as close to her children as she knows she’s supposed to feel. Her closest female friend, Adèle Ratignolle, is a model wife and mother, which makes the contrast between Edna and what society expects even more pronounced. When young Robert Lebrun pays attention to Edna during the vacation, she falls in love with him, and apparently he falls in love with Edna. Alarmed, Adèle worrys that Edna will harm her children:

Edna had once told Madame Ratignolle that she would never sacrifice herself for her children, or for any one. Then had followed a rather heated argument; the two women did not appear to understand each other or to be talking the same language. Edna tried to appease her friend, to explain.

“I would give up the unessential; I would give my money, I would give my life for my children; but I wouldn’t give myself. I can’t make it more clear; it’s only something which I am beginning to comprehend, which is revealing itself to me.”

“I don’t know what you would call the essential, or what you mean by the unessential,” said Madame Ratignolle, cheerfully; “but a woman who would give her life for her children could do no more than that – your Bible tells you so. I’m sure I couldn’t do more than that.”

“Oh, yes you could!” laughed Edna.

When Edna returns to New Orleans she becomes restless and disregards her “duties” to the point of sending her children to her in-laws and moving into a smaller home when her husband is away.

I’m glad I finally read this book, but reading it on the heels of Lady Chatterly’s Lover was a bad idea. I became tired of reading about wealthy young women dissatisfied with their lives.

This book would be a great companion to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’sThe Yellow Wallpaper and Henrik Isben’s A Dolls House for a discussion about Victorian era marriages told with a feminist slant. I believe it is on some high school book lists. I’m not sure it belongs there. I think one must be older, and perhaps even married with children to really understand the ideas behind this story. It is only a tiny novel, but it took me a while to read because I found the language difficult to wade through and I was not charmed by any of the characters.