4

#LiteraryWives: The Summer Wives

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

As always, if you haven’t already please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

I read this book back in February. Sometimes if I’ve already read the book we are going to talk about for Literary Wives, I will read it again to refresh myself and be better prepared to get into a discussion. And sometimes, as is the case for The Summer Wives, I can’t bring myself to do that because the first reading was painful enough.

The Book

As is often the case with Williams’ books, The Summer Wives, looks at the lives of privileged families and how the interact with those around them. If I remember correctly, this book operates on a dual timeline: 1951 when Miranda Schuyler arrives on ‘the island’ as a schoolgirl reeling from the loss of her father. Her mother is about the marry Hugh Fischer, a son of one of ‘the families.’ Now Miranda is part of the society of summer families and her new stepsister, Isobel is keen to draw her in. But there are other families on the island, like the Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers who earn their living serving those who come for the season. Miranda is drawn to one Joseph Vargas, whose father keeps the lighthouse. Isobel and Joseph have a long, complicated friendship. A bad thing happens and Miranda doesn’t return to the island until the second timeline, 1969. Now she’s a famous actress, suffering from a terrible heartbreak she doesn’t want anyone to know about. The Fischer family is not what it was and Joseph Vargas has escaped from prison where he was serving time for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather.

My Thoughts

summer wives

I picked this book up because it sounded dramatic and I always enjoy books about wealthy people behaving badly. I’ve definitely been hit or miss with Beatriz Williams though so I should have been wary. This one dragged on for me and I couldn’t even care about any of the characters, or what Williams might have been saying about class and gender roles. The book dragged for me and all I could think about was when will it end?

 

 

What does the book say about being a wife?

That it sucks? I can’t recall if Miranda is married when she comes back to the island in 1969 but obviously the two wives in the book are Miranda’s mother, whose second husband dies quite soon after they marry, and Joseph’s ‘mysterious’ mother. Miranda’s mother is left to figure out what to do with everything, the money, the house, the children, when her husband is killed but it’s 1951 so women can barely do anything themselves. And Joseph’s mother is imprisoned by the decisions she made years ago (there might be a third timeline for when she’s young and so is Hugh Fischer). All in all The Summer Wives is a grim showing for women.

Honestly you should visit the other blogs because they will have done a way better job at having this discussion. Forgive me ladies! 

So be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in March when we’ll discuss I’m Fine and Neither Are You by Camille Pagan. Promise I will do a way better job that time. 

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Nonfiction November 2021 (Week 5): New to my TBR

Here we are, the final week of another incredible month of nonfiction reading. At the beginning of the month, I was struggling with the remnants of a truly heinous reading slump. I’d had two back to back months of so-so reading and was really missing my favourite thing to do! I was hopeful that reading nonfiction all month and connecting with other nonfiction readers was going to kick the slump to the curb for once and for all.

And guess what? It totally did! I managed to finish 13 nonfiction books this month and pretty well all of them were incredible (not The Fact of a Body, I hated that one). Some of them were recommendations from other bloggers this month that I managed to get my hands on right away, so thank you! (I will tell you which ones below.)

So to wrap things up, Jaymi @ The OC Book Girl is hosting and wants to know what books have made it onto your TBR?

This year I added more books to my TBR because of Nonfiction November than I have in any of the other 5+ years I’ve participated. And like I mentioned, I’ve already read some which has never happened before! This year I added:

Nowhere Girl: A Memoir of a Fugitive Childhood by Cherie Diamond thanks to Jaymi @ The OC Book Girl who said it’s the kind of book that’s easy to forget it’s nonfiction. I love books like that!

Unacceptable: Privilege, Deceit, and the Making of the College Admissions Scandal by Melissa Korn and Jennifer Levitz, also came to me from Jamie! She got me talking about how sad it was to read about the kids’ reactions when they realized that their parents didn’t think they could get into the schools on their own. I’ve already read this one and I really enjoyed it. It’s verrrrrry thorough but they did a good job making it about the people in the system and not getting bogged down in legalese.

The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede: Carol at Reading Ladies put this one on my radar. She called it one of her favourites of the year and since I’d recently read The Only Plane in the Sky, this seemed like a good companion read. I’ve read this one too, just finished it the other day, and I can see why it was a favourite. I cried through the entire thing – mostly happy tears, but some heartbreak for sure. It’ll reinstate your faith that humanity is essentially good. Or we were, at one time, anyway.

Sitting Pretty: The View From My Ordinary, Resilient, Disabled Body by Rebekah Taussig: I found this one on Based on a True Story and since I’m always looking for more books by disabled authors, I was excited to see this. I read this one this month and loved it. It’s a memoir in essay form, about love, sex, education, working, accommodations, how the kindness of strangers often infantilizes and angers her. Definitely recommend this one.

The Woman They Could Not Silence: One Woman, Her Incredible Fight for Freedom, and the Men Who Tried to Make Her Disappear by Kate Moore: Kate Moore wrote Radium Girls which I loved so when I saw this one on Book’d Out, I barely thought about it before adding it to my list. This is the last one that I’ve already read this month and I loved it so much. SO MUCH. It made me so angry and I cried and I was so proud of Elizabeth and all she accomplished in her life. This one is about Elizabeth Packard, a married mother of 6 who starts questioning the doctrines of her husband’s church (namely she finds that slavery should be abolished) and so her husband puts her in an asylum. He’s completely legally allowed to do so and she has no way to get out. So begins her crusade to not only free herself, but to make it illegal for other husbands and fathers to lock away their ‘troublesome’ wives and daughters.

Shelley Rae @ Book’d Out also put How to Fake Being Tidy by Finella Souter and The Schoolgirl Strangler by Katherine Kovacic on my list.

Capote’s Women: A True Story of Love, Betrayal, and a Swan Song for an Era by Laurence Leamer: Julie @ Julz Reads added this to my list. I read and LOVED Melanie Benjamin’s The Swans of Fifth Avenue and have been looking for the nonfiction counterpart ever since. I’ve read The Kennedy Men and The Kennedy Women by Leamer already so I feel confident that he would have done them justice.

Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed by Men by Caroline Criado Perez: I’ve seen this one floating around on instagram, but it was Unsolicited Feedback that got it on my actual TBR. This one looks at the harm done to women because of a critical data gap.

Jorwerd: The Death of the Village in the Late Twentieth Century by Geert Mak: I am always on the lookout for books about the Netherlands (I was born there) but they’re not easy to find in English. Marianne @ Let’s Read had this on one of her lists and I hope I can find it here because the story of how this one village in Friesland changed because of how we work and interact together is one I really want to read!

Based on a True Story came through with two more books for my TBR (although of a darker tone than Sitting Pretty was!): Devil in the Grove and Beneath a Ruthless Sun, both by Gilbert King. These ones, about murder, sexual assault and police corruption, should scratch the true crime itch.

Finally, Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction? really went out of her way to beef up my TBR this year:

First, she added the food memoirs, Save Me The Plums by Ruth Reichl and The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty in Week 3.

Then, last week, she convinced me to add The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vailiant, about a cannibalistic tiger in Siberia, something I never thought I would want to read about. But she didn’t stop there. She also had Twilight of Empire: The Tragedy at Mayerling and the End of the Habsburgs by Greg King and Penny Wilson and Stealing Sisi’s Star by Jennifer Bowers Bahney ready for me. We have since discovered that we are both fascinated with (borderline obsessed by) Empress Sisi and our mission is to bring her story to the North American masses. Truly, read about her, you won’t be disappointed!

So that’s a wrap on Nonfiction Novemer 2021, I guess! Thanks to our hosts, Katie @ Doing Dewey and Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction are back as hosts and three new hosts are joining: Veronica @ The Thousand Book Project, Christopher @ Plucked From the Stacks, and Jaymi @ The OC Book Girl for doing such an amazing job running this event this year! And thanks to all of you for sharing your favourite nonfiction reads this year!

See you all in 2022?

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Nonfiction November 2021 (Week4): Stranger Than Fiction

Has November been a strange month for anyone else? It has felt at once like it’s gone by in the blink of an eye and like the longest month ever. Anyway, here we are in the 4th week of Nonfiction November, hosted by Christopher @ Plucked From the Stacks.

This week we’re focusing on all the great nonfiction books that almost don’t seem real. A sports biography involving overcoming massive obstacles, a profile on a bizarre scam, a look into the natural wonders in our world—basically, if it makes your jaw drop, you can highlight it for this week’s topic.

I think this kind of nonfiction, that almost doesn’t seem real, is such great gateway nonfiction for those who think they only like fiction. So let’s see if we can’t convert some more fiction readers over to the nonfiction side!

A Woman Of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win WWII by Sonia Purnell. I’ve actually just finished this. This is honestly a completely bananas story of an American woman with a disability (she was missing part of one leg) who worked to organize the Resistance in France. Virginia Hall supplied information to the Allies to help them win the war, arranged for French citizens to receive food, money, medicine, and arms to help the fight on the ground, and she planned guerilla tactics like blowing up bridges and messing with German supply lines to frustrate the enemy before Allied forces arrived back in Western Europe. Ultimately she was secretly awarded the Croix de Guerre, a French military honour, but her return to life after the war was an endless frustration of having to prove herself to the men who were threatened by her experience and brilliance. I’m just waiting for the miniseries.

In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom by Yeonmi Park. There aren’t a lot of books about what life is like for North Koreans or even what life is like for those who manage to get out. Yeonmi Park’s story includes what it was like growing up in North Korea, the love for their leader, the willingness of anyone to turn on anyone else, the hunger, the lengths people would go to for food. And then Yeonmi, her mother and her sister manage to get out. Her sister goes first and it is many years before they are reunited. Yeonmi goes with her mother, brought over the border by human traffickers, and so begins their life of being non-people. They have no official documentation in China so they are at the mercy of those who would sell them. This is a harrowing account from a corner of the world we just don’t get access to and it’s wild to think that any one thing happened, let alone all of them.

Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown by Anne Glenconner. Here’s a more gentle read for those of you not into spies or life and death border crossings. Anne Glenconner, was lady-in-waiting to Princess Margaret until her death in 2002 and had a front row seat to a lot of history in The Family. She was part of the Queen’s coronation in 1953. She and her husband were also behind what became a bit of an infamous resort, Mustique. She was married to Lord Glenconner for 54 years – on their honeymoon in Paris, he brought her to watch other people having sex (watch her tell the story on Graham Norton) and when he died he left everything to a former servant – and two of their sons died and a third was nursed back to health by Lady Glenconner after a terrible motorcycle accident. Queens, Princesses, badly behaved husbands, Mustique, celebrities like Mick Jagger – Anne Glenconner tells it all.

So there you have my picks. Hopefully one of these catches your attention that might not have otherwise shown up on your radar!

Make sure you visit Plucked From the Stacks to link up with more hard to believe nonfiction!

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Nonfiction November Week 3 (2021): Be The Expert

Is November flying by for anyone else? We are the people who have definitely already put up our Christmas decorations.

We’re already in Week 3 of Nonfiction November! This week, Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert, is hosted by Veronica @ The Thousand Book Project. Be sure to visit to get the full details and link up with other bloggers this week!

I’ve only ever chosen Be the Expert for this week because I am pathologically incapable of giving up the chance to tell other readers about some books they should put on their radar. And like last year, I’ve taken inspiration from a book I’ve just started. I am 18 minutes into the audiobook of Life in the City of Dirty Water by Clayton Thomas-Muller so I’m in no way ready to talk about this one, a memoir of growing up Indigenous in Manitoba and how the author got involved in environmental work. But reading work, fiction and nonfiction, by Indigenous authors has become a priority for me in the last few years so I thought I would share some nonfiction highlights.

I used to shy away from reading these books. They’re hard. They don’t put Canada or Canadians in a great light and it’s often uncomfortable reading. But as someone living and working on the traditional territory (stolen land) of the Semiahmoo, sq̓əc̓iy̓aɁɬ təməxʷ (Katzie), sc̓əwaθenaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsawwassen), S’ólh Téméxw (Stó:lō), W̱SÁNEĆ, and Kwantlen peoples, being uncomfortable in my reading is kind of the least I can do.

So here are some books about Indigenous experiences that I think you should read! Even if you’re not Canadian!

21 Things You May Not Know About the Indian Act by Bob Josephs. This is the foundational one, that explains how this Act informed policy for decades and how the affects are still felt today! It covers the parts of the Indian Act that we kind of already knew about and so many things that we had no idea. It’s based on a viral blog post by the author, a cultural sensitivity trainer in corporate spaces, and is well worth your time.

From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle. This is a memoir about growing up cut off from his Indigenous heritage, the abuse he suffered as a child, his struggles with addiction and finding his way back to his culture. It is such an incredible story.

Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga. This is a rough one. Talaga investigates the deaths of seven teenagers in Thunder Bay, and the culture of racism that makes it so hard for these kids to exist in the city. Further north there are often no schools beyond grade 7, so kids are sent to live in Thunder Bay, sometimes with relatives, sometimes with relative strangers, so that they can go to highschool. I read it ages ago and still think about it.

Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism, Indifference, and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls by Jessica McDiarmid. This one is a bit of an outlier on this list because the author is not Indigenous. But she handled the stories of the Missing and Murdered Women and Girls so beautifully, approached the families so respectfully, that I’m including this on the list because the stories she told are important. There is a stretch of highway in Northern BC that has become known as the Highway of Tears because so many Indigenous women and girls have gone missing along there or found dead. And their disappearances or murders have rarely been seriously investigated by authorities, leaving families without answers for decades in some cases.

A Mind Spread Out on the Ground by Alicia Elliott. This is a collection of essays by am incredibly talented young woman. I believe this collection has just been released in the States which is exciting! These essays deal with mental health struggles, the disappearance of Indigenous languages, the privilege of being able to pass for white, and the lack of legal redress for Indigenous peoples. It is a raw, angry, devastating and beautiful collection.

So those are my picks this week! Are there any Indigenous nonfiction titles that I need to read ASAP? I will add a shout out to Eden Robinson’s fantastic fantasy series, Son of a Trickster. And also Katherena Vermette’s The Strangers and The Break. Obviously those are all fiction but they’re so good.

Next year maybe I will pick a ‘fun’ topic…

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Nonfiction November 2021 (Week 2): Fiction/Nonfiction Pairings

I don’t know about you but I added quite a few books to my TBR thanks to all your posts last week! I’ve even read one of them! A record for me!

This week Katie @ Doing Dewey is hosting Fiction/Nonfiction Pairings. Normally this week is a breeze for me because my fiction reading tends to send me in search of related nonfiction. But for some reason, this year finding pairings to share has been a bit of a stretch!

Women in the City

Last year I read (and loved) The Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher. It is a fictionalized account of Grace Kelly’s life as she leaves home and tries to make a life for herself in New York City as a model and actress. It does move into her marriage to Prince Rainer of Monaco and made Grace Kelly sound a lot more interesting than any biography of hers I’ve read.

When Grace Kelly moves to the City, she rents a room at the Barbizon, the only rooming house that was acceptable for a woman of her class. Paulina Bren’s The Barbizon traces the history of the building, and includes stories of it’s more famous residents like Grace Kelly, Sylvia Plath and Joan Didion. Highly recommend for those of you that love New York City history. For bonus points, you could read The Bell Jar which is based on the summer that Plath spent living at the Barbizon.

Residential Schools

This past year Canadians have been forced to reckon with the legacy of residential ‘schools’ as thousands of children have been found buried beneath the buildings that once housed them. Indigenous communities have been telling us about these places for generations, trying to find their lost children. The Education of Augie Merasty is a first-person account of Joseph Auguste Merasty’s time at a residential ‘school’ in Saskatchewan. It is brutal and painful and heartbreaking and I would argue that it’s also completely necessary reading. I will caution the reader that the person who helped Mr Merasty write his memoir doesn’t have the highest opinion of him but I still recommend this little book. It won’t bring the children back but it will make us witnesses to what happened.

You may be asking yourself how a magical book of whimsy like The House in the Cerulean Sea is related to residential schools. The author TJ Klune read about Canadian residential schools and the Sixties Scoop, and decided that that would be a great basis for a fantasy story. I didn’t know this until after I read (and loved) the book. It is problematic for a white, cis-gender male to co-opt a painful history that isn’t his own and use it in this way. If you’ve read The House in the Cerulean Sea, please read about Augie Merasty too.

Click here if you’re interested in my lighter picks from last year.

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Nonfiction November 2021 Week 1: My Year in Nonfiction

And here we are! November 1st! I look forward to this date every year because it is the beginning of a whole month of nonfiction reading and talking about nonfiction.

Let’s get into it!

This week Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction is hosting us!

Week 1: (November 1-5) – Your Year in Nonfiction with Rennie at What’s Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?  

Looking back on my year in nonfiction reading, it’s been pretty good! Normally I roll into NFN with around 29% of my reading being nonfiction. This year I’m coming in at 35%. I attribute this completely to my newfound love of audiobooks, since I only listen to nonfiction.

I’m not sure that I can say that I have ONE favourite nonfiction read this year. Andre Leon Talley’s The Chiffon Trenches stands out because it was the very first audiobook I listened to and I still hear his voice telling me his life story. It was gossipy and I learned a lot but it was also incredibly reflective. I didn’t expect to meet the real Andre Leon Talley, you know what I mean? I felt the same way about Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile (bonus, she sings on the audio version!) and Jonathan Van Ness’ Over the Top.

Year Book by Seth Rogen and The Wreckage of My Presence by Casey Wilson both made me actually cry and cry from laughing so hard. Would also put Colin Jost’s A Very Punchable Face on this list.

I loved loved loved Notes From a Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi, Lady in Waiting by Anne Glenconner (which I got from Nonfiction November last year so thank you if that was you!), and I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’Farrell. Dutch Girl by Robert Matzen, about Audrey’s experiences in the Netherlands during WWII, and Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zimmer were both so very good. And it doesn’t feel right to say I loved The Only Plane in the Sky by Garret M. Graff but it’s a book that has stuck with me since I finished the last page.

I’ve definitely been more drawn to reading about experiences that are not my own. That’s what was drawing me to Disability Visibility edited by Alice Wong, What Doesn’t Kill You by Tessa Miller, The Education of Augie Merasty by Joseph Auguste Merasty and David Carpenter, Transgender History by Susan Stryker, and Beyond Trans: Does Gender Matter by Heath Davis Fogg, the latter of which gave me a lot to think about in terms of what changes could practically be made in my workplace to make everyone feel respected and included.

But I think that I’ve recommended Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May the most. I listened to it on audio and it was so comforting at a time when we’re in this prolonged grief and anxiety about what the world looks like now and what is coming. I am already ready for a re-read so I think I need to buy a physical copy. I’ve also pushed Brandi Carlile on audio and told anyone who lives in/grew up in Vancouver that they need to read Seth Rogen’s book. I’ve definitely also talked about The Housewives by Brian Moylan a lot. I love the Real Housewives, unapologetically. And reading Moylan’s book was a JOY.

I was having a really great reading year until September. Since then I have been struggling to find my reading joy. So I’m hoping that all of your energy will spur me on to get back to it! I love getting to talk about nonfiction with all of you and I can’t wait to see what new books I add to my list!

Happy reading!

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Nonfiction November is coming!

It is dark and rainy outside and I am counting the days until Nonfiction November officially begins!

Katie @ Doing Dewey and Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction are back as hosts and three new hosts are joining: Veronica @ The Thousand Book Project, Christopher @ Plucked From the Stacks, and Jaymi @ The OC Book Girl.

I have been an appallingly bad book blogger for…too long to even count at this point. My reading has been suffering the last two months as well. I am hoping that the energy of all the other nonfiction readers will help me get my reading mojo back.

If you’re doing Nonfiction November too, let me know! Come find me on instagram and let’s talk about our favourites. I have some titles that I’m really excited to get to this month and I know I’m going to learn about so many new books from all of you.

Head to Doing Dewey for more details on how to join!

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#LiteraryWives: The Amateur Marriage

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

As always, if you haven’t already please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

On the day in 1941 that Pauline walks into his mother’s grocery store, Michael Anton is smitten. Pauline, in her red coat, is bright, impulsive, exciting. She’s everything he didn’t know he wanted and shortly after, literal hours, he’s agreed to sign up for military service. And so begins the story of the next several decades of their lives, when it turns out that actually they are very ill suited to each other and probably don’t even like each other that much. The book is divided into chapters that kind of function as short stories – each chapter is a different time in their relationship, sometimes it’s told from Pauline or Michael’s experience, sometimes from one of their children.

My Thoughts

amateur marriage

I liked this one more than I thought I would! It did remind me of Wait For Me Jack, that we read last year. While the novel didn’t really go too deeply into the current events of the times, it did use elements of what was happening to shape the story of the marriage. The fervor of the days after Pearl Harbor, the free love of Haight-Ashbury, how immediately the world changed after 9/11; these provide shifts for Pauline and Michael and their family but mostly it’s a novel of dinners, driving, chores, the everyday stuff that makes up a life. 

It’s a quiet novel that I felt burned slowly but did end up bringing some heat. I was surprised by some of the things that happened to the Antons – the disappearance of their eldest child, their divorce, Pauline’s death! I thought maybe they would separate but that they would get back together. Be one of those couples that’s completely miserable but divorce just isn’t on the table. I think Pauline would have lived that way but evidently for Michael, once he saw another way, he took it. 

What does the book say about being a wife?

This is another one that was more about the marriage than about the experience of being a wife. Both husband and wife are given equal weight in the telling of their story, both recognize that they’ve done things wrong and take on some blame for the dissolution of their marriage. Each catalogue their faults but can’t quite help but also rundown the faults of their partner; Michael spends too much at his store, Pauline is too attached to their children, their sex life is cursory. Ultimately, they barely knew each other when they got married and as life piled up and got in the way, they “were more like brother and sister than husband and wife. This constant elbowing and competing, jockeying for position, glorying in I-told-you-so.”

Pauline and Michael would never have married each other if they hadn’t both got caught up in the ‘excitement’ of the war. Each tries to make the best of it – Pauline assumes that everyone is kind of miserable in their marriage, that everyone squabbles all the time and that’s just how marriage is, Michael goes to work and tries to provide a decent life for everyone. But when their daughter goes missing, that’s the beginning of the end for them. They could handle the day to day disappointments, but Lindy’s disappearance shows each the faults of the other rather more explicitly. 

The Amateur Marriage tells the story of a couple who have no idea what they are doing until it’s too late to change anything and then they just keep going, one foot in front of the other.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in September when we’ll discuss The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams.

5

#LiteraryWives: Monogamy

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

As always, if you haven’t already please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read Monogamy by Sue Miller! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

monogamy

Annie and Graham have been mainly happily married for more than 30 years. Annie was briefly married before she met Graham and together they have a daughter. Graham has a son from a previous marriage, a marriage that ended because he cheated on his first wife. Annie is a photographer who is coming back into a productive period of her career, and Graham owns a bookstore, hosting authors and literary events. And then Graham dies suddenly and while grieving the loss of a wonderful husband, Annie finds out that maybe he wasn’t so wonderful after all. Now Annie must come to terms with their marriage, how she feels about her husband now that he’s gone, while protecting his children from what she’s discovered.

My Thoughts

Honestly? I really despise books that are billed as thoughtful, interesting, literary because they have to do with cheating. Oh I could never read another book about a middle aged white man cheating on his wife and be so very happy. I’m not saying I want all the characters I read about to be flawless and be wonderful to each other. But a story about an old guy cheating on his wife after so many years where she’s worked to make him happy (and the wives always sacrifice their careers or something to make the husband’s life easier and better) is so unoriginal. There’s no doubt that Sue Miller is a good writer, I just had a hard time reading this story again. 

Also, all of the characters seemed to have a thing against their mothers which, again, is so tired. Graham talks to his friend about how his mother should have tried harder to keep his dad around (his abusive, alcoholic father), his friend also feels like his mother let him down, Graham’s son, Lucas, can’t stand his mother, feels like she’s the reason he didn’t get the relationship he wanted with his father, even Annie blames her mother for not making more of an effort to ensure that their family was ‘cultured’. When Lucas has a baby with his own wife, a woman he adores, suddenly he sees her as a mother, as a thing that feeds his child, and he’s kind of repulsed and relieved when she leaves to visit her family for a month.

What does the book say about being a wife?

I’m not sure that the book talked about being a wife, as much as it explored marriage. Monogamy explores the idea of a long-term committed relationship but it seems like most of the marriages in this book fall prey to infidelity. At the very beginning, when we meet Annie, she is fresh out of her first marriage and she feels free.

So she was free, at twenty-nine. Which should have made her feel liberated, expansive. And she did, in some ways. Except that for a long while after the divorce, she was uncomfortable around men. For at least a year, maybe longer, she read almost every gesture, every remark, as controlling, as dangerous for her. (p.3)

For this Annie, then, marriage would seem to be a cage. A way for a man to trap her and keep her. In some ways, this does come to pass with Graham. He works at his bookstore, cultivating relationships with interesting people, bringing them to their home for dinner parties (that Annie plans and cooks for allowing Graham to hold court), while Annie pauses her photography career to stay closer to home and care for their child. And all of this is worth it to Annie, until she finds out that Graham has cheated on her. We know that it was not just once with one woman but that this had been a pattern of behaviour throughout their marriage. 

Mostly, Monogamy is 

an old tired story that’s all, the damaged person who can’t be held responsible for the damage he causes. (p. 58)

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in September when we’ll discuss The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler.

11

#LiteraryWives: Every Note Played

It’s time for Literary Wives, a blogging club that looks at the depiction of wives in fiction!

As always, if you haven’t already please make sure to check out the posts by the other wives and join in the discussion if you’ve read Every Note Played by Lisa Genova! There are definitely spoilers ahead.

Kay @ Whatmeread
Lynn @ Smoke and Mirrors
Naomi @ Consumed By Ink

The Book

every note played

Richard is a concert pianist and when he starts having some issues with his hands, he writes it off as tendonitis. But several months later, he has a diagnosis of ALS, he’s played his last concert and has care aides coming into his home three times a day to look after him. Recently divorced, Richard’s relationship with his ex-wife Karina and daughter Grace is almost non-existent. But when Karina hears about Richard’s diagnosis she starts thinking about their relationship and how they got here, what they should do to try and make things as right as they can before his inevitable death. After selling his apartment, Richard moves back into the home he shared with Karina and she cares for him as his ALS takes more from him every day.

My Thoughts

I didn’t know what this book was about at all until I started reading it. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while (when I remember to come here and post) you might know that I do not like reading books about serious illness like this. It freaks me out, like I’m inviting it into my own life. So I really had to dig deep to stick with this one. Lisa Genova writes incredibly knowledgeable about the physical breakdown of a body with ALS and it was at once incredibly informative and completely horrifying and devastating. 

In the beginning, I wondered how I was going to feel about this book because it was hard to like Richard and Karina. There was anger and disappointment on one side, ego and disinterest on the other. But I thought Genova did a great job at giving each character room for growth, a bit of a redemption arc if you will. I thought it was a layered, nuanced portrayal of not only marriage but the relationships people have with their parents and as parents.

By the time the book ended, I was in tears. Richard and Karina are able to forgive each other and say the things that they needed to say. Every Note Played really shows the power of “I’m sorry.”

What does the book say about being a wife?

 Richard and Karina seemed to have a very traditional marriage, even while each of them were struggling within the bounds of marriage. Richard followed his dreams of becoming a concert pianist and Karina, who had herself been a promising pianist, stayed home with Grace. Richard, who had left New York City for an opportunity in Boston, knowing the effect it would have on Karina’s chances of being a jazz pianist, found himself disappointed in their marriage and looked for connection with other women. Karina, resentful of the choice to move to Boston threw herself into Grace but ensured that they wouldn’t have additional children, something Richard came to find out years later.

Richard has never been able to put anyone or anything before his love for the piano, a choice that came to define Karina and Richard’s marriage. 

“To everyone’s disappointment, he’s never been able to love a woman the way he loves piano. Not even Karina.”

“She didn’t realize this at the time, how one-sided the move would be when she agreed to it. She’s often wondered how much Richard understood before they packed up and left. Not being from this country, she simply assumed Boston would have a significant jazz culture. Surely, she would find other hip clubs, other talented artists, other opportunities for expression and hire. […] There is no jazz scene in Boston.”

The longer Karina goes without playing professionally, the more she finds excuses for not following her passion; Richard’s schedule is so hectic, Grace needs Karina around. But then she’s divorced and Grace has gone to college and Karina is still spending her days teaching piano to kids who don’t really want to play. She realizes that she’s used being a wife as a crutch, she’s always been afraid to go for her dream. 

“With stunning clarity, she suddenly sees he role she’s been playing, the costume and mask she chose and has been wearing for twenty years. She’s been hiding, an imposter, unable to give herself permission to do this, to play jazz, to be who she is, shackled inside a prison of blame and excuses.”

In a final twist, it is Richard, the one who took her off her path, who brought her to Boston knowing the impact it would have on her career, who shows her that she is meant to play jazz, that she should finally follow that dream. 

Every Note Played is about the choices we make, the paths not taken and how the person you choose to share your life with has an impact on your life, sometimes even when you’re no longer together.

Be sure to visit the other blogs and get in on the discussion! And come back in June when we’ll discuss Monogamy by Sue Miller.