Thursday, May 28, 2009


ON MEMORIAL DAY: "Ring out the grief that saps the mind for those that here we see no more." --Tennyson

WIT: A PLAY Margaret Edson. An intense treatment of cancer, complete with critical analysis of John Donne as well as touching references to The Runaway Bunny, Margaret Wise Brown's loosely connected companion piece to Goodnight Moon. Until I read Wit I had always preferred Goodnight Moon to Runaway Bunny, but in the same way that Aimee Bender (2014) elevates "Goodnight Moon," Edson's analysis gave me a new appreciation of Runaway Bunny. Who ever knew that this childhood favorite was actually a metaphysical poem? Enough wit and elegance to prepare us for the inevitably sad ending. The main character / patient / professor Vivian Bearing (in the movie, Emma Thompson portrays her perfectly) explains that against immense biochemical odds her "only defense is the acquisition of vocabulary" (44).

Similarly, in THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING Joan Didion writes that "Information is control" (94); and acquiring it is the most important thing she can do for her daughter Quintana Roo (a magical name!). Didion documents her relentless pursuit of knowledge concerning Quintana's illness. A vigilant advocate, she surrounds herself with medical texts, recording and absorbing as much information as possible. But, sadly, knowledge / information / vocabulary cannot always prevent loss. "No eye is on the sparrow" (190, 227).

THE LOVELY BONES & LUCKY Alice Sebold: If you go for true crime, LUCKY is a very sobering non - fiction account of Sebold's rape and the subsequent trial when she was an undergrad at Syracuse Univ. Her first book, THE LOVELY BONES, is a novel, also about the rape and murder of a young girl; the setting is a 1970s subdivision enough like the one my family lived in to give me nightmares. The two books really go hand in hand. I know they sound horrible, but I'm not sorry that I read either of them, despite their heinous subject matter. Sebold has endured with grace. We are lucky to have her on this planet.

Soon to be a movie of LOVELY BONES but not sure I'm ready for that. My least favorite part of the book is when her spirit enters her girlfriend's body so that she can make love with her highschool boyfriend. That reminded me just a bit too much of Ghost, with Whoopi Goldberg, et. al., or even worse Truly Madly Deeply. Sex with the dearly departed? That concept just doesn't work for me.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A FACE Lucy Grealy: If you read this one a few years back, now it's time for TRUTH & BEAUTY, Ann Patchett's memoir about her friendship with Grealy. Very sad, very beautiful . . . but true? Important to remember that this is the truth according to Patchett, not Grealy (who is no longer here to comment), and certainly not Grealy's family (check out the web). However, the memoir does include a number of touching, searching letters written from Grealy to Patchett over the years. A compelling narrative that I stayed up until 3am to finish, it had been awhile since I wanted to read something that much!

Lots of insight on depression. Lucy writes to Ann of a discussion with her therapist concerning "the negative self - esteem thing":

"She said this extraordinary thing: I can stop it. I don't have to feel this bad about myself all the time. . . . I was sort of flabbergasted in the way [she] just so categorically said Yeah, we can fix that. Like it was an infection or a bad tooth or something. It was the objectifying of it that startled me, and I'm attracted to it, to thinking it's something you can change, though of course I don't believe it, yet that, according to . . . the shrink, is part of the problem, a bona fide symptom of it. Curious, very curious" (105).

Patchett observes that Lucy "was realizing that the enormous sadness of her life had possibly come from a source other than her face, and that she had never been able to get completely well because she had always been trying to fix the wrong thing" (235-36).

There is also Patchett's BEL CANTO (which many love, but I've started a couple of times without finishing) & PATRON SAINT OF LIARS (which I wasn't wild about: see my remarks below, 2003). PATRON SAINT was also made into a movie, something I was unaware of until reading TRUTH & BEAUTY. I'm keeping Patchett on my list of writers (along with Anne Lamott, Laurie Colwin & Alice Walker) whose nonfiction is much more appealing to me than their novels.