I never read Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Olive Kitteridge. I did see the movie, and thought it was good, but a little slow or depressing or something I can’t quite put my finger on. I probably should have read the book first, because the movie dissuaded me from reading it.
But then a writer friend encouraged me to read Strout’s book, My Name is Lucy Barton, and I just finished it at the beach. It’s terrific. The prose, the phrasing, the pacing, the style, the voice—all combine in an unusual novel that reads more like a memoir to me. The immediacy of this first-person-narrated novel is what stands out to me the strongest about the book. My friend wanted me to read it, I think, to help me as I’m starting out to draft my second novel. It’s not that the subject matter is similar, because it’s not, but I think this book serves as a mini-MFA course in capturing dysfunctional families without the rage and hatred which often accompanies them. In that way it reminds me a bit of Jeanette Walls’ memoir The Glass Castle. In both cases the narrator—one fictional and one real—were neglected and/or abused as children but remember their parents with great love, and an unending need for that love to be returned. Lucy Barton is definitely worth the read, and I’m inspired to keep working on that second novel. Eventually.
My other “beach read” (although I did very little reading at the beach with my four grandchildren there!) is Joan Didion’s South and West—a collection of vignettes from a notebook she kept back in 1970 on a trip through the South (Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama) and also from an assignment for Rolling Stone on the Patty Hearst trial of 1976, a piece she never wrote. I love the section on the South. I pictured her staying at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Biloxi in the summer of 1970, as my newly-wedded husband and I were just down the street at the Broadwater Beach Hotel on our honeymoon! She captures so many things about “my” South that I can appreciate, even visiting my mother’s hometown of Meridian, Mississippi and mentioning places I recognize. And like Richard Gilbert’s Dispatches From Pluto (about the Mississippi Delta) Didion captures these things as an outsider (Gilbert is from Great Britain; Didion from California) and tries to put aside preconceived ideas as she engages people she meets with questions and records their candid responses. And as she says:
The isolation of these people from the currents of American life in 1970 was startling and bewildering to behold. All their information was fifth-hand, and mythicized in the handing down.
My favorite of her observations were at the Mississippi Broadcasters’ Convention in Biloxi, and in a private home in the Garden District of New Orleans. I won’t quote them here… it’s much more fun to read them in the book!
I’m happy to share that I have a short piece in the May issue of DeSoto Magazine, “Tangles and Plaques.” You can read it online, subscribe for a hard copy, or pick one up if you live in Mississippi or Memphis! The article is really a short excerpt from the introduction and one of the posts (“Effie and the M&Ms”) from my memoir, Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s.
So, last week was a blog-free week for me (first one in a looooong time) as I was at Seagrove Beach, Florida, with my husband, and our kids and grands. Seagrove is my favorite place on earth, and even though it was a bit windy and almost chilly a couple of days, there was plenty of sunshine, and of course the magic of the waves hitting the shore as four little girls giggles and jumped up and down, returning again and again to the construction of a sand castle on shore by their parents or to help Pops fly a kite. It’s all magical to me. This year we hired a professional photographer (for the first time) to take some pictures, so I’ll share them in a future post once I get them downloaded. Thanks, always, for reading!