Friday, November 22, 2019

3 Novels and an Autobiography

The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall

This book was different than what I usually read, and at times a bit slow, but I enjoyed it.  It is set in the years 1950 to 1970 and follows the lives of two couples whose lives end up being extremely intertwined.

Charles comes from a wealthy but cold Boston family.  His father is an academic who assumes he will go to Harvard and then also become a professor.  But Charles surprises his stringently atheist father by deciding instead to become a Presbyterian minister.  Charles falls in love at first sight with Lily who he runs into at the Harvard Library.  Lily's lived a difficult life - an only child, her parents were killed in a car accident when she was a teenager.  Though she was taken in by loving aunts and uncles, it has killed any belief she has in God.  She is quite clear about that with Charles, but they end up together anyway.

James, who was raised by a drunk and abusive father, gets an unexpected gift from an uncle in Ireland which allows him to go to the University of Chicago.  There he also decides to go into the Ministry - more as a way to create social change than for his steadfast belief in God.  He also falls in love at first sight with Nan when she comes to play piano at his college.  She comes from a well to do Southern family - her father was also a minister.

James and Charles are hired as co-pastors of a Presbyterian church in New York City and the remainder of the book follows the lives of the two couples.  While the men work well together and like each other, Lily and Nan have trouble relating to each other.  This is exacerbated when Lily, who never really wanted to have children, gives birth to twins, and Nan, who desperately wants them is unable to conceive.  All of them are also challenged when one of the twins is diagnosed with autism at a time when the medical profession knew little about it and did even less for it.

In short this book is about love, faith, friendship, and parenthood.  Not a lot of action but still interesting.

All This Could Be Yours by Jami Attenberg

This is another book that is really more about characters than action.  In this case, the patriarch Victor suffers a heart attack and is on his deathbed.  His daughter Alex rushes to New Orleans more to learn why her mother, Barbra, has stuck with this abusive, criminal man for so long, than to mourn her father.  Gary, who actually lives in New Orleans is in Los Angeles when his father takes ill and can't bring himself to return.  Gary's wife Twyla seems unwilling to leave Victor's bedside.

The book largely takes place over the course of one day (except really for the prologue and the epilogue).  Through Alex, Barbra, Twyla and Gary we learn about the distant and not so distant past and see why each of the characters has reacted to Victor's illness in the way they have.  Some of the secrets are quite surprising so I don't want to share them here.

I liked how all of the characters were very complex - not necessarily likeable but relatable.  It could at times be a bit of a slow read too.

Window on the Bay by Debbie Macomber

This was really just a beach read which I ordered at the beginning of summer but didn't make its way to me until long past beach season.

The story centres around Jenna and Maureen, divorced women who have been friends since college.  Jenna has recently become an empty nester and is at loose ends when she and Maureen decide to plan a long postponed trip to Paris.  But in the meantime they are both dipping their toes in the dating pool, with little success, when they find love in unexpected places.

Not very surprising or story, and no deeper meaning, but a good escape.

Me by Elton John

This is a fantastic autobiography by Elton John.  He does not credit a ghost writer so I guess he wrote it on his own and it's incredibly well written.  I was literally laughing out loud at some of his turns of phrase.  And, let's face it he's had a fascinating life so what's not to like about reading about it.

He goes through his shy and somewhat difficult childhood (his parents both had bad tempers and he was constantly hiding in his room), his early efforts as a singer, his chance meeting with Bernie Taupin that changed both of their lives, through to stardom, drug and alcohol addiction, rehab, founding the AIDS foundation, love, marriage and fatherhood.  It also revealed his recent struggle with prostate cancer which had not been previously publicized.

He of course shares details of his friendships with John Lennon, Rod Stewart, George Michael, Freddy Mercury, Gianni Versace and Princess Diana.  He also describes meetings with the Queen, the Queen Mother, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and a host of other marquis names.  But he spends just as much time talking about how his life was affected by a  young boy with hemophilia who contracted AIDS or a toddler he took to in a Russian orphanage.

Though he does criticize some people, he never comes off as mean spirited.  And he seems grateful for all his fame and fortune.  He definitely knows he's lucky to have avoided AIDS.  And it explains why he has yet to retire.

I really enjoyed reading this book.

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