Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lace Reader

I just finished Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. I picked it because of the rave review it received on First off, I have a confession: this book normally wouldn't have passed my profanity filter, which sort of works on a point system. The problem with this book is that there was no swearing until more than half way, and by that time I was hooked and couldn't stop. Just in the interest of disclosure, I would guess that throughout the last half of the book, there were probably 20 incidences of the "f-word" but not much else. No sex or violence, and some mild illicit drug use.

On to the story. It revolves around a woman named Towner Whitney who fights equally with her own mental illness and (possibly caused by) her family. All the Whitney women are Lace Readers with a streak of genuine psychic power. Lace reading invloves holding a piece of lace to the face of another and seeing images in/through the lace and telling the future. Towner battles with past demons and tries to find what is real and what is hallucination.

You may be wondering about the picture at the top. It is a lace maker's pillow. A portion of the book revolves around one of these pillows and while Ms. Barry did as good a job as a person could have done describing it, I was still way confused at what it actually looked like. Mostly because those wooden peg things are called bobbins. She never says what the bobbins look like, so I was trying to picture bobbins like the little things that go in your sewing machine, and it just wansn't working out. So, if you read it, you won't be nearly as confused as I was.

I wouldn't go so far as the previously cited reviewer as to say that this is one of the best books I've ever read, but I did enjoy it. A lot. Once I got about 100 pages into it, I read it straight through.

My only complaint, aside from the f-bombs, is the ending. It has a twist ending that I totally didn't see coming. Not the same as, but akin to, The Sixth Sense where the whole perspective of the book changes with this one piece of information. The only thing is, I felt, is that there were lots of unanswered questions connected to this one last twist that I would have felt more peaceful about if they were addressed. As it is, I'm wondering how it all was supposed to work in that one scene.... or what about... or who was she talking to if....

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

My Antonia

I saw a while back that Caitlin had My Antonia by Willa Cather listed under her "currently reading" section on her blog. I had never read it (really I hadn't heard of it), so I got it from the library. I had a few other things I was reading at the time, so I had to renew this book 3 times before I got through it.

For those who, like me, haven't read it, it was published in 1918 and it chronicles the lives of settlers on the Nebraska prairie. The narrator is Jim Burden, a boy sent to live with his farmer grandparents. His closest friend is Antonia Shimerda, an immigrant from Bohemia who lives in the next farm over with her family. The Shimerdas have it rough and live in a sodhouse like the one pictured above.

The book, overall was worthwhile, but like other great pieces of literature of the early century, was a bit dreary to get through. (We all remember the turtle chapter from The Grapes of Wrath.) It seemed to me that looking back and reminiscing was a large thematic element. As Jim gets older, he is always thinking about his early years. The Shimerdas are always talking about 'the old country.' Looking back is fine, but it seemed that no one was satisfied with the present. The only thing that came close was when Jim was going to the dances in Black Hawk, and having fun dancing with all the girls, until his grandmother felt he was giving the family a bad name, so he had to quit going.

When Jim does try to go back to his hometown after being away for so long, he doesn't look on the changes he finds there with any sort of satisfaction; just a sad longing for the way things used to be.

I agree with the sentiment that 'you can never go home again,' and while that's a sad truth, I can still find pleasure in the present, and even excitement about the future. Maybe that's what Antonia was trying to do when she was talking about how much she cared for her orchard. She speaks about how she cared for the trees and woke up in the middle of the night to go water them. What are young cherry trees if not a promise of a better future (one with cherries in it)? Maybe this pleasure in the present is what Jim was trying to do when he was taking his mental snapshot of all of Antonia's children coming out of the fruit cellar.

At any rate, I'm glad that I was born where and when I was if only that I didn't have to wrangle cattle all day then hunker down in the back room that night and give birth. What a life, eh?