Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

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I bought this book a few years ago intending to read it for Banned Books Week. It almost seems “quaint” now in this year of “gender fluidity” and California legalizing gender-less birth certificates to read about a teenage girl sent to Christian program to help teens to stop committing the sin of lust toward those of the same sex.

The Story

Cameron Post is a teenage girl in Miles City, Montana. She’s a swimmer and a tomboy who hangs out mostly with boys. In some, but not all ways, she identifies with young men, holding them as role models.

“Most of the girls on my team had a crush on Ted. I wanted to be like him, to drink icy beers after meets and to pull myself into the guard stand without using the ladder, to own a Jeep without a roll-bar and be the gap-toothed ringleader of all the lifeguards.”

She finds herself attracted to another girl just when tragedy strikes her family.  In the aftermath of the tragedy she immerses herself in videos as an escape. Later the decision is made to send her to a program for Christian teens that proclaims there is no “homosexuality” only sin.

While the students in the program are treated very decently and do willingly comply with much of the program they are expected to work to block feelings and fantasies of same sex attraction or drugs or whatever their “sin” is.  In Cameron’s case she is somewhat shamed for her parents giving her an androgynous name and is encouraged to embrace femininity. Students are assigned same sex roommate to begin to develop typical same sex friendships without lust and sexual attraction, which they find troubling. To program staff, Cameron’s roommate developed an unhealthy level of interest in the Minnesota Vikings and bonded in inappropriate, masculine ways, with her Dad  over football.

Parallels With Real Life

One boy, the son of a megachurch pastor, was sent to the program for being too weak and effeminate. Sadly, I was reminded of one of the Duggar boys on T.V.s 19 Kids and Counting or the current show, Counting On on TLC. That boy had been very sweet and caring and underwent a transformation that made me think he’d been to a program like this. [I have no proof of this, but he did attend their cult-like organization’s paramilitary training which stresses manliness). Also there is the oldest son’s brother-in-law (his wife’s brother-in-law) who is to most viewers very, very effeminate, but seems very controlling toward his wife. He throws himself into all sorts of “manly” activities on camera. This behavior, of course, proves nothing, but represents the sort of transformation the program in the book was trying to achieve.

So the sweet young boy at the onset of puberty who happily picked flowers for his grandmother is suddenly told  he must change and is now shown doing manly work in garage or cleaning out a trashed rental house. A courtship is hastily announced and canceled. But no more weakness, no more gentleness. He’s a manly man now. So, too, his tomboy sister is married off early, though she shows not the slightest interest in her wedding dress and is now show saying she’s put her tomboy days behind her. The brother-in-law who posts lots of photos of himself with another young man (who is also a young husband and father) throws himself into football games or wrestling matches or whatever to show his manhood on t.v. but seems more at ease with his male friend than he ever does with his wife in their “ministry” videos.

Why the Book Was Challenged

“I just liked girls because I couldn’t help not to.”

“…stop thinking of yourself as a homosexual. There’s no such thing. Don’t make your sin special. [Cameron responds] ‘you’ve built an entire treatment facility to deal with it. What I said out loud, though was “I don’t think of myself as a homosexual. I don’t think of myself as anything other than me.'”

The fact that teenage girls “make-out” (even though both date boys both of whom are active at church) is one of the reasons this book was challenged. The fact that Christian programs exist to try to change a person’s thinking and that the program is viewed as wrong is another reason Christian parents spoke out against the book.

[There is no homosexualtiy] “Do we say that someone who commits the sin of murder is part of some group of people who have that identity feature in common? De we let murderers throw themselves parades and meet in murderers’ clubs to get high and dance the night away and then go out and commit murder together?”

Then there is the presentation of Christians in the book, which many felt was blatantly disrespectful. I honestly felt the book was NOT demeaning of Christians. I attend a conservative church, but not one so conservative that it embraces this type of program.  I did get a chuckle that Cameron’s home church was called “Gates of Praise” or GOP for short (giggle). [Many people in conservative churches are not GOP voters but that always gets overlooked by election pundits].  That does not mean that the book in any way agreed with conservative Christian leaders who say that homosexuality is learned and not innate–it just wasn’t disrespectful or snarky in tone.

“…it’s not like being real at all. It’s plastic living. It’s living in a diorama.”

All the counseling students are given is on their sin. They are only allowed to discuss homosexuality or drugs or whatever in terms of sin. No exploration of fantasies or the reason for the attraction to someone is ever allowed. Cameron and the others have to struggle to go along with this. They are young people, at an age when everything is questioned.

“…how could it be expected to live in this new world without its past, without everything it knew from the world before from its place in it, tripping it up again and again?”

What they got from the therapy was “fake it till you make it.” Put on the appearance of a girly-girl if you are female or a manly man if you are male. No matter that they are taught…

“I will not pray for God to change me because God does not make mistakes and I am the one who is tempted by sin. Change will come through God, but within me. I must be the change. The opposite of the sin of homosexuality is not heterosexuality. it is Holiness.”

Christians and Catholics have long been taught to suppress ‘impure’ thoughts of all kinds. Many people over the centuries have found this beneficial to their happiness, like Reverend Rick in the book. Some don’t. It’s as simple as that. The program Cameron was in used this method to fight lust toward same-sex persons.  But a students made an important discovery:

“”Really? Adam said.

“Nobody’s ever passed the program or whatever? Gotten ex-gay enough to go back to normal high school??”

“Because it can’t be done,” I said.

“And because there’s no real test that could prove your transition anyway.”

“You can change your behavior, but if you don’t have [counselor] breathing down your neck, that will only last so long. Besides, it doesn’t mean anything else about you has changed, inside, I mean.”

And that is the crux of the thing: Is homosexuality innate or learned? Are people born that way? Are that transformed into this throw a tragedy? Are they willfully sinning?  Is it a sickness to be cured? Or is it, like red hair or blue eyes something that cannot be altered?

What I Liked

I liked that the students tried to do what they could with sincerity in the program.  Cameron does think and explore.  But not being allowed to look back and analyze why she was attracted to girls left her with no foundation upon which to build. The program was flawed in many ways. You can’t make a person try, you can’t make them believe and you can’t make them change. The teenage years are full of experimentation. Even a straight-A student, confident in his or her sexuality takes risks and experiments in some way. For some it might be as simple as not studying for a big text. For others it might be trying a same sex relationship. This was not acknowledged in the program as normal or healthy.

I also liked that the students could see when people did sincerely believe in the Bible and sincerely embraced the Christian faith. They did not tease or ridicule for this. They were at least outwardly polite and respectful, with a few typically teenage exceptions, to the staff and Cameron to her family. That was a good thing to see in a Young Adult book.

My Rating

3.5 Stars

According to IMDB this book is becoming a movie to be released in 2018. Here is a link to the cast list and other details.

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Review: The Gray House by Mirian Petrosyan, translated by Yuri Machkasov

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A Note

There is no way I can do justice to a book I am still trying to fully understand! But so many of the people who come here to read Top Ten Tuesday or Top 5 Wednesday posts LOVE this kind of book and may not have heard of it, so I’m posting what I can to get the word out on how amazing it is. My vocabulary for books that blur the lines between “regular” fiction and fantasy is too limited to give you a good idea of all that is superbly packed into this book.

 

The Story

A school/home for disabled students is a world unto itself with tribes, folk lore, fights, loves and much, much more.

What I Loved

I loved the way this world simply became REAL as I read it. There were all types of “students” in this house–those I could fully relate to, those I could tolerate and those I couldn’t stand. Their struggle to come to grips with, understand and conquer the seen and unseen barriers in their life reminded me of epics in folklore in their determination. The legendary leaders, their raisons d’etra, the motives of their followers all could be used in a political theory course as well as a literature course. I loved that as much as a the vividness of the setting and the masterfulness of the story telling.

Here is one great quote I shared in an earlier post:

They are always hostile, always hungry, always covered in spots from the sweets they consume to cheat hunger. They dye their hair and alter their pants with multicolored patches. Red is hopelessly older. Not in years, but in questions he asks himself. Young Rats are not concerned about tomorrow. Their life begins and ends today. It is today they need that extra piece of toast, it’s today they need that new song, it’s today they need to take the only thing that’s on their mind and scrawl it in huge letters on the bathroom wall. Rats suffer from constipation but they’d still eat anything anytime. And fight over food. And over who sleeps where. And after the fight is over they’d listen to more music and eat again, with even more delight. 

You see? The story is so vivid because both the writing and the translation into English are both “genius.” The wordsmith who translated this into English as deserving of an award as the author. Such marvelous prose! I also loved having my friend Sylvia’s Gray House Book Club posts to help me process all that I read. I am still “digesting” this books weeks later.(Her art choices for the club posts were equally “genius.”)

Finally I loved that the Guardian, once again nailed it, this is so much more than a “Soviet Hogwarts.” Brilliant! You can read their full review here.

What I Didn’t Like

I didn’t like learning how utterly “out-of-shape” I am for reading big books! The size books I used to devour routinely are now almost beyond me? No! Please No! The 300 page limit of most novels today often seems taxing now after 9 years of commuting with audio books. Time to do my mental Iron Man prep!

The Gray House by Mariam Petrosyan

Currently $3.99 for Kindle

 

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Review: Wesley The Owl by Stacey O’Brien

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The Story

Biologists Stacey O’Brien was working Cal Tech when she was given the chance to foster a Barn Owl. A dream job at the sound of it. Who wouldn’t want to cuddle that little ball of fluff? This is her memoir of the unique relationship she built with Wesley–as she named the owl.

What I Loved

I’m an animal nut so there wasn’t much I didn’t love! This is a great story which, if read aloud from the print version so the parent could keep an eye out for a couple of very “grown up” things , would delight anyone who loves birds. I also loved that her parents did not force her to conform and play soccer or whatever, but instead took her, at age 8, to a college lecture by Jane Goodall thus birthing her future career as a biologist. Stacey’s relationship with Wesley is so sweet and touching and the gains that she made in understanding barn owl behavior are a once-in-a-lifetime animal lover’s fairy tale come true.

What Was Funny

There are two scenes that adults will roar over. No spoilers, but do read ahead if using this book with your family.

What I Didn’t Like

There are  few well deserved comments on the animal rights people that could genuinely upset a sensitive, animal-loving child like I was.  I thought these could have been left out. I agree with her opinion entirely, but they were hard to read.  Be sure to really find those first if your child is like that! If you are hyper-sensitive, be aware that a such comments are in the book but are very, very short. They did not contain descriptions of cruelty though.  I also did not like hearing about Wesley’s food even though it was both appropriate and necessary to the book. I’ve never in 55 years been willing to touch a mouse alive, dead or fast-frozen. For me that was just ICK! But it did make me recall the fun my kids, their friend and I had dissecting a barn owl pellet years ago!

What I’d Like

I’d love to see a young person’s edition of this with more photographs and appropriate editing. It could even come packaged with a barn owl pellet.

My Rating

3.5

This is not “literature” but it is an awesome story.

Wesley The Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien.

 

If you enjoy Wesley’s story, you or your family, will likely also enjoy That Quail, Robert by Margaret Stanger

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Here is more on Wesley the barn owl

 

 

Flashback Friday: Jamie Ford’s other books. Discover this wonderful author’s work from the beginning


Yesterday, I reviewed Jamie Ford’s newest novel, Love and Other Consolation Prizes. Today, because I adore his writing, I’m re-posting my reviews of his earlier books from my old blog. If you are new to his work I beg you to go back and read the other two! Sadly I had to miss his appearance in Cincinnati recently. I might just pop for the ticket to the Kentucky Literary Lunch though to get to hear him and meet him.

 

Possibly the sweetest coming-of-age book ever

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Jamie Ford’s first novel is the one you want if you have longed for a SWEET story, unspoiled by the mandatory under-age se_ual antics, this is your book. In true Romeo & Juliet fashion, Chinese-American Henry and Japanese-American Keiko find each other doing kitchen duty at their all-white private elementary school at the start of World War II in Seattle. The friendship that grows up into romance is sweet, so innocent, so heart-breakingly real. True to Romeo & Juliet, Henry’s father does all in his power to keep the couple apart. Stunned by forced relocation to an internment camp, and viewing themselves as “Americans” first, Keiko’s parents are welcoming. A promise is made….will it be kept? I refuse to print spoilers on this one! Just read it. It’s such a welcome edition to teen coming-of-age literature. Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.

 

The Child Who Wonders “What if…. and Why Wasn’t I Enough…”

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I fell hopelessly in love with Jamie Ford’s writing when my son and I listened to an audio of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet a few years ago. His second book, The Songs of Willow Frost, has that same poignancy, that same “believe-ablity,” This time, though, I was glad I listened alone. My children are adopted and this book gave me tremendous insight into the desperate place they are in–they love me and our family, but there is always that “what if.…” Jamie Ford captures that “what if” so beautifully. He also makes sure the reader feels the innate sadness of an orphan’s life without it being a maudlin or depressing story. My heart clinched so many places in this story; my tears came freely at other places. Sweet William Eng and his journey to find his birth mother will stay with me forever.

You can’t expect children to sew their own gaping wounds without leaving a terrible scar.” (p 183).

This one is going  head-to-head with Year of the Comet for best book this year [2014] on MY blog!  The Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford.

 

Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows: A Novel by Balli Kaur Jaswal

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The Story

Modern, Westernized Sikh, Nikki, accepts a part-time job teaching creative writing to widows and other women at a large Sikh Temple in an predominately Sikh/Punjabi area of London.  The classes are successful, but not in the anticipated ways.

What I Loved

I was a little bit worried that this would turn in to 50 Shades of Saris or something, but it didn’t! Whew! When the ladies of the writing class are inspired by a classmate’s deeply sensual and rather erotic story, they begin writing their own. Understandably, this causes conflict in a very traditional, very conservative, religious, community. Nikki, like all young feisty heroines is both naive and inspiring, sits back and lets it all happen while trying to understand the many secrets this widows–these “unseen” women, are keeping.

By telling erotic [but mostly profanity-free] fantasy stories the ladies tackle a taboo. Through this they become empowered (and few marriages get really improved!) Personal growth, friendships, and new ideas help strong women become more than “just” widows, wives and mothers. They become fully enfranchised women in their community.

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What I Wasn’t So Sold On

I thought the boyfriend story and the ending were a bit too contrived. While the women certainly grew in self-esteem and forged closer ties, I found it unlikely that so much could happen so fast in terms of what was done in their community.

My complaint is a small thing, though.

 

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Comparison

By the women using sexy stories to discover their needs and learn to articulate them, I was reminded of some of the early women’s liberation and consciousness-raising sessions for women in the late 1960s in America. Mostly I was reminded of the embarrassing, but often empowering sessions in which women were given a mirror and asked to look at their genitalia–something many women, even mothers, did not often know the correct terms for, let alone their real function. Women, many of whom like the women in the novel, knew sex only as ‘duty’ to their husband,  were introduced to the previously shamed idea of women being capable of  feeling ‘pleasure’ in sex and in being deserving of expressing their desires and even leading their husbands in this regard.

As embarrassed as women in either  1960s scenario or in the novel may have been, they gained independence, respect and stature through such exercises. For the widows in the story or for the 60s women,  being HEARD, being taken seriously, being seen and treated as a competent ADULT, was life-changing.

 

Rating

4 Saris

Thanks to blogger, Good Books Guide, for bringing my attention to this book!

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Reading Around the World: Laos: The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang

What Made Me Choose This Book

Memoirs are a staple in my reading life. I enjoy hearing how other people have lived their lives. I especially enjoy memoirs of challenges. When I discovered a memoir of a Hmong girls growing up as a refugee in the United States, I knew I’d enjoy it–how ever harrowing the tale. And, I was right.

In the mid 1980s I worked with a large number of resettled refugees from the Vietnam war–including a few Hmong. The circle of refugees came from Vietnam itself and from Cambodia and Laos. They started over. Their children, and the young adult refugees, fared best. They took the traditional path to success–math and science. Engineering in the case of most of these refugees. College spots that American students at that time weren’t eager to fill at what was then a branch campus of  a state university. Nearly all found career success.

So, I started the Latehomecomer with a small amount of first-hand exposure to this group of refugees, a few of whom I kept up with somewhat until about 2000 when the ties became too tenuous, the memories of common experiences too old. They had mostly scattered from that city by then, as I had.

The Latehomecomer Story

Kao Kalia Yang’s family was part of a group of refugees arriving a little later than my former co-workers. Like so many Hmong in America they landed in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota–a world light years from their one-time home in Laos. Part of an ethic minority in Laos, where they were badly treated, Hmong communities would be mistreated and often viewed with hostility in their new country, the USA, as well. Happily for the author, her parents tried to focus their children on the opportunities of America, instead of the short comings and out-right cruelties. In her case, after problems in school at first,  it worked well. She ended up going to prestigious Carleton College, one of nation’s most selective Liberal Arts colleges.

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In addition to the family’s own story, the book also relates a few tales from Hmong folklore told by the author’s elderly grandmother. They make it possible to understand the worldview or mindset that the family and other Hmong brought with them to America–the lens through which they viewed American life upon arrival. They also help us to understand the Hmong culture which is often viewed with mistrust by Americans.

Finally, there  is a vivid recounting of the Hmong funeral which lasts for days and involves just about anyone who wants to show up. The grocery list alone was staggering–the number of beef cattle and chickens slaughtered alone was amazing. The rights themselves were a folklorist’s dream to witness, even just in words.

Rating

3.5

I found the folklore a bit trying. Sadly, I just couldn’t get that interested in it. I was engrossed, though, in the story of their day-to-day life of trying to succeed in America. In Peace Corps, I too, had to hit the ground running with support similar to theirs. Her writing is incredibly evocative–I felt I was “there” throughout the entire book. I especially wanted to sample some of the incredible food she described here and there in the book.

I recommend this to anyone, but especially to those who may be concerned about refugees or who have a sizeable Hmong community nearby.

Interview

Here is an interesting interview with the author.

Book Trailer

Review: Women Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole: Quite a Ride!

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Jessica Brockmole, in  the short space of three novels, has become an author whose books I now anxiously await!  Here newest, Women Enters Left, is a deft shuffling of two road trips–one by the mother, the other by the daughter a generation apart. It takes a well-organized mind to plot such a book and a talented writer to keep it from being confusing. Jessica Brockmole has that mind and is that author.

The Story

!in 1926 Ethel and Carl are at a impasse. Divorce looms. In the middle is their daughter A.L. (Anna Louisa). Enter Florence Daniels, the one-time third of this group. She and Ethel take off on a road trip after Carl leaves with A.L. to acquire a Nevada divorce.  Fast forward the the 50s of McCarthy’s famed House Un-American Activities Committee and daughter A.L, is now the grown-up movie star, Louise Wild, making her own journey to decide if her career and her marriage can survive. In and around these two journeys are a few love stories, both open and hidden, a script by Florence and a lot of hamburgers.

My Verdict

3.75 Stars

There was really nothing I didn’t like in this one. I just thought the script got in the way a little–hence the  fraction of a star. I found the story of Florence’s and Carl’s frustrated love stories very sweet. They were told so gently, so true to the time of the story. I always love this–it is a mark of historical fiction done right. I also enjoyed the frightening story of the radium sickness. When people complain that U.S. Business is over-regulated, they need to remember that this is why.

I hope this soon becomes a movie–it will be a good one.

Woman Enters Left by Jessica Brockmole.

Read here why I loved the short story Jessica had in the World War I anthology Fall of Poppies.  Her first book, Letters From Skye,  is on sale for Kindle–only $4.99.

 

To learn more about the radium tragedy:

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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. Currently on sale for $2.18 for Kindle

Review: ‘Over the Hills and Far Away:’ The Life of Beatrix Potter

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My Beatrix Potter story

 

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My own most vivid memory of  a Beatrix Potter tale is over the version broadcast on PBS in 2003. My kids and I were watching The Tale of Samuel Whiskers–suddenly the poor guy is wrapped in pie crust and ready to be baked! My daughter, understandably, fell to pieces. She clutched our beloved big orange cat, Stanley, and wept uncontrollably.  I tried to reassure my daughter that all would be fine and that, more importantly, it wasn’t real and that our big guy was fine. She didn’t let our cats out of her sight for a week. It took hours to get her to sleep–and this was the kid who collapsed so early, I cheated and put the clock ahead so she’d go to bed! No need to tell you that no more Beatrix Potter happened at our house!

Matthew Dennison’s Book

Dennison chose to tell Beatrix’s story a little differently. He anchors each chapter with a quote that goes with the theme of the chapter.  He also tried, whenever possible, to show what aspects of her children’s books came from real life. So we learn of scenery being at real places Beatrix lived or that certain real animals were involved–that real children dear to Beatrix were the first to receive her stories as illustrated letters.

He also tells the story of Beatrix’s isolation. Her eccentric parents went above and beyond the normal Victorian mantra of keeping daughters at home. Starved of company outside her family circle, she turned inward. With no one to befriend, she befriended a menagerie of animals and shared her thoughts in her carefully coded journal.  From childhood into early adulthood she was very lonely.  Her parents kept such a tight reign on her that even as an adult with her own home she was forced to spend most of her time as a sort of lady in waiting to her parents. I found this very sad.

I  loved learning that in addition to her children’s books with their marvelous illustrations she also quite an amateur natural scientist. She was especially fascinated by fungi–mushrooms. Nature journals, were a popular past time for Victorians and Edwardians. They would find specimens, draw or watercolor them and label them beautifully. Her nature drawings were of a professional standard as her parents had at least given her excellent tuition in art from private teachers. The book includes a few color plates with some of her nature drawings. Her love of nature also led her to be an early land conservator–buying up land to protect if from encroaching development.

Having loved the movie Miss Potter,  I was pleased to learn the real stories of her first engagement and later marriage. For having such a lonely, often isolated childhood, she at least found someone with whom to share some aspects of her life.

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Finally, I was so pleased to see that the author and published used such lovely endpapers for they were a fixation of Beatrix’s in her own books.

Rating

4.0

 

 

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Review: The Gustav Sonata

 

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“A breathtakingly radiant story of an unlikely childhood friendship that survives the test of time.”  Amazon

 

My Thoughts

It’s a perfectly decent book if you don’t mind occasional graphic moments. And they are merely moments. The writing was, frankly, a bit dull.  Gustav is the son of the cold, repressed mother and a heroic father who destroys his career falsifying police documents to allow Jews into Switzerland. Gustav, after avoiding intimacy as an adult by throwing himself heart and soul into his hotel business,  grows up to find happiness in a loving relationship with another man–the man who has been his best friend since kindergarten. I was happy for them–it seemed to be a kind, loving relationship in which they could both grow old.

Gustav is a man anyone would love–caring and gentle–he even makes time for his late father’s lover and to play Gin Rummy with an old British guy.  That kind of good guy.  But he keeps his sexual urges subdued thru overwork.  Anton is crushed by parental expectations but, he too is likeable, if only because of the burden he carries of trying to conquer his problem of performing on stage as brilliantly as he does in private. Both deserve a happy home life and caring partner. I was glad they found each other again.

In terms of the story, however, I was sorry that Erich’s work on behalf of the Jews was such a minor part of the book and that his extra-marital affair was such a big part of it. How much better to have heard more about his sympathy for the fleeing Jews than about his enjoyment of  his mistress.

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What I didn’t Like

Keeping in mind the “breathtakingly radiant” comment in the review I read–the review that made me read the book,  I have to ask: Did the Amazon blurb writer even READ the book?  Why, why, why was an attempted child molestation considered “necessary’ to this story??? How is that “breathtakingly radiant?” I really had a huge moment of cognitive dissonance here thanks to that review. I don’t normally use the words “beautiful” or “radiant” to describe attempting to force sex on a child.

I could put up with masturbation and exuberant man-on-woman oral sex–those or even a still-horny guy sniffing the sheets he’s just made love on to retain his gal’s scent–these, while icky, are at least “ordinary” (and fleeting) and this was the story of “ordinary” people living “ordinary” lives. Ordinary people in ordinary lives have sex in and outside of marriage or, if they don’t, they give themselves pleasure, hopefully, in private. Ordinary. Molestation, even just attempted, is not ordinary.

I really can’t believe anyone thinks sticking a random attempt to molest a child–even a fictional child–helps build interest in the story or the characters. Shock? It no longer “shocks” me to read crap like this.  It just makes me roll my eyes at the predictability of a really awful and distressing sex act in so many well reviewed, best selling novel today.  For example, this is the second book in a row  I’ve read featuring a brief scene of a man admitting he was enjoying inflicting a little pain on a woman during intercourse. While honest, its not exactly a “radiantly beautiful.” emotion–is it? Though, truly, I can’t decide which of the three, masturbation or vivid oral sex or liking inflicting pain,  is the new “It” scene (like the It Girl) required for novel to be published right now.  As a writer this really troubles me. I don’t want to inflict this sort of thing on my readers, but I do want my books published.

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

A Deeper Review

If you’d prefer a much deeper, more adroit review of this book which focuses on the deep symbolism (which, thank you I did ‘get’),  and which explains in terms I do agree with that “Gustav, who seemed middle-aged as a child, is infantilised as a middle-aged man. The life force has gone from him and he has no credible sexual identity,” then read the Guardian’s excellent review here. This review rates 5 stars on its own.

 

My Rating

3.5 Stars

 

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Review: The After Party: A Novel by Anton DiSclafani

 

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Joan Fortier is one of those “larger than life” characters who take a city “by storm.” In this case the city is Houston and the time is the late 1950s.  With a wealthy father’s money and love making it all possible, Joan leads a charmed life. Her best friend, also named Joan at birth, is forced from kindergarten onward to be known by her middle name, Cecilia–CeCe–because even Houston isn’t big enough for two Joans.

But Joan carries a secret or two. Of course. She must. Otherwise the story would not be told, right?

 

My Thoughts

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Right off I liked Ms. DiSclafani’s writing style. I have not read her other bestseller, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls, but its reputation alone was evidence of her ability to tell a great story. (And, yes, I plan to read it.)  The After Party’s  strength is in the lack of care Joan has for her life and the sad, desperation of Cece to keep her friend safe. Whether, as she says, she is a sort of lady in waiting to Joan or, as the cruel folk say, she is Joan’s handmaiden, Cece is so devoted to Joan, so dedicated to keeping her safe that, in the end, her husband was right to ask what he asked (No spoilers). It is not clear to me though, whether we were to feel sympathy for either character.  For the record, I didn’t feel much for either of them.

You see, the same things that make the story so compelling make it difficult to like the characters. Joan’s “I don’t care” attitude, so typical of those “larger-than-life” folks who take places “by storm” in novels, shows her to be nothing more than a spoiled little princess. Yes, even with her secret. Especially with her secret. (No spoilers).

As for Cee–ugh. Get a life, girl! You caught a good guy, have a maid and a nice little boy, now find the courage to enjoy YOUR life for a change! Let Joan drive merrily down the highway to hell without you! No, YOUR secret isn’t any more extraordinary than Joan’s. It’ just about everyone who ever care for someone like (no spoilers) fleeting fantasy and certainly the fantasy of many like (no spoilers) being cared for. Move on.

Don’t misunderstand–these are not failures on the author or the book’s part. This is just how amazingly well told this story was. I felt all of this. It was not “meh, get a life.” It was that I could not stop listening to the audio version until I KNEW all.

After the Party by Anton DiSclafani

Rating

4 Stars

I definitely want to read more books by this author.  Dallas fans from the 80’s will love this book, even if it is set in Houston.  You could just imagine a younger Jock and Ellie at those parties! This story will make a really great movie.

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Dallas

Bonus Feature

 

 

The movie Giant is mentioned. If you haven’t read Edna Ferber’s famous novel, Giant, or seen Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean in the tremendous movie, then do so.