February Round-Up

The Amateur Marriage, Anne Tyler, 2004
I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron, 2006
Beside the Sea, Veronique Olmi, 2001 (tr. Adriana Hunter)

I’m slowly making my way through Anne Tyler’s backlist, hoping I can make it last the rest of my life because each one of her books is such a joy to read. This one is about the same thing all her books are about — a family through the trials of life. It starts around World War II and carries on through the 70s. We see Michael and Pauline meet, marry, have kids and grandkids. The central conflict in the book is their incompatibility, which we see wax and wane over several years. What Tyler does remarkably well (always) is capture the most human moments in relationships between her characters and within themselves.

When Pauline has their first child, Michael remarks that Pauline simply seems to know how to care for the baby through some “natural, inborn fund of empathy.” I enjoyed how even this outdated sentiment is challenged throughout the novel as they raise their children. Four stars.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t realize Nora Ephron wrote so many very popular films. Her book of essays about womanhood and ageing is humorous and honest, and seems well-timed in my life as I begin to see the physical effects of getting old. My stepmom told me about this book several years ago, and since then I’ve been careful to moisturize neck as well as my face (haha). But that’s not all the advice Ephron provides. The quote “everything is copy” has been associated with her, but the book provides the background. It actually came from her mother, and I find it incredibly reassuring to know someone agrees that 1) writers can use everything that happens, and 2) painful moments might serve a greater artistic purpose, sometime later. (Of course writing about real people requires a respect for privacy and sometimes anonymity). Three stars.

Beside the Sea is my second Veronique Olmi. I really enjoyed Daughters Beyond Command, but this novel is entirely different. Told from the point of view of a poverty-stricken and mentally ill mother of two young boys, it is a short novel that renders the reader full of dread. She takes her boys to the seaside and it is painfully evident from the start that she intends for it to be one of the last things they do before their lives end. I found myself feeling anxious and sickened throughout, but the writing was gripping and the sentiment so real. Such an important novel to better understand the trials of mothers living in poverty and the struggles of mental illness. Four stars.

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