Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Keeping Faith by Jodi Picoult

I love Jodi Picoult. The last time I finished one of her books I suffered withdrawal symptoms because I didn’t have another one waiting in the wings. So it was surprising to me as I began this book that I was growing tired of her. I actually was wishing I’d chosen another book. This happened a couple times before while I was in high school. I read so many Steven King and Danielle Steele books that I began to recognize patterns and just couldn’t read them anymore. At one point I swore that if I ever read another book that mentioned Carmel, CA that I would throw it against the wall. Thankfully, as I read further into the story, I got hooked and couldn’t put it down.

This is the story of a messy divorce and custody battle and its effects on an only child named Faith. Mariah, Faith’s mother, suffers from a lack of self esteem. From the moment that Colin shows interest in her in college, she allows him to mold her into the type of wife he wanted. She loses her identity. Colin’s first infidelity drove Mariah to suicide. He had her institutionalized against her will and it was in the hospital that he discovered her pregnancy. That was the only thing that kept their marriage together. The book begins when Mariah and Faith come home to retrieve a lost ballet leotard; they find Colin getting ready to take a shower with another woman. In the aftermath, Colin leaves, Mariah calls in her mother to take care of Faith while she gets herself straightened out, and Faith begins to see and talk to God.

Mariah takes Faith to psychiatrists, doctors, rabies, and even allows interviews with Catholic priests in order to get to the bottom of Faith’s visions. Faith was found by all to be mentally stable, but no one was brave enough to believe that Faith’s visions were actually contacts with the divine. That is, until her touch brings her grandmother back to life after being clinically dead for an hour. Once that story hits the press, people begin to congregate outside of Mariah’s home. The story is spread even further by an atheist televangelist name Ian. He has made it his life’s work to debunk religion and especially the miracles. When Colin returns home from his honeymoon with his pregnant wife, he discovers what is going on and decides to sue for full custody of Faith, using a renowned cutthroat lawyer. Not only does Mariah need to find the inner strength to handle the situation with Faith, she then has to fight to keep custody of her daughter.

Some of the relationships that develop seem too convenient and predictable. As with many other of Picoult’s lead female characters, Mariah is not alone for long. On the other hand, I enjoyed the way in which Mariah interacted with her mother. They have a truly special relationship. Still, the most interesting thing about this particular Picoult novel is the way in which visions, religion, faith, and God are handled by each of the characters. I believe that the book covered this topic and all sides with respect.

This was not one of my favorite Picoult books, but I would recommend the book to others. It provides the opportunity to explore your beliefs about the extraordinary. What would you do if your child began seeing visions of God?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

I was excited to begin this book because I loved her previous novel, The Secret Lives of Bees so much. In a word, I am disappointed with this book. This book was sluggish. There were sections that I had force myself to sit down and read. There are numerous paragraphs of descriptions of food, flora, and fauna that I used speed reading to get my way through. For a while I wasn’t sure what was lacking in The Mermaid Chair. I thought perhaps it was because of my state of mind or other changes in my life. By the end, I know that it was a lack of substance and a forced narrative that made the experience of reading this book almost intolerable. Ask Danny. I even stuck my tongue out at the book last night.

This book begins with Jessie basically having a mid-life crisis. She’s married to a psychiatrist and her only daughter has moved away to college. She herself is an artist, but it has become more of a hobby and less of a vocation over the years. She doesn’t know who she is outside of her relationships, even going back to her late father. When her crazy, Roman Catholic fanatic mother chops off her right index finger, Jessie has her opportunity to escape her life, even if that means that she’ll have to come face to face with the mother she’s distanced herself from because of the lunatic Nelle evolved into after her husband’s death 33 years prior.

Her mother lives on an island off of the South Carolina coast near Charleston. Also located on this island is a Benedictine monastery whose patron saint is St. Senara, a mermaid who became human and then converted to Catholicism. One of the key tourist attractions is the Mermaid Chair that is located in the chapel. This Mermaid Chair was thought to have spiritual powers. Nelle was burying her finger next to St. Senara’s statue when Jessie arrives. While helping her dig the finger’s grave, Jessie meets Brother Thomas. From here, she is consumed with this man.

The remainder of the novel follows Jessie as she investigates why her mother mutilated herself, begins a formal separation from her husband, Hugh, explores a new relationship with Brother Thomas, and finds herself. She spends much more time and energy on the men in her life and herself than she does on her mother. The entire thing with her mother felt like a cheap narrative device. The resolution of that storyline was anticlimactic to me. It only served to make me dread finishing the novel even more.

The fact that Jessie pursues an affair with a monk did not help to endear me to either character. It’s not that I can’t let myself go and get lost in the romance of two individuals risking and giving up all that is important to them to be together. People make and break vows every day. I guess in light of the current state of the priesthood and my own experiences with trusted clergymen, I don’t find this spectacular in anyway. Perhaps older or more traditional Catholic readers would find this aspect of the storyline more interesting or thought provoking. Maybe this is why over the course of the book the reader discovers that it takes place in the late 1980s. I just believe that Whit’s (Brother Thomas) vows to the Catholic Church are no more or no less holy than Jessie’s marriage vows to Hugh. Certainly, clergy make a vow to Christ as well. According to Catholic theology, so do married couples. That makes those vows of equal import to me.

In the end, issues of self, marriage, and faith all work out exactly as I had anticipated from the beginning. I can’t help but think that it was a waste of my time to read it. Still, you can’t always read great books. Reading the duds helps you to appreciate those that you enjoy. It also helps you define the qualities of literature and other writings that make this life come alive in your imagination. Through the process or reading you become a better reader and learn things about yourself that you may not otherwise have known. That might not have all of the sex and spectacle the author added to Jessie’s journey into self, but it’s honest.

Friday, January 19, 2007


Blood Orange by Drusilla Campbell

Blood Orange takes place in San Diego, CA and is the story of how a middle-class couple deals with the abduction of their young daughter, Bailey. Bailey was born with some mental deficiencies that manifest itself through late development and learning disabilities. Dana is her stay-at-home mother. She is bored and resentful of the amount of care Bailey requires. She feels that motherhood is interfering with her academic life. She can’t seem to finish her thesis. David is a former professional football player who later became a defense attorney. He is working on the defense of a man who is accused of murdering a neighbor girl. When Bailey disappears, David devotes his waking hours to his work. Dana spends every waking moment mourning her missing daughter. The couple is growing apart, but that fissure was already in place before the abduction. It grows even wider when Bailey appears on their doorstep out of no where.

This book has some interesting characters whose experiences, thoughts, and fears are similar to mine. Dana spends her life doing things of which she feels everyone else would approve. She is shocked when the assumptions she’s made about other people and how they feel about her and her family are completely off base. She doesn’t even know what she wants, making it hard to even please herself. There lives with a lot of resentment and guilt in her heart. Lexy, an Episcopalian priest, definitely has the same spiritual issues that I have. At one point in the book, she even mentions that she has trouble distinguishing God and her mother. I hear that, sister.

Although I can relate to some of the struggles faced by the main characters, I felt that there was a lot added simply for shock value. It jumped out at me because it either made a character a cliché or it went totally against the make up of the character. The two examples that I keep thinking about this morning deal with David and Marsha, the wife of the man he is defending.

David is supposed to be a super-supportive and sensitive husband and father. His belief, which could be shot down by anyone else who cared to look, that his wife had it “easy” because she only had to care for her child and work a few hours at a local bookstore was confusing. With all that was going on, he should have known better. On top of that, he never seemed to understand why their sex life was lacking. Hmm… Perhaps that is because what he really wanted was a bl@w j@b just before he fell asleep. It was difficult for me to buy him as a sympathetic character.

Marsha is one messed up woman. She’s extremely pregnant while her husband is awaiting trial. She’s a chain smoker and a heavy drinker. She’s clearly in a stressful and confusing situation, but her lack of concern for her unborn child (or much of anything else) is over the top. At one point, after telling Dana that she is carrying a daughter, she calls the baby a “poor c*nt.” Not everyone is maternal, but WTF? That goes way beyond stressed out and under the influence if you ask me. It makes you wonder if she has a soul.

I read this book in two days. I was interested in how the story ended. I just can’t tell you why. I didn’t care about any of the characters - not even Bailey - on an emotional level. It was an interesting study on how childhood affects adult lives; but I can’t say that I loved this book. I’m not even sure that I would be interested in reading another book by this author. Still, staying up until 2am this morning to finish it must say something.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Moorland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel

This is a memoir of Haven’s early childhood in a small Indiana town. I was originally interested in the book because of the silly looking baby on the cover. Turns out that silly looking baby was the author. She was born small and somewhat funny looking. She barely managed to fight a bout of sepsis in her ear as a young infant. She about died before a young doctor, with a box full of anti-biotic samples happened to reach in and select the only vial of anti-biotic that could have saved her. Although she herself does not believe in God, or at least the God of her mother’s faith, she is a living miracle.

Zippy, as Haven’s father called her, is quite a character. She’s a Calvin meets Pippy Longstocking for the Heartland. Her adventures cracked me up. At one point her much older sister informs her that she is adopted. Zippy runs to her mother for the truth. Her mother invents a story that she swapped a wonderful blanket for her from some gypsies. She not only bought the story, but she embraced her gypsy heritage. She had spunk and charisma. I would very much like my daughters to have some of those traits.

I enjoyed the glimpses she gave of family life in the late 60s and early 70s. Her parents were far different than mine and actually more like my own marriage and family. I will be the mother reading on the couch and taking the children to church (although not to a Quaker service I’m sure) while Danny will be the father full of adventure. The only personality swaps are that Danny would read the science fiction and I’d be more likely to smoke, drink, and gamble.

This book was enjoyable to read. Reading about a pleasant childhood is too rare of a commodity. What didn’t kill her only made Zippy more resilient. Who says a runt can’t win?

52 Books in 2007

I may be nuts, but I thought I might present myself with a little challenge this year. I would like to read 52 books this year. That’s an average of one per week and I’m already three weeks behind. Oh well…