Actress“You will wake some morning and pat yourself down. You will realise that you think too much and live too little and that most people, men and women both, are mostly fine. You will love more easily and relinquish blame. At least I hope you will.”

“Actress” is the story, at least in part, of Katherine O’Dell, as told by her daughter Norah FitzMaurice. Norah is almost 59 years old at the time she is telling the story. Katherine O’Dell was a star of stage and screen. She was born in April 23, 1928, the daughter of “strolling players”, Menton FitzMaurice and Margaret Odell. Her given name was Katherine Ann FitzMaurice, which she changed to O’Dell, adding an apostrophe to her mother’s surname. She was the most famous actress in Ireland and as it turned out, “Katherine O’Dell, the most Irish actress in the world, was technically British….My mother was a great fake…you could call her anything you like, but you could not call her English. That would be a great insult. It would also, unfortunately, be true.”

Katherine spent much of her childhood traveling with her parents as part of Anew McMaster’s (“Mac”) acting troupe. Mac’s daughter, Pleasance, also an actress, became Katherine’s best and closest friend. Pleasance was a child actress in the troupe and played Trilby O’Ferrall in Trilby. Katherine was 10 years old when she made her debut in the Royalton Theatre in London, playing a crocus in a chorus of spring flowers. A few years later, Pleasance came down with Scarlet fever and at the age of 13, Katherine had to take her role as Trilby O’Ferrall. Her natural talent was apparent.

In 1946, Katherine and Pleasance set off to London together. Each got a job, Katherine as a receptionist for a theatre impresario. She found herself in the role of Talitha in The Awoken on stage. She was so good that it took her to New York and Broadway. Pleasance was jealous and their friendship waned. Katherine became a stage star in New York and soon was off to Hollywood to make movies.

Throughout her career, Katherine periodically came into contact with Boyd O’Neill, 11 years her senior. Boyd had joined the McMaster tour when Katherine was 14 and she valued his opinion of her talent.

While Katherine was in New York, Philip Greenfield was her co-star and at the age of 21 the studio arranged for them to marry. Katherine Despite the fact that Philip was homosexual, they remained married for a number of years. Philip is not Norah’s father.

Norah is obsessed with her mother and Norah’s husband suggests she write the book. She travels to England and other places for background, she muses over her mother’s relationships and she wonders about the identity of her own father, about whom her mother refused to speak. We learn that Katherine devolved to madness, and became institutionalized after inexplicably shooting Boyd. Katherine died at the age of 58.

Although the book is about Katherine, it is also about Norah, her relationships, her children and her marriage. The story is interwoven with sexual innuendo and violence, which shapes the spirits and stories of both Katherine and Norah. Norah’s recollections result in a constant shifting of emotion which pushes and pulls the reader with every shift.

The novel is beautifully written although at times it is difficult to follow the chronology, feeling choppy. I suspect this is an intentional technique intended to move the reader back and forth along with  Norah’s shifting emotions– and I must say, it worked. The novel ends with a hint of hopefulness. “But I had…a great sense of the world’s generosity. Even though it was just my hopefulness in another guise.” Or is it just another turn of Norah’s emotions?

You can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

Simon the Ftddler“Simon the Fiddler” is a corny love story–boy meets girl, boy pines over girl and against all odds, boy gets girl. And yet, there is something visceral and enjoyable about the story and the way it is unfolds.  The story itself describes characters who grow, love and find meaning in the midst of difficult conditions, and is written in a smooth straight forward style that is just right for this peculiar time in history.

Simon Boudlin is a fiddler, who, in October of 1864, is desperately trying to avoid being conscripted into the Confederate army. He travels from place to place playing his fiddle and escaping the conscription men. “But they finally got him in March of 1865.” He ends up in Giddings regiment in a regimental band.

Simon is assigned to a shelter that includes Damon, a dark spirited flautist.  The war is coming to an end, so other than having very little to eat and a lack of clean clothes, there is little war to see.Simon has a very valuable fiddle that he takes great care to protect.

“On the morning of May 12, 1865, when a storm arrived in banks of hard blue clouds, Federal troops decided to row across from Brazil’s Island and attack them. Nobody knew why. It didn’t matter why.” This attack changes Simon’s life.

Simon and Damon survive, the regimen surrenders and Simon’s fiddle has been stolen. They march to the Union army’s fort and Simon sees a soldier with his fiddle. He screams at him and hits him in the head with a rock, recovering his fiddle. Simon has a temper. After a short stay in a punishment cell, he is escorted to a room where there is a group of former soldiers who have been told to become an orchestra to play for the officers and their wives. “The musicians were both Yankee and Confederate. They were all filthy, they had recently been trying to kill one another.” The group includes Damon, Simon, Patrick (Yankee drummer boy), Doroteo (guitarist) and others.

As soon as he walks into the event, Simon sees Doris Dillon, an 18 year old from Ireland who is working as a governess for a Union officer. Simon is immediately smitten. He learns that Doris works for Colonel Webb, a cruel, hard drinking Union leader, and that Doris is signed to a three year commitment of service to the Webb family. Simon contrives to introduce himself and needless to say, Colonel Webb, who apparently has less than honorable intentions toward his employee, is less than pleased. The band performs and then everyone goes their own way. Simon, Patrick, Damon, and Doroteo come together and travel to Galveston. Doris and the Webbs travel to the Webb home in San Antonio.

The four men play at various bars and parties and accumulate some money, but Galveston is struck with yellow fever and they decide to leave and head toward Houston. “They were all too young to die and always would be.” Simon is thinking about nothing other than buying some land, finding his way to San Antonio and getting his girl.

Doris and Simon strike up written correspondence, but they have to be very careful because Colonel Webb does not allow her to have a relationship and reads all of her correspondence. Initially, the letters come from Patrick, who is of Irish descent, and the letters include various missives about things happening in the old country. Soon the relationship deepens.

Finally, Simon purchases property and then finds his way to San Antonio where he ultimately liberates Doris. As you can imagine, a lot happens in between. The men have lots of adventures in their travels and a whole host of characters enter and exit their lives. The lives and backgrounds of the main characters are disclosed throughout the novel. And of course, we learn a lot about Doris, who is a happy curious person but finds herself in a precarious situation with the Webbs.

In some ways, the story is just like any other love story. But the writing is superb and the story telling paints vivid pictures of the characters, the times and the various places where the story takes place. If you are looking for a light read that won’t make you feel as though you are wasting your time, you might want to try “Simon the Fiddler.” You can reserve this book at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

Weather“Weather” is a very short, observational stream of consciousness. The story and the narrator’s musings reflect  those weird thoughts and dysfunctional relationships we all have (I think).

Lizzie is a middle aged, married, mother of one who is keenly aware of aging and the peculiarities of the world around her. Lizzie works in the library of a university, a job procured for her by her friend and former university professor Sylvia. Sylvia is a rather well known lecturer although the actual focus of her expertise eluded me.

Like most novels, the story focuses on real life issues like aging, relationships, career, family and motherhood. But unlike most novels, the story unfolds in a clipped, free flowing, sort of disconnected way, more like life itself.

Lizzie ended her education in graduate school in an effort to help her drug addicted brother, Henry. More on that later. She is self-conscious about working in a library without an appropriate degree and knows that the librarians resent her. The day before her birthday, one of the librarians acknowledges her saying: “Now you are officially middle aged” Lizzie concludes that “…She has never liked me because I don’t have a proper degree. Feral librarians, they call us, as in just wandered in from the woods.”

Reflecting on her age, Lizzie observes: “My #1 fear is the acceleration of days. No such thing supposedly, but I swear I can feel it. “ And “Young person worry: what if nothing I do matters? Old person worry: what if everything I do does.” And “I am old enough now that I sometimes think I am making a fool of myself by doing something that would not have attracted notice when I was younger.”

Lizzie has a husband Ben who, honestly, seems too good to be true, particularly in the context of everyone else in the novel. They have a son Eli, who is in the first grade. Lizzie is constantly musing over Eli and the mistakes she is making in his upbringing. “Why didn’t I have more kids so I could have more chances?” Eli is a character and like every first grader loves and hates his mother in equal doses. When Eli asked her if she was sure she was his mother because “Sometimes you don’t seem like a good enough person,” she let it go. “And now years later, I probably only think of it, I don’t know, once or twice a day.”

Lizzie has a completely dysfunctional relationship with her brother Henry. Henry has drug issues, as well as deep psychological issues. It was Henry’s problems that caused Lizzie to drop out of graduate school. Throughout the short novel, Henry cleans up, gets a job, gets married, has a child, relapses, gets divorced and ends up on Lizzie’s couch. Lots in between.

There are characters that float in and out of the novel. Nicolais the mother of one of Eli’s classmates and Lizzie makes special efforts to avoid her. And then of course “later it occurred to me. There’s no way I could have kept from running into her all these years by chance alone.” There is also the drug dealer and the busy body in her apartment building, the meditation therapist, her mother and her journalist friend Will. Actually, there is a lot going on in this very short novel.

Weather is an idiosyncratic, amusing, and yet poignant novel that covers a lot of ground. Sometimes the story is so funny you can’t help but laugh out loud and sometimes it’s so tragic you just want to weep. At the same time, Lizzie’s experiences are relatable and reflective. Give it a try—it is really short and you won’t be sorry. You can reserve “Weather” at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

The Mirror and The LightThe Mirror & The Light is the story of Thomas Cromwell and King Henry from May 20, 1536 through July 28, 1540. The novel, which begins with a beheading and ends with a beheading, is the final novel in Mantel’s trilogy chronicling Thomas Cromwell’s rise and fall. Since it is a historical novel, with some liberties and fictional characters thrown in, I am going to assume you do not need to be warned about spoiler alerts!

The novel starts with the beheading of Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife. Anne is beheaded for what can best be described as adulterous behavior. There is a rather chilling scene where Anne, at the scaffold, is still hopeful of Henry’s forgiveness. “He remembers her faltering progress to the scaffold; her glance, as the Frenchman says, was directed over her shoulder…Still she did not let hope weaken her….He had seen her start to tremble…she did not see the sword, not even its shadow, and the blade went through her neck with a sigh, easier than scissors through silk.”

But of course, Anne’s execution is just one more in a long line of beheadings and other killings, and life goes on for Thomas Cromwell. “Once the queen’s head is severed, he walks away. A sharp pang of appetite reminds him that it is time for a second breakfast, or perhaps an early dinner.” Thomas Cromwell is 50 years old at this point in time.

At the time of Anne’s execution, Henry has already selected a new bride. He has also executed all of the men who were believed to be “involved” with Anne. “The king did not choose to display the heads of Anne’s lovers on London Bridge; in case he decides to ride through with his new wife, he wants to keep the capital tidy.” Henry  marries Jane Seymour shortly after Anne’s execution.

Henry has a bastard son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, a daughter Mary, from his first wife Katherine, and a daughter Elizabeth, from Anne. He is obsessed with having a son within the confines of marriage to carry on his legacy. A great deal of the book deals with his concerns, and his councilor’s machinations, regarding his successor.

Religion is a serious issue and anyone whose faith is connected to Rome, or alternately who is a Lutheran, is considered a heretic, a traitor and subject to execution– and not a kind and easy execution like Anne’s. There is a lot of burning and dismembering in the novel. A lot of people are sent to the “Tower”. The level of cruelty and disregard for human life portrayed in the novel is stunning.

Henry’s daughter Mary is on the verge of execution for her refusal to recognize England’s state religion and her father as head of the Church. Cromwell has a soft spot for Mary, who is 20 years old when the novel begins. He forces her to recognize her father as head of the Church, and disavow Rome. She is then able to return to England. Cromwell is constantly helping Mary and giving her gifts, rejecting marriage possibilities on her behalf. These behaviors are viewed as his desire to marry her and accede to the throne, causing him no end of trouble toward the end of the book.

Henry is not exactly virile and his lack of sexual prowess is a constant theme in the novel, as is his vanity. However, Jane does manage to become pregnant and give him a son, Edward. Jane dies shortly after Edward’s birth. Henry becomes obsessed with finding his next wife. In many cases, marriages are arranged to ingratiate countries and to add wealth. Women generally have little say in the arrangement. “…women are to be named and renamed, it is their nature, and they have no country of their own; they go where their husbands take them, where their fathers and brothers send them.”

Henry confides almost everything in Cromwell and Cromwell makes a lot of decisions and engages in a lot of business on Henry’s behalf. This creates a great deal of envy from Henry’s other advisors, particularly since Cromwell does not come from a grand family line, and is just a “common man.” Further complicating Cromwell’s life is the fact that Henry is perpetually suspicious of anyone he is close to. “He saw Henry’s need and he filled it, but you never let a prince know he needs you; he does not like to think he has incurred a debt to a subject.”

There are lots of characters in the novel, some reliable, some not. Everyone spies on and schemes against everyone else. The gossip is never ending, as are the superstitions, particularly about the dead (and there are a lot of dead). In the end, Henry turns on Cromwell and that is all she wrote.

The novel is spectacular. Hilary Mantel’s writing is simply magnificent and the story, most of which (but not all) follows history and is gripping. That said, the novel is 750 pages and it is a big commitment, which in my opinion, is well worth it. You can reserve this novel by clicking here.

Lost Children ArchiveLost Children Archive is a complex novel involving sensory perception through sound and echo. The novel focuses on a family of four—husband, wife, boy girl. No names.

Husband and wife met four years before the story begins, when they were recording a soundscape together in New York City. They were part of a large team of people working for New York University’s Center for Urban Science and Progress. The project was intended “to sample and collect all the keynotes and the soundmarks that were emblematic of the city…The two were paired up and given the task of recording all the languages spoken in the city, over a period of four calendar years.”

At the start of the novel the NYU project has ended and the couple is each deciding on a new project. The husband has a 10 year old son from a prior marriage. His wife has died and that is all we know. The wife has a five year old daughter from a relationship. The wife is partly (or wholly) of Mexican descent. And that is also all we know. Standing in line at her daughter’s school, the wife meets Manuela, whose two older daughters have crossed the border into America and are being held in a detention center. The wife decides that her next project will be to create a sound documentary about the children’s crisis at the border.

In the meantime, the husband has decided that he wants to do a sound project on the Apaches, which would require him to move from New York City to the Chiricahua Mountains in Arizona. Thus begins a road trip. Husband fills four bankers boxes (Boxes I, II, III and IV) with information to take on the trip.  Wife fills Box V. Girl has Box VI (it is empty) and Boy has Box VII (also empty).

Each box is to serve as an archive. “The question is, when, in the future, we dig into our intimate archive, replay our family tape, will it amount to a story? Or will it be sound rubble, noise, and debris?”  Before the family leaves New York City, wife gives Boy a polaroid camera which he uses to photograph events throughout the trip (once he figures out how to use it).

Through the three week drive, father tells stories of the Apaches and they stop at historical sites. Mother takes calls from Manuela and listens to news stories about the refugee crisis. It is all very disturbing. At one point, the family stops at an airstrip in New Mexico where refugee children are being flown out of the country. The boy and the girl refer to the refugee children as the Lost Children.

Husband and wife differ in how they relate to sound. He just listens; her style is more journalistic. They joke that she was a documentarist while he was a documentarian, which meant that “I was more like a chemist and he was more like a librarian.” As the trip progresses it becomes clear that those differences are irreconcilable and that husband and wife will split at the end. “How do you fill the emotional voids that appear when there are sudden, unexpected shifts.”

Wife has a book called the Elegies, which are stories of refugee children traveling to the border. The stories stick with the children. In addition, there is a lot of discussion of sound and echoes.

At the Burro Mountains, the family rents a cottage. While the parents are sleeping the boy decides that he and the girl should leave and search for the lost children, and then find their way through the desert to Echo Mountain. His thought process was deeply influenced by the adult’s obsessions. “Ma would start thinking of us the way she thought of them, the lost children. All the time and with all her heart. And Pa would focus on finding our echoes, instead of all the other echoes he was chasing…Ma and Pa would have to find us.” The children’s solo travels are paralleled by addition elegies.

At different stages of the book the wife opens and catalogues each box. At the end, the reader is treated to each polaroid taken during the trip. The first part of the book is narrated by the wife, the runaway by the Boy and the elegies by a third party. The children’s walk through the desert is described in one 19 page sentence. The book focuses on the child refugee crisis, the distancing of husband and wife and the impact of everything on the children. The book is complex, creative and literary. The author’s notes at the end clarify many of the references. The novel is beautiful, but it is difficult both in its density and its substance. It can be reserved at the Cuyahoga County Library by clicking here.

The ResistersThe Resisters is a complex dystopian story envisioning the consequences of an authoritarian technology dependent future. And yet, the story involves baseball!

The story begins with Gwen. As a baby, Gwen “threw her stuffed animals straight through her bedroom doorway. They shot out, never so much as grazing the door frame, and they always hit the wall of the staircase across from her bedroom at a certain spot…”. Gwen had a golden arm.

Gwen’s parents, Eleanor and Grant Cannon-Chastanet were Surplus, Unretrainables, people with discontinued professions. “Factory workers, drivers, and customer representatives, in the beginning—joined…by assorted doctors, lawyers, accountants.” The list goes on. Eleanor had been a lawyer and Grant had been a teacher. Both were deemed unretrainable. “…it was hard not to notice that the Unretrainables did somehow include everyone coppertoned, as well as everyone spyeyed, like Eleanor.”

The family lives in AutoAmerica, and the government is run by Automation and AI rolled up with the Internet.  The family referrs tothe government  as Aunt Nettie. However, AutoAmerica still has a constitution and Eleanor is an activist trying to obtain rights for the Surplus. She has been jailed and tortured a number of times.

The job of the Surplus is to consume. There are MallTrucks for free food and living points for doing as Aunt Nettie decrees. On the other hand, the Netted, who are much more privileged than the Surplus, must produce. Their children can go to college and they have many freedoms.  As you can imagine, the Surplus and the Netted have certain unsubstantiated ideas about each other.

Gwen goes to school and makes a friend, Ondi. Ondi is a handful and spends a lot of time at Gwen’s house and learns to knit. She goes off on a lark and falls afoul of the “Enforcers”. Her family, the Nickelhoffs, live in a Flotsam town on the water. As a result of Ondi’s behavior, the family is set to drift on the high seas with no port of entry for 30 days. AutoAmerica experiences extremes of weather as the result of climate change. The 30 day castoff is miserable and Ondi’s parents blame Eleanor and Grant.  the i8mpact of this punishment is felt throughout the story.

In the meantime, Eleanor establishes a secretive baseball league for the Surplus. The league had to start underground because the Surplus had no baseball fields and “gathering in unsanctioned spaces was Unlawful Assembly.” Gwen becomes a pitcher and is extremely successful.

Aunt Nettie learns about Gwen’s pitching and they offer her the opportunity to try out for the Netted University baseball team. Surplus are rarely given the opportunity to attend Netted University. Gwen is not interested but she is convinced. She manages to bring Ondi with her as a catcher. She has two netted roommates who are kind and outraged about the discrimination experienced by the Surplus. Gwen becomes a pitcher on the team and is very successful. She also develops a relationship with the Coach.

In the meantime, Eleanor has just won a lawsuit against Aunt Nettie regarding Emanations coming from Surplus fields where children play. The Emanations were causing physical ailments. Eleanor is also pursuing litigation involving the food at the Mall Trucks. Aunt Nettie does not like Eleanor!

Gwen is forced to join the AutoAmerica Olympic team and the team ultimately goes to the finals against ChinRussia, where there has been some resistance to the repressive government. During the final game, Eleanor disappears and all kinds of things happen. You will have to read the book to see how it ends.

There is a lot in the book. There are enforcers and drones and GreetingGrams and PigeonGrams. Surplus can cross over and copper tone can PermaDerm their skin and become AngelFair. But mostly, the novel is about the excesses of authoritarianism fueled by artificial intelligence and the resulting discrimination and isolation. The story is deeply rich and the characters are complex and sympathetic. There is a bit too much detail in the futuristic description (bots, talking houses, etc.), but once you get past that the novel is a thought provoking read. You can reserve it at Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

Red at the BoneRed at the Bone is about the complexities of love, youth, parenthood and unsatisfied expectations.

When beautiful Iris becomes pregnant at the age of 15, not only is her life turned upside down, but the lives of her mother, Sabe, her father, Sammy Po‘Boy Simmons and her boyfriend, Aubrey Daniels, are thrust into turmoil. The novel describes each person’s reaction to the pregnancy and the arrival of Melody into their lives and gives the reader insight into the earlier lives of each character.

The novel starts with Melody’s 16th birthday coming out party. Melody is living in her grandparent’s house In Brooklyn, along with her father Aubrey. The adults are marveling over the passage of time. An orchestra is playing Prince’s Darling Nikki and Melody is wearing the coming out dress that Iris was never able to wear. Melody is thinking of the history of the house and her ancestors, musing that “I and everything and everyone around me was their dream come true now. If this moment was a sentence, I’d be the period.” This feeling was a far cry from the reactions to Melody’s arrival 16 years prior.

When Sabre discovered that Iris was pregnant with Aburey’s baby, she tried to beat the baby out of her. She was distraught at the fact that a teen pregnancy could happen in her family. “But when your child shows up with a belly and she’s not even full grown yet…you cry into the night until your throat is raw and there’s not another heave left inside you….so even though you feel like you’re never gonna get out of bed again, you rise…You rise in your Lord & Taylor cashmere coat and refuse to let shame stand beside you.”

Despite all the shame and angst, once Melody is born, there is only love. But Iris needs more and she leaves New York and enrolls in college at Oberlin, far away from Aubrey, Melody and her family. And after she graduates, she does not move in with them but lives in an apartment in Manhattan and sees her daughter on weekends.

Each character has a story. Aubrey is raised by a single mother—highly educated but destitute and untraditional. He has seen his friends go through dangerous experiences, both with drugs and gangs. After he graduates from high school, he goes to work in the mailroom of a law firm in the World Trade Center and that, along with raising his daughter, is enough for him. Iris is not interested in spending her life with him.

Sabre’s outlook on life and wealth was shaped by the experiences of her mother and grandparents.  Sabre’s grandmother had a beauty shop in Tulsa and her grandfather had a restaurant. In 1921, white residents burned both down and her grandparents and then two year old mother fled to Chicago to make a new life. That history taught Sabre to hold onto things that could not burn. “I know you hold onto your dreams and you hold onto your money. And I know that paper money burns…you find the men who sell you the blocks of gold. And you take those blocks of gold and stack them beneath your floorboards.”

The novel goes through the normal life cycles and ultimately Sabe and Po’Boy pass on. Iris describes an intense love as feeling “red at the bone—like there was something inside of her undone and bleeding.” The novel is both tragic and hopeful, describing the frustrations and difficulties of the past and the hopes and possibilities of the future. You can reserve the novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

Olive, Again“Olive Again” is Elizabeth Strout’s follow up to her highly acclaimed Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Olive Kitteridge. Similar to the original novel, Olive Again is 13 interrelated short stories, with similar themes.

In the first story, Arrested, we meet Jack Kennison, a slightly disgraced retired Harvard professor. Jack is 74, widowed and in the beginning stages of a romantic relationship with Olive. Jack reflects all of the book’s themes.  He is questioning many of his life decisions and wondering who he really is. This sense of regret and questioning of the individual’s very essence are themes throughout the stories. Jack has an adult daughter who is a lesbian and he has trouble accepting her. The tension between parent and child is also a theme of the book. Jack’s first marriage was fraught and both he and his wife had extramarital affairs. Dysfunction between husband and wife is also a theme of the book. Finally, Jack has not aged well and aging is a theme of the book.

In Cleaning, Kayley Callaghan is an 8th grader living in Crosby, Maine, the location for most of the stories. She comes from a poor single family household and makes money cleaning the house of widow Bertha Babcock. Kayley’s teacher, Mrs. Ringrose, asks Kayley to clean her house as well. While cleaning the Ringrose house, Kayley has some rather peculiar interactions with the elderly Mr. Ringrose. Kayley has an elderly friend, Miss Minnie, who lives in a depressing nursing home. She visits her periodically and her visits are also depressing. Mr. Ringrose ends up in the same nursing home.

Throughout each of the stories Olive has a presence. Some of the stories are specifically about Olive. Olive has a son Christopher who lives in New York City with his wife, her two children from prior relationships and their two children together. Christopher and Olive had not seen each other for 3 years when she invites him to come visit. Christopher’s wife is difficult, the children are unpleasant and the visit does not go well. Olive tells her son she is marrying Jack and he does not take it well.

At the beginning of the novel Olive is 73 and living independently and by the end of the book Olive is 83 years old and living in an adult community. The novel is extraordinarily depressing, focused almost exclusively on the loneliness and regrets in every stage of life, aging and the inevitable end. In one story, two brothers reconnect and they really should be happy. Although their wives do not get along they are a close family. And yet, one of the brothers sort of sums up the entire depressing point of the novel when he says: “And it came to him then that it should never be taken lightly, the essential loneliness of people, that the choices they made to keep themselves from the gaping darkness were choices that required respect.”

The book is beautifully put together, some of the stories are incredibly creative and yet, I am just not convinced that it had to leave the reader with such a sense of hopelessness. You can reserve this novel at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.

Grand Central StationMy friend Val lives in Westchester and travels to the city each day for work. She has been describing to me the dystopian feel of her days. An empty ghostlike grand central station, fearful commuters and anxious parents are just a few of her observations. Below is her as yet unpublished COVID-2019  Lament (NYC/March 2020)

 

The cavernous Grand Central is virtually empty

save for those few who trudge through.

Heads down, almost sheepish they go,

to offices that echo with loneliness.

The streets fare better, bikers and walkers

Afraid of the air and surfaces below.

Children on their way to school

Blissfully unaware of the threat.

Parents hold their hands, their only way

to try and keep them safe.

Workers at home, locked in,

Protected against what is out there.

For how long do we burrow,

closets teeming with supplies.

Spring may come and go without notice,

but we can’t

Girl, Woman, OtherGirl, Woman, Other is a wonderful novel about all the different kinds of people in the world and their commonality. The novel tells the story of 12 different women all of whom have a common connection—some obvious and some less so.

The story begins with an introduction to Amma. When we first meet her, Amma is 50 years old and preparing for the opening of her play, The Last Amazon of Dahomey, at the National Theatre in London. In her earlier years, Amma was quite radical and Amma and her glamorous friend Dominique started their own theatre company, Bush Women Theatre, which lasted for only a very short time. In those days, Amma and Dominique had a ”reputation for heckling shows that offended their political sensibilities.” But of course things change, and so did Amma, who had “spent decades on the fringe…until the mainstream began to absorb what once was radical and she found herself hopeful of joining it.”

Amma and Dominique, both lesbians and both with mixed ancestry, were never romantic but remained the closest of friends. Amma, who has many romantic partners, has a daughter (Yazz) with her gay friend, Roland. Dominiue ultimately leaves London and moves to America. She returns for Amma’s opening.

Carole is a poor child made good. Or so it seems. After an extraordinarily difficult childhood, Carole is mentored by a teacher in her high school and ultimately goes off to Oxford, where “there are very few dark skinned students.” Carole becomes a highly successful banker, marries a white man named Freddy and is greatly resentful that her former teacher, Mrs. King, takes credit for Carole’s success. Carole’s mother, Bummi, is from Nigeria, and Bummi and her husband, Augustine have a hard time finding success in England. Augustine dies and ultimately, after a deep relationship with a woman from her church, Bummi marries a widower named Kofi. Bummi did not realize that Carole’s success would cause Carole to reject her culture.

Carole’s teacher, Mrs. King, is actually Amma’s first childhood friend. Shirley King became a history teacher at Peckham School for Boys and Girls right out of school. She is energetic and passionate at the start but that enthusiasm slowly wanes. Between being black and being a woman she receives very little respect from her peers. “Shirley felt the pressure was now on to be a great teacher and an ambassador for every black person in the world.” One of the other teachers at the school, Penelope, is dismissive of Shirley and rude. As time goes by, however, Penelope and Shirley become friends. Penelope, who is white, was adopted as a child and the desire to know her natural parents has followed her through her life.

Hattie, also known as GG, is 93 years old when we meet her. We learn about her history, her children, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren. One of her great grandchildren is Megan, who chooses to go by Morgan and is in a relationship with Bibi, formerly a man who transitioned to a woman. Despite her age and some difficulty understanding her great granddaughter, Hattie accepts Morgan and Bibi and becomes close to both of them.

At the end of the novel everything (and everyone) comes together in a believable and brilliant manner. Through the stories of all of these diverse people, the novel explains that no matter who we are, no matter our background, our color, our religion or our sexual orientation, we all have commonality and ultimately we are all people with emotions, loves, families and histories. The book is just fabulous and so deserving of the 2019 Booker Prize. You can reserve Girl, Woman, Other at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.