Saturday, March 27, 2010


After I finished reading "The Center of Everything", by Laura Moriarty, I realized that not a great deal happened in the book - not, at least, for those who want high drama, action, suspense, mystery and true love. And the book basically stops rather than coming to a clear-cut end. But I loved every minute of it. It is about a girl who basically has to "grow herself up". A blurb on the cover flap describes Evelyn Bucknow as endearing, and I totally agree. That's probably why I loved reading about Evelyn even when her life is pretty much a hamster wheel.

Evelyn lives with her hapless mother, Tina, in a dreary, low-rent apartment. Tina is not a bad mother but they seldom have enough to eat or decent clothes to wear, and Evelyn is teased at school.  Tina's affair with the manager at the one job she manages to land has resulted in the birth of Evelyn's mentally handicapped little brother Samuel. Evelyn has a grandmother, Eileen, who loves them, but a grandfather, Joe, who calls Tina a whore for not having a husband. There's a sad-funny moment when a little girl hears Joe say "the whore's coming" and later innocently asks, "When's the horse coming?"

Grandma Eileen, however loving, is a fundamentalist Christian who has failed to keep Tina in the faith but is all to ready to indoctrinate Evelyn. Then there's Travis, a neighbor boy whom Evelyn has loved unrequitedly for a long time. Travis gets Evelyn's best friend Deena pregnant and marries her. If this all sounds utterly depressing to you, there are some redeeming, hope-bringing characters in the book, in the form of a couple of good teachers at the high school.  

Events in Evelyn's life don't bring dramatic changes but do transform her in little ways. Tina finds a way to get through to little Samuel and becomes a hit at her new job at McDonald's. A schoolmate who has taunted and tormented Evelyn is killed in a tragic car crash. Protests over the teaching of evolution at the high school lessen Grandma Eileen's religious hold on Eileen. And even as Travis and Deena' marriage sours, Evelyn sadly comprehends that Travis will still always be lost to her. She eventually concludes that she has perhaps judged her mother, Travis and Deena too harshly.

A lot of the book is just about Evelyn's everyday life in her small Kansas town - hanging in Deena's room, walking along the highway strip, school days, stopping by the soda fountain - but it is in no way boring. The characters, especially Evelyn, are spot on and the conversations are real and natural. We leave Evelyn at the end of her senior year. She's a smart girl and one just knows she will end up far from her redneck beginnings. But she will not leave behind the wisdom and compassion she has learned along the way.

Truly Plaice is one of the strangest things the citizens of Aberdeen County, NY, have ever seen. She is bigger than any other woman and most of the men. She's not fat, she's a giant. Tiffany Baker, the author, has a doctor give Truly a diagnosis of acromegaly, but that's not quite right. Truly, in fact, exhibited the different condition of giantism at a very young age. Gigantism is sometimes equated with acromegaly, but more precisely, an excess of growth hormone leads to pituitary gigantism (vertical growth) if the epiphyseal (bone cartilage) plates have not yet closed, but it leads to acromegaly (lateral growth) if they have closed.

Either term is practically moot anyway, as Truly is not diagnosed until she's middle aged. As a child, she's never even seen by a doctor. I seem to have read a lot of books lately about downtrodden young girls/women, and I always find myself rooting for them, and loving a lot of them too. I truly loved Truly.

Even if she hadn't been a giant, she would have had so many obstacles to a happy, productive life. Her father blames Truly when her mother dies giving birth to her. After he dies Truly is sent to live with a hardscrabble backwoods family while her beautiful sister Serena Jane is adopted and lives like a princess. Her sister marries Dr. Robert Morgan, one of a long line of Dr. Robert Morgans to have treated the sick of Aberdeen County. But Serena dies, so Truly, a spinster, moves in to take care of Serena Jane's young son.

The relationship between Truly and Dr. Morgan is one of the strangest ever set down on paper. There is no love lost between them. Dr. Morgan is vile toward Truly, but he is the one to diagnose her and start her treatments. She ends up staying with him to the bitter end, even after a horrific secret about Serena is revealed. And it is while living in Dr. Morgan's house that Truly discovers a shadow book thought to be long lost. Created by Tabitha, the strange wife of the town's first Dr. Morgan, it sets Truly on a path to her own vocation after she figures out its clues.

Some reviewers have described Truly as witchy, and the book as being touched with magic. However, it is not magic that Truly discovers, but plain old scientific knowledge. Truly, however, must learn how to wisely use the powers her knowledge gives her. And there is no magic involved when Truly finds a man to care for her. For it is apparent that size doesn't matter where True-ly love is concerned.

I found this book for a really great price ($2.50) at a consignment shop. It was a trade paperback with endpapers (which always USED to say "Quality Book" to me). It was written by James Patterson, and I have read at least two fairly good mystery/suspense novels by him, "Kiss the Girls" and "Along Came A Spider" (both Alex Cross novels.) Also, the title, "Sundays at Tiffany's" spoke to me, having very fond memories of "Breakfast at Tiffany's", the movie and the book by Truman Capote.

Oh, my god. I am such a fool.  I didn't have my glasses with me so I basically just skimmed the blurbs. If I could have read those lovely endpapers more closely I would have discovered that this book is about a woman named Jane who once had an invisible friend as a little girl and all of a sudden, 25 years later, she meets him again. She recognizes him, which she is not supposed to do (in the incredible world of invisible friends). He is a real, tangible presence. He can be seen, he can be felt, but he is not quite human. But he is becoming more and more human as he spends more time with Jane. And he is the handsomest, the smartest, the kindest man . . . and they fall in love. Oh Lord, let's stop here. Why did I bother finishing it?

Ben Givens is dying of colon cancer. A retired doctor, he knows full well the agony that faces him, and does not wish to go through it. A long-time hunter, he plans to kill himself but -  to protect his family -disguise it as a hunting accident. So one morning in October, which he thinks is his last day on earth, he takes his two dogs and leaves his home in Seattle to travel to the apple country east of the mountains - his childhood home. The old saying that "the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley" certainly applies to Ben on this day. A car accident "derails" him not long after he starts out. It is just the first in a chain of events that lead him hither and yon across the Washington countryside.

Ben is banged up, without transportation, in pain from his cancer, tired, and dirty and dusty as a tramp. An encounter with a pack of coyote-hunting wolfhounds leaves one of his dogs dead and another severely injured. His own physical struggles, his efforts to find a vet for the dog, obtaining medical assistance for a migrant worker with TB and helping to birth a baby all certainly do stand in the way of his original plan. Will he still carry it out? You have to read the book to find out. I was hesitant to start "East of the Mountains", thinking it might be a depressing book, but it turns out not to be. I particularly enjoyed Guterson's description of Washington's interior, it being less well known than Seattle and other points on the coast. My husband is and avid hunter and outdoorsman and I think the book would have great appeal to him as well.

I don't know about you readers, but I have really stayed away from those Monster parodies by "Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters" or "Jane Austen and Steve Hockensmith" ("Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters" and "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", respectively).  I don't think I could even stand to own, much less read a copy, with their horrendous covers. So when I chanced upon a book called "The Pale Blue Eye" by Louis Bayard at a thrift shop, I was hesitant. In this book, no less a literary personage than Edgar Allan Poe is called upon to help solve a murder mystery. I was relieved to find that although there are ghoulish details, the novel in the main is a great detective story worthy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle or Poe himself.

The novel combines truth and fiction. Poe was actually a cadet at West Point Academy in 1830-1831. However, no cadet was murdered and had his heart torn out during Poe's time at the academy. After the first murder occurs, retired New York City detective Gus Landor, living nearby, is called in to help solve the crime (eventually crimes). He is captivated by Poe's personality and intelligence and enlists him in the search for the murderer.

More than that, I will not say. However, I will say this: If you think you have solved the mystery at some point during the book, I would wager that you have not. And if you did, you are far, far smarter than I.

1 comment:

lila said...

David Guterson's book is one I have been tempted to read. I loved his "Snow Falling on Cedar's"!