Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I really liked this memoir. I loved that it was the kind of read that you could pick up and finish in a couple of days, but not because you'd done nothing but read for those two days.

Rhoda Janzen is a Mennonite who 'left the fold' in the religious sense only. Following the dissolution of a long-term marriage when her mentally ill, sometimes abusive husband left her for 'Bob from gay.com' she is further broken, literally, by a car accident that leads her to take some much-needed solace and rest in the home of her parents, who are devout Mennonites; her father was actually once the head of the North American Mennonite Conference for Canada and the United States.

Full of humor, explanations of some of the philosophies of the faith and lots of talk about the food that comforts, there were several times that I actually laughed out loud. I know it's such a cliche, but this really is 'laugh-out-loud funny'.

Throughout, she is respectful of her parents' religion, but is still able to point out the things that are ridiculous to her in a way that is humorous without being bitter.

She clearly loves her family, and everybody likes a good story about getting back to your roots, even if you never really strayed very far.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Hour I First Believed The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In this story within a story, within a story, Wally Lamb encompasses a number of this country's tragedies from the last decade, then reaches back to the Civil War, suffrage and the formation of women's prisons to weave a tale that is richly told.

Focussing on the lives of teacher Caelum Quirk and his 'three strikes' wife Maureen, a school nurse, Lamb tells the story of a couple struggling to make their marriage work, after finally realizing that they truly do love, need and want each other, in the midst of chaos and tragedy.

Maureen, working at Columbine on the day of the shooting, was in the library hiding in a cupboard. One of the 'collaterally damaged' she struggles with acute PTSD that slowly slides into chronic PTSD. Caelum, who was on his family farm dealing with the aftermath of his Aunt Lolly's death, the aunt who helped raise him, was gone from school that day and is left wondering how everything might be different if he'd been at school that day.

Selling their home in Colorado, they move back to his family home in Connecticut where he discovers old letters and documentation about his ancestors and the Women's prison his great, great, great grandmother founded, along with family secrets, history and lore.

A story of self-discovery, intertwined with mythology and faith and rich with history, this is one story that won't let you down on a research level. i won't go into the particulars of the story, so as not to contain spoilers.

The one criticism I have, and it was discussed at book club, was that it seemed like SO much happened in the book; he was personally involved with people from Columbine, Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War...but that's understandable from the story-telling standpoint because those sub-plots were illustrative of how much things have and have not changed all at once. From the Civil War to Iraq, everyone struggles with their belief system, and how they're going to apply it.

View all my reviews >>