BCM’s Friday Fiction! Jessica – Chapter 14

Thank you for visiting BCM’s Friday Fiction.  A new chapter will be posted every Friday.

Chapter 14 – The car I saw

It had been over a year since my high school graduation. Most of my old friends had gone off to college, and even when they were in town, I didn’t see them. It didn’t matter to me. I was in my small loop of Jimmy and work and I thought that was enough. I had a plan to save my money and make a life with Jimmy. I was building something.

Every day, I took the same route to work, driving past Jimmy’s house. I wonder how many trips I had taken down those roads before I lost sight of the rest of the world. And while I was consumed by the details of my own life, what happened that made me one day lift my head and focus on the car in front of me?

I was in the left turn lane on Gordon Drive when I saw the car. Only hours earlier, I had been warm and sleepy in Jimmy’s bed and I was thinking I could still feel the heat from his body as it pressed up against my back. The car was directly in front of me, the first in line at the red light. It was an ugly beat-up brown sedan. Its fenders were covered with mud and the side mirror was held into place by duct tape. My heart jumped when I caught a glimpse of the driver in the side mirror because I was sure his eyes were focused directly on me. I looked away.

He was dirty. He had scraggly hair and a messy beard. His window was down and I could see his arm poking through the ripped elbow of his flannel work shirt. He was such a mess he could have been my age or twenty years older. When the light turned green, the brown sedan started to move and once again, the driver glanced in his side mirror. I got a clear look at his dirty face and our eyes locked. He was staring at me in surprise! Our cars were moving and I turned too, following. My heart raced. Who was this?

Seconds later, he was off in the distance and I was turning into the Springs Diner. His expression had startled me, but I shook it off. My head was full of moments like that, short little stories that went nowhere, quickly forgotten. I told myself that this was another story.

I turned up the music in my car, another one of Jimmy’s favorites and I let myself get lost in its beat. I smiled at the memory of our bodies in a tight embrace. Jimmy and I were back, I thought, back to where we were. I thought maybe Jimmy’s bed was still warm from where my body had been, where we had drifted off to sleep, feeling glad to be together and possibly the only ones up in the world, at least our small one.

Thank you for reading.  All comments are welcome!

© All rights reserved.  All material on this blog is the property of Book Club Mom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs, by Anna Quindlen

Stll Life with Bread Crumbs
Still Life with Bread Crumbs

by
Anna Quindlen

Rating:
3 book marks

Rebecca Winter is a sixty-year-old photographer and her career is waning. Years earlier, her photograph entitled, Still Life with Bread Crumbs, made her famous and became a symbol of feminist thought. Now there are fewer royalty checks and finances are tight. She has a long list of hassles and expenses, including an ex-husband, an expensive apartment, and a mother with dementia. Hoping to sort it all out, she’s sub-let her Manhattan apartment and rented a cottage upstate.

What follows is a fairly predictable story about a woman who struggles with rustic living, mingles with small-town personalities and, of course, meets a manly man. All signs point to romance when Jim Bates, the local roofer, takes care of a raccoon in Rebecca’s attic. And when Rebecca discovers some mysterious crosses in the woods, she grabs her camera and starts shooting, hoping she can revamp her career. Plot lines ultimately converge with the expected conflicts, misunderstandings and crises and the story finishes with a neat, but unsurprising wrap-up.

Besides the formulaic structure, I had a hard time relating to the characters in this book. They seemed flat and stereotypical, which kept me from knowing and liking them. The one interesting part of the book, however, is the author’s discussion of art and talent. Rebecca’s believes her success with Still Life was accidental. She took the picture before she even thought about it, yet it was perfect. Quindlen aptly describes Rebecca’s situation: “Talking about art requires artists to sound purposeful and sure of themselves, but she’d never felt that way. Over the years, she’d made up a lot of reasons because people didn’t seem to like the arbitrariness of the reality.” I think this is very true about all creativity and I enjoyed thinking about how talent and spontaneity seem to go hand-in-hand.

But in the end, Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a casual read, with a simple plot and uncomplicated characters. I haven’t read anything else by Quindlen, but I’m wondering if some of her other books are better than this one. I’m willing to give another a try. Any suggestions?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

BCM’s Friday Fiction! Jessica – Chapter 13

Thank you for visiting BCM’s Friday Fiction.  A new chapter will be posted every Friday.

Chapter 13 – Job Description

As a young girl, I watched Dad leave for an office every day, dressed in a suit, his hair still wet from the shower and combed into a slickness that was part of a veneer that drew me to him when I was little. But I never understood what he did and if I asked, he always answered in generalities. He would smile at me and reach out to touch my arm or smooth my hair, like I was a doll to keep nice. He’d say he was in charge of bringing home the bacon, that he worked in the salt mines, that he always put his nose to the grindstone. I had no idea what any of that meant and, because he always seemed in a hurry to be done with his answer, I felt forced to accept his clichés. Despite his affection, I felt oddly insulted when he talked to me like that because I wasn’t a doll and I asked because I wanted to know.

Other kids at school had real answers when we asked what their dads did. When it was my turn, I often shrugged and said Dad worked in an office and if someone said, “But what does he do there?” I’d be forced to say I didn’t exactly know. All I wanted was a company, a title, something I could use. I couldn’t explain why it was important to me, but to him, I was a silly girl who didn’t need to know. Dad was gone from our family by the time I had the confidence to get a real answer, to show him I had a head for understanding.

After he left, I tried to picture him heading off to work from a new place, with his wet hair combed back into the style I remembered. I felt desperate for an image to hold in my head and hoped he was only somewhere temporary, that one day soon I’d be seeing him leave just for the day from our house, with the understood promise of return. I realized that I’d take any of the things he used to say on his way out the door, no matter what kind of tone he used with Mom. It might be, “Tell Stevie that garage better be cleaned by the time I get home.” Or, “I’ll be home at the regular time, but I’m playing tennis with Charlie, so I’ll be eating later with him.” I’d take anything.

But now our lives were changed and the routines were different. Our only connection after Dad left was the check he sent every month.  Now I had a Mom who worked and I could say, “Yeah, my Mom works in a bank.”

I caught Mom off guard one day, about six months after Dad left. She hadn’t talked much about our new life and, although she took care of us, Mom kept herself apart from me and Stevie, staying busy with her bank job and in the house. That day, I found her upstairs in her room folding laundry. She looked tired, but satisfied with the moment, as if folding our clothes into neat piles was creating an important order in our lives. “Hey,” I said as I stood in the doorway. I felt tentative there, halfway in the room, halfway in the hall.

“Hey, Jes.” Mom smiled.

I took a chance. “Mom, I’ve been wondering something. Will Dad always have enough money to send us every month?”

She turned and looked at me. She had a sad, but sweet expression on her face. I knew I had caught her in a rare moment and hoped she would tell me something about what would happen to my life.

“Honey, your Dad is not coming back, but he will always make sure we have enough money. You don’t need to worry.” She said this with a kind of entitled confidence and I wondered, how did she know this? What kind of words do divorcing parents use to exchange this kind of information?

“Is he working in New York now, Mom?” I wanted to know something about where Dad was.

“Yes, Jessica. He moved up north to be closer to his job.” I wanted to know more, if there were other new parts of his life, but I was afraid to ask.

“Oh,” I said. “But Mom, what is Dad’s job? I don’t even know. What does he do and how do you know he’s always going to send us money?”

Mom looked straight at me and her face tightened.  I was finally getting answers and I felt both sad and grateful at her effort. “Your Dad is a lawyer.” I caught the distinction. My Dad, no connection to her. “He works for Prince Computers. He makes plenty of money and it’s his job to pay for his family, even if he doesn’t want to live with us anymore.”

I suddenly understood that a job was more than just going to an office and I hoped Dad knew this too.

© All rights reserved.  All material on this blog is the property of Book Club Mom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

What’s new with Book Club Mom?

Here are a few of the things happening in my world:

Stll Life with Bread Crumbs
I’m about to begin reading Still Life with Bread Crumbs, by Anna Quindlen.  Quindlen is an American author, journalist and columnist. Still Life with Bread Crumbs was published in 2014 and is her latest novel. Other fiction includes One True Thing, Black and Blue and Blessings. Her New York Times column, Public and Private, won the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 1992. Quindlen is currently a columnist for Newsweek.

Here’s a complete list of Quindlen’s work:

FICTION
Still Life with Bread Crumbs
Every Last One
Rise and Shine
Blessings
Black and Blue
One True Thing
Object Lessons

NONFICTION
Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake
Good Dog, Stay
Being Perfect
Loud and Clear
A Short Guide to a Happy Life
How Reading Changed My Life
Thinking Out Loud
Living Out Loud

BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
Happily Ever After
The Tree That Came to Stay

Other Miscellaneous Happenings:

  • My blogging friend, Cathy of 746 Books, recently posted about a great picture book by Chris Van Allsburg entitled The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Check out her post on this book by clicking here. Van Allsburg (visit his website here) is an American author and illustrator of children’s books, including The Polar Express and Jumanji.  In The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, each picture is paired with a title and a few lines, designed to spark the imagination. My kids have outgrown picture books, but I got it at the library anyway. I agree with Kathy – this book isn’t just for kids!

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick ping

  • Summer is just around the corner and many parents are wondering how they will be able to keep their kids reading. My friend, Margaret, sent me a link to this helpful article from the Washington Post, Advice from kids’ authors: How do you get kids excited to read?
  • And for adult readers, Popsugar.com has published a list of the hottest new books to read this summer. Click here to check it out!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

All the Light We Cannot See – favorite parts

all the light we cannot see

I’m still thinking about All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr! That’s always a sign of a great book. Here are some of my favorite things, with only small spoilers:

First of all, can’t you just imagine a story taking place in this ancient walled city?

stmalo1

GREAT IMAGERY

There are so many examples. Here are just a few:

  • Doerr uses great imagery to make you understand how the characters feel about the war and the German occupation of France. Early on, Marie-Laure thinks she can smell gasoline under the wind, “As if a great river of machinery is steaming slowly, irrevocably, toward her.” (p. 61)
  • And Doerr compares the machinery in the distance to Hitler, as Frau Elena sits in the orphanage parlor and worries, “Coal cars grind past in the wet dark. Machinery hums in the distance, pistols throbbing, belts turning. Smoothly. Madly.” (p. 65)
  • Marie-Laure thinks about the bombing of Saint-Malo as if a big tree is being uprooted: “The notion occurs to her that the ground beneath Saint-Malo has been knitted together all along by the root structure of an immense tree, located at the center of the city, in a square no one ever walked her to, and the massive tree has been uprooted by the hand of God and the granite is coming with it, heaps and clumps and clods of stones pulling away as the trunk comes up, followed by the fat tendrils of roots – the root structure like another tree turned upside down and shoved into the soil..” (pp. 95-6)

GREAT CHARACTERS

Here are my favorites:

  • Marie-Laure because of her courage.
  • Papa and his love for Marie-Laure.  I love his puzzle boxes and the miniature neighborhoods he builds to help her learn her way around.
  • Werner despite his moral conflicts, because of what he does at the end and how he realizes that this is his moment, “All your life you wait, and then it finally comes, and are you ready?” (p. 465)
  • Madame Manec because of what she says to Etienne: “Don’t you want to be alive before you die?” (p. 270) I love how this idea becomes an important recurring theme.
  • Etienne because of how he transforms. When he acts, “he feels unshakable; he feels alive.” (p. 331)
  • Volkheimer because he has both good and bad sides. As Doerr develops this character, he introduces another great recurring theme, “What you could be.” (p. 251)
  • Frederick because of his courage to follow his own moral compass at Shulpforta.

THEMES

Courage, love, defiance, overcoming the belief that we are all locked into unchangeable roles.

UNIQUE STRUCTURE

  • Connections between characters and events that are not immediately apparent but are revealed later.
  • Characters that disappear from the storyline after you start caring about them, forcing you to wonder how they are doing and what they are thinking. Not everyone likes this, but I think Doerr does it deliberately to make you think.
  • Jumping back and forth between storylines and time periods. Some readers have complained about this. I think it forces you to think about what’s happening.
  • References to light and the moon throughout the book, but no exact repetition of the title in the text. A late reference ties it all together.
  • The mix of fairy-tale legends with wartime reality.

MISCELLANEOUS COMMENTS

  • Not everyone appreciates parallel references to books within a book’s story. Marie-Laure’s favorite book is Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne, and there are many references. I never read this one, but my general knowledge of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus was enough to make it work.
  • Because this story takes place during World War 2, some readers think there aren’t enough references to the Holocaust and the major events of the war. I think All the Light We Cannot See is more a story about characters doing great things during a terrible period of history, and that Doerr purposely focuses on the characters, not all the events of the war, which figure prominently in many other historical fiction books.
  • Some readers do not like Sergeant Major Reinhold von Rumpel’s villainous character, saying it does not fit with the rest of the book. I think it’s a necessary device to incorporate the Sea of Flames diamond plot into the storyline, but I agree with some of the comments.
  • Not everyone likes how the author ties up the story.  You’ll have to read it to understand what I mean.  I think the final chapters are necessary, and I always like when an author leaves a few loose ends for me to think about.
  • I especially love the indirect reference to The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis. Can’t say more because it will spoil the story!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

BCM’s Friday Fiction! Jessica – Chapter 12

Thank you for visiting BCM’s Friday Fiction.  A new chapter will be posted every Friday.

Chapter 12 – Empty Bedrooms

I decided to say nothing more about the rocks to Jimmy or Stu. Maybe I could figure them out by myself. But I couldn’t decide what to do about Jimmy. After I finished apologizing to him on the phone, I felt a flutter of angry nerves in my stomach. I wasn’t good at being mad at Jimmy even though I’d lived with a brother who flew off the handle all the time and with parents who, at the end of their marriage, argued constantly. I had learned nothing from any of them. Nothing except how to recede when voices were raised. Was that night at Jimmy’s my fault? Jimmy certainly made it seem that way to me. But it couldn’t be. He was the one who had shut me off. A small, nagging thought started to dig its way through to my brain. I had just been handled.

Mom was still at work. I wandered upstairs with no purpose and walked into her room. It was a violation, but I ignored the strange feeling, like an itch on the inside of my arm that I couldn’t locate to scratch with satisfaction. I wanted to direct my aggression at Mom and away from Jimmy. I figured if I couldn’t get anything out of Jimmy about his mood or those rocks, maybe poking around Mom’s stuff would make me feel better. I wanted a diversion and I thought this was a good one.

I never understood why Mom kept her room the same since Dad left. He had been gone seven years and it seemed pathetic to me to keep it that way. I wanted to tell her to move on, the way she already had with Stevie. Why should it be any different? She finally gave up on Stevie’s room about a year ago. I came home to find her packing his things into boxes and hauling them down to the basement. Now Stevie’s old room was a guest room. The bed sat in this newly decorated room, with a blue bedspread on top of sheets pulled tight at the corners. I’d only gone in there once, when Jimmy pulled me through the door frame and made love to me on the bed. We laughed our heads off later when we thought of what Mom would say if she knew. I carried this fact with the brazen power of youth and I thought I might use it on Mom someday when I was mad at her, tell her, “Yeah, Jimmy and I had sex on that bed, Mom,” in an offhand way. But I hadn’t yet. It felt right when I argued with her in my mind and released those words, but I hadn’t actually spoken them.

I sat on Mom’s bed wondering where she might have kept things that would be interesting to snoop through. I started with her top drawer, the place where I hid things in my own room. Nothing interesting, underwear, pantyhose, nothing I wanted to see. I opened the drawers, one by one and each one was more unexciting than the one before it. Mom was so neat. Everything was organized and folded. No drawers were overstuffed with clothes from every season. I should take notes, I thought, but the idea of trying to be like Mom made me shudder.

Nothing, the whole dresser was one big disappointing bore. I walked into the closet and stared at the shoe boxes on the top shelf, each box holding shoes that had been put back in their original box. I opened a few of the boxes, closed them back up and put them in their place. I turned around to look at what had been Dad’s side and it was practically empty, with a couple of garment bags hanging over by the end. How weird my mother was, I thought. Why wouldn’t she spread her things out to both sides? When Dad left, everything he took, he wanted, the rest he left behind, like us, I thought. He was a snappy dresser and he loved his clothes so when he left, he cleared out his entire side of the closet except for a hideous Hawaiian shirt that someone from Mom’s side had given him after a trip to Maui. Mom had left it in the closet for the longest time. I couldn’t remember if Dad had laughed when he got that shirt, which he had never worn, but if he had, I think it was probably the kind of laugh that when you’re a kid you don’t realize it’s meant to give an entirely different meaning, like “What idiots your side of the family is.” I looked over at the garment bags, thinking about Dad’s stuff and remembering that Hawaiian shirt and then I saw that the shirt was still hanging there on the other side of the garment bags.

I accomplished nothing looking through Mom’s things and I felt worse than I had before I started to snoop. I walked out of Mom’s room and went down the hall and into Stevie’s old room. It was a room that had no meaning to me anymore, except for that time with Jimmy. We had never gone in there again because truthfully, it was more fun remembering what we did in there than going in there again.

Stevie had been a rough and messy kid in that room and, before Mom cleared the place of Stevie’s things, the walls and floor were dinged and scratched and marked up more than in any other room in the house. Mom had been such a careful homemaker in every room except Stevie’s, where, particularly when he was older, she let it alone, in a powerless passive-aggressive stance. It was as if she had been saying, “Go ahead and let your room fall apart. You’ll get no help from me when it does.”

I couldn’t help see the irony in that because the room did fall apart, just like our lives and when Stevie left, and Mom went in there to clean it up and make his bed, it did no good.

Thank you for reading.  All comments are welcome!

© All rights reserved.  All material on this blog is the property of Book Club Mom. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.