Book Review: It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way by Mary Rowen

It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way
by
Mary Rowen

Molly Dolan dreams of a steady relationship. At twenty-five, she’s floundering, drinking too much and making poor decisions. The only good thing going is Molly’s job. She got in on the ground floor at FSI as senior marketing writer, but she’s just learned of a big a change.

Molly’s relationship problems began in high school. When her one close friendship ended tragically, she tried to suppress her feelings, but the burden of loss and regret led to reckless decisions and she has carried that burden into adulthood.

Molly’s neighbor Fred Flaherty is alone at seventy-two. Divorced for many years, he listens to Jim Croce records and talks to buddies on his ham radio. But his failed marriage and the recent death of his younger brother, Davey weigh heavy on him.

When Davey was born, Fred’s awkward and lonely childhood turned happy. The twelve-year difference didn’t matter because they adored each other. Now Fred looks back at how Davey’s once promising future dissolved when he returned from Vietnam.

With seemingly little in common, Molly and Fred strike up a friendship that, despite many unforeseen obstacles, may help them find happiness and direction in their lives.

Mary Rowen’s charming new book, It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way, is due out this fall. It’s a hopeful and touching story about how people make mistakes and get caught up in bad situations, even when they’re trying to do the right thing. Set outside Boston, in Arlington, Massachusetts, the story begins in 2012 and begins with Molly’s first-person narrative. Alternating third-person chapters provide details about both characters’ lives, framed by chapters named after Jim Croce’s music. Readers will like how Rowen’s flawed characters navigate modern and realistic situations. She introduces serious themes of family problems, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual assault, harassment and mental health and buffers them with everyday examples of kindness and humor.

I recommend this women’s fiction story about difficult relationships and hopeful friendships and look forward to more books by Rowen.

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Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

olive kitt pic
Olive Kitteridge

by
Elizabeth Strout

Rating:

Olive Kitteridge is Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of thirteen integrated short stories about the people of Crosby, Maine, a seemingly simple town on the New England coast.  The people in Crosby trade news and gossip, but the real stories lie buried deep in the complicated and often painful family relationships that only surface behind their closed doors.

The stories span twenty-five years and focus on the town’s most complicated character, Olive Kitteridge, whose harsh and critical personality is both widely disliked and misunderstood.  Not surprisingly, Olive’s husband, Henry, the town’s pharmacist, and their son, Christopher bear the brunt of her brutal temperament.

Olive speaks her mind.  She apologizes to no one and alienates many.  But something happens over time:  the reader discovers that, while Olive has no patience for simps and ninnies, she cares very much about the emotionally vulnerable, and intervenes at crucial times, using a keen instinct.  If only she could treat Henry and Christopher this way.  Olive’s everyday interactions with her family are so unpleasant they cause deep and lasting damage.  As years pass and lives change, however, Strout offers a better look at Olive’s marriage.  The author shows glimpses of hope, renewed connections and a true understanding of a very complicated woman.

Olive Kitteridge is one of the best books I’ve ever read.  Strout takes a simple Maine town and adds layers and layers of themes, including depression, love, family, marriage, infidelity, growing old and forgiveness.  Her characters show that goodness exists right next to all the flaws and faults of human interaction.  One of my favorite things about Olive is how she works out her frustrations in the garden.  The hearty yet fragile beauty of flowers is everywhere in these stories, an excellent metaphor.  In addition to flowers, Strout includes the subtle yet prominent influence of nature and the sea in her characters’ lives. Sub-themes of religion and politics add further understanding of her characters.

While all of the thirteen stories are terrific, my favorites are “Pharmacy” in which Strout shows Henry’s lovable and caring personality, “Incoming Tide”, a story of critical human connection and “River”, a hopeful look to the future.

Olive Kitteridge is the type of book you can read more than once.  This was my second read and I enjoyed as much as the first, picking up on wonderful details about the characters and town.

This book has made it to my All-Time Top Ten List!

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