A Fortunate Life by Fred H. Rohn

I am very excited to share the cover to a special project I have been working on for the past year.

cover-reveal

A Fortunate Life is written by my father, Fred H. Rohn.


image0-jpgAuthor Fred H. Rohn grew up on Hurden Street in Hillside, New Jersey, a place that played a pivotal role in his upbringing.

From bike rides and street games in Hillside, to marriage and children in the town of Madison, Rohn shares his experiences of growing up during the Depression, attending college, serving in the Navy, embarking on a business career, and marrying his best friend and high school sweetheart.

Offering an important historical perspective on growing up in the twentieth century, this memoir shares what Rohn considers to be the factors of a fortunate life. Interspersed with photographs from past and present, he shows how one small life fits, as a microcosm, into the fabric of family, friends, and an ever-changing world environment.


Get your copy of A Fortunate Life here.


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The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

the-beginners-goodbye
The Beginner’s Goodbye
by
Anne Tyler

Rating:

When Aaron’s wife suddenly dies, there’s no time to resolve the big and small issues in their marriage.  As a thirty-something widower, he can’t bear to go back to their house.  His memory of what would have blown over as a meaningless tiff hangs inside, unresolved.

Dorothy had come at just the right time in his life.  Disabled by a childhood fever, he’d spent a lifetime being managed by his mother and sister, Nandina.  Dorothy’s indifference and matter of fact personality had been just what he needed.  “What’s wrong with your arm?” she had asked when they first met.  When he explained, she said, “Huh” and they moved on and fell in love.  But their marriage was not exactly typical.  Dorothy’s medical career kept her self-focused and inattentive, on the surface.  That’s what Aaron had wanted after all.

After Dorothy’s death, Aaron wades through the early paralyzing months of grief and he remembers what he had loved about his wife, as well as a mix of other pointless marital misunderstandings.  And when Dorothy first appears by his side, he can’t make sense of her presence, but it could be his chance to make things right.

Several nice parallel stories make The Beginner’s Goodbye a refreshing read.  The title’s tie-in with Aaron’s experience is one of them.  As an editor of a family-run vanity press, his good-bye experience fits in well with the company’s beginner’s series, guides to help readers through life’s passages.  Tyler’s message seems to suggest a gentle and guided change through difficult times. I like that.  Aaron may be lost in the trenches of unhappiness, but even his predictable and monotonous office life offers new possibilities, if only he will notice.  I like that too.

Aaron’s relationship with Nandina also changes when he moves in with his sister.  Nandina, unmarried, still lives in their childhood home.  Living there, even temporarily while his house is fixed up, makes Aaron vulnerable to her doting ways.  Is it a step forward or backward?  A surprising twist in circumstances shows Aaron that nothing stays the same, and that’s good.

I enjoyed reading The Beginner’s Goodbye because of its refreshing outlook, even in tragic circumstances.  I have read several of Tyler’s books, but nothing recent and thought this was a good way to get back into my Anne Tyler reading mode!

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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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What’s on your reading wish list?

Image:  gcastd.org
Image: gcastd.org

Although I’m busy with my Summer Reading Challenge, here are a few books on my wish list:


The Nest

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

D’Aprix’s debut novel about four adult children’s dysfunctional family and their joint trust fund.


The Swans of Fifth Avenue

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

Benjamin’s new novel about New York’s socialite Swans of the 1950s: Slim Keith, C. Z. Guest, Gloria Guinness, and Pamela Churchill.  Everything changes when Truman Capote enters the scene.


The Widow

The Widow by Fiona Barton

Here’s another debut novel:  a story about being the perfect wife to a man accused of a heartless crime.


My Name is Lucy Barton

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

One of my favorite writers!  Mother and daughter come together after many years as they confront the tension in their imperfect family.


When Breath Becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Paul Kalanithi, age thirty-six, was just completing his training as a neurosurgeon when he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer.  In his book he asks, “What makes life worth living in the face of death?”


Have you read any of these?  What’s on your list?

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The Vacationers by Emma Straub

The Vacationers
The Vacationers
by
Emma Straub

Rating:

This entertaining book is a light beach read about the dysfunctional Post family, on a trip from Manhattan to Mallorca, Spain for some forced family vacation fun, a two-week trip to a beautiful island home on top of a mountain.

Franny and Jim Post are in crisis, despite thirty-five years of marriage.  Their daughter, Sylvia is off to college in the fall.  She has a few crucial things to check off her list before the summer is out and her handsome Spanish tutor may be able to help her with that.  Joining the group from Miami are Sylvia’s brother, 28-year-old Bobby and his older-woman girlfriend, Carmen.  Bobby and Carmen have their own problems and they may not be able to keep them under wraps in Mallorca.  Rounding out the group is Franny’s long-time friend Charles and his new husband Lawrence.  Lawrence already feels like an outsider.  Can he tolerate the intense friendship between Charles and Franny?

Everyone has issues, there is plenty of tension and the Wi-Fi in the house stinks.  Franny, despite being furious with Jim, tries to keep it together by organizing day trips and cooking elaborate meals.

As the days wear on, some relationships improve, but others worsen and one or two implode.  On a trip to the beach, it looks as if the vacation will end in disaster.  Can anything be salvaged?

I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining story.  It is perfect for the summer and I was in just the right mood to read something fun.  While the characters are simply drawn and the plot is predictable, Straub adds her own style to the dialogue and her characters’ points of view.  I was surprised to see it got very mixed reviews on Amazon, but I’m sticking with my four bookmarks!

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train
by
Paula Hawkins

Rating:

There’s a certain irresistible urge to invent details about the lives of the strangers we see. Sometimes it’s just a way to pass the time, but for Rachel Watson, it becomes an obsession that puts her in the middle of both a personal crisis and a crime investigation. Rachel is Hawkins’ “girl on the train,” who, during her commutes to London and back, notices Scott and Megan Hipwell, an attractive couple she believes is gloriously happy. Rachel gives them imaginary names and assigns them glamorous and exciting lives, filling a void in her own life. When Megan goes missing, Rachel is sure she can help, if she can only dig through her alcohol-clouded memories of the night Megan disappeared.

I enjoyed this psychological thriller, which reminds me of the Alfred Hitchcock movie, “Rear Window” and introduces the idea that a stranger may know more about a crime than the people involved. The story is narrated by three characters, Rachel, Megan and Anna Watson, new wife to Rachel’s ex-husband, Tom. The story’s momentum is based on details that are withheld by each narrator, much like a “getting-to-know-you” phase in real relationships. It isn’t until the finish when the reader can look back and realize that, yes, this one was a jerk all along, or that one was suffering much more than it showed, this one actually showed some good qualities and that one did a good thing. A second read shows details, references and foreshadowing that may go unnoticed the first time around.

Readers have criticized this withholding of details, saying it’s a contrived method to keep the story going, but I think it is very similar to the beginnings of real relationships. No one spills it all in the beginning. The big reveals often come much later.

Hawkins’ female characters, although not overly developed, represent the challenges that young women face: careers, marriage and children. On the surface, these are universal choices, but for many, individual back stories and loss make it impossible to move forward. Rachel is so desperate for human contact she thrusts herself into a crisis. Megan is haunted by her own demons and behaves recklessly. And Anna has the dream life, but her possessive and territorial behavior may wreck what she has.

The male characters in the story are as much a puzzle, muddled with both good and bad parts to them, causing the reader to question all of their motives. Added to the mix is a mysterious man with the ginger hair and blue eyes, someone Rachel only has a dim memory of meeting.

As new facts emerge, the reader gets a clearer view of who’s who and who did what, which, at this point, moves the story to its final and tense confrontation and a satisfying finish.

I disagree with other criticisms that the book’s finish was predictable. I don’t like to look too far ahead when I’m reading a book like this because I think it takes away from its enjoyment, which is the whole point, isn’t it?

The Girl on the Train is a suspenseful, fast and entertaining read, with deeper questions about relationships and human contact.

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We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

we are not ourselves.jpg
We Are Not Ourselves

by
Matthew Thomas

Rating:

We Are Not Ourselves is a look inside a family struggling with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a story about how a husband, wife and son cope with the overwhelming challenges they face and with a heartbreaking illness that grinds to its inevitable finish.

By the time she meets Ed Leary, Eileen Tumulty has already decided what she wants out of life and that is to escape from the Woodside, Queens neighborhood where she grew up. As the daughter of hard-working, but hard-drinking Irish parents in a loveless marriage, Eileen spent most of her childhood propping up her mother and running the household.

Once married, Eileen’s dreams of an elegant home seem within reach. She is a successful nurse. Ed is a brilliant research scientist and she can already envision where his career path will take them. A baby boy, Connell, completes the picture. What Eileen doesn’t foresee is Ed’s resistance to change. He’s happy where he is, first as a tireless and hyper-focused researcher and then as a professor at a community college, intent on making his mark right there.

This is a story in itself, full of complicated family dynamics and marital conflict, but when Ed is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the Leary family changes into something else. Once again, the burden falls on Eileen to step up and make key family decisions, including the most important one, how long to keep Ed at home.

I was drawn into We Are Not Ourselves because of this story set-up. Thomas has a simple, sometimes clipped, but often elegant writing style. He includes a lot of side characters and scenes, however, which plump the book up to its hefty 623 pages. It’s hard not to question these digressions, including a good deal of baseball references, most appreciated by fans, but extraneous to others. Side plots, such as Connell’s stint as a doorman and Eileen’s visits to a series of cult-like therapy sessions, have only loose connections to the plot. In addition, a long rant about the American healthcare system seems contrived and preachy.

Despite its length, the main characters, especially Eileen and Connell, remain undeveloped, which makes it hard to identify with them. Because the reader knows little else about Eileen’s emotions, her drive for a better life merely comes across as selfish, cold and judgmental. Connell is equally self-absorbed and unable to do his part. It’s tempting to give him the teenager’s pass for being irresponsible, but there’s just not enough in his character to warrant it. Thomas leaves a frustrating gap between all three characters and when he does bring them together, their emotional connections are hard to believe.

Ed is the center of the story and is the most developed character. Even before his diagnosis, it’s easier to sympathize with him when Eileen tries to push him around. That also makes it easy to dislike her and Connell. Maybe that’s the whole point of the book’s construction, to force the reader to focus on Ed. And perhaps that’s why Eileen and Connell are such flat characters. I guess I just wanted to like someone in the story. The only one who came close was Ed.

Criticism aside, I did enjoy the book and there were many moving sections and telling dialogue, where only a few words make a great point, one of Thomas’s obvious talents. Here’s a great example.

When Ed receives his diagnosis, right away, Eileen says they need to get a second opinion. Ed’s response says it all, revealing a keen sense of self-awareness:

We don’t need a second opinion. He’s the second opinion.

Another favorite scene is when Ed and Eileen are at Macy’s. Ed is intent on buying her a dress for Christmas. He wants to surprise her, but Eileen has to help. His ability to communicate has already begun to crumble, but he puts his words just right:

‘I like you in blue,’ he said. The simplicity of the declaration put an ache in her chest. He directed no animosity at her for having rescued him in the transaction. He seemed to feel only a naked desire to please. He was being stripped of pride, of ego, ruined, destroyed. He was also being softened.

Scenes in the nursing home are equally moving, giving the reader insight into the meaning of Ed’s limited words, some of them heartbreaking. I think this is the strongest part of the book. And the most beautiful part of the book is Ed’s letter to Connell. While a reminder that there are no guarantees in life is nothing new, Ed has the best advice for his son:

What matters most right now is that you hear how much I want you to live your life and enjoy it. I don’t want you to be held back by what’s happened to me.

A good message and Connell will try to take it to heart.

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A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins cover
A God in Ruins

by
Kate Atkinson

Rating:

How do you reconcile the things you do during a war with how you live when it’s all over? Can you make up for what you did? This is the conflict that becomes Teddy Todd’s personal war in Kate Atkinson’s terrific book, A God in Ruins, a companion to her equally terrific book, Life After Life.

Life After Life is a “what if” story, showing the different paths and possible outcomes for Teddy’s sister, Ursula, during World War II. A God in Ruins is about Teddy and his role as an RAF pilot during its bombing campaign over Germany. You can read them independently, but I think it’s better to read Life After Life first.

Both books are ambitious reads and can’t be rushed. A God in Ruins, however, is a different kind of story, and examines Teddy’s life during and after the war. Atkinson also introduces Teddy’s wife, Nancy and their daughter, Viola and her children, Sunny and Bertie, taking the reader to the present day. As in Life After Life, this story includes a lot of time jumps and requires careful reading. But the central story revolves around one path in Teddy’s life and his role as a husband, father and grandfather.

It’s hard to explain how this story goes without spoilers, but I can tell you this: Atkinson has a beautiful writing style that creates a reading experience like no other. From the beginning, her description of the Todd family puts the reader right in the middle of their home at Fox Corner, and with the neighboring Shawcross sisters. When the war breaks out, Teddy announces he wants to fly planes, a wartime career of exceptional leadership that defines and haunts him his entire life.

The most important theme in A God in Ruins is the war and the things people must do during this time. Can you be at peace with dropping bombs? Can you make up for “the dreadful moral compromise that war imposed upon you?” Teddy deliberately chose how to live after the war – “he resolved that he would try always to be kind. It was the best he could do. It was all that he could do.” But these choices do not guarantee happiness.

As in Life After Life, flowers, trees and animals, especially foxes, hares, dogs and birds, play an important part in the characters’ lives and suggest a strong spiritual connection with nature, including the idea of reincarnation. These ideas tie into her characters’ doubts of faith during wartime. Ursula puts it just right when she says, “There’s a spark of the divine in the world – not God, we’re done with God, but something. Is it love? Not silly romantic love, but something more profound…?”

I loved every word of this book, but here’s what I loved best about A God in Ruins:

  • Teddy’s character – especially how he quietly takes care of the people in his life. His leadership of his flight crew shows how much he cares about the people around him. But his character has this great moral dilemma – he and his crew are killing innocent people, but the distance removes them from reality. Can you blame them? They’re fighting the enemy. After the war, Teddy’s love for his grandchildren comes before everything, but Atkinson throws a curveball at Teddy’s character, something that may change the reader’s opinion..
  • Sunny’s character – Atkinson reveals it bit by bit and the reader comes to understand him by the end of the story.
  • Viola’s transformation – reading about things from her perspective changes everything. Saving her point of view to the end forces the reader to completely reconsider her character.
  • The appearance of Ursula’s dog, “Lucky” from Life After Life. It’s great to see him in this story too!
  • I like how Atkinson also shows the important role that women played during the war. Many worked as pilots transporting planes, truck drivers, translators, mathematicians, decoders and nurses.
  • Atkinson shows small details about her side characters, hinting about stories and scenarios that the reader can imagine taking place in the background. This is especially true with her descriptions of Hugh and Sylvie and their marriage.
  • She makes a small jab about the Eat, Pray, Love craze – enjoyed that very much!
  • Her description of the moment of death – its effect on family members who are far apart, how they can sense it, on nature, on the world, and on what’s next.

A God in Ruins ends in a surprising twist. It has left me wondering, but I’m thinking that’s just what the author wanted! Have you read A God in Ruins? What did you think? Did you like the ending?

If you liked this review, click here to read my review of Life After Life.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

Friday Fiction – Jessica Ch 43 “Control”

Friday Fiction

Jessica

Thank you for visiting Book Club Mom’s Friday Fiction. Below is Chapter 43 of Jessica. The story is winding down, but there are still some loose ends hanging! I hope you will follow me to the finish and tell me what you think.

Chapter 43 – “Control”

Stu left for work in a wave of good cheer. How different he was from the person I thought I knew! I stared at the frame of Stu’s mother. Maybe she had the answer. The counter was still cluttered, but someone had cleared the area around her picture. Was it so Stu and his family could see her better or was it to give her a better view of those she left behind? If she could see me with her family now, would she tell me that I could trust Stu? I’d listened to Jimmy complain so much about him, and felt my own anger towards him, nothing fit, not yet.

Stu was the leader of this family but it was his father who should have held them together. Instead, he gave the job to his son. What determines what people do when loss knocks them over? What makes one person get back up and another give up? My own mother had been the one to pick herself up, even if it took a while, and it was my father who had knocked her down. Dad was hit too, but it was by something selfish. The boredom of marriage, the excitement of someone new. Maybe I had the right to analyze, but I didn’t like thinking about their marriage, or about who was the stronger person. Dad was always the take-charge guy, but he hadn’t done the right thing. I knew the truth. He ran away because, for him, it was easier.

It was getting late. I couldn’t think about Dad or Stu any longer. I had to talk to Dr. Hutchins and tell her how angry I was about Briarwoods. I called her private line and she answered on the first ring.

“Hi Dr. Hutchins. It’s Jessica. I need to talk to you.”

“Jessica, I’m so very glad you called. I’ve been waiting to hear from you. I know what you must be thinking. You’re probably mad at me for going behind your back. But you mustn’t think that. It’s only been a matter of timing, Jessica.” She was talking fast and I thought it was so I wouldn’t have the chance to tell her what I thought. “We have a lot to discuss. Can you come in to see me at 9:00 this morning?”

I felt like Dr. Hutchins was doing some damage control, but I knew we had to talk about it all and was glad she had an opening that morning.

“I’ll be there,” I answered.

I decided to save all my thoughts until we were face-to-face. I was determined to tell her that I had no interest in going away. I wanted to tell her about Stevie. Maybe that would be a good way to convince her I needed to be around.

——

Dr. Hutchins met me in the reception area. I didn’t know if she had broken some kind of privacy law by talking to my parents first about Briarwoods, but I was beginning to suspect that she knew she had at least overstepped.

She talked before I could speak. “Jessica, I’m so glad you could come see me this morning. Come right back to my office and grab an iced tea from the fridge if you are thirsty.”

“Hi Dr. Hutchins,” I answered, then I followed her. I wasn’t going to give her an inch.

Instead of waiting for me to decide about the iced tea, Dr. Hutchins opened the mini fridge in her office and grabbed two bottles. She turned back to me and said, “Here, take one now, then if you get thirsty while we’re talking, it will be right there for you.”

I took the bottle from her. “Thanks, I’m not really thirsty, but I’ll hold onto it.”

“Have you taken your meds today, Jes?”

I had, but I was annoyed by the reminder. “Yes, I have, Dr. Hutchins. You don’t have to ask. Lots of people are checking up on me now, but I don’t need that. I told you and my mother, and now my father, because he seems to be involved with my health now too, that I don’t intend to stop taking them until we figure out a better plan or a new medicine to try. I know you may all find it hard to believe that I wouldn’t forget to take them, but I, more than anyone, won’t forget what I just went through when I went totally off them. You may not realize it, but I didn’t enjoy being out of touch with reality, even if I couldn’t have admitted to it happening. I have been telling you all along that those pills make me feel dead. I’m young. I deserve to be able to enjoy my life and not have it be pushed down by medicine. I know that you are just trying to help and we both thought that this prescription would help, but you can see that even if it did help in making me more balanced, in the end it failed because that muted and heavy feeling that came along with these meds is what made me stop taking them.”

I was just winding up and only wanted to take a breath before I told her what I thought about Briarwoods, but Dr. Hutchins interrupted.

“Jessica, I know you are mad and frustrated about a lot of things, but please, let’s sit down first.” She moved towards her desk and I wondered if she was going to just sit behind it to give herself some kind of advantage, but she only took a folder off the top of a pile and motioned me to the sitting area.

“Here, let’s sit over here,” and she sat in one of the single chairs. A nervous smile flashed across her face. She put the folder on the table and I sat in a chair across from her. I looked at the couch and the box of tissues on the table and thought of some of my earlier visits. I had never stretched out on the couch like I imagined other patients did, but even when I sat on it, I felt small and powerless. Today I wanted to be on equal ground with her.

“Okay, now I know you are angry with me for talking to your parents about Briarwoods, but you have to give me a chance to explain myself. It may seem like I should have had time to talk to you first, but so much has happened in a very short period of time. You have to understand that nothing is locked in. But if I want to get a patient into a place like that I have to plan. There are only so many spaces and all I wanted to do was prepare an option for you, Jes. Going to Briarwoods for a month isn’t the same as being committed to a facility. You have to know that. You are an adult and you have the final word on this. But whether your mother and father pointed this out to you or not, only part of it would be paid by insurance and your mother and father have agreed to pay the rest if you do go. So you see, they deserve to have a say in the matter if they are paying the bill. If it had just been you telling me you needed to get away, I wouldn’t even have been able to suggest Briarwoods. It’s an expensive facility. You should be glad for the chance to go to a place like that.”

“Hold on again, Dr. Hutchins. Why do you think I have to go away? That’s my number one question today. And yes, I am mad that you went to my parents before me. I don’t give a damn if they have offered to pay. You didn’t have the right to go behind my back.”

Dr. Hutchins reached for her bottle of tea, unscrewed the top and took a drink. There was no question she was stalling. I knew she didn’t have a good answer.

“Look, Jessica, I’m here to help you and I’ve always been on your side. If you don’t like the way I handled this, you have the right to tell me. But I was only trying to secure a spot at Briarwoods in case you decided to go there. I’ve already told you the final decision is up to you. We can sit here and argue that I should have talked to you first, but that’s not going to get us any closer to a solution.”

“I am telling you right now that there is no way in hell I am going to Briarwoods. And you were wrong to talk to my parents first, even if they are the ones with the wallet. Understood?”

Dr. Hutchins looked like a scolded child. “Okay, Jessica. I’m sorry.”

I smiled. “Thank you.” It felt good to be in control.

Thank you for reading – all comments are welcome.

Click below to check out earlier chapters.

Chapter 1 – “Jimmy”
Chapter 2 – “Stevie”
Chapter 3 – “A Photo and a Letter”
Chapter 4 – “The Life Within”
Chapter 5 – “Jimmy’s Truck”
Chapter 6 – “The Springs Diner”
Chapter 7 – “Dinner and a Game”
Chapter 8 – “He Made Me Nervous”
Chapter 9 – “I Called Dad on My Thirteenth Birthday”
Chapter 10 – “Connections and Time”
Chapter 11 – “The Reverse Apology”
Chapter 12 – “Empty Bedrooms”
Chapter 13 – “Job Description”
Chapter 14 – “The Car I Saw”
Chapter 15 – “It’s Not What You Think”
Chapter 16 – “A Different Route”
Chapter 17 – “Choosing Balance”
Chapter 18 – “A Mother Sees”
Chapter 19 – “Taking More”
Chapter 20 – “Robbing the Future”
Chapter 21 – “I Thought I Didn’t Need Her”
Chapter 22 – “It Was Up to Me”
Chapter 23 – “Separate and Icy”
Chapter 24 – “Striking a Nerve”
Chapter 25 – “Help Has Its Price”
Chapter 26 – “Who Asked for Help?”
Chapter 27 – “You’ve Done Enough”
Chapter 28 – “The Plan”
Chapter 29 – “Who Says I’m Not Okay?”
Chapter 30 – “What’s So Great about Balance?”
Chapter 31 – “I’ll Call You When It’s Over”
Chapter 32 – “Sorting It Out”
Chapter 33 – “Truth and Lies”
Chapter 34 – “The Car-Port House”
Chapter 35 – “It’s a Dead Yard”
Chapter 36 – “I Just Want To See Him”
Chapter 37 – “I’m Not Going Anywhere”
Chapter 38 – “He’s Here Now”
Chapter 39 – “Not Everything Changes”
Chapter 40 – “Anger’s Release”
Chapter 41 – “What Are Rights?”
Chapter 42 – “Visiting Stu”

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Friday Fiction – Jessica Ch 40 “Anger’s Release”

Friday Fiction

Jessica

Thank you for visiting Book Club Mom’s Friday Fiction. Below is Chapter 40 of Jessica. Jessica is nineteen-years-old and she is trying break the pattern of loss and unhappiness that has defined her childhood. What she wants most is to build a life with Jimmy, but Jimmy is trapped in a dangerous family dynamic. When she learns the truth about Jimmy, it’s up to her to save him. To do this, she must turn to the one person who has hurt her the most, her father. A series of events pushes Jessica beyond anything she can imagine and forces her to define happiness and love in a different way, and at a heartbreaking price.

Chapter 40 – “Anger’s Release”

For years I had hoped Mom and Dad would get back together. I told myself we were the family that would beat the odds. Dad left, but he could always come back. That was my mantra. I prayed he knew that. I desperately hoped he could hear me repeating these words to myself. He didn’t have to be with his new family. We were here.

Then, over time, I began to accept that he was gone. Dad had left for a better life, just like Stevie had told me, a bitter edge in his voice. Dad didn’t want us because he had something else. In the beginning, I thought that wanting him to come back was the thing that held the rest of us together. I was too young to see, but the day he left, Mom had begun to turn into someone new. She didn’t talk about it. She just did it. She had no one, not even me and Stevie to lean on. I hadn’t paid attention then. But I was certainly watching now as Mom and Dad positioned themselves in the kitchen, the first time they had seen each other since he left us.

Dad had always run the show. It was the only way he know how to be. He made the deals and let us all know how things were. I felt protected as a young girl, knowing that he was there to take charge if something went wrong. It was his single, dominant trait, made strong long before we were a family. It is what allowed him to succeed in high school, college, law school and at work and with each success came more confidence. Year after year, new layers of successful results reinforced what I had always believed was the foundation of our family.

What I didn’t understand was how oppressive Dad’s personality could be. He may have loved us, but he had also controlled us. I wondered if Mom had understood that, if she had liked being taken care of, being told how to do things. Did it make her feel safe, the way I had felt? Does that personality only work on young children, if at all? Mom had been submissive, afraid of things, insecure without Dad’s reassurances, but seeing them in the kitchen, I wondered if she had been that way because of Dad.

When he was finished with our family, Dad left to build another one, under his conditions. I wondered what his new wife was like. How he was with his son, my half-brother, an unknown to me. Did he choose her because she could be shaped, like he’d done with us?

Mom was a whispering school-girl when we met in the hallway, but by the time I returned to the kitchen with the wine glasses, she was a whole new person. I knew she had been nervous and I thought she had fixed herself up to please Dad, the way she might have done years ago. I began to see, however, that Mom was working what Dad would have called the home-field advantage. How ironic that Mom knew to use this to her benefit!

I had been alarmed by her fussing in the hallway, but I realized she had been sharing a weakness with me, to make herself strong before facing Dad. I felt an intangible sense of belonging to her and a new understanding that we could prop each other up when we needed to, a powerful idea. I was beginning to see Mom in a new light and I felt grateful that she had shown me this weakness before she put on her armor. I was about to see Mom take charge.

People change because of what happens to them. They wither or strengthen and the ones who strengthen discover their true potential.

I had missed their greeting. When I walked into the kitchen with the wine glasses, Dad was sitting at the table and Mom was at the stove. It looked like a traditional domestic scene, a wife cooking dinner for the family. But it was something entirely different.

Dad looked up, relieved to see me. “Oh, Jes is here with the wine glasses!” he exclaimed cheerfully. “Let’s all have a glass.”

Mom said nothing. I put the glasses on the table. Glad for something to do, Dad stood and reached for the wine bottle on the counter. He poured three glasses and walked over to the stove with a glass for Mom.

“Here Caroline,” he offered.

Mom turned and, with steely eyes, reached for her glass. “Thank you, Steven. We’ll eat in about five minutes.”

She could have said, “Dinner’s almost ready,” indirectly asking for approval, the way she might have more timidly said years ago. I noticed the difference.

Dad sat again and I joined him. We watched Mom prepare our plates, lemon chicken over angel hair pasta, sautéed zucchini on the side. This was not a meal I had ever seen before in our house, but Mom did not look as if she was trying something new. On all those nights I had rushed over to Jimmy’s house, Mom had been taking care of herself. She had been alone, but she hadn’t been eating sandwiches or frozen dinners. She had learned to treat herself well and she was showing us she knew how.

She brought our plates to the table and she moved with strength and pride. Dad looked like a child being presented his dinner. I felt lifted, despite my threatening headache and the weight of my problems, because before me was a dynamic I had never considered. I knew we would be discussing Jimmy and my own mental health. I had been tired of talking, but I wanted to hear what Mom and Dad would say to each other. And I wanted to see how they would act.

Dad broke the dead air in the room. “This is delicious, Caroline.” Mom looked at Dad. She sat back in her chair. She heard his praise, accepted it as a given and answered, “Thank you.” In a different time, she might have tentatively explained the recipe, shared her mistakes.

Dad and I sat in silence and ate. We instinctively knew that the next person to speak would be Mom and we waited. I knew Mom was angry about the way Dad had bypassed her when he took on Jimmy’s problem. I figured that would be the first thing she’d mention and I was right.

Mom left her plate untouched in a defiant display of her intention to control the evening. Dad had announced he was coming to dinner. She had prepared a meal, but she was going to eat on her own terms. She held her wine glass in the air, suspended, the way a conductor might pose just before commanding his orchestra. I noticed her glass was full and for a fleeting moment I lost myself in a fantasy of watching my mother hurl the glass at Dad, a long-overdue reaction to his betrayal.

Instead, Mom announced, “I’m not very much in the mood for wine after all” and she placed the glass, on the table with a controlled force that I’m sure was not lost on Dad. We knew what was coming. I felt strangely in the middle, uncomfortable with my decision to go to Dad, to follow his lead. I wondered if Mom was right, if Dad’s plan was as ridiculous as it seemed now.

“Well I suppose that we are long due for a discussion of all sorts of topics, Steven, but because we have the immediate problem of Jessica’s health to work through, I suggest we start there. I want to tell you straight out, however, that I am furious at you for a long list of things, a list that I began to compile the day you walked out that door, leaving us. I will get to that list eventually and I have every right to call you out on every item on it. And I’m going to tell you too, right now, that you have no right to claim justification for your behavior, that you have thrown money our way all these years, as a way of supporting us. You did that, yes, and I took it because it was my right and your responsibility, but I let go of my dependency on you long ago and as far as I’m concerned you can stop sending checks to this house. I have my own money. Jessica has her own job. Stevie is God knows where but has never asked for a penny from me or you. I don’t need you anymore, Steven. Once we are through with this problem and once I have finished telling you how I feel about every single injustice you have created for me and Jes and yes, Stevie, despite his horrendous behavior, I never want to see you again.”

There must have been times when other people had been as angry at Dad as Mom was right now and he must have won his way back into their approval and confidence. But I couldn’t imagine how Dad would react to Mom’s tirade, which I found both frightening and entertaining. All I could do was sit back and watch.

Thank you for reading – all comments are welcome.

Click below to check out earlier chapters.

Chapter 1 – “Jimmy”
Chapter 2 – “Stevie”
Chapter 3 – “A Photo and a Letter”
Chapter 4 – “The Life Within”
Chapter 5 – “Jimmy’s Truck”
Chapter 6 – “The Springs Diner”
Chapter 7 – “Dinner and a Game”
Chapter 8 – “He Made Me Nervous”
Chapter 9 – “I Called Dad on My Thirteenth Birthday”
Chapter 10 – “Connections and Time”
Chapter 11 – “The Reverse Apology”
Chapter 12 – “Empty Bedrooms”
Chapter 13 – “Job Description”
Chapter 14 – “The Car I Saw”
Chapter 15 – “It’s Not What You Think”
Chapter 16 – “A Different Route”
Chapter 17 – “Choosing Balance”
Chapter 18 – “A Mother Sees”
Chapter 19 – “Taking More”
Chapter 20 – “Robbing the Future”
Chapter 21 – “I Thought I Didn’t Need Her”
Chapter 22 – “It Was Up to Me”
Chapter 23 – “Separate and Icy”
Chapter 24 – “Striking a Nerve”
Chapter 25 – “Help Has Its Price”
Chapter 26 – “Who Asked for Help?”
Chapter 27 – “You’ve Done Enough”
Chapter 28 – “The Plan”
Chapter 29 – “Who Says I’m Not Okay?”
Chapter 30 – “What’s So Great about Balance?”
Chapter 31 – “I’ll Call You When It’s Over”
Chapter 32 – “Sorting It Out”
Chapter 33 – “Truth and Lies”
Chapter 34 – “The Car-Port House”
Chapter 35 – “It’s a Dead Yard”
Chapter 36 – “I Just Want To See Him”
Chapter 37 – “I’m Not Going Anywhere”
Chapter 38 – “He’s Here Now”
Chapter 39 – “Not Everything Changes”

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