Thursday, August 25, 2011

Faithful Place

BlogHer has sent me many books to review.  I've been disappointed with most of them.  Chick-Lit has never been my genre of choice and, perhaps because we are a network of women, the selections from Penguin have all had a decidedly female bent.

Except for The Kid, they ones I've read have had women protagonists. Even then, I could argue that his mother's presence is palpable on every page and that they are, together, the heroes of the story. And The Kid is a story about family and love and acceptance and if those aren't women's themes then I don't know what are.

For the most part, the books have happy endings, though happy is a relative term.  There's just enough angst to make them fodder for book clubs; some of them even had questions at the end.  They purported to inform me about the quality of relationships and the lessons to be learned from those against whom we lean or bump.  There are lessons, and they are about redemption, and everyone feels good at the end.  I can handle worse.  It's just not on offer.

And then I received Tana French's Faithful Place.  You'll have to wait til BlogHer publishes my review in their Book Club, because that's the deal we've struck.  But I can tell you here that I loved it and that I learned from it and that not many of those lessons are about redemption.  Tolstoy was right; happy families are all alike.... but don't worry, this is not a story about a happy family.  There is nothing alike about the Mackey clan.

If they didn't feel so real they'd be caricatures.  If the dialog weren't begging to be read aloud the Irish-isms and street slang would be annoyingly disorienting.  If I hadn't learned to turn off a part of my soul when I was a practicing social worker I wouldn't believe that Francis's compartmentalization could be so complete. But they were and it was and I had and this book brought it all back to me, going 90 as they say on Faithful Place.

I could tell you the geography and name the inhabitants of the street.  I know who lived on the even side and who over-decorated for Christmas.  I can smell the night air and I can feel the creepiness.  And I can hear the dysfunction, bouncing against the lace curtains.  It wasn't exactly my life, but it was close.

That dysfunction , that knot in the belly, that sense of responsibility whose flip side is guilt - it was my family, albeit on a far grosser scale.  The feelings were every bit as real, even if the level of abuse was far beyond that which we experienced growing up.  But the fragility of being all together in one room.... just typing it gives me a crawling feeling on the back of my neck.

Would Daddooooo decide to tease one of us to the point of tears?  Would G'ma decide that she had had enough of whatever she had had enough of?  Would my brother be late or would I feel an uncontrollable urge to annoy my little sister just enough so that the lid would fly off the smoldering cauldron which was pretending to be our Friday night dinner?

I used to explain living in California as being as far as I could get from my parents while still being in the continental United States.  When I was 40, my dad made me cry 4 times before 11 o'clock one morning.  He had no idea why I was sobbing as I put gas in the car.  My mother's passive aggressive needling was enough to push the most patient of people over the edge, screaming with delight at being out of her reach at last.  36 years ago right now, the night before our wedding, my future father-in-law solved the problem by turning off his hearing aids and smiling at everyone.  I couldn't wait to escape.

Over the decades, most of us have mellowed and pretty much all of us can stand to be in the same room at the same time .... though not for very long, and not when there's anything important to be discussed.  I can only imagine the scene if, as happens on Faithful Place, a suitcase and a bag of bones were to turn up.

Isn't that what a good book is supposed to do.... let you take it into your life and make it your own?


  1. I see we both reviewed The Kid for BlogHer! I did find it disturbing, but at the same time I couldn't flip the pages fast enough. I wished I had time to review the Tana French book, I liked the last novel she wrote and am looking forward to this one!

  2. Ok... I gotta do a bit of a finger slap here. Chick-lit is NOT books that simply authored by women or that appeal to women. It is a specific genre, and like any genre (including literary fiction) has good books and not so good books. None of the books we have read are technically chick-lit. Women authored? Yes. Women's fiction? Yes. Chick-lit? No, not really.

    Futhermore, no one should ever look down their nose at chick-lit. You know I love you but chick-lit is a valuable genre. So is romance. So are mysteries. So is science fiction. They may not be to everyone's taste but that doesn't make them any lesser and by classifying books that are not chick-lit as chick-lit in a dismissive way you are doing the authors of both, and yourself, a disservice.

  3. I will look for that one. Have you read anything by Lisa See? If not, I recommend you start with "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan." It's about women, but it is definitely not chick-lit.

  4. OK, Sassymonkey, point well taken. I look askance myself at people who look down their noses at mystery writing, my favorite genre.

    I didn't think I was dismissing it as much as just stating a fact - it's not my favorite genre. That said, I haven't read enough to notice the difference between The Beach Trees, for example, and chick lit.

    I'm going to start with Sophie Kinsella, who comes up first on my chick-lit search. I'll keep you posted. Who knows, BlogHer may just have opened my eyes and brain to another genre.

    Ah, the power of women bloggers!

  5. Yes and no. You said that you didn't like most of the books and that chick-lit isn't your favourite genre. One could then conclude that we've been sending you a steady diet of chick-lit. Yes? lol The Beach Trees and Getting to Happy are probably the closest we've read to chick-lit and I'm sure many would argue that Getting to Happy is chick-lit (I'm not entirely convinced...but can see the merits of that argument). Sophie Kinsella is definitely chick-lit. I've enjoyed some of her books but not all.

    Actually, since this was a post about an Irish author... You might like Marian Keyes books. I am hot and cold on her books but I really enjoyed Rachel's Holiday and Sushi for Beginners. I warn you though, they are big thick books that make excellent door stoppers.

    Since you brought up mysteries -- sometimes it's kind of like the difference between a mystery and a thriller. Both involve mysteries but they are really different kinds of books, though to someone not familiar with the genre might not see the different.

  6. After reading this post, I ordered a used copy of the book from Powells. I try to buy only used, and sure enough, they had a hardback copy of this for $9. I will see what I think.


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