(There is always the chance that a any book discussion might reveal too much about an unread story – if you haven’t read the book and want to, you might want to wait to read what is written here – just in case.)
I was quite excited to find a copy of this book on the library’s “new release” shelf. You can only check it out for 14 days – no renewals. There was something energizing about having it in my hands. Yeah me.
Not to mention that Anna Quindlen is the author of five best selling novels – five. And she won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for her New York Times column. She is what we call accomplished.
And the writing in this book is good. The conversational pace makes it easy to read and the storyline makes it hard to put down. However, the entire tone of the book is sad and heavy. There are times when it is hard to breathe through the words. Even as the main character – Mary Beth – unfolds the story of her life, the tone is melancholy. Even as she tells about her family and their successes, the air is thick. Mary Beth’s family also faces some serious struggles – eating disorders, depression, and controlling boyfriends.
It seemed that her family’s successes and struggles carried the same weight and, really, were equally burdensome. Mary Beth could not seem to bask in good fortune or happiness. Every observance seemed to earn (or better, to be denied) the same level of attention – a barely-just-scratched-the-surface level of attention. Mary Beth’s daughter stops eating for a while and loses a significant amount of weight. Mary Beth never really discloses how they discovered, dealt with, and recovered from that.
Mary Beth watches her children a lot from a distance and even says at one point that all the parents know their kids are drinking and having sex but they mostly choose to look the other way. That was fascinating to hear and consider from her vantage point – especially because I have a teenager and two preteens. It really made me wonder what, as a parent, I will allow myself to ignore and what the consequences from that embraced ignorance will be. We learn toward the end of the story that Mary Beth carries with her quite a bit of guilt which allowed her to be inactive in many ways. In ways that cost her dearly.
The climax of this story is horrific and, I thought, unexpected. I am not sure that I would recommend reading this book because of just how awful the events in the story become. I was unbelievably sad from the climax until the end of the book with many of my own tears soiling the pages in between.
However, the storyline does make you think about the choices that you make and don’t make. About how decisions (and non-decisions) can guide us to a different future. Conversely, the story also gives us the opportunity to consider whether mental illness simply takes its own hold regardless of the circumstances. It allows us to believe that sometimes we just have no control over misfortune. Even so, toward the end of the story, Mary Beth allows herself to examine whether or not her decisions caused some of the events in the story to take place. But that is an extremely painful process and, once again, she barely scratches the surface of self evaluation.
This book also made me think about how I view my own life and family. Am I always adequately grateful for the blessings in my life? Probably not as much as I should be. And in that vein, it was worth every word and tear.