Family Relationships

Dear Lupin

I’ve always loved collections of letters. Perhaps, it’s the draw of reading words meant for a specific person—a stranger that you will never meet.  Some books of letters are huge and it’s like tackling a life in a thousand plus episodes. But these letters, written by an apprehensive English father beginning during the rock and roll, drug days of the late 60s and 70s, are a more manageable 187 pages.

All the letters were penned by the father, Roger, a former military man, and POW who later became a racing columnist for the Sunday Times.  In them he offers tons of advice to his wild, drifter son, Charlie.  Providing much of the humor in this book are Charlie’s comments that describe his reactions to his Dad’s words at the time.

The letters begin with a young Charlie as he flunks out of elite Eton. Soon he leaves with a record of very bad grades for a lowly “crammer” school.  No “firsts” or “seconds” or even a degree for this young man. Soon Charlie embarks on a series of low-paying jobs in agriculture, oil, and real estate. Even when he lands a promising job, he can’t stick with it and bolts off for long vacations to Greece, Africa, and South America.  For his Greek trip his dad advises, don’t talk politics. Don’t do drugs; you may land in a gaol. Watch the alcoholic drinks there, they are incredibly strong. Later, when Charlie sets off for vagabonding through South America, his dad asks, have you ever considered a life in the church?

Mud

There are times when everything in life seems just as clear as... mud. That’s doubly true if you happen to spend lots of time scrounging the Mississippi River, which is exactly what the characters in the latest from Jeff Nichols (director of 2011’s shamefully overlooked Take Shelter) do to get by. Centering on Ellis and Neckbone, two early-teens swamp rats who befriend a fugitive hiding out near their fishing spot,

The Rosies Are Ready for Some Football

ImageAugust means back to school, the first touch of a chill in the morning air, and football, of course! This year, three of the Rosie Award nominees are about or related to football – in very special and different ways. Geoff Herbach's novel Stupid Fast is set in the exciting and bewildering world of high school football, where Felton Reinstein has gone from being a bullied failure of a stand-up comedian to a seriously fast, seriously gigantic football player in his sophomore year. There's a decent amount of football action (including off-season training) and a bit of romance, but Herbach's strong point is how he balances a story about a neglectful mother with Felton's often hilarious struggles to control his newly grown-up body and the popularity it brings. Fans of Carl Deuker or Paul Volponi's sports novels will enjoy this one.

Wedding Complications

In Seating Arrangments, Winn Van Meter and his family descend upon the family’s summer retreat house on the New England island of Waskeke. His pregnant daughter Daphne is about to tie the knot. Biddy, her mother, is deeply involved in final wedding preparations, and Winn finds himself strongly drawn to one of the bridesmaids, Agatha. Meanwhile, Daphne’s sister, Livia, who just terminated her own pregnancy, is trying hard to get over a big breakup with Teddy Finn. And to her father’s horror, Livia plans to become a marine biologist rather than a lawyer. 

This lovely, slyly humorous novel is brimming with very believable and flawed characters; it captures the insanity, tension, and chaos of a modern wedding.

Winn, an upper-crust, stoic accountant likes things just so.  Imagine his consternation when he arrives a day late for the weekend party to find his spiritual retreat taken over by women: his wife and two daughters, three other bridesmaids, and the alcoholic Aunt Celeste, who sees right through Winn’s holier than thou exterior to his traitorous heart. During one pre-wedding party with the new in-laws, she follows him up to the widow’s walk and warns him, not to ruin Biddy’s weekend.

The Perfect Family Until--

When this compelling novel starts, Mary Beth Lathem’s biggest problem is taking sass from her truculent teenaged daughter, Ruby. The narrative starts at the beginning of Mary Beth’s busy day as she goes through the house waking up her three children, the eldest daughter and two twins, Alex and Max. Mary Beth owns a landscape business but soon you can tell that her family is the center of her life and passions. 

Alex is a soccer jock, immensely talented and popular while Max, his fraternal twin, is a computer nerd with social anxiety problems.  Glen, Mary Beth’s husband, is an extremely practical and thoroughly unromantic eye doctor--solid as hardwood--though Mary Beth is not necessarily aware of that.

Bad Parent, Good Child

I picked up Richard Russo's latest book with some hesitation. I knew Elsewhere was a memoir about his relationship with his mother, but I remembered that in his last novel, That Old Cape Magic, he had created a decidedly crazy "mother" character. But as is so often the case with memoirs, the first sentence hooked me.

Because he was an only child and his parents separated when he was very young, Russo and his mom shared an extremely close relationship. In the 50s she had a job for General Electric, dated engineers, and dressed elegantly. Her independence was extremely important to her, but it took Richard years to understand that she depended on her parents bail-outs to survive. It didn't help that Russo's dad contributed almost nothing to the household or that women were paid poor wages.

This book is also an exploration of a place - the town of Gloversville where Russo grew up and which he's fictionalized in his novels. It was a town built on making gloves; in fact, his grandparents did this. It was hard, polluting work and when the government cracked down on water pollution, the whole operation moved overseas. But in small-town Gloversville surrounded by relatives, Russo felt secure and loved.

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