Family Relationships

When god was a Rabbit

When god was a RabbitThis debut novel by Sarah Winman, a British actress, is decidedly quirky, unusual and fresh. It's also tremendously well-written and involving, and captures as few novels do, the actual feelings and experiences of childhood. The title absolutely pulled me in. Don't for a moment think it's a metaphor. No way. Little Elly, the narrator, receives a Belgian hare for Christmas and, in a family of nonbelievers, what could be more logical than naming her pet god (lower case, of course)?

When her school hosts a Christmas pageant, Elly receives audition instructions from her gay thespian aunt. The little girl secures a role but not Mary, Joseph, or the Baby Jesus. No, instead Elly plays the blind innkeeper. Unfortunately, in a horrible fiasco, she knocks over another child and sends him to the hospital.

Elly has a best friend named Jenny Penny. Her mom is a single parent with lots of visiting boyfriends. Because she has a drinking problem, Jenny joins Elly's kind but eccentric family.
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22 Britannia Road

22 Britannia RoadMany novels dwell on the horrors of war, but few deal with the dislocation and tremendous adjustments that occur afterwards. Amanda Hodgkinson's wise debut novel does exactly that for a Polish family separated during World War ll and later reunited in England.

A year before Poland was invaded, Silvana, a movie projectionist, and Janusz, a country boy meet and marry. They have a son Aurek. War comes and Janusz is called to defend his country. Before even reaching his unit, German bombs halt Janusz's train and he is injured during his first battle. He watches as an old woman herding her sheep is shot down.

After the planes disappear, the young Polish soldier decides that he must care for these animals and give this old woman a proper burial. Meanwhile Silvana takes Aurek to the city but as the Germans invade it, she is separated from her son. A woman helps her to reclaim him. Later, a German tries to rape her in an abandoned apartment that she has taken over in search of food and shelter. She and Aurek flee to the woods where they spend the next three or four years.
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A Thousand Clowns

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A Thousand Clowns has long been at the top of my favorite movie list. Based on the play by Herb Gardner it is the story of Murray Burns, a former television writer for a local Children's show and his nephew "Nick." There is a reason for the quotes around Nick's name which becomes apparent as you watch the movie. Murray has been unemployed by choice for a considerable length of time because he wants to have fun in life. His philosophy can be summed up by the following exchange between Murray and Nick at the beginning of the film,

Murray: "Nick, you are about to see a horrible thing."
Nick: "What's that Murray?"
Murray: "People going to Work." Read more »

The London Train

London TrainNot many novels tell the story of a daughter's pregnancy through her father's eyes, and although this is only one of this book's themes, it's very powerful one. In the first half, we follow the story of the very imperfect Paul--critic, college teacher, husband, father, friend, and neighbor who is involved in a feud over the cutting down of trees. Paul himself admits that he has problems, for example, he's too afraid of showing emotion so he does not ask the undertaker to see his mother's body. He lies to his wife, has affairs, and for years has ignored his oldest child.
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How to be Good

How to be GoodAs a person raised Catholic, I was drawn to the topic of this novel. Who doesn't want to be a kind, caring person? To do good works? To make the world a bit better each day? OK, maybe not serial killers, some Wall Street tycoons, mafia types, mercenaries, etc. but on the whole most people try (at least part of the time) to be good.

This 2001 Nick Hornby novel zeroes in on Dr. Katie Carr, a London wife and mother, who deals with boils and warts and patients struggling to breathe. She's a physician for Britain's National Health Service. She's married to David, a stay-at-home husband who writes an acerbic column for the local paper about all the myriad things that send him into rages, for instance, the elderly not taking their reserved seats in the front of bus and annoying other passengers by tottering when the bus suddenly stops.
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Freedom

FreedomIf you listen to politicians and talking heads speak, you'll instantly recognize that "freedom" is a particularly powerful buzz word in American culture. Franzen achieved notoriety for a famous run-in with Oprah about his book The Corrections being included in her book club. He complained that this might scare men away from reading his book, so Oprah withdrew the nomination. In another bizarre twist, last fall a fan stole the author's eyeglasses and offered them for ransom. In this mega-novel of 562 pages, Franzen tackles the theme of what constitutes freedom in our closest relationships. He writes about a family, the Berglunds, who helped transform an old St. Paul neighborhood into a thriving community.
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Fido

ImageBack in the days of B&W TV, when I was growing up, there were two shows that I remember watching quite a bit. Leave It To Beaver and Lassie. Today I find both laughable, but still entertaining for different reasons. Read more »

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