THE SENATOR’S WIFE, Sue Miller, originally published 2008, Knopf, 306pp
ORBITING JUPITER, Gary D. Schmidt, Clarion Books, 2015, 192pp
FORTUNE SMILES, Adam Johnson, Random House, 2015, 320pp
(WARNING: Once again, dear ones, my book-blogging is as much about my personal journey as it is about the books — well, who am I kidding — my book-blogging is entirely to do with an excuse to babble on about my own rot and ruminations. So, if you want to read JUST about the books, skip WAAAAAAYYY 600 words down the page to where the titles are again typed in RED and there are my accounts of the fictions. Prior to that, you’ll be suffering through my fictional accountings of my life. And Twitter. Love and Light, kids.)
I read Sue Miller’s The Senator’s Wife, because my Twitter-pal, Elizabeth McCracken, told me she was certain I would enjoy Ms. Miller’s writing. She was right. I did. I really did.
I read Adam Johnson’s Fortune Smiles, not because it won the 2015 National Book Award for fiction, but, because I am a short story junkie, made so by my 2014 return to the genre through the gateway drug of the brilliant Thunderstruck, which happened to have been written by my Twitter-pal, Elizabeth McCracken.
Oh, how I do love Twitter.
In September of 2010, I opened a Twitter account because someone I loved told me I ought to. By now, November of 2015, the love — as love often does — has gone, and I don’t know whether they are even on Twitter anymore, but rather than having left me with just my usual love-hangover of debt, despair, depression, and social disease — though three out of four were suffered in this instance — this love left me, too, with the gift of a social media habit that has immeasurably enriched my life.
Truth: five years and twenty-three-thousand Tweets later, Twitter is where much of what is best and most affirming of the Charlie I imagine myself to be takes place.
Even truthier truth: the Charlie I am, and have always wanted to be, finally exists because of and mostly on Twitter.
Twitter offers the opportunity to interact with people all over the world, people one would never meet IRL (that’s in real life for those of you who exist there, rather than on Twitter) and opens and widens the world. For me, Twitter has become that long dreamed of Algonquin Round Table of the mind and soul and, most especially, the heart. I may never live in New York, may never again see the Algonquin, may continue retreat and withdraw into my own personal BatCave IRL, and may have lost contact with the loved one who encouraged me to try Twitter, but, on Twitter, I have connected with a few much-treasured new loved ones and many Twit-Lit (that’s Twitter Literary friends, for those of you who can’t read my mind) pals: writers, editors, publishers, agents, public relations experts, book bloggers, and, like me, avid readers and fans.
Like Elizabeth McCracken who is funny and kind and encouraging of other writers about whom she often Tweets generously. When she recently spoke of Sue Miller and told me she was sure I’d enjoy her work, what could I do when next I went to the library but check out the two available Sue Miller novels? Why should the fact I already had twenty-two books checked out and five on hold stop me? I mean, when I inquired as to the check-out limits, I was told I could have up to seventy-five items signed out at once.
75 ITEMS AT ONCE – ARE YOU PEOPLE TRYING TO KILL ME? But, that is another blog entry to do with my lack of self-control and whether or not there is an actual danger to one’s health — physical or mental — from having too many books with due dates looming, sitting in one’s BatCave, demanding attention, threatening one with another “crap, I didn’t finish that either — bit off more than I could chew” item added to one’s life-failure list.
(Which, another aside, in the “bit off more than I could chew” category, the they who got me to sign up for Twitter in the first place — but, again, that is yet ANOTHER blog entry — not that that THEY was unable to fit into my mouth sort of thing, but — oh dear, I should stop. Still, quite bite-size actually, though they wished and claimed to be rather — NO, REALLY, STOP. Get to the book reviews you so-and-so-called-book-blogger!)
THE SENATOR’S WIFE by Sue Miller. Loved it. From the PenguinRandomHouse website:
Meri is newly married, pregnant, and standing on the cusp of her life as a wife and mother, recognizing with some terror the gap between reality and expectation. Delia—wife of the two-term liberal senator Tom Naughton—is Meri’s new neighbor in the adjacent New England town house. Tom’s chronic infidelity has been an open secret in Washington circles, but despite the complexity of their relationship, the bond between them remains strong. Soon Delia and Meri find themselves leading strangely parallel lives, as they both reckon with the contours and mysteries of marriage: one refined and abraded by years of complicated intimacy, the other barely begun. With precision and a rich vitality, Sue Miller—beloved and bestselling author of While I Was Gone—brings us a highly charged, superlative novel about marriage and forgiveness.
And she’s just a little worried about her marriage. She knows Nathan is planning a life, a life which the house is a part of, that she’s not sure she wants to live. She doesn’t know whether she can be at home in the place he imagines, in the way he imagines her being. She suspects there’s trouble coming.
Meri and Nathan purchase an attached house, a near mirror of its companion, which is occupied by Delia Naughton, whose husband, Tom, is a senator Nathan has long admired. The novel explores the constellations of passions, deceits, discoveries and disappointments among and between these four and the world, the ways in which their lies and loves and experiences — like their homes — mirror one another.
I could go on about the metaphors, the symbols, the having keys to one another’s homes, what is heard through walls, the invasions of privacy versus the invitations to privacies, how far one lets others in, what love means, how love grows — for spouses, for children, for life itself — and how it fades, and how one must, sometimes, imitate what one thinks love looks like when it doesn’t quite exist. This is a novel about seeing people, about compromises, about wanting and failing and staying and going and making one’s own definitions of and peace with the contours of love, family, life; it is a story, a beautiful, instructive story about what Delia, late in the book thinks of as having “subsided into all that.”
What a beautiful word to describe that later-in-life discovery, the dawning of awareness, that even with the choices, the active doing and deciding, what one finally does to achieve peace, to find center, to rest on foundation, is to subside. There is a becoming, a maturity in settling, that sinking into self where the violence and struggle of the daily fights with the quotidian, those battles we have in youth about things that ultimately mean nothing, have ceased.
I loved this book. And, again, Ms. McCracken was right.
ORBITING JUPITER by Gary D. Schmidt, on the other hand, was recommended by one of the many book-bloggers I follow and was my YA Fiction read of late. In some ways, YA is a comfort read, like mystery-cozies. Too, I am fascinated by the genre, the culture, the ways in which issues are dealt with — or not dealt with. I was shocked by the ending of this one, a tragedy I did not expect, and, for me, it brought home what I dislike about much of this category of read: facile, unearned events/tragedies/discoveries that echo the cheap emotionalism of 1970’s Afterschool Specials and current Lifetime Movies. Too much issue, too much weep, packed into too few pages with too little background, motivation and reality.
FORTUNE SMILES by Adam Johnson is the 2015 National Book Award Winner for Fiction and is a collection of short stories. I liked it well enough but, truth, I am still bitter that Elizabeth McCracken’s Thunderstruck and Other Stories didn’t win the 2014 award. So, in order for me to really like a short-story collection, it would need to rise to the level of genius I found in Thunderstruck, and while there was much to admire in Fortune Smiles, he’s no Ms. McCracken.
Speaking of Elizabeth McCracken, she also introduced me to The Duchess Goldblatt, who is the royalty of Twitter-Literati, and whose friendship means the Algonquin Round Table-sized world to me. And it was through following (stalking, I confess) Elizabeth and then the Duchess that I also became acquainted with Pamela Milam, who I worship, who I adore, who is one of those people you meet in life where you say, “I have known you throughout all of time. With you I am wholly me, beyond words, beyond shape, beyond anything but essence – essence is where our souls meet, in that original burst of Light and Love where the Universe was born, THAT is where we connect.”
So, Twitter. Yes. And, you see, as in Sue Miller’s The Senator’s Wife, where love takes such strange turns and life makes such strange twists, and connections come and go by surprise and with both pain and delight, so, too, the they who got me signed into Twitter and later caused me such pain is to thank for much of the joy I now experience daily with my TwitLit friends.
Life is — well, Life. Is. Sometimes great pain does actually bring in its wake great joy. Sometimes love lost becomes love found. And, here I am, going.
(Another aside: to my dear ones who I know IRL who read this, these, devotedly, all the way through, my dear Debbie, my dear Andrea, I adore you, too, even though we’re not Twitter-nected. And those other IRL pals, who sometimes manage to make it through all this blather, you too, dear ones, you too.)