Sorry for the long delay in posting. Things have picked up at work and various other activities have kept me occupied. To make up for the break, I'm going to focus on a theme I have picked up on recently through the past several books I've read. So this one is a four for one!
"We're messed up, but we're still family... and maybe we're still family because we are so messed up."
Pg 363 from Heart of Palm
Family is a constant in many people's lives, and not just in the present tense. Our lives are shaped by our pasts and no matter what type of family we hail from, these people play a large role in who we become. The memories we have of growing up, be they good or bad, continue to haunt us day after day. As I have recently become an aunt and started watching my little niece grow and change each day, I find myself thinking more and more about my own childhood. Who were the people who surrounded me? What experiences did I have that played large roles in who I am now? One's memories are an amazing thing. They are never fixed, always changing based on what is going on in the present. It may have been a good one a few years ago, but today, you look at it with new eyes.
Heart of Palm by Laura Lee Smith explores the lives of a family plagued by the mistakes of past generations and unforgivable choices made along the way. Frank, the main character in the book, wants so badly to cut himself free of the Bravo curse and become a new person in a new place, but finds himself tied to home by a handicapped mother, sporadic siblings and a runaway father whose name evoked the burden they all carry. As their small Florida town faces being overrun with resorts, threatening the livelihoods of the local people, Frank finds himself once more pulled in by the calls of memory and family. It is an intelligent and heartfelt tale of how impossible it is to completely cut the ties of home. What made me originally pick it up? The cover blurb is by Richard Russo, one of my favorite authors. Thank you Mr. Russo!
The Carriage House by Louisa Hall follows along some similar veins, however, in the case of the Adair family, it is not a curse upon the family name, but a lack of living up to it that causes the children distress and discord. The daughters of William Adair all find themselves pulled back home once things fall apart in their own lives. Their father, virtually alone now that Alzheimer's has taken over his wife, takes it upon himself to advocate for saving the carriage house once built by his own father, but now residing on a neighbor's plot due to some faulty surveying. While at first they think it is a lost cause, the Adair daughters end up recovering their past selves and emerge from the battle with a renewed sense of purpose. Steeped in vivid details and riddled with hidden mirth, The Carriage House again reminded me to look beyond a present state of mind and recall the good times of yore.
Then of course I needed some peppiness, so I moved onto a YA book, Going Vintage by Lindsey Leavitt. I suppose I should have gotten the hint from the title and jacket description because this one too asks readers to consider how the past has affected their present and how family can be both an asset and a source of confusion. Mallory hates the internet. In fact, she has discovered that all her recent sources of woe have come through recent technologies. After stumbling upon a list created by her grandmother when she was a high school in the sixties, Mallory decides to travel back to those carefree days by shunning all technology and things from past that era. Following in her grandma's footsteps, Mallory starts a pep club, attempts to take up sewing and yet despite all her efforts, finds herself yet again in teenage turmoil. Alas, it seems that no matter what decade you are in, adolescence is a pain.
Now it brings me to my current read, The Best of Us by Sarah Pakkanen where a group of college friends reconnect in Jamaica to celebrate the birthday of a common friend. I've just gotten started, but it seems that yet again, familiar questions are popping up in the minds of the characters. Did I make the right decisions back then? Can I change the past? Would it be better that way? I'm already rooting for some of the characters and a bit appalled at the behaviors of others. Should be an interesting read...
So there we have it. Lots of family turmoil and second guessing. What connects the characters in each novel is their devotion to family despite obvious flaws and strenuous situations. When it comes down to it, you can't turn your back on those who helped make you who you are.