Monthly Archives: September 2012

Incontinent on the Continent: My Mother, Her Walker and Our Grand Tour of Italy by Jane Christmas

“Italy seemed like the best place to view our relationship from a safe, therapeutic distance; a place where we could assess the past as if it had been some kind of psychosocial experiment whose results had been submitted for peer review, and where we could regard the hurt, the rage, the what-ifs, the sharp words, the crushing disappointments with breezy dispassion. Who was I kidding?”

I have a love of all things Italian- Italian food, the Italian language, the places of Italy- and so naturally, any travel literature based in Italy grabs my attention immediately. It was another novel written by Jane Christmas (which will no doubt find itself reviewed on here in due time) that led me to this gem, and I was pleasantly surprised by the familiarity of her writing and yet the difference in topic and mood. It is by no means the typical story you would expect of traveling across Italy, but it is a necessary read for any daughter or mother out there.

After years of a back and forth emotional tug of war with her mother, Christmas believes a trip to Italy will be just what is needed; a journey filled with history and aged beauty for her antique-loving mother but more importantly, she aspires this to be the opportunity for them to breach the distance in their mother-daughter relationship with the aid of good food, warm weather and copious amounts of wine. What transpires is anything but what Christmas expected. Not only does the weather and food turn out to generally be a disappointment (can wine ever be a disappointment?), but she soon discovers the realities and difficulties of traveling with an elderly mother who requires a walker, catches a cold days upon arrival and who deems the state of a person’s hair to be the most important and telling feature of every individual.

For all the serious and emotional topics discussed, Christmas keeps the book alive and light with her wonderful sense of humor, which thankfully is etched into her writing and keeps you chuckling to yourself from the first page to the last. Another high point of the book is how clearly she conveys her thoughts and the struggles she endures through the trip. She balances so much perfectly; being realistic but not overtly judgmental about the past and her relationship with her mother, describing Italy in all its glory (or lack of in certain cases) and keeping the reader invested and entertained with stories of all kinds. Her writing style is never boring and you can almost sense the dread in her words each and every time she is forced to lug that red walker out of the back of the rental car. The language and how she weaves this adventure are infused with brutal honesty and a clear respect for the emotions experienced along the way.

Being a lover of Italia, I have to say the representation of Italy was not what I expected, but it was something I came to respect the further I read. Italy, like all countries, has the good and the bad. So often we are overloaded with the appeal of the place, the country-side villas and wineries, the grandiose wonder birthed from walking the century old streets of Rome, the baritone smoothness of a man serenading the couple in his gondola on the Great Canal of Venice, but the reality is, not every trip is full of such marvels. Christmas reminds you of that. Sometimes it snows when all you have are flowey skirts and sandals, sometimes your car won’t fit down those medieval streets, sometimes the bread is stale and the soup tasteless. It was refreshing to see this truthful depiction. Now that I have finished the book, I feel as though some of this portrayal was done to mirror Christmas’ (somewhat idealistic) expectations for the healing opportunity with her mother. Christmas had jovial images of sitting on a trullo patio (look them up on the net, the appeal of these little sanctuary houses cannot be underestimated) drinking wine with her lively mother, laughing while repairing all the harms and sharp words that had been exchanged in the past. In reality, Italy was not what she expected, nor did things with her mother advance as she previously thought and hoped they would.

The central event of the whole book is the ever present desire to mend a relationship injured over the years. Christmas remains respectful but gives an honest explanation of why and how her relationship with her mother has come to be, and how she wants to mend it. Like everything in life, it doesn’t go quite to plan, but by the end of the book (and the flight back to North America) Christmas has come to an acceptance, that forgiveness and patience were the best doses of relationship-repair medication she could have taken. There are so many instances in the book where a mother or a daughter will relate, nod their head, give that slight tilt of the eyebrows that conveys understanding or agreement. Some are negative, but many are also positive. There is much to be learned about the inexplicable mother-daughter relationship within Christmas work and hopefully a bit of encouragement to all mothers and daughters out there to take the risk and give your own relationship some attention and care.

Kudos must be given to Christmas for being brave to write so openly and honestly about the relationship with her mother, and for anyone out there sitting in the mother or daughter benches, it’s a humorous and necessary read. In the end there may even be a bit of an itch to try such a daring adventure with my own mother, a thought I am sure numerous people will have after reading Incontinent on the Continent.

Devon – athousandbooklife

Other books by Jane Christmas: What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim: A Midlife Misadventure on Spain’s Camino de Santiago de Compostela (2007)

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The First Post

I have always loved reading. It is something my mom instilled in me from a young age and to this day I cannot fall alseep without reading first. There is a comfort that comes with reading, an escape and a way to allow my mind and imagination to be collected by the words and ideas of another and tugged along on something new, or exciting. This is my blog about reading and will discuss a small splattering of the many, many wonderful books out there.

The main purpose of this effort is to review books, some after I finish reading them, others because they have stuck in my mind and I just feel the driving need to share how great they were. I also hope there will be discussions and comments left, because as much as it may start with my opinion of a book, I would love to hear what other people think, whether they agree with me or not. I am sure there will be an assortment of things left here as well, but all will be book-related in some way. I may also have some close friends (of whom have passed some intense book discussions with yours truly) contribute with their own reviews when the urge strikes them.

I hope you enjoy what you find here!

Devon – athousandbooklife

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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

    

“The question was frighteningly soulful and literal: Who would I be without Amy to react to? Because she was right: As a man, I had been my most impressive when I loved her- and I was my next best self when I hated her. I had known Amy only seven years, but I couldn’t go back to life without her.  Because she was right: I couldn’t return to an average life. I’d known it before she’d said a word.”

Gone Girl, written by Gillian Flynn, is a marriage rollercoaster, flinging you from literal heights just when you think you’re about to get a firm grasp on the next turn. Numerous times throughout the novel you get flickers and hints of what is to come, but I often found myself doubting if the author would actually go down the route suggested, only to discover that yes, indeed, the author went down that dark, dark road.

The book is a psychopathic wonderland, delving into the complexities of marriage and how it, and people, can change drastically. Or maybe even how people paint themselves into a picturesque partner, purposively or to achieve that unattainable ideal. The novel begins with the fifth anniversary of Nick and Amy Dunne, a golden couple who have unfortunately dimmed after the trial of enduring each other for numerous years. The beginning of their relationship shined as much as the setting of its foundation, New York City, but the withdrawal to a small town in Missouri to care for ailing family members marks the commencement of their once-envious relationship’s drastic deterioration. When Amy suddenly disappears on the morning of their anniversary, Nick is caste into a world where not only will he be judged by the outside world, but he must also judge the reality of his actions and those of his missing wife. What follows constantly jolts the question: how did it get this bad?

Flynn creates characters that are beyond life-like, jumping from the pages to grab you and draw you into a literal world of relating and feeling almost at odds with doing so. At numerous points throughout the book I paused, marking my place, only to contemplate how my own relationships had mirrored the subtle frustrations, highs, victories or harrowed acceptance of another person’s actions. The further you read, the more shocked you are at those early ponderings. You can’t help but sympathize with Diary Amy, but that sympathy is thrown back in your face when the reality of the situation is revealed later on in the book.

The story line is complex, flipping between Nick and Amy’s view every other chapter; Nick’s chapters telling the events happening currently and for the first half of the book Amy’s story is told through diary entries left behind in the years before and leading up to her disappearance. It reads as an exciting and fast-paced crime novel. Flynn’s background and education in journalism shines through with each riveting chapter as the search for Amy and its ensuing consequences unfold with riveting deviousness. The use of treasure hunts is mirrored throughout the novel and marks highpoints (or potentially devastating low points) for the characters involved. The bouts of humor keep the storyline from sinking too far into the disturbing and the writing style is unique, flowing with the emotions each character is feeling from one chapter to the next.

When considering the overall themes of the book- change, deception, revenge, and what one person will endure for the love of another- you have to pause to consider the main message hidden away in the pages and what Flynn was aiming to convey overall. Was she aiming to present marriage as such a destructive force? I’m not married and so my view of the overall affect of Flynn’s work is likely very different from how it might be read by someone who is. However, after finishing the book I believe Gone Girl showed marriage in a blatantly negative light and provokes numerous questions. Is this a cautionary tale? I highly doubt Flynn was trying to imply that all marriages had the potential to turn into the emotional distrust and manipulation she portrayed, but so many of the problems that occur are those faced by couples in day to day life. Does every woman have a bit of Amy in her? And every man a bit of Nick? How often do we mold ourselves to the desires of our significant other and what happens if you put that mask aside?

Throughout the work I found my sympathy switching between Amy and Nick, the victim title never seeming to solely fit one or the other. There’s no denying that by the end the psychological stability of one (if not both) characters is seriously in question, and yet the other character seems to come to grudgingly accept the position they have been placed in, intimidated  and terrified into submission. In Nick we see the typical stereotype of a man who has lost interest, the efforts he made to impress and woo at the beginning of their relationship are no longer worth the effort to make. In Amy there is a woman who painted herself into what men wanted, manipulative and eventually disappointed. It plays out in a marriage that unfortunately mimics many seen today: time degrading patience and anger remaining unvoiced, the ultimate result something likely not wanted by either partner.

With each chapter you are driven to read the next in order to see what new trait or realization or downfall the characters will face. I raced through this book in less than three days (which may be partly due to being between jobs and a renovated apartment, but let’s shove that into the “circumstance” slot), wrapped up in the story line and yet, almost oddly uncomfortable with what was unfolding before me. Sitting here writing this, I am still somewhat unsure how to explain where I stand, and maybe that is the best indication of how a book has moved you: when you need time to think about the lasting affect a book has. It is an astounding read and Flynn deserves full acknowledgement for the intricate story she has weaved, but be aware, your own morals might be tested and you may find yourself questioning your own relationship ideals.

Devon – athousandbooklife

Other books by Gillian Flynn: Sharp Objects (2007) and Dark Places (2010) 

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