Thursday, April 28, 2011


Emily Alone, Stewart O'Nan, Viking, 2011, 255 pp

 After finishing Wish You Were Here, I went immediately into Emily Alone, the sequel. I was already intimately involved with this family and though Wish You Were Here was far from an ideal novel, it was worth having read it because I could more exactly track with Emily as she lives through a winter and spring in her Pittsburgh home. 

 In this novel, approximately eight years have passed since Emily's beloved husband Henry died of cancer. She lives alone with Rufus, her aging springer spaniel, surrounded by her furniture, paintings, china and silver, listening to classical music, reading novels and suffering from loneliness and the indignities of her own aging. She is the oldest remaining woman in her neighborhood, her best friend having died a year ago. Attending funerals is now a constant in her life.

 Emily's closest companion is her sister-in-law Arlene, who lives nearby. Once a week they have breakfast together at Eat'n'Park's two-for-one breakfast buffet. Emily clips the coupon from the Sunday "Post-Gazette." Arlene drives, badly, which makes Emily highly nervous though she knows she should feel grateful. 

 If Stewart O'Nan didn't write so close to the bone, these two women and their mishaps would be comedic. Somehow Jonathan Franzen makes this sort of thing funny, but that is not O'Nan's way.

 Over the past decade I watched my father succumb to Alzheimer's, finally going into a home where he died at the age of 87. Then I watched my mother grieve, age and go on to live alone for five more years until a series of strokes finally ended her life. Reading about Emily battling with loneliness and a deteriorating body while being continually disappointed by her son and daughter, yet living for Thanksgiving, Christmas and a week in the summer at Lake Chautauqua, when she can be together with them and her grandchildren, I felt I was going through it all over again. It was almost too much for me. 

 If you have watched a parent or grandparent move through this period of life that our society calls "The Golden Years" or if you are going through it yourself, I advise you approach Emily Alone with extreme caution. I was talking to my sister about it all and we both decided that, should we find ourselves outliving our husbands, we certainly will not live alone. 

 I used to want to live to be 100 and become wise. It might be wiser to quit while I am ahead. Maybe I will take up a dangerous sport. I don't enjoy sports though. Possibly race car driving. I like driving, a lot. Emily liked driving also. She finally traded in her old gas hog for an all-wheel drive Subaru wagon, as did my mom. 

 Did I find this book depressing? Oh, just a little.

(Emily Alone is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore. Wish You Were Here is available in paperback.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


Wish You Were Here, Stewart O'Nan, Grove Press, 2002, 517 pp

 Have you ever spent a week in the summer with extended family? As a child it is non-stop fun with cousins and outdoor activities. As a teenager it is mostly a crushing bore. As adults, it is more work than vacation: the meals, the clean up, the excursions, sharing bathrooms and bedrooms. As grandparents, possibly you look forward to it all year, but when the week comes you are quickly exhausted by all the random activity of having so many people in such close quarters.

  The scenario of Wish You Were Here includes all of the above. Grandmother Emily, who lost her husband to cancer some months ago; Margaret, the black-sheep recovering alcoholic daughter who is about to be divorced with her teenage girl and eleven-year-old son. Kenneth is the nice but dreamy son who just quit his job to pursue being a photographer, with wife Lisa, teen girl and eleven-year-old son. In addition is spinster Aunt Arlene, sister of Emily's dead husband. They are all crammed into the family summer cabin on Lake Chautauqua in New York State. It will be their last time there before the cabin is sold.

 Stewart O'Nan is a realist writer. Every object, meal, mood, activity and surrounding area is enumerated in exquisite detail, like an early French slice-of-life novel. In 517 pages, seven days are covered from waking to bedtime. The pace is about the same as what I remember from teenage visits to my grandparents. And of course, there are constant issues. Should we drink around Margaret? Kenneth's wife is rather an insecure, spoiled brat who is jealous of her husband's closeness with his family and annoyed constantly by Emily. It goes on and on.

 As I was doggedly plowing along through those seven days and going slowly crazy, I wondered if any of the thousands of tense scenes would ever explode into some action or tragedy or release (they don't). It suddenly struck me. The author has exactly created what such a week is like from each viewpoint: grandmother, adult children, daughter-in-law, teen girl, young boy. Emily talks just the way my mother did and has similar quirks. The high maintenance daughter-in-law could have been me in my younger married years. 

 Honestly it was as if O'Nan held up a mirror to my extended families, of which I have had three, since I divorced and remarried. As I read, I felt exposed, self-conscious, sometimes ashamed and once in a while amused. 

 I don't know that it did me any good to read this novel. I made it to the end as did Emily's family make it through the week, relieved to know I could go back to my usual life. I guess that was the point. We all have families, we are all self-involved and petty. Along with the fun of such gatherings is a somehow equal level of annoyance. I may never attend another family reunion but if I do, I am not sure if I will laugh or cry. I will certainly know that my family is not that much different from anyone else's and that we are all just a little bit crazy.

Thursday, April 21, 2011



Dear Readers,
I have been absent from the blog for almost three weeks. I thank all of you who have continued to visit. I have a really good excuse though. 

On March 28, my son, his wife and three children moved from Florida to Los Angeles. They joined myself and my husband in our two bedroom house for nine days while they waited for their moving van to arrive. 

Meanwhile, my husband and I closed on the purchase of a house on March 31 and I began packing up our stuff while hubby worked an unusually heavy schedule of double shifts. He is a free-lance guy, so when there is work, he works. After three days of haggling and other problems, the former owners finally got all of their stuff out of our new house. Then the real work began.

Honestly, it was the filthiest dwelling I have ever moved into. So at first all I could do was clean the new house half the day, pack the old house the other half, then fix dinner for our extended family. Oh yes, and with 7 people to feed everyday we kept running out of food, so somewhere in there I would run to the store for more. While my son and daughter finalized the renting of their apartment, bought a car, etc, I watched the grandkids. That was actually the best part, because I am so happy to have them around.

Finally on April 12, our own moving van came, loaded up our furniture, my 30 boxes of books, and all the other stuff and moved it the mere four miles away. That of course took all day and they managed to put little nicks in almost every piece of furniture, but at least everything was pretty much in the right room. The next day, my daughter-in-law, who is a top notch cleaner, helped me clean the old house while hubby and son finished moving the inevitable final truck loads of odds and ends. 

So Wednesday, April 13, I got up from my bed in the new house and started unpacking. That process continues but I am down to the last boxes. Still cleaning, inside and out but the end is in sight. Yesterday, I got my "desk" out of the two banker boxes and began to get a grip on what used to be my real life. And here I am.

We have a fabulous house in a nice tree-filled neighborhood at the top of a hill. That sounds luxurious and in a sense it is, but really it is just a good house in a cool spot that does not feel like LA. In fact, it is just on the verge of being rural. Once I get over my exhaustion, it is going to be an ideal place to do what I love best: read, write, cook and grow flowers. 

And one day I will write the tale of the move because it was full of hilarious, horrendous and unbelievable moments, just like a novel.

Tomorrow I will be back with a book review. Thanks again for sticking with me. 

Do you have a good moving tale?

Sunday, April 03, 2011


This week for the Sunday Family Read I present two guest bloggers who happen to be my lovely granddaughters Jordan (age 12) and Emma (age 9)

Prom & Prejudice, Elizabeth Eulberg, Scholastic Inc, 2011, 227 pp

 I liked this book because the author is truly funny and she uses lots of detail which is very good in this story.

 I also liked it because there is teenage drama, teenage love, danger, comedy, and embarrassment.

 I suggest you read this book. I am now reading her earlier book, The Lonely Hearts Club.

 Jordan Elizabeth

Fantastic Mr Fox, Roald Dahl, Puffin, 2007, 96 pp

 I really like this book. I also like the author. Roald Dahl has lots of books and I am very familiar with the illustrations. 

  Many of his books have now been turned into movies. My family loves the movie made from Fantastic Mr Fox, especially when they use the word "cuss" instead of any swear words. Now we do that too, so we don't get in trouble. 

 I plan on reading more of his books and I hope you do too!!

 Emma Jean

(Both of these books are available at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)