Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

image by LibraryThing
I want to start out by saying this is one of my favorite books!  I LOVED it!

Now - you can decide if you want to continue to read this to see why, or if you just want to go out and find the book to experience it on your own.  Your choice - but I would recommend one or the other!!

This is the story of a journey by a rumpled, stoic, retired, non-starter named Harold Fry.  In the first pages he receives a letter from a woman - Queenie Hennessy to thank him for his friendship and to tell him she is dying.

Harold rushes to write a reply and tells his wife he is going to the mailbox to send it.  But, he isn't ready to stop walking at the mailbox - so he continues across town passing postbox after postbox and at each one he feels the need to continue moving.  And that is how his 500+ mile journey to deliver his letter to Queenie in person begins.

His pilgrimage begins in a flurry of self-righteous stupidity - sounds like too many of my self-help journeys! :)  He relishes the simplicity and the ease and all the new truths surrounding him.  Then it gets hard and he must depend on the help of strangers.  Then the help of strangers becomes his new focus - he is saving them by allowing them to help him.  Then things become a bit commercialized and he looses himself in the process.  Then everything falls apart and he is left bare and old and withered and the journey is still in front of him.

And when he arrives at the end of his journey...then what...

This is a story of a man and his marriage and his son and his mother and father and the life that he has so carefully created in a very English way.  This is the story of what happens when you dare to step aside and really feel what is around you.

I dearly loved Harold - but honestly I loved Maureen, his wife, every bit as much.  Maureen must watch and wait and remember and choose to live.  Her pilgrimage takes place in her small cottage while she cleans and disinfects and eventually takes down the net curtains and lets the sun into the 'best room.'

Please read this!!!

Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler

image by LibraryThing
I haven't read an Anne Tyler for a while, so I anticipated this vacation read and it didn't let me down!

When I read Tyler I am struck by the ordinariness of the world she creates.  It makes me want to open my eyes wider and look around at my own life and see what is happening!

The irony is that Liam, the main character in this story, is utterly unable to notice the world around him. He has recently been let go at the school where he was teaching 5th grade, he should have complained that he had seniority, but why bother.  Because of his shrinking salary he moved to a much smaller and less desirable apartment, and the first night he spends in this new apartment he is attacked by a thief and wakes in the hospital.

When he awakes, he remembers nothing of the attack.  Because he can't remember the events that brought him to the hospital he is utterly fixated on his memory loss.  Fixated in a way that he has not experienced before.  The reader finds that out as his ex-wife and three daughters enter his hospital room and his apartment and his life.  Liam was clearly not a part of their lives - at least not on purpose!

And so this story follows Liam as he 'wakes' up to mess he has created by not being present even when he was.

I loved this book.

I love the way Tyler creates her characters. I have a feeling I would not really like Liam if I were to meet him in my work.  But on the pages, it is completely different!

Instead,  I loved the way Liam relished in his aloneness until he was really alone and in that moment he understood what he had missed. I loved the relationship that he created with Eunice Dunstead, a professional rememberer.  And I loved his relationships with his daughters - each one completely different and yet quite the same.

This is a quiet book about a huge event.  And I loved it!!

Sweetest Hallelujah by Elaine Hussey

image by LibraryThing
Racism in the south is like another character in this story of love and two women- one white and the other black.  But calling it a story of love makes it sound sappy and predictable - and that is to short change it.  This is a story of worlds crashing and reshaping in the midst of deep heart break!  A story of strength and frailty.

Betty Jewel is a washed up jazz singer who burned brightly with Saint a famous trumpeter. But drugs and fame soured everything and Betty Jewel fled from her marriage to Shakerag, Mississippi to be with her mama and raise her daughter. In a last ditch effort to save that daughter, she takes out an ad in the local paper looking for someone to adopt her girl after she passes from cancer.

Cassie is the lily white widow of a much beloved local coach. Since his death she has floundered her way through life barely living and depending on her job at the local newspaper to keep her going. She notices the ad and decides it would make a wonderful human interest story.

And thus the worlds crash.

But - this is not a touchy feely feel good story.

At the heart of this story is a 10 year old girl who will soon be without a mama.  Billie, who sneaks around listening at keyholes, can not imagine a life without her mama - unless she is able to find her papa - Saint - and life with him.

Laid across the top of this story is the busted history of Jim Crow laws and lynchings in the south.

There were times this felt like a different version of The Help.  But, Betty Jewel and Cassie are not merely telling a story  - they are living it.  Their lives are interwoven in a way that the south can not rip apart.

I really liked this book.  I especially liked Billie. After teaching 10 year olds all those years - I felt like I knew her innocent and bare face.  Her bravado and her depth of pain were real to me!  The fantasies that she creates and believes in even while she knowing they can't be real - rang true!

I would recommend this!!