Tag Archives: betrayal

Blue on Blue

Amaryllis in Blueberry: A Novel by Christina Meldrum (Gallery Books; $15.00; 365 pages)

“Life goes on?   I don’t know the answer to this question.   I don’t know if there’s room in this world.   Because all other times each life feels unwieldy to me, all-powerful, all-consuming, just knowing how much the choices made by one person can affect others’ lives.   In this respect, each of our lives seems huge…”

Christina Meldrum shares a mesmerizing story of love, faith, family and betrayal in her new novel, Amaryllis in Blueberry. Her story takes us through the calm, serene nature of the family’s Michigan cabin to the beauty and desolateness of their African mission.

Seena and her husband Dick Slepy have four beautiful but drastically different daughters, each of whom is in the midst of her own journey.   Mary Grace, struggling with the impact of her own physical beauty;  Mary Catherine, sacrificing everything to prove her faith; Mary Tessa, a precocious young girl trying to figure out her own place in the world; and Amaryllis, the daughter who has unexplainable gifts of sensing the truth, but does not seem to belong.

Following an encounter with his daughter Amaryllis who is the dark-haired, dark-skinned daughter amongst blond, fair-skinned girls and who believes she is not his biological daughter, Dick insists that the family move from their home in Michigan to do missionary work in Africa.   Dick’s attempts to reestablish his own worth and run away from his aching, although unproven fear, that Amaryllis may be right, unravels a string of events that affects each of his children and ultimately his lovely but distant wife Seena.

Seena, a book-loving storyteller, reluctantly agrees to support the journey to Africa but is unable to let go of the memory of a former lover.   This obsession takes on a life of its own.   The characters in the story become real as they struggle with both the cultural shift of their move to Africa and the realities of their own personal downfalls and fears.

Meldrum unleashes a series of unpredictable events that will leave you wondering…  how well can you truly know someone and how great is the impact of your own choices on the lives of those around you?

Recommended.

This review was written by Kelly Monson.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Homeward Bound

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway (Putnam, August 5, 2010)

“The person I used to be could have only made one choice; the grown up (me) might have made a different one.   That was how life was.   You only figured out the right thing after you were old.”

This is a finely told story of two persons and two cultures.   It may well appeal to those who loved Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford or The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz.   The many fans of Lisa See are also likely to be drawn to it.

This is first, the story of Shoko, a young woman in Japan at the end of World War II who marries an American G.I. – one of the many occupiers of her island nation – and then moves with him to San Diego.   In the USA she finds great prosperity, but also some loneliness accompanied by discrimination.   Her transformation is assisted by a guidebook, printed in Japanese and English, labeled How to Be an American Housewife.

The character of Shoko is based on the author’s mother, Suiko O’Brien, who told Dilloway that “her life would make a great book.”   It does, and Suiko relied on a book that her American husband had given to her called The American Way of Housekeeping.

The second story is the tale of Shoko’s southern-California raised daughter, Sue, a character who might be reflective of some of the author’s own experiences growing up.   Sue is a divorced mother who perhaps does not properly appreciate her own mother until Shoko begins to experience serious health issues.   Shoko understands that her time on earth may be short and she wants nothing more than to visit her estranged brother Taro in a village in Japan, one not too far from Nagasaki.

As children Taro and Shoko were told that they shared the blood of the Emperor’s royal family.   When Shoko, attempting to live on her own as a young woman, begins to spend time with a lower-caste man, Taro sees this as bringing shame upon their family.   He vows to never forgive her, and Taro also hates the Americans who bombed his country; thus, Shoko’s marriage to an American (a “Charlie”) is another sign of Shoko’s betrayal to family and country.

Once its determined that the elderly Shoko needs a life-saving heart operation, she is set on convincing Sue to visit Japan in her stead.   She wants Sue to find Taro and deliver to him a request and a message.   This may be the final thing that Shoko asks of her daughter and Sue elects to honor her mother’s wishes.

On one level this is about persons of one culture trying to find acceptance and peace in another one, one that is initially alien (“San Diego had become a foreign nation…”).   This is true of a Japanese woman suddenly transported to the U.S. and of her daughter who, several decades later, finds herself in older parts of Japan.   Shoko eventually finds the peace to state, “I became an American…”   Sue makes a transformational journey to the Land of the Rising Sun with her own daughter and finds that she’s “homesick” for a place she’s never been to before.

On a second level, this is about the interest and spice that’s added to life when one accepts cultures, and the habits, traditions and foods of “the others.”   In the end, the differences between us add to our experiences rather than subtract from them.   Dilloway’s story is a much-needed tribute to multiculturalism.   It is a telling that is an extremely effective one precisely because it includes examples of the sad destruction brought about by hating and fearing those who are different from us.

And finally, this is a tale of forgiveness.   It is one thing for Taro to be asked to forget the mistakes he and his sister made while they were young; it may be another to ask him to forgive a nation whose planes shot at him and dropped bombs on his village during the 1940s.   Yet, because Shoko married an American serviceman the issues become joined in his mind and heart.

The best scene in How to Become an American Housewife is the one in which Sue’s Japanese relatives take her to visit the Peace Park in Nagasaki, ground zero for the dropping of the second atomic bomb.   When the bomb exploded over Nagasaki, Taro and Shoko were close enough in their nearby village to see the lights from the explosion and hear the sound.   As Sue walks through the park, she comes to understand the horror of war, the terror of how it ended, and the fact that nothing can change the past.

Dilloway’s characters come to understand, as we all must, that the pain of yesterday is no reason to destroy the present.   This debut novel is an impressive tribute to one woman, a mother, who lived a true and large life.   It is also a tribute to the best characteristics of people in two very different countries who, separately yet together, seek to find comfort within the noisy turbulence of life.

Well recommended.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Perfection

Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Revival by Julie Metz (Voice, $14.99)

“There is no real perfection, there’ll be no perfect day.”   Pete Ham

“A good place to spend life.   That’s what I would need to find for myself.”   Julie Metz

I honestly thought that I would likely hate this book, based on a couple of synopses that I looked at before deciding to take a leap of faith and purchase it anyway.   This is the nonfiction tale of graphic designer-wife-mother Julie Metz, who is 43 with a five-year-old daughter when her writer-husband suddenly drops dead.   Metz goes through an extended period of mourning and loss before finding out that her husband, while alive, had several affairs with women both close to her and unknown.   The actions appear to be unforgivable and Metz begins to isolate herself with her anger.   She becomes highly dysfunctional and comes close to shutting down.

I feared this was going to be the second coming of Happens Every Day by Isabel Gillies, an unpleasant memoir with a lot of whining and anger.   In Happens Every Day Gillies is unable to come to terms with her husband’s suddenly leaving her for someone else (a female former friend), even though her own mother is quoted as stating that Gillies has an overly controlling personality.   Apparently her husband simply escaped.

But Happens Every Day was basically a tale of depression and loss, while Metz – true to the sub-title – learns to revive her life after her shock and period of denial.   When her lawyer brother helps to locate her husband’s e-mail communications with his mistresses, she’s able to analyze what happened and when things happened, and even speaks with some of his women flings.   Eventually, she puts things in context (“Perhaps we all want our secrets to be found out at last…”) and learns to grant her husband Henry a type of forgiveness.

“I see that, having been through a year of loss and change, I will change still more in this next time of my life.”

The telling flows pretty easily.   Metz tends to have a lot of deep thoughts, but she also has an excellent memory and applies it to good use here.   She tells the story of a marriage – in non-chronological order – even if it was a bit unusual.   As Metz made money, Henry worked for years and years on a book about what constitutes great food; it remained incomplete at his death.   Henry had, however, chosen the title for what was to be his literary masterpiece – Perfection.

Metz can also be funny, as in relating the scene where she and her daughter decide to sprinkle some of Henry’s fine ashes (that still contain a few traces of bone and metal) in the backyard.   They do so but mix Henry’s ashes with those of a deceased male cat.   That kind of put Henry in his place!

Metz’ almost photographic memory is jarring when she writes about her sexual relationships, both before and after her marriage.   She seems to feel the need to describe every encounter she’s ever had with a male, and it becomes numbing and weary.   (Metz is clearly highly attractive but she seems to have had a life-long need to be desired by men.)   There are so many sex scenes that one can only wonder what her young daughter Emily will think of all this one day.   Perhaps she will just decide that her mom had a good time in life.

“It was helpful to remember that life could offer flavors other than sour and bitter.”

At the end of this memoir’s 342 pages, Metz has moved herself and her daughter to Brooklyn, she’s found a nice man to live with (one who is kind to her daughter), and is re-energized and hopeful.   She and her mate become domestic partners and she comes to see that this new life may well be a contented one – a “perfect fit.”

This reader had his doubts – serious doubts – about this work but Metz pulls this one out before the screen goes black.   Recommended.

As noted previously, this book was purchased by the reviewer.

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Where Did Our Story Go? The Supremes: A Saga of Motown…

Supremes

I keep hoping for another book like Geoff Emerick’s fine account of how he recorded the Beatles in Here, There and Everywhere…  and this is most definitely not that caliber of book.

Not that this is the worst read, but it follows an all-too-familiar formula.   First, there’s the truly interesting tale of The Supremes before we knew them.   Next, we learn how they came together and got their big break.   Then, the trouble with the book begins when every intra-group personality conflict is embellished to the point where the band appears to be on the verge of a nuclear war.   And for any fan wanting to know how The Supremes’ songs came to be inspired or written, or crucial and interesting details concerning how they were recorded, this book is not the answer as such accounts are rare in this Saga of Motown.   What you will find in this book are obsessively detailed descriptions of exactly who slept with who over forty years ago.

What, exactly, did the sex lives of Diana, Flo and Mary have to do with their music?   I have no idea, but by page 180, this dead horse had already been beaten to a bloodless pulp. My excitement over this new music group biography dropped away quite quickly, and I would venture to say that yours will too – unless, of course, you have little interest in the songs of The Supremes and prefer a rehash of everything you might have learned from reading the tabloids for the last 40 or more plus years.

Da Capo Press, $24.95, 426 pages

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

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