Tag Archives: fate

The Last Worthless Evening

The Last Blind Date: A Real-Life Love Story by Linda Yellin (Gallery Books, $15.00, 316 pages)

As I was finishing the Prologue (“Some Pertinent Information You Should Know Up Front”) of The Last Blind Date, I was thinking that this was going to be one entertaining popular fiction novel about love and romance.   Also, a very funny one…  It wasn’t until a few minutes later that I noticed the subtitle on this book, “A Real-Life Love Story.”   Oh, so this is not a novel but a memoir.   Interesting.

Linda Yellin’s book arrives at the  right time for those impacted by either Seasonal Affective Disorder – the aptly abbreviated SAD – or the holiday period blues.   Or maybe you’ve just done too much shopping or quaffed too much eggnog and you need something to bring your spirits up.   Belly up to the bar run by Ms. Yellin, a Boomer who offers healthy servings of humorous observations about life and living.   (Yes, she’s a baby boomer and you will find yourself asking, “How old could she be if she can remember watching Sky King on TV as a child?”)

In our household the mark of an engaging read is the number of times that I read excerpts to my wife or vice-versa.   In this case, I interrupted many episodes of Law and Order to read passages such as this one:

Commenting on other women’s relationships has always felt dicey for me…  I never know when to scream Red flag! and when to keep my trap shut.   I figure if you tell a friend she’s dating a jerk, don’t expect to be a bridesmaid if she marries the jerk.   Then, again, couldn’t at least one of Eva Braun’s girlfriends have sat her down and said, “Eva, sweetheart – trust me.   You can do better.”

What is the book about?   Glad you asked.   Yellin lost her first husband to cancer, lives in Chicago and had pretty much given up hopes of ever  being happy again when she’s set up on a blind date with a resident of New York City.   This is her true tale of how she found the right man, even if by blind accident, and became his second wife and the stepmother to this two children and their robot dog, Eddy.   (Yes, everyone needs at least one robot in their happily ever after home.)

The Last Blind Date is also about the culture shock experienced by a Midwesterner moving to the Big Apple, where everyone wears black and comments on one’s “strange” accent.   It’s also a story of learning to  love what you already have, and appreciating the fantastic experience of being a parent:

…along the way she’d break some hearts of her own, followed by lonely nights when she doubted herself and wondered why love came quickly for others but not for her.   Until there was finally a matching up of souls, and it seemed that every event in her life had led up to this one man, and she realized that if love were any easier, any less fateful – it wouldn’t feel like magic.

That’s Yellin writing about her stepdaughter Phoebe, but once you finish Blind Date, you’ll realize that it’s also about Yellin herself and her long, strange road to meeting and marrying her husband Randy.   Read this book and play Don Henley’s song, The Last Worthless Evening.   You’ll be so glad you did.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   The Last Blind Date was released on October 4, 2011.   Linda Yellin is also the author of the novel Such a Lovely Couple.

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Willow Weep for Me

The Language of Trees by Ilie Ruby (Avon)

The Language of Trees transports us into the deep, magical aspects of nature, while inviting us to reconsider the magnetic power of desires long-buried.   While not a believer in second chances, but rather in what is meant to exist, this story had me wanting to change my mind.   This is a well rendered tale of shattered pieces, and the sorrow of remembering their beginnings.   Ruby’s suspenseful story telling style and painterly prose make for an alluring read.

Ruby brings us to a seemingly inncuous town, whose many secrets are whispered and hidden among the giant willows.   Her characters are artfully drawn, yet oddly familiar.   We are shown Canandaigua, of the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, where the folklore of the Seneca Indians runs deep.   When three children spontaneously set off in a canoe towards Squaw Island, to escape the angry father they are running from, a weeping rain turns to sudden fury; spilling into a tragedy that becomes a series of dark storms for the Ellis family.

This tightly wound tale manages to both inform and invite the reader to reconsider the gift of healing, or at least the deepest human urge to repair what is broken.   Ruby shows us the mystery of spirit in all living things and how those spirits swoop and dart among us, landing in the most unlikely of places.   This book will have you wondering about ghosts, and if those who remain and haunt us are simply the ones we choose to keep.

 

Carrie Host is the author of Between Me and the River. 

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The Unnamed

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris: A Novel (Back Bay Books, $15.00, 320 pages)

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The heart asks pleasure first, and then excuse from pain.   Emily Dickinson

God, if He was anything, was the answer to the mystery of why you got sick…   Joshua Ferris

Joshua Ferris (Then We Came to the End) has written a second novel.  The Unnamed, is a dark and mystical tale that brings the pain before it delivers the pleasure.   This is about Tim Farnsworth who is blessed with status and a fine career.   Good luck and good fate lead him to take two things for granted: his health and his family.

Tim’s a successful lawyer in a private New York City firm until he’s hit with a mysterious condition that causes him to walk.   When the condition strikes, he’s forced to abandon whatever he’s doing and walk for miles and hours until he drops and falls asleep from exhaustion.   The condition – which the medical establishment does not want to label a disease (Tim being the only person on record affected by it) – goes into remission twice enabling Tim to resume his work.   But Tim’s already lost 17 months to this condition when, as the story opens, “it’s back.”

Initially, Tim places his faith in medicine, doctors and mental health practitioners until he comes to see that “there was never anything anyone could do” for him.   He’s first affected physically, then mentally and becomes “removed from the person who knew how to form ideas.”   He becomes a man without hope, which to him seems worse than death.   Tim comes to envy cancer patients who have the “power of a familiar and fatal disease.”

It’s not difficult to see that this is pretty dark and dangerous territory for a novel but Ferris is skilled enough to turn the ship around.   A tale of illness and disease is transformed into one about marriage and family and the strength – physical and emotional – that these can provide.   Tim loses everything – career, family, wife, daughter – before he becomes stronger (in a strange sense) than the world around him.   His suffering has a pay-off and he sees and experiences hope before the end of his days.

This is a story about redemption.   Tim literally walks away from everything, including spouse Jane, until he has to decide whether to return to her – no matter what the cost.   Eventually, Jane and others come to be amazed that he “could suffer like that.”   In the end Tim, like every one of us, comes to experience joy in life’s small things: seeing children play, observing birds, having a couple of beers with an old friend, feeling the love of a daughter.

Ferris’ work is close to breathtaking here, although the second half of the work feels much longer than the first half.   Maybe that’s because the reader is meant to experience Tim’s disease states – pain, fever, disorientation, hallucinations – before he returns to normalcy.   We wonder if he’s gone insane in his battle with “The Other” – a condition, a disease, a devil, a fear, his mortality – until he accepts that it’s his inalienable right to have a life, a normal life.

She didn’t need a prescription, she needed a life.

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Taut, engaging, emotional…   Tinged in genius and yet troubling.   The Unnamed is a stunner and one of the few novels most readers will come across in which each and every chapter closes brilliantly.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by Reagan Arthur Books (Hachette Book Group, U.S.A.).  

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Everything Must Go

Everything Must Go by Elizabeth Flock

This was, for me, a very enjoyable read.   Everything Must Go is the story of Henry Powell, an Everyman whose life (like that of the narrator-sister in Therese Walsh’s The Last Will of Moira Leahy) has been touched and battered by a family tragedy.   Henry’s parents blame him for that tragedy and so he’s forced to put aside the life he otherwise would have led.

Henry’s an all-state star high school football player who receives an offer to play for a big-time college.   But it’s not to be as he is called home to take care of his unemployed father and sickly mother.   Henry has to make do with a “temporary” job working in a men’s clothing store.   Even after he moves into his own apartment and works full-time at the store, he’s still forced to take care of his mother each evening.

Life goes on as normal until Henry happens to meet the girl of his dreams, Cathy.   She seems to really like Henry until she meets his mother and then rushes to get away.   Yes, Henry’s mother has secured a measure of revenge for what she views as his role in the family’s deadly accident.

With time Henry not only goes on to live without his beloved Cathy, he even comes to realize and accept that they were just not meant to be together, which is when he becomes open to meeting someone better for him…

As the clothing store eventually is set to close (to be reborn as a Restoration Hardware site), Henry becomes aware that his life has come to make sense.   It’s time for him to move on, even if he’s not sure where the rest of his life will take him.   He’s gained confidence in his fate and is willing to let the past go.   As the sign says in the window of the clothing store, EVERYTHING MUST GO.

A charming and calming story is so very well told by Elizabeth Flock.   There are many very nice touches in the telling of the tale that future readers will enjoy discovering.   Let it be said that Flock does not depend on implausible events or loud explosions to tell her story.   She simply chronicles the story of an average person’s life in an above average way.

Recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This book was purchased by the reviewer.

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Twin Charms

last will“A well-composed book is a magic carpet on which we are wafted to a world that we cannot enter in any other way.”   – Caroline Gordon

The Last Will of Moira Leahy: A Novel by Therese Walsh (Broadway Books, 304 pages)

The Last Will of Moira Leahy is a book that takes its readers to a different world.   It is a novel of charm, mystery, of things that cannot easily be explained and of faith.   Faith in fate (often hard to come by, often rationed) and in the journey one is supposed to take in this life…   Faith that the right lesson will be learned at the end.

This is a story of twins, something much in vogue at the current time.   Therese Walsh’s story shares some of the mysticism of Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry.   It also paints twins as exotic creatures with shared language, thoughts and animal-like instincts.   Of course, the twins are not exactly alike.

The narrator Maeve Leahy, is the more cautious of the two – more cautious in love and in life.   She is a musician, a saxophone player, but she’s not the musical prodigy that her piano-playing twin Moira is.   It seems that Moira will lead the bigger life until a tragedy strikes.   Then Moira is frozen in place while Maeve is left to fend for – and find – herself.

After a period of depression, Maeve attends an auction where she spots a keris – an ancient and believed to be magical type of sword – similar to one she owned as a child.   Maeve finds that she has a need to discover more about the centuries old keris and this takes her on a journey to Rome, Italy.   It is on this journey that she learns more about herself, her twin, and life.   Life without fixed boundaries.   “Not everything in life can be measured or accounted for by the five known senses.”

First-time author Walsh has a smooth style with enough uniqueness that the reader desires to keep reading.   She stays ahead of the reader, too, as nothing predictable occurs.   I had just one small issue and that was the disconcerting movements  between present time and prior events.   It is not actually harmful in this case, but the baseline story is strong enough that it could well have been told chronologically.

This is one of those books where you delay getting to the last page, knowing the next book from this gifted author may not arrive for another year or two.   Nevertheless, this is a trip that is – without a doubt – well worth taking.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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