Tag Archives: life’s lesson

Thunder and Lightning

My Father's Wives (nook book)

My Father’s Wives: A Novel by Mike Greenberg (William Morrow, 240 pages, $25.99)

“Just then a bolt of lightning…” Bob Dylan, “Drifter’s Escape.”

In My Father’s Wives, Jonathan Sweetwater lacks for nothing but an identity. He is the son of the larger-than-life senator, Percy Sweetwater, whose philandering cost him a shot at the presidency. Using money and the illusion of a perfect family life to cloak his inner insecurities, Jonathan meanders along, making money, riding charter jets, eating at the finest restaurants, and playing basketball during his lunch breaks. He eats so much fine food at so many restaurants that basketball is probably required to ensure that he actually fits on the jets.

Jonathan likes to play it safe. His ideal mate supports his inner need for security, which is, presumably, due to the torment he suffered as a child. Hence, he marries Claire. Claire does not invoke “lightning” (Greenberg’s analogy, not mine) as his previous incompatible flings had, but rather an endearing sense of calm – until the unthinkable happens and everything is up for grabs. (Don’t worry – Jonathan still manages to eat and drink well.)

Mired in self-doubt, Jonathan begins a quest to understand his father – which is actually an attempt to make sense of his own existence, by seeking out each of the five of his father’s wives that he does not call Mom. Editorial comment: Some people never learn.

Mike Greenberg of ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the Morning tells a fine story in this, his second novel and fourth book (including the one he co-authored with co-host Mike Colic). At 223 pages, it is just the right length – not 100-plus pages or more longer than it needs to be, as is a fault of many contemporary novels. The human themes resonate enough that the indulgences of the main character, who thinks nothing of his octopus appetizers or 1%-er drinks, are surprisingly not off-putting or distracting.

My Father's Wives (back cover)

About 30 pages from the conclusion of the book, it starts to become obvious that Greenberg is setting up a non-end ending to the story, which is the biggest disappointment. Perhaps it is not totally out of place since Jonathan is a bit like Hamlet.

My Father’s Wives winds up being a good story despite the lack of a proper conclusion, but does it come with a moral or life’s lesson to be learned? Perhaps it is that lightning can strike more than once, or in more than one way.

Well recommended.

Dave Moyer

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

Dave Moyer is an educator and the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

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Child Is Father to the Man

Some Assembly Required (nook book)

Some Assembly Required: A Journal of My Son’s First Baby by Anne Lamott and Sam Lamott (Riverhead Books, $26.95, 288 pages)

I’m a huge fan of Anne Lamott. Having said that, it’s nevertheless hard to fathom who the audience is supposed to be for her most recent memoir, Some Assembly Required. This is the follow-up to Operating Instructions, in which Lamott wrote about the sometimes tense, oftentimes close relationship with her aspiring artist son, Sam. In Assembly, she writes about her first year as a grandmother (“Nana”) to baby Jax, balancing her love for a new male child with the demands of her son’s new life and the often conflicting desires of her daughter-in-law – a young woman who has very strong, opinionated ideas about the best way to raise a child.

The first Scripture reading today was Luke 15, the Prodigal Son. Of course. It’s the only real story – coming back to God, who welcomes us with heartbroken joy, no matter what, every time. I do not get this.

Ask and allow: ask God and allow Grace in.

What makes this memoir odd and often troublesome is that Lamott writes about her strong Christian beliefs (and about such things as the Four Immutable Laws of the Spirit) but frequently does so in language that would cause devoted church goers to blanch. For example, there’s the point at which she thinks about taking her son aside to say “something spiritual like ‘Shape the f–k up!'”. The latter type of language is going to draw the interest of some young, alienated college students – possibly a new audience for the writer, but they may be alienated by the countless references to God in the traditional religious sense.

And then things get even worse, as the memoir detours in another direction. Notwithstanding her Christianity, Lamott writes about traveling to India in a seemingly sideways search to find the meaning of life:

We were on the Ganges at five in the morning, in a riverboat in the fog. One image that had called me to India for years, besides the Taj Mahal, was a dawn visit to the Ganges on a riverboat, for the sunrise.

How does all of this come together in a manner that makes some sense? Well, it doesn’t. Reading Assembly is like reading the diary or journal notes of someone whose life heads in all directions at once, without meaning or apparent purpose. If Anne Lamott does not seem to know how to tie the loose ends of her life together, then – trust me – the reader is certainly unable to do so.

Some Assembly Required reads like an overly-rough draft of a memoir that screamed out for a very talented editor – a figure that apparently failed to appear.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from the publisher.

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