Tag Archives: Palm Springs

I Feel the Earth Move

Fault Lines: A Novel by Anne Rivers Siddons (William Morrow, $12.99, 352 pages)

In all the world I had never seen anything so strangely inhumanly beautiful.   In this place, man would soon seem simply extraneous.   I shivered.   I did not think I would feel welcome for long in this world where the very earth spasmed and the great trees would not acknowledge my presence.

Between finishing college and starting graduate school, I was lucky enough to have a summer job that involved taking young people camping in the Santa Cruz Mountains in northern California.   This is a unique area – a special place – filled with ancient redwoods and wild animals, including bears, and being there is an other-worldly experience.   If you can’t take a trip there, you may wish to read Fault Lines, which permits the reader to experience the place via the eyes of a Southerner making her first trip to California; and, for good measure, Siddons throws in visits to Los Angeles and San Francisco in this novel about a woman whose life is shaken up – a woman who experiences “an earthquake in the soul.”

Merritt Fowler is a proper Atlanta housewife, married to a succesful physician named Pom, and mother to Glynn, her sensitive sixteen-year-old daughter.   For years she also served as a pseudo-mother to her younger sister Laura, an actress who fled to southern California after finding it impossible to live in the household of the stern doctor Fowler.   Pom turns out to be one of those good men (he provides free health care to the poor of Atlanta) who practices good deeds everywhere except in his own home.   He’s also unable to face reality when his mother – whom he insists be referred to as Mommee – is afflicted by Alzheimer’s and her actions become literally life-threatening.   When Glynn insists that Mommee be placed in a residential care facility, Pom becomes so hostile toward his daughter that Glynn runs away to join her aunt Laura in Palm Springs.

Merritt has been the responsible and forgiving one her entire life, but this single incident permits her to see that her husband has become (in the words of Jackson Browne) a “perfect fool”   She stands up to Pom for the first time, and elects to go and find her daughter and bring her back home.   Once she gets to California, she sees that both Glynn and Laura are different people there than they were in Georgia…  and the environment begins to also take hold of her actions, and of her very being.

In California, Merritt – who is said to resemble the late actress Kay Kendall – realizes that she and her sister and daughter are all viewed as great beauties, even in a city (Los Angeles) filled with actresses.   And she begins to become fascinated with the notion of earthquakes, especially after experiencing her first one.   She’s unaware that the big earthquake, in her personal life, is soon to hit.

Oh, it was such a day, it really was.   A pinnacle day, a ball bearing on which a life turns.

While this novel starts slowly, filled with dialogue that initially seems to be both clumsy and awkward (I had an image of actors practicing their lines off-screen – never able to get them right), the reader’s patience is rewarded with an engaging story that warms up to the point where you don’t want to put the book down.   If Merritt begins as a cardboard figure, she soon turns into a person alive as you or me…  Merritt’s a person – a mature person – who is still trying to find her place in the world.   She’s lost herself in the air somewhere between Atlanta and LAX, and now she has to decide if she’s the Merritt of Old Atlanta or the Merritt of the New West.   The way in which she finds herself will surprise you.

Highly recommended.   Siddons is a writer who wisely pulls her punches before delivering a knockout blow.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “A literary meteor shower…  One great read.”   Detroit News/Free Press

Note: There is one glaring error in the novel.   The college in Santa Cruz is called USC Santa Cruz on page 274, when it is actually the University of California, Santa Cruz (UC, Santa Cruz or UCSC).

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Glorious Golf

Moment of Glory: The Year Underdogs Ruled Golf by John Feinstein (Little, Brown; Hachette Audio, Unabdridged on 11 CDs)

Warning:  If you’ve hated the sport of golf – or tried your best to ignore it – and wish to continue as a golf hater, avoid reading (or listening to) this book!

John Feinstein, author of the mega-selling A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour, has written a humanizing account of the game of golf in what proved to be a unique year, 2003.   This was the year that Tiger Woods – who had won half of the 12 majors from 2000 to 2002 – failed to win a single major tournament.   The void was filled by four unknowns, four golfers who had never before won a major.   Here are the names of the four players whose names were not Tiger Woods:  Mike Weir (the Masters), Jim Furyk (the U. S. Open), Ben Curtis (the British Open) and Shaun Micheel (the PGA Championship).

Feinstein’s account begins with a detailed explanation of the first fall of Woods, who arbitrarily decided to fire Butch Harmon, his talented swing coach, in order to restructure his game.   Woods, golf’s reigning king, abdicated his throne for a year, permitting four commoners to enter the arena.   This is covered by Feinstein in an introduction which is the weakest part of the telling.   Feinstein has a maddening tendency in his intros to jump around from present to past, past to present and back again.   It all becomes confusing enough to make a reader want to think about abandoning the read.   But stick around because Feinstein calms down when he begins to tell the tale of four young golfers who came up the hard way.

None of the four subjects – Weir, Furyk, Curtis and Micheel – would have been placed on a list of projected winners of a major tournament in 2003.   In fact, as well detailed by Feinstein, each of the winners would shock the golf world that year.   Curtis, for example, had never visited England before beating everyone on the links course known as Royal St. George’s.   The newly married golfer from Columbus, Ohio had been listed as a 300-1 outsider before his major win.   His win was so unlikely, in fact, that when one of his best friends (and fellow golfers) was told that Curtis had won the British Open he literally fell to his knees in shock.

Micheel won the PGA Championship with an 18th hole penultimate blind shot (onto a 45-foot hill) that landed just two inches from the cup.   “On the most important day of his life, he made the shot of his life.”   But none of these four players broke through simply because they were lucky.   Each worked for years in college and/or junior circuits (Hooters, the Nike Tour, the Hogan Tour, PGA Qualifying School) before they became overnight successes.   Even if you, like this reader, know little about golf and nothing about these four men, you will finish feeling like you’ve spent quality time with each of them.

Each of the four players profiled is a likeable once-underdog, four individuals who suddenly came out of the shadow of the fist-pumping Woods.   But then John Feinstein has always loved such stories…  As he wrote in A Good Walk Spoiled:  “I’ve always (been) someone who thinks that the unknown fighting for his life is a better story than the millionaire fighting for his next million.”

This is an absolutely perfect book to read and/or listen to on the weekend of the playing of the U. S. Open at Pebble Beach.   Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

This review is based on the audio book version of Moments of Glory, a copy of which was received from Hachette Audio (Hachette Book Group U.S.A.).   The unabridged audio version is well read by L. J. Ganser.   Unfortunately, Ganser’s voice sounds far too much like that of Casey Kasem of American Top 40 and his skills are sadly lacking whenever he attempts to dramatize women’s voices (quoting the wives of the four golfers profiled here).   It would have been nice to have had a woman reading the women’s parts.

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