A review of Parents Behaving Badly: A Novel by Scott Gummer.
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I Ain’t Living Long Like This
Chinaberry Sidewalks: A Memoir by Rodney Crowell (Knopf; $24.95; 256 pages)
“To be well-loved is to be free of the evil lurking around the next darkened corner. Every child should know that feeling.”
The country music artist Rodney Crowell is known for his singing and songwriting skills. His singing voice, often compared to that of Kris Kristofferson (but higher pitched), may leave something to be desired. But the artist who has written songs like Shame on the Moon, I Ain’t Living Long Like This and (The Way You Burn Me I Should Be) Ashes by Now, has shown himself to be a bright star in this category. Crowell is also known as being the ex-husband of Rosanne Cash, which has presented other issues, such as coming off second in comparison to her singing, songwriting and writing skills.
It proves to be true again. For while Chinaberry Sidewalks is interesting in some places, it does not hold the reader’s imagination and interest the way that Rosanne Cash’s brilliantly written memoir Composed does. Cash displayed a skill for always finding the right interesting words to describe the happenings in her life; and her voice was just as unique as Bob Dylan’s in Chronicles.
Crowell never seems to find his voice or his style here, although he has stated that he felt freed from the strict rules of song writing in putting together – over a decade – this autobiographical account.
“With my grandmother and Charlie (the shoe shine man)… I experienced love as something tangible between myself and another human being.”
This is a tough read because much of it covers the sad scenes of a childhood filled with bickering parents and domestic violence. No doubt Crowell is being brutally honest, but it is often difficult to wish to read about a childhood described as filled with nothing “but a primal instinct for survival, theirs and mine.” In one of the hard-to-concentrate on scenes, Crowell’s inebriated mother hits his father whereupon his very drunk dad responds by punching his mother in the face. The young Crowell intervenes by breaking a Coke bottle over his own head, requiring a trip to the hospital for stitches. Yes, a few stories like this go a long way.
It must be noted that this memoir contains some near-charming stories of growing up as a boomer child (Crowell was born in August of 1950). But the reader interested in tales of playing soldier, or cowboys and Indians, etc. will find better written accounts in the memoirs of Bob Greene (When We Get to Surf City).
“…my parents’ deaths were unique to their personalities.”
At the end of Chinaberry Sidewalks, Crowell’s parents have found a sense of normalcy in their lives before they depart the earth. And love in a marriage that somehow lasted for decades. It is a comforting message but one that arrives only after a narrative that might have benefited from tighter editing. Crowell’s narrative never equates to the level of his songwriting skills in this account.
This is not a bad first effort, but the Rodney Crowell that’s found in Cash’s Composed – such as in the classic scene where a nervous young Crowell meets his legendary future father-in-law for the first time – is a far more interesting person than the one found here.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. Chinaberry Sidewalks was released on January 18, 2011.
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Win The Good Daughters
If you loved reading Labor Day by Joyce Maynard, you may want to try to win yourself a copy of her new novel The Good Daughters. Thanks to Harper Collins, we’re giving away a copy to a lucky reader! Here’s the official synopsis of the story:
They were born on the same day, in the same small New Hampshire hospital, into families that could hardly have been less alike. Ruth Plank is an artist and a romantic with a rich, passionate, imaginative life. The last of five girls born to a gentle, caring farmer and his stolid wife, she yearns to soar beyond the confines of the land that has been her family’s birthright for generations.
Dana Dickerson is a scientist and realist whose faith is firmly planted in the natural world. Raised by a pair of capricious drifters who wasted their lives on failed dreams, she longs for stability and rootedness.
Different in nearly every way, Ruth and Dana share a need to make sense of who they are and to find their places in a world in which neither has truly felt she belonged. They also share a love for Dana’s wild and beautiful older brother, Ray, who will leave an indelible mark on both their hearts.
Told in the alternating voices of Ruth and Dana, The Good Daughters follows these “birthday sisters” as they make their way from the 1950s to the present. Master storyteller Joyce Maynard chronicles the unlikely ways the two women’s lives parallel and intersect – from childhood and adolescence to first loves, first sex, marriage, and parenthood; from the deaths of parents to divorce, the loss of home, and the loss of a beloved partner – until past secrets and forgotten memories unexpectedly come to light, forcing them to reevaluate themselves and each other.
Joy Topping of The Dallas Morning News wrote a review of The Good Daughters in which she stated the following:
“The author’s deft and delicate touch as she plumbs the depths of her characters’ psyches is what will keep readers pinned to the page. It’s like a conversation with friends about whose lives you crave every detail, simply because they are so dear to you… Maynard’s simple language gorgeously interprets the book’s themes… In Maynard’s gifted hands, every sentence and step seems organic, as if she were just keenly observing these (two) women and taking richly detailed notes on their lives.”
Interested? The Good Daughters is published by William Morrow, runs 288 pages and has a value of $24.99. In order to enter this contest, you simply need to post a message below with your name and e-mail address included or send an e-mail with this information to Josephsreviews@gmail.com . This will count as your first entry. In order to enter a second time, tell us what the best or worst book is that you’ve read during 2010. (Munchy will be as curious as a cat to read your answers!)
You have until midnight PST on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 to submit your entry or entries. In order to be eligible to enter this contest, you must live in the continental United States and have a residential mailing address. Books will not be shipped to a P.O. box or a business-related address. As always, the winner’s name will be randomly drawn by Munchy.
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