Campbell Smith wants only to lie behind the S of Mrs Douglas Alexander, soon to be Senator from the great state of Delaware, a place where Washingtonians go to hide. But a woman who is hiding does not make a good political wife, and Campbell soon takes to gardening and disappointment. Alas. A good but over-plotted story.
It is not enough to attach 5 generations of women to a tree or a patch of trees to give them character. Yes, one is very old, and one is a felon, and one was a stewardess, and one slept with a dozen different men each time she wanted to get pregnant. But these women remain rootless metalogically, as symbols or devices or even glosses of each other.
Author of 41 books of Christian fiction (and never a best seller) gets used to living with her annoying mother-in-law and her hapless daughter while she complains about her life to God. It is not at all evident that God is interested.
Imagine a little fishing village with a general store somewhere in Texas where it rains. There is lots of kindness, and lots of very quirky individuals who don’t mesh, but aggregate. Mostly around a lake. Old maids, young maids, poor beaten women, big burly men, volunteer firefighters, sheriffs, and brutes. Mostly poor, but there is also a very wealthy ex-wife and widow of seven or eight husbands. She runs a Bed and Breakfast, and has facelifts in Dallas, collects lawyers, and establishes the pecking order. In Twisted Creek, however, everybody is poor. Especially Lucky Ali and Grandma who wake up one day to find themselves the beneficiaries of an empty General Store but not much else. They move in and clean and get to know the regulars. The mailman leaves a sack of mail for them to sort and put to rest.
Maeve Binchy is the grand-mistress of the domestic imaginary: that hearty, busy, pretty space where women make themselves primal. It is late Capitalism and the lumpen proletariat of Dublin are caterers, not cooks. Katy is prole and caterer and the figure of a Dublin that caters to others, to Europe, to America, to Money. Spunky, sassy, no-nonsense ..Katy Scarlet is a full bodied, red-blooded Irishwoman with a disinclination to bow to class structures, and a desire to cater private parties to the eating population of Dublin.
Here is just one of a series of magical books about women in between old and new worlds. Read and re-read and recognize Maeve Binchy as treasure.
“John has left me his town. Although now that his town didn’t have the children in it..”
The demented but funny* ex-wife of a husband who should have come with instructions on how to load the dishwasher invites our sympathy because:
1. the ex-person has custody of the children
2. she is vaguely overweight
3. her mother doesn’t recognize her voice on the phone [“Your father could talk to anybody, to Osama Bin Laden” as though there was another Bin Laden who was a better conversationalist.]
4. she opens a cat-house for middle-aged women with nothing to do but paint their bathrooms and get pedicures
She finds an old delapidated lodge just outside of the dull little University town of Onkwedo, hires the men’s crew team as research assistants for a science experiment on female sexual response, and launches her career as a Madame while she finishes a novel by Nabokov on the side.
She interviews with a potential sex-worker:
Sydney Walker carefully arranged a tiny ipod system with speakers …on the mantle above the fireplace. He turned on a Los Lonely Boys song, Heaven, and began to strip. It was the most interesting thing I’d watched since they put a mirror up for the birth of [my daughter].
She looks for a new place to live:
It looked as if a young architect, fresh from Onkwedo’s own Wainwright University, had fallen in love with Frank Lloyd Wright, bought himself a pile of wood, borrowed a hammer and set to work. Like the Second Little Pig had been schooled at the Bauhaus.
She goes to New York City to meet with a lawyer:
I wondered if his real name was Max or whether the company had merely insisted on something mono-syllabic.
She goes out on a date:
I used to be a catch. Dated three or four at a time. I burned out. And when they show up with those big pocketbooks I know I am in trouble… They bring their own sex toys. Is that progress? I feel like the Hoover guy….
Imagine a Cobbled Court Quilt Shop. A Blue Bean Bakery. A For the Love of Lavender Herbal Boutique. Farms, handiwork, handicraft, prudent, helpful, hardware-toting neighbors, dainty small town gossip, happy volunteers, lavender soap: the fantasmatic drift of post-Madoff sub-urban female regret. What does a pretty pacified community look like when the women take over the finances and the values? New Bern, Connecticut.
Madelyn, “the widow Madoff”, is back in New Bern, Connecticut because that’s where the inherited house is located. But she might as well be “the ex-Mrs. Madoff” or the “Green Mrs. Madoff” or the “recovering Mrs. Madoff”. She and the house are ready for a reconstruction. Tessa is a new Christian, newly broke. She runs a lavender shop and quilts and prays. Listen:
..Then one day when I was in the shop, repairing some stitching on Madelyn’s quilt, I started praying. I prayed for Lee, for Josh, for Madelyn, for Margo, for Virginia, Evelyn, for all my doubts and worries as well as all the things I’m grateful for… Somehow as I was praying, rocking that needle back and forth the way Virginia taught me, I forgot to be awkward. Prayer flowed from me naturally, in a plain and continuous pattern that mirrored the motion of my needle; simple, rhythmic, thought by thought, stitch by stitch, forgetting to be worried about the outcome, focused only on that stitch, that inch, that curve, until I came to the end of my thread and myself and pulled my gaze back to discover the bigger picture….
Madelyn rebuilds her life at the same time she rebuilds the old house, from the inside out, with the help of a one-eyed recovering alcoholic Vietnam Veteran who runs the hardware store, and Tessa, and Lee, Tessa’s reconstructed farmer-accountant-husband, and all the girls from the Quilting Circle, and their friends…
The best of Freethy about a woman with a false past who looks for truth in an image from the past…
We find the troublesome, 62 year old Detective Inspector in bed after a back operation, popping Percocets and abusing the hospitality of her ex-husband’s new wife. Within a week she is thigh deep in a case of abduction, with a scene of crime and a bloody victim being broadcast live on line to her desktop. Within 2 weeks her wry, dry, black personality has generated several joyless encounters.
Consider Officer Childress from Toronto:
“Are you crazy!!? You don’t send the chief of the biggest division in Toronto a human hand to his desk!” (Hazel: “Where does he like to take delivery of such things??”)
Or Supervisor Ilunga: “Now he was looking at her as if trying to decide what part of her to rip off first.”
I told you to go home… …We investigated this death. You arrived here with a foregone conclusion. What I’m doing is standing my ground against the devil, who appears before us in the form of an intuition. Every time someone walks in here with a feeling i want to reach for my gun. You know how much a hunch costs? A SOCO team with a vehicle big enough to get that boat and its oars back to a clean room, the hours to rephotograph the goddamn thing, the spectroscope, the refingerprinting of latents now 3 years old, I’ll start at $30,000 but I’m being optimistic. “(Hazel: “So its the cost that bothers you, or the revelation that you accepted a suicide wrap because its good for business?…”)
Or Sunderland, the editor of the Westmuir Record, hair plastered flat on his forehead by weather and stress:
Ah! Here she is: Shiva the Destroyer. And look! Here is her handiwork! …You are feckless, power-hungry, thoughtless, arrogant and foolish… You think strong arming anyone you care to into doing your will is the way to run the Port Dundass PD…!? ” (Hazel: How was Atlanta? …If you’re thinking of ruining me you better get in line; you have competitors.”)
By the end the whole affair has cost 30 grand plus one helicopter, but life in the Canadian provinces is back to normal, the “weekly B & E, the biweekly domestic, the monthly car theft.” (“It was so regular that the older cops joked they should have sign up sheets for perps to fill in before they committed the quota of small time offences” they were delegated in the county.)
She is a portrait of competence. She works for the big distributor of computers that packaged itself after cows. She has a knack for customer relations. She enjoys convincing users, individual by individual, that the big company wants nothing more than to make nice and relate, long term. She has removed all excess from her life, all things huge, or insubstantial.
We find her in a hospital room waiting for her brother to come back to life, as if she is watching some overlong Swedish film… A problematic brother, liked by animals, but “…when it came to humans no one knew what to make of the boy…. “. The problematic boy, Mark, has been damaged.
The language is full bodied, rich, ripe, generously given. All in good time. Bernadette Dunne, as usual, is remarkable. She narrates people thinking in low, cool tones, as if she were playing jazz for a small group of friends.
Slowly, slowly, the author mixes in big words, medical words, technical words to explain the misadventures and mistakes of the brain, configuring the brain as a fabulous animal which never stays the same. Mark’s brain is not what it was before the accident; it cannot recognize the familiar as familiar, cannot recognize his sister as the same sister, his friends as the same friends, his dog as the same dog. This misrecognition effects another: the sister who is not recognized by her brother slowly doubts her own identity, which dissolves into a piece of a town, a piece of a bed, a piece of a river…
In the middle of fields of Nebraska wheat, one theory of the brain folds into another, from a brain that tells stories, to a brain which functions like boy scouts waving their flashlights in the dark, to the brain as a series of mappings of other brain-maps,
My brain, all those split parts trying to convince each other, dozens of lost scouts waving crappy flashlights in the woods at night….
The brother, the sister, his girlfriend, a nurse’s aid, a cognitive neurologist from SUNY Stony Brook having a mid-life identity crisis…all of them unable to recognize themselves, unable, too, to recognize other beings, or other species… Hence, too, an ecological crisis: all species depend upon recognition, or go extinct….