Have to Share: Laura Rider’s Masterpiece

Loved this novel, and had to share, in case anyone else has been feeling a bit of reading ennui lately:

Laura Rider is a force of nature hidden amongst the housewives in her small Wisconsin town. She owns a gardening business with her husband, Charlie, with whom she has laughed, loved (but not physically, lately), and lived for more than a decade. But now, she pretty much knows the gardening business inside and out. So now, she’s bored. And looking for something else to do.

When one of her heroes, radio personality Jenna Faroli, moves to town with her husband, an older man who is also not providing for his wife’s carnal nature, both Laura and her husband notice. Charlie, the easy-going, charming, lovable idiot, is eager to find someone who is as interested in a sordid, motel screw as he is. Laura is fascinated that this charming, intelligent woman is kind of physically plain and also, interested in her husband. Romance, chaos, and creative forces ensue.

This novel is fun, funny, and looks at what happens when smart people are forced to recognize their own flawed humanity by making terrible mistakes. How being driven can help you figure out what change you are craving, and how to make it happen. And how believing in aliens does not prevent a man from catching the attention of not just one, but two, amazing woman – but keeping their attention requires effort.

I loved this novel, and the audiobook version I borrowed from the library was very well done. The reader had an engaging voice, and although my office may be freezing, this book made it entertaining to drive to & from it. I may have just listened to this book at the right time, but I don’t think so. Although it only has 2.5 stars on Goodreads, I found it well-written, funny, and insightful.

So I highly recommend, if you’re looking for something fun.

This Protagonist is a Whiny Little…

Ugh! Have you guys read Wither?

If you have, I’m sorry. If you haven’t – don’t bother. & if you have a problem with spoilers, stop reading. Because I’m going to be giving away plot details left & right, so, you know – fair warning.

The narrator in this particular novel feels like she’s suffering the dystopian equivalent of white privilege. I mean, yeah, she was kidnapped. Which, don’t get me wrong, is awful. But in the context of dystopia – also, could have been worse. In fact, even in the context of this dystopia, it could have been much worse. If she wasn’t drop-dead gorgeous (which she obviously is, because everyone else comments on it, but she’s got that annoying – “I’m not vain, I don’t look in mirrors” bullshit going on – bitch, babies like admiring themselves in mirrors; it’s human nature, just be straight with me, and admit that you look amazing), she probably would have been shot in the head shortly after being ripped out of her home (if she had been ripped out of her home, because it sounds like the girl-hunters went out of their way a bit for her, which you have to assume they may not have done if she had been less attractive. Or maybe they would have, because it’s dystopia, so why the fuck not?). If she hadn’t been kidnapped, she may have been forced to resort to prostitution – her parents are dead, and it’s unclear how she and her brother are surviving, but even though money does, kind of, grow on trees, because money is made out of paper that comes from trees, you can’t pick it off like an apple or a peach. So she’s been kidnapped, which sucks. And she’s effectively been sold as a bride to this guy. But the guy’s not a total asshole, which he could be. And he doesn’t force himself on her, which he could do. He basically clothes her very well, feeds her very well, and lets her live in his nice house which has a pool and his own orange grove. In other words, this bitch is living in more comfort and luxury than, like, 95% of us, and probably than, like, 120% of the people reading this blog. And she’s complaining that she doesn’t have her freedom – which, like, yeah, except that if you weren’t in the situation you’re in, again, you would probably be resorting to gross, dirty things like prostitution. You would probably be eating less food of a lower quality. You would not be wearing your luxury, designer clothes. And you would still be unhappy, if you even lived very long. So, like, shut the fuck up Rhine.

She also makes these grandiose claims like – “I’d rather die!” when she’s constantly trying to physically escape, so… obviously, she wouldn’t. Because if you would truly rather die than live in the lap of luxury where, again, you’re not raped, you don’t have to work, and the people generally don’t seem that bad, then you would have done it. There are primary source documents regarding the gladiators in the Roman empire – and you know that it sucked, because these gladiators would do crazy things to try to get away. And when they couldn’t get away, do you know what they did, Rhine? Let me tell you, it wasn’t fret while collapsing on a tizzy couch about how terrible their life was. There’s a source document about a gladiator who killed himself in the Roman-empire equivalent of a restroom by shoving the sponge they used because this was before toilet paper down his throat. Are you willing to shove an implement covered in shit down your throat so that you choke yourself and die to escape where you’re at, Rhine? I don’t think so. So, like, shut the fuck up.

Also, there’s the fact that she’s not supposed to live very long, anyway. Which I also have little sympathy for. Humans like beautiful, young people. If you die at 20, you die while you’re young and pretty. You’re still going to outlive your dog, your cat, and several fish. It’s not great, but is it better to live until you’re 100? Given that you know what your lifespan is, you need to take that into account, and make sure that you live as much as you can. Like, what are you losing? The chance to sit at a desk for the majority of your 20s – 60s, desperately striving to attain a work-life “balance” that doesn’t exist? Stop bitching, and start living. It sounds like you pretty much live in Disney World – enjoy it. Eat all the cake your stomach can handle, go swimming, sit in the orange grove, read all of the books you can get your hands on. Play pranks on your sister wives. Or you can be miserable and strive and struggle over relatively insignificant problems, because you’ve got 4 years left, and who wants to make the most of it? Not you, Rhine. Not you.

Middle-Sexy Quotes

I had this kind of awful co-worker once. To be Frank, it was a shitty job with a shady employer, and no one worked there longer than they had to. Still, she managed to make the job at least slightly worse, including, I’m fairly certain, stealing my new winter hat. It was a warm, furry aviator, mid-Michigan winter – the action should have been illegal. And for some reason, it was this co-worker who shaped my expectations for Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize winning novel Middlesex.

She raved about it. She had an English degree from some college on the East Coast, and so I tended to take notice of the books she raved about. And she told me Middlesex is this amazing book that really analyzes marriage. So I was a bit surprised, to say the least, to read the book’s opening line:

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

Middlesex is a good book. And it does include marriage. And analysis of family, immigration, the assembly line, race politics, all included in the accurate setting of East Detroit. But Middlesex is primarily the narration of Cal, who is a hermaphrodite. And honestly, the book felt the most alive and interesting to me when Cal was not only narrating, but present. (Much of the book is a saga of Cal’s lineage, beginning with grandparents, since her/his family history and genetics are what ultimately lead to her/his unusual physicality.)

I preferred The Virgin Suicides to Middlesex; however, I may have just been in the mood to read TVS and not 100% in the mood to read Middlesex when I was reading these books. And both books display Eugenides’ writing skill, thorough knowledge of the Metro-Detroit area (I personally love that he always mentions the fish flies, aka, scourge of my existence growing up), and are great reads. As I was reading Middlesex, there were various phrases/paragraphs/etc. that stood out to me, and I wanted to retain/share them here to wrap up this post.

Here are my Middlesex-y quotes:

Have you read Middlesex? What were your thoughts?

Fangirling Across State Lines

We all have at least one book that we turn to, when we’re having a really bad time. The one that always makes the crinkles around our eyes show up in a genuine smile, that despite being infinitely familiar, is still a genuine pleasure to read no matter how many times we re-read it. For me, when I am in a reading slump, or having a personal bad time, there are two authors I turn to, again and again: Jane Austen and Sarah Dessen.

These authors are very different, but I think that draws me to them, again and again, are the realistic portrait each author wrote of her world and time period, as well as the sparks of wit and humanity that illuminate their books. Austen is a bit more cheeky, Dessen is a bit more romantic, but both authors remind me of the good that makes life worthwhile. Of course, Mrs. Dessen has an advantage over Austen, which is that she is still living, and her novels are still being written and published. Austen’s novels will forever be capped at 6 (7, if you include Lady Susan), whereas Dessen’s oeuvre is currently at 14, and, I believe, will likely continue.

Readers who are not Dessen fangirls or YA reading fiends may not be aware that on June 4, 2019, her latest novel The Rest of the Story was released. Of course, I added it to my TBR list as soon as I became aware of it, and looked up her book tour, which surprisingly included Ann Arbor (now that Borders is gone, the tours almost never include Ann Arbor).

It was fate, right?

Kismet.

I was obviously fated to see the author, to get my copy of her latest novel signed.

I pre-ordered her novel on Amazon (which is kind of evil, I know, but I had a gift card, and am not rich, so this was a cost-effective way for me to obtain the novel while still allowing my family to, you know, eat).

Is there any feeling quite as nice as seeing a package on your doorstep that you know contains a book?

#nerd

Possibly opening that package, smelling the paper and possibility of a new novel. And then reading it, if the novel lives up to its’ possibility. Which, in my opinion, The Rest of the Story did.

#ILikedIt

I arranged to leave work early, and to pick my very imaginative older son up so that he could hear from someone who makes a living doing creative work. And I allowed myself to get excited.

… a toned-down version of how I was feeling

And then, day of, it was a particularly horrible day at work, and I got caught up just a few extra minutes. There was more traffic than usual on the freeway, including some catastrophe that caused the Ann Arbor-Saline exit to close entirely and severely slowed down I-94, in general. What would ordinarily be minor inconveniences aggregated to the degree that by the time I picked my son up, drove to the library, and snuck into one of the very few spaces still left in the underground parking lot adjacent to that building, it was shortly after 7, when the event was supposed to start.

I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, but pressed on, to discover, much to my disappointment (but not surprise) that the room in which the author was speaking was full (according to arbitrary fire-code regulation).

Disappointed, like Anna Cuspinian

It was the cherry on top of a particularly bad time period.

And then, I realized that my family’s vacation in the last week of June to Virginia would put us fairly close to North Carolina… and Dessen was going to be speaking at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh on the 26th.

I did not allow myself to get excited. I allowed myself a glimmer of hope, stuck my book in with my things as I packed, and brought it up when we got onto the freeway.

My husband may have rolled his eyes; I wouldn’t know, since I was driving, and had to keep my eyes on the road.

But…

Yes, dear reader, I both met Sarah Dessen (for the second time, actually, although I doubt she recognized me) and she signed my book. Which may make me slightly (or very) ridiculous, but also made me very, very happy.

What have you done over your summer and/or vacation?

Artichoke Hearts

“So – what would you like for dinner? I’m about to run to the grocery store; I can make you anything you want.”

She thought for a moment, eyes shifting up and to the left, before returning his gaze and responding:

“Again? I really want to cook for you today, so – anything. Brussel sprouts and baked chicken? Avocado salad? Lasagna and crusty garlic bread? Grilled salmon with white wine? Panang curry?”

She smiled. “I’m a simple gal, and artichoke hearts are tasty and good for you!”

“Better than breakfast for dinner?” he pressed. “I make a mean waffle with berry compote and hand whipped cream…”

She thought again. “Artichokes.”

“Or healthy! I could do a sprout bowl, with a mix of quinoa and brown rice, edamame, bean sprouts, radish rosettes, and carrot shavings with a light green goddess dressing.”

“Artichokes.”

“What about – “

“Artichokes.”

Deep sigh. “Fine. I will get you your fucking artichoke hearts.”

“Thank you!”

“I hate you.”

She giggled; not realizing that he was not making a joke but merely being honest. That dating a chef without expanding her palette would prove not merely unwise, but deadly. That it is relatively easy to slip poison into a dish, and that an emasculated significant other whose livelihood depends on other people partaking in and enjoying his dishes who has spent the last 365 days cooking a rather pedestrian vegetable as a meal might be adequately tempted to add an extra, lethal ingredient.

He continued watching her with large eyes after setting her plate before her, and she was trying to figure out the likelihood that a diamond ring had been delicately folded into her meal as she ate with small, delicate bites. Each piece of artichoke heart was chewed 32 times, ensuring adequate digestion, and that this digestion was only occurring for food.

She was halfway through her dish, chewing thoroughly, concentrating intensely, when enough poison had been released into her system, and she sank into the remainder of her dinner.

He poured a glass of wine, which he then lifted in a gleeful, macabre toast. “Live like a toddler, eat like a toddler, die like a toddler.” The wine glided down his throat in one long, rich, smooth gulp, after which he gave a deep sigh, and then stood up from the table. Although he had been rather naughty and already had his dessert, it was time to make dinner.

Written in response to M’s July 2019 Writing Prompt.

Haze

How could he have missed her, when her skin was luminescent, as though she were shining from the inside out? He knew, in actuality, it was a mutation caused by his grandmother’s excessive use of hairspray, his mother’s generation’s prioritization of convenience over climate. Still, his heart fluttered.

She had dark violet eyes, a shade his mother claimed people used to purchase plastic-silicone cups they put directly on their eyes to obtain. He had never understood the appeal of this optical vanity until he got close enough to see into her eyes for the few seconds before she maced him. It was the right move; the ever present fog comprised of pollution had further empowered and encouraged rapists, and glowing in the dark made her more noticeable prey.

He told his mother about her when he got home, though as usual, his mother didn’t really listen. His eyes may have been the ones stinging from capsaicin and not having been the unknown girl’s love at first sight, but his mother’s eyes were the ones overflowing as she wailed once more about how she was such an awful person to have brought him into this world that was so dark and bereft of something called Oxycontin, about how she had trusted the politicians who lied regarding the veracity of global warming when she should have listened to the hippies. And wasn’t it so ironic, now everyone lived like hippies because the water was the wrong temperature and too polluted for bathing, and the supply of dry shampoo had run out when he was only 2. Or maybe it wasn’t ironic because her understanding of that word came from a song from the ’90s, which she had later heard used the term incorrectly.

Eventually, his mother tired herself out. Her lids closed, and she drooped onto the tabletop, and he went to bed, because it was dark and no one else in his home was awake, and there really wasn’t anything to do.

He couldn’t sleep. Violet eyes, fringed with long lashes, stared into his own every time his lids closed. He should probably have been tired, but was oddly energized, as though he had come across some contraband Twinkies, and had sugar and preservatives coursing through his veins. Finally, after hours of pretending he would be able to get some rest, he went outside for a walk.

And saw her again.

He was wading round the corner of a crumbling brick building, amidst the foot of water that was now a permanent fixture of a decaying former downtown, when he was forced to halt his next step mid-air to avoid running into her. He saw her right hand begin to move in front of her, and cried out: “PLEASEDON’TMACEMEAGAINIWONTHURTYOUIPROMISEINFACTIWOULDLIKETODOTHEOPPOSITEOFHURTYOUBECAUSEYOUINTRIGUEMEBUTPLEASEPLEASEDONTSPRAYMEAGAINBECAUSETHENYOUWILLHURTMEANDDOESNTTHATMAKEYOUAHYPOCRITEANDOHMYGLOBALWARMINGNOWIMBABBLINGLIKEMYMOTHER. SORRYBOUTTHAT.”

Her hand halted. She looked at him, eyes narrowed, and then burst out into laughter. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”

He ran his hand through his greasy hair. “Um… yes?”

“Well, it’s a good thing you said something, since I’m carrying a stun gun and not mace.”

He was relieved at having not been attacked again, and curious as to how she had obtained a stun gun, given that they were illegal. Mostly, though, alarmed: “Yes, good I said something. I don’t like being electrocuted.”

She shook her head at him, lips pursed in derision. “You can’t play cool now. You just admitted to the ultimate girly insecurity: fear of turning into your mother.”

He opened his mouth, sure there was an objection to this, and them closed his mouth, having been unable to find it.

“It’s okay. I don’t particularly want you to turn into your mother, either.” She winked, revealing sparkly lids, before pushing past him. He turned to watch her walk away, only to see her look over her shoulder, and prompt him to follow her.

“Where are we going?” he asked, walking quickly so that he was at her side.

She shrugged. “I dunno. To find something to steal.”

“… steal?” He was a well-behaved boy, having heard numerous horror stories about what happened if people were caught stealing. It involved cruel and unusual punishment, occasionally culminating in death.

“Do you have something to live for?” she asked him, flashing teeth in a reckless smile. Her words were flippant, and he could not tell whether or not she was serious.

They arrived at a large group of brick buildings, whose front glass doorways were dark with dirt and dust, whose parking lots were spotted with vehicles that rose out of the constant smog, which they avoided out of decency, since the owners were likely living out of them. They tip-toed through the mist, moving without sound over the concrete, before she picked up a heavy green pole still occasionally used to contain the remnants of an illicit cigarette, and broke open one of the large glass windows.

Dust kicked up in small tufts with each step across the small black and white tiles lining the floor right before the window as they weaved between tables. Shortly, they came to an opening in the waist-high wall, and stepped onto dark green, low-pile carpet. Large wooden shelves loomed, filled with paper. She walked to the nearest shelf, running her fingers along the items it contained. “What is this place?” he asked.

“It’s a bookstore,” she responded. She removed a slim volume from a shelf, the front of which showed sad, feminine eyes morphing into a night sky atop a glimmering city. “This one is one of my favorites,” she said.

“You can read?” he asked. He had heard of it from his mother, although it was a concept he had never understood. What was the point in straining your eyes to view small symbols denoting meaning in a world where no one could see anything clearly, given the constant fog comprised of pollution? Yet here, she of the violet eyes held the item so close – maybe there was something to the act he was missing. He stared more closely at the front of her book, seeing white and orange symbols that were obviously supposed to mean something — yet, after staring for a few more seconds, he was completely oblivious to what that meaning was, and agreed with his original assessment of this “reading.”

She, meanwhile, ignored him, seeking out a brighter area, and finally settling in an area of the floor where a small shaft of sunlight shown through the window, lay on her stomach, and began slowly flipping through the pages.

He walked around a bit, finally finding a book filled with pictures, which he took near her and began reviewing. Some of the pictures were very beautiful or interesting, and he found himself getting lost, to the point where he looked up, and realized she was no longer beside him. Tucking up the book he had been looking at under his arm, and feeling a thrill that it was his now that he had decided to claim it, he began searching for her.

He found her, sitting on the dead, formerly grass, slope behind the building, knees up, arms crossed atop them. He sat beside her.

After a few seconds of silence, she sighed heavily, her mouth opening wide like a Greek tragic mask. “Do we have something to live for?”

“I don’t understand what you mean,” he admitted.

She gestured around herself. “Look at this world. Our parents fucked it up. There’s nothing to see, not much to do, and when you find shit to do anyway, such as ‘stealing’ from defunct stores that couldn’t take money if you offered it to them, you’re tortured. What kind of life is that?”

“…our life?” I ventured. “I mean, we’ve never known any different.”

“No, but we’ve heard the stories. Of how it used to be. Our parents lived in a world of light. Now we know nothing but haze and darkness. Violence and isolation.”

“I don’t feel isolated right now,” I said, looking over at her.

She dropped her chin onto her arms. “For now. But this feeling, like the one we just felt, won’t last.”

He thought for awhile. She made a kind of sense, yet he knew, in his heart, that she was not entirely correct. After awhile, he said: “Our life is… not great. But I’ve spent enough time listening to my mother – because when you’re around her, all you do is listen, there’s no point in talking – “

Tiny smile.

” – And I don’t think that they had it better. Should they have taken better care of the earth? Yes. Was it selfish of them to have us, knowing that the world would be nearly unlivable in the very near future? Maybe. But we are here, and we can still find some enjoyment in our lives. Even without dry shampoo.”

She looked over at him. “Dry what?”

“I don’t know. It’s something my mother talks about. A lot.”

She laughed. “You’re a weird guy. Or at least, have a very weird mother.”

“Agreed. Pretty sure I have to give mom all the credit, though.” After a pause, he said: “I’m Jeffrey, by the way.”

She looked over. “Nice to meet you, Jeffrey.” After a pause: “Amy.”

They sat behind the store awhile, making small talk that dipped its’ toes into large talk, and increasing their amiable feelings for each other until the initial liking of each others’ company began turning into something more.

Written in response to M’s June Writing Prompts

The Girl Ordered a Robot to Get Her Mom off Her Back

As a mom, I object. As a reader, I really enjoyed this book.

At first glance, this book seems like a romance novel. I mean, the cover literally mentions a boyfriend, has a cutesy photo, etc. But what this novel is actually about is self-discovery and family.

Wanna-be novelist Crystal Hemmingway (incidentally, the author’s name, as well), is a little too close to her mom. They have the kind if relationship that causes boyfriends to cringe – or, in the case of Crystal’s fiance, break off the engagement to go hiking a la Wild. As she is re-evaluating whether or not her guy might have a point, Crystal is fired from her job, and agrees to the humiliation of moving in with the woman she is contemplating needing a break from to take the opportunity to write her first novel. When she realizes that her mom still expects her to do chores, Crystal quickly concocts a plot along the veins of an ‘80s John Hughes’ film, and decides that if her mother had a romantic interest, she wouldn’t be expected to be around as much. And so the drama beings, gets more intense, and resolves itself.

I was lured in by the cover. My brain was like – romance novel? Epistolary format? Bee – you’re not going to like this. But the cover was adorable, and the plot sounded fun, so I requested and received an ARC. When it arrived, the publisher included a handwritten note that showed the Galbradia Press had checked out my blog, and it was this personal touch that inclined me to place it at the top of my TBR list.

It just goes to show, sometimes (not often, as my older son will tell you) my brain is wrong. And I was delighted it was proven wrong in this case. This book is funny. The author uses the epistolary format well, which makes this novel a quick, but enjoyable read. This book includes real characters – they’re all a little bit annoying, they all have some decent points, and they’re all occasionally wrong.

I will say, the character whom I considered the protagonist (Crystal) and her sister both suffer from upper middle class white privilege. Like, “I can afford to live in California and pay my rent and buy expensive shoes” and “It’s so annoying that, like, my mom expects me to, like, talk to her and shit, when I’m on my own personal journey” yet “I still have the gall to complain about my problems.” It was realistic, but also annoying. As a young-ish mother who tried, and failed, to make it work in the Bay Area, I was worried that my family and I were going to be thrown out on the streets or not be able to eat, despite a decent job, it was difficult for me not to be annoyed sometimes by this casual expectation that the world should revolve around a couple of chicks who seem pretty selfish and kind of petty. Like, Crystal’s sister is hiding some fairly big news from both Crystal and their mother, which is completely glossed over and which is blatantly not okay.

Don’t hide shit from mom

Still, overall, this novel is a cute, fun read. And it is slated for release mid-July, which is perfect timing for a quick beach read.

4.5 Stars

Parrot Image: African_Grey_Parrot,_peeking_out_from_under_its_wing.jpg: Avenuederivative work: Avenue [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D