Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Sunday Salon: It Was a Dark and Stormy Reading Week ...

It's interesting how two books dealing with heavy topics can resonate in completely different ways, isn't it?

Allow me to explain.

In one corner we have Joyce Carol Oates' short story collection, Dear Husband, a collection of 14 stories that "examine the intimate lives of contemporary American families: the tangled ties between generations, the desperation - and the covert, radiant happiness - of loving more than one is loved in return." (from the jacket copy). After reading this for the past week and making it through 150 pages, I admit that I'm having a difficult time with this one.
Don't misunderstand: the stories themselves are, for the most part, very well done. I mean, we're talking Joyce Carol Oates and the woman can certainly (in my opinion) write.

In doing so, however, the result is some very dark and heavy stories. And while I expected (and welcomed) such, it's not matching my mood. For those of you who are doing the R.I.P. challenge or are in the mood for some creepy contemporary stories as Halloween draws near, this would certainly fit the bill. I loved "Special" and "The Blind Man's Sighted Daughters," for example, but "Landfill" (about a mother's reaction upon learning of her son's murder and discovery of his body found in a landfill) was too much for me to take.

I'm also having a hard time with the writing itself in some parts, specifically the several-pages long paragraphs and sentences that seem to require 10 minutes of reading before reaching the end. As a reader brand new to Oates' work, this style reminds me of Faulkner (who, sad to say, I'm not a fan of). I also think it's a byproduct of reading way too many blogs and needing my reading to be in much shorter paragraphs. I can't read large chunks of writing like that anymore - not that I ever really could, but my tolerance level is nil now.

So, my Dear Husband is being returned to the library half-finished ... for now. There's a possibility I'll pick it up again (it is certainly worthy) but it's not for me this week, for whatever reason.

Onto the next read - a novel by Maribeth Fischer, The Life You Longed For, published in 2007. I freely admit the title drew me in, and I started this on Friday night - a dreary, dark, depressing drizzling evening.

Another heavy book. Indeed, The Life You Longed For is also one dealing with weighty issues - a toddler who is dying from a rare disease (mitochondrial disease), a mother's affair with a high school first love, and her being charged with Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. I might not be up for this after Dear Husband, I thought.

I was wrong. So far, I can't put this one down. This has sucked me in. Not just because it is set in Philadelphia and the Jersey shore, but because it is scaring the crap out of me.

It is so easy to see how someone can be falsely accused of Munchausen by Proxy. Fischer skillfully weaves the characteristics of mothers with Munchausen throughout her narrative and with each "Mother-perpetrator refuses to leave child alone in hospital," and "Mother overly focused on technical/medical aspects of child's illness Obsessive documentation of child's medical history."

Heavy topic, yes, but the writing is lighter - if that makes any sense. (Plus, I discovered last night that Maribeth Fischer is a local writer to me and the Executive Director of a local writers' conference, Writers at the Beach. Um ... did someone say writers and beach in the same title? Sign me up!)

Ah, yes, the beach. Since I'm writing this during the second nor'easter in three days, the beach is a nice thought and an oh-so-very-distant memory.

And on this dark and stormy weekend, exactly the life I am longing for.

(photo taken this summer by me, during our annual family vacation)


Zee said...

I really like the look of The Life You Longed For. Like you I am a sucker for anything set in Philly (my US "home town") The only reason we still watch Cold Case is because it is set there so we know the place :D

Vasilly said...

Sometimes I have trouble reading Oates too. She's a great writer but I don't often read her. I'm going to add The Life you Longed For to my TBR list. Have a great week!

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

Zee, did I know you were from Philly too?

Vasilly, you won't be disappointed... I cannot put this down.

Frances said...

I have had the same experience not with this book but with other works by Oates. So tortured. And that torture pressed into words to the point of being unbearable to me. And carrying on from their with my reader wimpiness, I always steer clear of serious illness in children. Too easily see my own in them. Hopefully you will be on to happier reading soon.

JoAnn said...

I had a similar experience with Oates story collection I Am No One You Know...very well written, but just too intense to read all at once. Had to put it aside at the half way point. I have enjoyed some of her novels, especially Middle Age: A Romance and The Falls.

Zee said...

No I don't think you did. I haven't lived there for several years now. I'm in Sweden now.

Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow said...

I can't believe I missed your Sunday Salon, but I'm catching it now!

And it is a very enjoyable one.

Stephanie said...

Hey Melissa-
Set in our home town? Sign me up too! I am going to check out the conference. Maybe we could meet personally then?
It was most definitely a "dark and stormy weekend" and in our house, a swine flu weekend too.
Thanks for sharing your finds.