Friday, January 20, 2017

So Big by Edna Ferber

What does it mean to be a successful person?  What is the price of success?  Can we help our children too much on their way to success?  All of these topics and more are found in Edna Ferber’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, So Big.  So Big chronicles the life of Selina Peake and her son, “So Big” Dirk DeJong.  The daughter of a gambler, Selina finds herself alone at her father’s sudden death with no way to support herself.  She decides to become a teacher in the outskirts of Chicago within a Dutch community of vegetable farmers.  She tries to find the beauty in her situation and soon finds herself in love.  Will Selina be able to find her way in her new setting?  How will her choices effect the life of her son?

I picked So Big for my January book club pick for the FLICKS (Rogue) Book and Movie Club.  I have wanted to read So Big for quite some time after I learned that author Edna Ferber was born in Kalamazoo Michigan (where I was born) and grew up in Appleton Wisconsin (not far from where I live now).  She wrote many best sellers that were made into movie favorites such as Showboat, Cimarron, and Giant.  When I discovered she wrote the Pulitzer Prize winner novel of 1925, I was stunned.  Why had I not heard of this author who was writing in the Jazz age at the same time as F. Scott Fitzgerald?

I still cannot answer that question after reading So Big.  I thought it was an excellent novel that while it started in the past, it lead up to the Jazz age and was a perfect picture of what was going on in the time.  It had a lot of deep questions to think about.  Does being a bonds tradesman and making lots of money make you a successful person?  Or does enjoying life and trying to make a good living, but focusing on the beautiful?  Also, what happens to the children of the successful tycoons of the Gilded Age who didn’t have to strive for their success as their forbearers did?  I found that the messages that were in this book were as relevant today as they were back in the 1920’s.  It provided great discussion at our book club, although sadly only one other member read it besides myself.  Why is this book and Edna Ferber not part of the literary canon?  I feel that successful female authors are often left out in the past as well as today.  In her biography in the back of this edition it said in her New York Times obituary that “She was among the best-read novelist in the nation, and critics of the 1920s and ’30’s did not hesitate to call her the greatest American woman novelist of her day.”

So Big reminded me a bit of The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington which I read in a different book club in Milwaukee over ten years ago.  Both dealt with the American dream and how families deal with it through the generations, although I thought So Big did a better job.

I enjoyed the characters in this novel, but in particular Selina.  I also love how she mentored young Roelf Pool and allowed him to think beyond his hardscrabble existence as a farmer’s son.  I also loved that she always thought of the positive and how things could be improved.  She was dealt a bad hand at life more than once, but she was able to use her own ingenuity to rise above it all.  It was a good feminist story.

The story skipped around some and foreshadowed events, but I enjoyed the style of writing and her great descriptions.  I also loved that Sobig gets his nickname from the question you ask, “How Big is Baby,” “So Big!”  It was interesting that one book club member had never heard of this!

As an instructor I was intrigued when Sobig is in college and there are students that are “classified” or traditional students and “unclassified” or returning adults.  The unclassified have saved their entire adult life to finally go to college and achieve their dreams, but they are shunned by both the college and traditional students who have parents to pay for their college.  I thought it was interesting that you could raise some hogs to pay for college back in this day.  If only it were true now!

I loved the setting and seeing Chicago change through time.  I particular loved learning about the vegetable farmer industry and how it grew up to supply the needs of the city and what hard work it was getting it to the city to sell.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“But he sulked and glowered portentously and refused to answer, though her tone, when she called him So Big, would have melted the heard of any but that natural savage, a boy of ten.”  As a mother of a ten year old- this gave me a chuckle!

“Selina was to learn that the farm woman, in articulate through lack of companionship, becomes a torrent of talk when opportunity presents itself.”

Aug Hempel – “I’m out in the yards every day, in and out of the cattle pens, talking to the drovers and the herders, mixing in with the buyers.  I can tell the weight of a hog and what he’s worth just by the look at him, and a steer, too.  My son-in-law Michael Arnold sits up in the office all day in our plant, dictating letters.  His clothes they never stink of the pens like mine do .  . . Now I ain’t saying anything against him, Julie.  But I bet my grandson Eugene, if he comes into the business at all when he grows up won’t go within smelling distance of the yards.  His office I bet will be in a new office building on, say Madison Street, with a view of the lake.  Life!  You’ll be hoggin’ it all yourself and not know it.”  This was one of my favorite quotes in the book.  Aug Hempel is the father of Selina’s best friend Julie.  He was a butcher and then later became a meat packing baron.  He was disturbed that through his hard work, the next generations grow more distant from the actual work that brought them their success and maybe of enjoying life to its fullest.

Dirk – “I like it well enough, only – well, you see we leave the university architectural course thinking we’re all going to be Stanford Whites or Cass Gilberts, tossing of a Woolworth building and making yourself famous overnight.  I’ve spent all yesterday and today planning how to work space of toilets on every floor of the new office building, six stories high and shaped like a dry goods box, that’s going up on the corner of Milwaukee Avenue and Ashland, west.” – I think this is the ban of every beginning architect.

“He might have lived a thousand miles away for all he knew of the rest of Chicago – the might, roaring, swelter, pushing, screaming, and magnificent hideous steel giant that was Chicago.”

“Neat little pamphlets are written for women on the subjects of saving, investments.  ‘You are not dealing with a soulless corporation,’ said these brochures.”

Overall, So Big by Edna Ferber is a magnificent American novel and should be a must read for everyone.

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks

The Indian in the Cupboard was the January pick for the Kewaunee Youth Book Club.  I read this together with my middle son, Daniel, who is eight.  I had read this myself as a kid thirty years ago and it was enjoyable reading it again as an adult.

Omri gets a plastic Indian toy for his birthday which he receives with not much enthusiasm.  Things get better when he locks it in his cupboard with a key only to discover that the plastic toy has come alive and is Little Bull, an Iroquois brave.  Omri thinks this is cool at first, but soon discovers that Little Bull is not a toy, but an actual person who has had a life.  This makes life interesting as he tries to help him out to build a house, find food, etc. and things get distressing when his friend puts a cowboy into the cupboard and he comes to life as well.  Can Omri really keep a real live person as a toy?

Daniel really enjoyed this book and I did as well.  It was a good fantastical story.  I loved how Omri grew through the story and recognized that Little Bear was a person and tried to do what was best for him.  My ten year old son Kile also read it and did not enjoy it.  I think it’s because he wanted to read his Warrior Cat books and was disturbed it took away time from them.  Overall, a unique fantastical story that is very entertaining.

Book Source:  The Kewaunee Public Library

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Other Widow by Susan Crawford (TLC Book Tour)

Dorrie and Joe are having an affair, but Joe is about to end it right before they are involved in a car crash.  Dorrie flees the scene once she realizes that Joe has died, as she knows he wouldn’t want the world to know he had a lover.  Strangely his air bag did not go off, and Dorrie starts to receive phone calls from his burner phone after his death.  

Joe’s wife Karen has suspicions that he was cheating, but after his death, she discovers that there was an extra cup of hot chocolate in the car.  She starts to dig through his files, she finds more proof that he was cheating.  She also wants to know what was going on with his business and why there are so many problems.  Were any of these problems related to his mysterious death?

Maggie Brennan is a veteran and was on the police force until she froze during a situation and felt she could no longer wear the badge.  She now works for an insurance agency and is assigned to study Joe’s death, especially as he wife took out a large policy right before his death.  As she investigates, it turns to obsession and she soon realizes that Joe’s death was no accident.

Favorite quotes:

“It was then that Dorrie learned to be an actress, a happy child, a smiling face struck to her father’s thick black wall of grief.”

“Dorrie’s often thought that restlessness and Catholicism are a dangerous mix, that she’s always been a little too forthcoming, a little too contrite for her own good.”

“Is that when it stared she wonders now – the space between them?  Where does it go, the falling into each other’s arms the passion, the lovemaking?”

“Maybe the only way to really feel it is to strip away the outsides, the layers that bounce us through our lives, to feel the tip of someone’s finger running down the bones beneath your skin.”

I liked the three different viewpoints.  I usually do not like the “other woman,” but in this case, Dorrie was written as a complex three dimensional being and I actually liked her, Karen, and Maggie.  I appreciated that the wife, Karen, was not written as an evil shrew that drove Joe to cheating.  Both Dorrie and Karen were good women, Joe was the scumbag! J  I liked Maggie’s story and her problems with PTSD and trying to get through it while solving this crime.  Overall, a great complex story with great characters that left me guessing until the end!

Book Source:  Review Copy for being a part of the TLC Book Tour
h2>About The Other Widow • Paperback: 352 pages • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks (December 6, 2016) The author of The Pocket Wife explores the dark side of love, marriage, and infidelity in this sizzling novel of psychological suspense. Everybody’s luck runs out. This time it could be theirs . . . It isn’t safe. That’s what Joe tells her when he ends their affair—moments before their car skids off an icy road in a blinding snowstorm and hits a tree. Desperate to keep her life intact—her job, her husband, and her precious daughter, Lily—Dorrie will do everything she can to protect herself, even if it means walking away from the wreckage. Dorrie has always been a good actress, pretending to be someone else: the dutiful daughter, the satisfied wife, the woman who can handle anything. Now she’s going to put on the most challenging performance of her life. But details about the accident leave her feeling uneasy and afraid. Why didn’t Joe’s airbag work? Why was his car door open before the EMTs arrived? And now suddenly someone is calling her from her dead lover’s burner phone. . . . Joe’s death has left his wife in free fall as well. Karen knew Joe was cheating—she found some suspicious e-mails. Trying to cope with grief is devastating enough without the constant fear that has overtaken her—this feeling she can’t shake that someone is watching her. And with Joe gone and the kids grown, she’s vulnerable . . . and on her own. Insurance investigator Maggie Brennan is suspicious of the latest claim that’s landed on her desk—a man dying on an icy road shortly after buying a lucrative life insurance policy. Maggie doesn’t believe in coincidences. The former cop knows that things—and people—are never what they seem to be. As the fates of these three women become more tightly entwined, layers of lies and deception begin to peel away, pushing them dangerously to the edge . . . closer to each other . . . to a terrifying truth . . . to a shocking end. Add to Goodreads badge

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About Susan Crawford

Susan Crawford grew up in Miami, Florida, and graduated from the University of Miami with a BA in English and a minor in psychology. She later moved to New York City and then Boston before settling in Atlanta to raise three daughters and work in the field of adult education. A member of the Atlanta Writers Club and the Village Writers, Susan teaches at Georgia Piedmont Technical College and dabbles in local politics. She lives with her husband and a trio of rescue cats in Atlanta, where she enjoys reading books, writing books, rainy days, and spending time with the people she loves. Find out more about Susan at her website, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.