Book Beginnings quote:
This happened back in March of 2010, when the Philadelphia train station still had the kind of information board that clickety-clacked as the various gate assignments rolled up.
The greenery along the road had a freshly washed look after yesterday's rain. A lot of vacationers were out riding bicycles, and she drove extra carefully to avoid them.
Summary: The Garrett family takes their first and last vacation in the summer of 1959. They usually don't venture far from their home in Baltimore. Robin, the father, runs a plumbing supply company and when he is not working, he still acts like he is working. Mercy, the mother, love painting more than anything, often neglecting the cooking and housework for her artistic pursuits. Alice and Lily are teenagers the year of the vacation and they couldn't be more different. Alice is responsible, often picking up duties her mother has dropped. While Lily is wild and boy-crazy hardly participating as a family member. The youngest, David, seems to want to escape from the family's orbit, even at the young age of seven. No one understands him and he can't seem to express his feelings either. As their lives all advance through the decades, the Garretts seem to hold a lot of influence on each other and their patterns "'ripple ineffably but unmistakably through each generation."
Review: My husband and I are celebrating our 40th anniversary this June. We were discussing the length of time we've been married compared to the amount of time we lived with our parents in terms of influence on our lives. Hands down the first 18 years left the biggest imprint on who we are. This is what you see with the Garrett family. The family is not close-knit by any means. No one seems to really understand or appreciate anyone else, yet they cling to the family threads and pass down to their own children whatever it is that makes a family a family.
Oddly, this book about characters, had very fuzzy or blurry characters. I had the hardest time defining many of the qualities of any of the principal characters and none of the secondary ones. I had no idea what motivated them to act the way they did or why they hung onto old grievances, or that they only seemed to think of themselves only. It took me over half the book wondering when the plot would show up before I realized that the plot was the family member's relationships with each other.
Anne Tyler is a good writer and I had no trouble reading the book. It reminded me of the other books I've read by her -- heavy on characters, lighter on plot and setting. I wanted to like the book more than I did, though I wouldn't say I disliked it.
I read French Braid because our book group is considering it for a monthly selection. I actually think we will find quite a bit to discuss if we are willing to open ourselves up and use examples from our own lives and from our families of origin. We'll see if that happens. One of the things I hope we do discuss is the ways, pointed out in the book, that we often operate as a family unit.
Some examples are:
- Children are forced to do things for their own good. Somethings are obviously necessary like sleeping and eating, but why are unnecessary things forced on kids like taking a particular type of job or swimming?
- Not /talking about the "elephant in the room." Everyone knows the elephant is there. It is huge and it stinks, yet no one acknowledges it.
- Talking about one person to other members in the family but not to the person himself.
- Holding grudges so long one can't always remember what they are angry about.
- Ignoring big issues/problems while focusing on minute details.
Sound like your family? I know it sounds like mine. I guess that is Anne Tyler's genius. She writes books that relate to everyone.