First of all, I love the title. In case you missed the references, “SAHM” is the acronym for Stay At Home Mother, which I used to be, and “Sam I Am” is a character in one of the Dr. Seuss books that most SAHMs have read out loud a thousand times so … like most jokes, it doesn’t work if you have to explain it.
The structure of this novel is unusual: the entire novel is made up of emails exchanged among a group of women. The five main characters are all members of a large mailing list for Christian SAHMs, administered by tireless Supermom Rosalyn. They also have a private mailing list just among the five of them, where they share their real thoughts and struggles, and make catty comments about Rosalyn’s inspiring messages to the main list.
Anne Tyler is one of my favourite novelists. She writes about her characters, their usually very ordinary lives, and their often extraordinary thoughts, feelings and motivations, so deftly that she puts most other writers to shame. She can capture in a sentence what many writers can’t in a chapter of exposition. She takes us right into the heart of her characters and explores what makes them who they are, and why they act the way they do.
I’ve read most of Tyler’s 17 novels, and while I think A Patchwork Planet remains my favourite, Digging to America is certainly one of her best. In this novel Tyler explores the complex web of interaction between two families — the Iranian-American Yazdans and the all-American Donaldsons — when they become friends after both adopting Koren orphan baby girls. Tyler uses multiple points of view skilfully. We see how one character’s actions look to the eyes of family and friends, and then see how those same actions appear to the character herself. It’s a beautiful, multi-layered view of a group of compelling and likable characters.
I love Jasper Fforde. I’ve loved him since the first time I picked up the first Thursday Next book, The Eyre Affair. His wordplay, his bizarre parallel world, his (and his characters’) obsession with the hidden lives of literary characters … honestly, what’s not to like?
At the end of the fourth Thursday Next book, Something Rotten, I felt Fforde had written a good conclusion to the Thursday stories and I was ready to move along with him to his next series, the Nursery Crime books. But it turns out Fforde wasn’t finished with his literary-detective heroine Thursday. In interviews he’s said that he viewed the first four books as a complete unit — Volume One of the Thursday Next saga — and with First Among Sequels, he’s now released the first in a new four-book series about the further adventures of Thursday.
Anna Quindlen’s Blessings was just what I was looking for in a book to read on the plane on my way home from Seattle. It’s a light and easy read, nothing too brain-challenging, but it’s also heartwarming without being sentimental. Quindlen has created interesting characters and raised questions that made me stop and think a little. This is classic “women’s fiction” — engaging, warm, and life-affirming, with an ending that is positive enough to keep the book well out of the wrist-slitty section of the library, but realistic enough to avoid a candy-coated happily-ever-after.
The “Blessings” of the title is (at least on the surface) the name of an old house in New England (or upstate New York? My memory is a little vague on the geography, but it’s reasonably close to New York City). An old lady named Lydia Blessing lives there, reflecting with some dissatisfaction on her life, which has not turned out to be all she had hoped. Her young caretaker, Skip, is also living a life of disappointment, although he’s only twenty-four. After a bad start in life, he seems to have trouble making a better life for himself, even though he tries. He reflects that maybe people can’t ever get out of the ruts that family, social class and community have cared for them.