I read each of these books in a day (that’s two days for the both of them, if math’s not your strong point). I think I may have mentioned before that I have a weakness for memoirs about addiction and recovery, but this father-and-son set of books were, in their way, even more compelling than A Million Little Pieces (and probably more accurate. At least David’s and Nic’s stories agreed with each other).
David Sheff’s book, Beautiful Boy, is the more original and better-written of the two. It’s the most honest and complete look I’ve ever read at what it’s like to have an addict in the family — worse, to be the parent of a smart, talented, beautiful boy who becomes a drug addict in his teens.
I picked this one up in a bookstore awhile ago and was fascinated with the concept, though not enough to lay down actual money for it — I waited till it came to my library. It’s a memoir about how writer and film critic David Gilmour allowed his teenaged son Jesse to drop out of school with only one condition: that he and his father sit down and watch three movies together — selected by Dad — every week.
Gilmour’s premise, I guess, was that his son would get an education through film. Or maybe it was just that watching good movies together would keep their relationship alive during those difficult years. That second part seems to have worked — the film club lasted for three years, during which David and Jesse Gilmour appear to have been surprisingly close for a 16-19 year old son and his father.
Oh dear. What can I say?
You all remember James Frey, right? He wrote a hugely successful memoir about his experiences with addiction and recovery which I, along with millions of other people, devoured and found fascinating. I reviewed and commented upon it on my old blog, but strangely, it wasn’t till this woman named Oprah Winfrey read it that it really caught on.
So once James had been on Oprah and she was all lovin’ him up, some people started to investigate some of the claims James Frey made in A Million LIttle PIeces and its sequel, My Friend Leonard, and found that not every single thing was exactly true. Now, you can say that memoir is all about a person’s subjective memory of an experience, and James did indeed try to claim that, but it’s hard to convince people that you really remember spending three months in jail when in fact you didn’t do jail time at all.
So James Frey had to admit he lied about a bunch of stuff, and Oprah was mean to him, and I was pretty amazed he didn’t start drinking again the minute he left her studio because wow, people said nasty things. But then, he did MAKE STUFF UP AND CALL IT A MEMOIR. Bad move there, James. Should’ve called it a novel “loosely based on a true story.” I still think Million Little Pieces is a great book. It’s just … mislabelled.
Bright Shiny Morning, James Frey’s literary comeback, is mislabelled too. But it’s … not a great book.
Sue Miller is one of those writers you can trust. I’m hard-pressed to think of any author, except Anne Tyler, with whom I can feel more confident that when I pick up a novel I am going to get a good, well-written story with some thoughtful insight into character.
The Senator’s Wife alternates between the perspective of two women: Delia, the title character, whose long marriage to a U.S. Senator has been marked by sexual infidelity (on the senator’s part) but a kind of emotional fidelity: the two have been separated for years but have never really stopped thinking of themselves as married to each other, and they maintain a kind of connection even in their estrangement. Delia’s new next-door neighbour, Meri, is a young woman, recently married and feeling out of her depth in her marriage and in the social circles her new husband has moved her into. Meri’s friendship with the older woman next door provides a source of strength and insight as she moves through her first pregnancy, the birth of her child, and months of post-partum depression.
So after I read The Turning, I said I wanted to read a novel by Tim Winton. I picked Dirt Music mainly because it was such a great title. It’s a story set in Western Australia, about an unlikely liason between two people who are both at the end of their rope in one way or another. Georgie is a woman who seems never to have found her place in life, in the world or even in her own family. She was a successful nurse, but has left nursing, is living with Jim whom she doesn’t love and who doesn’t love her, and seems to be descending into depression and alcoholism when she meets Luther.
Luther is a man who did once have a place in the world, living on his family home with his brother, his brother’s wife and their two children, playing “dirt music” in a family band. When Luther’s whole family is killed in a tragic accident, he is cut adrift and unable to re-start his life. Georgie and Luther drift together, but the fact that Georgie’s boyfriend Jim is a powerful man who has every reason to dislike Luther and has the power to destroy him, drives them apart.
Shane Claiborne’s first book, The Irresistible Revolution, was one of the most influential and thought-provoking books I read last year. I wasn’t sure if I would like Jesus for President as much, since from the title and opening pages it seemed very much addressed to a U.S. readership. But Shane’s writing is so eminently readable, and the book was so visually appealing, I couldn’t resist picking it up and giving it a try.
If the goal of Christianity is to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable,” then the mission of Shane Claiborne (and his co-author on this volume, Chris Haw) definitely falls within the latter of those mandates. If you’re a comfortable, middle-class Christian in the western world and you’re not disturbed, troubled or challenged by SOMETHING in this book, then … I don’t know where you’re coming from. From a very different place than I am, I guess.