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Love Walked In

June 3, 2015

FullSizeRender (8)Another novel I finished reading while spending a good part of the day lolling about on the bed with the new kitten– who is still partially confined to our bedroom while Sabrina and Tristan get used to having him in the house and he gets used to the idea of eating solid food and using a litterbox—is Love Walked In, by Marisa de los Santos. I picked this one up because Jenny says she likes the way this author writes female characters.

I actually started reading this in the Cedar Rapids airport, a dark and quiet place with almost everything closed up at 6 pm on a Saturday. Walker and I were waiting for my mother, after 10 hours of driving from Ohio to Iowa. He was finishing writing a paper, as his semester hadn’t quite ended. I opened up Love Walked In and was immediately at sea because of the way the narrators switch off. I was hardly introduced to Cornelia, a 30-something woman who was “treading water and had been for some time,” before the point of view switched to Clare, an 11-year-old with a glamorous mother and an absent father. I didn’t immediately like Clare, whose only virtue seems to be that she’s not much of a whiner. I did like Cornelia, however, not least because of her occasional asides that assume you would see things the way she sees them if you were in the same situation, and the movie-star references she makes to get you to see someone else as she sees them—glamorous and larger than life.

Clare tells the maid that her father looks at her “like he can’t wait for me to be over,” and I was immediately sympathetic to his point of view; I couldn’t wait for her chapter to be over and to learn more about Cornelia, who is falling in love with a man with whom she has interesting and sometimes rapid-fire conversations, including one about names that I quite enjoyed: “He told me he loved my name, how there were a handful of women’s names that turned all other women’s names into cotton candy, and my name was in the handful.…Eleanor, Mercedes, Augusta.”

I began to like Clare a little bit when she figures out that her mother needs to be taken care of and she makes a list of characters who “had let life make them hateful” so she won’t go too far down that track. The list includes “Miss Havisham, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, Miss Minchin, Uriah Heep, Voldemort, Snape.” But then Clare doesn’t get help for her mother. She’s 11 years old; you think she could tell someone that her mother needs help. But no, she hides her mother’s growing incapacity to function until it becomes frighteningly full-blown.

FullSizeRender (9)Cornelia and her lifelong friend and brother-in-law Teo feel sorry for Clare, whose father turns out to be the man Cornelia has been falling in love with. Except once she meets Clare, Cornelia begins falling in love with the child and out of love with the father. Clare makes supposedly “heartbreaking” lists of how to take care of herself and not let anyone know her mother is past being able to do that for her. Cornelia believes that “Clare was a marvel, resourceful and imaginative and brave, the kind of girl you usually only found in books organizing orphan uprisings or saving the world from the forces of evil.” I believe that Cornelia is infantilizing Clare because of a newly-discovered longing to mother someone.

In the end, Cornelia turns out to have a big, happy family who welcome Clare into their bosom, and she gets left a house from an elderly neighbor who died, so that when Clare’s mother comes back into the picture, they can share the house with Clare. At least that’s the conventionally happy-ending way the book looks like it’s going to end until Clare’s mother actually turns out to have a personality and asks Cornelia to let her live in the house with Clare while Cornelia travels around to find out what her heart’s desire might be. Athough Clare does her best at throwing a temper tantrum designed to make Cornelia stay, Cornelia points out that Clare now has her whole family there to help, whenever she and her mom need it. Finally, Clare gives in and allows Cornelia, who has now fallen in love with Teo, to pursue her own dreams while staying a part of Clare’s life, the first sign I saw that she would want to.

FullSizeRender (7)The more I read, the less patient I felt with Clare’s antics, kind of how I let Pippin play with my free hand like it was another kitten until this morning, when Pippin has gotten big enough to get his jaw around enough of my hand to really hurt when he bites. Increasingly, I’ve been wearing a sock on my hand to play with the kitten. As of today, I’ll have to stop letting him play with my hand. Because part of loving a kitten or someone else’s abandoned child should be helping them learn the difference between the kind of impulses that are okay to act on and the kind of impulses which need to be shaped by the way they affect other people. I don’t buy this novel’s message that love makes everything okay, whether you fall in love with your sister’s husband or treat an 11-year-old like you would a much younger child.

One Plus One

June 1, 2015

After writing about the dearth of good mothers in fiction and hearing about how good the mother is in One Plus One by Jojo Moyes, I read the novel while spending the week largely in my bedroom, nursing two out-of-place floating ribs that I injured while bending at the waist and lifting something heavy out of my very low oven and caring for our six-week-old kitten, Pippin. FullSizeRender (2)I’m going to post some pictures of six to seven-week-old Pippin, at Litlove’s request, even though they have nothing to do with the novel except that I often held it in one hand while a kitten was playing with the other.

One Plus One is a nice little domestic romance novel with a road trip, a bit of class consciousness, and some mathematical metaphor, like that “the sum of a number can be more than its constituent parts.”

The good mother of the story, Jess, is raising the child she had at 16, Tanzie, and another, older child who isn’t related to her but was living with her ex-husband when she moved in, Nicky. The man who is giving them a ride to the math Olympiad where Tanzie wants to compete is Ed Nicholls, and as his life gets more woven with theirs he teaches Nicky how to express his feelings on a blog, even after Nicky declaires that “blogs are like for middle-aged women writing about their divorces and cats and stuff.”

FullSizeRender (3)It turns out that Jess is a good mother partly in reaction to her own less-than-satisfactory mother, a woman who “had been right about many things. She had told Jess on the day she started secondary school: ‘The choices you make now will determine the rest of your life.’ All Jess heard was someone telling her she should pin down her whole self, like a butterfly. That was the thing: when you put someone down all the time, eventually they stopped listening to the sensible stuff.”

One plus one, of course, turns out to equal a whole family, and it was a nice little domestic story for a very domestic week.

Can you see how Pippin has grown?

Cats Dream

May 26, 2015

IMG_2920On Saturday we brought home a six-week-old kitten. He’s an orange tabby and we’ve named him Pippin.

Sabrina and Tristan are not too put out about this, as he’s just a tiny mite of a thing and so far he has stayed in our bedroom. We are trying to keep their meetings at a distance. It helps that they go outside a lot during the day, this time of year.

For the first three days we haven’t had to leave Pippin alone at all. There are a few hour-long periods this week that he might have to spend some time alone in our bedroom, though, while we are at work. We’ll have to do our best to tire him out so he’ll sleep through it. He is so young that he sometimes falls asleep upright and gradually slides into a reclining position. Mostly, though, he folds himself up for sleep with immense dignity. He has a nice little purr and chirps like a bird when he wakes up and wants to know where we are.

Cats Dream by Pablo Neruda

How neatly a cat sleeps,IMG_2925
Sleeps with its paws and its posture,
Sleeps with its wicked claws,
And with its unfeeling blood,
Sleeps with ALL the rings a series
Of burnt circles which have formed
The odd geology of its sand-colored tail.

I should like to sleep like a cat,
With all the fur of time,
With a tongue rough as flint,
With the dry sex of fire and
After speaking to no one,
Stretch myself over the world,
Over roofs and landscapes,
With a passionate desire
To hunt the rats in my dreams.

I have seen how the cat asleep
Would undulate, how the night flowed
Through it like dark water and at times,
It was going to fall or possibly
Plunge into the bare deserted snowdrifts.

Sometimes it grew so much in sleep
Like a tiger’s great-grandfather,
And would leap in the darkness over
Rooftops, clouds and volcanoes.

Sleep, sleep cat of the night with
Episcopal ceremony and your stone-carved moustache.

Take care of all our dreams
Control the obscurity
Of our slumbering prowess
With your relentless HEART
And the great ruff of your tail.

IMG_2905

One day it will be a great ruff, but right now it’s a tiny little tuft.

It’s fun to have a baby in the house. At first his legs were a little wobbly, but today he has been galloping around and pouncing on anything that’s not bigger than he is.

He has tiny little claws, but you can tell by the serious way he uses them that he thinks they are wicked.

The Writer

May 25, 2015

IMG_2852I drove to Oberlin and back, and then I drove to Iowa with Walker, and we picked up my mother at the Cedar Rapids airport. We met Ron, who had flown to St. Louis and driven to Warrensburg and then up to Grinnell in the car that we bought from his mother to give to Eleanor as a graduation present. We had two hotel rooms that I had reserved two years in advance.

On Sunday we went to Baccalareate and the president’s reception and visited with Eleanor’s friends and their parents. Our friends the Schumachers arrived in time for a party at a local picnic shelter and a round of Telephone Pictionary in the student center. They brought an extensively-wrapped* graduation present—a banjo. Now Eleanor will never be sad again (Steve Martin claims that you can’t sing a depressing song when you’re playing the banjo).

IMG_2802Monday, the morning of commencement, dawned sunny, windy and cold. We put on all the layers we had and went to breakfast with the English department; Eleanor is a double major in History and English, but she had to pick one for the breakfast. We got to meet the professor who assigned Eleanor’s Old English song video. Then we crossed the railroad tracks and went to the middle of the campus, where we watched Eleanor receive her diploma. Afterwards, there was a picnic and the beginnings of goodbyes.IMG_2857

We went back to the motel to change clothes, and then Ron, Walker, and Glynis went to help Eleanor move her stuff out of her third-floor dorm room into her “new” car. We played some games of Rage at the motel and went out for dinner. Eleanor went to say another goodbye to her circle of friends.

On Tuesday we drove back, switching drivers for the two cars between the four of us. We detoured to take my mother back to the Cedar Rapids airport, so we didn’t caravan with Schumachers, who were headed to take Glynis back to her apartment in Cleveland before turning south for home.

IMG_2832Wednesday we tried to deal with the influx of stuff both kids had brought home from college, and get Walker ready to fly to Chicago for the Chicago Open Chess Tournament on Thursday morning.

Our house is full now–of things, and people, and noise, and purpose. I think of Richard Wilbur’s poem “The Writer” and am glad that writing no longer makes such a racket, although the penetrating silence of a household with writers in it is just as intense. Eleanor will be here for a month or two, before she clears the sill of our world… and makes it larger, as she did when she headed off for Iowa, a place I’d never been before.

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

The stuff of Eleanor’s life is indeed a great cargo, and we’re thinking that a car, a banjo, an inflatable couch, and a folding bookcase full of books are the main pieces she needs as she prepares to set forth.

*the wrapping for the banjo featured pieces of fruit that we all pitched in on characterizing,IMG_2926 after the card the Schumachers found which featured the “banana of destiny.” There were the blueberries of justice, the red apple of impatience, the green apple of asperity, the pineapple of virtue, the blackberries of irony, and the coconut of fortitude, among others.IMG_2927

Tour of the library

May 13, 2015

IMG_2740We’ve lived in our house for more than twenty years now—long enough to collect thousands of books without having to think about moving them and long enough, in ever-rainy Ohio, to have to spend thousands of hours and dollars to deal with storm drain issues in the finished downstairs level where most of the bookshelves are. Since April 2012, when we put our downstairs library back together after a big storm, we have been arranging the books and adjusting the drainage, kind of making sure we could trust the house to protect its contents if we slept or went away for the weekend.

Right now our shelves are as well-arranged as they’ve been since the 2012 upheaval, and I’ve been making sure to enjoy it before both kids come home from college and add the contents of their closets and bookshelves to the storage space we have downstairs. I thought you might enjoy a bookshelf tour of our house, which includes every room except the bathrooms.

IMG_2727Upstairs, our living room has a 4-shelf built-in bookcase that always ends up stacked two rows deep with other books in front of it on the floor, because we put some of our favorite and most frequently-consulted books in it, and then stack books we’ve just read or are meaning to read soon in front of them, and then the ones on the floor are mostly books I’ve read but Ron or Eleanor or Walker haven’t read and have been meaning to read. A few of these are borrowed books, so I want to keep them upstairs and handy for giving back when the time comes. Some of these really need to be carried downstairs, now that I look at them. Probably all of us who are going to read them anytime soon have already read them.
IMG_2729I have stacks of books on one of the tables, for various projects. I notice that one of the “projects” is a gift I’m bringing to another book blogger when I come to visit her in early June. I wonder if she can read the pink post-it with her name on it. Anyway, that item is waiting to be joined by the book I’ve ordered to give her parents, who have invited us to stay at their house, with its beautiful built-in bookshelves.

IMG_2730There are more stacks of books on my desk, which is an enormous Chinese antique handed down from a great-aunt. I’m doing something with all of these books, eventually. The blog piles tend to be on the right-hand side of the desk. Some of my teaching books ended up in the middle. There’s a raft of papers for my administrative job on the left-hand side of the desk, with some books I’ve borrowed from a colleague who will be team-teaching a course with me next fall.

IMG_2731Walker has a lot of chess books but also a fair amount of other kinds of books in his room. This is before he brings home all the books he has with him at college. I wonder if the chess library will stay with us for a while, or if he will luck into a job so lucrative that he can take it with him soon after he graduates from college.

IMG_2732Eleanor has a lot of the YA books which originally belonged to her on her shelves, and a rotating selection of books I’ve recommended to her or she’s brought home for me on the beside table. When she graduates next week, she will bring home a bookshelf full of books she likes to reread, plus any of the books from her English and History courses that she wants to keep.

IMG_2734My bedside table has books for when I’m not feeling well underneath, and books I think I might like before going to sleep on the top of it. I have to keep the front clear for Tristan, who likes to stretch out on it in the early hours of the morning. We also have a small bookshelf in our bedroom, stacked and double-stacked with books I’m just about to do something with, or so I think, anyway.  IMG_2733

IMG_2756The kitchen has one shelf of cookbooks, many of them with recipes for tea sandwiches and scones.

IMG_2735Downstairs, at the foot of the stairs, are our sturdiest bookshelves, bought from “Cargo furniture” in Maryland in the 1980’s. They hold most of our biggest hardbacks, and they also accumulate DVDs since they’re near the TV.

IMG_2753Most of the rest of the bookshelves are “Billy” shelves from IKEA. We’ve added extra shelves here and there to get in as many rows of differently-sized books as possible.  As you can see, it’s a long, bright room. There are some DVD shelves nearest the white couch, which is angled towards the TV. We’ve had those arranged with movies in alphabetical order on the top and TV series on the bottom, but we’re about to clean out the TV series and let movies take over the entire set of shelves, with the TV series DVDs going out to be double-stacked somewhere else. We’ll have to think of where. These are so antiquated now anyway that it hardly seems worth the trouble to keep them in order, but the whole point is so that when we’re in the mood to watch Buckaroo Banzai, we can pull it right out, and even take it somewhere else.

IMG_2737We have a lot of children’s books, even though we gave away a lot of the ones we didn’t much like when the kids got too old for them. How could I ever give away the Mr. Putter and Tabby collection, though? We still read The Birthday Book on someone’s birthday, and Santa Calls at Christmastime!IMG_2738

We still reread the Swallows and Amazons books and the Harry Potter series, which we have in different volumes given to various ones of us at various times and in both the UK and US. And yes, there are a few VHS next to the children’s books, ones we couldn’t replace and keep because we do still have a dual VHS/DVD player.

IMG_2739IMG_2751Some of the YA books are kind of separate from the children’s books. Because we’re sorting by size as well as by topic, we haven’t made much of a distinction except between picture books and chapter books. Even then, you may notice some books for tiny hands lurking at the very top of one bookcase, where an extra shelf made room especially for very small books. And yes, we do have a Lord of the Rings chess set on top of the shelves here.

IMG_2749There’s a Tolkien section. It’s a bit double-stacked because some of the books were upstairs and we haven’t expanded the section yet to fit them in. The non-fiction may have to move out to another bookcase or get sorted more strictly into different kinds of non-fiction or something. There’s a space where some non-fiction got taken out already. I am not, as you probably already know, a big reader of non-fiction, so I mostly leave that to Ron. Every once in a while I can still amaze Walker by producing a book he’s expressed an interest in reading from these non-fiction shelves downstairs. A lot of our non-fiction has actually gone to live on bookshelves in Ron’s office at the college. That’s a sneaky way of expanding bookshelf room.

IMG_2743We have several sections of baseball books. These are Ron’s. He’s fun to go to a game with, because he can tell you things about the guy who’s coming up to bat, like what he batted last time and what kind of hit he’s likely to get. I’d never been to a baseball game before Ron took me to see the Orioles when we lived in Maryland. He said that part of the object of the game was to eat something different every inning. We passed this on to our kids when we took them to see the local minor league team, where you get to sit closer and there are a lot more foul balls knocked into the stands. No matter how we try to space it out, though, none of us have ever made it past the seventh inning, even for ice cream.

IMG_2747Here’s a section for classics, books on satire, and books written in the 18th century. I used to have a desk down here, back when I was working on my dissertation and could climb up and down the steps more times per day. Now we’ve filled in below the white shelves that used to fit over my desk with more shelves. There are plays in the small section to the far left. When we filled in the section we’re calling “classics” we put any book we’d ever studied or taught in a literature class, which ended up including some of the Otterbein “common books” from the years I taught there, like Bombingham, by Anthony Grooms.

IMG_2745This wall is mostly for novels that were fairly new when I first read them. A lot of the books I’ve read since I started this blog are here, and a lot of what I think of as kind of disposable contemporary fiction. John Grisham, for example. If we’re going to Half-Price Books in Columbus I will sometimes look at these shelves to see if there’s one or two I didn’t particularly like but bought at the airport or on impulse. Then I take it and get a little trade-in value towards buying something else.

Here’s some of the science fiction, in the shelves. On top of these shelves is a miscellaneous collection of books that was on the floor underneath the built-in bookshelves in our living room and we haven’t put them all in where they belong yet. We have to do that before we can bring down the next collection of floor books. So probably the next time somebody who doesn’t come to our house all the time plans a visit.

IMG_2741
IMG_2754Here is another shot to show you how the walls of the downstairs are lined with bookcases. This is the left-hand side of the room. Do you see the empty table with bins underneath? That’s ready to receive the stuff coming home from college. The bins already have some winter clothing that came home at spring break. By the time the bins are filled up again, Eleanor will be graduated from college!

IMG_2752I’m going to knock on wood before saying that our library is completely put back together. We’ve had fun arranging and rearranging it, though.IMG_2748

…How else would we know where a particular book is when we want it, unless we’re looking through them all the time?

The Antigone Poems

May 11, 2015

tlc-logo-resizedThe Antigone Poems were written in the 1970’s by Marie Slaight as a collaboration with artist Terrence Tasker, whose charcoal drawings appear throughout the volume; they were published in 2014. I got a copy of the volume from Australia, where it was published by Altaire Productions, because I agreed to take part in the blog tour with TLC. The title alone got me interested; I’ve always been interested in the character of Antigone, whose teenage defiance and purity of belief in how the gods would have things done raises questions about her uncle’s–King Creon’s– authority.

At first the poems seem loosely, if at all, tied to the story of Antigone. They’re very short, just moments of emotion. The first one is “tormented” and mentions “anguish.” The next has a line about those who “dare death with their insouciance.” Wait, this is starting to sound like the Antigone I know. And look, in the third poem she mentions “the disorder/I hold sacred.” There’s the defiant teenage girl!

By the end of the fourth poem she is asking herself “where is my tongue?” because “if this perfume doesn’t burst/it will twist into venom.” That evokes the first idealism of youth. It’s all-or-nothing belief. You either let the young person run with it, or you try to disabuse her of some of her more outrageous notions and risk the full force of her bitterness against you, the messenger.

The fifth poem is short, mentioning “hysteria,” and then the sixth one is a longer prose poem which reads very much like something a teenage girl would write, full of “so much pain” and “my hurting proves nothing, only that he has the power to pain.” After that poem, the first charcoal drawing of a mask, and then Chapter Two begins.

Now she is “daughter of a dark sun/my loins moving” and “bound in blood,” anguished over her “daemon ancestry.” Antigone, of course, was the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, the product of incest. The character in The Antigone Poems, like any adolescent, is feeling the war between biology as destiny vs. individual free will. Is she a strong enough individual to make her will known? She imagines herself as brave enough, saying “take whip to my wilds./ You lash fear. I burn.” And thinks that “the violence of gods” will intervene. She is sure she is right. The poems that follow are about memory, fervor, and her belief that “to touch death always,/That is the sun.” This is the sure Antigone we know from Sophocles.

Another mask. Another chapter. The next poems are about regret. A lonely adolescent has made her choice and now envisions the details: “bowels break/blood breaks.”

The next mask is darker. The next chapter is about fear and fantasies of what her life could have been like. “Find my earth” she says. “Reclaim my desire.” But then “I remember only the rage” she says.

The last chapter begins with new resolve: “The wound/Aches/To be released.” There is no more need for words, “only the gaping, silent scream.” And then the wish: “Let the silence break this wall.”

The final poem begins
“And why.
I wanted everything.
To live all lives, all deaths, encompass all women.
To smash every confine.”
It’s as if the poet has become Antigone, and hopes that the experience of reading the poems has allowed readers to experience what it could have been like to feel the frightening, utter clarity of her female and teenaged belief in what was right.

There’s a final mask, the cover mask, and then one more, as if to emphasize the point that such conviction wears many masks.

We admire Antigone’s conviction when we read her story. These poems make us experience the force of it. And yet, when we take a step back, how many of us have ever let ourselves or those we love insist on such utter purity of belief, such idealism given form by action?

Mothers and The Bean Trees

May 9, 2015

In honor of mother’s day, I’ve been seeing lists of “memorable mothers” in various kinds of fiction. That’s usually the term used, “memorable.” Because it’s hard to make a list of good mothers in literature.

There are some good reasons for that, especially in children’s literature, where the presence of a good mother would prohibit the children from going on the adventure. But when I started thinking about mothers that I considered, even briefly, as role models…there aren’t that many.

On the other side of the coin, there are a good many mothers memorable because we’re not to emulate them. The impetuous and possibly incestuous Gertrude in Hamlet. The superbly silly Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. My own personal category of mothers to avoid emulating also features the clueless platitude-spouting Mrs. Hopewell in Flannery O’Connor’s story “Good Country People” and Rhoda Manning’s ineffectual mother in Ellen Gilchrist’s “1957, A Romance.”

Some mothers are memorable mostly because of how fiercely they fight to protect their offspring. From Molly Weasley’s “not my daughter, you bitch!” to “June’s” agonizing memories of losing her daughter to the state of Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale. Christianna Wheeler’s attempts to keep her quintuplets alive in Bobbie Ann Mason’s Feather Crowns. Kate Redding’s attempts to keep it all together with a family and a job in Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It.

I could only think of six fictional mothers I thought of as good role models before I had children of my own, two of them from the same novel:
Taylor and Lou Ann in The Bean Trees, Barbara Kingsolver
Pearl Tull in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler
Kate Murray in A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle
Marmee in Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Ma in the Little House books, Laura Ingalls Wilder
None of these mothers are perfect people. “Ma” and “Marmee” have little identity of their own, as I recall, but function mainly as role models and sounding boards for their daughters. Kate Murray has a little more personality, as she has taught her children well, but her role in the story is confined to cooking over her Bunsen burner and waiting for the children to rescue her husband. Pearl Tull has many flaws as a mother, but she devotes herself to the task of raising her children thoughtfully and almost exclusively.

When I thought about Taylor and Lou Ann, I found that I had to reread Barbara Kingsolver’s The Bean Trees, because I don’t remember reading it after I had kids of my own. My friend Carol and I have quoted Lou Ann for years about “the only safe way to eat potato salad was to stick your head in the refrigerator.” Lou Ann became, for us, a way of laughing at our own anxious tendencies as mothers. She functions that way for Taylor, too, in the novel:
“For Lou Ann, life itself was a life-threatening enterprise. Nothing on earth was truly harmless….she saved newspaper stories of every imaginable type of freak disaster. Unsuspecting diners in a restaurant decapitated by a falling ceiling fan. Babies fallen head-first into the beer cooler and drowned in melted ice while the family played Frisbee. A housewife and mother of seven stepping out of a Wick’N’Candle store, only to be shot through the heart by a misfired high-pressure nail gun at a construction site across the street. To Lou Ann’s way of thinking, this proved not only that ice chests and construction sites were dangerous, but also Wick’N’Candle stores and Frisbees.”
Later in their friendship, though Taylor tells Lou Ann that her worrying makes her a good mother:
“The flip side of worrying too much is just not caring….Dwayne Ray will always know that, no matter what, you’re never going to neglect him. You’ll never just sit around and let him dehydrate, or grow up without a personality, or anything like that….If anything, Lou Ann, you’re just too good of a mother.”

It takes Taylor the lessons learned from her own mother, the childcare strategies she learns from Mattie, Sandi, Lou Ann, and Virgie and Edna, and the example of the bravery of Esperanza to be able to be a good mother to her adopted little girl, Turtle. When she tells Lou Ann, at one point, that she’s “just not up to the job,” Lou Ann replies “well, don’t feel like the Lone Ranger….Nobody is.”

At the end of the novel, Lou Ann says to Taylor that she’s been thinking “about how your kids aren’t really yours, they’re just these people that you try to keep an eye on, and hope you’ll all grow up someday to like each other and still be in one piece.” Maybe one of the things she’s saying is that if you raise kids right, they’re not particularly aware of how difficult it is. It’s like how a good dancer can make high leg lifts look easy, or a violinist can make a fast passage sound effortless–even inevitable.

Maybe there are so few good mothers in literature because the good ones are not memorable. What you learn from them becomes a part of you and, thus, familiar.

Can you think of another good mother in literature? What makes her “good”?

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