Monday, June 27, 2011

Read This Book #2

I must admit I don't read a lot of British fiction, contemporary or otherwise. I'm small-minded that way. I find it too stuffy, too cold, and yes, those British idiosyncrasies like single quotation marks for dialogue, Old World spellings and idioms (tyre, flat, lift, storeys) and the constant drinking of tea and biscuits with "Mum," are too precious for my taste. But when good crime fiction meets "literary" fiction, I'm helpless against it.

The novel opens with the protagonist Beatrice getting a call that her younger sister Tess is missing, and so she boards the first flight she can get from New York to London. Already I love the idea, since I'm a big fan of missing persons fiction, but as the story unfolds, strange surprises keep cropping up about her sister. One of the things I love is the way the author plays off opposites; Beatrice is the sensible, responsible sister while Tess is a bit of a Bohemian, but instead of treating this dichotomy in a simplistic fashion, Lupton shows the complexity and difficulty of the relationship.

Favorite line: "When I saw your strand of hair I knew that grief is love turned into an eternal missing."

Idiosyncrasies: The entire novel is written in an epistolary fashion, that is, as a letter written from Beatrice to her younger sister, Tess. At first this felt a bit awkward, but then I relaxed into it and saw how perfectly it gave the book shape and structure. There is also intrigue involving medical ethics that gives the novel an even broader social reach.

Bottom Line: One of the most gripping climaxes I've read in a long time. The mystery of what happened to her sister, and the lengths to which Beatrice is willing to go to find out, had me hooked. I sacrificed sleep to finish this one.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Hometown: Revised

Recently I flew home to Minnesota because I missed my siblings and needed to be among them. I'm also working on a memoir set there, so I needed to see and feel and touch all the things I was writing about. I wanted to tour the trailer court in Arlington where I had spent the majority of my childhood. I wanted to drive down Main Street and check out my dad's old barber shop. I wanted to place flowers and a note on my parents' gravestone. I wanted to check on the status of their old Victorian house.

I did all these things and more, thanks to my sister, Amy, and her husband, Dan, who drove me around in their minivan. They were patient as I popped out of the van to take photographs, jot down notes, and sometimes asked for a second, or even a third, cruise-by of something that caught my eye.

I'd like to report feelings of nostalgia and a deep connection to the place, but the fact is, it was complicated. Without my parents, without a single relative drawing me back there, Arlington had become exactly that: just a place. Sure, there were sweet spots of memory. "Over there," I told Amy and Dan's kids as we drove by the high school, "is where I had my first kiss with Tony O'Brien. Right by that dumpster. Fourth grade."

But as we drove out of town, I wondered: when would I ever be back here again? I'd long since gotten everything I wanted from my parents' house. Most of my old friends had moved away. Without a single family member left in Arlington, there would be very little reason to come back, and the thought filled me with sadness.

* * * *

Back at Amy's house in Montgomery, Minnesota, I had an epiphany: this had become my new "hometown." Each time I visited, new habits had emerged, little traditions that I looked forward to each time:

1. Buying teriyaki turkey jerky at Edel's Meat Market (Monty boasted 3 different meat markets!)
2. Going out for "the best Blood Marys in 17 Counties" at Neaner's White Front Bar
3. Shopping for clothes at Bargain Betty's consignment shop (actually in New Prague, one town over, but still a constant for us)
4. Getting a kolacky (fruit-filled Czech pastry) and coffee at Franke's Bakery
5. Going to see Dan at Fransden Bank and getting a free pen
6. Shopping the dollar aisle of Herman Drug (scored a cool Mood necklace for Lily)
7. Doing a photo shoot with Amy in her studio (she could get me to smile without looking one bit fakey she was so good)
8. Drinking wine on Amy and Dan's deck overlooking undulating hills, a pond, and a horse farm all glowing in the buttery Midwestern light

* * * *

I still dream about Arlington sometimes at night: the long windows of my bedroom curlicued with intricate ice patterns, my mother's kitchen and its apple wallpaper border, the mint green water tower rising up over corn fields, the Christmas lights hung year-round on the feed mill, the diagonal parking on Main Street. These things will never leave me.

As Ray Gonzalez writes: "I do not believe in the loss of home...You can celebrate or mourn the area where you grew up, but you have earned them and can't abandon them completely."