Saturday, July 18, 2015

Losing Me by Sue Margolis

Losing Me.  Sue Margolis. Penguin Group (USA). July 2015. 384 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451471840.

Barbara Stirling is almost sixty years old and is now being ousted from her job as a special education teacher due to budget cuts. It’s a huge loss to the school as she is very good at what she does and really cares about these kids who come from homes rife with poverty, abuse, violence, starvation and just plain neglect.  Some parents don’t care and others are quite realistically doing the best they can which means their children suffer from a number of physical and emotional problems that affect any, if not all, learning. Barbara clearly cares and goes above and beyond the call of duty to help wherever and however she can. Harder still, she takes her job home and worries about her “kids,” but she gets very little feedback from her husband, another story in itself.

Barbara is also worried who went to college but has been unable to get a job.  Her daughter is an ecology fanatic who is about to begin using cloth toilet rags in place of toilet roll, quite a gross idea although it is certainly admirable in purpose. Add to that she has a friend who admits she’s got a lousy sex life with her husband but uses sex gigolos to satisfy her avid desires. Money is tight at home and hubby Frank is only caught up in his film job which doesn’t pay so well.  The real issue is his semi-concerned feedback to Barbara about her job and needs. Not even when she begins to suffer panic attacks does he really respond in the way she needs. Mom is the queen of criticism, hardly an asset in Barbara’s decomposing world.

Before her job concludes, Barbara becomes involved in the life of Troy, one of her students who is clearly being abused but who won’t answer questions. This then is the story of her intervention and how Troy’s world gives her purpose and direction, and it also enables her to learn to speak up and call things as she sees them.  Transformation comes about with determination and challenging those who prefer to complain but not much beyond that.

There are several issues of importance in this novel which Margolis treats with both seriousness  and levity, where appropriate.   The characters are so very real in far too many families, and the author handles each issue honestly and clearly, including the apathy of co-existence which is symptomatic of so much emotional distress in the world.

Very nicely crafted, Sue Margolis and recommended for all readers! Hope lies eternal!

A Lady of Good Family: A Novel by Jeanne Mackin

A Lady of Good Family: A Novel.  Jeanne Mackin. Penguin Group (USA). June 2015. 368 pp.  ISBN#: 9780451465832.

In The Gilded Age of the 1920s in New England, a woman was fated to marry, raise children, socialize and talk of mundane matters and travel to Europe to tour, rest and socialize some more. This then is the story of the passionate and famous gardener and landscape designer, Beatrix Farrand, who conforms at a minimum level but truly follows the dictates of her heart and soul.

The story is narrated by Daisy Winters, a close friend of Beatrix, and the story opens with Beatrix’s relationships with her Aunt, Edith Wharton, the author Henry James and Minnie, Beatrix’s mother who is currently in the process of divorcing her husband, also a huge break from acceptable tradition of staying married no matter what troubles prevail. Indeed most of the couples in this novel are either always irritated or unhappy about their spouses. What really comes across in the narrative is the lazy boredom of all these rich couples.

While touring in the Borghese Gardens in Italy, Beatrix meets Italian Amerigo Massimo and her word dramatically changes. It is truly “love at first sight.” While his views about women are more conservative than her perspective, it doesn’t stop the magic and they soon become the talk of society. However, nothing stops her from pursuing her study of gardens and art throughout Europe.  It is just as well as the reader receives a shock later on in the story regarding priorities in love.

As an aside, it’s fascinating how Wharton and James are portrayed herein.  Edith appears less stiff than how she writes and James seems to be the arbiter of decisions that accords with his writings; it’s all about what society accepts or rejects. Beatrix and Minnie are refreshing rebels herein, indeed!

This reviewer absolutely loved the vivid, energizing descriptions of gardens Beatrix visits and the way she slowly articulates how a garden is meant to refresh, rest and inspire viewers.  At the same time, the dialogue is plodding among the rich but miserable other characters. A bit of social satire herein?

A Lady of Good Family… is a fascinating, rich story of love, gardens, society and the woman who would break tradition enough to become one of America’s foremost landscape gardeners, presenting her visions throughout America and even at the White House. Recommended reading for sure!