"Summer At Tiffany"

Summer At Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

I thought this was fiction when I downloaded it onto my Kobo, but it turns out it's the true story of the author's summer working at Tiffany in New York City. It was fun as fiction, but much better as a memoir. Knowing that the stories she tells actually happened make them funnier, more poignant and altogether more interesting.

In the summer of 1945 the author and her friend, Marty, took the train to Manhattan to find summer jobs, hoping it would be as easy as other friends had told them it was to get hired at the very best shops. They found a small apartment and hit the pavement, but days went by with no success until, just about out of options, Marty said they may as well try Tiffany. They hadn't even considered it because they knew it was out of their league, but with nothing left to lose, why not?

To their surprise and delight, they were hired to be the first female pages in Tiffany's history. Wearing provided designer dresses for uniforms, the girls ferried outrageously expensive jewellery - gold, diamonds, pearls, etc. - in special leather bags from the sales floor to the repair department and back again. Some of the tricky situations they found themselves in had me holding my breath, others were just hilarious. It was fascinating to get an inside look at the running of this iconic store that most of us common people will never have the opportunity to enter.

One of the perks of working at Tiffany was watching the famous people who came into the store. Marjorie and Marty were young girls and being that close to the rich, the royal and the glamorous people who frequent a store like Tiffany was a thrill. They loved the fashion, the clubs and restaurants, the men in uniform, and the constant excitement of life in the big city. They were lucky enough to be in Times Square when the announcement came that the war was over. An amazing and unforgettable day. I enjoyed reading about their experiences almost as much as they enjoyed having them.

It's delightful reading, light, fun and perfect for summer!


"Madame Bovary"

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Emma Bovary is the second wife of a country doctor, a man she believes will give her the life of romantic bliss that is the stuff of her daydreams, formed from novels, art and music rather than from any observation of real life. Her story is a tragedy, as it must be. Daydreams are perfection, and none of us get that.

Emma finds her husband dull and their life monotonous. She isn't living the romantic fantasy she wants, so she looks around for something more interesting. She believes she could be happy if only she loved someone passionately, if she was admired and danced attendance upon and showered with  gifts, if she was entertained and given new and exciting experiences on a regular basis. She is delusional enough to think such a life is actually an option.

She has two affairs, managing to hide both from her husband, who for some reason adores her. She financially ruins him and neglects their daughter, leaving her to be raised by a servant.

Emma's biggest problem is Emma. It must have been the condition of her times that made her feel happiness should be handed to her. She had no concept of it being something you build from the materials you have available. She was doomed from the beginning, and in the end she had to face reality. "She now knew the smallness of the passions that art exaggerated." She commits suicide, and even that turns out to be a disappointment. It's supposed to be a dramatically romantic end to the life of a young beautiful woman; instead, it takes a long time to die, and it is painful and ugly. Not the impression she wanted to leave at all.

If I was supposed to feel sympathy for Emma, I'm afraid I failed. I felt for her husband and child, both of whom loved her to the end no matter how she treated them. Life with them may have been dull, but she did choose it. She never outgrew her childish need for immediate gratification and her selfishness ruined all their lives. It's a tragedy, not just for Emma, but for the entire Bovary family.

In spite of my dislike for Emma, I did enjoy the reading - most of the time. There were a few passages that ran on but on the whole it was good. It was meant to be a statement about the reality of boredom and monotony in the average marriage and the average life, and Flaubert succeeded at that. I found this quote particularly poignant: "Besides, nothing was worth the trouble of seeking it; everything was a lie. Every smile hid a yawn of boredom, every joy a curse, all pleasure satiety, and the sweetest kisses left upon your lips only the the unattainable desire for a greater delight." Still, I didn't at any point feel any connection with Emma. She was intolerably shallow; I lost patience with her early on and never got it back.

One of my pet peeves with nineteenth century novels is the exaggerated drama and there was plenty of it here. At one point Emma is sitting near a window in her home when she sees a carriage go by. In it is the man with whom she has just broken off an affair. Now, it's natural that seeing him would have some effect on her emotions, but Emma's reaction...? "Emma uttered a cry and fell back rigid to the ground." Then, "brain-fever set in". She was bed-ridden for weeks, weak, unable to eat and almost dying. Either this is ridiculously over dramatic, or women of that time were so frail that it's a wonder they ever survived serious stress....like say, childbirth. 

I am glad I read it. For one thing I found a quote that puts into words a thought I've tried in vain to express since my father died 15 years ago: "There is always after the death of anyone a kind of stupefaction; so difficult is it to grasp this advent of nothingness and to resign ourselves to believe in it." For another, I'll understand references to it in other writings, and best of all, it's one more title I can cross off my Guilt List! Yay!

Shooter Caught and In Custody

In the very early hours of this morning, the gunman was located and taken into custody. The arrest was made without weapons being fired and we are all grateful there was no further injury or loss of life.

For most of us life will gradually return to normal now. It will take time for us to regain a feeling of safety and security in our little city, and maybe we'll never quite get back to where we were. We may be a little more careful about locking our doors and walking in dark places at night. It will be a longer process for families and especially children who were in the lockdown zone and had to stay in basement bathrooms and closets and couldn't leave their houses for 28 hours. Those children will need help feeling safe in their own backyards again. It will take a while to forget the sight of armoured vehicles and guns outside their homes. But in time they too will return to normal, going to school and playing in those same yards and streets with their friends.

But for the Officers of the RCMP in our community, there will be no returning to normal. Two are recovering from serious injuries. Three of them are gone, and are never coming back. Their spouses, their children, their parents, siblings and co-workers will have to live with the loss for the rest of their lives. It still amazes me to think that each one of them knew the risks when they signed up and still, they signed up willingly. They wanted to serve and protect the rest of us. How can any of us possibly say "thank-you" for such a sacrifice? Our words won't change the tragedy that has come to their families. We can only hope that in time some bit of comfort or encouragement will come from knowing that so many are so grateful.

Thank you to all the RCMP officers from our own community and those who came in to help from other places. Thank you to their families for giving them the freedom to serve and protect, even knowing the risk. God bless you all with peace and comfort in this terrible time and may He lead you though the dark days ahead into a new normal that will allow you, in time, to live again.  

Tragedy Tonight in My City

Tonight my city is on lock down and in mourning as police search for a 24 yr old man who has shot five police officers, killing three. The man is, or was, on foot and carrying two high powered rifles, a knife and crossbow. A large area of town has been told to lock their doors, take their families into one room in their basement and stay there till they get the all clear. Many families tonight are huddled into small bathrooms, closets, etc trying to keep their children calm through the night. 

I have two nieces and their families living in the lock down zone. Another friend with three small children lives there as well. Traffic is closed off in some areas, and the hospital is locked down and on alert in case of possible mass casualties. Police from other areas are coming in to assist in the manhunt. There will be little sleep had in this city till the gunman is caught.

We are praying for the families of the lost officers, for the injured officers, for the safety of the residents of the locked-down neighborhoods and for the protection of all who are out on the streets trying to stop this madman. God bless you for your selfless service to  our community. We pray this will end quickly and without further injury or loss of life. 

Anxiously waiting.

"The Light Between Oceans"

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

I feared a romance, a sappy one, but am happy to report the romance is only a part of this story. I read it because it's my book club's June selection, and because it's about an island. I can't help myself. I'm a sucker for islands and stories about them. It's an obsession really.

The setting is the tiny island of Janus Rock off the coast of Australia, where Tom Sherbourne is the lighthouse keeper. The isolation and the tedious work make it a perfect place for Tom to find balance again after experiencing the death and destruction of WWI as a soldier. There are no roads on the island and Tom's is the only house, but he gets leave every two or three years and there is a supply boat that comes occasionally.

After one of his leaves, he brings back a young wife, Isabel. A few years later, while tending the grave of her own stillborn baby, she hears the cry of another one. A man, dead, and a baby, still alive, have washed up on shore in a small boat. Isabel, suspecting the dead man to be the child's father and the mother to have been lost overboard, convinces Tom not to report it right away. As each day passes, it seems more right to care for her and give her a good home than it does to take her to the mainland, possibly to a life with no parents at all.

When the baby - they call her Lucy - is two years old, they return to the mainland on leave and they begin to see that their decision has some far-reaching consequences. The fragile little family they've so carefully bound together begins to unravel.

There are no real "bad guys" here. Mistakes are made, but not with intent to harm. Very human people make very bad decisions and people suffer. Everyone suffers. There are questions to which there are no good answers because what helps one will hurt another and we care about all of them. A choice must be made between this good thing, and this other good thing, and either choice will leave a trail of unspeakable pain. What would you or I do in those circumstances? Isn't it wonderful when a book takes you to that place?

I'm always fascinated with first lines and found a loaded one in this book:

"On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff's edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross."  

This sentence sets you up for the whole book. When you read "miracle" something in you lifts because you know something good is about to happen. Miracles are always good. Lots of impossibly bad things happen but no one calls them miracles. That word is preserved for the impossibly good things. Then a fraction of a second later you read where she is: "kneeling at the cliff's edge". Something in you senses that whatever is about to happen is dangerous. She's at the cliff's edge in more ways than one. Then, she is tending the "small, newly made driftwood cross". That thing in you that sensed joy, then danger, now senses grief. It's a "small" cross, "newly made", so the loss was probably a child and probably recent. All those emotions have been triggered in the reader in that one opening sentence and moves you into the story with a bit of excitement, a bit of trepidation, and some compassion. The trepidation increases three sentences later when she whispers over the grave:

"...and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
Somehow we know that temptation is exactly what is coming.

There were some weak spots in the writing, and I found the flashbacks to Tom's past were too long sometimes and left me wishing we could get back to the present, but it is a good, very good story. This is the author's first novel so there's no backlist to greedily order from. I must wait for more. I suspect not every novel she writes will be set on an island, sigh, but her story-telling ability is wonderful so I'm looking forward to whatever she does next.

This one is a most definite recommendation. I loved it.  

"Mrs. Dalloway" and "The Shoemaker's Wife"

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I'm not a fan of "stream of consciousness" writing, so right off the bat this book had a strike against it. However, it's one of those books that everybody has read and about which reams of ecstatic reviews have been written so I put it on my "Guilt List" and finally got around to reading it. To my surprise, I liked it.

  I didn't spend a lot of time analyzing it, but it surely is not a book you can read quickly or without thought. It requires something of the reader, always a good thing I think.

It takes place over the course of one day, ending with a party held at the home of Clarissa Dalloway. Beginning with Clarissa's thoughts about the party, and a reunion with an old love, the point of view moves from person to person as the various invited guests think about their lives, their problems and the coming party. It sounds odd to describe it, but it flowed very well and moving from inside one person's head to the next wasn't strange at all.

Much could be said about this one, and has been by more qualified reviewers, but as I've been saying, in the past few months my reading has been more for distraction than anything else and I've not been spending a lot of time thinking about what I read. Still, I'm glad I read this. It's a short book, but it made a big impact and I think these characters will stay with me.

The Shoemaker's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

This is one of those rich, epic stories you can get lost in and that make you feel sorry to turn the last page. It tells the story of Ciro Lazzari, from the time he and his brother were left at an orphanage as children right through to the end of his life. Beginning in a tiny mountain village in Italy, it follows him to America where he becomes apprenticed to a shoemaker and where he crosses paths with a girl, Enza Ravenelli, whom he had met briefly while he was still in Italy. Enza has become a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House and has a comfortable life with some famous friends and a handsome suitor. Fate has a different plan for Ciro and Enza however.

I'm not an avid reader of romances, but this one held my attention. To qualify as "good" for me it has to have more than just romance. I like a book to take me someplace, a different location, a different time, a different industry, a different culture and then I can enjoy the romance as it's fleshed out on the bones of an interesting story.  The Shoemaker's Wife offers a look at Italy, it's geography, history, culture and religious structure then moves to early 20th century America - New York and Minnesota. It opened up to me the glamorous world of the opera and the more mundane life of a shoemaker, then the difficult years of World War One, all of which added interest and detail and set a foundation for the romance that followed.

The writing, the character development and the story were all good, so if you're looking for what my mother used to call a "good yarn", you should take a look at this. I found it fun and relaxing to read with geography and history lessons thrown in for nothing. What's not to like? Hope you enjoy it!