Sunday, August 10, 2008

Oh my...what a good book!

I don't review books much on here, mainly because my reading goes in fits and starts, depending on how hectic my life is at the moment. But I finished reading this most excellent book yesterday. If you're on the lookout for something good to read, trust me. This is beyond good.

The character of Olive is so much like my mother it's almost eerie. And what I came away with from reading this book is a deeper understanding of my mother. That her actions and reactions were based on her fear of the world around her. For two people as intelligent as Olive is and my mom was, I find it so hard to understand why they weren't able to articulate this fear, that their way of dealing with it was 'slapping out' at those they loved the dearest. Leaving pain and destruction and true bafflement in their wake because no one they flung their venom at understood why they could act so....crazy! times. I came away from this book feeling emotionally wrung out but also wishing it would never end. What a writer this woman is!

There was one particular passage that struck a deep chord with me. Olive was having a phone conversation with her only child Christopher. Their phone calls were sporadic at best and never very satisfying for Olive, especially since she was the one who had to initiate the calls. So much like the phone calls that went on between my mother and me. On this call, Olive - in her prickly way, also so much like my mother's - asked him why he never called her, after she'd been tense and irritable with him thru the conversation they were having. Christopher said something like, "Because of this." When she questioned him about what he meant, he basically told her it was because of her constant negativity. Completely affronted, Olive just. could. not. understand. And she honestly couldn't.

Another scene, after going out and having ice cream with Christopher and his family. When she got back to their home, where she was visiting for a few days, and was preparing for bed she spotted a big smear of butterscotch topping on the front of her blouse. She became so agitated, furious that they would allow her to walk home in public with topping on her blouse and never mention it to her. That they must think she'd become such an old woman it didn't matter to them that it would matter to her. She hardly rested that nite, she was so upset. The next morning she was up and packed and sitting in the kitchen, telling her son she wanted to go home now. Throwing the family's entire schedule out of whack with her demands, and not giving any reason as to why she wanted to go back to Maine except for the fact she "smelled like fish." Christopher called a car to come take her to the airport, which added to her agitation. But do you think she ever explains any of this to her family or friends when things like this would upset her? No. She'd lash out and get 'crazy'. And when her son pretty much said, "Whatever, mom," I could so totally relate to his resignation. When you live with that, it wears you down so much that's exactly how you feel.

To give you an idea, here's an example from my own life. For my mother's birthday one year, her last birthday before she died, actually, I'd gone over to visit and gave her a gift of a cute ceramic photo frame with a monkey on it. She loved monkeys. But on this day she opened the gift, looooooooooooked at it, sniffed loudly and threw it across the living room at me. And I mean threw! Luckily it didn't hit me but I was so insulted and so angry I'd finally had enough and I asked her, "What's wrong with you?!" At the time she'd been battling colon cancer for a couple of years and her surgeon had told my dad and me after her last surgery she had an 80% chance of getting well. I said, "You'd think you'd be happy!" She looked at me like lightning had struck her and said, "What do you mean?" She went on to tell me the surgeon had told her she had only a 20% chance to live! How on earth could a surgeon get his information so messed up? Obviously, that had been eating away at her and explained why she'd been so 'prickly' and hard to get along with. If we'd only known that! And here my dad and my brothers and I had been getting so tired of all her flare ups, thinking she was so much better. And her wondering why everyone was so short of patience. But in our family, the trouble was we were as guilty as she was because we were so afraid of getting her upset about something, we never confronted her and asked what was bothering her so much. Ah has a tendency to show us what we need to know long after the fact.

This book had a very "Freudian" affect on me. I came away from it with so many "If only" moments going thru my head. But I am who I am. My mom was who she was. I never, ever understood her. I sometimes resented her deeply. But one thing I do know for certain. I loved her.


Anonymous said...

I am glad this book helped you. It was not our fault we were children who could not understand the crazy things our parents did. And even as adults, and time, and experiences, still it comes down to...WE DID NOT PICK THEM to be our parents!!! NOR did they pick US to be their children. Sometimes the fit is just not so good I guess. But we do love them just the same. All we can do is "seek peace with all men so much as is in you"...some days I am more successful at that than others.

I did eventually see that my dad, who sounds much like your mom, needed conflict with others. Strange as it may seem, we could see the adrenaline rush it gave him to have a fight. I don't have it to no way I could understand that I guess. But then afterwards, he can never see what HE DID that might cause others to shy away and stay away. It is such an imperfect world and we have a hard time communicating too with some. But the next life holds promise of a wonderful life!! I would never have made it this far without that hope!!

Judy said...

Oh! I will have to look for this one!

Presently, I'm re-reading children's books and loading a shelf for 'future reading with the grandchildren'.

Lynda said...

What a compelling review of this book you gave. I will definitely give it a go when I finish my pile of books yet to read.

old_black said...

I completely agree with you that it's a great book ... for the "older" reader (like me), at least. Unfortunately I found the book to be profoundly depressing because it drew my attention to my inadequacies as a parent, a partner and a person in a society.

I don't completely agree with your anonymous commenter (signed Elizabeth) who says that parents do not pick their children. I obviously agree with that in the sense that there is an element of the unknown which emerges in each child. But on the other hand, parents (usually) do choose to have children, and it is the parents who provide both the genetic inheritance and, more importantly, the environment in which the children are raised, thus having a big part in determining how the children turn out. So in that sense we do choose our children.

Elizabeth says: "But the next life holds promise of a wonderful life!! I would never have made it this far without that hope!!"
I don't share that hope...I can imagine it would make a significant difference to your perspective on this issue in particular.

Greta said...

My mother is 92 and I still suffer from "mother guilt" from times she would give me the "why haven't you called". She has mellowed over the years and I cherish our times together.
I try not to lay guilt on my children (mostly adults now). I want time they spend with me to be a pure gift and not guilt motivated.
Anyone else choosing a deliberate path in reaction to a parent irritation?