Review: Into My Arms by Kylie Ladd

Title: Into My Arms

Author: Kylie Ladd

Published: Allen & Unwin May 2013

Status: Read from May 01 to 02, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In her previous novels, Kylie Ladd has written with compelling insight into uncomfortable issues including adultery in After the Fall and death and grief in Last Summer. Into My Arms, her third novel, is similarly confronting while examining the complexities of family, love and desire.

It’s incredibly difficult to articulate my thoughts about Into My Arms while avoiding spoilers. The back cover hints at love at first sight followed by a passionate relationship which is then shattered by a shocking revelation but it is much more than that. Skye and Ben are nearly destroyed by a phenomena that challenges moral and societal conventions and Into My Arms explores it’s devastating effects on both the couple and their families.

What could have been a tawdry, sensationalistic subject, is dealt with carefully, shedding a compassionate light on a little known issue that is particularly relevant in modern society. There is no getting away from the fact that most readers will find it confronting but I think Ladd does a terrific job in humanising the issue by placing ordinary people at the center of the maelstrom.

While the controversial main plot will garner the most attention, there is a prominent subplot in the book not alluded to in the blurb. Zia is a pupil of Ben and Skye, a young boy from an immigrant Iranian family who is struggling to adjust to his new life. While Zia’s story is linked by the themes of family and estrangement, and he develops connections with the main characters, I thought it out of place somehow. Don’t get me wrong, it is interesting in and of itself, but I didn’t find it necessary and I wondered if it’s purpose was to blunt the confronting nature of Ben and Skye’s circumstance.

Regardless, I found Into My Arms to be a fascinating and thought provoking novel. I devoured it in hours and I suspect it will stimulate discussion amongst all who read it.

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Review: The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

 

Title: The Middlesteins

Author: Jami Attenberg

Published: Serpent’s Tail March 2013

Status: Read from March 12 to 13, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy Allen & Unwin}

My Thoughts:

The Middlesteins is the story of a dysfunctional Jewish family in suburban America. While Edith eats her self to death, her daughter drinks, her son and his wife worries and her husband of forty years makes plans to leave her.

In this character driven novel, shifting perspectives gives the reader insight into the issues within the family that both have everything and nothing to do with Edie’s morbid obesity.

When her husband, Richard leaves Edie and files for divorce he is seen as callous and selfish for deserting his wife of forty years in such ill health. But as Richard’s ‘side’ is revealed we learn that the marriage died some time ago and Richard is convinced he has left to save himself;

“Was he a bold individual making a last grab at happiness? Or a coward who could not contend with fighting for his wife’s life? Was he merely soulless?”

Their daughter, Robin, is distracted by her own intimacy issues, content to allow her sister in law to manage most of her mother’s care. She despises Richard for leaving their mother and makes him the target of her anger and grief about her mother’s condition.

While Benny worries silently, losing his hair at a prodigious rate, his wife becomes obsessed with Edie’s weight and diabetes. Rachelle tries to enforce exercise and diet on Edie but when she is only marginally successful she turns the focus to her own family, strictly controlling the food intake of her husband and two children, Josh and Emily. her own fear of aging and mortality unseating her common sense.

As teenagers, Josh and Emily are only vaguely concerned by the family turmoil, especially as they are approaching their B’Nai Mitzvah and busy rehearsing a hip hop routine for their So You Think You Can Dance? themed gala. Emily is a little more sensitive to the problems but at just fourteen is ill equipped to make much sense of them.

Edie is only heard from rarely with brief reminiscences of her life at various stages. They reveal an awkward teenager, a lacklustre marriage, poor self esteem and her unhealthy relationship with food, an addiction she feels powerless to control. In the main, Attenberg manages to portray Edie as a woman who is flawed in the ways that any ordinary person is. Her morbid obesity adds complications but is not the defining element of who she is. Edith is a mother, a grandmother, a friend and even a lover even at 350 plus pounds.

The Middlesteins is quite a sombre tale though not without flashes of black humour. I did struggle to connect with parts of the story, partly I think because of the cultural disconnect (with the Jewish population accounting for half a percent of the total Australian population and most concentrated in major cities) I feel sure I am missing an essential frame of reference.

A wry observation of family dysfunction and failure in middle class America, The Middlesteins is modern, literary fiction. It is a fairly quick read but not one I found particularly memorable. That it is endorsed by Jonathan Franzen may be an indicator as to whether you will like it or not.

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Read-a-long Part #3: My Hundred Lovers by Susan Johnson

A woman, on the eve of her fiftieth birthday, reflects on one hundred moments from a lifetime’s sensual adventures. After the love, hatred and despair are done with, the great and trivial acts of her bodily life reveal an imperfect, yet whole self. By turns humorous, sharp, haunting and wise, this is an original and exhilarating novel from one of Australia’s premier writers.
Lyrical and exquisite, My Hundred Lovers captures the sheer wonder of life, desire and love.

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I am reading My Hundred Lovers (courtesy Allen & Unwin) as part of a read-a-long hosted by Bree at All The Books I Can Read over the next three weeks. Please be aware that it is likely that in answering the discussion questions, I will reveal spoilers. Read at your own risk!

Click here for my comments on pages 1-88

Click here for my comments on pages 89 -173

Pages 174-End

“She preferred herself now, less succulent and more loving, humbled, loved.”

While fiction, My Hundred Lovers reads as if a confessional memoir- brief memories of  physical and emotional awareness from the taste of a fresh croissant, her first knee trembling orgasm at the hand of a boy to the difficulty of her childhood as the daughter of an adulterous father and a narcissistic mother. I think its important to point out that the title is not literal – the chapters are not devoted to one hundred lovers – but  the sense memories of moments of pleasure and pain. There is sexual content, quite explicit as times, but the novel is  interspersed with  descriptions of moments such as the feel of mud oozing between her toes, or the scent of fresh bread baking.

This is not a traditional story, the snippets vary in length, each loosely linked to the next give some form to the narrative yet not linear, moving forwards and back in time at will and it can feel a little disjointed and I do usually prefer a more structured narrative. I can certainly appreciate the rich imagery and lyrical nature of the text, she writes beautifully of the small things that give us such pleasure.

For much of her life Deborah is hedonistic, tangling visceral reaction with emotion. Her inability to separate sex from love, pleasure from punishment, sees her make choices that erodes her self esteem. She uses her body to search for intimacy, certain that she is too damaged to love, or be loved, for more than the physical succor she can offer. It seems to me that it is her son’s birth that is a turning point for Deborah, her body perhaps finally sated by the experience. She writes of one lover after the collapse of her marriage, ‘the kind lover’, and what can be inferred is that Deborah relates to this man emotionally instead of physically, perhaps for the first time in her life. Deborah’s final lover could be said to be herself, having finally found some measure of wholeness, “My body, mine at last.” .

Overall I appreciated this book more than enjoyed it. There are insights that resonate with truth and wisdom but I also find it a little pretentious. The read-a-long has been a good experience though, and I have found the discussions interesting.  Thanks Bree, for hosting.

Visit All The Books I Can Read to see what other readers have to say.

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