The woman behind "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," Nia Vardalos, has written about her experiences with infertility and adoption through foster care. Her husband is Ian Gomez, Javier from "Felicity" and he's also on "Cougar Town." I love that guy! How fun that these two are married. Right after "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," Vardalos went through in-vitro fertilization...13 times. I cannot imagine! I was done after one time. She was walking red carpets on fertility drugs and after learning that another IVF cycle had failed to produce a pregnancy. I found Vardalos's narrative voice very engaging when she was writing about this portion of her story. Also when she and Gomez decided to look into adoption finally, that was well-written and I felt like I could relate.
Vardalos and Gomez decide to try foster care adoption and they end up adopting a two and a half year-old girl. My absolute favorite thing about this book is Vardalos sharing her little moments of hope. A little girl on the beach taking her hand a few months before they got their daughter. And this description of what it feels like for her now:
"Now I don't feel that oddly unsettled feeling I felt when I was in the pursuit of motherhood. When I met Ilaria, as I've described, it all went quiet. That whirring in my head is gone, like that moment you turn off the stove fan and realize that sound had been getting on your nerves. That's what it feels like when you meet your kid."
Absolutely. I feel like I'm more myself as a mother than I ever was in "pursuit" of motherhood. Once the book got to Vardalos and Gomez's parenting style and the gushing over friends and relatives and how each one of them reacted to Ilaria... Meh. It wasn't so much that the drama was over and there was no story left, it was just a little too much self-congratulation for how they handle every single situation that arises. Toward the end Vardalos tells a couple of really great stories that could only happen in Hollywood. One of them involves Rue McClanahan. Delicious.
2. Heat Lightning by Helen Hull
I don't know if that Saturday Evening Post cover is the same Helen Hull. When I looked her up I found a lot of photos of a tennis player from the 1950s. I'd like to think it's the author of Heat Lightning, so I'm using it. I bought this book for my sister, Jen. She liked it and wanted me to read it, so we've been exchanging books for a few months.
Heat Lightning is the story of Amy Westover Norton returning to her hometown (where every relative she has still resides) for a summer visit. Amy has two young-ish children who are away at summer camp and a husband with whom she's in a confusing place. Amy has come to town to clear her head and decide what she's going to do with her life. There is plenty of drama with all the relatives, each entangled in their own consequences. Amy gets to be a bystander, but also a confidante. She visits with her grandmother, who lives next door to her parents' and observes everyone with detachment. There were so many great character insights - I knew all these people! And Amy as well. I think we've all kind of done this:
"Queer, how her own desperate need of light seemed to throw such brilliance over the affairs of the members of her family. She carried her need like a many-batteried pocket spotlight, illuminating emotional corners in other people, but she walked in darkness behind it. Her wrist wouldn't bend to turn it on herself."
It's always easy to spot the idiosyncrasies or deficiencies in others. Sometimes Amy noticed those things because she was guilty of the same things herself, which is also true to life. There is a big change about 2/3 of the way through and it ends up being a catalyst for almost every character to fix or permanently damage their lives.
Heat Lightening is just beautiful. I could smell the summer heat and the canning kitchen. I could see the people in the story. Very well done. (This is a Persephone Book, by the way.)
3. Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
My friend, Shelley, has never steered my wrong and this book was on her All-Time Favorites list. Now it's on mine. I told my Dad I thought he'd like this book and he said, "That's a great movie, there's a book?!" To which I responded, "There's a movie?!" I listened to this and it was quite a relief not to have to pronounce all those French names.
Scaramouche is actually a young French lawyer named Andre-Louis Moreau. His godfather (a member of French aristocracy during the French Revolution) raised him and sent him to very good schools. Andre is smart, hard-working, and resourceful. He's also in love with his cousin, Eileen. I missed something early on, but I don't think Eileen lives with Andre's godfather. (That's what I get for making raspberry jam and listening to a book at the same time.)
The thing that is so great about this book is the pace of each of Andre's adventures. His friend gets tricked into a duel with a Marquis who is a devastating swordsman. The friend has no skills whatsoever. The friend gets killed. Andre is there and vows to avenge his friend's senseless death. He does that by getting involved in his friend's political scene and making a stirring speech that incites a crowd of revolutionaries. Andre doesn't believe in the same things his friend did, but he knows the arguments well. After inciting the crowd, Andre goes into hiding.
While in hiding, Andre takes up with a traveling acting troupe and becomes the character, Scaramouche. What do you know? Andre is a natural play-write and actor. He starts making plans to get to La Comedie Francais with the little troupe, and especially the lead actress. Andre falls in love with her, or thinks he's in love. Until he sees his cousin Eileen again. But see, that's what is so great! Andre threw himself into this new life and didn't look back. And the book spends time here - not just glossing over until we get to where the author wants the character to end up. Great! I was into it.
Andre has to run again (after making another inciting speech as Scaramouche) and he goes to a fencing school in Paris. After a year of studying every book in the fencing masters library, practicing every day and even coming up with a whole knew fencing strategy, Andre is even better at the sword than his boss.
"It is characteristic of him that having made that choice he should have thrown himself into the work with enthusiasm. It was ever his way to do whatever he did with all the resources of his mind and energies of his body."
I could see the big twist coming, but it didn't matter. It was still fun every minute. Now to find the movie...