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- March 06, 2006
- Vol. 65
- No. 9
Picks and Pans: Books
The Way They Were
REVIEWED BY ALLISON LYNN
The Brooklyn of Emily Barton's second novel barely resembles the bustling borough of today. In the late 1700s, as New Yorkers adjust to the Revolution's end, the village of Brooklyn, or "Brookland," has amassed "one alehouse, one tavern; one rope manufactory; one sawmill, one gristmill; one chandlery." Barton's book is enriched by historical facts and scenes painstakingly rendered in fluid and evocative prose, but it's the characters who make this convincing story. Brookland pulses with the energy of its people—dreamers and drinkers and one highly driven protagonist. Prue Winship, the oldest of three girls, inherits her father's gin distillery and, in the letters to her grown daughter that frame the narrative, recounts the story of the mill and of her attempt to build the first Brooklyn-to-Manhattan bridge. It's nervy enough for an 18th-century woman to run a distillery, but Prue's contemporaries are truly awed and a bit mystified about her proposal to span the East River (this, before steamships plied the Hudson). Yet in Barton's expert hands, Prue's ambition is frightfully real. Her desire to make her mark in a man's world never flags; she's powered by childhood memories (including a secret history with one sister) that haunt her until the end. Barton's story takes a while to kick in, but once it does, it's thrilling to see Prue in action, and gut-wrenching to watch her discover the high price paid by those who are blinded by ambition.
by Michelle Tea
Poet Tea's quirky, gritty first novel is a coming-of-age tale about a 14-year-old loner in working-class Massachusetts. Trisha lives with her carbophobic sister, hypochondriac mom and Mom's lout of a lover and does a whole lot of nothing with her days. She sleeps late, swigs beer in her room and, when there's nothing else to do, trades in her ratty sweats for a miniskirt and a few pounds of Aqua Net and lands a job at the mall. Until she gets fired on her first day.
So why is this book so impossible to put down? Because Trisha is a raucous observer of everything from mall culture minutiae to her sister's reality TV dreams. Nothing gets by her. Rose of No Man's Land takes place almost entirely during that single day when she starts and ends her mall job. By the time the night is fully under way, this eagle-eyed misfit who's spent 14 years doing nothing has discovered crystal meth, sexuality, friendship and, finally, something real in her life. Herself.
by Sonia Nazario
REVIEWED BY SUE CORBETT
Like thousands of other Central American women too poor to feed their children, a Honduran mother named Lourdes left for el norte in 1989, planning to find work, save money and return quickly. After 11 years went by, her son Enrique, "so young when [Lourdes] left he can barely remember what she looks like," decided to follow her into the unknown. The extraordinary story told by Los Angeles Times reporter Nazario traces Enrique's life from the age of 16, when he leaves Tegucigalpa, becoming one of an estimated 48,000 children who illegally enter the U.S. from Central America and Mexico without parents each year. Penniless, he makes this journey clinging to freight trains—a mode of transportation known as El Tren de la Muerte (the Train of Death) because so many migrants die, lose limbs or are brutalized by gangsters. Beaten and robbed of everything but his underwear, Enrique wonders if his mother will ever know he died trying to reach her. Though he does eventually find Lourdes, their reunion is not the happily-ever-after many readers will want. Nazario herself is a fearless reporter who traveled hundreds of miles atop freight trains in order to palpably re-create the danger that faces young migrants as they flee north. Her searing report from the immigration frontlines, initially published in 2002, won two Pulitzer Prizes. Expanded and updated, this book-length account of the risks teens are taking to escape poverty and find their mothers is as harrowing as it is heartbreaking.
MY BODY POLITIC by Simi Linton Paralyzed in a car crash in 1971, the disability-rights activist leads an illuminating tour of the country of the disabled.
FIRED! Written and edited by Annabelle Gurwitch Celebs including Tim Allen offer true tales of being axed. (Woody Allen canning actress Gurwitch: "You look retarded.")
TIMOTHY by Verlyn Klinkenborg Inspired by a real Mediterranean tortoise brought to 18th-century England, this is a wry, flight-of-fancy narrative in the reptile's own "voice."
FRAGILE INNOCENCE by James Reston Jr. A moving memoir in which Reston and his wife struggle to raise and heal a daughter struck by a mysterious childhood illness.
WITHOUT YOU by Anthony Rapp A star in Broadway's Rent, Rapp was losing his mother to cancer as he found fame. Here, a two-hanky chronicle.
>SOME LIKE IT HAUTE by Julie K.L. Dam PEOPLE senior editor Dam's spoof of the fashion world follows the adventures of style writer Alexandra Simons as she becomes intrigued by a mysterious new designer—and a seemingly fab guy—and grabs a seat next to industry elite during Paris fashion week.
>Brooke Lea Foster For every study that shows children of divorce do fine, another finds they bear emotional scars. So what if couples stay together for the kids—only to separate once they're grown? Journalist Foster, 30 (who has contributed to PEOPLE), offers some insight.
HOW DID THE BOOK COME ABOUT? Nothing tested me in my adult life more than my parents' split when I was 26. I felt as if the world had collapsed, but my age made everyone assume I'd be fine. When I tried to find a book about adults experiencing parental divorce I found just one, which was out of print. So I interviewed 75 other adults to see what they were feeling and how they coped.
HOW DO GROWN KIDS FARE? Being an adult doesn't lessen the pain of parents divorcing. It can be harder.
HOW IS IT HARDER? Knowing your parents stayed together for you can spoil memories—make them feel stale or phony. Parents burden adult children with their problems. And our grief isn't taken as seriously as a young child's. Therapists say parents are shocked when grown children show distress.
WHAT CAN HELP? Set boundaries; tell your parents you don't want to be in the middle, that you're still their child and they need to respect that. Talk about your own feelings.
SHOULD PARENTS STAY MARRIED FOR THE KIDS? I feel they should be together only if the marriage works. Because the divorce will hurt the kids no matter when it happens.
March 28, 2015
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