This story takes place during the late 1960’s and is about three doctors. Although it’s part of a series, it can stand alone. In the Irish community of Ballybucklebo, Dr. O’Riley organizes a relief effort to help a family who lost everything in a fire. Dr. Laverty and his wife are trying to conceive a child, and Dr. McCarthy, a trainee, suffers from a lack of self-confidence. The Protestant-Catholic conflict provides an ominous backdrop to this portrayal of idyllic small-town life.
This book reminds me, in a way, of the James Harriott stories except that the patients are people, not animals. Funny things happen that will make you laugh, and there are serious moments that may move you to tears. I like the way the author interjects Irish culture into this story. He tells us that in Ballybucklebo, everyone gets along, whereas in the rest of Ireland, people are duking it out over religion and politics.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of issues that aren’t resolved in the end. Not wanting to give you any spoilers, I won’t tell you what they are, but I’m sure you’ll find them when you get to the end of the book. I hope a sequel is forthcoming. Meanwhile, I suggest you let this book take you back to the good old days when doctors made house calls. Don’t you wish those days still exist?
This is a biographical novel about a girl, Francie Nolan, growing up in Brooklyn during the earlier part of the 20th century. She and her younger brother live in a shabby apartment with their alcoholic father and their mother, who supplies most of the family’s income by cleaning houses and doing other odd jobs. When the children are older, they take on paper routes and other work. Her mother’s family is supportive, but their resources are also limited.
When Francie is fourteen, her father dies, and her mother gives birth to a third child. With the added financial burden of an extra mouth to feed, Francie is forced to put her dreams of higher education on hold. The ending is satisfactory, yet unrealistic.
This book is hard to put down. There’s a lot of narrative, but it’s necessary in order to move the story along, since it spans over a decade. Everyone should read it to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to be poor and thus be thankful for what they have and compassionate towards those less fortunate.
Four English ladies retreat from their miserable lives in London to a medieval castle in Italy that they have rented for the month of April. Lottie and Rose are escaping their husbands. Lady Caroline is trying to get away from men in general, and Mrs. Fisher, a grieving widow, wants only to rest and think and not be disturbed. As the weeks progress, attitudes change, and things get interesting when the husbands and landlord show up.
This is a good story, but Elizabeth Von Arnim, like many authors of the time, includes way too much narrative, which slows it down. Because I was curious after seeing a theatrical production of this book, and my regional talking book library’s group decided to discuss it, I slogged through and found the ending, like that of the play, satisfactory. This might be a good book to read during the month of April in a sunny garden, perhaps in Italy. The excessive narrative plus the sun’s warmth may cause you to slip into a peaceful afternoon slumber.
Christmas 2018 is looking bleak for ten-year-old Miller and his family in rural South Carolina. Miller’s father, a shrimp boat captain, has been forced to dock his boat by rising fuel prices and limited income while his mother works two jobs in an attempt to make ends meet. As a result, his parents have no choice but to tell him they can’t afford to buy him the dog he wants for Christmas. To make matters worse, Miller’s brother Taylor, a veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, receives a service dog, but a miraculous surprise is in store. Each chapter alternates the storytelling from the first person point of view of Miller, Taylor, and their mother Jenny and is preceded by a quotation from Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. Recipes are found at the end of the book.
I would like to have known more about what happened to these characters after that miraculous Christmas in 2010. The prologue and epilogue take place in 2015, and we learn that Taylor still has the service dog and is married with a baby, but how did he get to that point? We also realize that Taylor did not reconcile with his high school sweetheart, with whom he broke up after returning from Afghanistan, but how and where did he meet his current wife, and what sort of work did he find once he’d overcome, to a certain extent, his post traumatic stress disorder?
What about Miller’s family’s financial situation? In 2010, after docking the shrimp boat, his father was working whatever construction jobs he could find, but did he end up with more stable work after that? Did his mother continue to substitute teach and clean houses? The prologue would have worked better as part of the epilogue.
I liked the many references to A Christmas Carol. I was moved to tears when Taylor was first presented with his service dog and fascinated by the training process, not unlike that of preparing a guide dog for someone with blindness or low vision. This is a great holiday read. I know it’s a little late now, but maybe you can put it on your reading list for next year.
The following short story was published in the fall/ winter 2018-19 issue of Magnets and Ladders. I can think of no better way to commemorate Christmas Day and the 200th anniversary of the creation of “Silent Night” than to include this story along with a recording of me playing and singing the song. Merry Christmas, everyone.
The day before Christmas, my seven-year-old daughter Hannah was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. I opted to spend CHRISTMAS Day with her. My parents, as they’d done every year since the divorce, had invited Hannah and me to their house for Christmas dinner, but I couldn’t leave my little girl alone in the hospital.
Hannah wasn’t on solid food yet, but a nurse offered to bring me a tray, perhaps realizing it would be difficult for me to navigate to the cafeteria with my limited vision. While Hannah slept, I sat by her bed and enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner complete with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pumpkin pie. The food was surprisingly good for a hospital.
I said as much to the nurse when she came to collect my tray. “We have a chef now,” she said. “Of course many of our patients are too sick to appreciate it, but it’s certainly better than the fare we used to serve.”
The little girl in the other bed moaned and then started crying in earnest. I looked over and couldn’t see anyone sitting with her. “Oh, that’s Jessica,” said the nurse in a conspiratorial tone. “Poor kid, she fell out of her neighbor’s treehouse yesterday and broke her leg in three places. She’s in a body cast from her chest to her right foot.”
Hannah must have awakened for she said, “Ou, I guess I won’t complain about my tummy anymore. I’m glad I don’t have a treehouse, and I hope Santa didn’t leave me one.”
I marveled at how sensitive my daughter was. As the nurse went to Jessica and tried to comfort her, I said, “How are you feeling, sweetie?”
“I’m okay, but my tummy still hurts.”
“I thought you weren’t gonna complain about your tummy anymore,” I said, as I ruffled her hair.
Hannah giggled, then winced. “Out, Mommy, it hurts more when I laugh.”
“It sounds like you could use some pain medication too,” said the nurse, as she started to leave the room.
“No, it only really hurts when I laugh,” said Hannah.
“Well, in that case, laughter’s the best medicine,” said the nurse. “I’ll be back soon.”
“How old is Jessica?” asked Hannah.
“Oh, I think she’s about your age,” answered the nurse. “I’ll be back in a bit with some medicine for her, and that’ll make her feel better.” With that, she was gone.
Jessica was still sniffling, but it wasn’t as loud as before. “Mommy, you should go sing her a song,” said Hannah. “like you did for me last night when I was really hurting. I’m not hurting as much now, and I think she’s hurting more.”
Years earlier, I’d worked as a registered music therapist. That was before Hannah was born, before I’d started losing my vision, before my world changed. My husband hadn’t wanted a child but was resigned to the idea once he learned I was pregnant. The vision loss after Hannah’s birth was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Fortunately, he paid plenty of child support. That, along with my disability payments, allowed me to be a stay-at-home mom, and once I learned to use a computer with screen reading and magnification software, I brought in a little income from freelance writing.
Now, I looked over at the little girl in the other bed. My specialty as a music therapist had been with elderly nursing home residents, not hospitalized children. I hadn’t even done a clinical practicum with that population. I remembered bed-ridden residents who smiled and relaxed when I sat by their beds, held their hands, and sang. I even performed at some of their funerals. The fact that my singing in the emergency room the night before had calmed Hannah made me think that perhaps I hadn’t lost my touch. I rose and pulled my chair next to the other bed, where I sat and took the child’s hand that lay on top of the white sheet covering her.
“Hi Jessica,” I said. “I’m Joan. My little girl Hannah is in the other bed. What’s wrong?”
“My leg really hurts,” she answered. “I’ll never play in that stupid treehouse again.”
“That’s too bad,” I said, stroking her hair. “Would you like to sing a song with me?”
“Will that make the pain go away?” she asked.
“It’ll take your mind off of it. What’s your favorite Christmas song?”
She was quiet for a minute, then said, “I like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.”
“All right, let’s sing it together, shall we?”
I started, and soon, she joined in, followed by Hannah. When we finished that song, Jessica suggested “Jingle Bells,” then “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” The nurse appeared and said, “What lovely singing. Jessica, I have some medicine that will make you feel better. I’m going to put it in your IV now.”
As she started to do this, I said, “Why don’t we sing one more song?”
“I want to hear you sing something by yourself,” said Jessica. “You have a pretty voice, and so did my mommy. She used to sing to me at night before I went to sleep.” A wistful look crossed her face.
“Why doesn’t she sing to you anymore?” I asked.
“She was killed in a car accident a few months ago,” she answered. A tear rolled down her cheek.
“Oh honey, I’m sorry,” I said, as I stroked her hair. Tears welled in my own eyes.
Holding them back, I said, “What song did your mom like to sing to you this time of year?”
“‘Silent Night,'” she answered.
“Yeah, sing that one, Mom,” said Hannah.
I took a deep breath and began. To my surprise, the nurse joined in, singing alto. Our two voices blending together in harmony was almost too much, but I managed to continue.
As we started the second verse, I sensed a presence at my side and turned to see a man standing there. “Daddy!” Jessica said, her eyes wide with delight.
“Hey princess,” he said, reaching over me and ruffling her hair. Then he said, “oh, don’t stop singing on my account. It’s beautiful.”
His voice broke, and it was all I could do to keep from losing it. We started the song where we’d left off and finished the second verse. To break the spell, I turned to the nurse and said, “You and I need to talk. I sing in a women’s group that could use an extra voice.”
“Wow, that sounds interesting,” she said. “You also have a nice voice. I need to see to other patients, but I’ll come back later after my shift, and you can tell me more about it.” She turned and started to leave the room.
Jessica’s father put a hand on my shoulder and said, “You and I also need to talk. It’s only been two months since I lost my wife, and I never dreamed I’d say this to another woman, but could I buy you a cup of coffee, maybe in the cafeteria?”
From the doorway, the nurse said, “Our coffee here isn’t as good as the food. Why don’t you two go across the street to Starbuck’s?”
We hesitated. “Your kids will be fine,” she said. “They’re both out of the woods. I have your cell numbers in their charts. If anything drastic happens, I’ll call you. Joan, you’ve been here all day. You need a break. Go!” With that, she was gone.
I looked at this stranger, not knowing what to think. Finally, I said, “I’ve been divorced for about six years. I’m losing my vision, and I never imagined another man would ask me out for coffee.”
I expected him to back away, but instead, he said, “Any man not interested in you is a fool. You’re a beautiful woman. You’re good with kids, and you have a lovely voice.”
Flabbergasted, I said, “You just got here. Don’t you want to spend some time with Jessica?”
Jessica said, “I’m okay. My leg doesn’t hurt so much now that the nurse gave me some medicine in my IV. Daddy, Joan could make you happy like Mommy did.”
“Yeah,” said Hannah. “Mom, I think this guy could make you happy like Daddy did.”
Jessica’s father laughed and said, “I think these two, along with that nurse, are trying to play matchmaker.” He extended his hand. “By the way, I’m Don Gray.”
“Joan Clark,” I said, taking his hand and shaking it.
Still uncertain, I turned to Hannah and said, “Honey, don’t you remember what I’ve told you about not going off with a stranger?”
“Yeah, but he’s not a stranger. He’s Jessica’s dad.”
“She’s got a point,” said Don.
“My dad told me not to go off with a stranger too,” said Jessica. “but he’s okay. He’s been really sad since Mom died.”
I could feel my heart melting as more tears threatened. “Jessica and I could sing another song,” said Hannah. “How about 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall?”
“Yeah,” said Jessica. She started the song, and Hannah joined in. Laughing, we both made our way out the door.
“Do you need to take my arm?” Don asked.
“Yes, please,” I answered, realizing I’d left my cane in the room. As I grasped his muscular arm and walked with him down the hall, I had a good feeling about this.
In 1998, the Richardson family is happily living in Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. Then Miah, a nomadic artist, and her teen-aged daughter rent a house from Mrs. Richardson. When one of Miah’s co-workers sues the state for custody of a baby she abandoned a little over a year ago, Miah and Mrs. Richardson are on opposite sides of the debate. Then Mrs. Richardson discovers a secret Miah has been harboring for years.
When the book opens, the Richardson home has just been destroyed by a fire, and the family is left homeless. Then it shifts to the previous year, detailing events leading to the fire. I found this disappointing because I then had an idea of how the book would end. I considered not finishing it, but curiosity drove me onward. Although I like the author’s depiction of Shaker Heights as a perfect little town, I don’t appreciate the way she inserts narrative during crucial dialog. In most cases, this narrative explains how characters feel, which, from what is being said, should already be obvious to the reader. The ending is unsatisfactory.
On the other hand, I liked the way Ng tells the story from the point of view of each character. She gives the reader a glimpse into each of their minds, even that of the Richardson’s youngest daughter who is often misunderstood. She also tries to help us understand why Miah feels the woman who abandoned her baby should have the right to take the child away from loving parents, unable to have children of their own, who want to adopt her. Despite its drawbacks, this book is a compelling, thought-provoking read.
Thanks to the Magic of Stories for inspiring this post. Karen J. Mossman talks, in a way, about creating a balance between being realistic and providing an escape for our readers.
Can you think of any scenes where people go to the bathroom? I’m going to be vain and tell you that in my memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds, I talk about going to the bathroom a lot. In one scene, I’m making oatmeal, and my husband Bill, totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes, is sitting at the kitchen table in his wheelchair. Suddenly, he says, “Oooh, I gotta pee. Oh, it’s too late. I wet my pants.” This gives my readers an idea of what I went through as a caregiver.
What about farting? In Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, there’s a scene in which a high school football coach flatulates while lying in bed, reading the newspaper, much to his wife’s annoyance. This gives you some idea of what kind of guy the coach is. Bill also liked to expel wind through his posterior, but I couldn’t find a way to bring that into my story, since it wasn’t related.
How about belching? I’m going to be vain one more time and give you an example from a short story I wrote several years ago that hasn’t yet been published. It’s called “Living Vicariously,” and it’s about a Catholic family dealing with issues related to religion. In one scene, a teen-aged girl who has lied about attending confirmation classes, is eating dinner with her father in a pizza joint. She’s drinking Dr. Pepper, and she says she doesn’t want to be a nun because she doesn’t want to give up the beverage. Then, she birps for emphasis. Here, I’m showing you her character.
Eating is another bodily function often portrayed. One great example of this is in the book Prizzie’s Honor. Charlie, a mafia crook, is eating lunch with his boss. It’s an Italian ten-course meal. This emphasizes the irony that evil people enjoy the good things in life.
I suppose we ought to talk about sex, but I’d rather not. None of my work has vivid descriptions, and frankly, such scenes bog a story down. Hand holding, kissing, and embracing are enough to show the reader two people are in love.
What do you think? Do bodily functions, including sex, enhance a story or slow it down too much?