A Poem and an Interview

Last week, I posted poems written for my nieces Isabella, ten, and Anna, thirteen. Anna will actually be my step-niece in July when her mother marries my brother. Now, here’s a poem I wrote for Isabella several years ago after observing her in a dance recital. It appears in this year’s issue of Serendipity Poets Journal.

To Isabella at Five

With Hannah Montana, Dora the Explorer,

dance through your life,

whirl, twirl, spin around the room,

little Miss Muffet on your tuffet.

When the spider comes, dance away,

up mountains, across streams.

Follow the rainbow on ballet slippers

till it leads to your dream.

Do you remember when you took dance lessons or when your daughter or granddaughter took dance lessons?

I was recently interviewed, along with other authors, on a radio program called The Writing Mama Show. It lasts about an hour, and you can listen here. When you get to the page, you may hear a brief commercial. Just ignore it, and keep listening.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

 

 

A Cat Saves the Day

Three years ago, I reviewed Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper, the true story of how the author adopted and cared for a blind cat. I just finished reading her latest book, Love Saves the Day. This novel’s story is told, in part, by a cat.

Prudence has brown tiger stripes and white feet. She thinks she knows everything, and after living with Sarah, her “roommate,” she has developed ideas of how humans should interact with cats, and when others besides Sarah don’t act the way she thinks they should, she says they don’t have good manners. Sarah, a former DJ and recording artist who once owned a record store and now works as a typist in various offices, found Prudence at a construction site when she was a kitten, and as she says later in the book, they were meant to find each other.

Prudence is contentedly living with Sarah in her apartment in New York City’s lower east side until one day when Sarah has a heart attack at work and never returns home, leaving Prudence to wonder where she is and go hungry once she runs out of food. A neighbor finally feeds her, and Sarah’s daughter Laura and her husband Josh arrive. Much to Prudence’s horror, they box all Sarah’s possessions and take them and her to their apartment on the upper east side.

This story isn’t just about Prudence. Most of the chapters are in the cat’s point of view, but others tell Laura’s side of the story. Sarah tells her own story in two of the chapters. We get an idea of Sarah’s life as a teen-ager after moving to the city from White Plains and Laura’s life growing up there.

At first, Josh and Laura are distant with the cat. Josh isn’t sure how to treat Prudence, and Laura, still resentful of her mother for the way she grew up, views the cat as another painful reminder of her past. The only reason she agrees to take Prudence is because it is stipulated in her mother’s will. When Josh loses his job with a marketing company due to downsizing, Laura, a lawyer working in a prestigious firm, feels the pressure of being the only breadwinner and worries about money. After looking through Sarah’s old discs and other memorabilia, Josh becomes active in a movement to save the studio where Sarah made her records. Since Laura thinks he should be looking for another job, this causes tension between them, and they each bond with Prudence.

After Sarah relates a shocking incident from the past, we understand why Laura resents her mother and worries about money. Then, Josh and Laura have a huge argument on the day of their wedding anniversary, and Prudence becomes violently ill after eating lilies that were delivered for the occasion. This brings Josh and Laura closer to each other and to Prudence as the book ends.

I downloaded Love Saves the Day from Audible and found the narration excellent. This book isn’t all serious. I had to laugh at the way Prudence perceives things, although she probably wouldn’t have found it funny. She thinks Josh’s computer keyboard is a cat bed and sleeps on it during the day when he’s not home. When Josh vacuums the spare bedroom where the boxes of Sarah’s things are stored, she thinks the vacuum cleaner is a monster about to attack her and the boxes. When Josh tosses a newspaper on the floor in the kitchen after reading it, she attacks it, looking for mice and other rodents, much to Josh and Laura’s amusement. The ruckus Prudence creates when she finds a toy rat in the closet among Sarah’s things is almost too funny. All this, along with the serious stuff, makes this book a worthwhile read.

Besides Love Saves the Day and Homer’s Odyssey, Gwen Cooper is the author of Diary of a South Beach Party Girl. Her books received positive reviews on NPR and in such publications as USSA Today, People, and Entertainment Weekly. A native of Miami, Florida, she worked for five years in non-profit administration, marketing, and fundraising. She led direct-service volunteer activities on behalf of such organizations as Pet Rescue, The Miami Lighthouse for the Blind, and the Miami Rescue Mission. She also initiated Reading Pen Pals, an elementary school-based literacy program in Miami’s Little Haiti. She was selected for membership in the chamber of commerce’s Leadership Miami Program and nominated for the organization’s Carlos Arboleya Award. She also joined the Hannah Kawn Poetry Foundation and eventually switched from non-profit administration to marketing communications.

She moved to Manhattan, New York, in 2001 where she was the creative services director for AOL Time Warner’s online marketing group. In 2003, she became the special projects manager at Wenner Media, the publisher of Rolling Stone and Us Weekly where she worked until the sale of her first book. She lives in Manhattan with her husband Laurence and their three cats: Homer, Clayton, and Fanny.

Love Saves the Day is available from Amazon and other online retailers. It can also be purchased and downloaded in a recorded format from Audible. I suggest you curl up in your favorite armchair with your cat and read this book.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

A Tangled Web

In 1967, Rose, pregnant and alone, drives from her home in California all the way to Kentucky to stay in a home for unwed mothers. Thus begins Ann Patchett’s novel, Patron Saint of Liars. Actually, the story starts years earlier in Kentucky when a farmer discovers a bubbling spring on his land. To his astonishment, his sick or wounded livestock are healed after drinking from the pool. Then his daughter falls gravely ill, and after being given water from the spring, she is healed. 

The news travels far and wide, and a wealthy landowner buys the portion of the farmer’s property containing the spring and builds a hotel. Later, the spring dries up, and the hotel is sold to the Catholic Church and eventually becomes St. Elizabeth’s Home for Unwed Mothers, managed by an order of nuns.

Rose isn’t your typical unwed mother. In fact, she’s married, but for reasons unclear even to her, she’s not happy. When she discovers she’s pregnant, she consults her local priest who refers her to St. Elizabeth’s, far away from California where no one will find her. After leaving a note that doesn’t say much, she hits the road.

You’d think that after being around unwed mothers with no husbands who are forced to give up their babies, Rose would realize her mistake and return home, but that’s not what happens. When she arrives at St. Elizabeth’s, she tells everyone her baby’s father is dead, a common lie. She soon starts working in the kitchen and develops a friendship with an old nun who is quick to provide information about a saint for each day of the year, but there doesn’t seem to be a saint of liars.

Right before Rose is scheduled to give birth, she decides to keep the baby but not to go back to her husband. She marries Wilson, the facility’s maintenance worker who has fallen in love with her and doesn’t know her past. She never tells him, and he never shares his painful past with her. Her daughter Cecelia is born and grows up at St. Elizabeth’s, surrounded by unwed mothers who dote on her as if she were their own. As a teen-ager, she develops a friendship with one of the girls who is close to her age. Will she learn the truth about her mother’s past and who her father really is? The ending might surprise you.

 

Ann Patchett was born on December 2nd, 1963 in Los Angeles. Her mother, Jeanne Ray, is a novelist. Ann moved to Nashville when she was six, and that’s where she lives with her husband and dog. She went to high school at St. Bernard Academy, a Catholic school for girls run by the Sisters of Mercy. After graduation, she attended Sarah Lawrence College where she took fiction writing classes with Allan Gurganus, Russell Banks, and Grace Paley. She later attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Fine arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts where she met Elizabeth McCracken, a longtime friend. While in Massachusetts, she wrote Patron Saint of Liars. In 2010, she co-founded Parnassus Books in Nashville after discovering that her hometown didn’t have a good bookstore. In 2012, she was on Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people. I’m looking forward to reading her memoir, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, in which she talks about her life with her husband and dog and her experiences running a bookstore, among other things. 

After the prolog, Patron Saint of Liars is divided into three sections in which the story is told from the first person point of view of each of the three main characters: Rose, Wilson, and Cecelia. I found Rose frustrating, a complex character I couldn’t understand. I wanted to shake her by the shoulders for her lack of consideration for her family; yet I was amazed by her care of the elderly nun and the other girls. In any case, I was relieved to find Wilson and Cecelia more down to earth, more practical. I like the way the characters relate their experiences as if they were talking to me face to face.

Patron Saint of Liars can be purchased from the author’s Website in a variety of print and recorded formats. It’s also available from Bookshare. I found this book hard to put down, and I hope you will, too.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

In Praise of Cats

The first poem I ever read by Marge Piercy is “In Praise of Joe” which can be read here. This poem, about her addiction to coffee, inspired me to write “Ode to Dr. Pepper” which I posted on my blog here. In case you’re wondering what Dr. Pepper and coffee have to do with cats, I just finished reading Marge Piercy’s 2002 memoir, Sleeping with Cats. You can read my review of this book here.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver