Sunday, May 30, 2010

Review - The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier

The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier
published 4/10
285 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Coming-of-age can happen at any age. Joy Harkness had built a university career and a safe life in New York, protected and insulated from the intrusions and involvements of other people. When offered a position at Amherst College, she impulsively leaves the city, and along with generations of material belongings, she packs her equally heavy emotional baggage. A tumbledown Victorian house proves an unlikely choice for a woman whose family heirlooms have been boxed away for years. Nevertheless, this white elephant becomes the home that changes Joy forever. As the restoration begins to take shape, so does her outlook on life, and the choices she makes over paint chips, wallpaper samples, and floorboards are reflected in her connection to the co-workers who become friends and friendships that deepen. A brilliant, quirky, town fixture of a handyman guides the renovation of the house and sparks Joy's interest to encourage his personal and professional growth. Amid the half-wanted attention of the campus's single, middle-aged men, known as the Coyotes,and the legitimate dramas of her close-knit community, Joy learns that the key to the affection of family and friends is being worthy of it, and most important, that second chances are waiting to be discovered within us all.

My thoughts:

I'd read a few reviews of this novel before I started reading it, and so was expecting to enjoy it. What I didn't expect was to enjoy it for many of the OPPOSITE reasons as the other reviews I'd read.

Almost universally, I saw readers enjoy the prose - I couldn't agree more. The writing is smart and funny, and Meier's descriptions of Joy's house as she begins to transform it are so vivid I could literally see the wallpaper and paint. I was transfixed as Meier described the revolutionary curriculum Joy contributed to at Amherst, and wished I could have been a part of something like that when I was in college.

While almost everyone enjoyed the writing, several reviewers didn't especially like Joy herself - they found her abrasive, or snotty, or distant. I really liked her - I found her intellect and sense of humor refreshing, and could relate to many of her personality quirks. (I'm not sure what that says about me!) I also noticed a LOT of love for Teddy the handyman - and in many ways, he was my least favorite character. I found his unreasoning attachment to his mother irritating, and many of the "childlike" traits that were supposed to be endearing seemed to me juvenile and ridiculous. Perhaps what this book taught me is that I'm really just a big snob. *grin*

I was particularly interested in Meier's opinions on feminism, particularly modern feminism, and the way it seems to mean such different things to different people. I appreciated her strong, rich, interesting female characters, and could imagine myself being drawn to them for many of the same reasons Joy was.

I found this to be an excellent debut novel, funny and intelligent, thoughtful and full of heart. This is an example of women's fiction at its best.

Finished: 5/25/10
Source: review copy from publicist
MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual situations, some drug and alcohol use, and some violence
My rating: 8/10

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Yesterday, shortly after 2:00 pm, my mother-in-law left this world surrounded by family and friends.

Just about 10 weeks ago, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She battled with everything she had, but sometimes having the will just isn't enough.

She was one week away from the ultrasound which would tell us the sex of her first grandbaby.

She leaves behind a husband and son, who loved her more that words can express, and devoted family and friends who can't imagine life without her.

Upon first meeting Pat, many people were initially intimidated. She had strong opinions, and wasn't afraid to share them. She had struggled through much in her life - more than most people would even have to dream about - and didn't have time for dancing around the truth. You always knew exactly where you stood with her, even if that knowledge wasn't always pleasant.

She had the wisdom and strength of a life lived fully and without reservation, and the people she loved were some of the luckiest in the world.

She always made me feel like there was no other woman anywhere she would have rather chosen for her son. Not many women are given that gift, and I will always be grateful. I hope I can raise my child as well as she raised her son.

My mom sent me these last night, and I can't think of a better tribute:

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning breeze and starts
for the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come
to mingle with each other.

Then, someone at my side says;
"There, she is gone!"

"Gone where?"
Gone from my sight. That is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull
and spar as she was when she left my side
and she is just as able to bear her
load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.

And just at the moment when someone
at my side says, "There, she is gone!"
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout;
"Here she comes!"

And that is dying.

Henry Van Dyke

Pat, we rejoice with you as you reunite with those other voices, who you have been longing to see for all these years. We promise to keep your love and spirit alive in our hearts until it is our turn to be greeted by you. Thanks for everything you've taught us, and the love you gave us so freely.

I can never lose the one whom I have loved unto the end. My beloved, the one to whom my soul cleaves so firmly that it can never be separated, does not go away but only goes before. Be mindful of me when you get to heaven, my friend, for I shall soon follow you. ~ Saint Bernard of Clairvaux