Book review: Just who do you think you are?

51ctthh6v4l-_sy346_The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion

Fannie Flagg

I’ve been a Flagg fan for years and have always enjoyed the Southern charm, heart, and humor with which she writes. This book is no exception.

Sookie Simmons Poole is approaching sixty and has just married off her third daughter. She’s looking forward to a little time to herself—to tend her beloved birds and maybe read a book or take a trip with her darling husband. Lenore, her “delightfully eccentric” and domineering mother lives two doors down in the tiny Gulf town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Sookie worries that she carries the gene that has made many of her ancenstors “as batty as hell.” When Sookie receives a phone call followed by a registered letter it shakes her to the core. “Identity crisis” hardly covers the impact of the news she receives.

“Growing up with Lenore, she had always felt like a little brown wren, hopping along behind a huge colorful peacock.”

Meanwhile, readers are also getting acquainted with the Jurdabralinski family who ran the Phillips 66 station in Pulaski, Wisconsin in the years between two World Wars.  Their oldest girl, a free spirit named Fritzi, falls in love with flying. She learns to wing walk and fly as she barnstorms in shows around the Midwest in the early 1940s. When World War II arrives and all the men join the fight, Fritzi and her three sisters successfully run the filling station. Fritzi learns that the Airforce is looking for experienced women fliers to ferry airplanes around the country in order to free up male pilots for combat. Fritzi is one of the first to sign up to be a WASP (Women Air Force Service Pilots) and becomes one of the more that 1000 female pilots to complete seven months of training. These brave women flew sixty million miles of operation flights including ferrying aircraft from factories to bases, flight instruction (both basic and instrument), towing targets for antiaircraft and aerial gunnery, among other duties. You can find out more here: http://wingsacrossamerica.us/wasp/

“It makes me so mad when all the newspaper reporters that come here only want to show the gals putting on lipstick or posing like models…all this phony baloney stuff.  If anybody thinks this is a glamorous job and that we are just in it for the fun, they haven’t watched them pull a friend out of a burning plane and die right in front of them.”

Sookie and Fritzi’s stories are woven together and resolve in a warm and surprising way. I  recommend not only this book, but also learning more about the WASPs, a forgotten chapter of women’s history that is only now being discovered.

Love remembers us

The Day We Met: A Novel

by Rowan Coleman

day we met coverThis book moved me in a way that is hard to explain. Three—soon to be four—generations of women cope with the role reversals and the inherent tensions involved when Claire, a forty-something wife and mother is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Her world and her connection to it are rapidly disappearing into a fog. She tries to anchor herself to stay present in each moment.

While riding on a train, Claire explains to the reader, “And yet, looking at my reflection, in the window opposite, hollow and translucent, I see a woman disappearing. It would help if I looked like that in real life—if the more the disease advanced, the more ‘see-through’ I became until, eventually, I would be just a wisp of a ghost. How much more convenient it would be, how much easier for everyone, including me, if my body just melted away along with my mind… Then we’d all know where we were, literally and metaphysically. I have no idea if that makes sense, but I like that I remember the word metaphysical.”
Claire can no longer drive, teach, read to her three-year-old child, or be trusted outside alone. And while she remembers loving her husband, she no longer feels love for him. She worries that if emotions are so easily altered, if they are real at all. Her mother tries to reassure her.
“I think they are real,” Mum says. “I love you more that I have ever loved anyone—even your father, and I loved him very much. And Greg loves you, and that is real, much more real than I thought, I’ll admit. Esther and Caitlin love you. A lot of people love you. And all of the feelings they have for you are real. I think it’s love that lasts. It’s love that remembers us. It’s love that is left when we are gone. I think those feelings are more real than our bodies and all the things that can go wrong with them. This”—she pinches her forearm—“is just the packaging.”

The power and endurance of love and the ways in which we show it are reinforced through what could have been a very depressing tale, but instead is hopeful, uplifting, surprising and–at times–even funny.

“What will be left of us all, is the love we have given and received.”

A road trip with Tina Fey…

bossypantsBossypants is the perfect audio book for your summer road trip, especially if you’re traveling with your daughters, sisters, or girlfriends. I mean, Tina reads it herself so it’s like she’s there in the car with you. But seriously, if you are (or know) a male who just doesn’t get why we’re still talking about feminism, it could work too. It’s that good.

Tina is funny and smart and full of self-doubt. She offers her life story as an instruction manual for parents on how to raise drug-free, adult virgins.  

She also credits much of her success to the lessons she learned in improv. Whatever the situation, respond with “Yes, and…” rather than arguing. She explains it better, of course. Tina is also a fan of surrounding yourself with smart people. Good advice whatever you do for a living.  

One tough mother

“You’ll know who you are when you start losing things.”marycoin

“It took a bit of ill-humor to make yourself up out of nothing.”

Wow. Just finished this book this morning. Mary Coin is one tough mother. She did what she had to do to feed and care for six children as a migrant farm worker during the Great Depression. What happens to her, the photographer who took her picture and the present-day historian who is inexplicably drawn to their stories is told in alternating points of view. Silver weaves a story of loss, survival, sacrifice, strength and determination.  Highly recommend.

Mary Coin at amazon

What I’m reading this week

migrant mother“They had never had anything but now they had nothing. Mary realized how different those two conditions were.”

In Mary Coin, author Marisa Silver imagines the life of the woman depicted in Dorothea Lange’s iconic photo of a migrant mother. Beautifully written, so far. We learn the back stories of the young, widowed mother of six (now seven!) children during the depression and the photographer. This is fiction, but the characters feel painfully, poignantly real.

What are you reading this week?