Triscuit Moment 2.0

20141209_112425This month marks the first anniversary of currentlyblog.net!  Some of you may remember that it all started when I had that Triscuit Moment in the snack aisle of the grocery store last year.  Inspiration tends to strike in the unlikeliest places, doesn’t it?  Long story short, I went to the store during the 2013 holiday season looking for a box of Original Triscuits and instead encountered a Great Wall of Triscuits of every flavor imaginable.  Except, sadly, Original.  The experience made me realize that, like the Triscuit brand, I was perhaps stretched a little too thin and had lost touch with my “Original” self.  I vowed that day to get back to one of my core interests – writing – by starting this blog.

So, twelve months later, the good people at WordPress very kindly crunched the numbers for my 2014 Year in Blogging report, which contained some interesting information…

  • I got off to a slow but steady start: I managed to complete 24 posts – about half the number I had hoped for – but I was really happy with the way each one turned out.
  • I got some surprises: My book reviews were my most popular posts.  I didn’t expect that, because there are already so many literary blogs and websites out there.
  • I got great support: My top commenters were members of my immediate and extended family, and I’m so grateful for all their encouragement along the way.

What the numbers didn’t capture is how much I’m enjoying this whole adventure.  It’s a tremendous thrill every time the words come together in just the right way or a story makes someone laugh or a review connects a reader to a great book.  I’m really looking forward to the year ahead in blogging, and I hope you are too.  I’m already working on a review of my favorite book of 2014, and there are always more tales of parenting, people, events and life in general waiting to be told.

I’m going to have to really focus in order to meet my goal of one post per week, though.  While grocery shopping last month, I nearly ran head-on into a special holiday display of – are you ready for this? – Cranberry & Sage Triscuits.  Cranberry & Sage Triscuits!!  Call it what you will – Triscuit Moment 2.0 has a nice ring to it – but as I steered my cart out of danger, I realized that, much like the Nabisco product development juggernaut, the distractions of modern life will not stop and will only become more unusual.  That means it’s more important than ever to renew those resolutions and stay on the Original course.

Good luck.  And best wishes for an inspired 2015!

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Don’t Judge A Book By Its Genre

yafictionOne of my favorite blogs is The Book Jam.  I always look forward to getting the latest book recommendations from Lisa Christie and Lisa Cadow, friends and avid readers in Norwich, Vermont.  The Book Jam also features author interviews and occasionally a post from a guest blogger.  Recently, Beth Reynolds, a children’s librarian and bookseller, contributed a great piece on why adults should consider reading Young Adult (YA) fiction.

Her main point was, “Labels don’t matter.  Good writing does.”  According to Reynolds, adult readers shouldn’t simply dismiss YA literature as a waste of their time.  (That would be literally judging a book by its cover!)  Once they scratch the surface, they’ll likely find that they have just as much to gain from this genre as their younger counterparts.

As someone who regularly reads YA, despite being…ahem…a little older than the intended audience, this was music to my ears.  But I have to confess that I didn’t always feel this way.  Back when I was in the trenches of new motherhood and deeply afraid that my brain was turning into diaper ointment, I used my limited reading time to challenge myself with dense, weighty material.  In fact – and I swear I’m not making this up – for three years in the early 2000’s, I read nothing but presidential biographies.  From John Adams to Abraham Lincoln to Harry Truman, I resolutely trekked through American history the hard way – 15 minutes at a time.  That was the longest this sleep-deprived mommy could concentrate before face planting in the book.

Meanwhile, friends would tell me they were hooked on Harry Potter or Twilight, and I would nod and smile politely.  Inside, I was thinking, “Sounds fun, but those books are for kids.  I’m a grown-up.  I need to read grown-up books.”  The fate of my gray matter was hanging in the balance, after all.  Then, just when I least expected it, something happened:  my kids got a little older.  As they did, they started reading YA fiction.  And guess who they brought along for the ride?

At first we read aloud together, but before long they took off on their own, reporting back with reviews and recommendations.  At my oldest daughter’s urging, I finally consented to read The Sorcerer’s Stone for myself and discovered how much I had missed being immersed in a richly-imagined, well-told tale.  What’s more, I now had a whole new point of connection with my favorite young adults – yes, the very same little people who sent me running for His Excellency George Washington back in 2004.

My 14-year-old daughter and I have read many of the same YA novels over the past few years, which have sparked some very interesting conversations.  We read Divergent and asked, “Which faction would you choose?” and “What would your fear landscape look like?”  We read The Hunger Games and asked, “Could you survive the games?” and “Peeta or Gale?”  We read The Fault in Our Stars and, amazingly, only one of us cried.  I won’t say which one, but let me assure you that more than enough tears were shed for both of us.  In each case, the observations of a teenager still finding her way compared to those of an adult who has (allegedly) already figured things out were truly fascinating.  (I still insist that all stay-at-home moms are Abnegation by default.)

Last month, my 12-year-old daughter came home from school and told me that her English class had starting reading The Book Thief.  “We finally get to read a good book!” she announced.  I congratulated her, even as I wondered how she got all the way to seventh grade without reading any “good books.”  (Might need to take a peek at that curriculum when I have time.)  “What do you think of the narrator?”  I asked.  “I don’t know,” she replied.  “Is it Satan?  Or the Grim Reaper?”  We were going to have a lot to talk about.

For more notable YA fiction, check out my reviews of Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

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Malala Wins Nobel Prize

malala nobelI couldn’t let another day go by without saying how thrilled I was to hear that Malala Yousefzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  The Nobel Committee’s announcement on Friday was remarkable for many reasons, not the least of which was that 17-year-old Malala became its youngest recipient ever.  Her co-laureate, 60-year-old Kailash Satyarthi, is an Indian activist who has spent a lifetime rescuing children from enforced labor.  Together, they are a powerful force for education, equality and opportunity for children around the world.

As you know, Malala was an outspoken advocate for girls’ education in her native Pakistan when she was shot by the Taliban on her way home from school in 2012.  After an arduous recovery, she continues to work on behalf of girls worldwide through The Malala Fund.  For example, she met with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan earlier this year to personally appeal for the rescue of nearly 300 schoolgirls kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram.  The Malala Fund has also made lasting commitments to worldwide education through its involvement with the Global Partnership for Education and the Clinton Global Initiative.

Malala’s advocacy would never have been possible without her father’s determination to provide her and other girls in their community a quality education.  In her memoir, I Am Malala, co-authored with Christina Lamb, Malala explains her father’s conviction that lack of education was at the root of Pakistan’s many problems.  It was this conviction that led him to establish schools for girls and, along with his daughter, become a proponent of education for all children, regardless of gender or economic status.

Likewise, Kailash Satyarthi realized at a very young age that the caste system in India offered education and opportunities to only certain members of society.  Lower-class children were sent to work instead of school, with the understanding that child labor was the inevitable result of extreme poverty.  Satyarthi challenged this view, believing that lack of education was to blame.  In 1983, he founded Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Children) to get children out of the workplace and into school.

I read Malala’s incredibly moving memoir a few months ago and was both inspired and humbled by her story.  (See my review at https://currentlyblog.net/2014/05/17/i-am-malala/)  Her commitment to education was evident once again Friday morning, when she was pulled out of chemistry class and informed of her Nobel honor.  How did she celebrate?  She went right back to class, and waited until after school to address the media.

In her speech to the United Nations a year ago, Malala said, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”  I sincerely hope that the distinction of the Nobel Peace Prize will help her – and Kailash Satyarthi – continue to spread this important message.

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So Good, It’s Scary

candy cornWhat’s the scariest part of Halloween?  If you’re like me, it’s not the goblins and ghosts.  It’s the candy corn.  Don’t act so surprised!  Those tricolor kernels may be tiny, but they hold enormous power over me.  The moment the first autumn leaf hits the ground, I start craving the taste of corn syrup.  It’s like a primal sense and response reflex, and I am helpless to resist.  Yep, I’ve got it bad – a full-scale candy corn addiction.

According to the National Confectioners’ Association, more than 35 million pounds of candy corn will be produced this year, so I can’t be the only one with this problem.  Each year, I resolve to stay far, far away from candy corn and each year I end up going off the wagon for one reason or another.  For example, in September, I happened to be at the grocery store on my birthday, and I felt like I deserved a little treat.  I decided to buy a bag of candy corn.  As I put it in the cart, I told myself things like, “I’ll share them with the whole family!” and “We’ll put them in a cute bowl on the kitchen counter!” and “This will be a fun way to welcome fall!”  All lies.

The cute bowl never materialized.  Come to think of it, I’m not sure anyone else in my family was even aware that we had candy corn.  The bag stayed hidden in the pantry for two or three days until I single-handedly finished it off.  My teeth hurt just thinking about it!  Each morning, I would say “Enough is enough!” and vow to throw out the rest of the candy corn, but lunchtime would find me nibbling away, with a stomachache soon to follow.  It reminded me of that episode of The Simpsons when Homer can’t stop eating the ten-foot hoagie, even when it goes bad and makes him sick.  “Oh, I can’t stay mad at you,” he says, retrieving the sandwich from the trash can and taking another bite.

The shame of it all.

Last fall, researchers at Connecticut College made headlines when they proclaimed that Oreos are as addictive as cocaine.  They exposed rats to both Oreos and abusive drugs and found that eating the cookies ignited more neurons in the pleasure centers of the rats’ brains than injections of either cocaine or morphine.  Blah, blah, blah.  I think it’s time we directed some research dollars toward candy corn addiction.  Otherwise, people may never realize how serious it is.  Why else would my friends and neighbors become well-intentioned enablers every fall?  When they see anything related to candy corn, they very generously think of me and want to give me treats.  In fact, a dear friend just mailed me a package of homemade Candy Corn Bark, an unimaginably delicious combination of toffee and candy corn that I confess I’m eating even as I write this.  (Reminder:  Shake crumbs out of keyboard when finished.)

Retailers must have some idea how large (and potentially profitable) the problem is, because they begin stocking candy corn earlier and earlier every year.  I stumbled upon a free-standing store display back in August and just barely avoided a willpower breakdown with a swift U-turn and positive self talk.  Likewise, manufacturers are actively seeking to expand candy corn’s insidious reach by making color-coded versions for other holidays – red, white and green Reindeer Corn for Christmas; pink, red and white Cupid Corn for Valentine’s Day; and pastel Bunny Corn for Easter.  Where will it end?

Probably with some kind of twelve-step program, in my case.  I need all the help I can get.

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Everything I Never Told You

everything i never told youEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (2014)

In a world that’s full of talking, the things that go unsaid are often the most significant.  They may be deeply-held feelings that are mutually understood and don’t need to be spoken.  Or they may be raw emotions that are misinterpreted because they are never fully explained.  In her debut novel Everything I Never Told You, author Celeste Ng delivers a devastating portrait of a family trapped in a prison of their own making, where nothing is as it seems and no one is able to break the silence.

The story opens on a spring day in 1977, when 16-year-old Lydia Lee is found dead, drowned in a lake near her home in northwest Ohio.  Smart, pretty and the undisputed favorite of her parents, Lydia seemed to have everything going for her, and her death is as inexplicable as it is tragic.  But as her family searches for answers, long-held secrets bubble up to the surface, bringing disturbing truths into the open.

Lydia’s mother, Marilyn, never realized her dream of becoming a doctor and has instead energetically groomed her daughter to achieve that ambition.  Her father, James, wants his children to be well-liked and fit in the way he never could as the shy son of Chinese immigrants.  When he recognizes himself in Lydia’s studious older brother Nathan, his disappointment forever clouds their relationship.

Marilyn and James’ status as an interracial couple sets the family apart from the local community, hindering neighborly interaction and support.  Neither parent has much attention left over for younger sister Hannah.  She passes through the house almost unseen and provides some of the most telling observations in the book.

How had it come to this?  “Because more than anything, her mother had wanted to stand out; because more than anything, her father had wanted to blend in.  Because those things had been impossible.” Ng explains early in the book.  Marilyn and James’ perception of their children is colored by their own experiences.  Marilyn can’t separate her dreams from those of her daughter.  James’ relationship with his son is defined by his own insecurities.  Neither parent is capable of really knowing their children.

Paloma Josse, the young co-narrator of Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog explains it perfectly:  “We never look beyond our assumptions and, what’s worse, we have given up trying to meet others; we just meet ourselves.  We don’t recognize each other because other people have become our permanent mirrors…As for me, I implore fate to give me the chance to see beyond myself and truly meet someone.” 

As the investigation into Lydia’s death continues, we see just how dangerous these preoccupations can be.  I finished Everything I Never Told You feeling shaken to the core, but not without a slim ray of hope for the Lee family.  When we’re finally able to shift our attention away from the mirror and toward those around us, we can truly know, understand and love one another.

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Culture Clash

fridge doorThis summer, scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) made a disturbing discovery:  hundreds of vials of deadly pathogens, packed in cardboard boxes and stashed in a little-used storage room on the agency’s Bethesda campus.  Live samples of smallpox, dengue and other disease-causing microbes had apparently been put in storage over a half-century ago and then, inexplicably, forgotten.

It was an embarrassing and potentially catastrophic oversight, and like most Americans, I was shocked by this serious lapse on the part of our premier federal health organization.  That is, until last week, when I cleaned out my refrigerator and made a few disturbing discoveries of my own.

Before you jump to any conclusions, let me be clear that I am meticulous when it comes to food safety.  You will never find moldy leftovers or rotten vegetables in my refrigerator.  I go to the grocery store every Monday morning and throw out anything that looks questionable on Sunday night.  I refuse to buy in bulk, because I can’t stand it when the shelves are too crowded and I can’t see what I’ve got.  The former business major in me refers to this as a Just-In-Time inventory strategy, and it has worked beautifully for more than two decades.

With one little exception…condiments.

You know, that bottle of Asian chili sauce that you buy for a certain recipe and then never use again?  Or that jar of prepared horseradish that takes six months of steak dinners to go through?  These are the things that gather on the shelves inside the door of my refrigerator and somehow manage to escape the weekly purge.  Kind of like that lonely storage room at the NIH.

So, I was unloading groceries one Monday, when I realized that there was no more room on the shelves inside the door and decided it was time to sort things out.  I won’t frighten you with all the gory details, but some of the highlights included:  a bottle of sundried tomatoes with capers, dated November 2013;  a bottle of coleslaw dressing (which I have no memory of buying), dated May 2013; and a bottle of lite salsa ranch dressing, dated February 2013.  The grand prize winner was a bottle of oyster sauce, dated (brace yourself) May 2011 – more than three years past its expiration date.

Eeww.

During a congressional hearing, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director Thomas Frieden blamed the smallpox mishandling on an “insufficient culture of safety” in his organization.  In the case of my expired condiments, I think the fault lies in an insufficient culture of adventurous eating in my house.  Yes, I may have been somewhat negligent in managing perishable goods, but in my defense, I was only trying to bring a little bit of variety to the dinner table.

There are currently about half a dozen meals that everyone in our family really likes and the truth is, they’re getting a little boring.  (Sorry, spaghetti and meatballs, but I have to tell it like it is.)  So I’m constantly on the lookout for new recipes and eagerly buying special ingredients with the hope that they will expand my short list of family favorites.  However, many of these little bottles and jars have such specific uses that unless you become a really big fan of, say, Indian cuisine, you’ll never use them up before they expire.

So what’s a responsible home cook to do?  I suppose I could always share those half-empty jars of pickled jalapenos or roasted red peppers with a neighbor.  Sometime after I realize they’re not crowd pleasers, but before the expiration date would be ideal.  Who knows?  Perhaps this kind of exchange could eventually become a regular part of community yard sales or homeowners’ association meetings.  In the meantime, there’s still a mysterious bottle of mango chutney lurking in my refrigerator with no expiration date whatsoever.

I’m thinking of bringing it to the NIH for analysis.

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Hollister 911

hollister

Ladies and gentlemen, the 911 transcript you are about to read is true.  The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

(Actually, none of it is true and no names were used at all, but go ahead and read it anyway…)

 

911 Operator:  Nine-One-One.  What is your emergency?

Distraught Woman:  Help me!  Please.  I…I don’t know where I am.

911:  Calm down, ma’am.  Are you hurt?

Woman:  What?

911:  I said, are you hurt?

Woman:  What?  I can’t hear you.

911:  ARE YOU HURT?

Woman:  Oh, sorry.  Yes.  I must have fallen and hit my head.  It feels like a hammer is pounding in my ears.

911:  Can you describe your location?

Woman:  Well, it’s dark.  I can hardly see anything.  I’m not sure if I can even sit up.

911:  Take your time.

Woman:  Wait!  There’s something above me.  I think it’s a…palm tree.

911:  Are you outdoors?

Woman:  No, I definitely feel the floor below me.  And I just noticed a surfboard leaning against the wall.  It’s like I’m in a beach house, but I don’t remember traveling anywhere.  Do you think I’ve been kidnapped?!?

911:  Uh, ma’am?  Relax.  I’ve traced your signal to the Galleria Extravaganza Mall on the west side of town.  You’re in the Hollister store on Level Two.

Woman:  (Silence)

911:  Are you there?  Can you hear me?

Woman:  Sorry…yes.  I remember now.  I was back-to-school shopping with my daughter.

911:  Are you still in pain?  Do you want me to send help?

Woman:  No, no.  I’ll be fine.  In fact, I just realized that the pounding in my ears is actually very loud music.  Why does it have to be so loud?

911:  Probably because it weakens your self-control and leads to impulsive purchasing decisions.  (Pause)  I have a daughter too.

Woman:  (Heavy sigh)  It’s all coming back to me now.  We walked into Hollister, but then we got separated.  She went to the Jeans Lounge, while I looked for the clearance rack at the back of the store.  It was just so dark and so hard to navigate through all those little rooms, though.  It’s like they don’t even want you to find the clearance rack.

911:  You may have a point there.

Woman:  When I was a kid, back-to-school shopping meant a trip to J.C. Penney for a new pair of sneakers and a few basics.  But the things I’ve seen today – duster kimonos, high rise culotte shorts, drapey knit crop tops?  And jeans that have names, like Devin and Bryden and Blake.  I’ll never figure out why a pair of jeans needs a name.

911:  You know what I’ll never figure out?  The difference between jeggings and super skinny jeans.

Woman:  I know.  I think it’s just that jeggings have a higher percentage of spandex, and sometimes they don’t have actual pockets or snaps, like jeans do.  But it depends on the brand.

911:  Aha.

Woman:  How about this…when did a hooded sweatshirt become known exclusively as a hoodie?  Isn’t it still technically a sweatshirt?

911:  Well, all hoodies are sweatshirts, but not all sweatshirts are hoodies.  So if it has a hood, you should probably call it a hoodie to eliminate confusion.

Woman:  Fair enough.  Oh my goodness, a life-size Ken doll is walking toward me.  No wait, it’s just one of the cool kids who works here.  He’s trying to ask me something.  “What?  WHAT?  Oh, no thank you.  I’m just looking around.”

911:  Where exactly are you looking around?  On the floor?

Woman:  Very funny.  Force of habit – I always say that so they don’t hover.

911:  Well, I need to clear the line in case someone who has actually been kidnapped calls in.  Will you be all right now?

Woman:  Yes.  I might just lie here for a little longer.  I’m so tired.  My daughter will eventually pass by on her way to the dressing room.

911:  Take care of yourself.  I suggest a flashlight and noise-canceling headphones if you plan to return to Hollister.  Otherwise, we’ll be doing this all over again during the holiday shopping season.

Woman:  Roger.  (Chuckling)  I read you loud and clear.

911:  Over and out.

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We Were Liars

we were liarsWe Were Liars by E. Lockhart (2014)

The bad news is that summer is coming to a close.  The good news is that there’s still time to squeeze in one more terrific summer read.  In fact, one quiet afternoon may be all you need to unravel the twisting tale We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.

Cadence Sinclair Eastman is a 17-year-old member of a prominent, old-money family.  The entire clan spends every summer on their private island near Martha’s Vineyard, where Cadence, her cousins Mirren and Johnny, and Johnny’s friend Gat are affectionately known as the Liars.  Always together, the foursome have splashed, sailed and picnicked their way through each carefree summer, until two years ago.  Something happened that summer, leaving Cadence with a traumatic brain injury and debilitating migraines, but no memory of the incident.  Now, she returns to the island determined to put the pieces together.

Cadence narrates the story, skipping between past and present as she recalls fragments of events and conversations.  Her sharp observations take us behind the Sinclairs’ beautiful façade, where life is not exactly the fairy tale that it seems.  Along the way, you may find it hard to like many of the trust fund dependent characters, but that’s okay.  I promise this won’t stop you from racing through the pages to keep up with (or maybe get a step ahead of) Cadence as she seeks to discover the truth.

My 14-year-old daughter read this in one evening, then handed it to me, saying, “I’m so freaked out.  You have to read this.”  I read it the following morning (wondering how my daughter slept at all the previous night!) and gave it to my neighbor after lunch.  She finished it by dinnertime and called it “a real mind-bender.”  A lengthy coffee-drinking session was required to talk it all out.

I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the ending, but at its core, We Were Liars is a startling example of the ways we hide the truth from others and even from ourselves.  Read it.  Then get a cup of coffee and we’ll talk.

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Still Got It

boogie boardMost of the time, I think of myself as a typical mom:  chronically tired, several seasons behind in fashion trends and forever wondering what to make for dinner.  But once in a while, something happens that makes me think maybe, just maybe, my youthful appeal hasn’t entirely disappeared.

Take last week, for example, when my family and I were at the beach at Pawleys Island in South Carolina.  We were all in the water, and I was doing my favorite ocean activity – Boogie boarding.  I’ve loved Boogie boarding ever since I was a kid.  It’s a surefire formula for fun:  You swim out a bit, then hang around and wait for a good wave to come along.  When it does, you push off with your board, kick like crazy until you feel the swell propel you forward and ride it all the way to the beach.  Then you get up, rearrange your bathing suit if necessary, swim back out and repeat.

My brothers and cousins and I could do this an unlimited number of times during a beach day at the Outer Banks in North Carolina without ever getting bored.  It’s a lot easier than surfing and, in my experience, accumulates way less sand in your bathing suit than body surfing.  If you need some variation, you can always angle your board sideways and try to crash into the person riding next to you.  Or aim for the shins of your mom or an aunt standing in the shallow water.  Good fun.

So, 30-something years later, I’m still Boogie boarding and, believe it or not, I’m still using the same faded orange board from my childhood.  If there have been any advances in Boogie board technology in the meantime, I’m blissfully unaware of them, because my board still works just fine.  And so, it seems, do I.  In fact, my boarding skills were so impressive last week at Pawleys that this young guy actually came over to compliment me.  Right in front of my husband and kids!  He swam up with this awestruck look on his face and said, “How do you ride so good?”

Okay…the truth is that the young guy was actually a 10-year boy.  With an extreme Southern accent.  When he opened his mouth, my mid-Atlantic ears heard something like, “How do yeeww raahhd so goood?”  I ignored my kids snickering in the background and explained the surefire formula for fun.  Unfortunately, this poor boy was trying to catch waves with a tiny kickboard – the kind you might use during a swimming lesson at the pool.  I gently suggested that he might want to try a bigger board.

That’s when he turned his attention to my vintage Aussie with the frayed wrist strap.  He asked how much I paid for it.  I was this close to telling him that it dated back to the days when we didn’t have actual money and had to barter for goods and services.  But then I realized he probably hadn’t covered the first Reagan administration in Civics yet.  (Later, my brother confirmed that the board cost two squirrel pelts, a real bargain considering that later models fetched upwards of three tiger teeth.)

“Want to give it a try?” I asked.  My young admirer eagerly accepted and rode a few waves on the board until he got the hang of it.  Then he swam back over to his own family.  “Looks like you made a new friend, Mom,” laughed my oldest daughter, but deep down, I think she was kind of impressed.  In fact, all three of my kids seemed to look at me in a whole new way, as though they finally appreciated my innate charm, charisma and all-around coolness.

On second thought, maybe they were just squinting into the sun.

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Long Man

long manLong Man by Amy Greene (2014)

It is the summer of 1936 and the town of Yuneetah, Tennessee is disappearing.  The Tennessee Valley Authority has dammed the river known as Long Man, which runs through this valley, and the water is beginning to rise over its banks and flow toward the surrounding farms and orchards.  The townspeople are gone – relocated by the power company – except for Annie Clyde Dodson, who is determined to save her family farm for her three-year-old daughter Gracie.

Annie is just a day away from being forcibly removed from her home when Gracie vanishes in a severe rainstorm.  As the frantic search for the little girl unfolds, so does a fuller picture of Yuneetah and its inhabitants.  The result is a compelling portrait of a community with inextricable ties to the land, to the river and to each other.

Annie is resolute in her defense of her farm and her way of life, but her husband James has grown weary of fighting the elements and is ready to make a new start.  Annie’s Aunt Silver ekes out a solitary existence in the hills but grieves for the departure of her only kin from the valley.  Amos is a drifter who lives in the shadows but returns to visit his birthplace one last time.

The river Long Man flows through the center of each individual’s experience.  A powerful character in its own right, the river gives and takes away in unpredictable measures, bringing nourishing irrigation one day and deadly flooding the next.  The residents of Yuneetah fear Long Man as much as they depend on it.

Amos’ adoptive mother, Beulah Kesterson, reflects on this as the older townsfolk are uprooted from their valley.  “The river had formed them, as sure as it had the land.  The young might be able to take other shapes, but not her or the Willets.  They were already mapped and carved out….It might be hard to love a place that had used them up, but it was what they knew.”

This strong connection to the natural world is at the heart of Long Man.  Author Amy Greene, born and raised in East Tennessee, brings the hills and valleys to life with evocative descriptions that no city slicker could ever pull off.  As Amos approaches Beulah in the woods, “The late summer trees gathered behind him, crowded up against the ditch as if to watch him come.”  In the morning after the rainstorm, “When the sun rose it twinkled on the surface of the water standing everywhere like thousands of eyes coming open.”

Ultimately, Long Man is a story of ordinary people caught up in a time of extraordinary change.  Readers will certainly recognize parallels in modern society, but unless we’ve been personally affected, we can’t really know what it feels like.  Greene does an impressive job of showing us.

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