MOMENTS OF SERENDIPITY & GRACE — A REVIEW

15985391The only child of MacLaine and her husband of thirty years, Steve Parker, Sachi’s surreal childhood began when she was sent to Japan at the age of two—though her mother would sometimes claim Sachi was six—to live with her mercurial father and his mistress. She divided her time being raised by a Japanese governess and going back and forth to L.A. to be with her mother, hamming it up on movie sets, in photo shoots, and Hollywood parties, even winning—and then abruptly losing—the role of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. As she got older and attended boarding school in England and Switzerland, became a Qantas stewardess, and then became involved in a series of abusive relationships she tried to unravel the mysteries of her childhood and her parents’ unconventional marriage.

Including twenty never-before-seen personal photos, Lucky Me: My Life With–and Without–My Mom, Shirley MacLaine is a fascinating look at Hollywood and what it takes to succeed there, the incredible ambition of Shirley MacLaine and the fallout it had on her only child, as well as a woman’s attempt to understand and connect with her extremely complicated parents.

As a fan of Shirley MacLaine, I have always been curious about the less publicized aspects of her life, like her daughter, Sachi Parker. I recall seeing Sachi in bit parts in some movies, and noticed the striking physical resemblance between the two.

But so much about Sachi is distinct, unique. Perhaps growing up in Tokyo and being separated from her mother for large chunks of time informed a lot more about her life than just the obvious elements.

In reading Sachi’s story, her feelings of loss and abandonment shone through for me. And perhaps knowing more of the details of what her life looked like and how it felt for her has helped me fill in some of those missing details of MacLaine’s life, as well.

I like this summing up of Sachi’s perspective near the end of the story, when she concludes that she still doesn’t understand her mother:

“It has taken me this long to realize that I don’t need to understand her. She’s on her journey, and I’m on mine. Our lives may intersect at crucial points, but there’s no reason to expect them to run side by side, on parallel tracks. Mom’s spirit bounces all over the universe like a jet-powered pinball, and every now and then it settles beside me for a moment before some visionary impulse shoots if off again. I’m just a stop on the road: she doesn’t need me, not at all, and she isn’t going to pretend for propriety’s sake that she does. She’s off fulfilling her destiny.”

It takes a lot of courage to accept the reality of one’s relationships, especially those most significant in our lives. I also like this summing up in the final paragraphs:

“Looking back over my life, I see that it’s full of providential moments, moments of serendipity and grace. Whenever things seemed desolate, whenever I was poised to capsize, something unexpected always came along to help me out.”

What I see as I read this story of a woman’s journey is that the mother and daughter are not as different as they appear at first glance. They are each vying for her own place in the world, and doing it on her own terms. And while some readers will only see the opposing points of view and conclude that someone is “lying,” I see that life is often like that. There is your truth, my truth, and the real truth somewhere in between. Four stars.

SERENDIPITOUS FRIDAY: BOOK BEGINNINGS & THE FRIDAY 56 — MAY 4

Welcome to some serendipitous fun today as we share Book Beginnings, hosted by Rose City Reader; and as we showcase The Friday 56 with Freda’s Voice.

To join in, just grab a book and share the opening lines…along with any thoughts you wish to give us; then turn to page 56 and excerpt anything on the page.

Then give us the title of the book, so others can add it to their lists!

My book today is another “graduate” of my Old TBR stacks, dubbed “old” by their longevity on said stacks.  Which means that the book just got lost in the shuffle.  The Tender Bar, by J. R. Moehringer, is a memoir.

J .R. Moehringer grew up listening for a voice: It was the sound of his missing father, a disc jockey who disappeared before J.R. spoke his first words. As a boy, J.R. would press his ear to a clock radio, straining to hear in that resonant voice the secrets of masculinity, and the keys to his own identity. J.R.’s mother was his world, his anchor, but he needed something else, something more, something he couldn’t name. So he turned to the bar on the corner, a grand old New York saloon that was a sanctuary for all types of men-cops and poets, actors and lawyers, gamblers and stumblebums. The flamboyant characters along the bar-including J.R.’s Uncle Charlie, a Humphrey Bogart look-alike; Colt, a Yogi Bear sound-alike; Joey D, a soft-hearted brawler; and Cager, a war hero who raised handicapping horses to an art-taught J.R., tended him, and provided a kind of fatherhood by committee. When the time came for J.R. to leave home, the bar became a way station-from his entrance to Yale, where he floundered as a scholarship student way out of his element; to his introduction to tragic romance with a woman way out of his league; to his stint as a copy boy at the New York Times, where he was a faulty cog in a vast machine way out of his control. Through it all, the bar offered shelter from failure, from rejection, and eventually from reality-until at last the bar turned J.R. away.Riveting, moving, and achingly funny, The Tender Bar is at once an evocative portrait of one boy’s struggle to become a man, and a touching depiction of how some men remain lost boys.

***

Beginning (Prologue):

We went there for everything we needed.  We went there when thirsty, of course, and when hungry, and when dead tired.  We went there when happy, to celebrate, and when sad, to sulk.  We went there after weddings and funerals, for something to settle our nerves, and always for a shot of courage just before.  We went there when we didn’t know what we needed, hoping someone might tell us.  We went there when looking for love, or sex, or trouble, or for someone who had gone missing, because sooner or later everyone turned up there.  Most of all we went there when we needed to be found.

***

Already I feel the poignancy of this tale from these opening lines.  I know it will be sad, but I’m also hoping there will be joy somewhere in all this neediness.

***

p. 56:  My mother pulled me to her and said she felt horrible about frightening me, but she couldn’t help herself.  “I’m so tired,” she said.  “Tired of worrying and struggling and being so—so—alone.

 

What do the rest of you want to share today?  I hope you’ll stop in with your comments and links.

PERSISTENT HOPE GUIDES A MOTHER — A REVIEW

On an ordinary day in May 1980, six-year-old Alex Selky walks two short blocks toward his school in a comfortable and gentrified Boston neighborhood…and then disappears, without a trace.

His mother, Susan Selky, a university professor, awaits his return home from school that afternoon, only to discover when she calls another mother that he never arrived there at all.

A massive search begins, and the subsequent weeks are consumed with media coverage, a police presence, TV shows seeking to interview the parents….and hope. Hope continues despite the lack of results, and one after another lead is pursued. And then gradually, the police disappear, the posters that are hanging on store fronts are pulled down, and everyone goes on with their lives. Except Susan. Despite all evidence to the contrary, she still believes in the possibility of her son’s safe return. Even her estranged husband Graham no longer believes.

Throughout the pages of this captivating book, the reader admires the faith that sustains Susan, even as it leaves Graham. Friends urge Susan to accept that her son is never coming home. Her persistent hope strains her relationships with friends and family, until finally she is completely alone in her quest for her son.

At this point, one might ask: wouldn’t it be easier to give up? Why does Susan persist in the face of odds that are against her? Is the bond between her and her child so strong that she would feel his permanent loss if he were truly gone?

Themes of hope, faith, and unconditional love emanate from the pages of Still Missing and carry the reader through to the emotional and suspenseful conclusion. Five stars.

A PIERCING TALE OF LOVE LOST, FOUND, & EMBRACED AGAIN — A REVIEW

When Raymond Gaver’s plane crashes enroute from LA to NY, Charlie Leveque, his attorney, is the one to tell Raymond’s ex-wife Martha. Martha, who remembers hating Charlie for his role in turning her world upside down in the divorce from Raymond.

And now she discovers that he is the executor of the estate and the one to whom she must address financial requests for her son Jack.

Sorting through the detritus of a life abruptly ended brings these characters in close proximity with one another, and then, almost by accident, Charlie and Martha become friends. She begins to understand that he is not to blame for how Raymond tore her life apart, and, in fact, he has gone through his own divorce and is left trying to figure out how to raise his teenage daughter Phoebe. They realize they have more in common than they thought.

As their relationship begins to change and they become close, they discover that, as it turns out, their children are tight friends, who may be more than friends. Instead of making life easier, this complicates things.

The journey of these characters in forging their new lives, separately, and later together, is beautifully wrought, set against the backdrop of Manhattan life with all of its complexities.

Gutcheon has a unique talent for showing us what life looks like in Manhattan in the 1990s, and especially how to navigate life after divorce in these times. She is brilliant at dialogue, showing us the delightfully awkward movements of adults discovering new love, just as she also takes us right into the world of teenagers, with all their funky behaviors and appearances. We begin to see each of the characters; we hear what they hear and chuckle at their flaws, foibles, and missteps. Here is an excerpt that spotlights some of the issues for Martha and Charlie:

“Martha looked doubtful. She was so tired she could hardly remember why it was she couldn’t just fall into his arms and go to sleep. Why couldn’t they just tell the children to behave themselves? Think of the pleasure of cooking breakfast together for all three children, of going to bed together two nights in a row, of going to the supermarket together and deciding together what to cook, of taking a walk together without having to arrange baby-sitters or take three subways to get to each other to do it. Think of sitting together in lamplight after dinner, reading and looking forward to going upstairs to bed together, instead of looking forward to going out in the rain, getting in a cab, and going sixty blocks to sleep alone.”

We meet other characters along the way, like Sophie, Charlie’s ex-girlfriend, and her sister Connie, whose marriage is falling apart. These characters intersect with the others, almost randomly, but their appearances somehow shape and redefine the lives of our major players.

But what obstacles will appear to seemingly derail their lives? How do the complexities of sharing their domestic lives somehow prevent or complicate those ordinary moments? And how, finally, will each of them sort it all out so that the domestic pleasures can be accessible to them?

I loved Domestic Pleasures : A Novel and thoroughly enjoyed savoring the lives of such colorful and real characters that made me root for them, and long for their victories, even as they struggled. There were humorous and sad moments, just as there are in real life, in this memorable tale that I highly recommend for anyone who enjoys touching, piercing stories of love lost, found, and embraced once again. Five stars.