Sunday, 25 February 2018

Keeping up with the Joneses on a mild Spring-like morning...

It’s sunny and mild right now, a perfect morning to hang laundry out on the clothesline and go for a long walk, both things I’m going to do after writing this post.  But for now, I’m enjoying my steaming cup of chai and a delicious Date Bar from City Café - yummy!!
Last weekend I needed to find a book to read and an audiobook to listen to, and I chose one of each without knowing much about either one.  What are the chances that I would choose a book and an audiobook on the same day that each had a main character named Jones (first name, that is)?  So even though I wasn’t sure how much I was enjoying either one, I felt destined to stick with them.  I just finished the book, A Sudden Light by Garth Stein (you may be familiar with this author’s name associated with his most popular novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain, told from the point of view of a dog).  I’m not quite sure why I had A Sudden Light on my shelf, but I picked it out along with a pile of other books I know nothing about.  I decided that I needed to weed out some books, so I read the first few pages of each and either kept it or brought it to the Little Free Library that is at the end of my street.  This one I stuck with, and finished reading last night.  It is told from the point of view of Trevor, an adult looking back on the summer he was fourteen, when his father took him to his Grandpa Samuel’s estate just outside of Seattle, an estate that seemed to be suspended in time, having never moved beyond the night Samuel’s wife, Isobel, passed away, leaving their son Jones and daughter Serena motherless and in the care of Samuel.  But sixteen-year-old Jones is sent away to school shortly thereafter, leaving eleven-year-old Serena to care for drunken Samuel, causing her to feel trapped and embittered.  Nearly twenty-five years later, she wants to sell the North Estate, a crumbling mansion surrounded by 200 acres of pristine forest, and develop it into 20 lots of 10 acres each for the newly-rich to build their McMansions on, making her rich and allowing her to travel the world.  But Jones’ ancestors, in particular his great-grand-uncle Ben, had other ideas:  they wanted to return the estate to its natural state and preserve it, a repayment for the rape and pillage of so much land, as well as the exploitation of the men they employed, that made the family rich in the timber industry in the early 1900s.  Grandpa Samuel is suffering dementia, and Serena needs him to sign over power of attorney, which is where Jones comes in.  Jones and his wife Rachel are experiencing marital problems after their personal bankruptcy, and are in the midst of a trial separation, and all Trevor wants is for them to get back together and be happy again.  He believes that money is the solution, but can money truly buy happiness?  Through letters and diary entries, Trevor pieces together the intentions of his ancestors, and must struggle to reconcile his desire to stay true to his dead family's wishes and his need to try to bring his living family back together. This sprawling, multigenerational story exploring the consequences of wealth and greed and the search for redemption, with a supernatural twist, is totally not my type of book, but it had me hooked!  Stein’s exploration into the motivations of Trevor, Serena, and to some extent Jones, was riveting, and this book reminded me in some ways of The Hunger of the Wolf by Stephen Marche, also about a wealthy, powerful American family with dark secrets, although Marche’s book was more literary, more of a “Lee Valley” book, than Stein’s “Canadian Tire” bestseller.  Still, it was an enjoyable read, and while I felt it dragged a bit, I still wanted to find opportunities to read and get to the end to find out how things are resolved.  There were also times, particularly in the first half of the book, when it reminded me of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig, probably because both books involved a father and son on a quest to discover the true meaning of value and integrity. I would definitely recommend this book to just about anyone, as it defies categorization:  it’s part historical fiction, part ghost story, part domestic fiction, part psychological fiction, and so much more.  I didn’t love it, but I enjoyed it.  
That’s all for today.  Oh, the audiobook with the character named Jones is Darkness, my old friend by Lisa Unger.  I’m still listening to it, and will write about it when I’m done.  Get outside and enjoy the day!
Bye for now…
Julie

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