Sunday 2 February 2020

A cup of tea, a treat, and lots of controlling men on a snowy morning...

It’s really snowing outside, the kind of big, fluffy flakes that make it look like a winter wonderland, or like you’ve shaken a snow globe.  I’m warm and cozy inside, and am enjoying a steaming cup of tea and a delicious Date Bar right now, and am looking forward to a slow day of R&R:  reading and relaxing.
My Volunteer book club met yesterday to discuss Garth Stein’s novel, The Art of Racing in the Rain, and it was a hit!  Told from the point of view of Enzo, a dog who knows he’s different from other dogs, this novel opens with Enzo’s final day.  He is ready to die, as he believes he will be reincarnated as a man, and he can’t wait for that opportunity. He wants to be able to speak, to shake hands, to stand upright, but especially to have opposable thumbs.  As he accepts that this is the end, he spends the rest of the novel looking back on his life. He was taken from his farm as a puppy and went to live with Denny, a man who loves racing and who knew that he could be a great race car driver, if only he could get that one big break.  Alas, he is always just scraping by, and racing is expensive. Then he meets Eve, a woman who doesn't entirely warm to Enzo, nor he to her. They marry and have a baby, Zoe, and all is right with their world... until suddenly it isn’t. Eve is diagnosed with cancer, and she passes away, a hugely traumatic event in Denny’s life.  But just when you think it can’t get worse, it does: Eve’s wealthy parents (”the Twins”), who never really thought Denny was a good choice of husband for their daughter, decide that five-year-old Zoe would be better off with them, and sue for custody. This battle, Denny is assured by his lawyer, will never be won in favour of the in-laws.  But wait… there’s more! A bogus charge is levelled against him, ensuring that he will never be allowed custody of his daughter. Throughout these many joys and trials, Enzo is there to make philosophical commentary. He is more insightful than other dogs; in fact, he’s practically human already, if only he could escape the confines of his doggie body.  He learns much by listening to others and by watching hours of TV, and he does his best to support, and even to advise, Denny along the way. Will Denny accept his fate, or will he fight on and find a way to save himself and his daughter from the clutches of the stereotypically selfish, thoughtless and bullish Twins? You’ll have to read the book to find out. I didn’t cry nearly as much as I expected, and it was really a well-written book, one that made me think about many things, ordinary stuff that occurs in daily life that I’ve never considered before, such as how we listen to others and often derail the original conversation in favour of our own conversational direction.  Everyone loved the book. They loved Enzo’s voice as narrator, and felt that he was truly wise beyond his doggie-ness. We talked about the trials Denny faced throughout the book, and about the ways Eve supported his dreams as best she could. We discussed Eve’s parents, especially her controlling, bullying father. We discussed the ways in which we can control what happens in our own lives, and how much is out of our hands (we even discussed God and religion, and the fine balance between the ways in which we are expected to help ourselves and what we should leave up to God... if you believe in God). At one point, Denny says “That which we manifest is before us”, and Enzo takes this to heart. The full quotation is: "That which we manifest is before us; we are the creators of our own destiny. Be it through intention or ignorance, our successes and our failures have been brought on by none other than ourselves” (p 43).  One member pointed out that fear is a huge factor in decision-making, and that people will continue to make the same mistake again and again until they learn their lesson. Another of our favourite sayings from the book is something like “the car goes where the eyes go”, which is another way of saying that you control the direction your life takes. We talked about family, about supporting spouses, about children, about false accusations that can change a life, and about the ways that wealthy people believe they can have it all, that others should just do their bidding, and that money = power. And, of course, we discussed the bonds between people and pets. It was a great discussion, and I would highly recommend this very readable yet hugely insightful book to just about anyone.  But definitely have tissues handy when you read it.
This book made me think about controlling men, and I realized that this type of man features prominently in other books I’m reading or listening to: The Perfect Girl by Gilly Macmillan has a domineering male figure, and The Ice Beneath Her by Camilla Grebe has several nasty, intimidating male characters.  It’s unusual to have so many similar characters appear at the same time in such different types of books, but there it is.  I’m thankful that my husband is nothing like this. Of course, that is also my choice, as I am the master of my own destiny.  This is something we talked about at length in our meeting yesterday, and it is so very true, that women must end the cycle of violence by taking control of their own destiny and making better choices, ideally early in life.
That’s a heavy topic to end this post, but I hope it doesn’t ruin you day.  Stay warm and enjoy the snow!
Bye for now…

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