The author of Educated grew up in a survivalist family in Idaho, toiling in the (highly dangerous) family junkyard or helping her mother concoct homeopathic compounds — but never studying, either in an organized school or through any kind of home-schooling. Still through grit, ingenuity, and some luck, she managed to matriculate at BYU and from there pursue graduate education. The book describes her often shocking upbringing and how she painfully and slowly extricated herself from it, becoming estranged from a big part of her family in the process. It’s a harrowing tale.
The book is put together with intricate flashbacks and considerable skill. But there are some strange passages, in which pivotal scenes are tagged with footnotes explaining that different family members have very different recollections of the same events. Do they betray the care of a historian or on the other hand a fanciful delusion? And the assertion that her father is simply mentally ill seems rather generous: how about simply violent, controlling, and egotistic?
There’s much to love about The Portable Veblen: a sweet young woman with a big heart, a crazy mother and a really crazy father, and a strange fondness for squirrels; her rather clueless nerdy fiancé with an unusual hippy upbringing, embroiled in unhealthy machinations in his health-tech company
But although the two dysfunctional families offer much occasion for merriment, I did not feel that the story ever came together in a coherent or believable whole.
Secrets We Kept: Three Women of Trinidad tells the stories of the author, her mother, and her grandmother, who were all born in Trinidad and eventually moved to the US. It’s not a pretty story, as her grandfather was a violent man who ran roughshod over his family, her father, although less extreme, was also abusive, and the overall climate of Trinidad, as described in the book, is also laced with violence, especially against women.
I found the book very sad, and eventually without much direction. It was also challenging to read as it features large chunks of dialog in Trinidad dialect.
The Woman in the Window is a New York psychologist whose agoraphobia prevents her from leaving the house. Even retrieving a package from her doorstep is an ordeal. New neighbors move in, and with them a teenager who seems to be the only person who can penetrate her life — and then it all goes very wrong, in completely unexpected ways. It’s a delightful mystery with plenty of twists and a harrowing ending.
I very much want to believe that The Heirs is a satire of a wealthy family, who inconveniently discovers, after the death of the father, that he had a second family on the side, but I am not so sure. And the blind assumptions pile up: children with moderate academic ability will go to Princeton, because, legacy. We will purchase vast apartments side by side to house our biological child and mother (long story!) because, inherited money. We will actually purchase an entire hospital wing, also because, money, inherited. And obsessively track the genealogy of anyone we meet so we can position them within the limited 400 families that count.
If it comforts you, read the book and see that the rich do have similar (if better hidden) problems with their wives, husbands, ex-boyfriends, children, and themselves.
Anything is Possible starts in a small midwestern town where, apparently, everyone is kind and happy. But there is much darkness that lurks: children beaten by their stepdad, unhappy marriages, vengeful arson, rape, and sibling jealousy against the one who got away (Lucy Barton, who got her own story a while back). It’s breathtaking and wonderful — and will make you stay up way past your bedtime because you just have to know what’s coming next.
Maude Julien grew up with a crazy father and a bizarrely submissive mother who kept her imprisoned, half-starved, and forced to submit to bizarre forced labor while depriving her of anything that could possibly provide kindness. The Only Girl in the World tells her story in a strangely detached mode, perhaps the only way to survive such a treatment. Her eventual escape is heart-warming, of course, but I kept wondering about her mother, whose cruelty seems to have grown from her own victimization, as she had been given, and perhaps sold, by her parents to her husband. How can neighbors and outsiders never questioned what was happening in that house?