Thursday, April 20, 2006

Long For This World/Paper Wings

Long for This World by Michael Byers was a book I was required to read for the Maple Valley Library Book Club, called "Cover to Cover." It's not a book I would have chosen on my own, as it deals with Progeria, a disease that turns children into seniors in a matter of a decade or less. Its a cruel disease, heart-rending for the families of the children who have it, as it's a genetic mutation and fairly rare. This book takes place in Seattle, and provides an in-depth look at how the disease effects the doctors trying to cure it, and the patients they come to care for, as well as their families. The story revolves around a research scientist, Dr Moss, who focuses his research on progeria, and who adores his patient William, a brilliant boy, and makes a tough decision to try and help him with an experimental therapy. Dr Moss and his family are surrounded by tragedy and pain, though, and we uncover the inner workings of the family and the husband and wife in a way that seems more natural and less voyeuristic. Though the book ends oddly and there is a great deal of tragedy and pain, I found myself liking the tender mercies Byers bestowed on his characters, in showing not just their foibles and stupidity, but also showing nobility, decency and compassion. Fair warning, though, this is not a book to read if you are depressed! It will keep you running to the tissue box. I found myself understanding the feelings of Ilse, Dr Moss' wife, when she had to deal with her evil Austrian mother, because I have an evil German grandmother who is just as much of a pill, and equally prejudiced and awful at times as Ilses mother. I also identified with Paper Wings by Marly Swick, a book that takes place in the early 1960s, when I was still a baby. The author deals with her parents pain on learning of JFKs death, and I have to say that one of my earliest memories as a 3 year old is of my mother and father sobbing, and when I asked why they were crying, they said the president was dead. I felt great antipathy toward this president person for making my parents so sad and upset. I wasn't much older when MLK was shot, and my father broke down and cried again, like a baby, which wasn't normal for him at all, and made me so uneasy. He and my mother took the assassinations of the Kennedys and the MLK assassination with the same amount of personal outrage and pain that they would have if someone had murdered a beloved relative. Swick's characters are all true to form and interesting, though I found the book as a whole to feel like something that had been "workshopped" at a writers conference or a writers program of some sort. It didn't quite feel professional, rather like it was a good effort by someone new to writing fiction or memoir or a combination of the two. That doesn't mean that I didn't like it, however, as I did enjoy it and did empathize with the characters. I just hope that the author hones her craft a bit in the coming years, as she shows promise. I also happened to view the movie "Elizabethtown" with that cute elf Orlando Bloom this week, and I must say that it was not at all what it had been advertised to be...There was much more to it than the romance between Kirsten Dunst and Bloom. It was a touching and charming film about family and home towns and trying to break free of the guilt and pain of failing in career, in marriage, and in everything else. I could have done with less of Susan Sarandon tap dancing, though her stand up routine wasn't bad. Normally I'd watch her read the phone book, but she's really not a great dancer, sorry to say. Still, the movie is certainly worth a look now that its in DVD.

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