“She hated strangers talking about her as if she wasn’t standing right beside them”.
An excerpt from the short story
The Mathematics of One Winter Blanket / Naomi Epstein
…. “Two sisters
One agricultural boarding school
Three hours of study each morning
Five hours of farm work.
The older sister, trapped in the shadow of her sister’s beauty.
The younger, so blond and with such white skin that she was noticed everywhere, at once.
The summer sun seemed to leave no impression.
The younger sister was unaware that the combination of those long blond braids, wide eyes and frank expression was beautiful. All she knew was that in the late 1940s her looks made people, strangers, talk between themselves about her: “Look at this one. If she had been there, she would have been saved, she would have been spared”. She hated strangers talking about her as if she wasn’t standing right beside them. And those braids – years of pain at the hands of her mother’s hairbrush. Yet she kept silent, always the obedient daughter, the only one in a family of five doing her mother’s bidding, always at her mother’s side.
Ann Patchett is certainly one of my favorite authors.
I absolutely LOVED “State of Wonder” and “Run”.
“Bel Canto” and “Commonwealth” tie for second place.
The Magician’s Assistant was good too – I had that one as an audiobook!
“Truth and Beauty” is something else completely, not fiction, I enjoyed it as well.
All these books were written after her debut novel, (published in 1992), “The Patron Saint of Liars”, which I only recently got my hands on.
While I certainly enjoyed reading the book, I found it to be not as good as her later ones. This is to be expected, though perhaps my expectations that this would the case influenced my judgment. Her trademark movement of the plot forward from the point of view of different characters is a pleasure and I truly truly applaud her for her ability to deal with human drama in a moving way without turning the plot into a soap opera tear-jerker type of thing. You think you know exactly what’s going to happen, but then events don’t unfold that way.
It’s just that the basic story itself, about Rose from California, who walked out on everything, went to a temporary home intended for Catholic unwed mothers to have their babies in Kentucky, and ended up staying there for years, isn’t that the compelling. Though frankly, with all that is going on in the USA now related to the topic of abortions, you could say the plot is more relevant than ever.
I hesitate to say it but I think the book could have been improved by being a bit shorter, especially the part told by the man’s point of view.
BTW, the first few pages are a prologue and can be read on its own as well. The descriptions and the way she presents the events are stunning, riveting and so beautifully written! Perhaps I felt a bit of a let down afterward because of the comparison.
I certainly recommend this book, but not as your first book by Ann Patchett, if you have never read anything written by her before.
My students spill out of taxi cabs each morning, rubbing their sleepy eyes after early morning pick-ups, napping or texting through the traffic jams on the long way to school.
Some are from homes where no one gets up before they do, to see that they leave without breakfast and have packed nothing but party snacks in their school bag for the long day…
Others are from big hugs and best wishes for their day at school, armed with the knowledge that someone is interested in knowing how the day turns out.
They are from blindingly new cell phones, complete with accessories, screens lighting up their lives, from shame masked by annoyance at teachers who insist on such unattainable things otherwise known as pencils and schoolbooks, knowing notes to parents will go unheeded.
Some are from a lifetime of dodging communication pitfalls, guessing meaning from partially heard sentences, tiring easily by the necessity of being constantly alert, at home and at school. From relief at coming to a school where they are no longer the only student with a hearing aid in the entire school – always conspicuous, sure that whispered conversations are about them.
Others are from a world full of hands in motion, sailing confidently in a sea of visual vocabulary from birth, signing their pride to be Deaf and their frustration with the world which doesn’t use Sign Langauge, while resenting school organized efforts to create shared experiences between hearing and Deaf peers.
Teenage students of mine come from long trips abroad with their parents during the school year, from dealing with the anger of the same parents for then doing poorly at school, while trusting these parents to bully their teachers into forgetting about the missed material, evading the demand for buckling down.
Adolescent students of mine are from dependence on parents to navigate the world for them, from apron strings tied with double knots, cell phones bridging the distance, tightening the knots that need to be loosened.
My students are from a belief that I always know where they are really from.