Thursday, 23 June 2016

#AMREADING IAN McEWAN, THE CHILDREN ACT.


Fiona’s private life collides with her professional duty as she presides over a case in family court: a teenager refusing medical treatment for religious reasons.

The court house. The air always reminded her of school, of the smell or feel of cold damp stone and a faint thrill of fear and excitement.

Her mind after her husband leaves her. At first, she was in an unreal state of acceptance, prepared to tell herself that she had, at worst, to endure the commiseration of family and friends and a degree of severe social inconvenience – those invitations she must refuse while hoping to conceal her embarrassment. Then she felt the first conventional ache of abandonment. In court, she sat and watched the parties below her settle. At her elbow was a slim pile of creamy white paper beside which she laid down her pen. It was only then, at the sight of these clean sheets, that the last traces, the stain of her own situation vanished completely. She no longer had a private life, she was ready to be absorbed.

Adam, the son of Jehovah’s Witnesses, is persuaded to accept medical treatment. Is Fiona’s interest in him more than professional? After his recovery, he visits her. You must go, she said. Lightly, she took the lapel of his thin jacket between her fingers and drew him toward her. Her intention was to kiss him on the cheek, but as she reached up and he stooped a little and their faces came close, he turned his head and their lips met. She could have drawn back, she could have stepped right away from him. Instead, she lingered, defenseless before the moment.


Is she in love with Adam? That is the question her husband asks after they reconcile. She let out a terrible sound, a smothered howl. “Oh Jack, he was just a child! A boy. A lovely boy!” And she began to weep at last. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

#AMREADING ELIZABETH STROUT, MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON.

Lucy is in hospital recovering from an operation when her long-estranged mother shows up. The two women seem to reconnect, but there is tension below the surface of their reminiscences.

I was lonely. Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.

When Lucy’s mother talks, it is with a slight rush of words, the compression of feeling that seemed to push up through her as she started, that morning, to suddenly speak of her childhood.

Lucy muses about her own childhood. Among her memories is the dreading-in-advance she felt, for example, when she had an appointment with the dentist. She realized she was wasting time by suffering twice, and wanted to suppress the advance-dreading, but there are things the mind cannot will itself to do, even if it wants to.

Both Lucy and her mother are sensitive to the constant judgment in this world. How are we going to make sure we do not feel inferior to another?

Lucy does not lack insight, but it makes her sad to think that a beautiful and true line comes to be used so often that it takes on the superficial sound of a bumper sticker.

Of the teacher in a creative writing class, she says: Every day she would start with a little sparkle, and within minutes fatigue set in. Her face became ravaged with fatigue. I don’t think I have seen before or since a face that showed its exhaustion so clearly.

I sympathize with the poor woman. Of course it’s exhausting to teach what can’t be taught.


Friday, 10 June 2016

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

BUYING A HOUSE, THEN AND NOW.


THEN. You drove up and down the streets in the neighbourhood of your choice and copied down the phone number of the agent when you saw a For Sale sign on a house that was within your budget.
NOW. You go onto the website realtors.com, zoom in on the area you are interested in, and read the specs online. You look at the picture gallery, knowing that the rooms are smaller and dingier than they appear. You learn the language of real estate ads. Quaint means tiny and outdated. Friendly and family-oriented means kids screaming obscenities and leaving trash in the bushes.  No mention of parking? There is no parking!

THEN. If a property looked promising, you viewed it in the morning and came back the next day to see how it looked in the evening. You took a week to mull things over with your husband and the in-laws who helped with the down payment. Then you mulled it over some more. Finally you put in an offer 5% below the asking price because you have concluded that this the ideal house for you and you don’t want to offend the owner by offering 15% less, as you had planned originally. Of course you make the offer conditional for five days, pending financing.
NOW. You take a quick look around the house and scan the inspector’s report, which tells you that things are in order as far as they can see. Of course much of the wiring and the plumbing is concealed, perhaps on purpose. You only have time to exchange a knowing glance with your husband and hasten to put in an offer, hoping the house didn’t sell while you were studying the concealed plumbing. You put in a firm offer 15% above the asking price, but the agent tells you there are five offers on the table, and so you make that 20% above the asking price.

THEN. Your offer is accepted, although they make you pay a few thousand more just to flex their muscle, and they give you only three days to arrange for the financing. You can’t sleep and worry non-stop until the bank approves your mortgage five hours before the deadline.

NOW. Your offer is rejected because someone else offered 25% above the asking price. You can’t sleep and worry non-stop because there is nothing else in your preferred neighbourhood that’s affordable. So next day you go out, looking at houses that you can’t afford.