Tag: relationships


The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

March 3rd, 2020 — 4:44pm

 

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami

An old man who happens to be a Moroccan immigrant and the owner of a small restaurant is killed by a hit-and-run driver in a small California town. The impact on his friends, neighbors, police, a reluctant witness, and a few others is examined. Each person gets to speak multiple times as a chapter is devoted to the thinking of that subject at various times. Since many are immigrants, we get a sense of where they are coming from geographically and psychologically. We see familiar scenarios of parents’ expectations of children and young people trying to find their personal identities as well as exploring relationships. The reader is confronted with prejudice, pride, jealously, love, sexuality and a lot more human experiences.

The story is also a classic “whodunit” mystery. It reminded me of the many episodes I have seen of the popular TV program Dateline where a real mystery is detected and there is an attempt to show how the cast of characters is related and explained in some depth. Here is where the book failed for me. I got caught in wanting to figure out who the killer was, especially since there was an early suggestion that there was a motive and not an accident. Therefore, I became less interested in the in-depth analysis of each character and wanted to see the police solve the mystery. So in retrospect, I did not appreciate the potential value of this book, although it did hold my interest.(2020)

 

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The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

October 31st, 2019 — 7:23pm

The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

Just about every family has complicated relationships. When you look in- depth into them, you are likely to find surprises and interesting stories. Cathleen Schine, the author, is an excellent storyteller and draws the reader into the lives of her characters. She starts off by introducing us to an elderly couple; Betty and her husband, Josie who have two grown daughters, Annie and Miranda. Josie has just surprised everyone by asking his wife of many years for a divorce since he plans to marry his secretary. He also insists upon living in their New York apartment and relegating his wife to their beach cottage in Westport, Connecticut where his daughters and now single wife will live. Their cousins and other people who live nearby have become an important part of the story. There are also new characters encountered both young and older people who develop meaning relationships with the three main characters. The more we understand about them, the more we can appreciate the impact of events on them and agonize over the decisions that they have to make. The net result is a good story which will probably hold your interest although this may not be one of your unforgettable top reads.

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The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

September 26th, 2019 — 12:23am

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

This story is about an elite family that has owned an island off the coast of Maine for 3 generations. It started with a wealthy couple Ogden and Kitty Milton in the 1930s. Ogden Milton ran a bank that may have had some secret dealings with the Naizis during that time. Ogden and his wife seemingly had everything until tragedy struck them. In response to their grief, they purchased the island and made a tradition of yearly visits to the island every year as the family would grow with new generations. The prejudices and complex feelings became apparent as time went on. A Jewish man gets a job in the patriach’s bank and he becomes involved with one of the daughters. His best friend from Harvard, a black man, also joins one of the family get-togethers on the island.

The book not only shows racism and power but clearly addresses some of the differences in how various family members accepted others who were different.. The author skillfully lets the reader into the mind and thoughts of each of the characters. Her style included choosing various time periods out of sequence, which I thought made it difficult at times to closely follow each character.

The author’s description of the island and the house and other buildings on it was so clear that I was not surprised to find out that it was based out on a real place and probably some actual people and their experiences.

This is a solid good read that I would recommend for consideration.

 

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Normal People by Sally Rooney

August 24th, 2019 — 11:10am

Normal People by Sally Rooney

One of the most intriguing things about this book is the title. I believe that that author is telling us that every meaningful relationship is built upon complex psychodynamics. In this story, we have a boy and girl who become friends in childhood. She is from a wealthy family with one parent and a brother who is frequently mean to her. He is raised by a single loving mom who is actually a housekeeper for the girl’s family. He is very popular in high school with lots of friends. She is a loner and often didn’t go to classes. They both are very smart. They have their first sexual experience together which is very intense and meaningful. As both of them mature and go to college they develop a different circle of friends and relationships but they still have various meetings and encounters. One of them has a tendency to have a depressive disorder. Both of them have complex dynamics related to needs and preferences influenced by earlier experiences with family members. For example one has certain masochistic needs. These factors all influence their choices and experiments with relationships and the struggles whenever they periodically reconnect. This very well-written book shows us the very complex psychological factors which greatly impact on their pathway in life and their attraction to each other. There is nothing common, typical, or easily predictable, but yet, that is what human behavior is all about. “Just two normal people.”

If you wish to purchase  this book from Amazon please click here

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Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

October 5th, 2018 — 8:01pm

Reclaiming Conversation by Sherry Turkle

Although this book bemoans the loss of conversation because of modern technology, I don’t believe I have recently read a book that stimulated more conversation with people who are important to me than this one did. Early in the book, there is a reference to a cute two-minute video which had 51 million hits the last time I looked. It is titled “I Forgot My Phone” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OINa46HeWg8). The response to this simple message reveals to me the awareness that people now have concerning their increasing dependency on their phones.

It is stating the obvious that people are on their phones much of the time, at the dinner table, while working, in school, walking in the street, riding in the car-frequently while driving, before going to sleep, just after waking up, as well as in many more places and situations. The author hammers home the point which should be obvious, but perhaps it is not, that texts, emails, emojis, etc. are taking the place of real conversations between people. Replying to a text or email while you are with people is not a real conversation with the person who is in your presence or with your phone partner. In person conversations facilitate real relationships and creativity.

The impact of this book, which is based on a good deal of personal research by the author as well as studying other peoples’ research and observations, is not simply a loss of the art of or advantages of meaningful conversation. Ms. Turkle makes a very strong argument and a scary one, as she gives numerous examples proving the point, that the more we communicate with our phones as compared to being in person, the more we lose the ability to have empathy and to be empathic with other people. The ability to relate to others and to understand their feelings is the essence of what makes us human. Ms. Turkle is making a very compelling case that modern technology is making us lose our humanity.

This point is made in the book numerous times. While it is even somewhat repetitious, there is great value to see it in so many different contexts. For example, there is a parent who takes a small child to the park and is looking at his or her phone rather than looking and talking to the child. The author gives the all familiar example of a family who is at home or in the car with children involved in games or texting as the parents are likewise preoccupied with their phones rather than the family relating to each other. When there should be an in person creative business meeting, instead the meeting is held by Skype during which the participants are multitasking in their own locations. There is a school lunch table where friends instead of talking and understanding each other, are looking at their latest texts. There are obviously numerous other examples that could be made and are made in this book.

While the results of the invasion of our phones and all that goes with it is scary and discouraging, there is hope. The author talks about families, businesses and schools that are addressing these issues with no phone zones, no phones at meals or in the car and other creative ways of bringing people together and encouraging conversation. However, it is also clear that we are far from solving this problem. In fact, the author shows us with many examples that we are regressing “Siri” to robots who we want to take care of us. Do we believe that artificial intelligent machines can understand and respond to us? Where are we going with this issue? What should we do about the effects of modern technology on our humanity and the impact on our children. Read this book and keep talking about this subject.

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Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

March 17th, 2016 — 1:01pm

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 10.02.31 PMFate and Furies by Lauren Groff

Apparently, people either love or hate this book. If I hated it maybe that would have meant it had some special emotional meaning to me, which I don’t believe was the case. I certainly did not love it.

The main protagonists are a married couple, Lotto and Mathilde. They are seemingly very much in love but as often is the case there  is much more than meets the eye. Lotto was an actor turned into a successful playwright. In such a situation it would be expected that we might better understand him through his plays. We are presented with many pages of his plays which don’t really provide any great insight into him. We understand Mathilde as we learn more things about her earlier years, which gradually unfold throughout the book.

The author’s style reminds me of my early encounter with the classical writers which I did not  particularly understand and was not especially moved to figure them out. Perhaps this is my shortcoming. Another way of describing the style of the author is to say it is very pretentious. There were many metaphors which where not decipherable and seemed “cutsie”.  Sometimes while I was trying to figure them out, I felt I lost to some of the story line. Many authors successfully jump back and forth into different points in time, but usually there are some reference to where the particular chapter is taking place as well as the time period. This was not so with this book. I found that the time and place were not immediately obvious and therefore the readers may be  trying to figure them out rather than focusing on the plot.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the presence of “secrets” in the lives of the characters. Often these secrets when they are present contain something about their biological origin and/or secret sexual encounters. Why these secrets are so meaningful in a particular narrative is that they are often the doorway to some interesting psychological dynamics. I believe that with this book, the author would  knock on the door but then not clearly deliver on this possibility. Overall, I would say that this book was not my cup of tea.

To obtain a copy of this book from Amazon, please click here 

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One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

January 3rd, 2016 — 7:29pm

One Plus One By Jojo Moyes

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 11.04.59 AMThis is a road story about three plus one unlikely characters. There is Jess, a 20-something single mom, her maybe 12-year-old daughter, Tanzie and her teenage misfit stepson who was recently bullied. The plus one is Ed, a mid-30’s guy who Jess met when she cleaned his house in her job as a house cleaner and also drove him home one evening from the pub, where she works in the evening, after he drank too much. Tanzie is a math wizard who has the opportunity to win a scholarship plus expenses if she does well in the Math Olympiad in Scotland (They all live in England). Ed who is usually called Mr. Nicholls offers to drive Jess and family to Scotland after he sees them on the road when their car broke down on the way there. There is also a large droopy dog, Norman, who is along on this road trip so it is really three plus one plus one.

Jojo Moyes has a writing style that holds our attention with details of an interesting backstory about each person, which also shows their unique personality. We get insight into how the characters were developed. It turns out that they are all troubled. Jess and the kids all had difficult childhood experiences. Ed, while successful in business now has to deal with a recent personal relationship, which threatens to drastically change his life. They are all in the car, driving only 45 miles an hour on their way to Scotland because Tanzie gets sick when the car goes over that speed. As they putter along, their feelings unravel to the reader.

I believe that the magnetism that draws us to this book and makes you not want to put it down is that there always seems to be a glimmer of hope for each of them individually, as well as a group. But as exciting and hopeful as the story swings for them, there are circumstances, which challenge or devastate that hope. There is the wish for a fairytale ending but yet, it is a book about real life.

There is also great potential for this book as a movie with outstanding roles for in-depth character portrayals, which could even include some R-rated scenes. There is passion, love, poignancy, moral and ethical dilemmas. There is even an important role for a dog. But don’t wait for the movie, this will be a great read.

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The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

May 23rd, 2015 — 9:58pm

The Rosie Project by Graeme SimsionScreen Shot 2015-05-23 at 9.57.53 PM

Dr. Don Tillman is a professor of genetics in Australia where the book is set. It is his voice that tells the story. It does not take long to realize that it is probably the voice of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. Don, while obviously quite brilliant, lacks the ability to socialize and empathize with other people. At least so it seems. His only real friends are Gene, a faculty member in the Psychology Department and his wife, Claudia, who is a clinical psychologist. They have an open marriage as Gene attempts to have sex with a wide variety of women from all over the world (putting pins in a map marking each conquest). Gene and Claudia are loyal friends of Don and do their best to advise him how to get along with people.

Don undertakes two projects, which allows the reader to learn about how he thinks as well as getting some insight into human nature. The first is The Wife Project. For this, Don makes a questionnaire of all the characteristics he believes he would want in a wife. With the help of Gene, he is able to distribute this questionnaire to a wide variety of women. Factors that are evaluated are things such as smoking, drinking, eating habits, body mass index (BMI) and many others. No one really measures up to score very high in this questionnaire in Don’s quest to meet his life partner. Don does meet Rosie through Gene, who although she does not meet the criteria set out in the questionnaire but with whom he does develop a friendly relationship. Rosie was initially believed by Don to be a bartender but turns out to be a PhD student working in a bar to earn extra money.

It is with Rosie that he develops a second project known as The Father’s Project. It seems that Rosie was unhappy with the man who was known to be her stepfather because he did not deliver on his promises including a childhood hope to go to Disneyland. Her mother died when Rosie was a young girl and things that her mother told her before she died gave her reason to believe that her biological father was actually someone in her mother’s medical school graduating class and had impregnated her at the time of a reunion celebration. There was a picture of all the attendees at this celebration and Rosie and Don embarked upon The Father’s Project where they attempted to track down all these men and surreptitiously obtain samples for DNA analysis, which Don as a genetics professor could do in his laboratory.

Readers of this book blog as well as my psychiatry blog and movie blog would have noted that I have written about the not so uncommon quest to connect with an unknown biological relative, after many years and sometimes a lifetime of no contact with them and no knowledge who that person may be. ( see psychiatry blog about this subject  ) This theme also shows up in movies ( see movie blog about this subject which will links to several movies ) and books as well as this one and in clinical cases as illustrated in my psychiatry blog. As Don and Rosie team up with The Father’s Project, we appreciate how Don intensifies an interest with Rosie. He begins to question many of his assumptions about relationships and his own feeling.

No matter how well a person may fit, the diagnostic criteria for an entity whether it be a narcissistic personality, bipolar disorder, major depression, Asperger’s syndrome or any other entity, there are human qualities that affect the ability for everyone to care for another person, fall in love and have an ability to change. This interesting delightful and enlightening story clearly makes this point.

I understand there is a sequel book by this author, titled The Rosie Effect as well as a movie currently being made. If you like this book as I did, you probably will want to check these out.

1 comment » | FG - Fiction General, FR - Fiction Romance

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Souk Shin

August 17th, 2013 — 12:37am

Please Look After MotherPlease Look After Mom by Kyung-Souk Shin –  This book is about a Korean Family in which early in the story we learn that the elderly mother, the matriarch of the family, is missing. She was coming to Seoul, the big city, with her husband when their hand grasp was loosened in a crowded train station. This is the premise which the author uses to examine the role  of the mother in this family, at the same times she is able to touch upon universal issues in relationships in every culture. This is particularly poignant where mother comes from poverty and can’t give her children more than the sweat of her brow and the food off of her plate. To give your child what you never had is an understandable dream of a parent who saw so much around her that she couldn’t reach. For some parents it may be an education  or even the ability read, freedom from hunger , a career, travel, knowledge of the world etc. How much should a mother show of  her insecurity to her children and will this change with age when the children hopefully can obtain some of the things the parents could never have. Then there are secrets of the parents that the children never know. Even if the children think they know the secrets and what went on behind the scenes, they may not know the whole story. Did the children really know about Father and the other woman? Would they dare even to think that mother had a secret man friend . Certainly this book makes the reader reflect on whether we really understood our own mothers as well as whether our children really know us. Perhaps in guise of protecting a child, there is less sharing of goals, frustrations and even triumphs. Do grown children do the same thing with parents? Does this lead to less closeness and empathy for each other? Through the eyes of the family members we also appreciate how there can be delayed or postponed expressions of appreciation for each other and how one might regret this as time runs out. A worthy lesson of this book. As beautiful and as poignant as some of the insights of this book might be, it is quite repetitious. It loses much of it’s value as it hammers home the lessons and points it is making. It is one thing to tug at the reader’s heartstrings and try to make universal truths about essence of motherhood. However, to rehash it from several points of view, including a view of bird looking in some family interactions (bird’s eye view?) doesn’t not make a pleasant reading experience in this writer’s opinion. It seemed to me, there should have been some fresh new understanding and insight that was lacking in this book. One of the children of the mother in this story was described as being a successful author. She was frequently at odds with her mother and had much grief when her mother was gone before she could really reconcile. It was enough perhaps to bring about this novel.

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This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

March 22nd, 2013 — 9:25pm

this_is_where_i_leave_youThis is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

A father, the patriarch of the family dies. His three sons and a daughter with their families or significant other return home and join  the widow to sit Shiva for one week  after they are told that this is the surprising and uncharacteristic wish of the deceased. (Perhaps he wanted them to get together?) This becomes the setting for the author through the eyes of one of the sons, to explore the overt lives as well as the inner thoughts of all these participants. Sex, love or the lacks of the latter are the main themes. There is certainly plenty of the former. Mr Tropper has the ability to show his protagonist’s every sexual thought in a natural manner which I am sure most men and many women certainly will acknowledge has passed through their minds at one time or the other. He also creates a potpourri of affairs, encounters in the present or rekindled from the past, old flames, new flames, what could have been, what never should have been, fulfilled love, unfulfilled love and a lot more, Each one of these events is very real and I am sure just about every reader knows of some these first hand or knows about them existing somewhere in their family. But all of them in one family? It makes this a far fetched reading experience, albeit quite interesting. The interaction of these family members who on one hand seem to be so different and antagonistic to each other actually turn out to also feel close to each other and deep down quite caring of their family members. As we appreciate the events of their childhood we are also led to consider what role did their parents have in them ending up with this family bond? This stimulates in this writer wondering how our own kids family experiences will influence their relationships later in life when we are gone. It did not escape us that one of the parents (the mother) was some kind of a therapist although a quirky one at that. She had her own theories how to raise children, Probably all therapists, based on their experience treating people and seeing the results of their childhood on their adult problems, have ideas how to  better raise their own children. This reminds me of one of few Yiddish expressions that I know : Es vet gornit helfen!: Nothing will help!!

In my opinion what is missing in this book and what prevents it from being a great novel is that there is no real plot. In the future when the author comes up with an intriguing story line and adds his uncanny ability to capture inner feelings and thoughts, I believe he will bring his writing to a  new award winning level.

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