Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day Distractions

After being a dissertation data coding monkey for a few weeks, I thought it was time to take a break. (Translation: I'm in a holding pattern right now. The next set of data to analyze won't be collected until June 3, and everything is set for the proposal defense. So, the only thing to do is wait.) I'm not very good at relaxing, though, which means I want to go somewhere - anywhere but here. Because traveling isn't in the cards for this weekend, I did the next best thing: I read Jean Thompson's Do Not Deny Me (forthcoming). While I've been intrigued by Thompson's work before, particularly given that she lives in my old stomping grounds - Urbana, IL - this book of 12 stories was my introduction to her work. And I devoured everyone of them like a decadent box of fine chocolates.

The stories are centered around everyday life - relationships, financial problems, work-related issues, and even the dreaded midlife crisis. While this may not sound like page-turning events on the surface, Thompson's writing draws her reader in deeper and deeper with each word, with each sentence. I could clearly visualize Professor Penrose walking through the halls of a college campus building (I imagined the English Building at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Agent Roorda talking about his parents' house in Paris (IL), Mrs. Crabtree from Olney (also IL) trying to save her American dream during an economic downturn, and Claudine threatening to take her husband, Hurley, to the "demented ward" at the VA Hospital in Danville. While the stories for the most part are not directly connected, the quotidian trials the characters struggle with weave a common thread throughout the book.

The book concludes with an update on Lynn, "a model of a modern Michigan matron," who decides her husband's affairs with young grad students are unacceptable. Even though Lynn's "Untold Story" does not spin a fairy tale of the good life, it does leave the reader feeling that Lynn is going to make it after all (cue the "Mary Tyler Moore" show theme song, "Love is All Around"). This is not to say that Thompson is trying to put a sugar coating over these stories. She is not. While not overtly disturbing, the lives and actions of these characters continue to haunt the reader long after the last page is turned. However, the message that seems to be seeping through the gauze of Lynn's untold story is that despite the rough patches, these characters will not be denied a bit of happiness along the way.

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