BOOMERBROADcast

Enjoy, laugh, disagree or simply empathize with those who lived life in THE sixties and are now rockin' life in THEIR sixties, and beyond.


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The voice of Mary Walsh comes through in her writing


Britain may have Dame Judi Dench as their national treasure but we have our own Boomer Broad Mary Walsh as our beacon of everything Canadian. Newfoundland-born Walsh is a writer, comedienne and actor whose decades-long career began in a local maritime comedy troupe and grew to become a regular on national television. Walsh has skewered Prime Ministers and business tycoons as activist Marg, Princess Warrior. She made us laugh as one of the Friday Night Girls on CODCO and later as a regular on CBC’s This Hour Has Twenty-Two Minutes.

Walsh’s new book Crying For The Moon is a good read. It’s the story of Maureen, a young girl growing up in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She fakes her way on to the school choir to score a trip to Expo ’67 in Montreal. That’s the beginning of the unfolding of a different kind of life for Maureen. With a difficult mother she calls ‘the Sarge’ and a distant father who prefers being out on the boats, Maureen experiences all the confusion and angst of growing into a woman without the support and guidance of secure, loving parents. She seeks love in meaningless sex and suffers the consequences of having her illegitimate baby taken from her.

Maureen functions under dark feelings of inadequacy and a lack of self-respect which inevitably lead her into trouble. Like so many teenage girls struggling under similar circumstances, she puts on a tough, defiant face and tries to make the best of her circumstances. Her risky behaviours lead her into an abusive relationship and ultimately she becomes the prime suspect in a murder.

Throughout the book I could hear Mary Walsh’s voice reading to me with her lyrical Newfoundland accent. She paints a vivid picture of Maureen’s environment and she clearly understands the nuances of being an abused woman. It’s a serious problem and for those who have never suffered at the hands of another person, not always understood. “She thought she deserved it. And then, because she was so beaten down, so crumbled into pieces, so beaten into bits that she didn’t know how to gather up all the crumbs of herself to do anything. Plus, she’d been afraid.”. Maureen’s lack of self-esteem and with no support from her family she’s trapped in an untenable domestic situation. Walsh relates Maureen’s dilemma with sensitivity and understanding as we watch her rationalize the horror and then retreat from her circle of friends.  She uses drugs and alcohol to try and cope.

Mary Walsh as Marg, Princess Warrior.

I don’t mean to suggest the book is totally harsh or depressing. Newfoundland humour abounds in the dialogue and in the scenes that play out in the narrative. We’re treated to lovely descriptions of downtown St. John’s in all its colour and idiosyncrasies. Walsh’s depiction of the burden and crush of Catholic dogma enforced on young minds by the teaching nuns is revealing and we sympathize with the feelings of shame and confusion that it generates in Maureen. “She’d stolen so much makeup from Woolworths, she knew that, even if she went to confession, she had no hope of absolution, because the priest would insist that she pay back the store for all the stuff she’d robbed. She would never have that much money, and so she would never get forgiveness.” There are many religious references responsible for Maureen’s feelings of inadequacy and failure.

Eventually Maureen finds a sympathetic friend in a quirky co-worker who helps bring sense to her misguided life. I wasn’t thrilled with the ending but I enjoyed the journey. The story is a snapshot of the life of a misguided young woman trying to make her way in life. It’s packaged in an easy-to-read murder mystery. I’ve always been a huge fan of Mary Walsh so whatever she turns her hand to, I’m there. We have to support other women and Canadian writers—like me, sort of, eh? I give it 7 out of 10.


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Trip into the light fantastic


When I saw that I was number four on the waiting list at the library for Meg Wolitzer’s current best seller The Female Persuasion I decided to try another of her books while I waited for Persuasion to become available. The Uncoupling was written in 2011 and it turned out to be an interesting choice. I had no idea what to expect but it’s sort of a fantasy that wouldn’t normally have been my kind of book, however it turned out to be a really fun read. The plot follows the inhabitants of Stellar Plains, New Jersey as they fall under a spell that is reminiscent of a Greek play being performed by students at the local high school. If someone you know is a teacher, they’ll really enjoy this book.

We are first introduced to Robby and Dory Lang who along with their teenage daughter Willa form a perfect Stepford family. Robby and Dory teach English at Eleanor Roosevelt High School and Wolitzer’s descriptions of the students, teachers and the assorted members of the community is razor sharp. The Spanish teacher is called Señor Mandelbaum; Leanne Bannerjee, the school psychologist is having an affair with Principal McCleary; two of the students wear tee shirts that read SLUT I and SLUT II.

When a new drama teacher, Fran Heller arrives on the scene, the established social order is thrown off balance. As expected of a drama teacher, Heller is unconventional and paints her house in southwestern Arizona colours that are completely incongruent with the northeastern community. Her husband lives far away in Chicago and her precocious son Eli becomes a classmate and BFWB of Willa Lang. The play Fran Heller finally selects for her students to perform in their annual February event is a Greek comedy, Lysistrata, the Aristophanes comedy first performed in 411 B.C. Fed up with their testosterone-loaded men spending all their time killing and fighting in the Peloponnesian War for the past twenty years, the women in the play stage a sex strike to deprive their men of what they want the most in life—SEX—until they stop warring.

Coincidentally, a cold wind blows through various homes in Stellar Plains around the same time and deprives all the local females of their sex drive. They turn away from husbands and lovers creating an atmosphere of confusion, anger and resentment. As you can imagine, this action has grave repercussions. The drama culminates in a keystone cops kind of conclusion during the students’ grand performance of Lysistrata that made me think of a toned-down version of Jack Nicholson’s comeuppance in Witches of Eastwick. Except, there’s a solid moral to this story. Really fun read and I plan to check out more books by Meg Wolitzer.

Thought for the day:

What if American women staged a similar strike until the men got rid of their guns. Imagine . . .

 


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Backroom affairs are old news at The White House


It’s common knowledge that Donald Trump isn’t the first President of the United States who couldn’t keep it zipped. The only difference between then and now is that then it wasn’t talked about in polite company or in the news. JFK was a rogue. Thomas Jefferson* practised equal rights in the bedroom. Franklin D. Roosevelt had a series of mistresses and was forgiven his dalliances. When Eleanor Roosevelt learned of her husband’s love affairs, their marriage became a partnership of shared and mutual responsibility. But until recently little was known about Eleanor Roosevelt’s lusty love life. Propriety in those times and her reputation for good works spared her the criticism and condemnation lobbed at public figures today.

I’ve just finished reading Loving Eleanor by Susan Wittig Albert and I loved it. The book is a fictional memoir about the real-life love affair between Eleanor Roosevelt and senior Associated Press reporter Lorena Hickok. They met in 1928 before FDR was elected President and remained friends until the death of Mrs. Roosevelt in 1962. The author followed the approximate timeline sourced from more than three thousand personal letters written between Mrs. Roosevelt and Ms. Hickok, known then as ‘Hick’. Excerpts from these letters, which were sealed until after the death of both ladies are quoted in the book.

Even though she was in her mid-forties and a grandmother when her affair with Hick began, Mrs. Roosevelt’s bi-sexuality was apparent. She enjoyed both male (usually younger) and female lovers and FDR turned a blind eye, as did she toward his affairs. Hickok was a positive influence in encouraging the “reluctant First Lady” to embrace causes and assume a higher profile in the media with weekly press conferences for women reporters and ultimately a daily newspaper column.

From their first meeting in 1928 until their deaths decades later, Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok remained close.

Like many relationships, the romantic one between Eleanor Roosevelt and Lorena Hickok ran its course. Divergent, busy lifestyles and new partners soon intervened. But their friendship endured. They wrote to each other almost daily and Hick was involved in working with the former first lady up until the time of her death in 1962.

Although Loving Eleanor is a work of fiction, its connection to real life is vividly and sensitively portrayed. The experiences the two women shared, including social events, vacations and election campaigns are easily imagined in the context of what we know from documented history. The book is a delightful read and I highly recommend it.

*Jefferson’s Daughters by Katherine Kerrison is another book on my ‘to read’ list.


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Samantha Irby tells it like it is and you may or may not like what that is


I’ve just finished reading a New York Times best-selling book by an incredible woman who’s hysterically funny, articulate and smart. That being said, however, I’ve been debating whether or not to publish a review of her book because so many of my Boomerbroadcast readers might be offended by its content. So, I’ve decided to err on the side of openness and share my impression of “We are never meeting in real life” which I think is an amazing book by Samantha Irby. It’s a memoir-style series of essays describing her life, the story of a Phoenix rising.

Samantha Irby is a thirty-seven-year-old married, black, lesbian blogger and author whose life is fascinating to this married, white, hetero blogger. As followers of my blog know, I’m always attracted to stories by and about people, particularly women who have been able to rise above a difficult, challenging childhood and make a success of their lives. And I measure success in terms of happiness, not money.

After dropping out of college Irby worked for fourteen years in a veterinarian’s office, hence the picture of the mangy looking kitten on the book cover. It represents the tiny abandoned kitten someone brought into the clinic that Irby ultimately adopted. It was so young its eyes had not opened; it was flea and tick infested, had numerous eye, ear and other infections and generally was not expected to live. But she did and was named Helen Keller because of her initial inability to see. Helen was not a loveable kitten but was obviously loved despite her behaviour. Irby anthromorphosizes the cat and describes their partnership as being like bad roommates. When the pizza guy comes, Helen is “waiting by the door with her suitcase packed, hoping the pizza guy will take her home with him.”.

Samantha Irby’s story has a happy ending.

Samantha Irby grew up poor in Chicago. Her mother had multiple sclerosis, was confined first to a wheelchair and ultimately a nursing home. Her father was an abusive, frequently absent alcoholic. Irby developed all the characteristics of a bright young misfit struggling to survive under difficult circumstances. This book is written in the language of an angry, disadvantaged young black woman who is sexually ambiguous and definitely adventurous. Her writing is heavy on the cultural idiom of her community and she is open and graphic about her sex life. Four-letter words abound so if you are easily offended, then this is not the book for you.

The author is candid about her struggles with weight and health issues, including depression. “When I was growing up, no one in my house was talking about depression. That’s something that happened to white people on television, not a thing that could take down a Strong Black Woman.” She also suffers from arthritis and Crohn’s Disease. Like me, Irby loves going to the movies, “and when I do I like, like, like to have popcorn. And a fountain Coke, because I live for the burning snap of a freshly carbonated beverage.” I hear ‘ya sista’. She prefers exercise classes with seniors or pregnant women where she feels “comfortable around some pancake arms and spider veins and National Geographic titties, for real.”

Reading her book was a peek inside the life of someone I might not otherwise encounter, hence her title “we are never meeting in real life”. That presumed anonymity is perhaps what gives her the courage to write as openly as she does. She shares her financial challenges resulting from having no money and no parental guidance in how to handle whatever money they had. She carried these patterns into adulthood. “A lot of us are living like this, right. Taking cabs and ordering takeout Thai on pay-day, then walking the three blocks to work from the train with a bologna sandwich in our bags a week or so later?”

I absolutely loved this book and came away better informed, happier and more accepting of life’s shortcomings than before I started. Her writing reminded me of Lindy West or Amy Schumer. If you choose to read this book, please be warned that it is not for the faint of heart. Irby’s opinions are raunchy; the language is X-rated but her story is touching, hilarious and unforgettable.


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Eleanor Oliphant touched my heart


When I first began reading Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by first-time author Gail Honeyman, it felt like a riff on Bridget Jones. Right from the beginning I had a smile on my face as I read her words. The first-person narrator, Eleanor is a thirty-year-old unmarried woman who works in Accounts Receivable for a graphic design company in Glasgow, Scotland. She appears to function on the low end of the Asperger’s scale as evidenced by her repetitive, boring routines and odd perspective on the rituals of life, while possessing obvious intelligence. Her peculiarities make her the butt of behind-the-scenes jokes by coworkers and she has an endearing appreciation for vodka.

The underlying message, however, is that Eleanor has a past. Her relationship with “Mummy” is complicated and references to a fire while she was a child make the reader want to know more about why she is the way she is. If you’re as old as I am you may remember The Tracey Ullman Show on television in the eighties. (As a side note, that’s where The Simpsons debuted as short segments between Tracey’s brilliant character sketches.) Anyway, Eleanor Oliphant reminds me of Tracey Ullman’s character called Kay, pronounced Kyyyye, a repressed colourless English spinster of indeterminate age who is dedicated to the well-being of ‘Mummy’.

Eleanor’s “before” persona reminded me of Tracey Ullman’s Kay Clark character.

When Eleanor develops an over-the-top crush on a male musician at a charity show, she sets out to remake herself as someone worthy of being his wife. Envisioning a fantasy future with the object of her affections grows in her imagination and she begins a process of rebuilding her persona. At the same time, Eleanor is befriended by Raymond, the similarly socially challenged I.T. technician who works in her office. One day as they’re going to lunch, they witness an elderly man, Sammy pass out on the street and they come to his aid. Raymond accompanies the man to hospital in the ambulance and Eleanor is unwittingly roped into following up on his well-being. They begin a tentative friendship with Sammy and his family with positive results for both Raymond and Eleanor.

The story is charmingly written and at times I burst out laughing as I read Elinor’s descriptions of her life. While she appears a misfit, she’s a sympathetic character and we want her to win whatever battles she’s fighting. Toward the end of the book, the pieces of the puzzle come together and I almost felt guilty about laughing at her earlier experiences. It is in fact dark humour with a happy ending. I loved reading Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. It’s an amazing book and I can’t wait for more by Gail Honeyman.


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Sleeping on Jupiter is a clash of dreams and reality


This book first came to my attention when I heard the author of Sleeping on Jupiter, Anuradha Roy being interviewed on CBC Radio. Listening to the background story of a young girl from India being told in the author’s lyrical accent prompted me to immediately put it on my ‘To Read’ list. The characters’ stories are linked by their common voyage to the seaside temple city of Jarmuli. It’s beautifully written with many sensory touch-points that take the reader deeper into the scents, sounds and texture of India.

Two story lines run parallel. Three grandmothers have decided to make a pilgrimage to Jarmuli for what baby boomers would call a girls’ week. They have never been away from their families and this act of independence allows them to communicate and explore their separate and different personalities. Latika is slender, not religious and the most modern of the three. She dyes her hair deep burgundy and is the most adventurous. Gouri is devout, traditional and the most conservative. She’s also in the early stages of dementia and its ravages are becoming evident to the point her two friends realize they have to keep close tabs on her to prevent her becoming lost or worse. Vidya is the intermediary and the one least inclined to rock the boat. During their travels and excursions their different personalities both irritate and reassure each other, which is common among old friends.

The fourth woman Nomi’s story begins with a guerilla attack on her family in their local village when she was only seven years old. Her father and brother were killed while her mother managed to escape with Nomi on her back. After days on the run, her mother turns Nomi over to an unknown man on the beach who embarks on a journey with a dozen other young girls to a distant ashram where they are left in the care of a famous guru. They are told he is God and they are to be fed, clothed and educated while in his protective care. Nomi meets the three traveling grandmothers as an adult when she shares a cabin on the train at the beginning of their trip to Jarmuli. As their lives intersect we are introduced to secondary characters whose lives are equally complicated and challenging.

Sleeping on Jupiter is beautifully written. The narrative alternates between first person (Nomi) and third person, and times in Nomi’s life as a child and an adult. The characters and their experiences are described in language that is compelling and descriptive. The darker side of life in India such as child sexual abuse and poverty are handled with sensitivity and understanding. My only complaint with the book is that it ended too soon. There were loose ends and unfinished story lines that I would have liked to be wrapped up. But life does not always have happy endings and satisfactory answers; this book is a slice of life.

To order Sleeping on Jupiter from Amazon.com click here.

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‘Fire and Fury’: The emperor has no clothes


There’s only one word to describe the best-selling book Fire and Fury, Inside The Trump White House by Michael Wolff. Disturbing. Very, very disturbing. The title refers to Donald Trump’s threats of raining ‘fire and fury the likes of which no one has ever seen’ on North Korea if they continue to launch nuclear missiles. Bill Maher called the exposé about Donald Trump’s White House administration a ‘fun read’. Trump supporters will call it an unfair representation. Whatever your position, it’s not fun and it’s scarier than anything by Stephen King. And I’m not even an American. Wolff was able to get unfettered ‘fly-on-the-wall’ access to the inner workings of white house life by presenting himself as a sympathetic documentarian of the transition during the first one hundred days of the Trump administration. That approach assuaged the emperor’s ego and got Wolff the access he needed.

How did the American people let this train wreck happen? Reading Fire and Fury is like opening a large bag of Ruffles potato chips. You take a bite then you can’t stop gorging, even though it makes you feel gassy, ill and disgusted with yourself. In fact, after I was a few dozen pages into the book I wasn’t even sure I would be able to finish. I was horrified and appalled at what I was reading and wasn’t sure I would have the stamina to soldier on. But once you open the bag it’s hard to stop.

My overriding impression as I read the book is that Trump likes being the emperor but has neither the aptitude nor the inclination to do the work involved. His number one preoccupation is his media presence—not immigration, not health care or jobs, not foreign policy and certainly not the American people, despite his rhetoric. I would have liked to see more about Melania but according to her husband, she’s just a ‘trophy wife’, arm candy and they lead fairly separate lives. His ‘office wives’ are another matter. And they’re what Ivanka Trump misinterprets as his positive views on feminism. Even though Ivanka, Kellyanne Conway, Hope Hicks and others play a large role in his day-to-day life, they’re supporters, nurturers, hand-holders. As soon as I finished the book, I came across an excellent piece by Jill Filipovic in the New York Times that perfectly describes this dynamic. “As women who work know, egalitarianism is not always the norm, and many of us have found ourselves serving as the caretaking ‘work wife’ to the emotionally needier male co-worker or superior.” And this boss prefers his work wives in skirts and high heels.

I also learned that son-in-law Jared Kushner and his family are long-time Democrats and Kushner’s brother owns an insurance company that benefits from Obamacare. Like Maria Shriver, Kushner had to bite the bullet on that one. The game of musical chairs for senior positions in the Trump white house has created an atmosphere of instability and chaos. No one knows who does what or for how long so everyone is kept busy protecting their turf. It was Steve Bannon versus Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump versus a cast of has-beens and wannabe’s.  When Gary Cohn, former President of Goldman Sachs came on board to contribute his management skills as Chief Economic Advisor, he did not mince words: “It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything—not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored. . . I am in a constant state of shock and horror.”

There are just too many juicy bits to begin to relate here. I urge you to read Michael Wolff’s excellent book and draw your own conclusions. I binged and now I don’t feel well. In fact, I feel bloated, helpless and defeated. I worry about how the American people will pay for the inevitable health care they’re going to need when they try to digest and live with this smorgasbord of unsavory heart-stoppers. How is it all going to end?

Click here to read “Trump and his work wives” by Jill Filipovic.

Click here to order Fire & Fury by Michael Wolff from Amazon.com.

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You’re beautiful mes très chères.