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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Do you hear the call of the wild?


When I read Kristin Hannah’s earlier novel, The Nightingale (about a female resistance fighter in WW 2 France), it was obvious the lady can write, which is why I was anxious to tuck into her latest novel, The Great Alone. This story is set in Alaska in the 1970s and is steeped in graphic descriptions of the geography, the wildlife, the people and the unusual lifestyles they embrace. As I was reading the book I was amazed at the depth of research she must have undertaken, then discovered that she lived in Alaska which explains why she has such a deep appreciation and sensitivity for the area.

The main character, Leni Allbright is born to teenager parents (her mother Cora was only sixteen) during the sixties. When Leni’s father Ernt comes back from Vietnam with what would now be called PTSD, his demons surface in the form of anti-social behaviours and domestic violence against his wife. One day he receives a letter from the father of a deceased army buddy stating that his friend had left him a plot of land and a cabin in Alaska. Ernt sees this as the perfect opportunity to escape life and live “off the grid” so he packs his wife and young daughter into an old VW van and they head off for remote Alaska.

Upon the family’s arrival in a small, isolated community in late spring, they are befriended by locals including Large Marge, a former lawyer who has also left the bustle of urban life in Seattle and runs a tiny general store in town. The few people who live nearby pitch in and help the Allbright family set up their homestead on a muddy patch of land with a dilapidated two-room cabin. Life without electricity, running water and plumbing is challenging and in order to survive their first winter they must start growing vegetables, raise chickens and goats and learn basic wilderness survival strategies.

When teenage Leni starts school there are only about half a dozen students of assorted ages in the tiny one-room school. She makes an immediate psychological connection with Matthew Walker who is the same age. His father is one of the town’s founding families and because of their long history and hard work in the area they are somewhat better off and more established than most of the community’s inhabitants.

Leni’s father Ernt soon displays the psychotic behaviours he exhibited back in “the world” and he becomes unpopular with the other members of the community. He’s pegged a trouble-maker and the abuse he inflicts on his wife soon becomes apparent. His only friend is the equally irascible father of his former army buddy. Leni and her mother Cora function in a constant state of fear and tension in an effort to not ignite Ernt’s hair-trigger temper.

I definitely plan to read more books by lawyer-turned-author Kristin Hannah.

A close friendship develops between Leni and Matthew but they must keep it secret from Ernt for fear of serious reprisal. During their early years in Alaska, Leni and her mother Cora adapt and learn to love Alaska as much as the local people and feel they have found the place where they want to spend the rest of their lives. The challenge is how to survive not only the geographical and climate conditions but also the volatile Ernt. Beyond this I won’t tell you any more of the plot as I don’t want to spoil it but I can assure you the narrative is beautifully and sensitively written. Hannah has a deep understanding of life in Alaska and articulates rare insight into the psychology and practicalities of domestic abuse. While the story is distressing at times, it is also fascinating, sensitive and educational.

I found myself wondering how I would cope in such an environment. The story is set in the 1970s long before the advent of the internet and wifi and life in Alaska is not easy. While I like to think I could rise to the challenges I’m afraid I’m now a confirmed city girl. The story is compelling and beautifully written. I highly recommend The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I’d rate it 9 out of 10.

To order The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah from Amazon, click here.

To order The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah from Amazon, click here.

 

 


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Meg Wolitzer addresses feminism through fiction


The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer tackles the evolution of contemporary feminism through the experiences of fictional 20-something Greer and 60-something Faith Frank. It’s a riff on the old theme of A Star is Born where the veteran is overtaken by her protégé. We’re introduced to Greer as a young girl being raised by seemingly indifferent parents. Her neighbour Cory becomes her best friend, lover and hoped-for life partner. Both Greer and Cory are gifted students with great futures predicted for them both at high-end ivy-league universities. Cory successfully qualifies for a scholarship and attends Princeton while Greer grudgingly attends a lower echelon college because her parents couldn’t master the scholarship application forms.

During her first year of college, at the urging of a friend, Greer attends a presentation by a famous early feminist, Faith Frank. During a post-speech encounter in the ladies room, Greer scores a business card from empathetic and powerful Frank which Greer uses when she graduates to land a job at Faith Frank’s feminist foundation. In the meantime, after graduating from Princeton, boyfriend Cory’s career in business takes him to Manilla. During his overseas assignment, Cory receives devastating news that results in his returning home to take care of his mother. Complications naturally arise and the characters’ career trajectories are diverted. As Greer and Cory’s individual lives evolve, their personal relationship evaporates.

There are many reasons I looked forward to reading The Female Persuasion:

  • I enjoyed Wolitzer’s earlier book, The Interestings.
  • The plot focuses on the evolution of feminism, an issue of deep interest to me.
  • When I saw the author interviewed on The Social I was impressed with her intelligence and powers of observation.
  • The book is a New York Times best-seller and film rights have been optioned by Nicole Kidman.

However, just because all these criteria come together in The Female Persuasion it doesn’t necessarily mean I loved the book. I found the plot to be a tad cliché and the story didn’t keep me strongly engaged. It’s only because the book was a best-seller and I held out hope that it would get better that I kept going. Parts of it were crushingly boring and could have used further editing. I’d call it light reading and more about love and romance than feminism. I disagree with New York Times’ readers. I’d be interested in knowing what you think. Rating: 5 out of 10.

To order The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitizer from Amazon.ca, click here.


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Are you ready for online dating?


When I received a request through my blog to review a how-to book about online dating, I couldn’t resist. Author Gail Karpus who wrote Fast Track to Romance, An exclusive online dating guide for the mature woman chalked up an astonishing 500 online dates in her quest to meet Mr. Right. She’s the high priestess of online dating. By the time online dating became part of the scene I was on my second husband but I have many friends who have online dated and it’s an undertaking that requires patience, skill and emotional stamina. Some friends’ dates went so well they got married; others, well, they’re still searching.

Meeting eligible men when you’re post-menopausal comes with a special set of challenges. Fortunately, we’ve probably already made our share of bad choices and gained a lot of experience over the years. While we’re now able to put less emphasis on superficial qualities like guys being cute, we’re now searching for more important criteria, like a good RRSP and being a genuinely good person. One of our major concerns is avoiding men looking for the proverbial nurse or a purse. No one wants to be a sugar momma to a ne-er-do-well and we also don’t want to be saddled with someone who’s only looking for the services of a free live-in housekeeper and caregiver.

Gail Karpus’s advice is honest and enlightening. She lays the groundwork for the online dating scene in the early chapters of the book with the information building in validity and intensity as we get further into the book. At 152 pages it’s a fast read and chock full of good advice. I didn’t agree with absolutely everything she said, but as a non-dater what do I know. Ninety-eight percent of it was truly valuable and sponge-worthy. The overriding message is, “You need to go out and get it! It won’t just come to you.” That requires a plan and some ground work. That was always my advice to women in business as well. Raises and promotions don’t necessarily appear without marketing yourself and lobbying on your own behalf. By taking the advice of Karpus, a seasoned dater, you can save a lot of time and energy. Her goal is to “fast-track” you along the path to happily ever after.

The book includes chapters on preparing yourself physically and mentally, how to construct your online profile, how to read and assess potential ‘meets’, protocols for first, second and third dates, how to cut him lose or reel him in, sorting the wheat from the chaff, the benefits of tracking dates on a spreadsheet (yikes!), watching for and recognizing red flags and many other aspects of dating as a mature woman. Karpus writes honestly and with humour, describing many of her own experiences in a voice that readers can relate to. Every contingency is covered and upon finishing Fast Track to Romance readers will feel more comfortable and confident about proceeding with online dating. I’d rate it 8 out of 10.

To order a copy of Fast Track to Romance from Amazon, click here.

 


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Tara Westover is proof we can rise above adversity


Tara Westover’s best-selling memoir Educated is a success story similar to J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy and Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle—and I loved them all. Stories by people who rise above disadvantaged circumstances fascinate me and are an inspiration to those who struggle. When we look at several children raised by the same parents in the same environment, we wonder what makes some seek higher meaning while others remain satisfied with the status quo.

Westover was the seventh of seven children born to devout Mormons in Idaho. Their strict devotion might not have been so much religious as just plain bizarre. While father Gene quoted the bible extensively and purported to listen only to the word of the Lord, we have to wonder whether his take on God’s word was what God intended. He was supported unquestioningly by his wife. They were intensely opposed to formal education and did not want their children corrupted by outside influences or potentially ungodly guidance in the public school system. So the children were pseudo home-schooled, which in reality meant they were taught basic reading and writing but beyond studying the Bible, they were totally ignorant.

Father Gene was convinced the day of reckoning or ‘illumination’ was imminent and kept the family a high state of alert and constant preparation. They canned home-grown fruit and vegetables, stored gasoline in a giant tank buried in the yard and salvaged whatever they could for survival. He earned a basic living by running a junkyard and doing minor construction jobs building barns and sheds in the community. He operated under the misguided assumption that the feds were out to get them and destroy their family. Westover’s mother earned money as an unqualified midwife for the local Mormon community and she had a side business making herbal medicinal potions.

The children all worked in their father’s junkyard and construction businesses incurring numerous injuries which never received proper medical attention. Westover was subjected to extreme bullying and physical abuse by an older brother while the parents failed to protect her. Both maternal and paternal grandparents, who were also Mormon did not share the family’s strict dogma and constantly tried without success to intervene on behalf of the children. Two of her older brothers escaped their toxic home environment by studying and qualifying to go to college. At the age of sixteen, Tara Westover wanted the same for herself so she spent a year self-educating and after two attempts, succeeded in passing the multiple choice entrance exams. Using money she had saved, she entered Brigham Young University and was confronted with how little she knew of the real world. Her basic life skills were abysmal. She had no conception of spelling or grammar. Even personal hygiene was something that not been practised at home growing up and her college roommates had to educate her on regular bathing, cleaning up her kitchen messes and dressing appropriately.

Tara Westover is a remarkable person with a remarkable story.

While surrounded by fellow Mormons at BYU it became obvious her father believed in a different God. “I’d been aware that although my family attended the same church as everyone in our town, our religion was not the same.”  Westover had no conception or knowledge of geography. She didn’t know Europe was a continent or that France was a country within Europe. She’d never heard the name Margaret Thatcher, FDR or even the meaning of the word ‘Holocaust’. Her general knowledge of life outside the community she grew up in was shockingly inadequate. Despite a rocky start at college, Westover, worked extremely hard to catch up, persevered and finally excelled. As a result, she was awarded a scholarship to attend Cambridge in England where she studied before being further recommended for study at Harvard University.

Writing a memoir at the age of twenty-five may seem a bit premature but as proven and documented by author and psychologist Catherine Gildiner, many young women have lived remarkable lives in the first quarter of their lives. Westover ultimately earned a BA from Brigham Young University, a MPhil from Trinity College, Cambridge and a PhD in history from Harvard University. That’s quite an accomplishment for someone who was practically illiterate at sixteen and suffered significantly at the hands of her family. I’d give this story 9 out of 10.

To order a copy of Educated by Tara Westover from Amazon, click here.

To order a copy of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance from Amazon, click here.

To order The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls from Amazon, click here.

To order the third book in Catherine Gildiner’s trilogy, Coming Ashore, click here.

 


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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.