BOOMERBROADcast

The voice of baby boomers, the silenced majority. Rants and reflections on lifestyle, fashion, current events, books and more . . .


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For a good time . . . read Adam Resnick


I’ve just finished reading Adam Resnick’s autobiographical Will Not Attend, Lively Stories of Detachment and Isolation. Resnick, who dislikes socializing (hence the title) and considers himself a misfit sounds like a downer but it’s laugh-out-loud funny. His writing reminded me of David Sedaris. The author’s self-deprecating humour and gift for understatement leaves the reader sympathetic and understanding of his struggles in life, while at the same time rooting for him throughout his misadventures.

Children from large families often have correspondingly large personalities. Perhaps it’s the result of competing for parental attention or simply from competing to be seen and heard at all. Adam Resnick is the fourth son in a non-practising Jewish family of six boys. Life for him while growing up was a constant battle to survive the bullying, subterfuge, thieving and general anarchy that characterized his family of six boys. Their mother Joyce was loving, often oblivious to the conflicts and at times completely overwhelmed. Merv, their father, was a strong patriarch, prone to voicing his strong, politically incorrect opinions and displaying a quick temper. How could life be anything but interesting and colourful in such a family.

Adam Resnick with former boss, David Letterman.

Reading about Resnick’s struggles to maintain a place in the family’s hierarchy while accommodating his personal neuroses and peculiarities makes for hilarious reading. Whether trying to catch the attention a favourite little girlfriend, plotting to lose his virginity or describing the odd assortment of people who pass through his life, Resnick is brilliant. A former writer for SNL, Late Night With David Letterman and a variety of television series and sitcoms, he’s deserving of a rating of 9 out of 10. If you’re looking for something to make you laugh out loud, read this book. I loved it.

To order Will Not Attend by Adam Resnick from Amazon, click here.

To order BOOMER BEAT by Lynda Davis from Amazon, click here.


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French Exit nearly had me exiting the book, but I’m glad I didn’t


Any book set in Paris is irresistible to me. French Exit by Patrick deWitt, who also wrote The Sisters Brothers, is a contemporary novel that reads like a 1930’s farce. When I first started reading, the language struck me as peculiar; the characters were caricatures and the plot implausible. But the further into it I got, the more intrigued I became. French Exit was short-listed for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize, so there were obviously people much smarter than I am who thought the book worth finishing so I soldiered on.

The story begins with Malcolm Price and his widowed mother Frances living in New York City. After the death of her husband, Frank Price, Frances sets about blowing through their considerable fortune as quickly as possible. This is where the implausible comes in. Why is she doing this when she will need money to live on? When her banker informs her she’s broke, she’s forced to liquidate her remaining assets and sets off for Paris with her son Malcolm and their peculiar old cat, Small Frank.

Frances, Malcolm and Small Frank borrow a friend’s Paris flat and their little threesome soon grows to include an eccentric assortment of characters. We learn more about Malcolm’s’ unconventional childhood and his mother’s unconventional approach to mothering during a story-telling game conducted one evening under the influence of much wine.

I always enjoy authors taking me on a descriptive journey through the streets of Paris and deWitt accomplishes this beautifully. The narrative picks up speed as it nears the end which comes rather quickly as the book is a fast read. I was tempted to stop reading shortly after I began the book but my curiosity about where the story was going keep me going and I’m glad I did. It was fun, quick and quirky. It didn’t win the Giller but, as they say, being nominated was an honour and justifies reading it. Patrick deWitt (born on Vancouver Island and living in Seattle) has a strange imagination, reminiscent of another Giller nominee, Heather O’Neill. I’d give it 7 out of 10.

To order French Exit by Patrick deWitt from Amazon, click here.

To order my new book BOOMER BEAT in time for Christmas, click here.


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Anna Porter’s memoir is a gift to Canadian readers


If you’re a lover of Canadian literature, then you’re in for a treat. Anna Porter, author of In Other Words, How I Fell in Love with Canada One Book at a Time, is an author and former publisher extraordinaire with a pedigree spanning decades in the book business. I first became aware of her in the early seventies when she was profiled in Canadian magazines and newspapers as someone to keep an eye on. As a baby boomer and working mother of two young girls Anna Porter moved in the exalted circles of the rich and powerful—someone we followed in hopes we could learn from her success.

Born in Hungary, Anna Szigethy escaped during the revolution with her mother (separated from her father, a survivor of the Russian gulag) to Austria where they then emigrated to New Zealand as refugees. As soon as she finished university, she left for London, England, mecca for young baby boomer women looking to begin exciting new lives. Her fluency in several languages and appreciation for literature landed her an entry-level job in publishing. When Anna Szigethy arrived in Canada from the U.K. in the late sixties in her mauve mini-dress and white vinyl boots, she’d already chalked up experience working with Collier Macmillan International’s UK office.

When she joined McClelland and Stewart, the company was already experiencing serious financial problems. Working long hours for little pay under irascible patriarch Jack McClelland, she helped grow the company and despite their stable of famous Canadian authors, M&S was constantly on the brink of bankruptcy. When she married high-profile Toronto lawyer Julien Porter, her struggles with balancing a career and young family will ring familiar to any boomer woman trying to do the same thing in the 70s and 80s. There’s no magic solution. It’s hard work, both at home and on the job.

Authors like Margaret Atwood, Peter C. Newman, Margaret Laurence, Farley Mowat, Marian Engel, Conrad Black and Pierre Berton were regulars in the offices of Anna Porter as she juggled not just the publishing of their new books but their fragile egos and creative personalities. The famous names are too numerous to list here. As an early feminist, she challenged the old boys’ network and supported women writers like Doris Anderson, Naomi Wolf and Sylvia Fraser.

Author/publisher, Anna Porter.

In Other Words is a literal “who’s who” of Canadian literature. It’s beautifully and informatively written by a publishing giant who witnessed and was part of an amazing period in publishing. By the time she launched her own business, Key Porter Books, McClelland and Stewart was going down for the third time and is now owned by Random House Canada, a division of German media giant Bertelsmann.

On a personal note, M&S’s financial woes made me feel guilty about not returning half a dozen hardcover books they gave me once on approval. I clearly remember sitting in the grim, dark offices of M&S on Hollinger Road in Scarborough one day in the 1970s when I went there to research a suitable corporate Christmas gift. We ordered several dozen copies of Peter C. Newman’s The Canadian Establishment but I really should have returned the books we didn’t order. I now feel guilty, although I know my keeping those books would not have meant the difference between financial salvation for M&S and their ultimate demise.

I can’t recommend this book enough—perhaps it’s because I’m a book lover, a feminist and a fan of Canadian literature. Anna Porter’s In Other Words is a must-read. I give it 9.5 out of 10. I absolutely loved every single page.

To order In Other Words by Anna Porter from Amazon, click here.


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How much can a parent withstand?


On October 10th I was honoured to be a guest speaker on The Joy of Retirement at an alumni luncheon for former employees of Coca-Cola Canada Ltd. in Toronto. I was preceded by a former employee of Coca-Cola, Debbie Sands, who had written a book about her family’s challenges with their second daughter, Amy. A Moth To The Flame is the story of Amy’s struggles with what was most likely Borderline Personality Disorder, a mental illness that Amy seemed to display from the time she was a baby but went undiagnosed.

How does a parent cope when they do all the right things and their best efforts are met with extreme anger, defiance, antisocial and destructive behaviours? How could a beautiful little baby grow into such a troubled adult? Debbie Sands and her husband Ed struggled with these questions from the time Amy was born until she died tragically at the age of 27. And they still struggle with the what ifs, hows and whys.

Amy Sands was a sweet baby but prone to unprovoked and intense temper tantrums. She would have periods of calm but they were only temporary and as she grew, the problems also grew. In elementary school she was bullied for being overweight. A couple of years in a closely monitored private school helped but when she returned to the public system, the wheels fell off. Before long she was running with the wild crowd, neglecting her school work and despite being bright, funny and talented in music and dance, the demons ruled.

Before she finished high school, Amy was involved in drugs, drinking and assorted antisocial behaviours. She had also blossomed into a beautiful young woman with little resemblance to the awkward young girl she had once been. With her family’s support she managed to graduate high school but because of her self-destructive habits was unable to hold down a job or attend college successfully. She was a pathological liar who turned her accusers into enemies and was soon involved in a series of abusive relationships and criminal activity.

Debbie Sands was constantly searching for answers and solutions to work through her daughter’s problems. She read books, consulted with teachers, other parents and tried every resource at her disposal to try and help Amy live a normal life. Naturally, Amy’s aberrant behaviour affected the entire family including an older daughter, Stephanie and a younger brother, Michael. All the love in the world can’t fix certain problems. As parents, Debbie and Ed Sands expended extraordinary amounts of time, emotional energy and money trying to help Amy function in a normal way. But she fought, defied and abused them constantly, only to retreat, apologize, then begin the whole cycle over again.

After hearing Debbie’s presentation at the Coca-Cola luncheon I thought I was familiar enough with Amy’s story that I didn’t need to read the book, but when I picked it up one evening and started reading I couldn’t put it down. It’s educational, heartbreaking and yet redemptive, a must read for any parent who is having trouble with a son or daughter who has fallen off the rails.

The panelists on CTV’s The Social recently discussed a 13-year-old boy who had been an ongoing problem for his parents. He’d stolen the family car (not the first time) to go visit his girlfriend, after first disengaging the home security system and internet/phone system. His mother was criticized for taking his bedroom door off its hinges, grounding him indefinitely and actually taking off her belt to hit him when she caught up with him. While it’s tempting to condemn her for using physical force, it’s easy to understand her frustration and lack of options. This was not an isolated incident and parents of difficult teens are frequently stretched beyond normal boundaries.

Mental illness is chronically under-diagnosed in many young people and parents are often unaware of the root of the problem and the resources available to help families with these struggles. I commend Debbie Sands for writing this book and encourage you to read it or pick it up for someone you know who has similar problems in their family. It has already helped parents with daughters like Amy and will not doubt resonate with others who read it in the future.

To order A Moth To The Flame by Debbie Sands from Amazon, click here.

 


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White Teeth are regular characters in Zadie Smith’s British romp


British author Zadie Smith is not everyone’s cup of tea. I gave up on her novel NW after several tries (thought it was an absolute mess) but I enjoyed Swing Time. I was in a bit of a reading dry spell waiting for several books to become available at the library so I decided to have a go at Smith’s first novel, White Teeth. It’s the multi-layered story of three generations of immigrants living in Birmingham, trying to cope with blending old country cultures and values with their new life in England.

Story lines are built around Archie Jones and Samad Iqbad who first met during World War II when they were both serving in Greece. Working class Archie from Birmingham and Muslim Sammy from Bangladesh bond over a moral dilemma during the war and when Sammy immigrates to England he naturally seeks out his old army buddy Archie. Sammy meets his young bride Alsana on the morning of his arranged marriage and they set up house in London near Archie who is now married to his second wife, a much younger Jamaican girl by the name of Clara, daughter of a devout Jehovah’s Witness.

While Alsana doesn’t think she has anything in common with Clara, they find themselves both pregnant at the same time and soon become friends. The British-born second generation of the two families is when the real fun starts. Archie and Clara’s daughter Irie is slightly less peculiar than her mother, the lapsed Jehovah’s Witness. Sammy and Alsana’s identical twin sons are opposite in personality which causes no end of anguish for their parents, particularly Sammy who vainly wishes them to be traditional and devout Muslims.

Author Zadie Smith.

The book is written in a somewhat satirical style and Zadie Smith has a brilliant ear for local slang and contemporary teenage dialogue. I could so easily picture the conversations and conflicts that transpire between the parents, their offspring and the other colourful characters in the story. She beautifully articulates the Caribbean patois of Clara’s religious mother Hortense, who grew up in Jamaica, with brilliant tongue-in-cheek exchanges between Hortense and her granddaughter Irie. Sammy’s wife Alsana is one of the most interesting characters and I would have liked to see more of her. She’s opinionated, has a temper and is unpredictable.

I really enjoyed White Teeth. For something different and a taste of satire, give it a whirl. I’d rate this book 8 out of 10.

Click here to order White Teeth by Zadie Smith from Amazon.


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Anne Tyler satisfies the woman in us


Reading an Anne Tyler novel is like eating an Oreo cookie. It’s predictable, consistently chocolate and always satisfying without competing for any great culinary baking stars. Her latest book “Clock Dance” has all the usual ingredients—a baby boomer woman, a reckoning around home and family and it’s partially baked in Baltimore, Maryland, a familiar setting for Tyler novels.

Willa Drake is the older of two sisters born into a typical family of the 1960s. Her father is steady, solid and the salt of the earth. Her mother, on the other hand, is more high-strung and ‘passionate’, prone to fits of anger and mood swings that regularly leave the family confused and hurt. Willa is frequently put in the position of having to be the ‘mother’ to keep the family functioning.

In college she starts dating Derek, deemed to be a good catch. When he wants to get married before she graduates, she’s reluctant but in the interests of not rocking the boat, she acquiesces and embarks on a predictable life of babies, working and getting on with life. By the time her two sons are ready for college, her husband is killed in a road rage incident. Willa’s life is naturally lonely after she’s widowed. When her sons leave home they maintain only minimal contact with their mother and their lifestyle choices are very different from her own. She remarries in an act of acquiescence disguised as optimism.

One day she receives a telephone call from the neighbour of her older son Sean’s ex-girlfriend, Denise. Denise was accidentally shot and her hospitalization leaves a nine-year-old daughter without a caregiver. Even though the child is not Sean’s, Willa feels obliged to travel from Arizona to Baltimore to temporarily care for the child. Her new husband grudgingly accompanies her but does not share her generous nature and ultimately returns home to Arizona. Willa develops a bond with the fatherless (and temporarily motherless) little girl and soon becomes part of their eccentric little community.

I didn’t find this book as engaging as Tyler’s earlier A Spool of Blue Thread but it was a nice way to pass the time. Willa’s passivity and general “goodness” at times made me want to scream “Grow some backbone” but that was Willa’s character as defined by Tyler and she’s not me. Anne Tyler’s books are always a good read. It’s a pleasant way to pass the time. I’d give it 7 out of 10.

To order Clock Dance by Anne Tyler from Amazon, click here.

To order A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler from Amazon, click here. For my review, click here.


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Ottessa Moshfegh investigates a Year of Rest and Relaxation


Is life as art a wasted life? That’s what author Ottessa Moshfegh aims to find out. The cover of her new novel My Year of Rest and Relaxation could lead readers to think it’s an Edith Wharton kind of period piece about fainting ladies. Well, fasten your seat belts because it couldn’t be more different. I really enjoyed Moshfegh’s earlier novel Eileen and knew she had a quirky style but I was unprepared for what she conjured up this time.

The narrator of the story is a desensitized twenty-something woman whose parents have both passed away and she is left to contemplate life alone and unloved in New York City in 2001. Her late father was a college professor who got one of his beautiful young students (her mother) pregnant and married her. It was a loveless union and neither parent loved their sole offspring. After she graduates college she goes to work at an art gallery in New York City. When she’s found asleep on the job she’s fired. Many of us have experienced job loss and used the opportunity to reevaluate our lives but not with the vigor and level of masochism displayed here. She sets off on a journey of introspection and decides to go into hibernation for the purpose of restoring and rediscovering herself.

She has only one friend, Reva, whom she really doesn’t like, and an uncaring and distant ex-boyfriend she insists on keeping in touch with. Like me, the protagonist is a huge fan of sleeping. There’s nothing she would rather be doing. Unlike me, who does it purely for pleasure and to recharge my batteries, she uses sleep to escape herself and her loveless life.

Is there a safe pathway to oblivion?

Her solution to life’s problems is to check out for a year, to “start over without regrets, bolstered by the bliss and serenity that I would have accumulated in my year of rest and relaxation”. She makes meticulous plans for a year-long hibernation in her apartment facilitated by massive quantities of pharmaceuticals. She sources an unethical and somewhat unorthodox psychiatrist in the Yellow Pages by the name of Dr. Tuttle who has a chemical solution for every condition. The more conditions, the more “help” is prescribed. Using her inheritance money to bankroll the project, she experiments with various pharmaceutical cocktails until she lands on the ideal one to knock her out for days at a time. This is where life becomes art. She contracts a fraudulent performance artist to document her “trip”.

The story is bizzarre and gripping at the same time. On no level can I connect with a young woman who opts for enormous quantities of questionable, powerful drugs to ease her pain. But I couldn’t put the book down. Will she self-destruct? Will she survive? Will she thrive at the end of it all? The day-to-day summary of her year-long mundane existence should be boring but it’s not. Ottessa Moshfegh has an incredible imagination and a sharp eye for description. I can’t imagine how she comes up with this material. I only hope she researched and didn’t personally experience the vast inventory of pharmaceuticals she describes in great detail in the book. My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a very unusual story, a brave experiment and I applaud the author for her courage. It was strange, outside my comfort zone and fascinating. It was also a New York Times best seller. I won’t even rate it. I’ll leave that for you to decide. Let me know what you think.

To order My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh from Amazon, click here.