Tuesday, May 21, 2013

He's Gone by Deb Caletti - TLC Book Tours

He's Gone by Deb Caletti
Bantam Books, 2013

Source? the publisher via TLC Book Tours
**FTC Disclosure: I received a copy of He's Gone in exchange for a review.  However, the review below and the opinions therein are my own and offered without bias.

The Title? pretty direct..he is gone.

The Cover?  Seattle, rain, yes...the woman in the red dress?  no...only a minor character...

I was reminded of? Gone Girl but nowhere near as intense.  "Sleeping in Seattle" just because of the location...I could literally see the houseboat and the street across where Ian's car was parked.  Dark Tide, again because of the houseboat and one very specific detail that I can't tell you.

Why?  I let my mind and both the cover and title lead me astray on this one...it looked and sounded sinister...a thriller, a hidden life...but that's not what this story is about.

What Now?  I'd like to read something a little happier now.  He's Gone is actually pretty depressing...multiple lives are torn apart on a variety of levels, and nobody wins.  There are no good guys and bad guys here

 Golden Lines

For the most part, I keep my mouth shut about the butterflies, in spite of my feelings about them.  That kind of silence is what you end up with when you get together the way we did.  At first you're sure that love is larger than any obstacle, but then love comes to feel flimsy measured against what's been lost - family and friends and a history (25).

What if this is nothing more than lust? he asked once.   He asked a version of that question many more times still.  And I would answer.  I would give all the reasons, making an argument.  I fought for it (85).

In this cocoon there is work to be done.  Old structures are remade.  I think, I write, I read.  I try to make peace with myself.  I try to remember the simple but difficult truth that we mostly do the best we can with what we have.  What a feat this is, too, to do the best we can with what we have.  What a feat that is, too, to do the best we have, given that we've got to drag our histories along with us, like one of those big old Samsonite suitcases from the time before luggage had wheels (323).

Short and Sweet Summary

Dani wakes up one morning and finds her husband Ian gone.  Just gone.  Was he abducted?  In an accident?  Did he just walk away to start over again?  or Return to his first wife Mary?  As the search for Ian intensifies and Dani's anxiety grows, she reviews her life with Ian, their affair, their ambivalence toward their first spouses, their children's lives and how they've been affected, the changes, and finally their ambivalence towards each other.  Was it all worth it?  If they had it to do differently, what would they change and would they still choose each other?

What I Liked

The Nabakov metaphor of the butterfly and transformation.  Not many people know of Nabakov's love of butterflies...I do and was surprised to find this detail tied so deeply into the story.
I think Caletti means for us to see Dani transform, slowly, frustratingly and painfully...if so, she succeeds.

Pollux - Dani's little dog stole the show for me, and his little character and bit parts kept me around when I would have liked to shut the book.

Dani's mom and daughter - both of these characters seemed tougher than Dani...they spoke their own minds...freely and sometimes with very colorful language...but they weren't sorry for it.  Abby (Dani's daughter) loves being in her pajamas...but it's not a big deal.  Who cares?  Very unlike her mother, who over-analyzed everything and gave in too much to everybody.

I liked the real life portrayal of an affair that ends in a marriage that isn't exactly the fairytale the couple thought it would be.  I like the slap in the face of real people who lead others "astray" without the kindest of intentions...and those gullible enough to fall into that net.

What I Didn't Like

Most of the characters - I didn't feel sorry for Ian and Dani...I just didn't.  I think a lot of people fall into affairs the way they did, thinking that life will always be that romantic heady feeling with this new person...who then turns out to be a regular person as well.  To me, that's not rocket science, and I guess it just confuses me that so many people fall into that trap.

Ian - really? There were a lot of early signs Dani should have seen.  But she chose not to.

I think it was a mistake to make Dani's first husband an abuser.  I wonder how women who've actually lived through this situation would feel about Caletti's portrayal of Dani being attracted to the "bad boy."  Is an abuser just a "bad boy"?  I don't think Caletti means to downplay abuse; I just think both the abuse and the affair get muddled because Caletti put them together in the same story.  And, then, even more muddled for me was that Dani took two Vicodin and drank so much the night Ian disappeared that she couldn't remember what happened after they got home.  It was just a train wreck for me...and maybe that's exactly what Caletti had in mind.

The Ending - I'm going to be honest here...I read the ending pretty quickly...before I actually finished the book.  I was trying to convince myself to keep reading :( Dani is a very needy character; she and I would never be friends in real life bc I wouldn't have an ounce of patience with her.  This story tied up way too nicely and neatly with only a few hints buried throughout of what would eventually be discovered.

Ian's daughters and the ridiculous boyfriend accusing Dani...it just seemed a little much to me...any of these little rivers could have made for a riveting thriller leading up to the actual discovery...but all of it together was too much for me.  And if Caletti didn't intend for He's Gone to be a thriller, then there were some "thrilling" bits that could have been downplayed.  I just think it was frustrating for me as a reader.

Overall Recommendation

I hate not liking a book I've asked to read, but I didn't like this one.  I would very much like to read the story of Dani's next chapter, however, the one where her transformation becomes complete...on her own.  Just because I didn't like it, however, doesn't mean that someone else won't.  I'm a huge believer in reader response theories; each reader brings his/her own ideas and transacts with a text.  My personal reader's transaction with He's Gone was just not what I hoped it would be.

The Author




Other Stops on the Tour

Monday, May 13th:  Books a la Mode - guest post/giveaway
Monday, May 20th:  No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, May 21st:  Peppermint Ph.D.
Wednesday, May 22nd:  Books in the Burbs
Thursday, May 23rd:  WV Stitcher
Friday, May 24th:  The Betty and Boo Chronicles
Tuesdya, May 28th:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Wednesday, May 29th:  Literally Jen
Thursday, May 30th:  Knowing the Difference
Monday, June 3rd:  Kritter’s Ramblings
Wednesday, June 5th:  Life, Love, & Books
Thursday, June 6th:  A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, June 10th:  Sara’s Organized Chaos
Tuesday, June 11th:  Book Chatter
Wednesday, June 12th:  A Novel Review
Thursday, June 13th:  Sweet Southern Home

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pain, Parties, Work by Elizabeth Winder - TLC Book Tours

Pain, Parties, Work by Elizabeth Winder
HarperCollins 2013

Source? the publisher via TLC Book Tours

Cover?  Beautiful, elegant, and partially hidden...just like Sylvia

Title? Sylvia's words...perfect.

I'm reminded of? "The Devil Wears Prada"
A Room of One's Own, The Yellow Wallpaper

Why?  It's Sylvia Plath, people...what else do I have to say??

What Now?
an immediate re-read of The Bell Jar
Manhattan When I Was Young by Mary Cantwell
The Group by Mary McCarthy
A Google session including:
Betsy Talbot Blackwell - BTB - Editor in Chief of Mademoiselle
Florence Crittenton homes for unmarried pregnant women
Ocean 212
Polly Weaver
Cyrilly Abel, Managing Editor of Mademoiselle and Sylvia's boss during June, 1953
Ethel and Julius Rosenberg
Gloria Kirshner
Margarita Smith - Fiction Editor at Mademoiselle and sister to Carson McCullers

Golden Lines

Before she became an icon, before she was Lady Lazarus, she was Sylvia - a New England college girl with an internship in Manhattan (xiii).

The Schobers were very Austrian and very literate (57).

And there was something of  Saint Therese de Lisieux about her - collecting cockles and seaweed and talking to mermaids.  A sensitive little pagan with a blond braid down her back (60).

Her attachment to language was earthy, physical, and immediate (95).

I get a little frightened when I think of life slipping through my fingers, like water...so fast that I have little time to stop running I have to keep on like the White Queen to stay in the same place. 
- Sylvia Plath (Letters Home) (108).

The journals show a remarkably solution-oriented person.  Even in the midst of the blackest desperation, her thoughts had a beautiful practicality to them, rapid fire, and directed outward.  Sylvia was not content to roam the wild moors of her mind for its own sake - she was totally in love with the external, physical world and wanted to stay there (140).

The Comstock Laws of 1873 were still in effect in 1953, prohibiting the distribution of birth control.  This would explain in part why Sylvia's junior year at Smith began under the shadow of suicide attempts, hasty marriages, and trips to "Dr. No." (155)

Sylvia summered in Manhattan during a unique cultural moment.  It was one of the most ambiguous, baffling, vertigo-inducing epochs in history for educated, ambitious young women (171).

There it was - that sick, clammy feeling that you have been Found Out, that you are an imposter - that she didn't deserve the awards, the city glamour, or even these clean leafy things like green lawns and tennis courts (226).

ANNE SHAWBER: Sylvia Plath was a genius, a poet of such incredible talent that she was unique.  She felt that difference, and didn't understand it, and instead thought there was something wrong with her.  When she tried to be like other girls, she was miserable because she couldn't understand.  And no one near her had the brains to figure it out and instead kept trying to shock her into a world which was not hers (250-251).


In June, 1953, 20 young college women, including Sylvia Plath, were chosen to serve as guest editors of Mademoiselle magazine for one month.  They lived at the Barbizon Hotel for Women, worked on 5th Avenue, and experienced for the first time a life on their own...sortof with freedom to make decisions and honestly figure out who they were and what they wanted of life...again, sortof.  Culture, society, expectations and need clashed the entire time the girls lived in New York.  Many, including Sylvia, left New York at the end of that summer a changed woman...forever.

What I Liked

A description of Sylvia as a young woman, with hopes and dreams beyond the legend, beyond the 
writer...just Sylvia.

Interviews and excerpts from some of the other women who were there with Sylvia as guest editors

At first I wasn't sure I was going to like all the detailed attention on what the girls wore...the lipstick colors, the heel heights, girdles, etc. until I realized these details were, in fact, a huge part of that June.  As guest editors of a fashion magazine and young "career" women of the 1950's, as they began to have more options, these choices would definitely be some of the ones they focused on.  

An inside look at how a fashion magazine is run (or was run, as in the case of Mademoiselle).   And, an inside look at the magazine itself...from illustrations, to advertisements, articles and sections.

The back and forth peeks from The Bell Jar to Winder's story and how the two meld as well as disconnect at times...the fact and the fiction.

The quotes Winder weaves into her story are perfectly placed and show examples of how Sylvia approached her summer in NY, and of course, how she left it...in her own words.

The idea that Sylvia as a lifelong journaler only made one entry during the entire month of June, 1953 (her reaction to the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg)...will keep my brain humming for quite some time.

An honest look at women's sexuality and societal expectations in the 1950s and beyond.  

I'm a geek and I don't apologize for it...as always, I appreciate a healthy does of credits, notes, a substantial bib section and anything else that gives me a place to dig...I know I will never learn everything I want to know about everything, but I can only learn so much with help from authors like Winder who provide so much for me to chew on and in such an organized manner.  

What I Didn't Like

On a lighter note...the idea of nylons...every. day....any. day...but especially not during a heat wave in NY.

More seriously though, the idea that medical professionals actually treated Sylvia's first breakdown with archaic, ridiculous electroshock therapy based on a process used with pigs headed to be slaughtered??? Or, the just as horrendous idea of insulin shock therapy???  Really?? And, these people were medical professionals??  I wanted to scream after a few glimpses into Sylvia's early treatment.  

The short chapter about Sylvia's summer after NY...made me sad...just sad.

Overall Recommendation

Pain, Parties, Work is an obvious read for anyone who is or ever has been a fan of Sylvia Plath or who has read and been changed by The Bell Jar.  

The Author

Elizabeth Winder

Other Stops on the Tour

Tuesday, April 16th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Wednesday, April 17th: 50 Books Project
Thursday, April 18th: Veronica M.D
Wednesday, April 24th: Unabridged Chick
Wednesday, April 24th: The Road to Here
Monday, April 29th: nomadreader
Tuesday, April 30th: Man of La Book
Thursday, May 2nd: The Blog of Lit Wits
Thursday, May 2nd: Necromancy Never Pays
Friday, May 3rd: Luxury Reading
Monday, May 6th: Sophisticated Dorkiness
Tuesday, May 7th: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, May 8th: Book Hooked Blog
Monday, May 13th: A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, May 14th: missris
Wednesday, May 15th: guiltless reading
Thursday, May 16th: The Scarlet Letter
Monday, May 20th: Peppermint PhD