Summer Book Reviews: 3 of 3

A fallen leaf is nothing more than a summer’s wave goodbye.—Unknown

3 of 3:

The women in these stories, two memoirs, and one novel, are held captive to their worlds by outside forces, sometimes by their own making. But isn’t that the case everywhere for women who question and rebel?


THE NEST by Helen Phillips 

Hmm. Well, the writing in this bizarre novel is exquisite. It’s an astonishing and wildly original story. So much so that I had to stop reading at the end of each of the five sections and wonder where the author was taking me. Molly is the mother of a precocious four-year-old daughter and a toddler son and works as a paleobotanist at the Pit, a deep hole in the back of an abandoned Phillips 66. Her husband, a musician, is away for work when Molly suspects an intruder is out to harm her and her children. There is an intruder alright, but not the kind the reader might suspect. Told with the quick pace of a thriller, “The Nest” is the story of motherhood and all its surreal magnitudes. 

Favorite line(s):When she looked up from her labor, the Pit was in shadow, and the sky was changing color; soon she would race home to the children. She would come through the doorway and step into her alternate life, the secret animal life where she sliced apples and thawed peas and wiped little butts and let her body be drained again and again and refilled again and again. Where her moniker was cried out in excitement and need dozens of times a day. Where her bed was a nest with four different-size bodies rotating in and out of it, keeping it eternally warm. Where the messy, mobile chaos was the opposite of the hours spent in the Pit, engaged in the slow, endless process of carving through sediment in search of something.


THREE WOMEN by Lisa Taddeo 

The author spent eight years traversing the continent, interviewing women for her research on female desire. “I set out to register the heat and sting of female want so that men and other women might more easily comprehend before they condemn,” Taddeo writes in the Prologue to the book. She narrowed her focus down to the sex lives of three women: Maggie, who had an affair with her high school teacher and now in her late 20s has nothing to look forward to. When she hears the teacher is to be named North Dakota’s Teacher of the Year, she comes forward with her story and experiences the wrath of the small community she lives in. 

Lina is married to a man who won’t kiss her on the mouth. She reconnects through Facebook with her high school boyfriend, and they begin an affair that becomes all-consuming on Lina’s part. “All Lina has ever wanted is to be fully in love and forever partnered, like a penguin.”

Sloane, who along with her husband, owns a restaurant in Newport, Rhode Island, where the monied come to spend the summers. She hostesses up front. He’s in the back cooking. In their off time, Sloane’s husband likes to watch her have sex with other men. Along with describing their various desires, the author delves into the backstories of these three women and why they are who they are. It reads like a well-paced novel with the veil of character motivation lifted at just the right moments. And although this could have been a more academic endeavor to suss out the whys and why nots of desire with statistics and summaries, Taddeo’s writing is more literary with details and emotions. Exquisite. 

Favorite line(s): 

Often the type of waiting women do is to make sure other women approve, so that they may also approve of themselves. 

We pretend to want things we don’t want so nobody can see us not getting what we need.

Sloan knew that one couldn’t easily travel back in time to replay a memory. The gate that guards the reality of one’s childhood is high and existentially heavy, and merely opening it takes more energy than one expects. There are tricks to it, too: You have to select the correct season of the correct year. You cannot go bumbling about in some generalized way and hope to uncover the reason you are afraid of wolves.


EDUCATED: A MEMOIR by Tara Westover

This book left me angry and hopeful and a life-long fangirl of Westover for her resilience. Raised by devout Mormons at the base of a mountain range in Idaho, Westover was the youngest of seven. Bi-polar and suspicious of anything relating to the government, the father makes Westover and her siblings work the scrap yard adjacent to their home instead of attending school. The mom, who seems to know better, goes along with her husband’s religious and survivalist ways. In order to make a living, and with the author’s help, the mom delivers babies and sells herbs to the surrounding Mormon community. Add an abusive brother into the mix, and you wish someone had called the Department of Social Services to rescue these kids. But then there’s no story! Westover gives the big *&^%$#@ to the family (although trying to reconnect without selling her soul) and goes on to earn a PhD from Trinity College in Cambridge. How she accomplishes so much against all odds is the story of “Educated.” If you are a fan of “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls, you will love this book.

Favorite line(s): In class I had been taught about neurotransmitters and their effect on brain chemistry; I understood that disease is not a choice. This knowledge might have made me sympathetic to my father, but it didn’t. I felt only anger. We were the ones who’d paid for it, I thought. Mother. Luke. Shawn. We had been bruised and gashed and concussed, had our legs set on fire and our heads cut open. We had lived in a state of alert, a kind of constant terror, our brains flooding with cortisol because we knew that any of those things might happen at any moment. Because Dad always put faith before safety. Because he believed himself right, and he kept on believing himself right—after the first car crash, after the second, after the bin, the fire, the pallet. And it was us who paid.






Robin Gaines