Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: The Last Runaway

The Last Runaway
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed Tracy Chevalier's The Last Runaway. I've been a fan of her writing since I read Girl With Pearl Earring years ago.

In The Last Runaway, I got to learn about the Quaker faith and way of life, quilting, the Underground Railroad, and early America, four topics (among many, many others) which I knew practically nothing about.

The premise of the story: Honor Bright decides to accompany her sister Grace to America. Grace is to marry a Dorset Quaker immigrant and Honor is set to live with them in Ohio, at least until Honor can find a suitable Quaker man for herself.

After tragedy befalls Grace on the way to meet her betrothed, Honor is left in a precarious situation: She is alone and knows no one in America, and she must do something with her life. The man who was to be her brother-in-law offers her a place to stay, but the arrangement is a difficult one and cannot last.

The story unfolds as does Honor's life in the new land.

I found Chevalier's The Last Runaway an inspirational tale that offered a heartwarming read, teeming with believable characters, realistic settings, and dramatic situations centered around one woman's attempts to live up to the values of her faith, even as she is challenged by her new family's ingrained prejudices.

In The Last Runaway, Chevalier explores the ideas of freedom and slavery, faith and non-belief, America and England, history and current events, love and its many varieties. Each one of those dichotomies would make a worthy topic for a novel, and we are lucky that Chevalier is talented enough to include them all in one story.

Once again, this story ended too soon and I cannot wait to read Tracy Chevalier's next novel.


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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Review: Annabel

I am cold (frozen!) and I don't have much on my mind today, so I will post my one or two sentence review of the latest book I just read, Kathleen Winter's Annabel.

In a world that has a place and a role for everyone, where does a hermaphrodite fit in? Beautifully written Annabel contrasts the untamed wilderness of Labrador Canada, where Wayne/Annabel discovers love and beauty, with society's own conflicting, confusing, expectations of the roles and appearances of men and women, and of mothers and fathers.

This is an important story about the role of gender, and it is told with a sensitivity to the individual who must struggle to find their place in this world (as we all must) but with the added burden of self-determination. Anyone who has read my fiction knows that my stories are character driven, but I appreciated Kathleen Winter's use of contrasting settings in Annabel. In fact, the whole story is one of contrasts: society vs the individual, nature vs civilization, beauty vs ugliness, rationality vs instinct.

I highly recommend Annabel. It is a thought-provoking, well-written Canadian novel with a sensitivity to the subject matter as well as to the language. I'm already looking forward to Kathleen Winter's next novel!

Readers of Annabel might also like Chris Bohjalian's Trans-Sister Radio, which examines gender issues from a more mature character's perspective.


Thursday, February 07, 2013

Meditation: On Acceptance

This is the first in what I hope will be a series of meditations, to be posted when inspiration strikes. I might not do too many of them, since others have spoken much more eloquently and in more edifying ways than what I could possibly have to say.

During a recent sacrament of reconciliation (confession, for non-Catholic readers) I confessed how critical I felt toward others. I admitted that it is a character flaw I wish I could change. The priest suggested that I light a candle and focus on that flickering light for five minutes or longer. In that time, I should imagine that the candlelight is God's love reaching and enveloping me, warming me, accepting me as I am, right at that moment. I should use the candlelight to create a clearing in which I could dwell without judging myself.

The priest's belief was that if I could accept myself more easily, then I could more freely extend that acceptance to others. The theory sounded good, and I gave it a try.

The first time I tried this meditation I did not enjoy it too much. Keep in mind that before giving it up, I'd practiced yoga for 15 years, so I'm quite familiar with meditation and meditation techniques. In fact, as the priest described this meditation I was already relating it to the Opening Heart chakra that I'd once practiced.

So, I lit my candle and focused on sensing God's love and on His accepting who I was. Within seconds I began to think about my faults, and how unworthy I was to receive this Divine love and acceptance. I soon became aware of my wayward self-defeating thoughts and re-focused them not on me, but on God accepting me, with all my faults. I admit that my mind kept coming up with reasons as to why I wasn't worthy of God's acceptance, and I kept having to return to the initial aim of the exercise, of feeling acceptance, reminding myself that this was not the time for an examination of conscience.

It wasn't easy. But it was a great first step. I now practice this meditation every day, and will continue to do so until I feel that I am less critical, and more accepting, of others.

It's important to recognize that as much as I would like to be accepted for who I am, that others shouldn't judge me too quickly or harshly, that I haven't walked a mile in anyone else's shoes, I should consider extending to others the same... courtesy? attitude? judgement?

Of course, the real litmus test of this meditation will be my acceptance of tailgaters as I drive. I think I've got a long way to go before that will happen... :-)

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