Women’s Fiction

“The Dog Year” by Ann Garvin

 

Book Cover - The Dog Year

Surgeon Lucy Peterman loses her husband, unborn child, and her perfect life in a car accident. Six months later and back at work, she tells everyone she is fine. But, in Ann Garvin’s “The Dog Year,” Peterman is stealing anything in the hospital that can be slipped into her pockets. That’s no big deal, right? She more or less knows why she’s doing it and it’s not like she’s selling Band-Aids on the black market to make a profit. Who could it hurt?

 

Peterman is one of those doctors that is loved by her patients. She goes the extra mile to protect their dignity before they undergo the knife, a rarity in most hospitals where impersonal interactions are the norm. Because of this, the hospital staff ignores her thefts until they impact inventory. When records, witnesses, and cameras confirm that much more is missing than the odd bandage or two, Peterman is told to get help or lose her job. Returning the stolen supplies would be a good start, but she can’t bring herself to admit that she needs help, not even when it turns out that an entire room in her house is filled to the walls with the evidence.

 

The hospital administrator orders her to see a therapist who in turn, sends her to a local Twelve Step program. AA is not the answer for everyone and when Peterman is sent there, she knows it’s not going to work. She avoids the meetings, at first because she’s in denial, but later because it’s not a good fit.

 

“The Dog Year” is a moving portrayal of grief and its aftermath, exploring the raw emotions that can paralyze our hearts and bring us to our knees. While many of us might turn to coping mechanisms that can be hidden from the outside world – screaming behind closed doors or drinking to excess – we all do something to help ourselves get through the reality of being left behind. Faith helps some, social connections help others, but I have never met anyone that could go it entirely alone. And yet, that’s what Peterman tries to do.

 

Garvin provides a strong group of supporting characters that show sympathy for Lucy Peterman, grieve with her, and best of all, point out truths in the face of her re-creating the facts. The brother realistically enables her bad behavior until he can’t take it anymore, a high school acquaintance cuts her slack and stands by her when Peterman’s thefts become more public, and a convincingly written anorexic has no sympathy for this woman that leads a privileged life. There are assorted quirky souls that add depth and texture to this beautifully written story. Even the dog in “The Dog Year,” tugs at our hearts, plays a pivotal role, and brings people together in unexpected ways. There are astonishing discoveries and changes as Peterman begins to deal with her new reality – quite satisfying in a hopeful way.

 

There are so many things to love about “The Dog Year.” I cried, I laughed – it made me remember my own times of grief in softer ways. After a while, life does go on, even if we’re not ready for it. We just need to “Choose to find a way.”

 

Despite the serious nature of the topics, the book has many laugh-out-loud moments. Peterman has a wild, sometimes crude, sense of humor and much of that humor is directed at herself. She can be snarky, and sometimes mean, and oh, so very spot-on with some of the jokes. There are also many moments of tenderness toward the people in her life, something she finds hard to feel for herself.

 

Through Lucy Peterman’s character, Garvin makes several important points. Addiction takes over lives at weak moments in different ways. And while there are commonalities in addictions, if we want our loved ones to heal, there has to be a more conscious effort to match the treatment to the person and the addiction. “The Dog Year” bravely shouts that from the rooftops. 

 

Having spent her life in medicine, Ann Garvin brings a great deal of insight to “The Dog Year” about how hospitals and the health care world works. She is also crazy about dogs and it shows.

 

Please visit www.anngarvin.net for more information.

 

 

“Is This Tomorrow” by Caroline Leavitt

 

Book Cover - Is This Tomorrow

 

A sixth grader disappears in broad daylight from a 1950s Boston suburb in “Is This Tomorrow” and everyone is brought to a standstill by shock, grief and suspicion. The police investigate, but not thoroughly enough for anyone’s expectations. Even divorcee, Ava Lark, comes under scrutiny, just because she is single, Jewish, working, and the missing boy (her son’s best friend) spent time at her house.

 

Everybody that knew the missing boy, Jimmy, even in passing, is questioned without success. He seems to have vanished off the face of the earth. Neighborhood watches are organized, the woods are searched, parents walk the children back and forth to school, ‘stranger’ warnings are issued. Everyone is in denial; nobody wants to think the worst. His sister and best friend even choose to believe that Jimmy just left – that he went to a wonderful place on their ‘travel map’ – the route they had promised to take together when they got older.

 

Time passes and people adjust to the idea that Jimmy is gone. The friends and neighbors promise never to forget, to keep looking, but to most of the world, Jimmy becomes ‘the boy who went missing.’ But, not to his sister Rose, and his best friend, Lewis. Not even to Ava. Their world has been changed forever by Jimmy’s disappearance. We observe that changed world through Ava’s eyes, and then Lewis and Rose’s, in painful and insightful ways for years after the terrible day.

 

Leavitt explores the attitudes of society toward divorcees and the limited options available to all women in the 1950s and 1960s, truths still echoing today. In “Is This Tomorrow,” Ava struggles to make ends meet and feels adrift, loving her son, but not knowing how to help him or herself in a culture that perceives her as damaged goods. Lewis blames her for his father’s absence; Rose blames her own mother for not doing more to help herself after Jimmy goes missing. The ache is palpable.

 

The story unfolds as the children and the adults deal with paralyzing guilt and surprising revelations, both about Jimmy and themselves. As moments in that long ago day are relived through several character’s eyes and what-if scenarios are rehashed, we see how one person’s clueless stupidity can send a ripple of destruction in every direction. Even worse, the selfish reactions to that stupidity can cause even more harm, when kept secret for so long.

 

The children in “Is This Tomorrow” are drawn so well – their interactions, their need to belong, their missteps in social situations, their craving for an intact family. I knew kids like this in my teaching days, listened to their stories.

 

While the topics discussed are challenging and serious, there is growth and change in circumstances, as well as triumph along the way in this memorable novel.

 

Well done, Ms. Leavitt.

 

Read the review of an earlier novel, "Pictures of You," here.

Please visit www.carolineleavitt.com for the latest news about NYT Bestseller Caroline Leavitt’s work.

 

*Note from Patti Phillips:

As sometimes happens, Nightstand Book Reviews and my other website, www.kerriansnotebook.com have overlapped in this review of Leavitt’s perceptive examination of how families deal with the devastating case of a missing child.

The fact-based post “How long has your daughter been missing?” can be read at http://bit.ly/1enFF0k  

Go to http://www.namus.gov/ for more information about the U.S. Department of Justice program, a source of information regarding missing persons.

 

 

 

“After the Rising” by Orna Ross

Book Cover - After the Rising

 

This lovingly written novel deals with the underlying subject of The Easter Uprising, a turnaround time in Irish politics. Ireland had been under English rule since 1169, an uneasy union at best, and at its worst, a blood-soaked thorn in the English side. Many in Ireland resented having to work in virtual servitude for English Lords who robbed them of their land or sent resources back to England. That resentment exploded in Dublin on a sunny Easter Sunday in 1916.

 

“After the Rising” begins in 1995, with Jo’s notification of her mother’s death. Jo travels to the village of Mucknamore, Ireland, all the way from San Francisco in the USA, filled with guilt and grief and anger. Jo hasn’t been back in twenty years. She hears the Will and at first, refuses to follow its directive: create a family history from the notes and letters left behind in a blue suitcase. Jo doesn't want to be in Mucknamore, let alone write about the very people that drove her crazy. But, she needs to exorcise her demons and the story begins in earnest, drawing us in as Jo tries to break free.

 

Three generations of women from Jo’s family tell their stories in the letters. Stories of the war between the Irish and the English, the formation of the IRA as well as other Irish  factions, the role of strong women in the fighting. This is a profoundly personal political book, bringing to life an aspect of 'the troubles' accepted, but not usually discussed: the divisions of families, lovers, neighbors, and neighborhoods. Best friends take sides and become enemies, each passionate about their view, each well meaning. Disagreements about the ‘English problem’ divide a nation within and blood is shed for decades.

 

Ross has woven a mature tale of forbidden love lost and remembered in sometimes explicit detail, of women who yearned to have a larger role in the fight for Irish freedom, of three generations frustrated by the fact that they had so few options in a male-dominated Irish culture. Each of the women faces a challenge unique to her generation and has to make a heart-rending decision.

 

Wexford County, Ireland, is beautifully described: a mix of new apartment blocks, old bungalows and cemeteries “with patchworks of crosses and slabs of stone staring over a low wall at the sea.” Ross’s word pictures happily reminded me of a road trip I had taken through that area a number of years ago.

 

“After the Rising” is remarkable in the spot-on glimpse into how we regard our own parents and grandparents. (Could my gray-haired great-grandmother who could barely take care of herself, ever have been a freedom fighter who carried grenades under her coat?) As Jo reads through the contents of the blue suitcase, she begins to understand her mother’s decisions, but grieves anew at the love left unspoken, at the memories never shared. She is staggered by the unbearable family mysteries revealed for the first time.

 

I downloaded an early version of “After the Fall,” initially self-published only in ebook form. My copy had formatting glitches, but Ms. Ross has re-issued the ebook and has promised that the problems have been corrected. A paperback version is now available as well. A sequel, “Before the Fall,” which continues the saga of Jo and her family, has been published in both ebook and paperback form.

 

Orna Ross, an Irish author, is the founder of ALLi, the Alliance of Independent Authors. For more information about Orna Ross, her work in self-publishing, and her novels, visit www.ornaross.com

 

 

 

 

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