Tag Archives: literature

Review: The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard

seamstressTitle: The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard

Author: Erin McGraw

Genre: Fiction; 384 pages

Publication Date: August 1, 2008

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company

Rating: 2.5 Bookmarks

Based on the author’s grandmother’s life story, this novel tells the story of a young woman who flees her husband, two young children, and ranch life in Kansas in hopes of a second chance at life as a seamstress in Hollywood, only to find it complicated by the family she thought she left behind.

The sewing aspect of this novel interested me because I enjoy sewing simple projects like pillows and window valances.  I’m not a seamstress by any stretch and have never sewed with a pattern but loved reading about the protagonist, Nell Plat, and her ability to create beautiful and intricate dresses from bolts of cloth.

Eight stitches to the inch.  For a skirt: one hundred vertical pleats, twenty-four waist darts, nine curved hip darts and four bottom hem pleats.  Five blouses to a spool of thread…A housedress for Mrs. Cooper.  A trousseau for Mrs. Horne’s oldest girl, though she did not yet have a beau…

On a personal level, I had trouble with the choices that Nell made in the novel.  I recognize that she thought she was going to improve her life by escaping to California, but abandoning two small children and her husband was just inconceivable to me–and I don’t even have kids. 

The novel moved slowly but had some unexpected plot developments.  Despite Nell’s baffling and sad decisions, I became emotionally invested in the story even though I thought she brought most difficulties upon herself with her desire to find professional success.

The book offers a peek into the lives of small-town young women who traveled to Los Angeles at the turn of the last century with big dreams to find success in different fields.  Watching Nell grow up and experience different stages of her life was intriguing, but there were some difficult and painful parts of this novel.

Because it’s based on the author’s grandmother’s life and isn’t straight fiction, by critiquing it I’m essentially criticizing someone’s life choices–something I don’t like to do.  I never walked a mile in Nell’s shoes and can’t imagine how difficult life may have been for her.  This review is purely subjective and though I had trouble with Nell’s decisions, McGraw’s writing style and narrative kept me reading.

Ultimately, I wouldn’t necessarily pass up this novel–it’s a good story about personal reinvention and the pursuit of the American Dream.

Review: American Wife

american-wife1Title: American Wife

Author: Curtis Sittenfeld

Genre: Fiction; 558 pages*

Publication: 9/2/2008

Publisher: Random House

Rating: 2 Bookmarks

Though this book has been in print for a while and reviews abound, here’s my take.

American Wife is loosely based on the life of former First Lady Laura Bush.  The protagonist, Alice (Lindgren) Blackwell, narrates the tome in four segments, each detailing a different era in her life.  I thought that Sittenfeld’s use of street addresses to delineate the sections was clever (ie. Part IV: 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue).

I’m not sure if it’s my liberal side shining through, but I was really enjoying the book until Alice started showing a serious interest in Charlie Blackwell (George W. Bush).  She was a multi-faceted character with depth who won me over; then she married Blackwell. 

Over the course of the book, Alice is tormented with guilt for causing the death of a classmate (and potential boyfriend/husband), Andrew Imoff, in a motor vehicle accident when she was 17.  Forty-four years later in the White House, she still grapples with the pain and guilt, lamenting the fact that their relationship never had a chance to begin.  Alice’s feelings are palpable–Sittenfeld did an excellent job of conveying Alice’s agony. 

The extended Blackwell clan came off as boorish, racist, elitist snobs and I couldn’t stand reading about them.  The matriarch, ‘Maj’ (short for Her Majesty) was a piece of work who needed to be taken down a peg or two.  The characterization of Charlie’s brothers and their wives spoke to privilege and arrogance.

For me, the book began to drag as Sittenfeld detailed Charlie’s introduction into the political arena.  His depression, fueled by feelings of failure and numbed by alcohol, ultimately led him to God and sobriety.

And on it goes, through Charlie’s rise of political power to the White House via the Governorship of Wisconsin.  I understand that in general, people want to make their marriages a success, but where do we draw the line?  Sittenfeld characterized Charlie as an obnoxious frat boy and abhorrent cretin in general.  Why Alice tolerated his behavior and stayed with him was beyond my comprehension.

American Wife started off strong, with an interesting plot line and a likeable protagonist.  As the book went on and Alice met and married Charlie, it lost some of its appeal and I grew disenchanted with a narrator I initially liked.  That said, I wouldn’t cross this book off your TBR list because it was entertaining and piqued my interest in reading The Perfect Wife: The Life and Choices of Laura Bush by Ann Gerhart.

* Random House’s website has the book at 576 pages; the ARC I have has 558.

It just makes me sick!

Growing up, my appetite for reading was insatiable.  At night, I read under the cover of darkness with a pen light.  I read while tanning at the beach.  I tried to read at the dining room table during dinner, but my Puritanical father forbade it.  I read during classes, hiding paperbacks in my textbooks, which I kept at a 45 degree angle resting on my lap and desk.

There was only one location where I desperately wanted to read but was physically unable: in a moving vehicle

 Yes, it’s true.  I suffer from debilitating motion sickness in cars, planes, trains, boats, and buses.  If I try to read while in any of these modes of transportation, it compounds the nausea, weakening my already delicate constitution.

The cruel irony doesn’t escape me–I love to travel AND I love to read.  I can’t do both simultaneously without breaking out in a cold sweat, being racked with waves of nausea, and issuing forth a geiser of vomit, much to the pleasure of  traveling companions and others within earshot.

Sadly, Dramamine and other remedies don’t work for me.  Instead, I’ve taken to listening to audio books (when traveling alone) and they have saved me from the plague that is motion sickness. 

How about you?  Can you read in a moving vehicle without dying a thousand deaths?

Are you monogamous?

Hello. My name is Natalie and I’m a literary polygamist.

As you can tell from my sidebar, I keep company with several different reads simultaneously. I hope you won’t think less of me for my wanton ways.

During a typical week, I am in the middle of four different books at school (currently: Of Mice and Men, Great Expectations, A Raisin in the Sun, and The Importance of Being Earnest), a book in my car (Foreign Body), and a book or two at home (American Wife).  I’m a book ho’ and am proud to shout it from the top of my book brothel blog. 

So, do you step out on your books and see others?  Are you able to keep plots and characters straight in your head when your moral compass leads you astray?