The Monday Book: A TALE OF TWO VALLEYS by Alan Deutschman

I picked this book up in a thrift store because I needed a plane book. It was the best of a bunch that didn’t seem all that appealing. Contextually, it was at a disadvantage from the start.

But it was really interesting! I’m not a wine connoisseur, just a cheerful consumer. But this book was more an examination of the effects of capitalism and gentrification than a wine book. In its opening, the author basically admits to wanting to write about Sonoma/Napa Valley so he could live there rent-free in a rich person’s house, with servants.

One region is full of hippies, the other full of yuppies. It’s a charming story about how they vote to protect themselves from each other, acknowledge mutual concerns, yet pretty much all want “the good life” as they choose to define it. The gap between definitions gets bigger as the book progresses.

The “chicken fight” is a great example: the hippie area has chickens running loose, but visitors find that their children chasing the chickens results in the chickens chasing them. This results in several nasty letters to the editor in the newspaper, and ultimately legislation that gives rebels waiting for a cause celeb their big chance. The chickens still roam free, if you’re interested.

By and large this book, published in 2003, is an ageless tale, inserting wine as a metaphor for how the more things change, the more they stay the same. I enjoyed the book because of its tie-up between economics and human nature–something my economist friends say is redundant, since economics IS human nature with a little money thrown on top. This book is full of eccentrics and egomaniacs and opulent display and lifestyles so different they wrap around on opposite ends of the continuum. And it kept me diverted enough on a four-hour plane ride to find myself surprised at landing in Charlotte rather than Napa. Highly recommended.

THE MONDAY BOOK: Oh William by Elizabeth Strout

We apologize for the lack of blog posts last week. In a world filling up with words resulting from tragic events, it seemed best not to add to them. We’re back now.

This week’s Monday book comes from the irrepressible Janelle Bailey. She would love to hear comments on this blog, as she is sharing one of her favorites this week.

Oh, Elizabeth! So dependable an author, you are. Few write in such a way that they can be so completely trusted, with each and every book they produce, to transparently share, somehow and so valuably the critical stuff that is inside of a soul. I find that every one of your characters help readers to see clearly another and to gain from better understanding what makes them tick; coinciding, they may see glimpses into themselves and do a little therapy by reflecting. Your “stuff” is always just so believable, your characters dependable narrators and well developed.

In this book the soul unwrapped and revealed most fully is title character William’s ex-wife, who is the writer Lucy Barton. Devoted readers of all books Strout may remember her from My Name is Lucy Barton. In the addressing of her inner soul and guts, Elizabeth, you bring us readers to cringe and struggle and smile and tear up and more, as we go through all of this with Lucy.

Strout’s stream of consciousness storytelling takes us back into Lucy Barton’s past and all the sense she has tried to make–or avoid–of it these many years since her…well, maybe she’s been trying to escape it, really.

This book is also about William, for sure, as it shares things about his life and past, and his mother Catherine Cole’s as well, most especially presenting the relationship she and Lucy had as mother-in-law and daughter-in-law when Lucy and William were married and how that influenced things after their divorce as well.

While it’s not necessary to have read, let alone recently, Strout’s earlier book about Lucy—for sufficient reference is made here to the pertinent elements of her character and past–I do think reading or re-reading that book first would enhance one’s richer experience in reading this one as well as provide the reader opportunity to spend more time with these characters (and also with Strout’s high quality writing). Her books are not long, and I am always a wee bit sad when they end…simply because they are over. I have read every single one of them.

You have to go there to know there: you have to read Strout to see how truly she represents everywoman and the struggle to now simply be, given all one has seen and been and lived and felt. It’s not easy to be any of us…but Strout makes it all…okay. Survivable. Strengthening. While I feel one gains the very most by reading every Strout book to know all of her characters and know them well, a new-to-Strout reader can certainly, instead, pick up just this one (or another) and be quite satisfied by THAT story in a stand-alone experience.

Can’t wait for you to read this one if you have not already. Then let me know what you think!