The Valedictorian of Being Dead The True Story of Dying Ten Times to Live by Heather B. Armstrong

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“I can’t really describe it,” I mumbled to her when she called me to ask what was wrong. “I feel like the Frankenstein monster. I mean, I feel like I died and someone brought me back to life.”

What’s wonderful about The Valedictorian of Being Dead is the honest day-to-day terror of living with severe depression because it exposes the brutal reality only those suffering through it can attempt to explain. Imagine a depression so horrifying that you are willing to die again and again, in an experimental treatment, to cure yourself of wanting to take your own life. What are the options when the drugs don’t work? When you have children to raise as a single parent? When depression is a life sentence and you can lose your children if your ex uses your mental health as a means to take your children away, would you risk it all?

Heather is the perfect candidate for the experiment, chemically induced coma approximating brain death. With a family history of depression, it’s an inheritance more people struggle through than openly talk about. As if mental illness is a dirty little secret, and is it any wonder with the cruel treatment people have received throughout history, and in the not so distant past? Imagine putting your faith in an experiment that makes you feel like Frankenstein’s Monster. Heather’s blog has brought attention to the highs and lows of her own mental health, I hadn’t heard about it until I read this book.

Fear of the unknown, will my brain survive this fully intact? Will I lose my memories or time? Anyone who has ever encountered any sort of brain confusion can relate to the sheer terror of that rabbit hole. If she wakes up at all and survives the coma that is and not just once, oh no! Ten treatments, my friends, ten!  The writing isn’t always perfect and that’s okay because this book is about hope and sharing, it’s a fight  for a life without debilitating depression and in turn, a chance to finally truly live. It takes courage, and support, which is something Heather isn’t great at asking for, but how many mothers are? Too, Heather allows the reader to be privy to her innermost fears, thoughts and memories of her past, losing her voice in relationships going all the way back to discipline from her father, he of the ‘snap out of it’ answer to depression so many people have. Why is it today, there is still so much misinformation and ignorance, shame in admitting the brain is as much a part of our body as any other organ and mental illness is a disease? How can we successfully treat that which is unacknowledged? Ignoring it or ordering your loved ones to  ‘snap out of it’ isn’t going to work, it’s not something people choose, until it’s you, it’s so hard for people to believe. I think often other’s reactions are fear based. There is still a stigma and shame on us as a society for that.

An interesting medical experiment that shares the story of the human being taking part in it.

Publication Date: April 23, 2019

Gallery, Threshold, Pocket books

 

 

 

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If I Had Two Lives by Abbigail Rosewood

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My mother had no daughter. It was her gift to me.

The novel begins in Vietnam as our young narrator is reunited with her mother, living under protection inside a military camp after she comes to the dangerous attention of the Prime Minister for her work as an energy consultant “bringing electricity to hundreds of districts in Vietnam”. Angering those corrupted by greed who would rather abuse the funds by “buying defunct equipment” keeping the wealth for themselves,her only option had been to seek refuge, leaving behind her daughter. Her lieutenant friend saves her, but she must remain loyal to the President. Cassette tapes were their means of communication during the separation but now she is living with her mother among other families under military protection as well. Lonely, she spends her time being cared for by ‘my soldier’, there to take care of her every need, emotional and otherwise, more nurturing than her distant mother. Her mother’s overload of information a jumbled mess to her child’s mind, “I wanted only to be held, to press my nose to her stomach,” she feels like a failure, a poor student, worse a bed wetter. To no longer be given away, she promises to be good, oblivious to her mother’s political games, not understanding that the only reason they are alive is because of her mother’s abandonment.

A child of loneliness her entire existence, everything changes when she meets ‘little girl’. The two sometimes merging into one, making up stories for each other, giving funerals for bugs, playing games and sharing in the disgusting shame of the adults. Little girl is destined for poverty and ignorance, and yet she is the deepest, earliest connection to love she will ever know. Their love is a sisterhood that will haunt her for years to come. The past becomes ash when her mother manages to help her escape to the United States to begin her second life leaving behind her best friend.

Part Two or second life to my thinking, she is now a grown adult recalling the punishing years of moving through different homes of friends, families, her mother’s connections in America, never fitting in. Longing for information about her mother “lost in her fiction”, trying to follow Vietnam’s politics, knowing she is alive only through second hand sources, sorting through gossip online, life is again solitary. She meets a woman named Lilah in Montauk, New York, echoing the immediate bond she once shared with ‘little girl’. Pulled into her escapades and ‘affairs’, passion grows between them until their lives merge. Lilah has wounds that fester but her eccentricities and boundless energy hide the sorrow. “I was drawn to her because people are drawn to uncertainty, the abyss.” When around husband Jon, Lilah is less free, diminished somehow. The two become three and she surrenders herself in their hands. This is where the story explores the meaning of friendship, love, all-consuming grief and the maniacal nature of fate. She is between two places always, until tragedy strikes and life comes full circle in Part Three. It is a strange and tragic tale. The defilement of both the narrator and her friend at the start of the novel had me gutted, the horrors always eat away at the children when it comes to politics, don’t they? Hard to read, but closing your eyes changes nothing. It’s a rupture in time, the things that transpire. As a grown woman I certainly don’t make light of how mind numbing it must be to make your way through the world without the nurturing and love of parents. Tragic doing so while moving between two countries, two identities with scars and severe trauma. That is shocking enough, a child hungry for love, connection so much so that she is willing to encompass her best friend’s pain as her own, later learning to be degraded, coming of age expecting nothing as not to feel disappointment. There is another vital character later, her neighbor, and I love how they both act as ghosts in a sense for each other, but come to mean so much more. The author’s take on loss and love hit me between the eyes.  Loss… loss as ‘a fuller experience than love’ opened the floodgates for me. Whoa!

I stayed up late last night, devouring every last page and that is saying a lot as I am recovering from invasive surgery, but I was at the end and it was actually my favorite part. The beginning reads a bit differently than when our narrator is an adult, because it is told through the mist of youth, but it flows.  Yes, read it!

Publication Date: April 19, 2019

Europa Editions

Feast Your Eyes: A Novel by Myla Goldberg

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Just as I was beginning to worry that waiting was all there would ever be, I picked up a camera- but you know this already. 

Myla Goldberg states in her acknowledgements that she was inspired by the life and work of people like Diane Arbus, Sally Mann, and Harold Feinstein (just to name a few) and it certainly shows in the creation of her fictional character, Lillian Preston. This novel is beautiful, we are able to feast our own eyes on subjects Lillian photographs as much as the life of a photographer. Rather than stating someone is a photographer, the reader is witness to the inspiration and expression of Lillian’s passions, of breaking out of her ‘cage’ when she was young, and the consequences self-expression through art costs her child and parents, anyone that is both inside or outside her orbit. Feast Your Eyes is a love story of pictures but more so of mother and daughter and it isn’t always pretty. The ending gutted me, as a mother and as a daughter because I could feel the pain of both, all the regrets.

Lillian is born with hungry eyes, her purpose is to strip people naked through her series of work, sometimes shocking and vulgar making her the ‘Worse Mother in the World’ and other times going without notice.  A field trip when she is young, a ‘rocket in her chest’ when she sees photographs hanging in museums, a pivotal moment shaping her future,  Lillian knows she will one day have her own upon such walls. Her reasons are never about attention seeking nor fame, but always telling a story, as with her most infamous photos which her daughter is haunted by. Samantha is mostly nude in the damaging series, but worse is Lillian’s abortion photo. Having grown up in the fifties, being on ‘photo safaris’ in the streets of New York Samantha grows up free to roam the city, a child that is fiercely loved by Lillian (there is no doubt about that) but whose mother’s focus is always first and foremost her camera. Her work is her life, as vital as oxygen.

“Mommy is sick”, at least a judge rules it to be true but those ‘vulgar photos verging on the pornographic (according to some)’ don’t make up the majority of Lillian’s work, so much overlooked because it isn’t ‘shocking’.  The novel finds Samantha cataloging her mother’s work for a show, as Lillian is no longer alive. We journey through the memories, the friends, the strangers and the bond between Samantha and Lillian that sours and forces Samantha’s disappearance from her mother’s life. “Mommy is sick” ends up being a precursor of sorts, but I won’t go into that. Her notoriety ruins her chances for a successful career, but still… her work continues. It is the story of artist, subjects and what it means to come of age beside a creative genius, whether the rest of the world acknowledges their gift with praise or in horror labels said artist as a degenerate. It is fiercely engaging, and Lillian is ahead of her time, as many artists are. Her eyes feast upon the world and tell stories, ‘jolt’ viewers by exposing both the obvious and unseen. In strangers, we recognize ourselves, our pride, anger, poverty, love, sickness, strength… every situation and emotion one can scrape up on the streets. Her camera is there, a witness like God, to the very last blink of Lillian’s life- that is one of the most beautiful endings I’ve read. It’s not about the posing for her, it’s not about showing the world or people as they wish to be seen but instead, as they really are.

Of course Samantha changes as she grows up, no longer an extension of her mother like the camera. As Lillian once removed herself from her own parents and their ordinary life in Cleveland, knowing she was meant ‘live differently from others’, her own girl craves stability, affection when she learns she has grandparents. That her girl could come from her body and be so vastly different is all too familiar a truth mothers must accept. Samantha and Lillian are the biggest love story in the novel, going between immense affection to resentment (Samantha), testing the waters of teenage angst, Samantha must remove herself to understand who she is without Lillian, acts out as most children do, as a form of punishment, assuming her mother is immortal and will always be there to make up with. Those photos return and drive a deep wedge.

There is a lot of story in the cataloging, and the photographs are beautifully described to the point of painting it in the reader’s mind. It’s a bohemian life, but not for show as it was for some people during certain decades, trying so hard to be ‘other than’. Lillian really is an original, and being different is always a sore spot for children. Samantha struggles with embracing and rejecting her mother as artist, but it can be no other way, for it is her mother’s very makeup. There is a line that expresses the period of time Samantha shucks off her mother, “in the spirit of self-destruction and self-discovery”, for it can be no other way.

Somehow this novel manages to be many things and Goldberg keeps it all flowing. My heart broke at the end, it’s too close to recent losses in my life. I really caught my breath at the writing, Lillian’s final moments are so much in keeping with her character. I don’t know if my review is doing this novel the justice it deserves, all I can say is I loved it. Most people fancy themselves photographers these days and it goes without saying there is an over abundance of artifice with selfies, it’s evident so many of the pictures we see are manufactured and that makes this story all the more appealing, because there is an authenticity to Lillian that does honor to the work of people like Diane Arbus. Artists who are using their medium to relate to the world, to explain it or question it in the only way they can. It can seem shallow at times, certainly a compulsion but one must recognize it is used to express love as well, as with any pictures of Samantha. One must consider the self, and how desperately Samantha wants to be her own person, it’s so hard to do when your mother has always defined you it’s just sad what it costs her, time that can’t be given back.

Yes read it!

Publication Date: April 16, 2019

Scribner

 

The Farm: A Novel by Joanne Ramos

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Ate also understood that for parents such as these, who had everything and more, being unavailable made her more desirable.

When you want a healthy, beautiful baby and you’re successful and far too busy to give birth yourself, the place to go to is Golden Oaks. Here, clients can rest assured that they have total control, a guarantee that the surrogate mother will not do anything to harm the unborn child. Only the healthiest young women are chosen to be inseminated and carry babies for the ‘richest, most important clients in the world’, and Mae (Ms. Yu) oversees it all. The Hosts are paid well once they deliver, where else can they make money this good? Certainly not as nannies, a thankless job! At Golden Oaks they go to classes to learn the ‘best-practices in pregnancy‘, their health is strictly monitored, they exercise and it is an absolute that the host must not be stressed out, ever! Jane Reyes has run out of choices to support her child after losing her job as a nanny. To leave her own baby (Amalia) with her cousin Ate, the very person who encouraged her to apply to be a host, isn’t ideal but it’s the only thing left to do. Amalia couldn’t be in better care, after all Ate is a baby nurse. As a Filipina woman, there is a class divide, when she isn’t watching (mothering) the children of wealthy white women, she is serving as a Host. She meets other Hosts while living at Golden Oaks, each with their own reasons for choosing to be surrogates.

The healthy food, the surroundings all seem wonderful at first, but then being so far away from Amalia begins to eat at her, especially when Ate starts ignoring her calls after a fight and the outside world is as distant as the moon. Strange that she is protecting this fetus like the most precious cargo on earth yet isn’t able to mother her own baby girl! Jane starts to fear things, suspect Ate of keeping her child from her,  the other hosts aren’t helping any with their own thoughts about the place. Reagan is exactly what the most important clients want white, young, beautiful and a cum laude graduate of Duke University, the perfect host until something goes wrong that begs the question, just how much do the surrogate mothers and their health matter? Then there is Lisa, who ‘mocks the process’ and sees Golden Oaks ‘The Farm” for what it is, a place that uses the women as a means to an end. Young women who are nothing more than cows. But surely, you can’t be used if it was your choice, if you are being paid and lavishly cared for! Right?

Ms. Yu runs a tight ship, in many ways she relates to the Hosts but that doesn’t mean she will let anyone ruin the business. Clients call the shots, and often in direct conflict to the needs of their hosts, as happens with Jane. What happens when she is pressed to make a choice that goes against the rules? This novel is about the limitations of class, it is a different type of slavery that happens in this story. The ending made me mad but it’s exactly what would happen. People in power manipulate because they can, those without money, without power and desperate to care for their own family do what they must, because there aren’t any other choices. It is so hard for those who have everything to comprehend what it means to not have good choices, only bad and worse to pick from. It feels like a set up, because in so many ways it is! It’s all about sacrifice. Jane isn’t the only woman who learns about sacrifice, no one has suffered more than Ate herself. Ate has told Jane, always have a backup plan because nothing is guaranteed! Things go wrong, plans dissolve.

You get both sides of the coin at the end, what it feels like to rely so much on a ‘helper’ a ‘surrogate’ and what it means to be at the mercy of your clients charity. Who needs the other more? I feel far more sympathy for Jane. It’s a fast read, motherhood is often fraught with choices made out of fear and necessity, particularly for single mothers, more so for immigrants raising children alone. All mothers can relate though, even those of privilege.

Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Random House

Mother Winter: A Memoir by Sophia Shalmiyev

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Hall of Fame. Hall of Shame. That’s Motherhood…

This is a memoir of longing and love for one’s absent mother, as if when Sophia Shalmiyev left her native Russia in the 1980’s for America a decade later, in her  Azerbaijani father’s care whom she called a ‘benevolent dictator’, she too was forced to divorce her mother. “It was too risky to ask for her and be denied so I didn’t say her name much.” Yet for so long, she had ‘no body’ without her mother. Who grounds us in our bodies more? While Sophia was still in her homeland, her mother was already failing at motherhood, certainly in the Hall of Shame category more than Hall of Fame. Women are forgiven nothing, especially in the 1980’s Soviet Union she spent her childhood, where her alcoholic mother was ‘pickled in the brain’, is judged far more inferior to any man who struggles with alcoholism. Of course her father gets to keep her. A father, who tries to ‘heal’ his little girl when she comes home from boarding school on weekends, who has an inconsolable need for her absent mother, the body hungry for her loving touch and nurturing.  Stuck at that school so that she’ll be safe from the threat of that very mother showing up, she deals with bullying, unkempt as she is standing out like an outcast and many ailments. Her body as undernourished as her hungry heart. Sophia ruminates over the state of motherlessness, and explores feminism through time, reminding us of how the blame always falls to the mother, even if she does everything ‘right’ by societal standards.  That women, even those we admire for their boundless talent are still caving into men, letting their bodies betray their intelligence. How she was unable to fill the space her mother’s absence occupied until she herself was a mother and could give them all that love she never got to feel. Yet her mother’s blood courses through her still, that urge to flee and trickles into her own babies, just like eye-color and height.

For Shalmiyev, she chases her mother through time, a woman who may be dead, how would she even know? A mother who one time demanded to know her young daughter’s  whereabouts but was denied because another man, her ex husband’s brother, decided she be ‘kept in the dark’ because she was in a bad place, wasn’t sober, judged and found wanting. Men, making decisions for women without one thought for their own wants and needs. A mother that has been smudged, remnants of her appearing only in the mirror as Sophia grows up, looking at her reflection.

“I would like to wear an equivalent of a medical alert bracelet: I lost my mother and I cannot find her- née Danilova.

This is poignant, “why can’t it be both ways? Why do mothers have to be forgotten or brave like soldiers?” Her mother is erased, for being a drunken mess, a failed mother and in that erasure a life is shaped, a motherless future for Sophia. The days in Russia are vastly different from her next life, coming of age in America where standing out and being ‘special’ is praised, not like in the Soviet Union where everyone is meant to be the same, where choices are limited. But before that, as a preteen refugee in Italy she loses so much of  her innocence.  Her father fails her too.

In America there is Luda, a stand-in mother of sorts, one of her father’s Ukranian girlfriend’s that comes to join them from Russia. Only 12 years older she is in between being a mother and a sister for Sophia. There is love and rivalry between them, another person who doesn’t want to hear tell of Sophia’s mother, whom in Luda’s eyes is nothing but trash, whorish. Of course as her sole female role model, she wants to be the only mother in Sophia’s heart, jealous even of the longing she feels.

Later there will be work at a peep show in her twenties,  hanging out in the music and art scene in Seattle, as hostility settles over her, gifted at leaving her body when she needs to and being present when she chooses, something she mastered far sooner than anyone should. She is in danger of becoming her mother for a while, until she finds a life in New York and a career.

Jumping time lines do not always work but when they’re done intelligently it flows and isn’t a disruption. I think it’s just right here! The flashbacks in time feed into the future and situations trigger memories of the past. I like that it’s not just a sad memoir about wishing for one’s mother, that Shalmiyev confronts the world women and young girls live in. The flashbacks of her childhood in the Soviet Union are eye-opening, I find myself devouring stories about that world, so foreign to my own childhood. Against her father’s wishes she eventually goes back to Russia to find her mother.

There are tales of abuse in here, and it’s gut-wrenching not just for the act itself but for the simplicity of such a life-altering transgression. Abuses on women and children are so casual in our world, aren’t they? Sometimes when you re-evaluate the past, things that you never questioned with your child’s mind send alarm bells all throughout your adult soul. Certainly what happened to her during her short time in Italy is haunting. This was an engaging memoir. Dislocation isn’t always about the physical body, it can be the soul and in Sophia Shalmiyev’s case it’s both. Her mother is her phantom limb that causes a constant ache. How do you make peace trying to understand mother as an archetype and compare you own, so deeply flawed, a crumbling cold statue on the pedestal of your memory? How is a woman meant to define herself, carve a self out of the discarded parts of her own mother when she was off limits to her? In the end, do we ever have closure, solid answers when chasing a ghost?

Publication Date: February 12, 2019

Simon & Schuster

 

Driving Into The Sun by Marcella Polain

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They go to work and they don’t come back. Everywhere there are cracks in the world that other people can’t see.

The story takes place in Perth, Australia 1968 and one day Orla’s father Dan, a shining sun in her world, doesn’t come home. With his death, everything changes for Orla, her little sister Deebee and their mother Henrietta. The world becomes a threatening place without the protection of a father, there is nothing left to save them, financial hardship is that much heavier a weight, and as their father’s thoughts fade, the last are those of shame as the reader is privy to his regrets, that he left his wife nothing, that he is so sorry…  The novel flows between memories and the aftermath of the shift in their family structure. Before, there are problems, they aren’t able to stay in their house in the hills, the money isn’t coming in. Her parents must leave the hills for a cheaper living situation, they move to the ‘only-for-a-year-house’, but another house will be built. No longer surrounded by the vast wilderness, closer to the beach but in a more suburban setting they are closer to neighbors. People that are better left unknown, those you avoid. Their mother works weekends to help them stay afloat, until the death of their father makes the neighbors people to rely upon, when there is no one else. There are to be no more riding lessons for Orla, who has a head full of horses, which the family couldn’t really afford while her daddy was alive, but how could he deny his girl such a desperate desire? Left with their mother, who has always been far less patient with the children, missing the father who ‘never shouted’ they are all vulnerable to the threats ‘out there’ in the big bad world. There is never true closure for Orla and Deebee, without the finality of a funeral (as the girls weren’t allowed to go) Orla is sure her daddy will return, like a moth to a light, despite the visit from the reverend assuring her ‘God only takes the best first.’

Orla isn’t quite a teenager yet, still a little girl awakening to grown up things, and of course far less sheltered after she loses her father. The author did a wonderful job of getting into a young girls mind, everything is murky when you’re young. It’s like trying to understand words while swimming underwater. Nothing is fully explained, nor fully grasped when you are not quite developed in body and mind. But you sure grow up fast when your home is no longer made up of capable, loving parents. Henrietta, due to this tragic unexpected circumstance is now both mother and father, frustrated by Orla whom she doesn’t understand, a little girl she has always felt lacked ‘guts’, something all Australians need, but she will have to learn, she will have to learn to be harder in this place. What is she going to do, left with no one but the children, and how is she, a widow alone in the 1960’s, to keep them fed, housed, clothed? Then there is a prowler lurking about, and women just aren’t taken seriously, they need a husband for everything, how is she to secure a better home for her girls when women need men to be approved for such things? A woman alone with little girls is a target! The odds are always stacked against her. Dan left them nothing! He didn’t prepare for such things and she is paying for it all, she and her girls. Another betrayal she has to stomach, and there were other betrayals. She hates the thought of it all, trapped, a mountain on her shoulders. Would it have been better if she died? After all, people rally behind men who lose wives, forgive them anything, not so for a widow! It’s probably her fault he is dead! These thoughts are absolutely genuine of the times, it was the same with single mothers even when I grew up in America during the late seventies and early eighties, there was a ‘they probably deserve it’ mentality. There wasn’t empathy for single mom’s whether due to the loss of a husband or divorce.  Being in Henrietta’s shoes would be terrifying and there are pages dedicated to her head space, though Orla dominates the novel.

With their father gone, a young mother named Cora comes into their lives too, not as coarse as they once believed but talking about adult things Orla doesn’t always comprehend, with so much life in her, confidence, a fun person. Her mother has different views on ‘unfortunate’ Cora, jealous too of the amount of time her eldest daughter chooses to spend at her house but Orla thinks she is lucky, with both her mother and father still alive. Little sister, wild Deebee feels caged when she has to stay with the Thompsons while her mother is at work, absolutely hates it. I adored Deebee, she is feral, she isn’t a ‘good girl’ but that doesn’t make her bad. She is a fierce little thing, even less aware of what goes on around them all.

Through the novel there is a threat simmering, but threats always simmer for women living on their own. The ending really hit me between the eyes. The novel may lose some readers because often people get lost in internal dialogue, particularly when it’s the worries of an often anxious young girl. I think it actually works for Orla’s character, because with the difficulties and grief she feels, the longing, the fear of the future, her mind wouldn’t ever be at rest, her thoughts wouldn’t be linear. That’s how we are when we’re trying to make sense of our place in the world. A sad novel.

Out Today   February 1, 2019

Fremantle Press

 

 

Finding Dorothy: A Novel by Elizabeth Letts

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“Oh,” Maud said. “I don’t know the first thing about theater. How does one go about becoming a theatrical man?”

“Well, I wasn’t fit for anything else,” Frank answered, his eyes crinkling up into a smile. “Not a whit of business sense, I’m afraid- unless that business is magic.” 

Maud Gage “understood that she has been anointed- she must not let her mother down.”  Matilda, her mother, had fought for women to be seen as equals to men, for women to have the right to earn college degrees (the only hope for a better future) something she herself was denied. When Maud’s older sister Julia cannot fulfill her progressive mother’s expectations due to health difficulties, Maud must take her place. At Sage  (Sage Hall was built to house females at Cornell back in 1875) she befriends Josie Baum, and realizes that her ‘eccentricities’ that at home were encouraged make her feel like a complete misfit at Cornell. Women may have more doors open to them than her mother ever did, but aren’t meant to be engaging, are expected to fade into the wallpaper. For all the talk of equal rights, women are still expected to be ‘like a houseplant’ more for pretty decoration, to be less engaging, to bend to a man’s will and be a rapt audience who fawns over the male pontificating in the classroom rather than voicing their views. If they don’t land a husband their only other option, educated or not, is to return back home to their parents, where they are managed instead by their father or mother. It is through her friend Josie Baum that she meets her future husband, when Josie invites her over to her to a party at her house over Christmas break.  Josie’s cousin Frank, a man of the theater (actor, director, stage manager of the small traveling  Baum Theater Company) who will go on to write the much-loved children’s classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Frank, whose name starts with F. F, the letter that during a seance with her group of friends at the college appeared on the board, whose name her future husband begins with, if you believe that sort of thing and of course… of course she doesn’t. Does she?

The joy of this novel is how Maud and others served as Frank’s inspiration, from a fear of scarecrows to a sad, lonely niece, her special doll and the dress that inspired Dorothy’s iconic gingham one. Anyone who has ever watched Dorothy will warm while reading about the birth of Oz. It wasn’t all success for Maud, whom watches her own sister’s poor choice of the heart and every sorrow and hardship that follows. Her own path now tied to Frank Baum’s, she must bust free from the confines of her mother’s plans, marrying a man whose life is spent on the road with his theater. When she has a child, he must find a career to support Maud and their infant son, working as a salesman and trying to ignore his ‘flights of fancy’. They experience loss, Maud’s severe illness during her second pregnancy,  changes in career for Frank, family strain and deep grief between she and her sister Julia while living in the vastness of Dakota territory.

Future Maud is a widow, nearing 80 and on the set of the film The Wizard of Oz. Here she meets and befriends Judy Garland, developing tender feelings for the lonely, young woman whose overbearing stage manager mother doesn’t seem to protect enough. Bullied by everyone from the director to her co-stars, spies watching her diet like a hawk, young Judy Garland spends a lot of time on the verge of a breakdown, her insecurities fueled by on set cruelties but finds a nurturing presence in Maud, as well as insider information on the part she wants to play to perfection. Who understands Dorothy better than Baum’s own wife, inspiration behind the beloved characters? Too, Maud will fight to keep one of the now most famous songs Somewhere Over the Rainbow from being cut from the film, as much as fight to see young Judy isn’t smacked around, literally. This ‘old woman’ will not be pushed aside, she has made a promise to her husband’s memory and herself that this film must do justice to Frank’s tale, not diminish it! Having been raised by a mother who was quite the suffragette, it seems like destiny that Maud witnesses the binding of Judy’s developed body, to make her appear younger, after all Dorothy was a little girl in the book and the attempts to deny her proper nutrition of course Maud sneaks tasty snacks to feed Judy herself! Such control a far cry from the rights her mother demanded, so far into the future and women still being handled, unrealistic expectations forced upon them. Maud, despite giving up her degree for marriage wasn’t one to retreat, her marriage to Frank dealt her many hardships that even the most educated, progressive woman would break under. They always had love and respect, and she is due credit as much as Frank’s own diligence, for his success. Maud was a woman who managed their family finances, raised their two sons while Frank’s career often pulled him away, who pushed her husband to realize his dreams.

While the relationship between Maud and Judy Garland is tender, the past is the heartbeat of this novel. I don’t think I will ever watch the film without thinking of all the sorrows that touched the Baum’s. There is a lot of heartbreak, the story isn’t all rainbows and good witches but that’s not to say there isn’t a lot of happiness too. Beautiful, I didn’t expect to like this novel as much as I did. It’s a very rich story!

Publication Date: February 12, 2019

Random House Publishing

Ballantine Books