Tag Archives: women’s stories

Three Favorites

Three of my favorite novels are Oh, Be Careful by Lee Colgate; At War As Children by Kit Reed;  and The Lion in the Lei Shop by Kaye Starbird. The first two were published in the early 1960s and the last one in 1970.   When I think about what always links these books together in my mind (I almost never think of them separately), it’s that I must have read them within a few years of each other; although I don’t remember in what order, or what was happening in my life when I discovered them.  I do know that I was in my twenties, and the experiences of the main characters were completely understandable, if not my own experiences.  Oh, Be Careful is the story of a young woman’s first serious, life-altering, love affair.  It’s about how we become the adults we are through a combination of disastrous choices, accident, and pure chance.  As far as I know, Colgate never wrote another novel—I so wish she had. 

At War As Children takes place during and after World War II. The main character is Denise McLeod, who grows up on a series of submarine bases with her mother, attending Catholic school, playing with her closest friend Bunker, and all the time waiting for letters from her beloved father, who is off at sea.  When tragedy comes close to home, Denny tries to cope with it in various ways—some helpful, some not, but all growing organically out of the young woman she is becoming.  Reed, who teaches at Wesleyan University, went on to write many other works of fiction; but none has touched me as much as this one did.  I have often wondered what she, herself, thinks about this, her second novel.

Interestingly, The Lion in the Lei Shop is also set during and after World War II. (And WWII is not really my war—that would be Vietnam, so that’s certainly not why I love these two books so much.)  The story begins on the day Pearl Harbor is bombed; Marty and her parents are living at Schofield Barracks in Wahiawa, Hawaii, where  her father is a career Army officer. Following the bombing, her father goes on active duty and basically disappears from Marty’s life.  How she tries to make sense of what’s happened to her family is affecting (boy, did I cry when I read this book!) and yet not at all manipulative or fakey.

So on the surface, what these three novels have in common is three-dimensional, pretty wonderful main female characters who are working hard at trying to understand who they are and how they’re to live their lives.  If I tried to dig a little more into the “why” of my loving them so much (I own them all in hardback, and I don’t keep a lot of books), it would probably require either a hypnotist or psychiatrist.  Or, preferably, both.  In any event, it’s clearly time for another rereading round of the three.

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A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean

by Tori McClure

Tori Murden McClure is an incredibly accomplished woman: she was one of the two women (out of a total group of six) who skied 750 miles to the South Pole; she was also the first woman to summit Lewis Nunatak, which is part of the Queen Alexandra Range in Antarctica.  She has several advanced degrees (including law and divinity) and has had a variety of interesting and challenging jobs (including working with the boxer to set up his Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky).  But after reading her memoir, A Pearl in the Storm: How I Found My Heart in the Middle of the Ocean, I have to believe that of all her achievements, the one that she’s proudest of is that she was the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean.  How and why she chose to attempt the crossing (twice, actually, since her first trip was halted by a hurricane) is uplifting without being at all sappy.  You can see why she must be a terrifically inspiring speaker, especially for teen audiences.  I was fortunate enough to meet Tori at a rather large dinner in Chicago a year or so ago,  and felt that there were many questions I wished I could have asked her in order to learn more about the incredibly diverse experiences that she’s had.

As always, the first line of a book is incredibly important to me, and Tori’s is pretty great:   “In the end, I know I rowed across the Atlantic to find my heart, but in the beginning, I wasn’t aware that it was missing.”  And I was taken by the fact that it was Muhammad Ali who, knowing her well, encouraged her to try a second time, by saying to her that she didn’t want to be the first woman who “almost rowed across the Atlantic.”

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Love Stories in This Town

Love Storiesby Amanda Eyre Ward

The settings of the stories in Amanda Eyre Ward’s stellar collection, Love Stories in This Town, range all over the map of the United States — Austin, Georgia, Montana, San Francisco — but the main characters, all women, share one salient characteristic: they’re looking for something. For some it’s a sense of belonging somewhere, anywhere. For others it’s enduring love, or motherhood, or security or professional success. Each of Ward’s protagonists feels that there’s something basic missing in her life — a hole in her world. Whether it’s Kimmy, moving to Texas with her husband two days after a miscarriage (“The Stars are Bright in Texas”); Mimi (“Shakespeare.com”) working for a startup company aimed at bringing Shakespeare to the masses; or the six linked stories about ten years in the life of Lola Wilkerson, all these stories are moving and insightful; the dialogue is pitch perfect. I finished reading each of these stories wishing that Ward would expand every one into a novel, so I could spend more time with the characters.

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