Tag Archives: relationships

The Mother Who Never Was

Deb-SlavenThe needful background for this story is that a little over a month ago my mother died.  I avoid the use of any euphemism or distracting turn of phrase here because more than any other person I’ve ever known, she simply slowly and irrevocably shriveled up and just passed from existence.  In point of fact I’m not sure that she was ever truly alive in any meaningful way at any point when I knew her.  

To understand this one has to go back many years to her childhood.  She was the eldest of three children and the only daughter; her mother was a very kind and simple woman while her father was an emotionally abusive alcoholic.  I got very little information from mother about her childhood but she recalled with great vividness many episodes in which her father careened down the road, drunk off his ass, taking great pleasure at the screams of his terrified children in the back seat.  By the time I knew my grandfather he had mellowed considerably but one could still see the vestiges of a domineering father figure.

When it came time for my mother to head to college, she aspired above all to work with animals.  She ended up at Purdue so she was in the right place at the right time but unfortunately, her father would have none of that.  He insisted, as mom tells it anyway, that being a veterinarian was not a proper profession for a woman and that he would only support her if she trained to become a teacher instead.  My shy and retiring mother didn’t agree but she went along with the plan.  Sadly, uninspired by the curriculum, she didn’t make it past her first year of classes.  Within 12 months she was back in Frankfort working in a factory.

C.T.S 1985 (I Think)After a few years back in town she met my father; in a way they were a good match.  My father was a rebel and my mother needed that influence.  Grandpa, of course, wasn’t terribly happy about it.  Family history has it that there were a few instances in which my grandfather made his displeasure with my father clear using a firearm.  I suspect on some deeper level that my mother married my father at least in part just because he disapproved so strongly.  They married in 1972 and less than two months later I was on the way.  I’ve written elsewhere in this blog about my mother’s view on motherhood so I won’t rehash it but suffice to say that a human child was the last thing she needed at this juncture in her life.

My parents remained married for about 15 years and putting both halves of the story together they really seemed to be working at right angles to each other.  To hear my father’s side of the story, his basic issue was that he seemed to just lose interest in her.  She didn’t grow as a person, he said, at all during the years of their marriage.  As a result he ended up seeking fulfillment in his artwork, carpentry and (it is rumored) “outside the marriage.”  On her side, she said she was doing everything she could to make him happy.  I understand completely why she would have done so; given her relationship with her father, this was just how relationships with men are supposed to go.  She tried to emulate her obedient and subservient mother but that was the last thing my father wanted out of a marriage.  He hung on as long as he did only out of some sense of duty to me, I suspect.  

When their marriage ended, things went downhill quickly, but I recall exactly one lucid and connected conversation with my mother from that time.  After my father had left the house for good she sat on the bed next to me and said simply, “well, it’s just you and me now.”  I recall feeling elated; not because I wanted my father to leave but because I wanted desperately for things to change.  Even if they changed for the worse there was a chance that I’d not be stuck in that room.  Sadly, that moment of lucidity passed in a flash.  A few months later she attempted suicide (pills) and I was put in the care of my grandparents permanently.  

My contact with her after that was sporadic at best and when we did speak our conversations were awash in her intense mental illness.  She insisted that my father was still harassing her by driving past the house multiple times a day.  People at work, she claimed, talked about her behind her back and were trying to get her fired.  Eventually she told me in rather impolite terms to stop calling her at all; she honestly believed I was only calling to check up on her so I’d know when she died and could get her money.  At the time of her death I hadn’t spoken to her for years except to tell her when my father passed away.


A month ago when I walked into my mother’s house for the first time in over a decade I didn’t know what to expect.  I had hopes, of course, that somehow I’d find some answers to the puzzle that was my mother.  This woman gave birth to me but to be honest I didn’t really know her.  She was an archetype of mental illness and abused child but at no point did I ever really KNOW her as a person.  I had hoped on some level to finally unravel part of the mystery to find out who my mother really was as a person beyond the high-level view I had.

After spending several hours digging through the contents of her house, it became clear that there were no answers.  There was one photo album; it contained pictures only of herself and every animal she’d ever owned.  All photos of me or other family members were absent.  She had very neatly trimmed everyone else in the universe out of her life because her brain had tricked her into thinking that everyone she knew, past and present, was a deceiver and out to get her somehow.

The only glimmers of her came in the form of a few oddments.  She had become fairly obsessed with Sam Elliott as evidenced by a box of magazines and several movies.  Her cedar chest contained a few remembrancers from past pets: a parakeet perch, her last dog’s collar.  She kept legal documents, tax returns, one letter from my ex wife with photos of the kids.  My mom turned to the Bible at some point for hope and inspiration but it was short lived; she had a notebook devoted to the topic but only the first page was ever used.  All in all the physical footprint she left on this world over almost 70 years was remarkably scant.

Either my mother was very good at hiding herself or (as my father would say if he were here) maybe there just wasn’t anything there in the first place.  He was very intent on the idea that in many ways my mother was a non-person because she never put herself first enough to develop into someone real.  Life was always about making her father happy or making him happy but it was never about making herself happy.  So maybe I went into that house looking for a mom that never existed in the first place.  

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Matcher Rules – It’s like Pern with Polyamory (4/5)

As usual I received this book for free so I’d review it; this time from NetGalley. Also as usual I give my scrupulously honest opinions below.

For the purposes of categorization, this book falls into the same basic premise as the Dragonriders of Pern. Human colonists found a colony on an alien planet and find “thing” that completely changes their way of life. Saying much of anything else will constitute a spoiler so I leave it at that.

To the positive side of assessing this novel, the author’s crafting of location is exceptionally intriguing. It’s the sort of book that makes you want another 47 set in the same world just to wrap up various nuances of this alien society. Holland has created a world filled with endless possibilities that this book only begins to touch on. From a writing perspective the style is easily, accessible almost juvenile; I’d recommend it to my own children except for some references to sex which I am far too cowardly to explain to a teenager.

On the negative side, like all books of this sort, the beginning 10 pages or thereabouts were a bit of a struggle. This is somewhat unavoidable as the book is busy giving new and alien names to things but it could have been a bit less compressed. Those first pages are a bit daunting but worth getting through to get to the rest. Additionally, the ending seemed far too tidy and wrapped up with a too nice, too neat bow. Perhaps my reaction is at least in part because I want the other 47 books but the ending here is too pristine to even tease a sequel. In general the start and end seemed rushed endcaps to a beautiful middle.

In summary, this is a wonderful little concept for a society and I merely wish fervently that there were more of it. Given proper treatment there is so much of human nature to explore here but as a single stand-alone novel this came up a bit wanting. Again though, that may be at least in part my opinion because I wanted 47 more books.


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Today in new Books – 2/4/2014

It’s another big week in book releases and it even includes a book written by the guy in the next cube at work. That doesn’t happen very often!


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Friend Me: A Novel of Suspense (****)


Firstly, and as is usually the case, I must provide a disclaimer that I didn’t really buy this book. Instead, I received it directly from the author who just happens to sit a scant 10 feet from me at work each day. Despite this kind consideration, and the fact that anything I say might cause my cubicle to be set aflame before I arrive at work tomorrow, I will review this title with absolute candor. Anything less would be a violation of my personal integrity, which is worth more than a few flaming cubicles. It also bears revelation that this novel is fairly rife with Christian themes and while I am an upstanding and sometimes outspoken “secularist” I will in no way hold that fundamental disagreement against the book, even at the risk of a burning bush appearing to accompany the ashes of my office chair.

Also as usual, I begin with the positive. When the author described the premise of this novel to me months ago I was mightily impressed with the novelty of the overarching story-line. Faubion’s central idea in this novel, social networking run amok, is not only original but timely and at its kernel, very believable. John also has a way of describing tense scenes with great vividity that pulls the reader along quite against their will. It was an act of willpower to put the book down at times and only the threat of having the author beat me into the office the next morning was sufficient to get me to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Touching briefly on the religious aspects of the novel, Faubion’s characters are clearly Christian and they’re not afraid to show it. Despite that, their appearance in the novel is at no time preachy or obtrusive even to one who isn’t exactly in the book’s target demographic.

Moving to the negative side of the review, while the main theme was strong, much of the small-scale execution left me scratching my head. The characters seem to flit into and out of situations with little regard for reality. The whole narrative seems rather whitewashed and devoid of any real detail about what’s going on. In general, and as you will no doubt notice from my other reviews, I am a fairly punctilious reader and lack of detail is a serious bother to me in this book. At many points, particularly the last third, the novel seemed rushed and more like a hurried summary of events than a meticulously planned out work of literature.

In summary, this book revolves around a truly inspired premise but seems to fail in the details. What it lacks in literary merits it makes up for in concept. This reads like a screenplay or movie novelization and I fully expect to see this adapted to the screen, perhaps with Tom Cruise playing the role of the author.


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The Deepest Secret: A Novel (*****)


As usual I received this book because it showed up in the mail without the need to purchase it. Unusually, I don’t seem to be able to track down exactly why it showed up. I am forced to assume it was a direct publisher giveaway of some sort. Nevertheless, my candid thoughts follow.

You’ve doubtless read the blurb so I won’t make even the smallest attempt to resummarize the summary. The narrative is written in round-robin narrative from the viewpoint of our protagonist, Tyler, who can’t be exposed to even the faintest shadow of sunlight, lest he die, his mother, his father and a few random viewpoints thrown in for fun.

On the positive side the whole thing is pretty attention-grabbing. At 450 pages or so I sat through most of it in one prolonged 4-hour stretch. It has a well-executed narrative flair that pulls you along at just the right pace. The writing and editing are all very tight and exceptionally dramatic. This is one of the best executed books I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommended to anyone except the deepest recluse without friend or family. The book draws much of its power from the “What if this were my family?” spirit.

The book’s central theme, as anyone reading the title will no doubt guess, is that we all have our inner little bits that we don’t show anyone. Some of those bits are dark and some of those are light and some of them are a bit of both. Buckley’s true triumph is the realism with which she paints this narrative. Everyone has a secret something and some stay secret, some come to light and devour the secret-holder and some you just get away with. There’s no big happy bow at the end of this one; sometimes a secret is just too big.

In summary, I hesitate to use the cliche terms that usually go here but this book really does keep the pages turning. The page count is somewhat deceptive as you can pound through this light reading pretty quickly. Glad it arrived at my doorstep, even if I don’t really know why it did so.


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The Book of Jonah: A Novel (***)
As usual I received this book for free for the purposes of review. Unfortunately I can’t seem to determine exactly from whom. Whover the source of this unknown beneficence, I give my candid thoughts below.

Having read this, would I pay money for it? Probably not, but I’m on the fence.

This is a bifurcated narrative told from the perspective of two people with rather tragic lives. The story flips back and forth between the two the whole way until… well, in the interest of avoiding spoilers I’ll just say “until”.

On the positive side, this book is wonderfully and elegantly crafted. The author is obviously erudite and can really cobble together some wonderful sentences and has a flair for imagery. The style is very fluid and readable and despite being a VERY long 350+ pages, once you get into the rhythm of the text it speeds along quite nicely. I was able to choke it down in 8-10 hours. It’s also very neatly segmented into sections of 20 pages or so if the verbal finery gets to be too much for you then you can put it down and come back later. It has a very literary feel to it; it’s not at all a fluffy novel.

To the negative side of the novel, the narrative seems to hint at many grand story lines but never seems to decide to finish any of them. On one hand it’s an allegory about right and wrong… but only weakly. On another hand it’s a vast story arc bringing characters together in quirky and unexpected ways… but only sorta. I feel about this book the way I feel about this review I’m writing. I want to say something more powerful. I have plenty of words and I keep typing and typing and typing but it just never happens. The threads never come together. That’s exactly how I feel about the book… Just left a bit dangling.

To summarize, no, I wouldn’t pay money for this but boy can the author pump out some words. He’s vastly prolix and quite skilled but the proverbial participles were just left a bit dangling.


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Glitter and Glue: A Memoir (****)


As usual I received this book through the kind courtesy of some giveaway or other. In this case I suspect it was a ShelfAwareness drawing. Regardless of the origin and despite the kind consideration I give my candid opinions below.

This book left me in an exceptional state of ambivalence. On the surface of things, pretty much nothing at all happened for the span of 215 pages. As memoirs go this one is rather vacuous and non-eventful. Those looking for a storyline will be sadly disappointed because there really isn’t one. There’s just nothing going on here… except… except that there IS… but it’s all rather mysterious and internal.

Those who are familiar with my usual review format will note a departure from the “good stuff”/”bad stuff” motif. That just doesn’t apply here. If you were looking for car chases and explosions then this isn’t really the book for you. Instead, the old adage plays out in detail. Let me back up a bit.

I’ve been a married man long enough to know that a fair number of women live in fear of the day that they “become their mother”. For whatever reason mothers and daughters just don’t get along. Until… well, until one day they do. This book is the detailed narrative, told from the inside of the author’s head, of how that transition happens. How one day you think your mother is insane and the next day she suddenly makes sense. It’s a book about transitions and maturing, a woman’s bildungsroman.

At least that’s my take on the book… the other thing about this book is that it’s one of those that has a thousand meanings to a thousand people. If you choose to read the book it’s VERY likely that you’ll look back on my review and say, categorically, that I’m full of crap. That’s really OK because at its heart the book is one of inspiring ideas. The specific idea that’s delivered is up to the person receiving it. Look at it as being about mothers or renewal or recovery or family or whatever… it doesn’t matter. The book is a brief and candid snapshot of someone’s rather privileged life. The real point is that this book is one for thinkers but thinkers in an emotional sense, those who want to feel what someone else feels and extrapolate that to their own lives. There’s little of plot but much of mind.

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Movie Reviews: Girlfriend 19 – Not really any plot to speak of but instead detailed emotional forensics on what it’s like to break up with someone

Please click the photo to visit the review on Amazon and vote it helpful. While you’re there watch the movie and leave your own review.

I watched this movie because it looked lonely and unreviewed on Amazon Instant Watch and I’m reasonably glad I did but it’s important to know what you’re getting into.

First and foremost, this movie is not broken. It starts out with about 60 seconds of complete blackness and almost no audio and very slowly brightens to reveal a woman’s hand. We scrambled around a bit wondering why the movie wasn’t starting only to realize that the movie was starting but very slowly. So be aware of that oddity.

So, the plot is really not much of a plot so it’s impossible to “spoiler” much of anything. The slowly-appearing opening scene features a couple in bed yet also in the process of breaking up. About 5 minutes into it he’s finally out the door and the rest of the movie covers the next 2-3 days as she deals with the emotional aftermath of the situation. It’s a deep and (I’m told) accurate view of breaking up from the woman’s perspective but it’s not a movie driven by events. She talks to her friends, she flashes back to before the relationship, she talks to her ex, she flashes back to events with her ex, around and around for 90 minutes.

In summary, it wasn’t a movie that took our breath away but it was reasonably thought provoking. Guys will have a bit more trouble with this movie since it’s not really their perspective on things but it’s a pretty accurate and it will spur some potential conversation if you’re open-minded about the whole topic. Most definitely not a first-date movie though.

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Noticed I’m a bit Quiet Lately?

Well, as it turns out I’m not quiet at all; I’m just tired of cross-posting articles to 5 different sites. The Publicize to Facebook feature hasn’t seemed to work for quite some time so all my random blathering has been going over there directly. Lately I’ve been on a pretty feverish movie review kick (primarily on Amazon Instant Watch movies that you can watch free with Amazon prime) so if you want a free movie or 50 to watch (or want to know what to avoid) head on over to my Facebook page for The Tattered Thread!

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My What a Beautiful Eye you Have!

Here’s lookin’ at you…

In a book I was reading over the weekend one of the secondary characters, an 8-year-old girl, meets another girl at a pool laying on a raft. The first words are, “I like your raft!” The other girl doesn’t say anything and so the interaction ends awkwardly but it did make me think about the use of compliments as a mode of introduction and in general conversation.

As an adult I’ve always found it awkward to compliment people on anything. When conversing with a woman I always fear that anything positive I say will be taken as flirting and if it’s a guy then… well, that could very well be taken as flirting too. Yet the few cases in which I’ve been brave enough to take the chance, the reactions have always been exceptionally positive. People love to get compliments but I think that as a society (or maybe it’s just me) we’re afraid to give them out for fear of some misunderstanding.

So what say you? Is a compliment really just a compliment or do you always suspect that it carries some ulterior motive? What do you think when a guy comments on your beautiful, bloodshot eye? Personally, from this point forward I resolve to just throw caution to the wind and try to compliment the hell out of people whenever possible. What’s the worst that could happen? Worst case scenario they think I’m some creepy dude that talks too much. This probably isn’t too far off the opinion they’d have if I said nothing and just stared back at them, so what have I to lose? Not a single thing, I say.

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Flies, their Lords, and Amateur Literary Interpretation

This summer my eldest daughter was tasked with reading “Lord of the Flies” for her AP English class. All summer I heard, “Dad. I hate this book. It’s boring.”
“What’s it about?” I’d inquire, despite knowing darn good and well what it was about.
“It’s about some kids on an island.”
“OH! Is it an adventure story? Or maybe young romance?” I’d posit.
“No. It’s just boring.”

And so it went on and on through the summer. Finally, the summer came to an end and it was time to for the kids to talk about the book in class. After a few days Amanda came home with a 3-page worksheet of questions about the first chapter of the book. (As an aside, it turns out the teacher found this list of questions online and printed it for the class to answer. Imagine the teacher’s naive surprise when the kids found the same study guide through a quick Google search, including the answers, and handed in identical perfect papers. But I digress…) Frustrated, Amanda came to me and asked for help, “This question says ‘what is the meaning of *dumb* in the phrase, ‘the hot, dumb sand‘?  what does that even mean?”

We went through the usual ritual…

Me: “Did you look up the meanings of the word *dumb*? Are there any alternate meanings that might apply?”
Amanda: “It means silent, not saying anything.
Me: “OK, so how might you apply that to the sand?”
Amanda: “Well, duh, the sand isn’t saying anything.”
Me: “Of course not, but why is that important? Why would it? Are the kids in a happy situation… or a bad one…”
And so it went…

After several minutes we came back around to “the old drone of ‘I hate this book, it’s boring'”.

“But why don’t you like the book? Why is it boring? What makes it different from other books you did like,” I inquired. Then came the shining moment; I didn’t really know where this was going until these words bounded out of her mouth and around the room.

Amanda: “I read it but I just didn’t really care. I didn’t care about the characters. They were just on the island and some stuff happened. People died and it was like ‘so what’?”

It was just as the ‘so what’ was coming out that the lightning bolt hit me and an epic diatribe formed in my mind the likes of which I’ve not had since. I’m far from a master of literary interpretation and it’s probable that everything that came out of my mouth for the next 10 minutes was complete hogwash but at the time…. it felt fairly inspired. What I said went something along the lines of what follows.

“You say that people died in the book and you didn’t care. But is that normal? Are you supposed to care when people die or are you supposed to just move on with whatever you’re doing? Do you think your reaction is an appropriate one given the situation? I think what you’ve hit upon is the exact point of the book. When someone died on the island did the island care? Did the birds fall out of the sky? Did the sun stop beating down? Did that hot, dumb sand object? No, of course not. Things just went on as normal and nobody really gave a damn. Perhaps the real genius of the book isn’t the story, but instead how it makes its insidious way into the mind of the reader. All the main characters are dropping dead and the world didn’t care. The trees didn’t care. The animals didn’t care. Not even the READER cares. Isn’t that the true power of writing? To somehow subtly bring someone’s mind around to a certain way of thinking, and in the most ingenious of cases, do it without the reader even realizing it? What you have cited as the ‘boring’ part of the book, my dear child, is exactly the point of the whole thing and you have fallen wholly and completely into its trap without even realizing it.”

I like to think that on some level my impassioned speech found fertile ground in her mind. For a brief moment I saw a bit of awestruck realization on her face. Of course a few days later she was back to “this is boring” but that is the teenage mindset. After my outburst Laura said to me that she wishes her own English teachers had been so eloquent on the topic of literature. I may not know much of anything about the literary process or proper form but it seems that I sure can get wound up about it and boy I sure do adore the stuff.  Even if my interpretations are rather unique creations.

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