Monthly Archives: April 2010

Everyone is Beautiful

Dearest reader: I wrote this book review some time ago (as was the case with the Bright Side of Disaster), but this is a newish site and I thought it was only fair to Katherine Center to feature my ramblings in praise of her second novel once more. On a side note, Get Lucky, Center’s third novel, hit stores just last week!

As I type these very words, I am hopelessly mired in a grievous state of mourning. My head is hung, my drapes are drawn and the sad reality that comes with turning the last page of an engaging and truly palpable read has settled deep within my soul. I may as well drag my sorry self into a corner and sulk while I wait for Katherine Center’s third novel to be released.

That said, Everyone is Beautiful is utterly fabulous in an I-can’t-put-it-down-to-save-my-life sort of way. And as was the case with The Bright Side of Disaster, Center’s first novel, I devoured its pages multiple times, hoping to sink again and again into the tangible existence she so vividly painted.

Not surprisingly, Center’s cast of characters and the remarkable web of relationships she crafted are as colorful as they are complex. And the crux of the narrative she serves up provides a meaty and satisfying meal for those fortunate enough to partake. Her depictions of parenthood, involving poop and Play-Doh and the glorious sacrifices we make for our children each and every day, are spot-on, making the tale that much more believable. Further, she skillfully employs a series of heartwarming flashbacks, giving readers a glimpse into the past and helping us piece together the whys and wherefores of everyone’s actions—especially relevant to the logic of love, if there is such an animal.

But what I found utterly delicious about this literary gem was the fact that I could identify with much of what Lanie, the main character, felt about motherhood. About marriage. About choices. About body image. About longing to reclaim and reconnect with the self I once knew—before the onslaught of life and love and the wonderful mess said “fork-in-the-road” journey so inevitably engendered. Now and forever.

As a mother of young children, I, too, felt almost driven to throw myself into something—anything—that I alone could own and tap into as a source of sustenance and salvation. To consume that which promised to define me (in some sense) as something other than a mother, gulp after glorious gulp.

For some, the garden calls. For others, it’s the kitchen or the gym. Still others are drawn to journaling or scrapbooking or knitting. Nevertheless, all serve as nourishment for the soul. For me, it was pencil sketching, then pastels and finally, photography. Naturally, the irresistible desire to write struck at that time as well—a compulsion that is perhaps as fervent today as it was on Day One of motherhood. Looking back, I’d surmise that such diversions helped to shape me and perhaps strengthened my ability to handle all that was on my plate—which is a good thing, I think. All moms should have something that shouts, “This is me!”

Center, of course, gets that and reminds us throughout the novel of the inherent worth and meaning we possess as parents, the deluge of precious gifts we receive as a result and of the beauty contained within each and every human being.

In the end, she is right—everyone is beautiful—much like the lovely gentleman I met in the grocery store who asked if I might read aloud a Mother’s Day card for him. He wanted to be sure the words intended for his wife possessed that perfect blend of romance and undying gratitude for all that she is and has been in years past. He could have selected just any old card in that section and hoped for the best with regard to its message, but instead swallowed his pride and approached me, banking on my ability to manage fine print.

Of course, I was happy to oblige and after stumbling upon “the” card, he thanked me profusely, smiled and turned to walk away, content with the symphony of poetry and prose contained within. Indeed, a beautiful thing.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (anxious to lock myself in a closet with Center’s third and destined-for-fame novel, Get Lucky).

Copyright 2009 Melinda L. Wentzel


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The Bright Side of Disaster

Dearest reader: I wrote this book review some time ago…but hey, this is a relatively newish site and I thought it was only fair to Katherine Center to feature my ramblings in praise of her first novel once more. Plus, her latest, Get Lucky, hits stores today!

Confession: I am a despicable creature. Despicable in the sense that I failed to fulfill a promise to Random House—the folks who believed I could, at the very least, string a few coherent sentences together in support of Katherine Center’s first novel, The Bright Side of Disaster, within a timeframe that one would reasonably expect a one-armed Capuchin monkey to accomplish the same.

Let the flogging begin.

Needless to say, I’ve had said bookish wonder in my possession for 229 days (Gasp!) and until now have yet to utter so much as a syllable never mind an entire post regarding the worthiness of this extraordinary book.

Perhaps the monkey would have been a better bet.

Of course, I’ve been extremely busy harvesting all sorts of lame excuses to explain away my shameful behavior. The muse left me. Someone hid my thesaurus. The dog needed to be walked—some 700 times (a conservative estimate). I needed to buy some blue swirly stuff for the toilets (which I shall use one day soon). The children needed to be ferried to camp…to soccer…to dance…to swim lessons…to McDonald’s. Furthermore, 87 sidewalk chalk villages, 43 blanket forts and roughly a dozen worm cakes needed to be created.

You get the idea.

In any event, you need to buy this book. Immediately or sooner. Abandon your beloved computer this very instant, sprint to your local bookstore and demand that Center’s debut novel be placed within your hot little hands at once—lest you die not having savored this 225-page nugget of remarkableness. It is a positively scrumptious read, in every palpable, plausible and profoundly irresistible sense of the word. Indeed, I was smitten from Paragraph One till the bitter end and completely wooed for a host of reasons: I was charmed to death by its cast of characters, intrigued by the narrative’s wealth of unpredictability and awed by Center’s sheer brilliance as it relates to the telling of tales.

Perhaps more importantly, for a few delicious and utterly decadent moments solitude was mine. The harried pace and unrelenting hustle and bustle of my child-filled world faded to black as I sank deeper and deeper into the pages of this literary gem. There, in the glorious window of stillness just before my house began to stir, and in the quiet of night when day was done, I dissolved into the woodwork of life—having been transported beyond the realm of bickering matches and breakfast cereal dishes. I’d like to think I emerged as a better parent, or at least as one who is less likely to go ballistic upon discovering yet another unflushed toilet or yogurt surprise.

Truth be told, I was physically incapable of putting the silly thing down once I started, although I had to lock myself in a closet a few times in order to fend off the barrage of distractions (i.e. needy children and pets) that periodically rain down on me like a scourge. Hence, the delay in providing the blurbages here before you. Confession: I read Bright Side two sinfully indulgent times. Okay three. It was that good.

At the risk of sounding completely cliché, I felt as though I knew the fictional people that Center created. I could hear them saying whatever it was they said. I could imagine them doing the sorts of things she had them doing and by all accounts, the trip to Breastfeeding Hell she so vividly described made my toes curl. By the same token, her portrayal of the warm and wonderful kisses her knight-in-shining-armor so passionately planted made me melt. Okay, I was a puddle upon the floor. A veritable pile of mush incapable of rational thought.

Jenny, the central figure in Bright Side, was a wholesome and impossibly optimistic creature, yet at her very core a womanchild whose raw and perilous journey to the banks of motherhood made all who have ever ventured there both pity her plight and celebrate her triumphs and joys. I loved her unconditionally and wanted so desperately to whisper some advice into her ear. By contrast, Dean, that slothful, smarmy bit-of-slime that Center painted as her match-made-in-hell, made my blood boil. Like Jenny, I felt an overwhelming compulsion to light him on fire. Many times over. But of course, she made us peek through our fingers to see the good in him, the part that she fell in love with, the part that helped her picture the family unit they would ostensibly become. Later, I came to understand she had merely fallen in love with the idea of being in love. Dean was convenient, but a fucking train wreck nonetheless. Reading Chapter Five was like buying a first class ticket to that train wreck.

Then in Chapter Seven, she introduced us to Dean’s mother, that feculent and oh-so-haughty beast filled to the very brim with evil. I wanted so badly to choke her. To death. Or very near death, but perhaps not so close that she couldn’t crawl away to a far corner of the earth. Where she would rot.

And then there was Gardner. Earthy. Solid. Nurturing. Downright edible. If a movie is ever spun from this tale, Hugh Jackman must play his role—and he positively must wield a deck of playing cards and a beloved dog like Herman. Likewise, someone Mel Gibson-ish ought to be in the running for Jenny’s dad. In my less-than-professional opinion, it all makes perfect sense.

Needless to say, Center did a marvelous job letting us get to know all the colorful characters woven throughout her story. Jenny’s stylish yet sensible mother, her adoring and infinitely charming father, her thick-and-thin friend, Meredith, her sounding board, Claudia, her nemesis, Tara, the entire cast and crew of her Mommy Group, Dr. Hale, Herman, Dr. Blandon and, of course, Maxie.

Not surprisingly, I fantasize about being holed up in a forgotten corner of a bookstore, swallowed by a cozy chair and forced to read 200 pages of literary goodness like the aforementioned in one sitting. That being said, the notion of consuming something Wally Lamb-ish, curled up like a cat on my couch is unthinkable. Okay, intoxicating. I can now add Katherine Center’s material to my list of that which makes me drunk with joy. Then again, chocolate is equally redeeming.

In sum, books like Center’s are my refuge from the torrents of parenthood, an intimate retreat from my inundated-with-Legos sort of existence and a source of pure salvation not unlike becoming one with my iPod, bathing in the sweet silence of prayer and journeying to the far shores of slumber—where the din cannot follow, the day’s tensions are erased and the unruly beasts within are stilled.

Perhaps the bright side of disaster here (pun intended) is that I’ve redeemed myself somewhat in the eyes of Random House. There’s a modicum of hope anyway that they will be kind and compassionate enough to overlook my ineptitude as a blogger and zip me a copy of Center’s soon-to-be-released second novel, Everyone is Beautiful.

Hint. Hint.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live (sometimes hiding from my children deep within the bowels of a closet, devouring books, of course).

Copyright 2008 Melinda L. Wentzel

P.S. Dear Random House Folks: For the record, you’ve already zipped me a copy of Everyone is Beautiful and I’ll likely re-post my review of that as well. Thanks again!

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And the Battle Rages On…

As luck would have it (or not), mealtime in our household serves as a remarkably effective catalyst for that tired old conflict between and among my eight-year-old hellions, destroying what peace and tranquility may have existed hitherto. (“Peace and tranquility” being a relative term, slathered with innumerable conditions, of course). The issue at hand: Who will get to use the highly coveted yellow cup, brimming with liquidy goodness? Like some hoary gridiron quest to win the “The Old Shoe,” a fierce and deeply competitive rivalry has flourished for some time now—over “The Old Cup.” And it’s brutal at the line of scrimmage, people. Downright brutal.

Both kidlets long to wrap their greedy little mitts around said drinking vessel and call it their own. Forevermore. I may just have to make it “disappear” one day, in order to settle this thorny issue once and for all—to permanently remove it from the growing list of things over which my kids fight, to include a one-legged Ken doll, a rickety yard sale chair (circa early Precambrian) and a pathetic looking plastic pony with wheels and a detachable mane. Hell, they’ve been known to squabble over who gets to vomit in the Nine Lives bucket with the pretty kitty on it. Strange but true.

Perhaps wrangling over a silly cup isn’t so terrible after all—aside from having to endure the endless bickering that ensues.

“I get the yellow cup ‘cause you had it last time.”

“Uh-uh, I get the yellow cup ‘cause I called it first.”

“Did not.”

“Did so.”

“Did not!”

“Did so!”

And so the battle rages, with no end in sight. Tupperware ought to be flattered.

With all the hullabaloo surrounding its apparent desirability, it would certainly make sense. I wonder if they even know there are kids out there—multitudes maybe—who would gladly trade their prized Pez dispensers for a Tupperware tumbler—especially for one that happened to be discontinued. Hence: The never-ending dispute over that wretched yellow cup.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out what makes it so gosh-darned appealing. It’s a stupid plastic cup, for Pete’s sake! It has no grand fancy-schmancyness about it. No built-in straws or funky handles. No wacky lids or glow-in-the-dark messages. No inherent cleverness involving color changes or disappearing and reappearing pictures is apparent. In my opinion there’s absolutely nothing interesting about the cup at all. It’s boring with a capital B. A plain Jane destined for the recycling bin.

Needless to say, the utter bizarreness of this whole infatuation thing has made me virtually insane with curiosity, and has even driven me to the point of studying every curve and nuance of that blasted cup with a magnifying glass I pilfered from the kids one night. “What’s so blooming special about it?!!” I had to ask, fool that I am.

“It’s pretty.”

“It’s nice.”

“It’s golden-y yellow, Mom.”

That’s all I could wheedle out of the pair. Not a syllable more. Ugh. What a bunch of tightlipped pansies. Couldn’t they cough up more information? Didn’t they realize they were making me crazy with their answering-by-not-really-answering tactic?! “It’s pretty, it’s nice and it’s golden-y yellow” doesn’t help me much. Still pitifully clueless here at Interrogation Central.

Sadly, it is entirely possible that I may never truly know and understand the powerful allure of the infamous “Yellow Cup,” or why my children believe it to possess said irresistible qualities.

Just add it to the ever-expanding list of things I’ll never figure out as a parent—like why my co-ed daughter has a nicer car than I do.

Perhaps it’s because she never got the yellow cup.

Planet Mom: It’s where I live.

Copyright 2006 Melinda L. Wentzel

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