Saturday, May 18, 2013

So Long, See You TomorrowSo Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Maxwell's novella, at just 135 pages, comprises so much narrative and emotion that it could have been written no other way. It has the spareness of Hemingway and of the Midwest, where it is set in a small Illinois farm community and follows the demise of two farm families and a young boy who is on the periphery.

Wracked with guilt at slighting an old friend in a new setting, the narrator writes what he knows of the circumstances that led him to make that choice; the values that dictated he keep his distance even when basic human kindness demanded otherwise.

Although it is short, the point of view changes often, and the author uses pronouns so often that the reader must go back in order to clarify to whom he is referring. Toward the end, the point of view is that of the faithful farm dog, Trixie, who is longing for her boy to come home from school on his bicycle. This will never happen again, and her grief at the upheaval of her world is one of the saddest passages I've ever read.

Sometimes the best we can hope for in life is to keep wise counsel and make good decisions, and perhaps spare ourselves the pain eloquently poured forth on these pages. This is a masterpiece.

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Empowering Underachievers: New Strategies to Guide Kids (8-18) to Personal ExcellenceEmpowering Underachievers: New Strategies to Guide Kids (8-18) to Personal Excellence by Peter A. Spevak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the mother of an almost-middle schooler whose intellectual gifts currently far exceed his choice to deploy them, this book has more practical steps packed into its pages than a dozen similar titles.

The first half of the book details WHY a smart young person would decide not to exercise all the brainpower s/he's been given; what the common antecedents are, and a very interesting point that I've never come across elsewhere: that the despairing parents are taking on the emotions on behalf of the child, so that the child doesn't have to feel the angst, the hollow feeling of non-accomplishment, or the sadness. Rather, Spevak counsels repeatedly to practice nonchalance so that the underachiever is forced to feel his/her emotions and learn to act on them in order to reduce the distress. Eureka!

The second half of the book details what to do, specifically, for each of the four types of underachiever, along with exercises and even scripted interactions.

I found it interesting that the author's professional practice is located near my childhood home in suburban Washington, DC. That area is notorious for parental overachievement-- few of the power players there got into their places by underachieving, and much is expected of the local progeny. It was not until I moved to another part of the country for college that I realized how overprepared I was for nearly everything. Still, he could not have chosen a better location to find a population of families with astral expectations for their children.

It was calming and reassuring to read that my child is nowhere near as advanced or involved as some of the examples: he gets decent grades, does his schoolwork, and has not checked out-- but he's at that exit, so to speak, and with this very helpful set of tools, he's not nearly as likely to take it.

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