Recently Read Vol. 6

RecentlyReadVol6

 Books are meant to be shared. And I promise, no spoilers!

I’m back for volume six of Recently Read. Sharing my thoughts and reviews on the books I’ve read in the past few weeks. You can read volume 1  and volume 2 and volume 3 and volume 4 and volume 5 here. 

I was reading a bit slow these past two weeks. I couldn’t get my brain to focus, it was too occupied with all things baby. I was also diving into a couple of pregnancy and parenthood books as well. But here I finally am:

Have you read any of these books?

  whatsheleftbehind

What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Four out of Five Stars

““What would have happened if the patients had been asked what had happened to them instead of what was wrong with them?”

This book examines the shocking world of mental hospitals during the 1920’s and 1930’s, a time when women could be committed for the simplest of reasons like angry outbursts, widowhood, depression, anxiety, poverty, and developmental disabilities. 

Told from two point of views, that of the 1920’s era patient Clara and the 1990’s student Izzy who’s foster parents work for a museum uncovering found suitcases at a local mental institution.

Clara comes from an upper crust NYC family. She defies her emotionally distant parents and falls in love (and become impregnated) with an Italian immigrant while embracing the flapper lifestyle. Her parents try to force her to marry “one of her own kind” and while discussing this arranged marriage, Clara, gasp, shows her true emotions. Her father decides to send her away to a top rate mental hospital to think about her future and calm her nerves. But after the stock market crashes and her family loses their fortune, Clara is sent to a government funded mental institution.

Izzy discovers Clara’s discarded suitcase and journal and sets off to learn more about this woman and how she ended up at the institution.

Clara’s story was intriguing and horrifying while Izzy’s story read like a YA novel. I would have preferred to only have the novel told from Clara’s perspective.

Clara is treated like a prisoner. She arrives at the institution completely sane but after being stripped of all her rights, force fed medication, and nearly starved to death she begins to lose her mind. Her treatment sent me on a Wikipedia dark hole search where I tried to learn as much about institutional treatment during this time. I was pleased to discover that the institution she was held at is a real place and the exhibit featuring the lost suitcases was a real exhibit.

If you have any interest in mental health history and development, especially treatment of women, then I recommend this easy to read novel.  

smartwomenjudyblume

Smart Women by Judy Blume

2 out of 5 stars

 So I decided to read this because I thought I needed something light to read while my sore hips and back were waking me up at 2 AM every night. This book fit that bill, it was an easy fluffy read that required little thought or reflection. Not one aspect of this book stuck with me after reading it. I thought I would like it because I really enjoyed reading Blume’s “Summer Sisters” last year during vacation.

Smart Women is about two divorced women, Margo and B.B., living in Colorado in the 80’s, trying to find their footing and reignite their love life. We also hear the point of views of their two teenage daughters. Teenage thoughts is where Blume excels and diving into the minds of the two younger girls were the best part of this book.

Eh. That’s all I have to say. 

carthage-cover

Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates

4 out of 5 stars

“She had no existence, in herself. From earliest childhood she had believed this. Rather she was a reflecting surface, reflecting others’ perception of her, and love of her.”

 Oates is one of my top 5 favorite authors and her latest novel did not disappoint. I love her take on modern American Gothic and how her descriptive narratives drip with a raw realism.

Carthage begins in 2005, in a small town in upstate NY. A teenage girl has gone missing and her family is falling to pieces. At the center of the crime is a tormented war vet, accused of being part of her killing, although no true evidence is found. Oates follows the story of the girl’s family and the vet, jumping back and forth between the past and history as she makes question how can life go on after death? In Catharage’s case, how can life go on after the sudden and mysterious death of a child and after an American boy returns from Iraq with no sense of his former self.

On another layer, Carthage digs into our countries twisted legal system and death penalty. Who really is to blame for tragedy and for death? How easily does the line between victim and criminal get blurred?

What have you been reading?

  • Ooh, What She Left Behind sounds horrifying and fascinating. I’m adding it to my list. The closest thing I’ve read to that sort of thing is Guests on Earth, which was about a young girl who was committed to the same institution that Zelda Fitzgerald was in at the end of her life. It was pretty interesting, but didn’t focus a whole lot on treatment.

    • kwalshmac

      Yes, I was sooo intrigued by it. I’ll check out Guests on Earth, I read Z, A novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, last year and loved it.