Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

This was our book club's selection for the month and one I would not have otherwise read.  It is OK, those who enjoy light reading, fast reading and nothing of much depth or literary draw will enjoy it.  I thought it trite.  I had read the author's "Riding the Bus with my Sister" years back and had a favorable impression but this novel was disappointing.   This 346 page paperback, published in 2011 was an opportunity for me to dust off my speed reading skills so that I was done in two sittings but really the book deserves no more attention than that.  The story is about people with various disabilities who were institutionalized in the 1950"s and 1960"s and takes place in Pennsylvania; the author dedicates it to "those who were put away" as happened commonly sometimes to those who were slow, illiterate, considered "not quite right" or those who had what today is referred to as a developmental disability. Today there are many services available and fewer institutions; today the individuals would be  mainstreamed in the community.  The novel moves back and forth over lifetimes of Lynnie who is placed in the institution known as The School as a child by her family who are embarrassed by her condition;  Homan, an African American deaf man known only by a number and Martha the widowed school teacher who opens her door to the two who have fled in the night.  The attendants and doctor from the school arrive at Martha's farm and capture Lynnie to return her but Homan escapes.  As Lynnie leaves she asks Martha to "hide her."  Lynnie has given birth to a daughter, unbeknownst to the institution (oh sure she is pregnant and no one knows).    Martha takes the baby and flees but raises her as her granddaughter, Julia with the help of many of her former students.  I mean how far fetched is that, a baby is left with a widow who lost her baby son years back and who knows nothing of mothering but who gives up her  established life and farm to raise the child. The involvement of Lynnie's family and the well meaning social worker move the story along as well as the life Homan forges for himself.   Well, it is a story, an easy read with some twists as paths cross and other paths do not.  There are many questions at the end of the story for reading group discussion.  When asked  what one thing the author would like people to get from this book, she replies, " Everyone deserves to love and be loved--and to live a life of freedom and meaning with dignity and respect."  Oh motherhood and apple pie and sound the trumpets....puleez!   I will be interested in what  others in book club have to say when we meet Tuesday.  I give this 2**; it is a New York Times Bestseller.