Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Gardenias by Faith Sullivan

Every so often I want to read fluff, just a good story, and because I had never read any other works by Faith Sullivan when this popped up at a book sale for $1 how could I resist.  It has been sitting and so in August I started to read it, published in 2005 originally.  It was a fast read, thru 376 pages of a nice size paperback published by Milkweed Productions. . Set in 1942, World War II on the home front through the eyes of Lark, a 9 year old  Minnesota girl who is moved from her roots when her mother Arlene Erhardt and her Aunt Betty decide to leave for California  for jobs in the defense industry.  Lark goes thru many changes in CA and enters adolescence seeing more about her mother  than a 9 year old needs to know. 

The novel is named for the scrawny gardenia bush  planted outside the project housing the women find in San Diego.  Lark tends to it along with her chores as her mother and aunt work and she is left on her own except for school and the local neighbors in the project.  We  meet several intriguing characters all  of whom add to this story, Jack and Fanny Dugan, Beau Eldridge, Mr. Trustworthy the owner of the second hand store where they shop to furnish their place and Lark acquires her painting, Lou the man who does hauling from the thrift store for them and his son Woodrow,   

 Arlene works in the office of the defense plant and Betty goes into retail.   Both have left husbands behind in MN and for a time Arlene poses as a widow while Betty acknowledges separation from Stanley.  I miss my late friend Sandy, now because I would have mailed this book to her, it strangely  has the Erhardt last name, one of the husband's Sandy's mother married.  Lark has but one friend,  Shirley Olson, a ragtag hardened  girl from Wyoming, who epitomizes a saying of my Grandma's, "Don't complain because no matter how bad off you are someone is always worse.." 

 Lark develops wisdom, cynicism and a certain hardness beyond her years,  and she begins to write short tales.  Pg. 116, she describes what it means to be 10 years old, "Age ten meant swimming (or drowning) between two shores of dependency and autonomy.  Grown ups began to shove you away from the near shore, expecting you to maneuver for yourself out there in the deep water of 12, 13, and 14, expecting you to solve your own problems, live with your own fears, conquer your own loneliness.  Weren't they sorry to be saying good-bye to you?"  and on page 118, "..but that was age 10 for you, too old to be cute, too young to be clever."  How sad, I reflected.  I think back to my childhood and I was such a little girl still at that age. 

Page202, Aunt Betty shares with Lark, "If you don't kill yourself right away when something terrible happens--like Baby Marjorie's being dead and Stanley leaving--if you go on living, you become a different person.  You're always becoming a different person."  

Page 344, " Human mutability was frightening.  Just when you thought you knew someone, they became someone else.  "People don't change,"  I'd heard someone say.  But people did change.  I regarded Mama, sitting opposite me and Miss Eldridge and Uncle Stanley.", 

I had a clipping from the St Paul Pioneer Press about Faith Sullivan written by MaryAnn Grossman  from September 13, 2015 so was curious about her books.  I had not heard of her although it seems Minnesota is her home base and she is quite a popular women's author. 
 http://www.twincities.com/2015/09/11/minnesotas-faith-sullivan-has-new-book-a-companion-to-the-cape-ann/

I will definitely read more by Faith Sullivan.  From the opening page where she quotes Jonis Agee, Sweet Eyes" We all need the waters of the Mercy River, Though they don't run deep, there's usually enough, just enough, for the extravagance of our lives."  

Perhaps my favorite line in the book is on page 352, "There was a strange kind of comfort in misunderstandings and differences that were old enough to have lost their teeth."  

5 stars for this well written piece of  fluff.  *****