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Posts Tagged ‘Jeannette Walls’

Lately I’ve been engaging in an exercise: try choosing one sentence that best represents, or possibly sums up, the book I’ve just read. The one I chose for the book I just finished, Jeannette WallsThe Silver Star:

“We wouldn’t be in this whole mess if you had been acting like a mom all along.”

A sentence to make mothers everywhere shudder, especially if you have a little context: Bean, the person whose line this is, is only 13.

I haven’t read Walls’ very popular memoir or her other novel, and bookconscious regulars know I am somewhat skeptical of “it” books and authors, but my mother-in-law recommended The Silver Star. She thought I’d enjoy it and she was right. Bean is a delightful narrator. Uncle Tinsley is a sweetheart. I admire cousin Joe and Aunt Al. I find the fact that Bean’s sister Liz deals with a very painful event in her life by befriending a pair of emus quite original.

And I liked the story. Walls has mined her past — she grew up with “nonconformist” parents and eccentric relatives both in the West and the South — for a familiar American tale. There’s a mother who ran away from her small town life to escape the expectations of family and society, and tried her luck in California. Plucky sisters who make their way back to that small town in Virginia when their mother goes off to find herself.

We can see early on the mother is struggling, that she loves her girls and intends to be a good mother but can’t handle it. When the girls get to her birthplace it feels unsurprising that their mother came from “the big house” in town, that the family has fallen on hard times, that the town is facing drastic change brought on by integration and an outside interest buying the only employer (a mill), that there is a mean man in town who adds to the drama of the story.

But just because it’s mostly unsurprising material doesn’t make it a bad read. I found the characters decent company for an evening or two, and I enjoyed the ending, which was upbeat without being neat and tidy. And there is something comforting about being able to recognize the people in a book as people you’ve known or heard about. It’s a well told tale, and it’s simple without being simplistic.

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