About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Red Rain, by Bruce Murkoff (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010)

"Born near Rondout, New York, to a family steeped in wars both before and after independence, Will Harp returns home in 1864 for the first time in a decade, disconsolate over the campaigns being waged against Indians in the West even as the nation is busy tearing itself apart. His father is now buried in the Harp graveyard, surrounded by two preceding generations, and much else, too, has changed.

"For Mickey Blessing, though, these are heady times. Serving the darker needs of a prosperous businessman, Harry Grieves, he commands fear and respect as few Irish immigrants have managed to do in a society still hostile to his presence. The man he'd replaced had enlisted and is now missing in the horrors of Cold Harbor, leaving Mickey's sister, Jane, fearing the worst about her fiancee's survival.

"Coley Hinds, orphaned as a child, is fending for himself and fast growing savvy as the town around him bustles with trade and tragedy. In his stable-basement lodgings, he reads Western serials that he hopes will describe his future, but then falls under the sway of Mickey, who recognizes in him the powerless waif he once had been himself.

"All of these lives and more are intertwined when the bones of a mastodon surface on a neighboring farm that Will quickly purchases, pursuing a fervent boyhood interest. He finds an eager assistant in Coley, who suddenly needs refuge from budding criminality when Mickey suffers a hideous loss and develops an unhealthy obsession with a baby found on Jug Hill, where free black people have lived for generations. And before long, every fate is uncertain as calamity threatens to envelop them all.

"Red Rain is masterful in both its specifics -- Coley's pet squirrel, the erotic tableaux Will's photographer friend contrives, the bakery where Jane finds comfort as well as income -- and its broad historical sweep, which reaches from the settling of the Hudson River Valley to the bloodshed how ravaging the South and the West. Its characterizations are impeccable, whether of Grieves's dream of a grand hotel or Mickey's love of water, with not one gripping love story but several. And its plotting its relentless, weaving stories from various times and places that inevitably converge, right here in Rondout, with heartstopping intensity."

Opening Line:
"Will Harp stood at the bow of the Ella May and drank deeply from the medicine bottle he held in his hand, tilting his head back to enjoy the sudden warmth blossoming behind his eyes, swallowing greedily as a fledgling, not at all interested in the artificial health benefits of the syrup."

My Take:
I'm sure this was a perfectly serviceable book, but it just wasn't the one I wanted to read right now. After leaving it barely begun for days on end while I reread everything mindless I owned, I finally faced up to it and brought it back to the library -- leaving us both much happier.

#71 - How to Read the Air

How to Read the Air, by Dinaw Mengestu (New York: Riverhead Books, 2010)

"One September afternoon, Yosef and Marian, young Ethiopian immigrants who have spent all but their first year of marriage apart, set off on a road trip from their new home in Peoria, Illinois, to Nashville, Tennessee, in search of a new identity as an American couple. Just months later, their son, Jonas, is born in Illinois. Thirty years later, Yosef has died, and Jonas is desperate to make sense of the volatile generational and cultural ties that have forged him. How can he envision the future without knowing what has come before? Leaving behind his marriage and job in New York, he sets out to retrace his parents' trip and, in a stunning display of imagination, weaves together a family history that takes him from the war-torn Ethiopia of his parents' youth to a brighter vision of his life in the America of today, a story -- real or invented -- that holds the possibility of reconciliation and redemption."

Opening Line:
"It was four hundred eighty-four miles from my parents' home in Peoria, Illinois, to Nashville, Tennessee, a distance that in a seven-year-old red Monte Carlo driving at roughly sixty miles an hour could be crossed in eight to twelve hours, depending on certain variables such as the number of road signs offering side excursions to historical landmarks, and how often my mother, Mariam, would have to go to the bathroom."

My Take:
I really, really wanted to fall in love with this book. It didn't happen -- in fact, I practically had to force myself to keep reading it -- and I closed the back cover wondering if the reviews were pretentious or I Just Didn't Get It.

Mengestu's language is, indeed, lovely, poetic, even (cliche though it is) luminous. Trouble was, there wasn't much to the story said language was telling. Yosef and Mariam are recently reunited after a three-year separation, but scarcely know each other; Yosef also happens to be brutally, inexplicably abusive. Mariam thinks about leaving and makes several false starts throughout Jonas's childhood, but doesn't until much later (perhaps not until after Jonas is grown). Yosef has died before the novel opens; Mariam lives, proudly independent, in a series of small towns on the northern Atlantic coast.

Thirty years after the road trip that represents their story, Jonas's fairly young marriage to Angela has fallen apart not with a bang, but with a whimper, and he's set out to retrace his parents' trip. Most of his story, though, recalls his crumbling marriage to Angela (he says and feels almost nothing, and their entire marriage seems to have been based on jokes and invented histories) and his growing love for his job as a part-time English teacher at a private high school -- despite the fact that after his fathers' death, he spends a week or so telling his students an imaginary story about his father's life.

It could be an interesting story, but it's all so spare and clinical. Sure, I get that Jonas's past seems to have made him an utter emotional cripple (like his parents before him), but it's hard to see enough personality or feeling under the surface anywhere to care. And other than the (interesting but totally made-up) story Jonas tells his students about his father's trip to America, Nothing. Happens. Here. His parents' trip to Nashville is aborted when they get into a fight, Yosef lashes out to strike Mariam, and Mariam grabs the steering wheel and drives the car into a ditch. Jonas and Angela decide to end their marriage (I think) because there's no real substantive connection between them. OK, and ... ?

I dunno. Maybe after a week of Jodi Picoult and John Grisham, my brain's just too atrophied for Good Literature.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

#70 - Big Girl Small

Big Girl Small, by Rachel DeWoskin (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2011)

"Judy Lohden is your above-average sixteen-year-old -- sarcastic and vulnerable, talented and uncertain, full of big dreams for a big future. With a singing voice that can shake an auditorium, she should be the star of Darcy Academy, the local performing arts high school. So why is a girl this promising hiding out in a seedy motel room on the edge of town?

"The fact that the national media is on her trail after a controversy that might bring down the whole school could have something to do with it. And that scandal has something -- but not everything -- to do with the fact that Judy is three feet nine inches tall.

"Rachel DeWoskin remembers everything about high school: the auditions (painful), the parents (hovering), the dissection projects (weird but compelling), the friends (outcasts), the boys (crushable), and the girls (complicated), and she lays it all out with an unparalleled wit and wistfulness. Big Girl Small is a scathingly funny and moving book about dreams and reality, at once light on its feet and profound."

Opening Line:
"When people make you feel small, it means they shrink you down close to nothing, diminish you, make you feel like shit."

My Take:
This was a happy accident. Picked this one up at the library for who knows what reason; I guess just because the title or the cover caught my eye. And I'm glad I did. Stayed up way too late getting into it last night, and then finished up today after knocking off work (had no choice, system was down. Really.)

On one level, the jacket blurb nails it: DeWoskin does have an eye for nailing those details that make high school both memorable and excruciating. The compulsion, even though you know you shouldn't, to throw your loyal but equally-outcast friend over when a pretty, popular girl invites you to hang out. The all-but-total paralysis that can affect otherwise strong and independent young women when That Guy deigns to give you the time of day. The simultaneous love and irritation with parents and younger siblings. You get the idea.

Then on top of this, this fairly short book has a lot to say about the tension -- strongest in adolescence, but never really absent -- between our longing to fit in, and our desire to stand out. Owing to her stature and proportions, Judy can't really help doing the latter when she transfers to the local performing arts high school, and hopes less to belong then to go unnoticed. With a few exceptions -- dancer Goth Sarah, nerdy but kooky Molly, and surprisingly, gorgeous Ginger -- she sort of succeeds (despite being the only junior admitted to a prestigious senior voice class). That is, until BMOC Kyle turns out to be surprisingly friendly and candid, even offering to drive Judy home. You know early on that things between them don't turn out well -- in fact, they go badly enough to convince Judy her life is over, and send her from her loving (if occasionally overprotective) family in Ann Arbor to the dingy Motel Manor in Ypsilanti -- but I won't spoil more than that; part of the book's art lies in the way Judy and the author roll the trauma out slowly, piece by piece.

A tremendously compelling story, with a fitting ending.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

#69: The Confession

The Confession, by John Grisham (New York: Doubleday, 2010).

"An innocent man is about to be executed.

"Only a guilty man can save him.

"For every innocent man sent to prison, there is a guilty one left on the outside. He doesn't understand how the police and prosecutors got the wrong man, and he certainly doesn't care. He just can't believe his good luck. Time passes and he realizes that the mistake will not be corrected: the authorities believe in their case and are determined to get a conviction. He may even watch the trial of the person wrongly accused of the crime. He is relieved when the verdict is guilty. He laughs when the police and prosecutors congratulate themselves. He is content to allow an innocent person to go to prison, to serve hard time, even to be executed.

"Travis Boyette is such a man. In 1998, in the small East Texas city of Slone, he abducted, raped, and strangled a popular high school cheerleader. He buried her body so that it would never be found, then watched in amazement as police and prosecutors arrested and convicted Donte Drumm, a local football star, and marched him off to death row.

"Now nine years have passed. Travis has just been paroled in Kansas for a different crime; Donte is four days away from his execution. Travis suffers from an inoperable brain tumor. For the first time in his miserable life, he decides to do what's right and confess.

"But how can a guilty man convince lawyers, judges, and politicians that they're about to execute an innocent man?"

Opening Line:
"The custodian at St. Mark's had just scraped three inches of snow off the sidewalks when the man with the cane appeared."

My Take:

Sometimes fiction parallels real life just a little too closely. Odd to be reading this book while the Troy Davis case has been at the forefront of the news.

John Grisham is John Grisham. You know what you're going to get -- solid legal thrillers with (usually) a Southern flair and a fairly high can't-put-it-down quotient -- and yep, you pretty much get more of the same here. Unfortunately, he and his characters can't help doing a bit too much grandstanding here, which tends to get in the way of the story line. Grisham's a big supporter of the Innocence Project, an organization devoted to exonerating those who've been wrongfully convicted. And hey -- more power to him; it's nice to see celebrities legitimately using their fame to do good for a cause they believe in. But if I want to learn about that cause, I'll look for books and articles about wrongful conviction -- not extended diatribes in what's supposed to be a fun/ junk novel. (Doesn't mean it wasn't still a fun/ junk novel, though.)

#68: The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth: Popularity, Quirk Theory, and Why Outsiders Thrive After High School, by Alexandra Robbins (New York: Hyperion, 2011)

"Cross Gossip Girl with Freaks and Geeks and MTV's MADE, a shocking plot twist, and Alexandra Robbins' signature investigative style -- and that only begins to describe Geeks, a smart, entertaining, reassuring book about the secrets of students who are popular and the triumph of those who are not. Robbins follows seven real people grappling with the uncertainties of high school social life, including:
  • Danielle, the Loner, who has withdrawn from classmates since they persuaded her to unwittingly join her own hate club
  • Whitney, the Popular Bitch, a cheerleading captain both seduced by and trapped within her clique's perceived prestige
  • Eli, the Nerd, whose differences cause students to laugh at him, and his mother to needle him for not being 'normal'
  • Joy, the New Girl, determined to stay positive as classmates harass her for her mannerisms and target her because of her race
  • Mark, the Gamer, an underachiever in danger of not graduating, despite his intellect and his yearning to connect with other students
  • Regan, the Weird Girl, who battles discrimination and gossipy politics in school but leads a joyous life outside of it
  • Noah, the Band Geek, who is alternately branded too serious and too emo, yet annually runs for class president
"In the middle of the year, Robbins surprises her subjects with a secret challenge -- experiments that force them to change how classmates see them and teach us why the things that set students apart in high school are the things that help them stand out later in life.

"Robbins intertwines these narratives -- often victorious, occasionally heartbreaking, and always captivating -- with essays exploring subjects like:
  • How do you get to be popular?
  • Being excluded doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you
  • Why outsiders succeed
  • How schools make the social scene worse -- and how to fix it.
"The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth is more than just a book. It's a movement. And whether you're a student or an adult, it will change the way you think about your friends, your school, and -- most of all -- yourself."

Table of Contents:
  • Prologue
  • Chapter 1: Meet the Cafeteria Fringe
Late Summer to Early Fall: The Popularity Myth
  • Chapter 2: Quirk Theory and the Secret of Popularity
  • Chapter 3: Why Are Popular People Mean?
Fall: Why Quirk Theory Works
  • Chapter4: In the Shadow of the Freak Tree
  • Chapter 5: It's Good to Be the Cafeteria Fringe
Winter: Outcast Profiling and Other Dangers
  • Chapter 6: Challenges
  • Chapter 7: Misperceptions
Late Winter to Early Spring: Being Excluded Doesn't Mean There's Anything Wrong with You
  • Chapter 8: A Brief Introduction to Group Psychology
  • Chapter 9: Why Labels Stick: The Motivations of the Normal Police
Spring: Quirk Theory's Origins: Why These Issues Are Hardest in School
  • Chapter 10: Changing Perceptions
  • Chapter 11: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back
Late Spring to Early Summer: Popular vs. Outcast
  • Chapter 12: Popularity Doesn't Lead to Happiness
  • Chapter 13: The Rise of the Cafeteria Fringe
  • Chapter 14: Cafeteria Fringe: Lucky and Free
My Take:
Brilliant, sometimes painful, but on the whole inspiring and provocative. An absolute must-read for (among others) anyone who still struggles from time to time with their own adolescent-outcast demons at the same time they're trying to help their own child start to navigate the same shark-infested waters. Not that I'd know anything about this personally, mind you.

#67: The Land of Painted Caves

The Land of Painted Caves, by Jean M. Auel (New York: Crown Publishing, 2011)

"It is summer in the land of the Zelandonii, and it is nearly time for the next Summer Meeting. Ayla finds it is time to strike a balance between being a mother to her daughter, Jonayla, and a loving mate to Jondalar, while pursuing the fascinating knowledge and power of the Zelandoni, led by the charismatic First Among Those Who Served the Mother of the Zelandoni of the Ninth Cave."

Opening Line:
"The band of travelers walked along the path between the clear sparkling water of Grass River and the black-streaked white limestone cliff, following the trail that paralleled the right bank."

My Take:
It's a good thing I read quickly, and that I'm not shy about skimming or skipping passages that don't do a lot for me. Painted Caves could have been worse, I suppose, and I fully anticipated that it would be -- largely because all the informal scuttlebutt I heard online said the book was pretty darned god-awful. And it certainly wasn't great, but I found it more predictable and often tedious than out-and-out bad. This review in the L.A. Times, by Liesel Bradner, pretty much sums it up, though I think she's a bit more complimentary than I would have been.

I went into this book thinking it was going to wrap up the series, which started out very strong (and 30+ years ago) with Clan of the Cave Bear before falling hopelessly into the boring (Valley of Horses) and silly (Shelters of Stone). It doesn't, really -- at least not cleanly, which makes me think Auel's planning to cash in yet again if Painted Caves sells reasonably well. I'll probably be enough of a sucker to read Book 7 if she does, but I'll certainly borrow it (as I did this one) rather than buy it for myself.

#66: Sing You Home

Sing You Home, by Jodi Picoult (New York: Atria Books, 2011).

"Zoe Baxter has spent ten years trying to get pregnant, and after multiple miscarriages and infertility issues, it looks like her dream is about to come true -- she is seven months pregnant. But a terrible turn of events leads to a nightmare -- one that takes away the baby she has already fallen for, and breaks apart her marriage to Max.

"In the aftermath, she throws herself into her career as a music therapist -- using music clinically to soothe burn victims in a hospital; to help Alzheimer's patients connect with the present; to provide solace for hospice patients. When Vanessa -- a guidance counselor -- asks her to work with a suicidal teen, their relationship moves from business to friendship and then, to Zoe's surprise, blossoms into love. When Zoe allows herself to start thinking of having a family, again, she remembers that there are still frozen embryos that were never used by herself and Max.

"Meanwhile, Max has found peace at the bottom of a bottle -- until he is redeemed by an evangelical church, whose charismatic pastor -- Clive Lincoln -- has vowed to fight the 'homosexual agenda' that has threatened traditional family values in America. But this mission becomes personal for Max, when Zoe and her same-sex partner say they want permission to raise his unborn child.

"Sing You Home explores what it means to be gay in today's world, and how reproductive science has outstripped the legal system. Are embryos people or property? What challenges do same-sex couples face when it comes to marriage and adoption? What happens when religion and sexual orientation -- two issues that are supposed to be justice-blind -- enter the courtoom? And most importantly, what constitutes a 'traditional family' in today's day and age?"

Opening Line:
"One sunny, crisp Saturday in September when I was seven years old, I watched my father drop dead."

My Take:

One of Picoult's better ones. The fact that she limits herself to three characters' different vantage points (Zoe's, Vanessa's, and Max's) helps, as does the remarkable lack of surprise dead children at the end. (Other Picoult veterans will understand.) As one review I came across noted, the book's treatment of the fundamentalists isn't exactly even-handed, and something about Max's brother Reid just seemed too #$%^& perfect to be true (Reid's equally perfect wife, Liddy, works a wee bit better, partly because we see more of her and learn at least something of what makes her tick), but hey -- for a light but not too light piece o' chick lit, it was about what I'd hoped for and better than I'd expected.

Monday, September 5, 2011

#65: World and Town

World and Town, by Gish Jen (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2010).

"Hattie Kong -- the spirited offspring of a descendant of Confucius and an American missionary to China -- has, in her fiftieth year, lost both her husband and her best friend to cancer. It is an utterly devastating loss, of course, and also heartbreakingly absurd: a little, she thinks, 'like having twins. She got to book the same church with the same pianist for both funerals and did think she should have gotten some sort of twofer from the crematorium.'

"But now, two years later, it is time for Hattie to start over. She moves to the town of Riverlake, where she is soon joined by an immigrant Cambodian family on the run from their inner-city troubles, as well as -- quite unexpectedly -- by a just-retired neuroscientist ex-lover named Carter Hatch. All of them are, like Hattie, looking for a new start in a town that might once have represented the rock-solid base of American life but that is itself challenged, in 2001, by cell-phone towers and chain stores, struggling family farms and fundamentalist Christians.

"What Hattie makes of this situation is at the center of a novel that asks deep and absorbing questions about religion, home, America, what neighbors are, what love is, and, in the largest sense, what 'worlds' are we make of the world.

"Moving, humorous, compassionate, and expansive, World and Town is as rich in character as it is brilliantly evocative of its time and place. This is a truly masterful novel -- enthralling, essential, and satisfying."

Opening Line:
"It's the bai shu you'd notice most -- the thousand-year-old cypresses -- some of them upright, some of them leaning."

My Take:
I've gotten backlogged again (gee, why on earth would it be hard to keep up with a list no one reads?) but this one was pretty good. How does Hattie make a life and find meaning for herself with her husband and best friend gone? How do her new neighbors, Chhung and Sophy and the rest of their family, Cambodian immigrants fleeing the trouble their kids tend to get into in the big city, build their own lives and hold on to some semblance of family when absolutely nothing in this new world makes sense? More a character study (not only of the people but the town in the story) but still pretty satisfying for that -- enough so that I'm looking forward to seeking out other Gish Jen novels in the future.

#64: The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs

The Pile of Stuff at the Bottom of the Stairs, by Christina Hopkinson (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2011).

"What do you hate most about the one you love? Mary Gilmour doesn't know whether it's his not quite reaching the laundry basket when he throws his dirty clothes at it (but doesn't ever walk over to finish the job) or the balled-up tissues he puts on the bedside table when he has a cold. Is it the way he never completely empties the dishwasher, leaving the 'difficult' items for her to put away, or the fact that she is responsible for all of the domestic tasks in the house just because she's only working part-time?

"Mother to two young boys, Mary knows how to get them to behave the way she wants. Now she's designing the spousal equivalent of a star chart, and every little thing her husband does wrong will go on it. Though Mary knows you're supposed to reward the good behavior rather than punish the bad, the rules for those in middle age are different than the rules for those not even in middle school . . .

"This is the novel for every woman who finds herself frustrated with something (or perhaps everything) her husband does. Harried and hilarious, Mary's trip beyond the breaking point will carry any reader through this wry, astute novel about marriage, motherhood, children, work, and above all, that ever-growing pile of clutter."

Opening Line:
"The solitary jigsaw piece sits in the corner of the living room, daring me to ignore it."

My Take:
I was about to say "add this one right under Sisterhood Everlasting on the list of 'books that turned out way better than they should have,'" but realized that wasn't quite accurate. Sisterhood was OK, even entertaining ... but this is basically just giving it the benefit of my rather low expectations. (The only prior non-young-adult novel of Brashares's I'd read was pretty darned boring, if I remember correctly, and the Sisterhood series up till now is an entertaining beach read or 2 with way too many sequels.)

Pile of Stuff ..., on the other hand, was a few cuts above your basic chick lit, mom flavor, story. This is due in large part to Hopkinson's well-honed gift for satire. When a friend-of-a-friend drops by unannounced and finds Mary's home not quite passing the white glove test, she offers to let her in on the secret, and presses a Post-It with a URL scribbled on it into Mary's palm as if it's a map to Ponce de Leon's elusive fountain. When Mary logs on, she finds a parody of the FlyLady web site that had me in stitches:
"Instead of the virtual magic I've been hoping for, I'm faced with one of the messiest looking web pages I've ever seen, with the exhortations, 'Declutter!,' 'A new program for home executives!' and 'Shiny happy sinks!' I am very confused. Is this really the life-saving secret that Alison has bestowed on me?

"I read on ... I force myself through the myriad exclamation marks to try to make sense of it all. The website tells, I finally discover, of a system by which your house will be spotless and permanently guest-ready, without you having to spend more than fifteen minutes a day on it. Florid testimonials tell of lives and homes transformed by the mere application of the 'dance of disposal,' where the home executive will put on a three-minute song and throw away as many things as she can in its duration. Others speak of the elimination of their 'toxic spot,' which sounds like something I haven't done since I had adolescent acne. All write eulogies as to the transformative powers of the creation of a 'Golden Notebook,' a ring-binder of to-do lists, menu plans and household zones. Doris Lessing, I think, must be so proud.

"I read on, hoping to discover the secret of how you can inspire those that you share your house with to take as much interest in purging household junk as you do, while at the same time wondering why the women behind this site didn't think to perhaps try to declutter some of the excessive exclamation marks littering the prose. My eyes are glazing over just thinking about these commands to enjoy the daily cleaning of my toilet bowl and to have fun while throwing out junk. ...

"But still, I concede, can all these women (and they are all women) be so wrong? ... Before I can change my mind, I sign up for email reminders of how to 'Work the System!' and resolve to give the 'Clutter NoNo!' system of home-executive efficiency a week's trial.

"Day 1. By the time I check my messages at work on Monday morning I have 39 emails from my new friends at ClutterNoNo. I'm confused before I've even read them. How am I supposed to find time to wade through the household detritus if I have to spend all my time wading through my inbox?

"I soon discover that I'm falling woefully behind. I should have set my alarm to get up half an hour before the rest of my family in order to get that toilet bowl really sparkly, as well as making sure that I have put on a 'face' -- by which I think they mean makeup, rather than just pulling one. ...

"Day 2. The house doesn't look much better than it did before. I find I am spending so much time trying to create a nice-looking Golden Notebook that I don't have time to get myself looking 'nice 'n' pretty' for the day. ...

"Day 3. What I am asked to do: fertilize the plants, write outstanding thank-you notes, buy the groceries, balance my checkbook and change dead lightbulbs in the cooker hood. I must tell each member of my family that I love them, and one thing that I think is awesome about their personalities. I must tell myself that I love me, and find five things that I think are awesome about my personality.

"What I actually do: scream.

"Stop it, stop it, stop! You stupid idiotic women! Leave me alone, stop hassling me, why are you on at me all day long? For Christ's sake, stop nagging. Does it really matter if I haven't shampooed the carpet on a Thursday? You're all flaming crazy. ...

"I find the unsubscribe button and then declutter my email inbox of every single last reminder, all 103 of them, from that source of 1950s pinny-wearing nonsense. I breathe out. They're right about one thing, those Clutter NoNo ladies, it does feel wonderful to expunge unwanted crap."
(OK, clearly someone needs to explain digest format to our heroine, but still.)

Then there's Mitzi, Mary's old college friend, now frenemy, who's probably the funniest and most over-the-top character in the book. She's the type who's married a man rich and successful enough that they have not one but two showplace homes, each furnished in oh-so-original, environmentally friendly, perfect taste. She takes great pride in being an at-home mom to four perfectly-coiffed, private-schooled children -- Molyneux, Mahalia, Merle, and Milburn -- despite having a staff of nannies et al. to swoop in whenever anything messy or unfun needs doing. Complains Mary's husband, Joel, at the prospect of a weekend at Mitzi and Michael's country home, "'[W]e'll be expected to way lyrical about ... the wonderful original features and aren't you clever to have found flagstones made from the bones of real organic orphans, and a bath hand-knitted by a thousand Hindu priests and filled with holy water from the river Ganges.'" Yes, said country home visit does finally happen, and proves to be a turning point in the book, in a manner both hilarious and sweet.

Overall, a pleasant surprise to have what initially seemed like someone's admittedly funny blog have so much insight and heart to it.