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Say Nothing

Greetings from my stay-in-place perch. I’ve always worked from a home office, so that part of lockdown hasn’t been a change. I dress in the morning, eat breakfast, read the newspapers, walk, practice piano and French, and get to my desk by nine. I write until noon, have lunch, run errands — well, no more errands, because stores are closed. I go to the grocery store for dinner supplies. With a new puppy I’m enjoying long walks in my beautiful neighborhood. I used to enjoy long walks on the lakefront path, but it’s closed. I admit to a deep funk the day the city’s parks and walking trails were closed. That said, I admire our political leaders for the steps they’ve taken to mitigate transmission. 

I haven’t been reading as much — distracted by the virus? (Check out my new reading spot by the windows in my kitchen.) That said, I recommend Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, by Patrick Radden Keefe. As a granddaughter of Irish Republicans, I thought I’d read everything about the paramilitary IRA and its terror campaign to rid the island of British occupation. Turns out I hadn’t. Keefe is nimble in his telling of a generation of warriors who terrorized the British, “disappeared” its own, starved themselves. A sobering, thrilling read. 

I also enjoyed My Dark Vanessa, by Kate Elizabeth Russell. The story is told by Vanessa as a fifteen-year-old “willing” victim of a teacher’s advances, and by Vanessa as an adult struggling to make sense of that relationship, especially as it continues. When we first meet Vanessa, her former teacher has been accused of “sexual grooming” by several students; it’s all over the news, and reporters are reaching out for Vanessa’s story. But theirs was a different relationship, Vanessa believes. Theirs was love. At times, this reader wanted to shake Vanessa: wake up! But her story is believable and compelling. Will Vanessa understand what he did to her? Even if you get frustrated with this character — and you will — read to the end. It’s satisfying. 

I’ve begun Lily King’s Writers & Lovers. I’m hooked, though it’s unnecessarily confusing in the beginning. I loved her Euphoria, a love triangle set in the 1930’s among anthropologists. Teed up: Temporary, by Hilary Leichter, Circe, by Madeline Miller, Golden Gates: Fighting for Housing in America, by Conor Dougherty. 

If you’d like to help independent booksellers closed because of the virus, order from bookshop.org. Stores receive 30 percent of each sale. 

To fill an empty hour of each weekday (not having lunch with friends, or a manicure, or or or) I draw and do watercolors. I’m focusing on “doors of Chicago.” I’m learning what’s visually important and how to employ color. 

Stay home, be well, pray the end of lockdown is near. 

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A holiday weekend made for a get-out-of-the city escape to a winter wonderland in Quebec. In mid January, we spent four days at Chateau Montebello, a Fairmont resort that’s a 90 minute drive from Montreal’s international airport. Truth is, we “had to” go there: it was the annual meeting of Club Lac Pythonga, where we spend summers. 

What a place to land! (Thank you, Marie Hélène Sevigney and Becca Baughman.) Chateau Montebello, built in 1930, is the largest log structure in the world. Every time I walked into its lobby, I gasped. It’s tall and spacious, warm and inviting. A perfect place for families and friends to gather and talk on their way to or from an adventure. Let me count them: swimming, spa-ing, squash, hiking, snow-shoeing, skating, sledding, cross-country skiing, dog sledding. Equipment — even outerwear — was lent, free of charge.

I can’t remember the last time I went to resort and didn’t want to leave.

On to books. I had four days to read at Montebello. Nothing to recommend.

Back at home, I was happy to receive a story collection by Alice Adams. I’m not a fan of short fiction because — I want more! Not so with Alice Adams. The blurb on the front, from Joyce Caro Oates, captures the experience: each story is “like a watercolor perfectly executed.” Adams’ stories feel complete at 20 or so pages; they’re unique, and memorable.

At the same time, I was devouring the first half of a doorstopper, The Manor and The Estate, by Isaac Bashevis Singer. Why is this not a mini series? It’s a delicious story, set in Poland during the latter half of the 19th century. There, a Count returns from Siberia, exiled for his part in a failed uprising against Russia. His son Lucian, also exiled, flees to Paris, but not before he lures a Jewish girl to go with him. (Squalor, illness, imprisonment follow.) That girl is one of four daughters of Calman Jacoby, a devout Jew who has taken possession of the Count’s manor and land. I loved this saga because it detailed the lives of European Jews (and Gentiles) at a turning point in history. Characters question the strictures of religion, marriage, manners, domesticity. I’m looking forward to reading part two, The Estate. 

In the meantime, I picked up Say Nothing, a True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, by Patrick Radden Keefe. I’m only a few pages in. It’s very good. 

Happy New Year, happy trails, happy reading. 

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