Half a World Away by Mike Gayle

(Book 157) Marcia hosted five of us this evening; Chris was still out, spending some much coveted time with her daughter, Sharon was out of town, and our three truants are still –truant. Rosalie is in Quebec this month (!); Geri’s doctor told her to wait another three months before any large group activities; and Karen has found a placement for her husband which is only available for 90 days. Susan added her husband, Jeff, to our list of members or spouses needing intercession. (I think Mary is the keeper of the prayer list, as most of the rest of us are only good for positive thoughts.) Jeff’s cancer has come back and he will be starting a new treatment at Northwestern which will be happening this month and next. I tell the girls to wrap themselves in bubble wrap (but not around the mouth and nose; plastic bags are not toys) and stay safe from this nonsense that is targeting our book club — and then what do I do? I have them read a book about (SPOILER ALERT) a lovely woman dying.

On the brighter side, we started the evening at Marcia’s being filmed by two young women studying in Chicago, who came to know Marcia while she made her home into an AirBNB. The two women are making a documentary about Andrew, his stroke, his rehab, the women who daily challenge him at Scrabble, and primarily, his art. Marcia was able to choose 20 of his more recent pieces, get them framed and displayed in the hallway of their home. The two filmmakers captured footage of the book club ladies appreciating Andrew’s art. Susan was eyeing the piece that I want; I told Marcia to put a SOLD sign on it!

After the art gallery opening, with wine in hand, we sat in the living room and enjoyed crisps which were often mentioned in the book. Linda was transported to her early college years! In addition to crisps, there was crudité with dip and a tray of crackers and cheese. There was also mention of delivery pizza in the book and that served as our main course, along with a lovely salad that Marcia had prepared. We had our choice of BBQ Chicken and Margherita pizza. Some of us didn’t bother to choose between and I can attest that they were both delicious. We were going to have Lemon Bars for dessert, but Neo, the Cute yet Naughty Dog ate most of those when Marcia was distracted. Marcia’s daughter Katie picked up delicious cookies, I mean biscuits, for dessert instead. The table was lovely with two sparkly centerpieces paying homage to the sparkle that Kerry wished for her funeral and this brings us finally to the book discussion.

The primary observation made by several of us was that this is not a typical book for us. It seems that I usually hook the girls up, not unlike horses to a plow, with books that you have to work to read! Read ALL FOUR versions of the events in An Instance at the Fingerpost! You can read Dostoevsky — it’s only a short story!! Go, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead —  Olga Tokarczuk won the Nobel Prize for Literature for crying out loud!!! So I heard comments tonight such as “easy read” and “it’s faster when you’re not reading for the beauty of the words” and (yikes) “a Hallmark movie.”

Susan first mentioned that the weakness of the book was in the portrayal of Noah’s wife, that she seemed off. Linda commented that several of the supporting characters were one-dimensional. I opined that the author was trying to create a problem that would keep Kerry and Noah from getting together and the problem never seemed real.

Which is not to say that the book doesn’t have many lovely life-affirming moments and the beauty of family taking care of each other. It doesn’t mean that some of us didn’t cry at the end. At least one of our husbands had to check in to make sure the sobbing was just the book and not something more seriously wrong. As Marcia said, she appreciated the ready catharsis it provided. I told the girls, the book was elevated for me because I heard Olivia Coleman delivering Kerry’s lines and Olivia, with only minimal direction from me, made her lovely and whole, with an occasional sparkle in her eye.

It was a lovely night. We missed those who weren’t able to attend, but we look forward to Susan hosting us next month, Tuesday, June 13, to discuss Sherman Alexie’s book of short stories, The Toughest Indian in the World.

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