The Good Dream by Donna VanLiere
Your stomach may growl from hunger but it’s your soul that starves if not nourished with love.
23 Bookers met at the home of Janet Erwin for this month’s meeting. Although our host had a prior commitment, she opened her home and trusted us to take good care of things. We hope we didn’t leave it in disarray. We love to see Bookers’ members return and were especially excited to have a very healthy looking Lois Welch back among us!
As we’ve come to expect, Jean Alexander pulled out all the stops in her review of The Good Dream by Donna VanLiere taking us back to rural America in the 1950’s…reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting…to visit the time period in which the book was set. A good author begins with a blank canvas and by using all five senses crafts descriptions and narrative to enable the reader literally to see, touch, hear, taste, and smell the words. Jean replicated this technique in her review. She asked we close our eyes to laundry flapping in the breeze, the smell of fresh air lingering on the clothes as they dried on the line in the backyard and feeling our fingernails caked with soil as we dug in the garden and gathered its bounty. We rocked on the back porch with a glass of sweet tea, shelling peas while the kids ate a bologna sandwich and drank a glass of cold milk. The Golden Age of Radio dominated with stations airing the important events…births and deaths, the Farmer’s Almanac crop reports, the specials at the general store…all mixed in with a broadcast of our favorite baseball team, The Grand Ole Opry, and the humor of Red Skelton. We felt the chill of swimming in the nearby creek in our underwear, the texture of flour-sack dresses, and the joy playing a game of jacks or kick the can. It was a time when breakfast was served by 7:00 AM after the morning chores were done…when lunch was called dinner…and dinner, supper…a simpler time but one that rewarded hard work, honesty, and doing right by others. But it also was a time when a spinster was crowned if she wasn’t married by the time she was barely out of her teens giving everyone in the community dibs on finding someone for this ‘charity case’ to cohabitate with. Such was life in Morgan Hill, Tennessee just “seventy miles north of Knoxville, but…as far from the city as it is to the ocean.” Most in attendance loved this book with Jean leading a campaign to rent a billboard on Highway 198 encouraging everyone to read this novel! Seriously, you can help spread the word by visiting the author’s web site, www.donnavanliere.com and joining her “Street Team.” You can enter a drawing to win an autographed copy of this book and volunteer to promote it through various mediums listed on the site, for example…recommending it for your book club…we’ve done our part already.
Ivorie Walker’s my name and old-maid is my game. Everyone called me “that poor thing” especially after my parents died and I didn’t have a man to take care of me. I was lonely but I didn’t think I was as desperate as the town folks did, but I must admit it is amazing “how emptiness makes noise.” My dog Sally and I were getting by all right with our routine until a young boy, Peter, starving for nourishment of the body and soul began raiding my garden and my heart… and then there was a man who I called oatmeal who raised the hairs on the back of my neck. George Coley became my desire until he forced me to choose between him and a malnourished little boy. Peter was a child who didn’t “grow up amazed at how a fish breathes or how a flower opens up in the sun, or goes to bed at night wondering how the wind moves.” Evil kept him locked up, fearful, and leading a hopeless life, until I mounted a mule named after a country singer, Miss Kitty Wells, braved a downpour and ignored common sense. I rode into the hills like a white knight armed and ready to take down anyone who might stand in the way of saving this child. And, I found him, face down in the mud as “still as death” with his Mama’s Bible tied to his midsection. “I was angry when Pearl Harbor was bombed and when our young boys came back from Germany in body bags, but this was rage...“like a fire flaming out and licking at things in the way.” I stared down the pit of evil to rescue him. “I never thought you could hear darkness, but you can.” I took stock in myself rather than listening to what everyone thought I was capable of. The boy conquered his monsters one by one. He learned to trust and find joy and every day worked on throwing “memory and dreams that tormented him into the great heap of ruins outside that shack and set them on fire.” After surgeries to repair a cleft palate, he was blessed with a voice we could hear and understand. “He came to me without any demands or conditions. He was a gift with no strings attached.” I now looked at the future as “ours” and wondered what did I do before that day? All I know is that “nothing took my breath away” and now he does. Peter is free from his bad dreams now…his belly and his heart are full…he’s not drowning anymore. He’s not clawing for breath anymore. He doesn’t feel caught “like a fish on a line” anymore. “I plucked him out of the dark water and set him in the bright of day.” All those evil spirits living in the trees got trapped inside the bottles hanging on the branches… just like the legend said they would. I’m complete and have no regrets. What else could a bachelorette with a faithful dog and a child I can introduce to the small wonders of the world – like strawberry ice cream – ask for?
For those of you who missed the meeting, you missed an event, a well thought out book review, and our own serving of strawberry ice cream. In the corner lurked our own evil spirit tree…the glass bottles ready in case any voodoo spirits thought of escaping. Thanks for the visual reminder Ms. Stanky! (If Pinnacle news spreads as normal, please defend us to the new neighbors on the corner of Island Drive and St. Andrews as we waved to them while driving by in a golf cart with a tree hanging with empty wine bottles strapped in beside a golf bag.)
Jean thought it would be interesting to hear from an adoptive parent about the emotions tied to choosing a child. Pam Davis shared the heartbreak when their daughter, Heather, was diagnosed with Spina bifida and their conscious decision not to risk bringing another child into the world with a developmental congenital disorder. She and George went through a strenuous selection process to adopt their son, Mark, knowing their job was to love and raise this child. Their sentiments are framed with a photo of their young son summing up how it feels to be an adoptive parent: “Not flesh of my flesh, Nor bone of my bone, But still miraculously my own, Never forget for a single minute, You didn’t grow under my heart, But in it.” We appreciate Pam’s willingness to share their story with us.
The group discussion centered on the story progression and the character profiles, how the author wanted us to believe that Ivorie’s “gentleman caller, George” could be Peter’s natural father because his “wife died nine years ago” and that would coincide with Peter’s age. Ms. VanLiere led us down that road only to throw us off the bridge when the real father’s identity came to light. We discussed how Peter could have eaten anything with his cleft palate and perhaps the author took some liberty with that portion of the novel although it was his starvation and raiding Ivorie’s garden that set up the storyline. We empathized with Peter’s young Mama and what she endured to keep him safe, the agony everyone felt when Ivorie was beaten and Sally was “kidnapped.” We talked of brother-sister relationships and the “gossip mongering” rampant in small towns, the significance of the title and how Peter’s nightmares sank into oblivion to be replaced with a good dream – a nourishment fed by a sense of belonging in a family, in a community, and within his own spirit.
FYI, author Harry Bernstein of The Invisible Wall and The Dream passed away in 2011 at the age of 101. His is a remarkable story…first published at the age of 97. These selections have been included on our recommended reading list.
We discussed several books as possible choices for our April selection and summer reads. I recommended a historical fiction debut novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. It would be color coded Red ++ as it details the four-year communist occupation of Cambodia in the mid 1970’s told through the eyes of a seven-year old girl. It’s an achingly beautifully account of survival, hope, and the resiliency of the human spirit – hard to read and equally hard to put down. The author was five when the Khmer Rouge overran her country. She made it to America at eleven, not knowing English, but graduated summa cum laude from Cornell.
MN recommended The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe, which is a discussion between a dying mother and her adult son about books. It also would be in the Red ++ range – very sad but she loved it! From the list of books discussed is Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Karama and Susan McClelland, a short account of one young girl’s journey from war victim in Sierra Leone to a UNICEF Special Representative. The consensus was we wanted a lighter read so we chose the first book, Sentence of Marriage in the Promises to Keep trilogy by Shayne Parkinson, set in New Zealand at the turn of the 19th century with the remainder of the series to be read over the summer – recommended by Melba.
Pat Faherty is going to read Sonia Sotomayor’s autobiography, My Beloved World, and report in.
COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
March 12th: Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Home of MN Stanky
Reviewer: Lois Welch
April 9th: Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson, first in the Promises to Keep trilogy
Home of Charlotte Pechacek
Reviewer: Melba Holt
May 7th: 6th Annual Wine & Cheese Evening Meeting
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet, Jamie Ford
Home of Melanie Prebis
Reviewer: Pat Faherty
Pat has the audio of this selection if anyone would like to listen to the book.
Summer Break June, July & August
Mud & Gold and Settling the Account, #’s two and three in the trilogy, Promises to Keep by Shayne Parkinson. A Second Chance is the sequel to these and her latest Daisy’s War revisits some of the characters of her previous novels…all of the above if you want to spend a summer with Shayne. All available through Amazon. E-books from free to $2.99.