If we measure friendships on how many steps we take forward or backward, how many would you take to show your love?
Jean McSpadden revered “Harold” so much she shared some of her spring break to review it for us – she and the author making their simultaneous debuts – outstanding insight to this special book Jean!
The breakfast table was set, literally, for sixty-five year old recently retired Harold Fry to embark on a mission of friendship and soul-searching. He was ‘freshly shaven, in a clean shirt and tie, with a slice of toast that he wasn’t eating when his wife, Maureen, “called above the vacuum cleaner. Post!” A “Turkish pink” envelope addressed to him from a former co-worker, Queenie Hennessy, whom he hadn’t seen in twenty years, was saying goodbye. She was dying of cancer. He donned his waterproof jacket and yachting shoes for a walk to the corner post office to mail his letter to Queenie. By putting one foot in front of the other, he began a march toward his own salvation, believing every step he took would keep his friend alive. What started at 13 Fossebridge Road in Kingsbridge on the English Channel ended 87 days and 627 miles later when he reached Berwick-upon-Tweed on the North Sea.
What spurred his mission was a casual encounter with a young “petrol girl” wearing a button saying “Happy to Help.” She spoke of her Aunt who had cancer and told Harold “if you have faith you can do anything”…not the religious kind but “trusting what you don’t know and going for it…believing you can make a difference.” Harold’s life and his choices became clearer as he walked towards Queenie and away from his past. He harbored pain from his childhood, his mother walked out the door, and his father showed him the door at 16. Harold spent his life with his head down, avoiding confrontation and showering his family with love – from the sidelines. Twenty years ago, he lost his son David to suicide exposing the inequities of parenthood and losing Maureen to despair at the same time.
Harold walked to atone for his failures but also to “accept the strangeness of others,” that being tested by the throngs of individuals who joined his “campaign” along the road. His journey accidentally inspired others to walk away their pain and he suddenly became a motivator to others…something he had never experienced before. The weight of each step became heavier with the welfare of others overtaking his quest and with only 16 miles left, he became depressed recognizing that no matter what he did “the moon and wind would go on rising and falling” with or without him. Somehow, he completed his journey and arrived at St. Bernadine’s Hospice wearing blue duct-taped yachting shoes, fulfilling a promise to himself and to his dying friend.
During Harold’s absence, Maureen rediscovered why she fell in love with him in the first place. She realized for the last twenty years, they were lost in the complacency of their individual lives giving up on the little things of everyday that made it work for most of their marriage. While Harold strode along the outdoor route, Maureen took internal steps to evaluate her life and her marriage, discovering her pain of losing David had skewed her perspective of Harold’s role in David’s life. She couldn’t blame herself for failing so Harold was her receptacle.
Harold’s walk didn’t cure Queenie’s cancer. She died shortly after Harold arrived, but the silver lining, was Maureen and Harold found each other again. Their love was renewed as it began…holding hands and laughing about something – what, it didn’t matter because they were happy.
Our discussion focused on the different themes of the book…love, faith, honesty, and redemption. For the logical mind, it seemed impossible for a man Harold’s age and physical ability to embark on a walking journey of 600 miles, but his quest became believable with the author’s expertise to layer the story with reasons making it feasible. We walked each step with Harold through Ms. Joyce’s imagery, and turn-of-phrase, and enjoyed some laugh-out-loud moments. Our feet hurt; we had imaginary blisters needing plastering, as we rooted for Harold to find a way to complete his journey. Some read the book as a fairy tale, like Alice In Wonderland, others, viewed it as a healing of a marriage, another as Harold finding out how to relate to people…how to be a friend and have a friend. Some were disappointed that Maureen never told Harold about Queenie’s visit…we have to hope that conversation came later. Many of us were reminded of Forrest Gump while reading Harold’s story. Special thanks to Cherry for giving us a visual of Harold’s journey with a map and photos from her trips (and to Jane Freer for adding to them.)
On the business side:
Our own thespian, Bernie Crudden, is performing her role as Mrs. Graves in “Enchanted April” at the Henderson County Performing Arts Center on March 20th, 21st, 22nd and 27th, 28th, 29th at 7:30 PM with a Sunday matinee on March 23rd at 2:00 PM. Reservations 903-675-3908. Tickets are $17.00. She pointed out she is not involved in the Pinnacle Club’s dinner theater evening featuring “Love Letters” but hopes everyone will enjoy this HCPAC production (just not on the 29th. )
As a recap, the following is the rating system MN and I have assigned to OUR opinions of books we’ve read. Again, this is meant to be a guideline only.
5 Stars: Order Now. Expedited shipping worthy. Include in your will.
4 Stars: Borders on Little Bee
3 Stars: Beach Read
2 Stars: Borrow don’t buy
1 Star: Put your money back in the piggy bank
Donna Walter has suggested Sue Monk Kidd’s latest, The Invention of Wings, might be a Bookers’ book. It’s inspired by a true story set in the early 19th century in South Carolina about two women linked by the horrors of slavery. The only comments that I’ve heard is that one version of the book has Oprah’s notes and comments all throughout the novel. It’s very distracting and interrupts the story. We’ll keep you posted.
Jean and I have both read Ms. Joyce’s sophomore novel, Perfect. Compared to “Harold” we both wanted it to be wondrous, but we’re disappointed. The redeeming qualities would again be in the language, imagery, and turns of phrase. It alternates between 1972 and the present, 40 years later, and focuses on what happened when two seconds of time is added to our clocks. It’s confusing and a bit dark and neither one of us bonded with the characters. (3.) An excerpt is in the back of “Harold” if you want to check it out. The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick author of The Silver Linings Playbook received solid 4 stars from Amazon. It’s full of quirky characters, written in epistolary form. Bartholomew’s mother dies and in her underwear drawer there is a signed letter written in 2008 from Richard Gere in which he was advocating boycotting the Olympics in Beijing China because of the atrocities the Chinese government committed against Tibet. I think I have a good sense of humor and the book’s premise intrigued me. I’m sorry, I just don’t get it…I can only muster a (1.) I’d love for someone else to read it and prove me wrong! Barbara Delinsky’s Sweet Salt Air is set on the fictional Maine Island and centers on two childhood friends who reunite to co-author a cookbook about the local cuisine. Her novels are generally a good read and this one doesn’t disappoint. (3.) London author, Virginia Ironside, wrote a humorous look at turning sixty in No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club. It’s written in diary form and is described as a Bridget Jones for the 60-somethings. Marie is a somewhat cranky retired art teacher who lives alone, is about to turn sixty, an age that she embraces eagerly, and detests being told all the clichés about aging. It’s an easy read and certain to tickle your funny bone. (3.) Marlene has loaned me Philipp Meyer’s The Son, a historical fiction set in 1849 in the newly established Republic of Texas and spanning two hundred years.
MN has read Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant. If you liked Gone Girl it is a must. A television personality stumbles upon a corpse while jogging and she becomes the center of a murder investigation. (3+.) Also, Cracks In the Sidewalk by Bette Lee Crosby. The story centers around a gravely ill mother of three in the care of her parents and her resentful angry husband who refuses to allow their children to see their dying mother. (3.) Jonathan Trooper’s, This Is Where I Leave You is about a family forced back together after their father dies of cancer. His final request was his entire family sits seven days of Shiva at the home where the siblings grew up. If you’re looking for something very different and at times laugh-out-loud funny, this is for you. Rated (3.)
Kay Robinson enjoyed the non-fiction book, The Secret Rooms, A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and Family Secrets, by Catherine Bailey. Fans of Downton Abbey will enjoy this work set in the days before World War I.
Beverly Dossett recommended a young adult trilogy with a similar reading experience to The Hunger Games as it’s fast-paced, and set in another world with a strong female character. The series begins with Divergent, followed by Insurgent, then Allegiant. It begins in dystopian Chicago and is filled with electrifying decisions, heartbreaking betrayal, stunning consequences, and unexpected romance.
COLOR CODING SYSTEM
WHITE: LIGHT READ
PINK: MODERATELY CHALLENGING
April 8th: Don’t Let Me Go by Katherine Ryan Hyde
Home of Sandy Molander
Reviewers: MN Stanky & JoDee Neathery
May 13th: Wonder by R.J. Palacio regular meeting 10:00 AM
Home of Bonnie Magee
Reviewer: Jean Alexander
Laughter is a medicine without side effects. It infiltrates your eyes and makes them twinkly and leaky; it turns up the corners of your mouth and crinkles your nose; it requires no equipment, effort, or latex. Treat yourself to a daily dose.