Better writers than I have described how strange it can feel to go home as an adult. The word to which I keep returning is “overstimulating.” Faramir and I spent Thanksgiving weekend with my parents, in the house that my family moved into when I was six. I know that house better than I know any other place–maybe better than I’ll ever know any other place. I get confused when things are different, not only because I’m suddenly at sea in a place I know so well, but because I can’t remember when changes are made. I asked my mom when they cut down the tree in the front yard, and she said, “Oh, only about eight years ago.” I forgot, until I was there, that they only have one car, even though I know perfectly well that they gave the other one to my sister and brother-in-law. The house is fixed in my memory as it was when I was 18 or so.
Thanksgiving was wonderful. I made the highly traditional meal that my family’s taste demands: no celery root in the mashed potatoes, no wild rice in the stuffing, and no kale anywhere. I think this was the first year that, in deference to Faramir’s cranberry sauce recipe, we didn’t have a bowl of Ocean Spray on the table, complete with can ridges. Until I got to college, I did not know you could make cranberry sauce out of cranberries. I assumed some kind of highly technical process, achievable only by food chemists, was involved. For the turkey, I used Mark Bittman’s “Minimalist Thanksgiving” recipe, which turned out pretty delicious despite shocking my father with the high initial temperature and short roasting time. Dinner was delicious, Faramir charmed my mother by watching “Inspector Lewis” with her, and we enjoyed a few days of taking it very, very easy.
And do you know what else I’ve been able to do lately? Read! I finished two books over Thanksgiving break: and, in addition to heartwarming stories of love triumphing over tragedy, and occasional chit-chat about food, this blog’s gonna have book reviews too. Usually of books that everyone else has already read, such as our first contestant:
Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart
Spelled his name right on the first try! This book was good enough to keep me reading, but only just. It wasn’t stupid, I’ll give it that. Shteyngart does a pretty good job creating a world of the near future in which the people, places and technology are believable descendants of their contemporary counterparts (many non-science fiction authors have trouble with this–Margaret Atwood, whose work I love, is a good example of someone who can’t invent future slang to save her life). I mostly kept reading in hopes that either of the two main characters would realize that the people around them were human beings. They never did. It was unclear to me how the reader was supposed to feel about the tepid and contemptuous romance around which the plot revolved. Does Shteyngart know that his main character is not really in love with a woman, but with a set of characteristics he’s constructed based on her age, size, and race? One hopes that he does, and yet Eunice jumps from male provider to male provider, doing very little to distinguish herself from a cynic’s stereotype of a woman. I know a lot of people loved this book, and that Shteyngart is something of a critical darling, but I wasn’t that impressed.
A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway
Okay, so I know absolutely nothing about Ernest Hemingway. Nothing. As I was reading, I turned to Faramir and said, “Did Hemingway ever get divorced? Because he seems like he’d be really hard to live with.” I say the darndest things. I read and finished this collection of essays on the airplane back to California, completely fascinated all the while. I actually appreciated the chance to read in ignorance, however. The omissions that are Hemingway’s stock in trade are made more powerful by actually not knowing what he’s omitting. His romance with his wife is charming and joyful, rather than doomed. He has been through a war that aged him like nothing else can, but he’s still young and awkward around the established writers he meets in Paris. F. Scott Fitzgerald is a disaster. I loved it, and am eager to read more Hemingway.
I am happy to be home. It was something of a relief when I realized that, as much as I loved being at my parents’ house, this place is home