Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Water for Elephants" Double B Book Brigade

Apologies for the lateness of this review of the current book tour. Having just returned from an extended weekend with family for the college graduation of my baby sister, I am understandably weary. However, I am determined to get this posted as I did enjoy this book. I struggled a bit starting to read, by page 13 I was completely hooked - spellbound by the author's (Sara Gruen) vivid details of the main character's recollections of his past and this one line: "Being the survivor stinks." After struggling for so many years with recurrent pregnancy loss - yes, I agree, being the survivor does stink. You are the one who is left behind, who lives still - but due to loss, sometimes wishes to not be the one who survived and struggling to figure out how to continue on living when so much had changed. We join Jacob in his waning years . . .

(From the discussion questions at the end of the book) Looking at himself in the mirror, the old Jacob tries "to see beyond the sagging flesh." But he claims, "It's no good....I can't find myself anymore. When did I stop being me?" How would you answer that question for Jacob or for yourself?

I have noticed in the past fews years, when I look in the mirror I see more and more of my mother's skin reflected back at me. Tiny fine lines where there was once smooth skin. A bit of sag here, a crow's foot there - and it is not just the physical changes, but the emotional ones as well. Accepting these changes is difficult when you remember what there was before - before life changed you, before time changed you. I still feel like me - sometimes forget the today me, and feel like the young girl I once was - skinny, energetic, hopeful and optimistic - and yet the person I see in the mirror only distantly resembles her. I feel tired and old more and more. I am not sure you really do stop being you, though perhaps that mental perception is a bit different than that of the reality presented in the mirror. The world is constantly changing and we along with it - physically and mentally. The experiences we have in life change us and shape us. Our bodies follow the natural process bodies have been following for centuries - growing, changing, dying. Memory is a powerful thing - with it we remember what we once were and are sometimes able to forget what we are becoming.

Something that struck me about this book in particular was the rich, descriptive way the author handled Jacob as an elderly man. His frustration was so apparent, his physical manifestation so perfectly described, that of all of the elements of this book Jacob the Elderly is what stays with me. You had the sense that Jacob didn't foresee his latter years being the way they were, and his almost "ride off into the sunset" ending perhaps what he had envisaged for his end. Do you think about what's at the end of the road someday? When you think about it, what do you see for yourself?

Boy do I think about this one. I wouldn't consider 40 really all that old, and yet it seems to be getting up there. So I turn 40 later this year and I feel all sorts of aches and pains that just weren't there before. I can't lose weight like I use to and I am certainly not as skinny as I once was. The energy is lagging and the skin is sagging. My brain is foggy much of the time and sometimes that clarity of thought that I use to enjoy so readily is difficult to find. (Not to mention the ability to speak intelligibly) I certified as a nurse's assistant over 11 years ago. My clinicals were done in a Transitional and Long Term Care Unit - or more commonly known as a "home". Many of the patients I cared for seemed to just be waiting to die and it was very depressing. The patients who had regular and frequent visitors seemed to be much happier overall and to have at least a small something to continue to look forward to. Many of the difficulties some of the patients faced were a terrifying prospect of advanced age. After a stint on the Alzheimer's wing, I was terrified of the thought of myself or any one close to me going through such a devastating disease. This weekend I spent several hours in the car with my parents, both in their 60's. We drove to attend my youngest sister's college graduation. On more than one occasion my sister and I commiserated - worrying that we may be looking at ourselves age progressed a couple/few decades. Don't get me wrong - my parents are lovely wonderful people - just they are different from the parents I remember; and therein may lie the real point - they are my parents, but they are no longer raising me. They are behaving more like contemporaries, while my siblings and I expect to see our parents. I am having a difficult time accepting they are getting older - I worry about them a great deal now. Between the two of them they amass an impressive array of pharmaceuticals. I dislike that their advancing age means that mine is also advancing onward as well. I dislike the physical things that are cropping up. I worry that I am going to be a batty old lady who makes everyone else crazy or offended, the one you hear about on the news who dies under a mountain of decades old newspapers and has a very large collection of some kind of furry animals - hopefully not rats. My kids are under strict edict to take away the car keys once I begin displaying a serious lack of attention to driving details.

Originally forced to share quarters, Kinko (Walter) seems to have an intense dislike for Jacob. One day, Jacob helps Kinko's dog Queenie and Kinko becomes his friend because of this small act of kindness. Has someone performed a simple act of kindness that changed your feelings toward them? How did this small act affect you? Can just a small and simple thing have a profound effect?

Ironically (as you will see very shortly), I am the author of this question. On this past weekend we found ourselves stuck by the side of the road during our road trip. We had about 2.5 hours left to our destination and ran out of gas. On that subject, I will only say I was not the one behind the wheel. At any rate, being stuck in the middle of nowhere Indiana by the side of the road adjacent to a very large and lovely smelling cow pasture was not a thrilling prospect. We literally stalled in front of a road sign that clearly proclaimed the nearest town to be at least 18 miles away, uphill. My parents are members of AARP and phoned them for assistance. My father was connected with a lady whose first language was not English, nor did it appear to be her second language either and my father spent a good 45 minutes trying to tell her where we were while the ambient traffic noise also made communication a bit iffy at best. Finally we seemed to help her pinpoint our location and she told us she could procure help for us which would arrive in about 3 hours. There were 3 adults and 3 small children in our group and 3 hours in a hot car next to a stinky field praying we would not get creamed by the traffic whizzing by at high speeds while waiting for rescue was not a cheery thought. (Notwithstanding the fact that while standing by the side of the road I also found a rather scary rusty knife laying on the ground - did I mention I am prone to panic/anxiety attacks?) I started calling information on my cell phone and procured the number for a towing/emergancy service business in the nearest town. I got the answering machine. (holiday weekend) I tried again for the next nearest town and was given the same number. OY! Finally, a passing motorist (out of the literal dozens, including - yes! one police cruiser, that didn't even bother to move over to the further lane out of courtesy and safety - just blew right past us) pulled over and offered assistance. This was a man who had lived in the area most of his life and knew there was a small town with a gas station just a couple miles down a rural road not marked by the interstate signs. He and my father went and procured gas and a funnel and filled our tank enough to get us to the nearest gas station to fill up entirely. I did not care that we ended up paying $4.42 a gallon. Just as I had been ready to give up on the state of Indiana as a completely callous and inhospitable place to get stuck (not to mention kind of creepy what with the knife and all . . .) , this angel of a man stopped with his wife and two small grandkids and helped us, complete strangers not even from the same state, on our way. I had been close to tears trying to figure out what to do when all my smugness at having a cellphone and relatively decent command of the English language had not offered us any real solutions either. We arrived in Kentucky, later than we expected, but did arrive in time. This man refused all insistance of any monetary retribution for his kindness - despite gas being at a premium and his time out of his way. It may have been just merely pulling a small thorn out for him, but for us - it was an end to an absolute agony!

If you would like to join along, you can read more about this tour and upcoming book tours here.

Now I am off to catch up on my NaComLeavMo (and hopefully some sleep . . .)


loribeth said...

I was wondering where you were! Glad you are back -- & all the more so after reading about your unexpected stopoever in Indiana!

Having survived several lengthy cross-country road trips with my parents in recent years (both in their late 60s & recently retired), I recognized myself in your sentence, "My parents are lovely wonderful people - just they are different from the parents I remember." Maybe it's having dh along for the ride these days & seeing things through his eyes, but I find myself thinking, "When did they get like this? I don't remember them being like this when we travelled when I was a kid." My mother takes way too much luggage (which dh inevitably winds up lugging in & out of motels for her) & is never on time. We say, "Let's aim for a 9 a.m. start," knowing that we'll be lucky to get away by 10:30. She invariably ends up moving rooms at least once if not twice, because she cannot tolerate scented room sprays, smoke (must be a non-smoking room), or being too close to the noisy central air conditioning unit or the pop machine. Both she & my dad have had various physical complaints lately, which make them both way crankier than I ever remember, & remind me that they're both getting older. When did all this happen??

Anyway -- welcome back!

Pamela Jeanne said...

Here from NaComLeavMo...and finally I can put a blog name with a face (which I've seen all around the comments section!)

I read this book over a long trip earlier this year but didn't participate in this book brigade. I can completely relate to your survivor description as well as this statement: "Memory is a powerful thing - with it we remember what we once were and are sometimes able to forget what we are becoming."

There are some memories I'd like very much to forget. For me sometimes the memory of what I once was is paralyzing.

Deb said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts in these questions.

Glad that someone was kind enough to stop and help you out.

Kim said...

Just saying Hi from NCLM. I will have to get around to reading this book sometime soon!

excavator said...

Hi, Julia! Thanks for posting on my blog!

"Memory is a powerful thing - with it we remember what we once were and are sometimes able to forget what we are becoming."

That's a great line and a powerful insight. I've never thought about it quite that way before.

But then your question about acts of kindness was a great one too. That's the kind of question I was kicking myself for not being able to come up with. It's the kind of question I enjoy answering. OMG, what a nightmare scenario you were living beside the highway in Indiana. For me, a hot car, stinky field, pressing engagement, elderly people and blank wall after blank wall in search of solutions--eek, those are 'shoot me now and get it over with' moments. Hopefully the older people in your car didn't start acting like the children!

I was interested to see that you're from Rolla. For 5 years we lived a hundred miles away in Richmond Heights, just west of St. Louis--miss it too.

Duck said...

Just stopping by! The book sounds like a good read.