What I read
Last week I read two novels that, in content and style were distant cousins, but in spirit were as close as sisters. Sarah Gailey’s Upright Women Wanted is a dystopian Western set in the not-so-distant future, a mash up of Handmaid’s Tale and Hunger Games and a cowboy dime novel. Esther Augustus stows away in the Librarian’s wagon and is found two days after leaving Valor, Arizona. Esther’s father had promised her hand in marriage to one of his cronies–but Esther, still mourning the execution of her secret lover Beatriz is desperate. Desperate to escape her impending marriage and desperate to rid herself (as she sees it) of the curse of her desires. The Librarians are morally upright women whose task is to lend Approved Materials in small towns throughout Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Joining their ranks might mean that she, too, could become morally upright. Except it’s soon obvious that the Librarians Bet, Leda, and Cye are not quite what they seem. For one thing, Bet and Leda are clearly a couple. For another, they transport more than just Approved Materials. Like rebels seeking to overthrow the authorities. Upright Women packs quite a punch in its too-short 170-odd pages–murder! gun fights! smuggling!–and it’s an anti-totalitarian, feminist, and queer-friendly tale well worth your time.
The Book of V by Anna Solomon weaves together the stories of three women: Lily, a struggling young mother; Vee, Lily’s mother’s one-time best friend; and Esther, queen of the Old Testament. I wasn’t familiar with the Jewish tale of Vashti and Esther, but Solomon deftly connects Esther with the modern women. And it’s a connection many women share: we compromise our aspirations and dignity for the sake of our partners and children. Lily finds motherhood stultifying and embarks on a chaste affair of the heart to gain control of her life. Vee’s marriage to a rising senator in the fifties ends in disgrace when she refuses his humiliating request at a Washington party. And Esther–a second wife just like Lily–must ally herself with the king’s first wife Vashti in order to save her people. Settling. Compromise. It’s the story of our lives.
What I lived
Never has there been a time when I have experienced such absolute delight in simple pleasures … and also incredible shadows. Times are sweet with the Littles in my life: I helped with virtual school when my daughter works–a walk now and then–loads of book-reading and Barbies and Do-a-Dot markers. I’m taking snapshots with my heart to last me a lifetime. My afternoons are often spent stitching critters and the time has come, I think, to start “stitch-bombing” (my twist on yarn bombing) the world with Mr. Socks and Very Nice Mice and maybe even Picnic Bugs. I’ve come to love a finger of bourbon on ice–I never saw that coming!–in the evening. Hour-long talks with a friend every week. Mass on Sunday. I can’t complain.
It’s lonely sometimes. I miss yoga with Mary and drinks after. I miss flying to Tucson to visit my son and his family. I want to sit in Sweet Seasons for a couple hours with Denice. I miss a Girls Night Out. Hugs. Oh, how I miss hugs. We’ve had Covid in the house (not me) and it was nasty, just like they say. I follow the rules, but there’s a worry that nibbles around the edges: when? where? who? I watch too much news and mourn as our nation rocks with conflict. Our skies are gray in January. And February. And March!
There’s all those books waiting for me. A walk in the Gardens with my son. The scent of Murphy’s Oil soap after fresh-washed floors. Clean sheets. Aunt Alice’s wool granny square afghan at my back. The surprise of an Etsy purchase in the mail. A trip planned at long last.
I think I can do this.