Thursday, June 5, 2008

Minutes of book group meeting, sorta.

The so-called "book group" hit the ground running yesterday. The large majority of discussion hinged on matters of menfolk, adventures in the working world, and random bits of hilarity punctuated by requests for more Newcastles. At certain intervals we would return to the book and discuss its nuances and themes, and even take notes on the grandiose thoughts that spewed forth from our master's degrees, such as:

"Who was the third Musketeer?"

"Well, there's Athos, Porthos...and Abednego! But, who was that fourth guy?"

You mean Donatello?"


Genius, I tell you. Genius. Almost as good as last week's tattoo. On to the book (which actually is not The Three Amigos-er, Musketeers-as the previous conversation would have you believe. Like I said, there were digressions)... Haven Kimmel's She Got Up Off the Couch is the sequel to the New York Times Bestseller A Girl Named Zippy and, for anyone interested in a lighthearted romp through the heart of the Midwest--told in the voice and perspective of an exuberant young girl--this is the book to read.

Comprised of seemingly unrelated episodes of the young girl, Zippy's, life, this book makes us love and appreciate her, as we become familiar with the architecture of her family and town. The matter-of-fact narration makes for some hilarious and endearing moments, for instance, Zip describes a woman cooking with persimmons: "she even made something with the word "pudding" in the title although of course it was not real pudding because it wasn't chocolate and hadn't come from a box. I was too polite to point the truth out."

The plot moves forward as Zippy observes the progress of her mother, Delonda Jarvis, through college--from the decision to "Get up Off of The Couch" to earning her Master's degree in English and finally, teaching. Concurrently, or perhaps I should say consequently, Zip's parents' marriage lands in the trash bin~I can't say this is a spoiler, as the fact seems apparent from the very beginning of the book. Her father's first dialogue in the book, well towards the end of the first chapter, is a response to watching his wife drive off with a friend to take the College entrance test: "Time was, a woman wouldn't have gotten in a man's marriage that way."

Despite her father's chauvinism and self-centeredness (he always managed to have nice, new clothes, while his daughter trompsed about in second hand everything, even wearing his old shirts, which she was swimming in), we must be careful not to write this man off. His character develops subtely throughout the tales, and we see him through the tender eyes of his daughter, who adores him despite all of our reasons she shouldn't. We don’t often see Delonda communicating directly with her daughter; instead, Zippy narrates her mother's telephone conversations with friends, or discussions with professors. This indirect source of information continues throughout the book, although we see the two bond when Zip accompanies her mother on campus.

[I must depart from the book for a moment here, to express the nostalgia that this book stirred up in me (and my sister, too, I daresay, as she recommended it to me). How often did I sit at the bottom of the stairs, eavesdropping, or even overtly lying on the bed with her, while my mother called her friends from school and church to discuss the important matters of school and church. I loved it when I got to go to classes with my mother. I'd sit there with my multiplication tables, or some scrap paper and crayons, and ignore the old professor who wouldn't stop talking. She would often introduce me afterwards, because she always had follow-up questions to the lectures. Like Zippy said "I went right on hating school as much as any vegetable left in vinegar, but Lord I loved college." Less than ten years later, I sat in the exact same lecture halls, on my own, and finally understood why my mom took me with her: It's scary. ]

Delonda Jarvis' example of stubborn dedication is undeniably a source of inspiration to her two daughters. While they worried about her in the rickety car during her commute, and their complete lack of money, very early in the book, Delonda's influence is felt in Zip's realization: "I knew I should still be worried, but I suddenly felt that anything was possible, and that most things, though certainly not all, would turn out okay."

The dichotomy between youth and age runs throughout the scenarios and, as some of us may relate to, Zippy pinpoints the exact moment as a child when she realized that her life and body would change, too, in the course of time. She was no longer invincible after this realization, and not much later breaks her arm to a horrific extent in a roller-skating accident--I might add how thankful I am that someone finally exposed the true danger of the rollerskating "whip."

Also prevalent in the book is the narrator's wavering stance on Christianity. Zip makes enough knocks at the Bible to make one wonder at her faith, but parries these with some profound observations of the influence of Christ in her life. She sees through the fraudulence of some religious practices, both by her peers and by adults--when she is forced to go to church camp she is the only one who does not accept Christ as her Savior. She also seems to be the only one aware that many of these young women were simply using their conversions as alibis--that after they dedicated themselves to Christ they found it easier to sneak off in the woods with their boyfriends, because no one would suspect them...

In the midst of her aversion to religion, the young girl obviously seeks something larger; "it seemed to me that there was something gigantic going on and it was near to me and also very far away." And so we see the ruminations of a young girl contemplating Christ, or God, or what-have-you--whichever you choose, and whether you are believer or not, I daresay this is something most of us have experienced at some point.

The book weaves about with hilarious and heat-rending tales of small-town life; Haven Kimmel retells the story of childhood with some rural Midwestern distinctions--the fear of tornadoes, the occasional run-in with an angry bull, a perfect wonderment at the number of cats and dogs on a farm (let alone the barn animals) and a general familiarity with farm life, horrendous blizzards, and of course, the rite of passage in which we play with tape recorders. This is a quick, light-hearted read, though it contains some darker overtones. I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

Me said...

Hi and thanks for visiting my blog...I LOVE Haven Kimmel. Haven't read this one yet, but will add it to my list. As of next week, my daughter will be a grad student at a Midwestern school too. You guys make me feel old. And Eastern.