Monday, August 8, 2016

They May Not Mean To , But They Do by Cathleen Schine


They May Not Mean To, But They Do
by Cathleen Schine
Sarah Crichton Books, 2016
304 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Summary (from Goodreads):
From one of America’s greatest comic novelists, a hilarious new novel about aging, family, loneliness, and love

The Bergman clan has always stuck together, growing as it incorporated in-laws, ex-in-laws, and same-sex spouses. But families don’t just grow, they grow old, and the clan’s matriarch, Joy, is not slipping into old age with the quiet grace her children, Molly and Daniel, would have wished. When Joy’s beloved husband dies, Molly and Daniel have no shortage of solutions for their mother’s loneliness and despair, but there is one challenge they did not count on: the reappearance of an ardent suitor from Joy’s college days. And they didn’t count on Joy herself, a mother suddenly as willful and rebellious as their own kids.

My thoughts:

If you pick up this book, as I did,  looking for a fun summer romp like Schine's previous novel, The Three Weissmanns of Westport, you're going to be surprised. Instead you will find a true-to-life story (maybe too true for some) about the relationship between adult children and their aging parents. And while there are plenty of novels dealing with that subject, this one struck me as unique in that I was able to understand and sympathize with everyone - the daughter in LA making periodic trips to NYC to help her parents, the son living just downtown juggling the demands of his own family and career, and the parents trying to preserve their independence and dignity. There were no overbearing, demanding parents or selfish, uncaring children in this novel.

Obviously Schine has been there. She is able to convey, with great tenderness, the vastly different needs, desires, and expectations of all concerned. They May Not Mean To, But They Do turned out to be an unexpectedly beautiful and poignant novel.

A few quotes:

"She was a useless, selfish daughter, dragging her father out into the cold against his will so that she could get some fresh air, so that she could breathe, so that she could escape when she knew he could never escape what was happening to him, not if she made him stumble behind his red walker as far as the North Pole."

"It was hard for her [Daniel's sister], being so far away. It was hard for him [Daniel], too, being so close."

"Her children lived in some other world, one that she could see but had left behind, like the wake of a ship. Their lives foamed and splashed while she hurtled forward, away from them, but toward nothing. Well, toward something, and they all knew what that something was."

"It wasn't that Joy expected her daughter, and certainly not her son, to come live with her. They had their own lives, just as she had once had her own life. She did expect something from them, though, something they were not providing, she couldn't put her finger on it. Danny was coming once a week for dinner now, Molly planned a trip to New York in the near future, and Joy waited eagerly for their visits. But visits predicted their own end, and an end to a visit meant she would be alone again."

My rating:

30 comments:

  1. I'd never heard of this one, but I really love the quotes you shared.

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    1. Sarah - I could easily have posted twice as many. Schine nails this situation!

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  2. This sounds very good.

    Based on your commentary, it sounds as if this book avoids cliches. In my opinion, this day and age where cookie cutter stories and characters are so popular, that is an enormous plus.

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    1. Brian Joseph - It's so easy for characters in novels like this to become cliches, but Schine avoids that pitfall. I'm impressed with the way she handled the topic.

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  3. I think that would truly hit home with me.

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    1. Kathy - I does for so many of us, I think...

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  4. I haven't seen this one before, but it looks to be heart-wrenching. I would love to read it, especially since I cared for both my parents before their deaths. I'm going to check the library for this one and bump it up.

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    1. Kathy - The situation may be too fresh for you, but Schine handles it so well. There are such tender moments amidst the frustration.

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  5. This is not a book that I would have picked just from its description but that cover is gorgeous! I'm not entirely sure that I am the target audience for this book but I'm glad to hear that this one felt very genuine because there are certainly many books written on this subject.

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    1. Athira - The cover caught my eye immediately, too. You may not be the target audience, but it is a very good book.

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  6. Oh, wow. Those quotes! This is one that I plan to listen to as soon as I'm finished with The Girl With All the Gifts. However, I have a feeling I'll need a printed copy in order to mark all the quotes I want to share. With plans to move to Oregon next summer to live with my mother, and a daughter in Texas who is busy and wrapped up in her own life, I have a feeling this will hit close to home.

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    1. Les - A couple of those quotes took my breath away! Schine writes such wacky, quirky characters, but all of these people seemed so genuine and real to me. My mother is having hip replacement surgery next week and both my parents will be staying here afterwards... we have bedrooms downstairs, so no stairs to maneuver. Plus I hate for them to be alone when she comes home from the hospital. Meanwhile, another daughter is embarking on a new career in Manhattan. Life!!

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    2. I hope your mom's surgery goes well and that her recovery is quick and uneventful. Nice that you have rooms on the first floor for them.

      Yes, life!

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  7. I read some reviews that said this book was 'hilarious' and although there was definitelyy humor I thought that was very odd (did they really read it?) I feel like it took some of her trademark quirky elements and added that layer of poignancy on top of them, which is an interesting combination!

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    1. Audrey - I think 'hilarious' is one of the last words I would choose to describe this book. Any reviewer that said that has clearly never read the book, nor been in that situation. You're right about the quirky elements with a layer of poignancy and tenderness. Not sure I've read that combination before, but it worked for me! Thanks again for pushing me to read this sooner rather than later.

      Did you ever read Fin and Lady? Wondering if I should try that one.

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    1. Care - Yes! Hope it strikes a chord with you, too!

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  9. Those are great quotes! This is one that probably will hit very close to home for me so I have to be "prepared" to read it but I do want to!

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    1. Iliana - This could certainly hit a little too close to home for some readers. Choose your reading time carefully!

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  10. So I guess this novel is marketed as a "hilarious" new novel but it is something a bit different -- judging from your review. Thx for letting me know.

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    1. Susan - I have to wonder if the reviewers calling this hilarious ever even read the book! If so, they certainly have no firsthand experience with the subject. There are certainly humorous moments, as well as quirky characters and situations, but I'd say it's more a serious novel with a side of humor.... perfect for what many consider an emotionally charged subject.

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  11. I wondered about this book when you posted it on First Paragraph. Now I think I'd like to read it. I think I'm going to see myself in the book somewhere and that's okay. My family is trying to be honest and open about how we're all handling the aging process. I like your honest opinion of the book.

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    1. Margot - I think every reader will be able to relate to (or see themselves in) one generation or another here... even my daughters would probably appreciate the relationship between Joy and her eldest grandson. I'll be curious to hear what you think if you decide to read it!

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  12. Downloading this one to listen to at bedtime. We'll see how it goes - I'm the one that lives far awaay & visits periodically.

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    1. Booksnpeaches - I hope it's as good on audio as it is in print. It seems like every reader will identify with one of the thee characters... I'm the one living closely and visiting frequently.

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  13. What a great review! I recently finished this book and I, too, found all of the characters sympathetic and none of them perfect. Dealing with old age, dealing with dying people is not easy. I loved the way that Joy decides to keep everyone guessing. Why be pin downed? I love Schine's works and she has grown as a writer.

    My only little quibble is that we have yet another family who is not torn in pieces by a lack of money and worrying about how to pay for transportation all the time.

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    1. sunt_lacrimae_rerum - Thank you. I completely agree with you about the characters... they are all sympathetic and imperfect... very human! I think any reader will find someone 'like them', at least when it come to relating to an elderly relative. My mother recently had a hip replaced and both parents are staying with me temporarily, so I still find myself thinking about this book frequently.

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  14. Cheers! Stopping by to say hello. :)

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    1. Thanks, Care. Hope to be back blogging again soon :)

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