This was the last selection of 2007 for Book Club, and the topic of conversation for our first meeting of the New Year.
The Florist's Daughter
Harcourt, 2007 (ISBN 0151012571)
Memoir; 240 pages
First Sentence: For once, no flowers.
Book Description: "During the long farewell of her mother’s dying, Patricia Hampl revisits her Midwestern girlhood. Daughter of a debonair Czech father, whose floral work gave him entree into St. Paul society, and a distrustful Irishwoman with an uncanny ability to tell a tale, Hampl remained, primarily and passionately, a daughter well into adulthood. She traces the arc of faithfulness and struggle that comes with that role from the postwar years past the turbulent sixties. The Florist’s Daughter is a tribute to the ardor of supposedly ordinary people. Its concerns reach beyond a single life to achieve a historic testament to midcentury middle America. At the heart of this book is the humble passion of people who struggled out of the Depression into a better chance, not only for themselves but for the common good."
Comments: According to the biographical info on the back flap of this book, this is Patricia Hampl's fifth memoir. I haven't read any of the others, and since this one left me quite underwhelmed, I'm not sure that I would.
A memoir doesn't really require a narrative arc, but I think that a reader might find the presence of one more rewarding, and this book really doesn't have it. Patricia's presence at her mother's bedside on the night of her death is the framing device for her recollections of growing up in St. Paul, Minnesota in the mid-20th century, the Baby-Boom-era younger child and second-generation American daughter of a mixed-ethnicity Catholic couple. The differing worldviews of her parental cultures - Irish on her mother's side, Czech on her father's - and the Catholicism both figure prominently in her upbringing and how she learns to interact with the world. As a second/third-generation Catholic-raised daughter of mixed European ethnicity myself - in my case, Italian mother and Austro-Hungarian father - this was probably the aspect of her story that I related to most. My father still characterizes most people he meets by their ethnic origin, and stereotypes based on ethnicity were part of everyday life for us.
Patricia talks about both her parents very much from a daughter's perspective, as she lived out the old saying that "a daughter's a daughter all of her life." She ended up as primary caretaker for both her parents till they died, and despite all her dreams of escape into the Great World, still lives in St. Paul to this day.
The Book Club member who chose this thought that it was a mother-daughter memoir, so we didn't quite get what we expected from it. It's a well-written book, but I just didn't find it particularly engaging. It's relatively short, but I found it slow going, and her parents never really became vivid to me. Granted, she's writing about their essentially ordinary lives, and that's got to be a challenge.
I wish I'd liked this book more than I did, but it just didn't seem to have much to it, and that was pretty much the consensus among Book Club. We're reading Atonement for our next meeting - I've read it before, but it's been a few years, so I will go ahead and read it again. As I recall, that book was very vivid.
This one's a little tricky for me. Any question that asks me to limit it to one favorite book is always tricky for me, for one thing. For another, my reading habits tend to fall somewhere between the bestseller lists and the truly obscure. I do tend to get that "huh?" response pretty often when I tell someone what I'm reading, but then I may get to introduce a friend to a new book or author, so there's a nice payoff.
What’s your favorite book that nobody else has heard of? You know, not Little Women or Huckleberry Finn, not the latest best-seller . . . whether they’ve read them or not, everybody “knows” those books. I’m talking about the best book that, when you tell people that you love it, they go, “Huh? Never heard of it?”
And, folks–Becca was nice enough to nominate Booking Through Thursday for a Blogger’s Choice Award–while you’re here, why don’t you head over and vote for us, too. Because, a vote for BTT is a vote for all of us who play each week!
One book that does answer this question for me is Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. He's had a much higher profile since The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but that came several years later, and people may not have gone back to read his second novel. It was actually made into a surprisingly good movie, but not many people saw that either.
(Since I knew I'd have a fairly short answer to this week's question, I added it to my post on another book that I doubt many people have heard of, but since I didn't particularly like the book I'm reviewing, it doesn't count.)
There will be many other answers to this question at this week's BTT post, so go and check them out!