Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Return Journey by Maeve Binchy

I got a Kindle for Christmas!  Hooray.  I've avoided any type of e-book reader for a long time because I do love books.  But I'm excited for the portability, easy access to library books and the ability to highlight and add notes.  We'll see if it is as helpful as I hope writing this review.

The Return Journey is a collection of short stories that seem to have a thread or two of similar themes running through them.  Years ago, after seeing the movie, I read Binchy's Circle of Friends and really liked it.  I liked these stories too.  I sometimes forget how much I like the short story genre, and these were good examples of what makes a good short story.

There are 14 stories, and I think most are dealing with moments of catharsis or possible turning points in the character's lives.  I've decided to list them and add a little commentary or quote for each.

"The Return Journey" is a collection of letters between a mother and daughter.  It ends on a hopeful note.

"The Wrong Suitcase" is clever and about two people who take the wrong suitcase, then form opinions of each other based on the contents.  I loved the line, "always better to say what you want at the start and say it pleasantly. Alan's motto."  There are several characters in her stories who have strict rules and codes of conduct for themselves.  I liked them and thought they made for quick character development.  You have so little time in a short story.

"Miss Vogel's Vacation" was one of my favorites and has a great story line.  I loved Miss Vogel's attitude and was pleased with her happy ending.

"The Homesitter" wasn't a happy story, but I think poignant.  A couple in a strained boring marriage leaves for a guest professorship for three months.  The woman who comes to sit at their house is kind of the opposite of the wife, Maura.  I could relate to Maura's feelings about Allie because I do see women who aren't that different than me, but seem to be doing it better than me.  Do you know what I mean?  I just thought it was sad that Maura couldn't be encouraged by this, and make positive changes in her life.  "She felt a physical shock, like the feeling you get if you think you've swallowed a piece of glass."  Perfect description.  Even without the happy ending, I liked this story too.

"Package Tour" is another perfect example of the short story form that I love.  A relationship hinges on a piece of luggage.  Really.  It's so well done.  Here's a quote I loved, "suddenly everything looked bright and full of glitter instead of commercial and tawdry as it had looked some minutes before."  I love people or conversations that are great enough to change your opinion of your surroundings in a single moment.  It doesn't happen often, but it is awesome.  Sadly, I think the opposite can happen too.  Someone can totally ruin the mood or event in an instant.

"The Apprenticeship" is a story about two friends who have gone to great lengths to rise above their humble upbringings.  It reminded me of a good friend of mine when I was 12 and all the magazines we read and the people we studied in an effort to unlock what it took to be popular.  Fashion rules, make-up tips and relationship advice.  As Camilla marries into the upper class, Florrie ultimately opts out.  And thankfully, so did I!

"The Business Trip" also compares two women who have chosen different ways of living their lives.  Thankfully the younger one, the niece, takes advice from her aunt and saves herself from a mislead life of heartache.  I really liked this one too.

"The Crossing" is mainly a conversation between two women who are strangers on a ship from England to Ireland.  I loved it.  They pass on advice and words of wisdom and encouragement, but will probably never meet again.

"The Women in Hats" was OK.  It centers on an employee of a cruise ship who wrongly identifies the two thin good looking friends in a trio as the married couple.  When instead, it is the good looking young man and the really fat young lady that are married.  It kind of shakes his reality.  It definitely struck a chord with me, because I can be so judgmental, but the story wasn't that interesting.

"Excitement" was clever because it read to me kind of like a sitcom.  Murphy's law, really, about a woman who is so bored with her life, but her attempt at excitement backfires.  It made me want to say "ha" to her.

"Holiday Weather" also ends on a hopeful note.  It has an affair and traveling in Europe as themes like a few other stories, but the descriptions of the weather in Ireland spoke to me.  "Then one morning the sun came out, and everything was different." That is exactly what it is like here, so many gray days in a row, but when the sun comes out you can't help but feel lucky.  Here's a conversation that Frankie has with the hotel owner about the change in the weather:
     "'It's like heaven.' She sighed....
     'Thank G-- we don't get weather like this all the time,' said Shane
      'Why do you say that?...' Frankie had been about to say the very opposite; she had been on the point of wishing that  every day could be so sunny.
     'Because we would be parched and dry, it would not be a green island, and we'd be so used to it we woldn't be calling out our thanksgiving to the very heaven.'"

I can totally relate to what he is saying and lots of times feel the same about Seattle.

"Victor and St. Valentine" is sweet, and again, I like a happy hopeful ending.

"Cross Lines" is another story about making snap judgements about someone based on their appearance.  It feels brief, and leaves you with just a clue of what might be in the future for the two characters.

"A Holiday With Your Father" seemed like a bad choice to end with.  It felt sad to me, and I like happier endings.  While so many of the other stories leave you hopeful that the characters are going to make a change in their lives for the better, this one ends with the daughter realizing that things aren't going to change.  I wish she had chosen one of the more uplifting stories to go out on.

If you like short stories, or if you don't have a lot of time to read right now, try this collection out!  I think a lot of these stories would be great to discuss.


Lori said...

I do love short stories. They're perfect for when you've got lots of other things going on and can't really commit to a whole book at the moment, yet they satisfy that need to unwind.

Sharlene, Mom, Grammy said...

These all look great! I love the quote you had from "Holiday Weather." Lots of wisdom. So all 14 of these short stories are in the one book? Sounds like a bargain to me. :)

PS ~ Congrats on your e-reader. Russ got his Kindle last year and loves it.