Insecure people believe they’re at fault for everything, and so they interpret everything as being about them. People are always being mean to them, and obviously purposely so. It’s a nasty circle, where the insecure become ever more sad, and perhaps even angry and bitter.
Their friends must be patient, and reassuring.
The insecure are also well-intentioned people, and they certainly don’t want to be unhappy. Or at least, they think they don’t want to be unhappy.
The Quilter’s Apprentice (by Jennifer Chiaverini, 2000), is the tale of the insecure Sarah McClure, an accountant who hates her chosen career, but who has stuck with it while her unemployed husband has been looking for a job. Finally, both jump into the abyss – and move to a different city. Hubby gets a landscaping job immediately, but she struggles. There is a glut of trained accountants, and she really doesn’t have the experience or the training to anything else, although she seems to think she deserves jobs in other professions.
When she’s finally offered a position that would give her a steady income, even if it’s just a short contract, Sarah wants to turn it down. She’s looking for a proper, professional job, not one involving cleaning and sorting a lifetime of possessions for the elderly woman who’s just inherited a rundown mansion. Mrs. Compson has stubbornly refused to return to the family home for decades, but now finds herself with sole possession of it.
Eventually, Sarah accepts the job, but in exchange for quilting lessons. The solitary and cantankerous Mrs. Compson is, it turns, one of the best quilters around.
As the quilt is created, Sarah is both enchanted and concerned by the stories Mrs. Compson begins to tell about her past. The heartbroken Mrs. Compson, of German descent, came of age during the Second World War.
Quilters (or fans of quilting) will recall their own stumbling beginnings at cutting templates and matching pieces to each other, and the debate over hand-sewing versus machine sewing.
The creation of Sarah’s quilt patterns a growing friendship and the glimmerings of life lessons to be learned, on both sides.
Here’s a bonus for Lennoxville readers: the new McClure home is a university town. “Waterford, Pennsylvania, was a town of about 35,000 people, except when Waterford College was in session and the population rose by 15,000 young adults. The downtown bordered the campus, and, aside from a few city government offices, consisted mainly of bars, faddish restaurants, and shops catering to the students. The local residents knew they owed their livelihoods to the transient student population, and although they were grateful for the income, many resented the dependence.
“Sometimes the town’s collective resentment erupted in a flurry of housing and noise ordinances, and the students would strike back with boycotts and sarcastic editorials in the school newspaper.”
The Quilter’s Apprentice is filed in adult fiction.
A Month Of Summer (by Lisa Wingate, 2008) is filed in the large-print section. Rebecca Macklin is insecure in a very different way. She’s a successful immigration lawyer and clothing boutique owner, married to another lawyer and mother to a nine-year-old girl.
But she was raised to despise her father. He left for another woman when she was a child. Rebecca refused to visit him when the court ordered a month of summer vacation with him. And she’s refused to see him ever since.
Her father accepted her choice (and her mother’s banishment of him from his daughter’s life). But Rebecca sees this as abandonment, rather than her father doing as she’d demanded.
She’s now fortysomething.
Even now, when the stepmom writes begging for a reconciliation, before the father’s Alzheimer’s completely destroys his mind, Rebecca refuses.
“She urged me to make peace with him while I could. I responded that I felt no animosity about the situation. It simply was what it was. She asked if there was anything she could do to convince me to come before it was too late. I admitted, quite frankly, that I didn’t think so.”
In fact Rebecca’s anger, her bitterness about her father’s perceived lack of love, remain. The insecurity has worn its way into her marriage.
Suddenly, from a few cities over, Dallas police call, telling her her stepmother’s had a stroke and cannot move; her mentally disabled stepbrother and her non compos mentis father are home alone, living in filth.
Rebecca feels obliged to go, and is shocked at the squalor. Her happily middle-class father appears to have no money and no help. Her stepmother can’t speak, much less offer any assistance, nor even any information.
The chapters in A Month Of Summer alternate narrators, from Rebecca to the mute stepmother, who struggles daily with her own unresponsive body and her worry – about Rebecca’s presence, about her disabled son, about her husband’s care. Rebecca, in turn, finds herself trapped with a senior she hates, who’s suffering from dementia, and a half-brother who can’t do much more than dress himself and make peanut butter sandwiches to feed himself, morning, noon and night.
Change is difficult for all of the people in this complex family.
Here are the books that made the long list for this year’s prestigious Booker Prize: To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris; The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan; We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler; The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt; J by Howard Jacobson; The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth; The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell; The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee; Us by David Nicholls; The Dog by Joseph O’Neill; Orfeo by Richard Powers; Artful by Ali Smith; History of Rain by Niall Williams.
– Eleanor Brown, July 25, 2014