Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Book Review: Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty

This novel, Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, by Ramona Ausubel, is one I probably would not have chosen on my own. It was my book club's May selection. Although I didn't attend the group discussion (exhausted from our recent vacation to Cedar Point), I know that at least one other group member had a similar response to my own. I just didn't connect with the book on any level. I didn't care for the characters, feel drawn in by the plot, or relate to the theme. Indeed, I felt a bit annoyed with the characters as they responded in childish ways to their reversal of fortune.

Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty is probably meant to be some sort of statement about privilege and class identification. The characters supposedly despise money, yet when it dries up, they are thrown into such a tailspin that the father, Edgar, pursues an adulterous relationship and heads off with his new lover for Bermuda, while the mother, Fern, embarks on a road trip with a stranger to find that man's son. Both assume that the other is home with the children. Alas, no one is caring for the children. Instead, nine-year-old Cricket attempts to pick up the slack, getting herself and her younger brothers off to school each day. Fearful of the orphanage, Cricket keeps their plight a secret and buoys the spirits of her brothers with tales of early American courage and stamina.

I was perplexed by much of the novel. As the family unravels in the face of their newfound poverty, the story weaves back and forth from past to present, providing commentary on individual roles in a family (Fern's twin brother, Ben, is fully fractured by the separation brought on by Fern's marriage and his military enlistment), the burden and weight of privilege, and the idea of one's place in history. Yet, as I said, I never really felt any affection for the characters or cared even slightly about their plight (they seemed self-absorbed, immature, and unstable). Even Cricket confused me. At one point in the novel, she goes off alone to the restroom and seems to be molested in some way (hard to tell what really occurred). On another occasion, while they are camping out in a teepee, they discover a dead fawn (abandoned, like them) and Cricket attempts to skin it (to mimic the self-sufficiency of American Indians??).

Edgar loses his glasses while on his jaunt with the other woman and his sightless state seems to finally bring him to his senses and call him home. Fern pursues her own infidelity in retaliation to Edgar's, and the guilt and remorse remind her of her lost perspective on the needs of her children (how do you lose sight of the needs of your children, seriously?). Moreover, Fern seems more concerned with helping her companion locate his lost son than she is with the fate of her own children. I just couldn't seem to get behind these characters or understand their motivations.

So, while the novel wasn't really difficult to read, I can't agree with any of the endorsements claiming it is a "gorgeous and moving must-read," and "a book brimming with life." It was fairly well-written, but simply not my cup of tea. I didn't come away with any meaningful new thought or perspective on life and am none-the-richer for having read it.

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