I like how the lead story on the front page of today’s New York Times seemed to be about the financial crisis in Europe, but was really about friendship.

Christine Lagarde from France, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, have a BFF relationship. They text each other often and exchange gifts. They became friends because they often found they were the only two women in rooms full of powerful men.

Currently they are at odds over the role Germany should play in bailing out its neighbors. They show how friendship can transcend differences and how political disagreements can be managed without the vitrol that is all too common among politicians:

Their differences were brought into sharp relief in January when Ms. Lagarde gave a speech at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin in which she demanded that Germany step up its efforts to save the world from “a 1930s moment.” Switching from her fluent English to halting, phonetic German, she concluded with a line by the German poet Goethe. “It is not enough to know, we must apply,” Ms. Lagarde told the audience. “It is not enough to will, we must do.”

The speech made headlines around the world, evidence of a backroom dispute breaking out into the open. Yet Ms. Lagarde had arrived in Berlin on the eve of her address with a copy of the speech, for Ms. Merkel to read, before Ms. Lagarde delivered it in front of the political and foreign-policy establishment. The two women debated the crisis in private over a dinner of veal tenderloin in the modern Chancellery’s eighth-floor dining room.

Ms. Lagarde also brought Ms. Merkel an orange-blossom-scented candle from the French perfumer Fragonard. The candle represented “hope,” Ms. Lagarde said. “Because we had tough discussions,” she said, there “was an element of symbolism about it.”

Ms. Lagarde, 56, and Ms. Merkel, 57, appear to be opposites, the glamorous, Chanel-clad French extrovert and the grounded German introvert, recently spotted doing her own grocery shopping in the same suit jacket she had worn to sign the new European fiscal pact in Brussels earlier that day.

“I’ve been in government and know what securing parliamentary support means,” Ms. Lagarde said. “And equally she appreciates that I speak from a position where I have to think about not only Germany but also the whole of Europe and the stability of the international scene.”

And:

Though Europeans of the same generation, Ms. Merkel and Ms. Lagarde once had lives as divided as the continent they grew up on. Separated throughout their youths by the Iron Curtain, the odds they would meet as politicians at the highest levels was improbable.

Ms. Lagarde was a member of France’s national team for synchronized swimming. Ms. Merkel famously needed to spend an entire swimming class mustering the courage to jump off the diving board. The prospects under Communism for a pastor’s daughter like Ms. Merkel in politics were dim at best, and she became a physicist. Ms. Lagarde became a lawyer and rose to the top of an American corporate firm.

Once they entered politics, their climbs were similarly swift. Ms. Merkel was head of Germany’s largest party, the Christian Democrats, just 10 years after joining in 1990. She beat out career politicians to win the chancellorship five years later in 2005. Ms. Lagarde won the top I.M.F. post a mere six years after joining the French government as trade minister in 2005.

The personal relationship between them was nurtured when Ms. Lagarde became the first and only member of a foreign government to sit in on a German cabinet meeting in March 2010, taking her place across the Chancellery conference table from Ms. Merkel. “It was a very moving moment, because she made a point of inviting me and nobody else,” Ms. Lagarde said.

For Ms. Lagarde, sorting through the differences requires patience, as well as understanding for Ms. Merkel’s deeply analytical, scientific approach. “You have to continuously explain, rationalize, dissect the whys, the pros and the cons and plead your case,” Ms. Lagarde said. “It’s the lawyer and the physicist. I will continue to grit my teeth and smile and keep up the work.”

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Over the years I’ve read and listened to my fair share of material about “calling.”  The late James Hillman’s The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling is the only book I’ve ever read that has helped me making sense of  it (Hillman was a famous Jungian analyst and died a few weeks ago).

Hillman eloquently describes how calling  is separate from our vocation and our talents and is present at our birth. He uses the ancient word “daimon,” – religious traditions would call this a “guardian angel.”   Hillman describes the daimon as a soul-companion that never leaves your side, has your best interest at heart and helps you carry out your destiny (for more on daimons see author Elizabeth Gilbert’s popular TED talk).

Although this isn’t a parenting book, and he only touches on the topic, what he says about childhood and parenting is very compelling. Especially this:

Our lives may be determined less by our childhoods than by the way we have learned to imagine our childhoods. We are less damaged by the traumas of childhood than by the traumatic way we remember childhood as a time of unnecessary and externally caused calamities that wrongly shaped us.

In regards to children and their psychology he says:

I want us to imagine that what children go through has to do with finding a place in the world for their specific calling. They are trying to live two lives at once, the one they were born with and the one of the place and among the people they were born into.

The entire image of a destiny is packed into a tiny acorn, the seed of a huge oak on small shoulders. And its call rings loud and persistent and is as demanding as any scolding voice from the surroundings. The call shows in the tantrums and obstinacies, in the shyness and retreats, that seem to set the child against our world but that may be protections of the world it comes with and comes from.

And on how a children’s dysfunctions are part of his or her gift:

This book champions children… It seeks to make sense of children’s dysfunctions before taking these disorders by their literal labels and sending the child off for therapy… Psychopathologies are as authentic as the child itself, not secondary, contingent. Given with the child, even given to the child, the clinical data are part of its gift. This means that each child is a gifted child, filled with data of all sorts, gifts peculiar to that child which show themselves in peculiar ways, often maladaptive and causing pain. So this book is about children, offering a way to regard them differently, to enter their imaginations, and to discover in their pathologies what their daimon might be indicating and what their destiny might want.

As a parent, I often find it tedious to be a parent in an era where parent is no longer simply a noun but is now a verb (parenting). So I appreciate how Hillman disses the modern notion that a child’s fate is largely determined by his or her parents.

The worst thing a parent can do is neglect her own calling and focus solely on the child:

If we do not differentiate her daimon from her child’s, then mother must also be declared a monster maker, whose daimon or demon lives out its life in her physical child.

I also like how he lets parents off the hook here:

To expect parents to see through the child into the acorn, to know who is there in nuce, and to tend to its concerns – is far too much. That is why teachers and mentors come into the world…

As caretakers, parents cannot also be mentors. The roles and duties differ. It is enough for a parent to keep a roof over your head and food on the table, and to get you up and off to school. Providing a cave of security, a place for regressions is no small job.

One of the most painful errors we make is to expect from a parent a mentor’s vision and blessing and strict teaching, or expecting from a mentor shelter and concern for our human life.

The best thing a parent has to offer his or her children is imagination – having a fantasy about the child:

For it is not ultimately parental control or parental chaos that children run away from; they run from the void of living in a family without any fantasy beyond shopping, keeping up the car, and routines of niceness. The value of the parental fantasy for the child is that it does force it into opposition and into a beginning recognition that its heart is odd, different, and unsatisfied by the shadow cast upon it by the family’s view.

Far better for parents to wish the new baby were a boy, call her Harry, Sidney, or Clark, and cut her hair short, than for them not to have any wish at all. At least the acorn is challenged and has a reality to contend with, the reality of the parental fantasy, which can result in seeing through the parental fallacy itself – seeing that I am not conditioned by and the result of my parents.

Again, parenting is not the focus of this book, but I just wanted to highlight the parenting parts in this post. The overall theme of the book is that we should learn to exchange the term “abnormal” for “extraordinary” and discover how to correctly imagine our lives.

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I did the 30 Day Song Challenge on Facebook the past 30 days and thought I’d post them all in one post here. It was a fun challenge, but I now feel like taking a 30 day break from Facebook.

Here’s the list:

Day 1 – “Your favorite song.” The 1st movement of the Elgar Cello Concerto. Nobody performs this as well as Jacqueline Du Pre did but Alisa comes close. You can watch Du Pre perform the full movement here.

Day 2 – “Your least favorite song.” Working on the Highway by Bruce Springsteen. I like Bruce but could never fast forward past this song quick enough back in the day. Bruce has said he doesn’t like his Born in the USA album so I won’t feel bad about dissing this song. This live version seems slightly better than the studio one.

Day 3 – “A song that makes you happy.” U2 performed on cello makes me happy. This is from the new album by 2Cellos. Their version of Where The Streets Have No Name makes me even happier but there’s not a video of that one.

Day 4 – “A song that makes you sad.” Rachmaninov’s Vocalise performed on cello. This song was my constant companion for a brief period 10 years ago as I grieved a loss. The song still makes me feel sad.

Day 5 – “A song that reminds you of someone.” Downeaster Alexa by Billy Joel. This song reminds me of  my daughter Alexa because it was this song that made me aware of the existence of the name Alexa.

Day 6 – “A song that reminds you of somewhere. Walk Like an Egyptian by The Bangles. A late 80s song that reminds me of college as it was a #1 hit at the time.

Day 7 – “A song that reminds you of a certain event.” Gigue of Bach Cello Suite #6. The CD of the 6th Bach Cello Suite as performed by Yo-Yo Ma happened to be playing as daughter #3 was born. Which was fitting, as it’s the most upbeat and joyful of the 6 cello suites. So this reminds me of her birth, of course.

Day 8 – “A song you know all the words to.” Gloria by U2.

Day 9 – “A song you can dance to.” Tightrope by Janelle Monae. Monae is sometimes called the female James Brown. She’s my favorite 20something performer. This live version is excellent.

Day 10 – “A song that puts you to sleep.” A Day Without Rain by Enya. The Enya station on Pandora has helped my youngest daughters fall asleep many times.

Day 11 – “A song from your favorite band.” Mercy by U2.

Day 12 – “A song from a band you hate.” Punk Rock Girl by The Dead Milkmen.

Day 13 – “A song that is a guilty pleasure.” Ray of Light by Madonna. Yeah, there are a few Madonna songs I actually like. This is one of them, even if she does look like a tatterdemalion here.

Day 14 – “A song no one would expect you to like.” Why Can’t I Be You by The Cure. My oldest daughter was appalled recently when I told her I like some songs by The Cure. Fortunately some of my fellow Gen X Facebook friends agreed this song is pretty awesome.

Day 15 – “A song that describes you.” Party Girl by U2. The title says it all. ;-)

Day 16 – “A song you used to love but now hate.” Coldplay songs tend to age quickly, so any Coldplay song would fit the bill here.

Day 17 – “A song you hear often on the radio.” Rolling in the Deep by Adele.

Day 18 – “A song you wish you heard on the radio.” This gives me an excuse to post a Muse song. Here’s one that probably doesn’t get played on the radio in the US. This song was inspired by my favorite Depeche Mode song, Enjoy the Silence.

Day 19 – “A song from your favorite album.” Mysterious Ways by U2.

Day 20 – “A song you listen to when you’re angry.” Third movement of Summer by Antonio Vivaldi as performed by Nigel Kennedy.

Day 21 – “A song you listen to when you’re happy.” Double Violin Concerto by Bach. No instrument covers the terrain from angry and intense to ecstatic and joyful like the violin.

Day 22 – “A song you listen to when you’re sad.” Saeta by Miles Davis. My favorite Miles Davis song. It’s based on Good Friday processional music, which is why the trumpet sounds disconsolate from the 1:14 mark on.

Day 23 – “A song you want played at your wedding.” Linus & Lucy by Vince Guaraldi. Linus & Lucy was the music for our wedding processional. I’m posting the George Winston version because I like how Winston deviates from the original beginning at the 1:53 mark.

Day 24 – “A song you want played at your funeral.” Sarabande of 5th Bach Cello Suite. The most somber movement in the Bach cello suites, yet it’s also a reminder that music like this is larger than death, so it would be most appropriate to be buried to this song.

Day 25 – “A song that makes you laugh.” Hey Eugene by Pink Martini.

Day 26 – “A song you can play on an instrument.” Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. Well, I could play this in junior high. Have barely touched the piano since then.

Day 27 – “A song you wish you could play.” Bach’s Chaconne for Solo Violin. I envy violinists who get to take the 17 minute musical and spiritual journey that is the Chaconne.

Day 28 – “A song from your childhood.” You’re The One That I Want from Grease.

Day 29 – “A song that makes you feel guilty.” Get Right With God by Lucinda Williams.

Day 30 – “Your favorite song a year ago.” Escape Artist by Zoe Keating.

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It’s time to bring back the La-Di-Frickin-Da.

Below is a ten second clip of the late comedian Chris Farley saying “La-Di-Frickin-Da” in his inimitable way while performing as the Matt Foley character on Saturday Night Live in the early 1990s:


Image of Well La-Di-Freakin-Da!

It would be fun to put that as my voice mail greeting or play it each time a kid whines about something.

A couple of friends of mine and I have turned La-Di-Frickin’-Da into an acronym – LDFD – and find it comes in handy in emails and instant messages as so many things in life warrant a LDFD.  ;-)

If you’re interested in having a few laughs, click here to watch a complete Matt Foley skit. Chris Farley grew up here in Madison, WI and here’s a blog post I came across about a trip a fan made to Madison to visit Farley’s grave and favorite restaurants and such.

The blog also points to this poster (Farley died of a drug overdose):

That reminds me, I’m reading the book War of the Gods in Addiction: C.G. Jung, Alcoholics Anonymous and Archetypal Evil by David E. Schoen, a Jungian analyst. I don’t have an addiction and neither does anyone in my immediate family, but I’m highly interested in the idea posited in the book that the 12 steps in A.A. are similar to Jungian psychology. The book is based on correspondence between Bill W., a co-founder of A.A., and Jung.

Anyway, according to this book, addiction isn’t totally the person’s fault, as that poster says. But addiction isn’t just physical, however. There’s a psychological element as well. Schoen also says the cure isn’t medical:

There is a manageability to most most emotional/mental disorders other than addiction. Presently, almost all of them can be treated effectively with a combination of medications and psychotherapy. Medication and psychotherapy have not proven effective primary treatments in arresting alcoholism and addiction.

He recommends A.A. and/or Jungian psychology for a variety of reasons, because they both emphasize the spiritual as essential elements for achieving sobriety and recovery. Jung said the formula for overcoming addiction is spiritus contra spiritum (spirit of life against spirit of death).

So, even though that wasn’t my intention when starting this post, I ended up mentioning Chris Farley and Carl Jung in the same post. La-Di-Frickin-Da, as Matt Foley would say.

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While flipping through my notebook the other day I came across the notes I took last March in St. Paul, MN at the workshop with James Hollis, PhD, Jungian analyst.

Below are the notes from one of the pages and I couldn’t help but think how each sentence could be a book or workshop topic unto itself, although simply pondering each sentence is plenty of exercise for my little gray cells:

“Behind the wound lies the genius of the person.”

“Fundamentalism is an anxiety management system designed to rid ourselves of ambiguity.”

“We’re all recovering children.”

“You can’t individuate through the other but you can’t individuate without bouncing things off them.”

And my favorite:

“The cure for loneliness is solitude.”

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The 1980s was a bipolar decade for me, as I attended high school (the worst of times) and college (the best of times) in the 1980s.

I recently discovered the newly-released five volume set of Bloom County: The Complete Collection and checked out a few volumes from the library.

The Bloom County comic strip originally ran from 1980-1989. If one ever desires to revisit the 1980s in such a way as to laugh at the pop culture icons, politicians and other absurdities of that era, Bloom County is the way to go. The books have margin notes written by Berke Breathed to explain the forgotten pop culture references. He also dishes some fun behind-the-scenes dirt.

When I was in college everyone was into Bloom County, it seemed, and Opus T-Shirts and stuffed toys were everywhere. During the 1985-86 academic year my roommates and I taped every Bloom County strip from that year to the back of our apartment door.

While paging through the volumes I was happy to be reminded of the dandelion break (click image to see larger version):

And reaquaint myself with Binkley’s closet of anxieties:

Plus the many other story lines, such as Opus’s nose job.

I also like the lyrics to the song The 1983 Blues, which appeared in one of the Sunday strips:

Oh mama, got dese eighty-three blues,
The days are dull, can’t find the fuse.
Preppies! Punkies! No friends o’ mine!
I think I’ll tie-dye my Calvin Kleins.

Yeah, we’ve lost the beat, Jack Kerouac!

Help us, Elvis, please take us back,
To when a “Cool Cat” would never mean
Garfield locked in an ice machine!

Black Panthers! Libbers! A campus to seize!

Now that’s what we need plus a hippie or three!
Yet Valley Girls sit on our cultural turf,
Gross me out, baby! Gag me with a smurf!

So mama help me, I’m losin’ all hopes,

Bob Dylan’s at home a-watching the soaps!
Can’t say much for my G-G-Generation…
The Times; I wish they were a-changin’!!
After that reminder of Valley Girls and Smurfs I think I need a Dandelion Break now.

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If you’re ready for a tour of the “great beery, NASCAR loving, church-going, gun-owning America that has never set foot in a Starbucks,” and learn why they tend to vote for rich Republicans, then I urge you to read Deer Hunting with Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War by Joe Bageant.

Even if you’re not ready for such a tour I recommend you read the book anyway because it will challenge you, regardless of what your political beliefs are (he disses Democrats as often as he does Republicans), plus he’s a compelling storyteller. You’ll find yourself getting caught up in the stories of the people he knows in Winchester, like Dottie. (Here’s an excerpt I typed up from the book that will introduce you to Dottie. It’s long but I hope you’ll read it.)

The author grew up in a redneck family in Winchester, VA and returns to this community in his late 50s after a 30 year absence. He observed the  ways his working class family and friends had been “degraded and devalued” by the same forces they vote for in the voting booths (i.e. the working class tends to vote Republican). He wrote this book in 2007 to describe how his neighborhood in the richest nation on each is having a hard go of it.

Here’s just some of what you’ll learn from the book:

  • Why the working poor kid themselves they are middle class. (p. 5)
  • The real definition of “working class” (it has nothing to do with income or the color of your collar). (p. 11)
  • The role revenge against upper class snobbery plays in the voting preferences of the working class. (p. 14)
  • The only two American presidents who campaigned for universal health care (shockingly, both of them were Republicans). (p. 25)
  • How small businesses aren’t the bedrock of democracy you might think they are and why they are really “small feudal systems ruled by local networks of moneyed families, bankers, developers, lawyers and merchants.” (p. 44)
  • The difference between rednecks and white trash. (p. 70)
  • How getting a lousy education and spending a lifetime pitted against your co-workers in the “gladiatorial theater of the free market economy” allows working people to accept America’s wars without a blink. (p. 71)
  • Where the dreams of the working class go to die. (p. 73)
  • The #1 mistake the left made in dealing with the dissatisfaction of the working class and how the right swooped in and and tapped into working class dissatisfaction with great effectiveness. (p. 81)
  • How rich Republicans are able to connect with the working class on the working class’s own turf. (p. 84)
  • The true source of working class anger (hint: it has very little to do with abortion, gay rights or other political issues). (p. 89)
  • What happens when we stand by and “watch the humanity get hammered out of our fellow citizens, letting them be worked cheap and farmed like a human crop for profit.” (p. 91)
  • Why nobody but the soldier’s family and church gives a hoot when a working class soldier dies in a war. (p. 94)
  • The new terms of discrimination and how they are all about homes, vacations and private education. (p. 103)
  • What “white trashonomics” is and why it never works out. (p. 104)
  • Why the biggest organized racket in the US is the dream of owning one’s own home. (p. 106)
  • Why gun ownership touches the lives of most heartland voters even more than gay marriage, abortion, affirmative action and animal rights. (p. 132)
  • Think we need more gun control? You’ll rethink that when reading how poor women benefit the most from concealed-carry laws. (p. 135)
  • The real problem behind crime and how to whack the crime rate without hysterical “crime is caused by guns.” (p. 135)
  • Why the “theology of despair” is so seductive and how it is shaping the spirituality of millions of Christians today. (p. 166)
  • Why the most obvious class indicator in America is religious belief and how religious zeal is concentrated in lower class and working class whites. (p. 182).
  • The significance of one of the least understood political events in America: the conversion of millions of people from apolitical Christians into Christian political activists. (p. 188)
  • The main difference between Republicans and Democrats. (p. 260)
  • The two things our culture is based on. (p. 262).

Well, I could go on, but I hope that’s enough to interest you in the book. The most upsetting chapter for me was the one on health care. It was troubling to read about how nonprofit hospitals are the largest generator of bankruptcies. They tend to channel their profits into more buildings instead of reducing medical costs and care for the poor and drive small town hospitals out of business. Dottie makes an appearance in this section as well.

Anyway, this book is the best book I’ve ever read about class in America. Bobos In Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There is a close second.

I’ll close with this poignant question Bageant asks:  ”If the left is not about class equity, what is it about?”

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I discovered Death Cab For Cutie’s new song You Are A Tourist this morning and have been listening to it repeatedly while working on a writing project.

When I first heard the line, “there’s a burning in your heart,” I thought it was, “there’s a party in your heart.” Our parakeet Shirley sings wildly while this song plays so I couldn’t hear the line properly, but I like my misinterpretation better than the original anyway. There’s obviously a party in her heart while singing along to this. Birds are as particular as we humans are in their musical preferences. She doesn’t sing along with any of the other songs on the new Death Cab For Cutie album. Neither do I, as it turns out.

Here’s a video of the song:

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What do physicians have in common with NASCAR racers? What are the 3 essential skills today’s doctors need that don’t have anything to do with medicine? Read this from the New Yorker and find out.

Why is the Republican party no longer a comfortable fit for many doctors? Why do many doctors now support health insurance mandates and no longer care so much about limiting their own liability? Read this from the New York Times and find out.

As an aside, I’m always drawn to articles like these, partially because my paternal grandfather was a physician from the 1930s-1970s, but mostly because my mother was a RN in the 1960s-70s and told me countless nursing stories while I was growing up, which were far more enthralling to me than any story book she could have read to me. I suppose it’s not surprising that while I was in high school I picked up brochures from the guidance counselor’s office about anesthesiologists, oncologists, nursing, EMTs and physician’s assistants and fantasized about those sorts of medical careers. My father worked in insurance and those stories weren’t nearly as interesting, so that wasn’t on my list of things to do when I grew up.

Somewhat ironically, the closest I ever came to working in the medical field was when I worked part-time for an insurance company, of all places, during most of the 1990s. I was a unit leader and helped make sure the claims processors did their job correctly. I was certified as proficient in medical terminology and knew the most common procedure codes and ICD-9 diagnosis codes by heart. If only I had a dime for every 401.9 (hypertension), 250.00 (diabetes mellitus), 311 (depression) or 473.9 (sinusitis) claim I processed. I haven’t worked in that field for more than a decade but still remember many of the numbers and have visions of rattling off such numbers when I’m old and can’t remember the things I did five minutes ago. “Do the doctors think I have 290.20?” I’ll probably repeatedly ask my daughters. ;-)

Anyway, as dry as all that sounds, there were times I was able to glimpse the patient behind the insurance claim. When a claims processor in my unit would come upon a difficult claim that was as thick as a doctoral dissertation, he or she would usually slip into despair because processing that claim would take so much time it would make their speed percentage plummet (claims processors had to maintain high accuracy and speed percentages or, eventually, get demoted to the mail room). As a unit leader I was exempt from maintaining such percentages so I would usually take the claim off his or her hands and process it myself.

There were a few times I discreetly cried while processing those claims because the story the procedure codes and diagnosis codes told was a medical nightmare. I would feel terrible for the patient and his or her family. I carefully read those procedure codes and DX codes as if I was reading a novel. Page after page after page the story unfolded through the numbers. I made sure to process such claims with extreme care so that the claim would be paid correctly and the patient wouldn’t receive an erroneous bill, which would only have added yet more stress to their lives. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to taking care of a patient.

So I can see why the doctor in the New Yorker article I cited above says it’s pit crews today’s patients need. It can’t all fall onto the physician’s shoulders. And as Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen said in Kitchen Table Wisdom, “We are all providers of each other’s health… we are all wounded healers of each other. We have earned the wisdom to heal and the ability to care.”

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Filed under: Kitchen Table Wisdom (the book)ReflectionsStories/Storytelling

“We know so little about even those who are closest to us. We know so litle of what really goes on in other people’s lives.” – Ginerva in Wheel of Fortune by Susan Howatch


I went on the other day about Susan Howatch’s Starbridge series of novels, but should also mention that she wrote many books prior to Starbridge.

Until recently, I had never read any of those books, for fear they wouldn’t be as substantive and enthralling, and I didn’t want to be disillusioned. I finally manned up and started reading Wheel of Fortune last week, as many Howatch fans consider this to be her best pre-Starbridge novel.

Her earliest works are “gothic” novels, followed by the family sagas such as Wheel of Fortune. There’s a clear demarcation between these works and the Starbridge series because, according to her Wikipedia page:

Howatch found herself “rich, successful, and living exactly where I wanted to live,” but feeling a spiritual emptiness which she ascribed to “trying to hold my divided self together” and questioning her life and what she should do with it…

She experienced a spiritual epiphany, and concluded that she should continue to write novels, but to “set forth my discoveries in the light of faith, no matter how feeble and inadequate my beginner’s faith was.”

The Starbridge novels sprang from that and this is why they feature clerical figures, but, make no mistake, they don’t at all fit into the Christian fiction category in the Family Bookstore sense of the term and most readers of that sort of fiction would be put off by these novels.

Anyway, back to Wheel of Fortune, which could just as easily be called Wheel of Misfortune, as it details the trials of a rich family during the span of a few generations. It’s a 1000 page novel and I didn’t notice until I was about 20 pages in that the copy I was reading was volume 2 of that novel and began on page 474. Oops. That says something about Howatch’s storytelling, that I was able to begin reading halfway through and immediately be swept away by the story.

A Facebook friend posted this Flannery O’Connor quote yesterday and I thought it tied in well with Howatch:

There is something in us as story-tellers that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance of restoration. The reader looks for this motion, and rightly so, but he has forgotten the cost of it. His sense of evil is deluded or lacking altogether, and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. He has forgotten the cost of truth, even in fiction.

Howatch tells the Wheel of Fortune story from the perspective of several characters. You’ll be reading along and then suddenly it will be another character’s turn to pick up the story where the previous character left off and you’ll be all, “No! I was having fun reading from this character’s perspective!” Inevitably the next character is someone who was portrayed negatively by the previous character and, inevitably, when you start seeing the story from their own perspective, you’ll start liking them and be surprised at how insightful, charming and empathetic that character can be, even though the previous character may have portrayed them negatively.

The quote I put at the top of this post from the Wheel of Fortune reflects this and is what I consider to be the main theme of the novel: “We know so little about even those who are closest to us. We know so little of what really goes on in other people’s lives.”

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