Thursday, February 19, 2015
Mini-Reviews: Lost and Found & Etta and Otto and Russell and James
As discussion about reading diversely is (thankfully) going on in many corners of the internet, I started to think about other groups that are not often reflected in literature. Many, many stories revolve around young and beautiful people. So I've started looking out for books about people who show up at 4:30 to eat the early bird special, and I recently read two really wonderful books with starring roles for senior citizens.
In Lost and Found, the reader encounters a zany trio of characters: Millie Bird is a seven year old girl with red boots who has been deserted by her mother in the underwear section of a department store; Karl the Touch Typist is an elderly man who finds life in a nursing home less than appealing; and Agatha Pantha is an old woman who hasn't left the house since her husband died and spends her days yelling at the people who pass by. When the three of them set out to find Millie's mother, they will learn more about life, death, and love than they ever imagined possible.
Etta and Otto and Russell and James concerns people going their own ways instead of coming together. After a lifetime with her husband Otto, elderly and often forgetful Etta sets out on her own with the determination to see the ocean at least once before she dies. Back at home, Otto turns to a lifetime of memories and a growing collection of paper mache creations to keep him company. Their next door neighbor and long-time friend Russell is torn between the actions of the people he loves most: does he stay at home with the comfort of his routine or embark on the journey of a lifetime?
I loved both of these books, although they dealt with two ends of the aging spectrum. In Lost and Found, Millie Bird is just learning about the realities of death after she loses her father. As she learns to deal with grief in a child-like way, Agatha and Karl also must make big decisions after losing their life-long companions. It seems so easy to give in to the grief, give up on life, and just wait for the inevitable end. (Minor spoiler ahead) But the colorful duo eventually decide to embrace life with all of its possibilities and to open themselves up again to friendship and maybe even to love.
The characters in Etta and Otto and Russell and James, on the other hand, are looking at the end of life. What things must we achieve before we can let go? Who and what becomes most important when we know our days are numbered? This story is divided between the action happening in the present and the recollections of the characters about their pasts. It's interesting to see their pasts informing their decisions and how memories become almost collective after a lifetime of love. I enjoyed both timelines, which is rare for a book split into two time periods.
There is something strangely shared between childhood and those last years of life. Crazy decisions are overlooked with the understanding that you are new to life and don't know the rules yet or that you only have a little bit left, so we let things slide. There is also an openness and a willingness to believe in things like love, forgiveness, and maybe even magic that are lost in those hectic middle years of life. I loved that both authors captured that feeling.
Lost and Found is a more humorous tale, as the trio embarks on a madcap adventure. Etta and Otto and Russell and James reaches into the past instead of utilizing humor as we learn how our three friends met, fell in love, and were separated by a terrible war. Readers will fall head over heels for the characters in both stories and be reminded of the fragility and beauty of life.
Lost and Found by Brooke Davis
Hachette January 2015, 272 pages, read via Netgalley
Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper
Simon and Schuster January 2015, 320 pages, from the library