Saturday, May 31, 2008

An interesting little book

I just finished reading a little book that I imagine a lot of PFLAG members would enjoy reading, so I’m going to donate it to the PFLAG library. It is Summer at the End of the World by Kristen Kingdon, a former executive director at PFLAG National.

The book is strange in that it is ostensibly a novel but really more of a memoir. In an introduction, Kingdon explains that everything that takes place in the book up until a certain point is a retelling of her own life story and that everything after that point is fiction. The part that she says is fiction reads like a novel, as it should. The reader gets wrapped up in the lives of the characters and can empathize with their feelings. The parts that are memoir are less captivating and too brief. Major events such as childhood sexual abuse and getting pregnant and putting the baby up for adoption are glossed over way too briefly. Reading those sections I felt as if I were reading a synopsis, not the real story. I wanted it fleshed out much more. I wanted to share her feelings not just hear her recite what happened. I wanted to read a palpable description of how she felt when her mother made light of the sexual abuse. She sums up: “…the worst was when (mother) became defensive, protective toward the neighbors (the abusers), and minimized what had happened and its impact on me.” If she had adhered to the old writing dictum “show, don’t tell,” that could have been powerful writing.

But then she gets to the heart of the story – the protagonist’s escape to the wilderness after the death of her husband, and the writing gets much better. Here she allows the reader to picture events and not just hear about them. Living alone in an isolated cabin in Nova Scotia with visits first from a sister and later from her son and his partner, she takes an inner journey to find meaning in life and strength to carry on, which leads to a new awakening during a mule-packing hike in the mountains with her son, his partner and a dog named Amber.

The more interesting parts of the story are her struggles to accept her son after he comes out as gay and her struggles with her church over the issue of ordination of gay pastors. Her journey to acceptance is similar to such journeys many PFLAG parents have talked about in meetings, and the part about the ordination is based on fact, as the writer is an elder in the Prebyterian Church and did take part in the church’s debates over the issue.

It is a very small book and an easy read.

- Alec

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