Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Review

This one from Carolyn Sieradzki of Silver Spring, Maryland.

Consider This, Señora Harcourt Brace & Company
Harriet Doerr 15 East 26th Street
New York, NY 10010
Copyright 1993
ISBN: Q-15-193103-8 Reviewed: November 30, 2009

To continue with the simile first used by my mother-in-law, this book also does not taste like milk. It tastes like a banana. After one has read the jacket notes, one opens the peel with anticipation brought on by color and hints of bruising, secrets within the protective covering, and certainty of the varieties of smell, taste and texture, even threads that remind one of mysterious permanence.

Immediately after the peel is drawn down like a woman’s nightgown, a burst of scent erupts like an upward spray of mist. But it is not an olfactory image. It is the introduction of three of the characters, described with the precision of eruption. Essential details about their lives and their personalities crowd into the reader’s mind in a flurry. Those details will not be forgotten, nor will the details of the deal the three strike; they lay the foundation for all that follows.

The jacket notes say that Consider This, Señora is the story of the lives and internal discoveries of the Americans who have come to a Mexican mesa. The novel equally captures life and discovery among the Mexicans who live in the town below. Their lives reflect and intersect with those of the Americans.

As the reader unfolds the outer story of the book, the effects of the bruises emerge: some are learned from experience, some consumed without gain, and some even set aside without consideration or expression. The very existence of secrets – as in life everywhere – complicates and somehow comforts every interaction. The secrets are memories; present events known only to the participants; dreams for the future; wisdom known but unspoken. No one is without them.

The ever-present thread, like that found between the peel and the flesh of the banana, is the coming and going of the rainy season and – when the rain is gone for long periods – the desperate need for water and the failure of authority to heed pleas for help. It is that often annoying remnant of our primal selves that we all experience, dependent on something outside ourselves that we cannot control and for the failure of which there is no help.

One of the inhabitants on the mesa, a musician, brings a piano and, for months, plays only a single note, like the taste of the banana as we hurry to consume it on our way to work. But just as the first rain brings needed water for the crops and for the household, music – in every form from sonata to opera, from fugue to rhapsody – simultaneously begins to pour forth from the piano. This music becomes the source and symbol of renewal. It brings with it discovery of the diverse flavors of the banana – the colors found in overt descriptions of materials, flowers and scenery, as well as in the dimensions of the characters’ fruitful inner lives. Finally, each of the Americans finds that which they sought.

A friend loaned Consider This, Señora to me in a bag of books I “really should read,” without saying a word about it; I was completely surprised to find it so delightful. It is not a “heavy read.” One could easily sit and read it straight through because it is not only an effortless read, it is very engaging. You want to know what happens next, and you would rather not wait until tomorrow to find out.

Harriet Doerr entered the community of authors as a relatively older woman. She has received numerous honors and awards, including the American Book Award in 1984 for her novel, Stones for Ibarra.

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