My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around (2016) by Ann Garvin (who lives in Stoughton, Wisconsin) carries the reader into the daily life of Tig (short for Tiger Lily) Monahan, a therapist who is attempting to understand why her boyfriend Pete (short, I am sure, for Peter Pan) left her all alone in Wisconsin and flew to Hawaii (an allusion to the island of Neverland) just before Tig’s older sister, Wendy, decided to abandon her newborn baby with Tig (another indirect reference to Peter Pan, who was also abandoned as a babe).
The allusions to Peter Pan from Peter and Wendy (1911) by J.M. Barrie are ever self-evident and often distracting, pulling the reader out of the fictive dream of the narrative (it cannot be mere coincidence that all these “human beings” are named from the Peter Pan stories).
Even the name Alec, who is J.M. Barrie’s older brother, is remembered in Ann’s book as Tig’s second love interest by the story’s end. Tig’s father, Dan, refers indirectly to both Daniel, Wendy Darling’s son, and author Dr. Dan Kiley, who made famous a syndrome in his 1983 book: The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men who have never grown up.
Although the allusions overwhelm this cozy afternoon read mostly meant for mothers and female readers in general, the book does hold an appeal for the more sensitive of male readers who like to search for clues which lead to a deeper meaning in a story.
Added to Tig’s endless sky of problems, she has lost her job and attempts to console her elderly mother, Hallie, who has dementia and has been thrust into a care center called Thor Jenson’s Hope House to live out her final days lost somewhere in the broken pieces of the past and the present.
(Photo taken in Shenzhen, China)
The mother, however, seems to be more sane and ever present than Tig would like to admit. Look at the following conversation between mother and daughter:
“I want.” Says the mother, Hallie.
“I know, you’ve always loved pie.” Says the daughter, Tig.
“Always, you’ve always loved pie.”
“You can always have pie, Mom.”
Now remove the daughter’s dialogue and see what the mother is attempting to tell her daughter who is failing at true empathic listening:
“I want [to go home]. When… can I… go home?”
The relationship is classic occidental elderly care giving among the children and their parents (note, oriental care giving for the elderly usually consists of the parents residing with their children until death).
The conversation continues even after Tig has failed to understand her mother’s true desire.
Tig says, “You are home, Mom.”
“Her mother, entirely disgusted, came out with the very clear, ‘You eat it,’ shoving the wheeled hospital table away with the half-eaten slice of pie. Tig put her fork down and swallowed the mouthful of overly sugary pie filling that left a slick residue on her tongue. When the nursing assistant came in to help her mother to the bathroom, Tig said, in almost as wretched a whisper as her mother, ‘I want to go home.’ And she did” (p 42).
(Photo taken in Shenzhen, China)
One can forgive the antecedent (“nursing assistant”) not matching its following pro-form (“her” mother), which could add confusion to the most careful of readers, but one cannot forgive Tig’s infantile ego which withholds from her mother the very thing Tig is able to give to herself: the chance to go home (which is a trait shared more with Wendy Darling than Tiger Lily in the Peter Pan stories). The story is filled with such infantile egos, unraveling and uncertain.
But there is more to Tig’s journey, like a bit of humor along the way, as she sorts out the mess that is her diurnal life by book’s end.
Finding her path as a radio therapist helping callers figure out what is “fair,” Tig comes across some amusing characters and perversions like the following:
“Glancing at Macie, she widened her eyes. Macie nodded, gestured for her to wait for it.
“‘Sleep is good. Anyways, I forgot to take it the other night, y’know, cause it’s new n’ all, and I woke up in the middle of the night to my husband, y’know, having, um…sex with me. Like, he thought I was asleep.’
“Tig jerked her head back to Macie, who nodded feverishly.
“The caller continued, ‘So, what I want to know is… is that wrong?’” (p 96).
There is also the mystery of Hallie and her lover who gave her a bracelet with the inscription: “If I could tell you”:
“Tig brushed a lock of hair off her forehead, and the silver bracelet glittered and slid down her wrist. Dr. Jenson gestured at it and said, ‘That’s a pretty bracelet.’
“She smiled and lifted her wrist. ‘Just another mystery of my mother’s. I found it in her stuff. It’s engraved.’ She tilted the silver tile. ‘I don’t know where it came from. I never saw it before.’
“‘If I could tell you,’ he read. ‘If I remember right, that’s the beginning of a poem of some sort.’ He shifted his weight and looked away” (p 125).
(photo: June 15, 2012)
Garvin’s beauty and control of language, however, delight the reader far more often than the amusing side characters and the mystery which tug the story gently forward. Garvin captures humanity at its most raw and most vulnerable moments which keep the reader connected to the protagonist as one might be connected to a sister or a brother.
Here (Garvin at her strongest), Tig holds her sister’s daughter, Clementine, and asks one of the most beautiful questions a woman could ask of herself:
“Clementine gurgled and sucked her fist. Her clear-eyed gaze made Tig’s throat ache and she swallowed, trying to hold back tears. ‘Your mommy is coming back, sweetie. Don’t you worry about that. Your mommy will be back. And when she comes, we’re going to punch her hard. Yes, we are.’
“A nursing assistant passing by the room stuck her head inside.
“‘She looks just like you,’ she said and smiled warmly.
“Tig tried a smile, but her lips trembled and she returned her gaze to Clementine. She traced her finger from Clementine’s forehead to the tip of her nose, finishing at her tiny, tented lip. ‘The big question in my mind is not if your mom is coming back. It’s if Pete is, and if I’ll get a chance at having someone like you’” (p 170).
At only 287 pages I Like You Just Fine When You’re Not Around can be read in an afternoon sitting or two over coffee or hot tea.
With such fine and exquisite writing, Ann Garvin cares deeply about each individual character that she spins a fairytale not out of magic but out of hope and despair, out of the things readers know to be true to life, true to the heart, and for that any reader can give thanks to a story told well and to a writer bold enough to tell it.
CG FEWSTON, an American novelist based in Hong Kong, is a member of Club Med, AWP, Americans for the Arts, and a professional member and advocate of the PEN American Center, advocating for the freedom of expression around the world.
His novel, A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN, won GOLD for Literary Classics’ 2015 best book in the category under “Special Interest” for “Gender Specific – Female Audience” and has been called a “cerebral, fast-paced thriller” by Kirkus Reviews, where it gained over 10,000 shares.
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN was also nominated for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize, the 2016 PEN/Faulkner Award, the 2016 John Gardner Fiction Book Award, the 2016 Young Lions Fiction Award, the 2016 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, the 2016 Hammett Prize, and the 2016 Pushcart Prize.
CG FEWSTON has travelled the world visiting Mexico, the island of Guam, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Taipei & Beitou in Taiwan, Bali in Indonesia, and in China: Guilin, Shenzhen, Sanya (on Hainan Island) and Beijing. He also enjoys studying and learning French, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin.
CG FEWSTON earned a B.A. in English & American Literature from HPU in Texas, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership and Administration (honors) from JIU in Colorado, an M.A. in Literature (honors) from Stony Brook University in New York, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University, where he had the chance to work with wonderful and talented novelists like Richard Adams Carey (author of In the Evil Day, October 2015; and, The Philosopher Fish, 2006) and Jessica Anthony (author of Chopsticks, 2012; and, The Convalescent, 2010) as well as New York Times Best-Selling novelists Matt Bondurant (author of The Night Swimmer, 2012; and, The Wettest County in the World, 2009, made famous in the movie Lawless, 2012) and Wiley Cash (author of A Land More Kind Than Home, 2013; and, This Dark Road to Mercy, 2014).
Among many others, CG FEWSTON’S stories, photographs and essays have appeared in Sediments Literary–Arts Journal, Bohemia, Ginosko Literary Journal, GNU Journal (“Hills Like Giant Elephants”), Polychrome Ink Literary Magazine, Tendril Literary Magazine, Prachya Review (“The One Who Had It All”), Driftwood Press, The Missing Slate Literary Magazine (“Darwin Mother”), Gravel Literary Journal, Foliate Oak Magazine, The Writer’s Drawer, Moonlit Road, Nature Writing, and Travelmag: The Independent Spirit; and for several years he was a contributor to Vietnam’s national premier English newspaper, Tuoi Tre, “The Youth Newspaper.”
You can read more about CG FEWSTON and his writing at
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN won GOLD for Literary Classics’ 2015 best book in the category under ”Special Interest” for “Gender Specific – Female Audience”…
Finalist in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Romantic Fiction…
Finalist in the 2015 Mystery & Mayhem Novel Writing Contest…
Praise for A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN:
“Fewston delivers an atmospheric and evocative thriller in which an American government secret agent must navigate fluid allegiances and murky principles in 1970s Tehran… A cerebral, fast-paced thriller.”
— Kirkus Reviews
“A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a thrilling adventure which takes place in pre-revolutionary Tehran. Author CG FEWSTON provides a unique glimpse into this important historical city and its rich culture during a pivotal time in its storied past. This book is so much more than a love story. Skillfully paired with a suspenseful tale of espionage, A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a riveting study of humanity. Replete with turns & twists and a powerful finish, FEWSTON has intimately woven a tale which creates vivid pictures of the people and places in this extraordinary novel.”
CG FEWSTON‘s new novel,
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN, was published on April 2, 2015 —
10 years to the day of the publication
of his first novella, A FATHER’S SON (April 2, 2005)
“Thus one skilled at giving rise to the extraordinary
is as boundless as Heaven and Earth,
as inexhaustible as the Yellow River and the ocean.
Ending and beginning again,
like the sun and moon. Dying and then being born,
like the four seasons.”
found in Sources of Chinese Tradition, p 5
American Novelist CG FEWSTON with his son, Thor