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.
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).
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).
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.
The American novelist CG FEWSTON has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy), a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, & he’s a been member of the Hemingway Society, Americans for the Arts, PEN America, Club Med, & the Royal Society of Literature. He’s also a been Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) based in London.
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father’s Son (2005), The New America: A Collection (2007), The Mystic’s Smile ~ A Play in 3 Acts (2007), Vanity of Vanities (2011), A Time to Love in Tehran (2015), Little Hometown, America (2020); A Time to Forget in East Berlin (2022), and Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being (2023).
He has a B.A. in English, an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors), and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing & Fiction. He was born in Texas in 1979.
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“An engrossing story of clandestine espionage… a testament to the lifestyle encountered in East Berlin at the height of the Cold War.”
“There is no better way for readers interested in Germany’s history and the dilemma and cultures of the two Berlins to absorb this information than in a novel such as this, which captures the microcosm of two individuals’ love, relationship, and options and expands them against the blossoming dilemmas of a nation divided.”
~ D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review
“A Time to Forget in East Berlin is a dream-like interlude of love and passion in the paranoid and violent life of a Cold War spy. The meticulous research is evident on every page, and Fewston’s elegant prose, reminiscent of novels from a bygone era, enhances the sensation that this is a book firmly rooted in another time.”
“Vivid, nuanced, and poetic…”
“Fewston avoids familiar plot elements of espionage fiction, and he is excellent when it comes to emotional precision and form while crafting his varied cast of characters.”
“There’s a lot to absorb in this book of hefty psychological and philosophical observations and insights, but the reader who stays committed will be greatly rewarded.”
“Readers of The Catcher in the Rye and similar stories will relish the astute, critical inspection of life that makes Little Hometown, America a compelling snapshot of contemporary American life and culture.”
“Fewston employs a literary device called a ‘frame narrative’ which may be less familiar to some, but allows for a picture-in-picture result (to use a photographic term). Snapshots of stories appear as parts of other stories, with the introductory story serving as a backdrop for a series of shorter stories that lead readers into each, dovetailing and connecting in intricate ways.”
“The American novelist CG FEWSTON tells a satisfying tale, bolstered by psychology and far-ranging philosophy, calling upon Joseph Campbell, J. D. Salinger, the King James Bible, and Othello.”
“In this way, the author lends intellectual heft to a family story, exploring the ‘purity’ of art, the ‘corrupting’ influences of publishing, the solitary artist, and the messy interconnectedness of human relationships.”
GOLD Winner in the 2020 Human Relations Indie Book Awards for Contemporary Realistic Fiction
FINALIST in the SOUTHWEST REGIONAL FICTION category of the 14th Annual National Indie Excellence 2020 Awards (NIEA)
“Fewston’s lyrical, nostalgia-steeped story is told from the perspective of a 40-year-old man gazing back on events from his 1980s Texas childhood…. the narrator movingly conveys and interprets the greater meanings behind childhood memories.”
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American Novelist CG FEWSTON
This is my good friend, Nicolasa (Nico) Murillo, CRC, who is a professional chef & a wellness mentor. I’ve known her since childhood & I’m honored to share her story with you. In life, we all have ups & downs, some far more extreme than others. Much like in Canada, in America, the legalization of marijuana has become a national movement, which includes safe & legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use & research for all.
“This is a wellness movement,” Nico explains. The wellness movement is focused on three specific areas: information, encouragement, & accountability.
In these stressful & unprecedented times, it makes good sense to promote & encourage the state or condition of being in good physical & mental health.
The mission of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research.
TEXANS FOR SAFE ACCESS ~ share the mission of their national organization, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), which is to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research, for all Texans.
Stay safe & stay happy. God bless.
Nico Murillo Bio ~ Americans & Texans for Safe Access ~ Medical Cannabis