Set in a small Midwestern town in the 1960s, Square Affair explores the impact of a public indecency trial on the accused, their families, and the community as a whole.
I found Square Affair a compelling read. The small town gossip is familiar to anyone who has spent time in towns like this- everyone knows what’s going on with everyone else. Or they at least think they do. And everyone feels free to judge without knowing the whole story. Reading Square Affair with an eye of 2015 looking back to the 1960’s- before my time- it’s easy to see how much things have changed, and how much they have remained the same. It’s a novel not out of place now.
The most interesting parts of the story to me were those of the accused men and their families. Some of these men struggled mightily with who society expected them to be and who they are at their core. Each of them has a choice to make on how they want to live the rest of their life, knowing that their indiscretion and future choices impact not just them, but their families.
The spouses are an intriguing part of the story, too. Each of the women must decide if she is willing to stay with her marriage knowing what she does about her husband, or if living truthfully is better. Similarly, this same argument plays out among parents and children and communities and neighbors.
The key is, there isn’t an obviously right or wrong answer here. That’s the beauty of the book. It doesn’t present black and white answers, but more the inner turmoil of the people involved. Each of the men has his own reasons for his choices, illustrating once again that we are all complex individuals with different motivations for our behavior.
I did feel like Square Affair wrapped up and ended rather abruptly. I felt like there could have been a little more, or rather, I didn’t expect to go from the last scene in the book into an immediate Conclusion. Overall, though, I enjoyed Square Affair. I encourage anyone with an eye towards current events to take a read of this one.
I was offered an advance copy of this book for review in exchange for an honest review. I have not seen the published copy, so I am not sure if there are any major differences based on the difference in editions.
I don’t know precisely why all of this is coming up now, or why I feel the need to share it, but I am writing it down nonetheless. I think it is the result of some new friends I’ve made and some books I’m currently reading. I’ve been thinking about my childhood.
I was raised on Creedence Clearwater Revival and Elvis and Johnny Cash. My dad loved to sing “Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog.” I had records of The Chipmunks Go To Hollywood, and Urban Chipmunk. We played the Beach Boys over and over again.
As a small child, I went to the beach and the pool in two-piece and one-piece swim suits. For a long time, my only neighborhood playmates were boys and we swam together and played together, relatively unsupervised (stay withing whistling distance, be home before dark, don’t play in the yards of people you’re not playing with), with no major incidents.
When I transferrd to an evangelical private school during my second semester of kindergarten, I was faced with a whole new set of rules that taught me quickly to live a compartmentalized double life. Let me back up a bit, give you a little more context.
My parents were unimpressed with the public elementary school in our district. We were not an overly religious family. My father was not a regular church attender, my mother moreso. They were conservative and strict but not – at least to my four year old self- overbearingly so. My dad in particular wanted a more rigorous academic curriculum where I would learn strong math skills. This private school was the only real option, and I don’t think my parents realized the level of indoctrination I would face.
And that began my elementary school education in evangelical schools, save one semester of fourth grade. Here’s what I learned.
At school, I learned that “rock music affects every beat of your heart,” so there I kept quiet about Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Righteous Brothers and the J. Geils Band, and Joan Jett and The Blackhearts (that surely would have been a one-way ticket to hell) and the country music that played in our car radios and home stereos. I learned that four-year-olds- all kids, even tiny babies who can’t do anything except lay around, are born so inherently evil that if something happened and they died, they wouldn’t go to heaven unless they had accepted Jesus. And although a part of me wondered what a four year old could ever do that would be THAT bad, it was terrifying.
I learned that the only appropriate attire for girls is dresses. And that meant restricting climbing on the playground equipment lest your business be seen.
I learned that you should always be quiet- in class (yes, of course), in lines, in cafeterias, in bathrooms, in hallways. And that it was a privilege to be a line or hall monitor, to tattle on other students, who didn’t adhere to the code of conduct. Like the Inquisitorial Squad in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I didn’t see the disconnect then. My own parents taught me not to be a tattle-tale, yet it was a coveted position in elementary school.
Academically, I did learn to read at age 4 and had strong math skills. I learned basic science alongside creationism. And bible lesson after bible lesson. I learned that “O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E, Obedience is the very best way to show that you believe.” I learned that god was always, always watching so be careful of what our eyes saw, or ears heard… you get the picture. I learned that in elementary school, I was in an ARMY! I was being primed to fight!
In fourth grade we moved and I started a new evangelical school. I continued to learn. I learned that appropriate reading for fourth grade students were stories in our bible class about snakes eating baby chicks – something about the mother trying to protect them but the farmer forcing a bad situation that caused the chicks to be eaten and the snake coiled up like a hose inside the barn. I can’t recall what this was even attempting to teach us, but I know that even now I look warily at a folded hose before I go near it. I also learned about sacrifice- a mother duck or chicken (what did these people have against our feathered friends?) sat on top of her hatchlings and burned to death protecting them from a fire. I think this was supposed to relate to Jesus’ sacrifice to save us from (literally, in this story) burning to death.
I learned what baptist catechism was, and the glories of rote memorization. You believed it because you memorized it.
Who made you? God made me.
What else did God make? God made me and all things.
Those are the only two I remember, but I also remember my dad being outraged that we were being forced to memorize this indoctrination.
I learned that in my own home, I sometimes couldn’t listen to my records or normal radio stations when certain friends came over, because they were only allowed to listen to the local christian station.
In fifth grade- maybe sixth- I learned it was no longer appropriate to swim with boys. I learned that I should not attend movies- maybe renting a G-rated film was OK, but what message would it be sending to be seen going into a movie theater? And that when I went to the mall, I should really wear the same skirts and dresses I would wear to school, although until high school, this wasn’t a requirement. I learned that my dad was most certainly going to hell because he didn’t go to church, and that I was failing because I had not converted him. That’s a heavy burden to place on a child.
We moved again in the latter half of sixth grade, and I began public school for the rest of my academic career. The affects of the indoctrination have long lingered. What’s weird to me is that I didn’t see the insidiousness of it for years. And now that I have been free of it for so long, I’m getting angry about it. Angry at the indoctrination, and a bit angry at my parents for putting me in a situation where I had to hide part of who I was to meet other people’s expectations and arbitrary rules. That has had a lasting impact on me, something that I am just now fully understanding and changing.
From the publisher’s summary:
Evie Rosen has had enough. She’s tired of the partners at her law firm e-mailing her at all hours of the night. The thought of another online date makes her break out in a cold sweat. She’s over the clever hashtags and the endless selfies. So when her career hits a surprising roadblock and her heart is crushed by Facebook, Evie decides it’s time to put down her smartphone for good. (Beats stowing it in her underwear—she’s done that too!)
And that’s when she discovers a fresh start for real conversations, fewer distractions, and living in the moment, even if the moments are heartbreakingly difficult. Babies are born; marriages teeter; friendships are tested. Evie just may find love and a new direction when she least expects it, but she also learns that just because you unplug your phone doesn’t mean you can unplug from life.
Let’s face it, I’m writing this on a laptop with my iPad charging to my left and my iPhone resting to my right. The Facebook tab in my Chrome browser shows 20 unread notifications. We’re a big group of uber-connected people.
And how beneficial is it for us to be so plugged in? I’ve never googled a prospective date, although friends of mine have. I try to keep Facebook lighthearted and entertaining, low on political and religious thought. Still, I post nearly every day and my cousin’s husband teases me when I’m not first to like or comment on his status updates. So, I get Evie in some relationship to her hyper-connectivity.
But I also get Evie in some of her less desirable traits- like perhaps being too quick to judge a date over some stupid, superficial reason. There were times I was so exasperated with Evie that I wanted to shake her, but those were the times I most often glimpsed facets of myself. I take that as Friedland really understanding her characters’ strengths and foibles. It makes the characters relatable.
I saw the ending coming for a while, but that doesn’t detract from the story. It’s OK to me that every book doesn’t throw out a mind-boggling, unpredictable trick, but that’s only when the author makes a somewhat predictable ending one that is authentic. It rings with doubt and questions, some soul-searching. Potentially analyzing that part of ourselves we don’t really want to explore.
Friedland gives us relatable characters and an interesting path to the book’s conclusion. Angst, but no melodrama, which is my preference.
This will make a great summer read!
Lillian reflects on all parts of life, the nuances that make it exciting and tragic; thrilling and soul-searing, usually against the backdrop of Lillian’s relationship with her family and her lovers.
There were times when I was unsure what to make of Lillian. There were parts of her I admired, moving from the midwest to numerous European cities, certainly seeming more glamorous and exciting than most of her peers.
She longs for a marriage and family, but will any of the men in her life be that right person?
I asked myself throughout the book, would I be able to be friends with Lillian? In some ways, she seems too cosmopolitan. In others, I believe we have a lot in common. And while whether I could hypothetically be friends with a fictional character certainly doesn’t determine the merit of a book, it does help me determine how much I relate to the characters. In a character driven novel, that relatability is important to me.
I had my answer with the end of the novel. I felt- what’s the best word?-unsettled. I believe I felt Lillian’s emotions. I’m not certain how happy she is, and that uncertainty feels very human to me.
A few phrases struck me as I was reading the book. I shared a few as a teaser on the BookfetishBlog Facebook page, and I want to share this one here: “…But if I’ve learned anything, it’s this: The world has never loved a spinster, and never will. The more people she tells, the merrier.”
Phrases like that, unique and simultaneously humorous and gut-punching, are throughout the book, and one of the things that made me really enjoy Lester’s writing.
I Don’t Have a Happy Place. Well, I do. I have a happy place. But author Kim Korson doesn’t, as she shares with us in her poignant and funny and touching memoir, I Don’t Have A Happy Place. I mean, where else can there be humor in the drowning of your best friend’s babysitter’s sister? Ok, maybe not really, but it’s at least a little funny the way Korson tells it.
And that’s what draws you into I Don’t Have A Happy Place. Completely relatable to some, and completely exasperating to others (me), I Don’t Have A Happy Place is the kind of read that takes you out of your comfort zone and puts you in the place of someone who is never quite at home in her own skin, or in any situation.
And to me, that’s the gem of the book. Even if we don’t have Korson’s issues, most all of us feel, at some time, off kilter and out of sorts with the world around us. Korson just tells us that it’s OK. She’s been lucky enough to find a partner who gets her, no matter how much she may frustrate him. And she gets him, which is the equal beauty.
She’s also brutally honest in her interpretation of life. If there’s a downside to be found, she’ll discover it. But thankfully, the book doesn’t dwell in Debbie Downer. Well, it sort of does, but in a humorous, self-deprecating way. In fact, part of the joy in reading the book is discovering happiness and gratitude in places where Korson least expected it. Is Disney really the happiest place on earth?
What Korson does well is show us that people who fundamentally don’t have a happy place want largely what we all (generally) do- to find their own place in this world. And there is one.
It’s through reading about the experiences of others not like me that I strive to be more empathetic. A better person. Someone more understanding. But it’s also a guide in how to come to peace with ourselves, however imperfect we may be.
Recommended for those who like memoirs, and revel in imperfection. It’s out TODAY and available anywhere you buy books.