Review: Evicted. Poverty and Profit in the American City

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American CityEvicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Evicted
Poverty And Profit In The American City
By Mathew Desmond

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

“Evicted follows eight families—some black, some white; some with children, some without—swept up in the process of eviction. The evictions take place throughout the city, (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) embroiling not only the landlords and tenants but also kin and friends, lovers and ex-lovers, judges and lawyers, dope suppliers and church elders. Eviction’s fallout is severe. Losing a home sends families to shelters, abandoned houses, and the street. It invites depression and illness, compels families to move into degrading housing in dangerous neighborhoods, uproots communities, and harms children. Eviction reveals people’s vulnerability and desperation, as well as their ingenuity and guts.”
A Pulitzer Prize winning, incredibly researched, foot-noted-to-death, documentary on an issue we could have solved years ago. But sadly, we have chosen to imagine it away, to tell ourselves that ‘those people’ are simply lazy and unmotivated and given any kind of help (handouts) would only add to their already easy life of living off the system. Right?
You couldn’t be more wrong.
This book is filled with well-documented facts and figures which help illustrate this major American quagmire of inner-city poverty which is directly related to eviction. Right now, at this very moment, in Milwaukee, a city of fewer than 105,000 renter households, landlords evict 16,000 adults and children each year. Which comes to 16 families creeping through the court system a DAY! Read this next quote, then read it again.
“If incarceration has come to define the lives of men from impoverished black neighborhoods, eviction is shaping the lives of women. Poor black men are locked up. Poor black women are locked out.”
Of course, you wonder, how can this be? How can so many Americans end up evicted from their home? The equation is unfortunately simple, when you look deeper.
“Families have watched their incomes stagnate, or even fall, while their housing costs have soared. Today, the majority of poor renting families in America spend over half of their income on housing, and at least one in four dedicates over 70 percent to paying the rent and keeping the lights on. Millions of Americans are evicted every year because they can’t make the rent.”
To shed some light on author Desmond’s method of collecting all this data (and there is a ton) is to learn the meaning of ethnography. To him, it’s what you do when you try to understand people by allowing their lives to mold your own as fully and genuinely as possible. He did this by building rapport with the people he wanted to know better and followed them over a long stretch of time, observing and experiencing what they did, working and playing alongside them, while at the same time recording as much action and interaction as he could until he began to move like they did, talk like they talked, think like they think and feel something like they did. He did that, and so much more.
Desmond does offer compelling, tenable and sensible solutions to once and for all bringing this seemingly unsurmountable issue to a place of hope. But in a stark closing sentence the truth is what we need to embrace before change can unfold;
“No moral code or ethical principle, no piece of scripture or holy teaching, can be summoned to defend what we have allowed our country to become.”

• It’s up to us.
• Why isn’t this book taught in public school?
• After all, home is the center of life.

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Review: The Last to See Me

The Last to See MeThe Last to See Me by M. Dressler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Last To See Me
By M Dressler

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

Who doesn’t like a ghost story with a twist? Or, in this particular story, several twists, and some nasty turns, add a tragic love story, a blood-thirsty rose bush and, of course, the ghost. Welcome to Benito, California, home of the renowned Lambry House and where most of our story unfolds. Ellen DeWight, short, firecracker real-estate agent representing the Lambry property, is showing the place when our story begins and Emma Rose Finnis makes her ghostly debut.
“…He reached out for his wife, his love. But she wasn’t there. Because a blackness, a blackness only a ghost can summon, was opening underneath them. His wife was near his feet, being pulled under. Pulling at him…He fell to his knees with her. He felt her wet, sinking cheeks. He reached for her arms. But his hands fluttered, thrashing, in something else. Water, water rising all around them.”
Enter Phillip Pratt, ghost exterminator extraordinaire, armed with his magic wrist-thingy, we are literally off and de-haunting! This tale seems to be set in the near future when ghosts are considered something in the realm of a pest to be gotten rid of. Cleaned is the term author Dressler offers and how this is done exactly is slowly revealed as the layers of history behind Emma Rose’s need to haunt the Lambry House are peeled away.
When Emma Rose was a young nineteen-year-old, she drew the attentions of Quint Lambry. He, belonging to the well-to-do Lambry clan versus Emma, a mere washer-woman of a lowly class, set Quint’s mothers mind to task. She had to get her son’s obvious intentions banished from that wretched Emma. So, off to Lighthouse Point Emma was sent to become housekeeper for the assistant lightkeeper and his growing family.
Though Quint does find his way out to the Point, and visits Emma Rose nearly every week in the beginning of her exile, things soon spin out of control. You’ll have to find out for yourself what sends dear Emma to her haunting prison of the undead.
Dressler does weave what could be her own version of how love can undo you. How it can become this thing that blinds, that quite literally becomes your ruin, the ghost is ultimately the haunted until set free. The imperfect metaphor for love’s much darker side.
“I wonder if the living understand how ghostly love is, truly, how hard it is to put your finger on it…Is it love when your feet move faster and the lane seems suddenly twice as long…Is it love when you see the future stretching out in front of you, endless as the sea?”
Though I did have to re-read the final chapter in order to grasp all that Pratt had set loose in his haste to exorcise the Lambry House of its ghostly inhabitants, I was happy to learn that in the end, it was Emma Rose who—

• You’ll have to ask Emma
• Happy Haunted Halloween!

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Review: Ars Botanica

Ars BotanicaArs Botanica by Tim Taranto
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ars Botanica
A Field Guide to Loss
By Tim Taranto

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

I’m still spellbound. This small book full of drawings and poems and a deep story, knocked me over. Author Taranto took two very painful experiences and wove them together into a way forward. This is the first time I can ever recall reading about the man’s side of things, the male viewpoint, the raw pain and sorrow and hope of choosing to end a pregnancy and then, sadly, a relationship. Think of this book as a toolbox.
Hope is what Taranto leaves you with, like a lone ray of sunshine through a dark hole. One thing to understand, to keep in mind as you embark on this journey of love and loss, this book isn’t about judgement. It’s one man’s innermost thoughts, a life-map, full of wisdom and kindness. This is how it began.
“Before I met her I was living. I was a composite of tastes and habits…And then your mother began leaving packages on my porch filled with food she’d prepared and slow dancing with me to Hank Williams…I was filled with a warm repose, how a houseplant must feel when moved to a sunny sill.”
Through letters to his never-to-be-born child he named Catalpa, this love story unfolds and shapes into something tangible and important and vibrant and alive. It moves through a summer.
“When she communicated her desire to terminate the pregnancy, I was with her, it was what I wanted too. When she communicated her desire to terminate the relationship, I pulled my hat over my eyes and sank into her sofa. Maybe like seeing the world on the morning after you died, I was part of a new reality I could not imagine belonging to; I was afraid to move.”
Author Taranto finds his way through his many layers of grief by sharing his life with Catalpa.
“I harvested catalpa flowers until I filled an entire paper grocery sack. To this day, I can’t think of many places I’d rather be than sitting across from her, eyes closed, head bowed, chest slowly rising as she breathes a bouquet of catalpas.”
Though this is a memoir, one person’s recollection of how things happened both to and with him, I have to wonder. Did he give up too easily on the relationship or was the reality of their mutual decision to end their pregnancy simply too much for them to bear? Though truly sad, it is important to realize that we all experience life in a myriad of ways and this story unveils a side rarely seen.
Earlier I had mentioned wisdom. Throughout the book there are sentences that shine with it.
“And to that I say that’s about the long and short of it. You’re not in love until you are, you don’t want to die until you feel like you already have, and you don’t know the Divine until you see its hand in all things.”
He ends with this, “That something lasts forever does not make it a thing of beauty, does not measure its worth. But just that it happened at all, even for a little while…”
Every day, we make choices and do our best to find ways to cope with the consequences. Perhaps if we joined forces and allowed a space of nonjudgement, our path forward would not be uphill.

• Perfect gift
• #1 for Book Clubs
• What is your hill?

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Review: Eleanor Oliphant

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine
By Gail Honeyman

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

Fine. Think of that word for a moment. Fine. We blurt it out when asked how we are or how the kids are or how the soup is. But in this particular novel, Eleanor Oliphant is anything but. What she is will surprise you, maybe even scare you a bit, certainly she’ll teach you a few things and I just know, in the end, you will come to love her. I did.
Told entirely in first person, we see the world through Eleanor’s eyes. I should note that this is not an exciting, adventure-filled tale full of lofty thoughts and delightful characters that race through life and blast off into the sunset. Hardly. It’s a revelation of what it’s like to live on the very edge of life. To exist as almost a shadow-person. Eleanor is someone we all have known and seen and passed by. And, she deserves a closer look.
This is author Honeyman’s debut novel, I had to check to make sure, the writing is that of a well-seasoned blockbuster. The way she skillfully weaves Eleanor’s tattered and dark and mysterious life into something vital is at the core of why this tale matters. We learn early on that Eleanor has a very scared face, that she lives alone, works as an accounts receivable clerk in an office and routine and order rule. Each Wednesday, like clockwork, she speaks on the phone to her mummy. Keep in mind, Eleanor is nearly thirty.
“It’s only been a week, I know, but it feels like an age since we last spoke, Mummy. I’ve been so busy with work and—She cut across me, nice as pie on this occasion, switching her accent to match mine. That voice; I remembered it from childhood, heard it still in my nightmares.”
Socially, this woman is a totally inept. Not only does she lack a clue as to how humans interact socially, she has pretty much simply given in to the fact that she will most likely always live alone. And then a musician catches her eye while all the time Raymond, the IT guy at her work-place, hovers on into her strange life. She justifies her very existence with simple facts as only she can see them.
“I do not light up a room when I walk into it. No one longs to see me or hear my voice. I do not feel sorry for myself, not in the least. These are simply statements of fact.”
And this.
“Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that there’s something very liberating about it, once you realize that you don’t need anyone, you can take care of yourself. That’s the thing: it’s best just to take care of yourself. You can’t protect other people, however hard you try. You try, and you fail, and your world collapses around you, burns down to ashes.”
Though the ending seemed pretty pat, by the time you get there, you are ready for some happy. Author Honeyman manages to NOT show any self-pity toward her quirky character and the sudden twist at the end, well, it will make you wonder. And that’s the sign of a really good read.
• You know an Eleanor
• Are you an Eleanor?

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Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Handmaid’s Tale
By Margaret Atwood

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

“We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. The floor was of varnished wood, with stripes and circles painted on it, for the games that were formerly played there; the hoops for the basketball nets were still in place, though the nets were gone…”
Gone is the key word. Gone.
I really did not want to read this book, not my normal genre. Published back in 1986 and now a HUGELY successful TV series on HULU, it is once again zipping up the NYT bestsellers list. So, I figured, I better read it. It took 2 days. Written in first person and full of dark and foreboding and downright scary dystopian scenarios, it is not something you want to peruse before sliding off to sleep.
The story takes place now or in the very near future. Due to many factors; pollution, radiation, pesticides and so on, the birth rate has bottomed out. Women are mostly sterile as are many men. In swoops this new literal-minded theocratic dictatorship. The Constitution and Congress are no longer—the Republic of Gilead is created on a platform of the Seventeenth-century Puritan roots that have forever been underneath the modern-day America we thought we knew and loved.
A new society is shaped and formed and for most, if not all, the word freedom is simply gone. And guess who is running things now? The elites of this new regime. It is they who arrange to have fertile women “assigned” to their households so that they, in turn, can have children. These, of course, are the Handmaids. Now if that isn’t creepy enough, stick with me.
So, a Handmaid (a woman who can bear children and most likely has already and they were taken from her and given to, the rich!) is assigned to a prominent couple. The wife is sterile, the husband could be, but since men run things, he plants the proverbial seed with the wife there in the room holding the Handmaid! I know. And if the wife suspects her husband is indeed sterile, well, there’s always the gardener or the driver or…there is always someone. So, the household becomes more powerful, the ‘Commander’ as the head/man of the house is called, rises up in rank the more children he can ‘gather.’
The tale is narrated by a Handmaid who goes by the name ‘Offred.’ It is entirely told in first person, through her eyes and via her voice only. This is a spare and dark and tense story of survival. By using backstory (tons and tons) the reader is given a glimpse into how things were before it all fell so terribly apart. When women held jobs, had bank accounts and wore all sorts of different clothing and read books or paged through a magazine. All this and so much more is gone. Gone.
If it weren’t for author Atwood’s incredible command of the language, I think I might have tossed this book across the room. Stomped on it even. There was not one ounce of humor either. Gone. Here she describes the promise of a fashion magazine:
“Though I remembered now. What was in them was promise. They dealt in transformations; they suggested an endless series of possibilities, extending like the reflections in two mirrors set facing one another, stretching on, replica after replica, to the vanishing point. They suggested one adventure after another, one wardrobe after another, one improvement after another, one man after another. They suggested rejuvenation, pain overcome and transcended, endless love. The real promise was immortality.”
In the end, this new world turns inside out and reshapes into something else. It too is; Gone.
• Book Clubs Beware!
• Remember, it’s fiction
• Or is it…

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