Book Club Reads Lorna Landvik

After hearing that Lorna Landvik was coming to speak at our local library, the Book Club decided that October’s book should be anything by Lorna Landvik. We’ve all enjoyed books by this author and figured that whomever could make it to the library gig would go and report back to the group at our monthly meeting.

Unfortunately, life intervened and none of us attended Ms. Landvik’s library event. (I was close, but actually at the library for a storytime that my son likes to attend. And he wasn’t in the mood to sit still any longer than that!) So if Lorna happens to come across this post, just want to say we’re very sorry we couldn’t make it.

I’ve read a few of her books: “The Tall Pine Polka,” “Patty Jane’s House of Curl,” and “Your Oasis on Flame Lake.” So as I browsed the selection at the library I skipped over those in favor of one I haven’t read yet: “Welcome to the Great Mysterious.”  And three other Book Club members chose the same!

As we discussed the novel, we agreed that – while the character development was as wonderful as ever – the story line itself could have used a little more development. The premise of the novel was an interesting one: a fraternal twin who left her hometown to chase a Broadway dream with great success returns to watch her nephew while her sister and husband take a long-overdue vacation. The main character, Geneva, feels like the one part of her life where she hasn’t succeeded has been on the personal side with a long-since-ended first marriage, a string of boyfriends, and the beginnings of menopause that confirm she wouldn’t have a child of her own. Yet her 13-year-old nephew has Downs syndrome, the perfect twist that has her managing the next generation’s drama that she probably brought to her own parents without realizing what she was truly up against.

Packing up a freshly-broken heart, Geneva jets back to Minnesota to help her twin sister. In the process she discovers what makes her happy and puts her in the role of observing truly loving and nurturing relationships, such as the one her nephew enjoys with his best friend who also lives with a disability. There’s the perhaps obvious example of a successful man who gave up his career when he realized that having it all wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be – and in losing the corner office he gained a wonderful life with his school-age daughter instead. (Even though he lost his marriage in the process.) The pieces fit together to give Geneva the sort of “rehab” she needs to break down what she enjoys most in life and what just isn’t worth worrying about any more.

Yet despite what she’s learned, Geneva still makes mistakes. I actually like this, as it rings more true to life. But the resolution is a little too tidy, as many of us agreed. I’m a Type-A personality, so admitting that sometimes messy or less tidy endings can benefit a story is a pretty big leap for me. But in this case, understanding how life works in the most perplexing ways, I think it would have been better that way.

Overall I would have to say that I liked this book. But I can also say that I’ve liked other books written by Landvik better. But one lesson from the story comes from the source of the title: Welcome to the Great Mysterious was a book created by Geneva and her twin sister over a rainy weekend at their grandparents’ cabin. It was filled with what, in their young years, were some pretty big questions with room for the girls and their family members to contribute their answers. Geneva’s discovery of the book was one of those things that I would compare to opening up my box of youth in the attic: when you’re tired, feeling like you haven’t contributed anything to the world or done anything worthwhile with your life, along comes this brief flash that illuminates something extraordinary you once did. Something that reminds you of what sparks your imagination, gets your brain all tingly and energized to pick yourself up and ride the adrenaline of that brilliance to drown out the “nos” in your head.

If nothing else, this book should be appreciated for its reminder not to let go of childish zeal. It’s easy to get caught up in the expectations of adulthood and drown in a vat of “shoulds.” But the buoyancy of glee, of enjoying the challenge before you, is what keeps the toils of life less like work and more like living. And that should never be allowed to grow old and wither.

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