You might say that Rebecca West’s 1956 novel The Fountain Overflows is more or less a British version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. They do have much in common, subject-wise. But there is a difference: While A Tree Grows has more warmth and poignancy, more emotion and power, West’s novel has not only that wonderful British cleverness, but it has perhaps as much depth of perception and depth of character as anything I’ve read in recent years (which is about as far back as my dwindling memory goes). I can’t claim to have read much Proust, but it seems to me The Fountain Overflows is almost Proustian in its youthful but sublime sensibility.
The book is quite autobiographical, and Rebecca West was a leading feminist of her day. The mother she depicts is such a strong, loving person, regardless of constant adversity, that she will certainly stick in my mind for many Saturdays to come. Every child should have such a mother (I did, thankfully). And I felt so much in common with this family, their love of books and classical music, and refinement without superficiality. Given that Rebecca West wrote this fine book, and given that she and her real family were its inspiration, I have a pretty good hunch that she was at least as beautiful to know as she is to read.
It was sad this morning walking in downtown Los Angeles and wishing familiar smiling faces a happy Thanksgiving with their families and receiving the same wishes in return, and then seeing the various homeless people limping or dragging themselves down the sidewalks, looking lost, no place to go. There are so many homeless, and L.A. is just a big unfeeling corporate wasteland. So millions of people pass by countless men and women who have no shelter, let alone a warm Thanksgiving meal, and spare no more thought for these creatures than for any other creature than crawls across their path. So hardened and conditioned are we city dwellers to this ubiquitous misery that we walk right by not even looking or seeing half the time. How can we help being apathetic when trouble is everywhere and we are made to feel powerless by the systems that run our lives?
Weak and abusive parenting is poignantly contrasted with the sweetness of first love in the exceptional YA debut novel of Sarah Lynn Scheerger, who has published several picture books for young readers. The Opposite of Love (Albert Whitman and Company, publisher) is a good balance of sensibility and hard-boiled, with natural yet funny teen dialogue and an effective use of shifting point of view between the two main characters.
“As much as he wanted to believe the muffins were a sign, maybe they were just muffins.” There’s a great deal of depth and dimension to these teenage characters, who are torn by conflicting forces, fears and emotions. We are told explicitly and we are shown heartbreakingly the truest meaning of that elusive title. Adult readers will relate to this well-told story almost as easily as their own high schoolers.