GO ASK FANNIE
Author: Elisabeth Hyde
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Release Date: April 10, 2018
PRHA | Imprint: Penguin Audio
7 Hours and 34 Minutes
Genre: Fiction – Family Life – General
I voluntarily reviewed an advance readers copy of this book. No remuneration was exchanged and all opinions presented herein are my own except as noted.
When Murray Blaire invites his three grown children to his New Hampshire farm for a few days, he makes it clear he expects them to keep things pleasant. The rest of his agenda–using Ruth and George to convince their younger sister, Lizzie, to break up with her much older boyfriend–that he chooses to keep private. But Ruth and George arrive bickering, with old scores to settle. And, in a classic Blaire move, Lizzie derails everything when she turns up late, cradling a damaged family cookbook, and talking about possible criminal charges against her.
This is not the first time the Blaire family has been thrown into chaos. In fact, that cookbook, an old edition of Fannie Farmer, is the last remaining artifact from a time when they were a family of six, not four, with a father running for Congress and a mother building a private life of her own. The now-obscured notes written in its pages provide tantalizing clues to their mother’s ambitions and the mysterious choices she once made, choices her children have always sought without success to understand. Until this weekend.
As the Blaire siblings piece together their mother’s story, they come to realize not just what they’ve lost, but how they can find their way back to each other. In this way, celebrated author Elisabeth Hyde reminds readers that family survival isn’t about simply setting aside old rivalries, but preserving the love that’s written between the lines. http://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/book/564921/go-ask-fannie/
I felt that I had heard this book before, maybe several times. It involves parental deaths and family reunion with several offspring. At least one of the kids is pretty screwed up. It reminded me most of A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD by Anne Tyler and the SUMMER OF GOOD INTENTIONS by Wendy Francis. I liked it less than I had A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD and more than I had THE SUMMER OF GOOD INTENTIONS. Unlike either of the above books GO ASK FANNIE also involves the death of a sibling. And, in this book the death occurs in the distant past, when the kids were still kids.
But, even though it was in the past, the parental death is the prevalent force still in the family. Whether it has never been dealt with at all, because like most tragedies the Blaire family just has to go on. They had not dealt with a common issue of high-functioning addiction in families. They had not dealt with the lost sibling’s problematic adolescence. To never speak ill of the dead elevated the mother and the child, respectively, to paragons of parenting, and comic behavior.
The oldest daughter, Ruth, as a high powered lawyer, seeks her father’s approbation through their shared profession. Throughout her life Ruth has avoided dealing with any issues outside of legal briefs. Although a professor, Lizzie, the youngest, is seemingly aimless. The family does not approve of her boyfriend. Lizzie’s feelings of guilt over the events surrounding the death of her mom and sibling are the driving force in her life. The weekend of the reunion she has a big row with her guy over, on the surface, his mutilation of her mother’s copy of THE FANNY FARMER COOKBOOK. Lizzie’s boyfriend’s careless handling of the cookbook and the ramifications of their relationship are symbolic of the events of the family tragedy. George, the only character I liked at all, was the brother, the middle child and the surviving boy. He has become a nurse is the one whose life works best , although he avoids intimacy.
The father, Murray Blaire’s, life went into stasis when his wife died. Was he a responsible parent? Or, was he a working father who was blindsided and struggled to take up the reins? His political career is truncated, his ambitions became, in an instant, as nearly dead as his wife’s were.
The cookbook, where her mom made notes and entered story ideas for her never blossomed writing career, is a symbol. It’s as cryptic as any unrealized ambition. Her notes are hard to read now, and the book, like the kids and dad, have been damaged. The family had treated the book like an oracle, and its damage is like the death of an oracle. Over the weekend, the family’s secrets and trauma are finally revealed.
This would have been a good short story. But, it is, like much literary fiction surrounding family tragedy — parent and sibling loss — ponderous, dwelling in the results of the loss too long with filler details. Ruth’s marital issues are telling of her issues but, add little, especially since we never meet the husband or children.
George’s skills are useful, and he is the most present and clear-eyed of the kids. Lizzie, is as damaged as the cookbook.
Ultimately, I sped the book up to get through it. Whelan does a good job with the depressing text. How could her voice not sound as bored as I felt? Her narration reminded me of the narrators in the two books I referred to above.
Not the least favorite book I have recently read, or even the least-favored with this theme, but not my first choice either.