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Have Mercy

Occasionally, I like to read something easy, a “beach read” if you will, just for fun and pleasure. Call it chick-lit if you want, but if it’s a good, thick book with a rather neutral cover, no one has to know what’s inside it. Sometimes when I read I just want to get into a story, follow some characters around, and not really aim to learn anything. It’s kind of like a soap opera, but probably a better use of my time than watching an actual soap opera, and more satisfying since I can take the descriptions the author provides and imagine my own characters and scenes rather than watch some too-pretty people prance around for an hour and then hate myself for the next three. I almost never hate myself after reading a novel. However, I did have some emotions after reading Mercy by Jodi Picoult.

Mercy

In brief, Mercy is the story of love and the lengths people are willing to go for it. Cameron MacDonald, a police chief, and his wife Allie, a florist, live a normal, boring life in Wheelock, Massachusetts. One day, a guy shows up in town claiming that a) he’s Cam’s cousin Jamie, b) his wife, Maggie, is dead in the passenger seat, and c) he killed her. Well, that’s promising. On the same day, Allie hires a mysterious woman named Mia Townsend to be her assistant after she catches her breaking and entering her shop and playing with the flowers while she’s out dealing with the newfound-cousin mess in the street. Because when someone breaks into your shop, of course the thing to do is hire them.

Of course, now that there are two new, unattached young people in town (Jamie and Mia), Cam and Allie’s relationship as a married couple starts to unravel. Cam finds himself attracted to Mia, who was his waitress at a cafe in Italy awhile back and has somehow found him now, and bored housewife Allie is drawn to Jamie after learning that his wife Maggie had cancer and asked him to kill her when her quality of life got so bad that she didn’t have the will to live anymore. Due to Cam and Jamie’s familial connection, Cam hires his friend Graham to be Jamie’s lawyer, so that Jamie can win his case, and due to Jamie needing to stay within the city limits of Wheelock, Allie volunteers to go to Cummington to get testimonies from Jamie’s friends and neighbors, suddenly trusting Mia with running her shop and conveniently leaving her with not only her keys, but the ability to use them to enter her home and start a love affair with Cam, about which Allie remains completely oblivious for way too long.

There’s a bunch of crap about the MacDonald name, and Cam’s Uncle Angus, who takes Jamie in for the duration, and Mia, who’s a complete flake and keeps running away from town and then returning like nothing happened. And the trial, which is basically just a constant reiteration of the fact that Jamie’s a good guy, he was (and is) in love with his wife, he killed her out of love and at her request, and he’s extremely sad about it. This is information that we found out when we first meet Jamie in Chapter 2, and nothing changes. Jamie’s found innocent, Mia kind of fades off into the sunset, and as for Cam and Allie, despite each of them having affairs (well, really Cam; Allie and Jamie didn’t really go very far on a sexual level), and Allie selling all of his stuff, they stay together. The end.

The back cover tag for this book is What would you do for someone you love? Would you leave? Would you kill?

Well, um, okay. I have to admit that even though the story is slow and purple at times, it kind of touches the topic in a very kid-gloves way. Maggie MacDonald’s death is pretty much an assisted suicide, which has tons of legal, moral, and ethical ramifications, but if Maggie would’ve figured things out and truly made her husband’s life easier after her death, she should have written a living will or some sort of document quantifying her husband’s actions, which would nip the whole thing in the bud. Good going there, Mag. But Jamie exacerbates the whole thing by toting her over to Wheelock and making a big show of things and getting himself arrested when he could’ve just, like, called a coroner and said “Oh, she died all of a sudden, because she had cancer and sometimes people with cancer die because cancer is unpredictable like that,” and cut his losses there. The whole debate was really BS, and actually made me feel like Jamie was the smartest person in the book, although he clearly wasn’t supposed to be. Mia Townsend is just a hot mess, so I’m not even going there. Cameron MacDonald is just a police chief trying to do his job, and people and things sort of get in his way, and even though he’s pretty tactless he doesn’t do anything outwardly stupid, which is more than I can say for his wife.

Allie MacDonald should get a medal or something for possibly being one of the stupidest characters I’ve ever read. She leaves her business in the hands of a beautiful woman who could rob her blind and steal her husband (and almost does the latter). She suspects nothing about Cam and Mia, and even tells Cam to “take care of her” while she’s off playing detective. If you don’t think that’s a recipe for disaster, Allie, I’m never eating in your kitchen. Plus, she puts herself out there for a guy she barely knows and could be totally playing her. Then, she sells all of her husband’s things for no good reason other than that she’s mad at him for being a jerk, which does not justify doing that. She’s so weak and always gives in to Cam, despite all this inner monologue about her standing up for herself, which never really comes to a head because in the end she stays with him despite all the crap he’s done to her.

On the positive side, though, there is a decent story arc here, and the book does address an interesting topic – assisted suicide – and Picoult follows through with both. I could do with a few less scenes about the MacDonald family Scottish memories, and replace some of the drawn-out courtroom scenes with some more info/flashback to Jamie and Maggie’s relationship, because we really never learn that much about Maggie other than that she loves her husband, is terminally ill, and doesn’t want to become a vegetable.

What I learned from Mercy: Gents, if you marry a woman who gets cancer, get that shit in writing. Don’t kill her and then parade her around some random town where you have a cousin. And ladies, if a mysterious woman walks into your life, don’t roll over and give her your keys, your money, and your husband.

And since I would never forgive myself if I didn’t have Uncle Jesse in this post, here we go.

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That’s So Random: Myths, Misconceptions, and Mind-Numbing Cold

Quote of the Day:

“So, how about this cold weather?” – Every single newscaster in America.

Seriously. It’s cold. Really cold. Almost every state had record lows today. It was way below zero in Madison, so I’m glad I was in Baltimore, which was…15 degrees, the coldest January 7 since 1994. That’s more than the number of miles I traveled today (about 1, if that) and hot beverages I consumed today (2; 1 coffee at home and a caramel macchiato from Starbucks). I went to the gym yesterday, but the thought of returning just chilled me even more, and not for any sort of dislike of exercise. It’s mind-numbingly cold. It’s just about too cold to think, so I came up with this idea based on a book I found at The Book Thing the other day.

But first, my post about Africa yesterday attracted more hits than ever, and brought readers from two African countries that were new on my blog counter, so welkom to South Africa, and karibu to Kenya. In addition, I also received a visitor from Denmark, so valkommen to you.

Back to the topic of the day. I picked up this book entitled The Book of Myths & Misconceptions. So I’m going to pick a random page, learn something new, write a hundred words or so on the topic, and top it off with a funny animated gif.

So…here we go.

Page 325: “It’s Over There: The Real Battle of Bunker Hill.”

The story: June 1775 – a violent battle occurred in Charlestown, Massachusetts, just across the “dirty water” of the Charles River from Boston.

The misconception: The battle occurred on Bunker Hill, hence the name.

The real facts: The battle did not occur on Bunker Hill. (Go figure.) American soldiers under the direction of Col. William Prescott started out on Bunker Hill, digging into the side of the hill, when Prescott discovered a hill that was easier to defend, so he moved the whole shebang to Breed’s Hill, a slightly lower hill about a half mile away. The next morning, Col. William Howe and his redcoats attacked, and won – but due to bad maps and the tide, lost a thousand British soldiers in the process, more than double the number of American casualties.

My thoughts (pretty much unfiltered, stream-of-consciousness, first-thing-that-comes-to-mind:)

The Revolutionary War. Something I haven’t thought about since probably high school. Seriously. I don’t think I ever took an American history course in college, at any level, and haven’t studied American theatre in that era. There wasn’t that much to speak of, except Aphra Behn’s The Widdow Ranter, the first play written with an American setting. But Aphra Behn was British. I used to live in Massachusetts. I spent a few years going to college there, at UMass Amherst. I love Amherst. I miss Amherst. Our mascot was Sam the Minute Man. Probably no other school is known as the “Minuteman,” which is why UMass is the awesome school that it is. The only thing that annoyed me was when I came home and everyone, my family included, asked me how Boston was. I was like “I don’t know, how is it?” because I did not live there, or anywhere near there. In fact, I’ve been to Boston a grand total of four times in my life: once on my first road trip with Dad, once to visit Boston University, once to catch a plane after my dreadful Brandeis University visit, and finally, for the 2008 APO National Convention. In June, LMDA will be in Boston, so that might warrant my fifth-ever visit. It still makes me cringe when people asked me what going to college in Boston was like, because I actually didn’t do that, unless you count going to the boy scout reservation in Sudbury twice for camping trips, including the first one when my big, Yukie, took us on an “alternative” route through tiny, winding roads that I later learned were along the New Hampshire border. Oh, Massachusetts, you with your deceptively long roads through nowhere. And your boring license plates. Because the spirit of Massachusetts is…

Oh, and here’s a picture:

There you go. Not much fun to be had at such a bloody battle.

This was also where Col. William Howe coined the famous phrase “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” 

Oh, that image search at least yielded a comic strip, so enjoy:

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Road Trip 1: New England, 1999

Our first official road trip started on June 13, 1999. With a tank full of gas and hearts full of hope, we headed to nab our first stamps of the day, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After driving through Maryland and Delaware, we arrived in Philly just in time for lunch.

Our first stop was the Gloria Dei Church. It wasn’t too interesting – just an old church with a graveyard. We didn’t see a visitor’s center, so we asked around inside, and the church workers had no clue what we were talking about. It was listed online, but not in the book, so I thought we had a chance of scoring one, but alas, we failed. (A few years later, they did indeed get an official visitor’s center with a stamp. I need to go back.)

The rest of the day went very smoothly. We picked up the first stamp of the trip at Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial, home of a supporter of George Washington, then another at the Liberty Bell (Independence National Historical Park) and at the home of Edgar Allan Poe. There, one of the rooms had a rubber “telltale heart” hidden under a plank, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. Later that day we hit Valley Forge before stopping for the night in Fort Washington, PA.

Day 2: More of the same. We hit three: Morristown NHP, Morristown, New Jersey; and my first brown stamps (as opposed to Mid-Atlantic light blue) were Ellis Island (new to my dad but old hat to me, having visited it with my 4th grade class), and the Statue of Liberty (which we climbed up to the base). But that didn’t matter because we got to spend the night in a state I’d never been to before: Bridgeport, Connecticut. I had finally visited a state that my sister hadn’t. Moving on to:

Day 3: Bright and early to capture Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Our first stop was the historic Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, where we got to see the secret passageway beneath the bimah (another historical thing that BLEW MY MIND) and say hello to the oldest still-standing synagogue in the USA. It’s also the only Jewish-themed national park, so, bonus. Once we hit Massachusetts, we made an unplanned stop in New Bedford and got the stamp for the New Bedford Whaling NHP, which remains one of my favorite national parks to this day – the town was so cute and little and New England, and the huge whale skeleton suspended on the ceiling didn’t hurt either. We spent the night at the Suisse Chalet Inn in Cambridge – I didn’t mind it so much (probably too high on having fun) but my dad remembers it as being a roach motel.

Day 4: Boston Day. This was also no-car day, which was less expensive and easier on my dad. We walked the entire length of the Freedom Trail to get the Boston NHP stamp, as well as the Black History Trail to get the Boston African-American stamp. I wasn’t interested in anything other than the parks and the stamps, but upon my dad’s insisting, we strolled around Boston Common and made a stop in Harvard Yard. We took the T to Brookline to see John F. Kennedy’s home, and then headed to Dad’s favorite part of the trip, a Red Sox game at old Fenway Park. They played the Twins but I can’t remember who won.

Day 5: Boston Suburbs. We hit up the Salem (Salem Maritime NHS), Saugus (Saugus Iron Works NHS) and Lowell (Lowell NHP) AKA home of the cotton mills. This is the only time on any of the trips I remember having a serious breakdown (I was totally a crier as a kid) – I think it was because of traffic. I was surprised at how little we fought throughout the entire eight-day trip. We also veered up to New Hampshire, just so I could say I’d been there, even though the only stamp was much further up.

Day 6: Goodbye Roach Motel, hello central and western Mass. We excitedly hit up Minute Man NHP in Concord/Lexington and the Springfield Armory in Springfield, ending the day with Weir Farm in Wilton, CT, before stopping at my cousins’ place in the Bronx for Shabbat.

Day 7: Shabbat. No parks.

Day 8: Last day. We bid the cousins goodbye, visited old Great-Aunt Yetta (think Yetta from The Nanny, only in real life), who lived in Washington Heights squalor complete with faded photos on the walls, furniture held together by duct tape, and a funny old-lady smell in the whole apartment, and got two stamps (Grant’s Tomb and Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace) before heading home. Where I proceeded to tell the whole story to my mom and sister, and anyone else who would listen, numerous times.

Overall, we had a great time. My dad is very much into history, and learning about American history with me was as much fun for him as it was for me. He viewed it as an “educational experience” for me, but I had my stamps and some other souvenirs so I was happy enough. He had been to NYC and Boston before, but hadn’t gone to any of the battlefields, presidents’ homes, or even Fenway Park before. He and I quarreled very little, and with my old-style, Pre-GPS maps from AAA, I managed to navigate us the whole way, even leading my dad on a shortcut once and redirecting him after he almost missed the exit off the New Jersey Turnpike going towards NYC. Even though I had such fun as the navigator, the driving did take its toll on my dad, who spent the next day or so sleeping it off.

We took a break in the summer of 2000, while I prepared for my Bar Mitzvah, but resumed our road trip with a Part II for four days in June 2001, heading toward the Midwest – the second of 5 official road trips we took together.