Author: Lynda Cohen Loigman
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publishing Date: March 2016
Brooklyn, 1947: In the midst of a blizzard, in a two-family brownstone, two babies are born, minutes apart. The mothers are sisters by marriage: dutiful, quiet Rose, who wants nothing more than to please her difficult husband; and warm, generous Helen, the exhausted mother of four rambunctious boys who seem to need her less and less each day. Raising their families side by side, supporting one another, Rose and Helen share an impenetrable bond forged before and during that dramatic winter night.
When the storm passes, life seems to return to normal; but as the years progress, small cracks start to appear and the once deep friendship between the two women begins to unravel. No one knows why, and no one can stop it. One misguided choice; one moment of tragedy. Heartbreak wars with happiness and almost, but not quite, wins. Moving and evocative, Lynda Cohen Loigman's debut novel The Two-Family House is a heart-wrenching, gripping multigenerational story, woven around the deepest of secrets.
MY THOUGHTS (w/spoilers):
As a reader, after reading the Prologue, you can immediately guess what was going to happen, however, what you don't know is who made the decision and how it is going to impact everyone. Two brothers live with their respective families in a two family house. Pretty much that's about all they have in common. Mort lives with his wife Rose and their three daughters on the first floor and Abe, Helen and their four sons live on the second floor. Mort is a bitter, cantakerous and uninvolved father while Abe is friendly, good-natured and loving husband and father. Helen and Rose became very close friends, if not sisters, after Rose and Mort got married. They depended on each other for companionship, friendship, support and once they found out they were pregnant at the same time they couldn't be more excited but each had a secret wish---Rose wanted a boy whereas Helen wanted a girl. Mort was not an easy man to be with and Rose felt that if she could give him the one thing he wanted then maybe he would be less angry, less bitter. Helen on the other hand wanted a girl because she wanted someone who wasn't so rough and would want to spend time together. She knew once her boys grew up they would leave and she wouldn't have that friendship with their wives. So on a fateful night a decision is made, yet one was able to live with the choice, while the other regretted it then everything changed.
Even without Loigman telling you right away they switched children you knew that's what happened. What took me by surprise was Rose's reaction afterwards--she no longer cared about herself, her new son, Teddy, or what Mort thought. Where she was once a devoted and attentive mother she no longer took any interest. Sadly, due to Mort's ornery day-to-day behavior and now Rose's inattentiveness their children felt abandoned. She initially suffered from postpartum depression eventually she just became a very angry person. In a nutshell she became Mort. It was pretty clear she regretted the decision that was made but she never tried to correct it. It seemed like she blamed everyone else for the circumstances: Mort for wanting a boy and not being happy prior because of it, Helen for being able to go on as though everything was fine and herself for making the decision and not being okay with it. Rose took out her frustration and anger on the one person who was the closest to her, Helen. Time and time again Helen tried to recapture their friendship but Rose consistently and cruelly pushed her away.
In spite of all of this chaos between the adults the two youngest children, Teddy and Natalie were the best of buddies. They complimented each other beautifully. Teddy is quiet and unsure while Natalie is willful and confident. Consequently, their friendship along with Natalie's tenacity is what helped Mort finally become a father. Somehow Natalie found a way to engage Mort without being obstructive to Mort's way of being. Then tragedy struck and it rocked both households. By this point Rose and Helen's relationship is almost non-existent whereas Natalie and Mort's friendship grew. She became Mort's touchstone. He became a nicer man due to her generosity of spirit, just like her father.
I tried to give a very broad view without giving too much away. Yes, I know that the plot of the story was easy to tell right away but what I liked about this story was how things changed after both Rose and Helen got what they wanted. Rose's expectations of her home life depended on the gender of her child. She thought all of a sudden Mort would become father and husband of the year. Of course, she realized later this is who he was and she just didn't care anymore. Helen had the girl that she wanted and remained the same person. It didn't matter to her how she got Natalie she was just happy to have her and Teddy in her life. At first Mort was the same and he realized "having a boy is the same as having a girl" but with Natalie around, Teddy was able to shine a bit. Abe was always loving and kind man even to his brother who at times didn't deserve his kindness.
One of my issues was how didn't anyone guess why Rose and Helen weren't speaking. Even Judith, Rose's eldest daughter, kept trying to understand what happened and knew it started on the night the babies were born. I tried putting myself in their shoes but I kept going back to the same thought....HOW DON'T THEY KNOW? HOW HAVEN'T THEY BEEN ABLE TO FIGURE THIS OUT? The other issue is Rose. I didn't get why she behaved that way. Yes, she was fed up with Mort and how his behavior affected everything and his disinterest in the girls but she ended up losing the one person that was closest to her. I don't think what happened warranted her behaving that way. Yes, she regretted her decision but she also made a decision not to do anything about it too. The people I really feel bad for are Helen, Teddy and the daughters. Helen missed her friend, Teddy missed having a mother and the girls missed the mother they knew. What could've possibly been a happy situation turned out differently and the only good thing was that Mort became a kinder man.
What did you think of the book? Did you like or dislike it? How do you think the story would be different if the women didn't exchange babies? Do you think Rose would have taken the same course? What about Helen? Would the relationships between the two families remained? Would Mort and Rose's marriage survived? How do you think Natalie was able to get through to Mort? How do think their relationship changed afterwards? What do you think of what happened to the rest of the individuals in the families?
Author: Colm Tóibín
Publishing Date: March 2010
It is Enniscorthy in the southeast of Ireland in the early 1950s. Eilis Lacey is one among many of her generation who cannot find work at home. Thus when a job is offered in America, it is clear to everyone that she must go. Leaving her family and country, Eilis heads for unfamiliar Brooklyn, and to a crowded boarding house where the landlady’s intense scrutiny and the small jealousies of her fellow residents only deepen her isolation.
Slowly, however, the pain of parting is buried beneath the rhythms of her new life — until she begins to realize that she has found a sort of happiness. As she falls in love, news comes from home that forces her back to Enniscorthy, not to the constrictions of her old life, but to new possibilities which conflict deeply with the life she has left behind in Brooklyn.
In the quiet character of Eilis Lacey, Colm Tóibín has created one of fiction’s most memorable heroines and in Brooklyn, a luminous novel of devastating power. Tóibín demonstrates once again his astonishing range and that he is a true master of nuanced prose, emotional depth, and narrative virtuosity.
MY THOUGHTS (w/spoilers):
I may be in the minority by saying that I thought this book was just okay. I felt empathy for Eilis's struggle of having to travel alone to a new country with no friends or family to await her arrival. Specially since the trip took longer by boat and she was very seasick. She had to learn how to survive living in a new place and try to make new friends. While reading the book you can tell she was young and naive and she did show some spirit at times but overall she just went with the flow.
I think that's what bothered me about it and it probably says more about me than the character. Eilis didn't make her own decisions throughout the book (e.g., her sister got her the trip to America, Father Flood found her a place to live, a job and in school for bookkeeping). Her life seemed to be run by everyone else. She didn't seem to have any opinion of what she wanted or she didn't say it to anybody. She was very passive aggressive with her roommates and her landlord. She clearly didn't like them because they would say things she didn't like but she didn't say anything to stop them. The reason she married Tony wasn't because she loved him but because she couldn't say no. Tony clearly loved her and wanted to start a family but she couldn't tell him that she wants to work instead of a family.
Eilis did have moments of character but they were rare and far in between. For instance, when she assisted the black customers at the department store she worked. She knew her supervisor was not pleased but she did it anyway. Also she was nice to her roommate Dolores even though everyone else made fun of her for being a scrubber (she cleaned the house for rent). It was in these instances that I found myself cheering for Eilis. I wanted her to do something for herself. Unfortunately, she continued to follow what everyone else told her to do.
I feel like I wanted to like the book because everyone was talking about what a good book it was. The more I tried to force the issue the more annoyed I became with her.
What did you think of the book? Did you like Eilis's character? Did you understand her perspective? Do you think you could move to another country by yourself? Would you have made the same decisions she did?
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