Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The only thing worse than cancer is a working mother, or Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

It was a fateful day. I was thirteen and prowling the back corner of the local used bookstore. I can't tell you what inspired me to pull a book by an author I'd never heard of before from the shelf, but I recall the excitement I felt upon reading the synopsis of Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep (published 1991).

I mean, really, who could resist this?:

Sometimes Carrie Blake feels she just can't stand life's problems or pain. At fifteen, she's had leukemia for three years, and although the disease is in remission, she's never sure when things might change. Her parents, whose bitter divorce has left Carrie feeling torn between them, don't seem to understand how much harder they make her daily life.

When Carrie meets Keith Gardner at a cancer support group, everything seems brighter. Keith and his loving supportive family are wonderful to Carrie. Then Keith's illness worsens and he knows he can no longer fight off dying. Armed with love of family and friends, Keith chooses to participate in a hospice program, which allows him to remain at home instead of in the hospital. Carrie feels helpless as she watches Keith slip away. Will Keith's courage help Carrie to face her own uncertain future?
Lurlene gives us quite an expositiony start. We meet Carrie, who we're supposed to like. Listen, people, Carrie is strong! She's only fifteen! She friggin' beat leukemia! Have YOU beat leukemia lately? Yeah, that's what I thought.

You know who has been no help at all with this leukemia crap? That's right, Carrie's family. Carrie's family, in four words, both sucks and blows. Listen, I know there are some crappy parents out there, and I know there are lots of people who deal with illness really badly, but I don't buy this, Lurlene. Bad parents might drop a kid off at the mall and not check in for awhile, but I find it highly unlikely they'd, ya know, drop a kid off at the freaking HOSPITAL and not hang around. This, Carrie, is a legitimate complaint.

Carrie, however, also hates that this leukemia stress lead to her parents getting divorced because now her mom only seems concerned with WORKING FULL-TIME. Uhhh, Carrie, would you like to explain to me how a single woman is supposed to support a teenage daughter (as well as, I dunno, provide some resources for Carrie's younger brother who lives with Carrie's dad and stepmom) without working full-time? I only have to support a dog, and I need to work full-time! What kind of magical world does Carrie live in?

I love this description of Carrie's mother:

Carrie looked at her mother, at the stylish blouse and new-wave haircut, pearl earrings and expensive heels.
NEW-WAVE HAIRCUT? What does it look like? This?

Or this?

Also, is she just wearing earrings, a blouse, and heels? GET SOME PANTS WOMAN!

At first I thought Carrie was just being bratty and that we were supposed to realize that.

"What do you want, Mom?"

Mrs. Blake closed her eyes and leaned against the sagging porch railing. "I want to succeed in my job. I want to travel and dress pretty and be with exciting people."
These aren't actually unreasonable wants, yeah? I mean, just because a woman has kids doesn't mean she can't have other desires on top of, ya know, that her kids are happy and provided for, etc. But that's not what Lurlene thinks! Carrie's mom cares about work INSTEAD of her kids! I mean, geez, can you imagine anything more selfish than a woman who has a job and ENJOYS IT?

Does Lurlene actually believe that single women work full-time so they can wear hot clothes and escape parental responsibility? I'm offended on two levels. I mean, right away there's the fact that most people who only have themselves to support have to work, yeah? Where else are you going to get the money for rent/mortgage, car payments, food, clothing (and I'm not talking "pretty clothes", I just mean that we're living in a society where nudity generally isn't an option), etc.? It's not some big selfish choice! Trust me, if I could support myself writing blog posts and working on my book while I catch marathons of America's Next Top Model, I'd be doing it. There's also the fact that many people ENJOY their careers! Carrie's mom says she loves her job! Oh what wicked ways! I guess only dudes can enjoy their jobs without being selfish jerks.

Carrie goes to spend the weekend at her dad and stepmom's place. Her dad is all manly-man, which means he isn't into stuff like feelings or talking. In the Lurleneverse, this is fine. Her stepmom, Lynda, is basically the most perfect person to have ever walked the face of the earth. She cares about Carrie, doesn't mind shuttling her around while Carrie's mom is content for fifteen-year-old Carrie to ride the city bus. See, depending on where this is supposed to take place, that's either terrible parenting or "meh". I grew up in St. Louis, and I wouldn't put a kid on a bus alone, but in cities where public transportation is better, that's fine, yeah? Whatever, just remember, Carrie's mom bad, Lynda AWESOME.

At her cancer support group, Carrie talks to Keith, who is a baseball-playing hottie from her high school. Also, obviously, a cancer survivor too. He's all into baseball and classical guitar, and she tells him how she's into stand-up comedy. They plan on appearing on the Tonight Show together. Is Carrie ready for the big leagues? You tell me:

"What's soft and white and covered with hair?" she asked.

"I give up."

"Your pillow after two weeks of chemo."

Keith groaned.

"Why did Dracula ignore the boy with cancer?" She didn't wait for his answer, saying, "Bad blood between them."
I'd like to believe that even my own case of cancer wouldn't make me laugh at those jokes.

Keith is also into his super family. His parents, of course, are still married, and he has tons of sisters and a little brother. He goes on and on about how superfriggincallifragiawesome they are, while Carrie's all ashamed about her broken home and her shitty parents. I thought this section was to teach us that Keith should shut his big yap and learn families are all different, but actually this is just so we know without a doubt how much Carrie's parents suck.

Of course Keith's whole family comes to the big cancer picnic thrown by the cancer support group, while Carrie is stuck there alone. Luckily the Gardners totes include her, BECAUSE THEY ARE PERFECT, which is awesome timing because this happens while Keith is pitching in the baseball game:

Carrie saw the ball leave his hand. She heard the bat crack against it, saw the ball head straight toward the pitcher's mound and strike Keith hard in the shoulder. She heard Keith's wail of pain and saw him collapse onto the dirt mound like a broken doll.
For some reason, I recall this section really vividly, the whole imagery with Keith collapsing like a broken doll. I've a feeling at thirteen I believed that constituted good writing. Okay, to be fair, it - unlike most of the rest of this book - doesn't entirely suck.

Keith is rushed to the hospital, there are tons of tests, and it's discovered he has cancer!!!!! Don't worry, guys, you can't catch cancer from sports activities, the doctors just discovered a mass in his abdomen WHILE THEY WERE FIXING HIS SHOULDER. I guess that's good doctoring! I feel like a lot of doctors probably wouldn't have checked, so lucky you, Keith Gardner. Oh, except for the part where you have cancer and you're going to die.

Keith's dying wish is to spend time at his family cabin in the country. He asks along Carrie, of course. You know, I have to say, I like that they're good friends who obviously would have dated under different circumstances but don't. A lot of writers wouldn't have been able to resist that hook-up. I mean, Carrie still does basically let her life revolve around a boy, which I don't love seeing in YA lit, but at least it's because he's dying and not because he has perfect blue eyes or something.

Anyways, they get all in touch with nature (minds out of the gutter, kids, I told you there was no hook-up!), and Keith teaches Carrie guitar. Also, this brilliant exchange happens:

Keith rose slowly, painfully, by Carrie's estimation. But his voice was light. "So they send out a hound dog to find us."

"A dog!" Holly cried. "You call me a dog? Prepare to die, fiend!" She ran toward him, feigning terrible retaliation but stopped short in front of him, realizing what she'd said.

Keith reached out and touched his sister's cheek. "That's why I came here to the cabin," he said tenderly. "That's why I came."

Carrie gets back from the trip and has to hang out with her mom's boyfriend. He is totes awful! He is super into money and finance and organization! Because I totally know real dudes who have conversations like this:

"I've been telling your mother that she needs to consider some investments so that she can contribute toward your future and her retirement," Larry said, as if Carrie hadn't spoken at all. "Everyone needs a nest egg, and saving even a hundred dollars a month can add up over time." He'd cut his meat into small, neat squares and was now methodically slicing his potato. [Like a serial killer?]

"Let's see," he mused. "You're fifteen now, and say you begin college in September, three years from now. That's approximately thirty-nine months [no, it isn't...?], and at one hundred a month, why that would be close to four thousand dollars saved." He smiled at Faye. "That plus federal assistance would give Carrie a good start toward a top-notch education."

. . .

He glanced thoughtfully around the room. "You own your own home, and that's an asset. It seems like quite a large house though. How much room can two females living alone
[whyyyy would you phrase it like that, Larry, you are sooooo creepy] really need?"
The thing is, he does have a good point about the house! But that's the last time I'm taking your side, Larry.

Carrie spends more time with Lynda, who is always good for a ride to see Keith. Lynda tells Carrie she TOTALLY GETS IT because she too is from a broken home!:

Lynda sighed and added, "That's why I put off getting married for so long. I'd promised myself that I'd never get divorced, and that if I ever had a family, I'd stay home with them."

So of course Keith dies all peacefully, and the Gardners handle it perfectly! Carrie's mom, selfish bitch that she is, sells the giant house to get a smaller place. Carrie decides to stay with her dad and Lynda. Given those options, I think I'd hop aboard the only-bad-moms-make-you-ride bus and get the hell out of town. Then again, I'm one of those selfish single full-time-employed jezebels.


Tiny Pants said...

Dude, it's the 80s, right? She probably WAS wearing just her new wave haircut and a blouse! One of those ridiculously oversized, hideous loud floral print, men's shirt on crack numbers Claudia and Stacey so loved. Congrats on the new blog, keep it up!

ames said...

You're right, she is TOTALLY wearing something like that. I still think it calls for, at the very least, leggings or tights or SOMETHING! No wonder she landed such a catch. mwah ha ha.

Anonymous said...

Dude, she needs this shirt (in addition to the aforementioned pants):

snappleaddict said...

That's so weird, I have the illustrated version of this cover, and it's a similar looking girl in the same pose looking out a window with a dude with a guitar behind her. They seriosuly couldn't come up with anything better the second time around?

ames said...

snappleaddict, I wonder if that's the one I used to have, because this one is definitely not it. I couldn't find a picture of that one online though!

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