The Moon in the Water: Reflections on an Aging Parent by Kathy J. Phillips-I've been having a hard time trying to figure out how to describe this book, so I think I will just let the book do it for me.
From the Preface:
These vignettes record the interactions, wary and warm, of an elderly father and a middle-aged daughter living in the same house after many years of independence. Each vignette describes a painting of the Water-Moon Kuan Yin type in Buddhist art, then ventures into some trial facing the new housemates, then interweaves the painting and the life.
In Buddhism, Kuan Yin is a bodhisattva, or enlightened soul, who has incarnated many times and could graduate from the round of births and deaths but instead chooses to keep incarnating, to help others.
From the front flap:
From perplexed to poignant to funny, the vignettes record the working-class English of a fading but still wise dad, and they find other human versions of Kuan Yin in a doctor who will still make house calls or kind strangers in the street.
And, finally, from the book itself:
Then, as part of the ritual, when I ask him to hang the towel on its rack, which is taller than I am, he always chuckles at being able to help me. In fact, I discovered recently that this goal is his whole reason for staying. Tucking him in one night, I asked if he wanted to turn on his other side, to give a developing bedsore a rest. No, he prefers to lie permanently on his deaf left ear, to leave his right ear listening, even while asleep: "in case you call for help." (p.38)
I initially picked this up at the library thinking that it might be something to recommend to my aunt, who is doing a great deal of care-taking for my rapidly-aging grandparents. As it turns out, I was able to take a little bit of Phillips' experience caring for her old-man father in his final days and relate it to my caring for my old-man basset in his final days, so it proved to be a bit of an unexpected source of comfort.
I really did enjoy this book. I think part of it was because the author lives in Honolulu, so a lot of the things that she talked about were things that I could relate to. It's always kind of fun to be able to say, "Hey, I've been there!" or to chuckle and think, That is soooo Hawaii! as you read another's story. That said, although there are a lot of local references in here, I think this book is relatable on many levels; if you've ever had to deal with government bureaucracy, been without transportation, prayed for grace or even just had really great neighbors, you can probably find something in Phillips' stories that will make you go, "Ah...I've been there!"
On a separate note, while I was reading this, there was a bit of an uproar going on in the blogosphere over the cover of Magic Under Glass. I happened to read about it at in which a girl reads. Part of the discussion over there revolved around whether or not readers automatically imagine characters in a book as white if their race is not specified by the author. My initial response was that, yeah, I probably do default characters to white, and I left a comment saying as much. After that I returned to reading this book and, to quote my follow-up comment (is that the height of laziness??), "I realized that despite the author's name, and the fact that I've looked at her picture on the dust jacket a couple of times AND the fact that she had described her tall haole (white) father, I was still imagining both of them as Asian. I'm not sure if this is because they were in Hawaii (where I live) and people here are predominantly Asian or if it was because of the heavy references to Kuan Yin, an enlightened Buddhist soul[.]"
So, for me, subject matter and locale seem to play a large role in how I imagine characters in a book. I've also discovered that speech influences my mental image. Phillips' stories are lightly peppered with a few local phrases and expressions which, for me, even after almost nine years here, still don't sound quite right coming from a white person, so when I hear certain words or phrases, I automatically picture someone Asian or Polynesian.
I bring this up only because I was kind of surprised by it myself. I had been assuming that I am as guilty as the next person of automatically defaulting all of my literary characters to white even as I was in the middle of (incorrectly) defaulting my characters to Asian. Do you have a default? If so, what is it, and why?
As always, if you have reviewed this book, let me know and I'll add a link to your review. You can also leave your thoughts in the comments.
Bonus! Turns out that the review of Magic Under Glass is up today at in which a girl reads. Hmmmm...what does it all mean???