Friday, November 1, 2013

Thanksgiving (A Novel) by Ellen Cooney

Book Review by:
Sharon Powers.

    The Thanksgiving holiday is only a few short weeks away. The leaves are turn- ing brown, yellow, red, and we've seen the last of the Jack-O-Lanterns. The on- ly pumpkin we think of now, is the pumpkin we'll have as pumpkin pie.  Our minds are busy plan- ning the big meal for Thanksgiving, think- ing about who is go- ing to be coming; perhaps we think a- bout football. 

    On Thanksgiving Day, perhaps we will rise early and put the Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV as we begin prepping the turkey, simmering the giblets for gravy, and take in the smells of onions, celery, mushrooms and sage as they permeate our homes. The football will come a little later.

    Every family has its own traditions, legacies and memories. Ellen Cooney writes about one fictional family and their ways of dealing with life and and how they appreciate the good that they have. The book I am reviewing for you, today, Thanksgiving, is fresh off the shelf, having been released for publication only on September 3, 2013.

Silverware was placed on the white
tablecloth at Morley functions.
     The book is an account of pivotal events in the lives of the Morleys, as if they were ingredients that mix together to make up a whole Thanksgiving meal. Each chapter chronicles events around one Morley and the preparation of one food item. We get to know the Morley women as we share with them their joys and sorrows, their faithfulness and the infidelities that impact their lives. We come to love the silverware, tablecloth, dinnerware and stemware that are given to the women, and we see them as they pass through each generation, becoming familiar talismans of the family.  We see other potential heirlooms drift out of their lives, lost forever.

The Morley turkey was shot with an
arrow, but Patience and Caleb "...made
up a story about it." A "secret" was
born that day, and a knife was lost,
only to come to the light of day many
years later--though no one figured
out Patience and Caleb's secret...
or that they even had a secret.
Through the years the "made up"
turkey story was told and retold,
until it was a Morley family legend.
     As we proceed through the chapters, we jump in time, anywhere from eight years to twenty-nine years. The first story, set in 1662 Colonial America,  is about Patience, a pregnant newlywed. One morning, when she goes outside her simple cabin to look for her husband, she sees a wild turkey killed by an arrow; but no one is around, so she drags the heavy bird toward the cabin, thankful for the blessing of the turkey. She hears a shot and wonders what kind of game her husband, Caleb, has just shot. So begins the legend that is handed down in the Morley family.

The Morley house had an herb
garden; for a long while, the herbs
from that garden were dried
 in the kitchen

     Through the years, the house, too, grows as rooms are added and changes made. The changes in the house mirror the changes in the lives of the women: births, a loss of a husband gone to war, infidelity and the first ever divorce in the family, family members who have moved away and headstones added to the family burial plot.

Cranberries: The cranberries were
burned and while the inside of the
pan was cleaned the outside of the
pan was irreparably burned and
blackened, never to be the same.
The pan continued to be used and
was valued by the Morley women,
nonetheless. This mirrored Ruth's
story and reflects her imminent
divorce from the man she once loved. 
         The book, without a doubt, is ambitious, and the concept unique and creative.  The concept of creating a story about a family seen through the eyes of a master cook assembling the various dishes for one grand Thanksgiving meal is wonderful. I've never read another story like it.

    Here's why what Ellen Cooney does is so genius
--cooking has gone on since sometime shortly after man started walking the earth. Cooking was an integral part of life even in the 1600s (although no Thanksgiving Day existed then); and, giving thanks was also an integral part of Colonial life. In spite of whatever hardships existed for the women through the days and years of the Morleys in that house in Massachusetts, they always appreciated the good in their lives. That good centered around family, hearth, and food.

     Also, many themes or motifs abound throughout the book. Glass, of course, where we begin with the promised window panes at the beginning of the book, the knife (actually many knives appear in the book, not just the one in the first chapter), the family burial plot, single wives and mothers, the sentient house, cookware and cooking, saving various vegetables/fruits, little girls repeating rhymes, and more. I loved how Ellen Cooney kept continuity throughout the book through her use of motifs.

Halloween is gone Thanksgiving on its way...
just a few short weeks to go.
     Another good device is the way Ellen Cooney makes the house into a living, breathing, sentient being. In the chapter, 1778 The New Plates, Lydia muses that it would take the house a little while to "grow used to her;" and, the house seemed "stricken with gloom" almost like it had been "knocked down to the ground." Then, the house, like a man climbing to his feet, got up again.

     Also, in the chapter, 1801 Cranberries, when Ruth decides to divorce her husband, Lydia realizes she will have to move back to the house to be with Ruth. Lydia's husband, George, hasn't yet realized the situation, yet "[b]ut the house knows." To Lydia, the walls lean in intimately and whisper to her, "I'm still yours...." Other instances, throughout the book, portray the Morley home almost like a mother holding all her children within her walls, caring for them, sometimes seeming to communicate with them.

     And finally, in the chapter, 2012 Dinner, I love how even the women seem to think of the house as a living entity. Voicing what she is thankful for, Hester's mother states that she loves the house, "...and I'll never stop being thankful I married into it" (Not, "married into the family," but "married into it--the house.").

    In the chapter on "Potatoes," Letty is considering what epitaph she should have put on her (grave) stone. Right away she knew what it would be. It would be the first thing she had translated from "Toby's Latin primer." She had been amazed she could remember it.

"I Love."
     "After gathering roses to adorn her hair, the little girl runs in joy to show her mother and father . . . [Letty then remembered] amare, to love. Love in all its forms was the way she taught herself what to do with verbs. She was once a little girl at a table right here, much like this one, oak like this one, enchanting herself with amare, past, present, future, I love, she loves, he loved, I am loved, they are loving, I had been loved, I shall love, I shall have been loved."

     For me, this quote is a succinct description of every woman in the book.


     I enjoyed this book far more than I thought I would. I'm glad that I read it.
I give this book 4.0 stars
Four Stars out of 5.


About this book:
Pages: 274
Publisher: Publerati; 1 edition (September 3, 2013)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Language: English
Text-to-Speech: Enabled
X-Ray: Not Enabled
Lending: Enabled

     Thinking of Thanksgiving today, as I post this review to my blog, I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. Be safe. Be kind to one another. Enjoy your time with your family and friends.

Until next time...
White Rose.
...many happy pages of reading.

__________________________________________________ - Thanksgiving by Ellen Cooney, Kindle Ed., Amazon; - Turkey with an arrow; - Silverware and tablecloth; - Drying herbs; - Cranberries; - Halloween and Thanksgiving cartoon; - I love (Latin); - Four Stars out of Five; - White rose.