Wednesday, October 30, 2013

SAN MIGUEL by T.C. Boyle

Two families inhabited the small island of San Miguel, off the coast of Santa Barbara, CA, as sheep ranchers—one in the late 1800's, and one in the 1930s and early 1940s.  They couldn't have been more different.  Marantha Waters suffers from tuberculosis, and her move to the blustery island, at the behest of her tyrannical husband, probably exacerbated the disease.  She and her adopted daughter Edith long for the comforts, amenities, and society of the mainland.  On San Miguel they live in a rustic, rundown house, hundreds of yards away from the privy, and receive supplies and mail via boat once in a blue moon.  Even by the standards of the 1880s, they are roughing it.  Fast forward 50 years, and a few improvements are evident, including an updated house.  Air travel and radio communication are now available also.  The new caretakers are the Lesters--Herbie and Elise--who both delight in the crisp air and solitude.  Imagine, though, raising children there with scant social interaction and no access to formal education.  The Lesters make do, living in isolation with remarkable zest, causing journalists to hype them as the "Swiss Family Lester."  The attack on Pearl Harbor, however, brings their idyll to an abrupt end, replacing contentment with uneasiness, since their island is one of the last stepping stones between Japan and the USA proper.  Plus, Herbie appears to be bipolar, giving the reader a sense of foreboding, as his dark periods become a little more frequent and a little more severe.  This book, though, is about the women, facing unfathomable hardships and managing to keep it together somehow.  Elise Lester doesn't just survive; she thrives.  Let's see:  she does all the cooking and cleaning, raises two children, home-schools them quite successfully, and still finds time for gardening and sewing.  Now that's multitasking.  Based on fact, this book drew me in, but I must say I never envied the characters.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I love T. C. Boyle. I haven't read this book either.

Thanks for the review.

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