Zelda Lockhart’s Fifth Born Book Club

Reading through the Monarch Magazine, I came across an interesting article about an author who graduated from Old Dominion, but grew up in St. Louis, MO.  When I read further, I discovered Zelda Lockhart and I walked the same hallways in the Batten Arts and Letters Building on campus and shared the same phenomenal professors:  Dr. Wilson and Dr. Heller to name a few.  Cool!  Thus, it was a no-brainer that Lockhart’s novel, Fifth Born, moved to the top of my reading list.
The protagonist, Odesssa Blackburn’s childhood is told from the first-person perspective, allowing the reader to witness happenings alongside her.  Based on Lockhart’s own life, this novel is rich with the deplorable effects of familial secrets continuing from one generation to the next.  Not only are themes of physical, mental, and sexual abuse revealed in Lockhart’s writing with horrifying realism, but also themes of racism and sexism within the confines of what should be safety within one’s own family. 
The enormity of familial dysfunction is exemplified through the beauty of Lockhart’s dialogue, which reaches across generations and races such as in Ella Mae’s telling of her constant yearning for her mother:

You could love somebody who didn’t hardly know how to be good to you, like I love Motha.  And you could love somebody you only seen once, like my baby.  That’s because it mostly ain’t about love, it’s about needin folks to be what they supposed to be.  This was supposed to be my mama. . .  Sometimes people do what feel like it’s gonna make things better for right then.  They don’t bother to think about what the turnin of the years gonna bring.  (176, 201)

Typically for book club, I suggest an array of items for foodies to serve at his/her discussion.  In this case, my stomach was turned while and after reading Lockhart’s Fifth Born.  Instead, what came to my mind was the lemonade Deddy insisted upon being served to Cousin Devon and Gretal, “Get your smart ass up and go get them some lemonade”  (18).  In essence, this lemonade with its mix of sugary deliciousness and mouth-puckering sourness represents the pivotal shift Odessa’s life would take with her own sweet innocence being overcome with the acridness of others.

Anna Quindlen’s Blessings Book Club

After a few starts and stops, I finally gave my full attention to Anna Quindlen’s Blessings and was determined to finish.  Although the beginning failed to hook me, once I reached the meat of the story, there was no turning back.  A story of an elderly woman, a convicted felon, and an aspiring young doctor whose lives all come together as a result of the unexpected appearance of a child.
The setting of the novel, Blessings, a rural family retreat, is not only idyllic in location, but also a domicile of familial dysfunction, both past and present.  Through careful unveiling, Quindlen highlights the tragedy associated with truths withheld over generations.  
What was refreshing was the life, revitalization, and perspective of the female protagonist, Lydia.  While philosophizing about life itself, she explains the tragedy of young death, the shock of middle-age death, and the inevitability of elderly death, how herstory, in essence, revolves around the loss of others.  In addition, kudos to Quindlen for allowing the younger male and female in the novel to have meaningful interaction without the presence of romance.
For the purposes of book club, a picnic lunch near a creek much like Lydia shared with Benny and Sunny as adolescents complete with bacon sandwiches, peanut butter cookies, and a big Ball jar of lemonade may be the perfect conversation starter.

Anna Quindlen