Book 48: Enchanted Islands



"But I found his dedication to the craft a sign that he was an enlightened being, like those monks who spend years crafting sand paintings only to sweep them away once they've finished. Now I see he was keeping himself busy, keeping the demons at bay. But demons are not dissuaded by oceans or preferences; they stow away like sea lice, unwanted visitors from another place, coming ashore with you wherever you go."

Dates read: May 2-5, 2016

Rating: 8/10

I turned 31 earlier this month. I still don't feel like a grown up. I don't pick up after myself with any sort of regularity. I eat frozen dinners at least a couple times per week. I laugh at fart jokes. I love T-Rexes and have a model skeleton of one in my office (courtesy of our incredible office manager, who not only got it for me but built it for me as a gift). I can take down a whole tube of Pringles in one sitting if I'm not paying attention. I've only recently started flossing regularly, and insist on using the little picks or I won't do it. My life only vaguely resembles the one I thought I'd have when I was younger: I was going to stay in Michigan and be a prosecutor. But here I am, a lobbyist in Nevada. I don't think of myself as an adult, even now that I'm married. When are we finally done growing up?

The answer, as gleaned from Allison Amend's Enchanted Islands, is much later than we think. Frances Frankowski is a shy, bookish girl growing up in a poor family in Duluth when she meets fellow youngster Rosalie at the library and the two become instant best friends. They grow up together, but when Frances learns that Rosalie is being exploited when the two are teenagers, they run away to Chicago. After some time there, Rosalie betrays Frances' trust, and Frances flees...first to Nebraska, then to San Francisco, where after a stint as a teacher, she eventually winds up as a secretary for naval intelligence when she's in her late 40s. She runs back into Rosalie and they are reconnecting after decades apart when Frances is offered the chance for marriage to a handsome younger man as part of a secret mission in the Galapagos, and when she accepts it, she alters the course of the rest of her life.

The book is split into four parts comprising two real halves: Frances' life before she meets her husband Ainslie and goes to the Galapagos, and after. The first half takes us through Frances' family life and the beginnings of her deep friendship with Rosalie. The book actually starts with Frances and Rosalie together in a nursing home, having both outlived their husbands, so we knows theirs is a relationship that stands the test of time going in. But the seeds of their break are planted early, and when it comes, we're as saddened as Frances herself is but not really surprised. What is surprising is that they manage to find their way back together early in the second half: a chance encounter in a movie theater in San Francisco, thousands of miles from where they once were girls together. By then, Frances is already contemplating the offer of a sham marriage and an adventure overseas, and it's as much a vain desire to announce to her friend that she IS married, thank you, that convinces her to go for it as anything else. The relationship she and Ainslie create, which sustains long after their mission has ended, is just as lovely but never more important than Frances' relationship with her real soulmate...her best and dearest and oldest friend. I've always had a soft spot for stories about female friendship, because my relationships with my girl friends have occupied such a central place in my own life.

This was a good book, and I've actually gone back and added one of Amend's previous novels to my to-be-read list, because I really enjoyed her writing, which is sure and strong. It actually struck me as I was reading it that this seems like the book that Sena Naslund thought she was writing when she wrote Ahab's Wife...minor personage (in this case, Frances Conway was a real person, who wrote two books about her time in the Galapagos, but she's not notable enough to have her own Wikipedia entry because all the secret spy mission stuff is completely made up), fiercely independent, facing obstacles, adventures, and hardships with strong will and determination. But Amend's work is far superior: she allows Frances to be flawed: prickly, occasionally small-minded, and petty. In doing so, she creates a beautifully realized character who is sympathetic and compelling. All three of the main characters are, really. Amend is a gifted writer and I would recommend this book wholeheartedly.

Tell me, blog friends...when did you start feeling like a grown-up? Or do you at all?

**I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review**

One year ago, I was reading: The Nazi Officer's Wife

2 comments

  1. I have come to know and discover parts of myself I never knew existed with major changes-beginning as an orphan,becoming a daughter,becoming an extraordinary friend,becoming a mother,becoming an orphan a second time,becoming a wife,becoming a single mother,and now becoming a single woman-mother to two amazing adult women who I love and adore-discovering yet another part of myself-I still feel like I am growing up:)

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    1. Oh good, sounds like I'm on track then ;)

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