Saturday, January 11, 2014

A book review of The Loves of Natalie Greenbaum: Book 1 by Jeanne D’eau

 “Thanks For The Memories”

This will be a trip down memory lane for some people.  It explores the territories in our history of bathtub gin, the Roaring Twenties, gangsters, movie stars, the big bands, party lines, Prohibition, flappers, John Reed, the Great Gatsby, the Wall Street Market Crash, speakeasy’s, socialism and reefers and beanies.  It is also the age of taboos regarding sex, race and politics.  And it is all seen through the eyes and heart of one Natalie Greenbaum, who has lived 90+ years and recalls it all.

It is a story of a Northwest gal, part Native American, and raised in the Jewish Faith, from parents who owned a deli.  We follow her through her loves (as the title implies) of Eva, Esther, Connie, Marilyn and others, as well as her Gay husband, Thom and their daughter, Peggy.  The joy of discovery and the pain of heartbreak are interwoven with factual as well as fictitious events in history.  In her case, the Bard may have said it best:  “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

Having been thrust into this world of contradictions, complexities, and contrition, she never shies away from who she is, even though she may not fully understand it herself.  A Native American proverb inserted in the story says it best, “All any of us has is right now.”  And one may add that she takes full advantage of that adage.

Ms. D’eau has the ability to squeeze in as much historical events as possible, concentrating mainly on the music/songs of the time (as Natalie is a singer) and the films.  We also get a glimpse of the military life, as her husband is in the Navy.  And we explore with her the excesses of the rich and the plights of the poor.  It has elements of E.L. Doctrow’s, Ragtime and Fitzgerald’s, The Great Gatsby.  One can say the Ms. D’eau certainly has gone to a lot of trouble researching our history, as well as, perhaps, living some of it herself.

And it is also about sex, very implicitly described.  True, it is about the “Loves of…” not “Life of…” or “Legend of…” so the novel is being true to its title.  And one of her character says, “Everything’s about sex.”  But the explicit descriptions of the sexual acts in detail more than once is a bit excessive, I believe, and probably will narrow her audience.  I would suggest that what one can fantasize in their own minds is going to be more personal and more gratifying than anything that a person can put in a book or on the screen.

A good example would be Kubrick’s film of Lolita, which was condemned by a large faction of the public, and yet there is nothing explicit on the screen.  It is just suggested by some very good acting and clever writing, leaving the audience to imagine the rest.  Also one can always argue as to what is the difference of love versus lust.  No easy explanation of Love, poets have been trying to describe it for years.  And nothing wrong with lusting after someone, either.  It’s just that if you get those two desires mixed up, it can be dicey, at best.  Natalie’s feelings for Thom and her parents and her daughter, Peggy, are what I would describe as Love.

And the book does an excellent job of breaking down taboos, such as the rights of Gays, women, other races and religions and beliefs.  And the afterward to the book, where it describes the various events of history, both true and imagined, is fascinating.  I also learned something I didn’t know, such as what is a potlatch and where did Winter Solstice come from.  This book has some terrific cinematic values to it, as it would work very well as a film or mini-series on cable.  At its best, it pays homage to an era that we lived, loved, lost but should not be forgotten.  For more information go to:

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