A SCATTERED LIFE by Karen McQuestion

Book Quote:

“She skipped right over the sledding in her made-up scenario and thought instead about the tired kids trudging home afterwards, their boots crunching over white diamonds of snow. Her imagination focused on the mother who greeted them at the door, helping them take off their wet things, hanging damp mittens and hats by the radiator, warming their icy fingers between her own hands and asking if they wanted marshmallows in their hot chocolate. The mother part was the only thing she really envied, the only thing she wanted for herself.”

Book Review:

Review by Kirstin Merrihew (AUG 10, 2010)

Motherhood gets explored in A Scattered Life, by Karen McQuestion. Skyla lost her own mother when she was a girl, and with that loss began a itinerant life with a father who had to move around to find work. Married for a few years, she has settled down to the suburban life she dreamed of as a child, and is the mother of a four-year-old daughter named Nora. Her orderly and more-than-a-decade-older husband, Thomas, and she were always in agreement that they would only have one child.

Thomas’ mother, Audrey, has three grown sons on whom, arguably, she doted so much that two were in no hurry at all to leave even after adulthood. Thomas was one of those. He taught school and saved his money and lived at home for years. But then he met Skyla waitressing in one of Wisconsin’s few Mexican restaurants and finally felt inspired to leave his mother’s comfortable but somewhat stifling nest. Audrey doesn’t begrudge her son a life, she thinks, but she does feel left out sometimes. She never was granted one of her heart’s desires — to have a daughter too — and she would like to see granddaughter Nora a lot more than she does.

Skyla’s new neighbors are the Bears: Ted, Roxanne, and five pre-adolescent boys. Skyla feels drawn to this loud, boisterous family right away. Thomas, however, disapproves of the hit-and-miss parenting skills they see all too pointedly on the Bear family’s moving-in day and advises her to stay away from them. Think Skyla listens? As the women quickly become friends, Roxanne confides that her childbearing ambitions extend to Cheaper by the Dozen territory. She says she told Ted about her dreams when they first started going out and he said, ” ‘Whatever you want, baby.’ ” Yet, now Ted thinks Roxanne should deal with the passel she’s got and he is thinking of getting a vasectomy to keep their herd from accidentally increasing. Like Audrey, whom Roxanne also encounters — much further along in the story — Mama Bear longs for a daughter. She and Skyla take their children on picnics and enjoy time together.

But life for these mothers doesn’t stand still, of course. Audrey (whose husband likes to plant himself in front of the TV) tries to fill her days with something besides being a busybody. Skyla decides that while little Nora is attending four-year-old kindergarten, she will work in the rundown bookstore owned by a rather eccentric widow. The store owner was told by a fortune teller who does readings in the store that someone would come to help her, and Skyla fits the bill — especially since Skyla herself shows signs of possessing a few extrasensory abilities. Roxanne, meanwhile, is busy trying to get pregnant again with or without Ted’s explicit agreement. She also finds herself in hot water when a social worker makes a surprise inspection and finds the house and the children topsy-turvy. Could her rather careless mothering methods be an endangerment to her kids? Will there be consequences? And what made the social worker knock on the Bears’ door in the first place?

For much of A Scattered Life, the reader can savor getting to know Audrey, Skyla, and Roxanne. I chose this novel because I was in the mood for something light and heartwarming about families, and I hoped to find that in these pages. I did. But I would have had to stop reading at a certain point to be able to say there no tragedy takes place. There does. When I realized what was going to happen (don’t worry, I won’t tell you here), my stomach clenched a little from dread. Oh, no, I thought. Of course, my wishing it wouldn’t happen didn’t change the print to come. Did I stop reading? No. I still had plenty of curiosity about how the story tied up in the end. And after I finished, I thought it was a good conclusion that showed a very valuable life lesson. Still, I felt disappointed about the sad turn the book took. I wish it had been different.

But then again, isn’t it that the way in real life? Sad things happen. We can wish until donkeys go parasailing — wait! a donkey did go parasailing, so I need another example — er, until jellyfish make honey that we could stop them, but we can’t. There is nothing “unreal” about this book. Skyla’s mother died when she was young. Nothing could change that. Some children, Skyla realizes, are destined to grow up without their own, loving mothers. But there are people who also mothers who don’t have daughters (or, for that matter, who don’t have sons). Perhaps they can fill in. Mothers are forever mothers; they and their children are still joined somehow someway no matter what happens. And, wonder of wonders, mothers can also be mothers to others who aren’t their own flesh and blood. At some point Skyla decides, “Most people have everything they need to be happy.” But it isn’t until someone wisely advises her to open her heart that she makes use of the “everything” she has.

McQuestion’s novel is gentle, funny, and, yes, inevitably bound to raise a tear. Sometimes it seems to be rambling a bit, but that is part of its charm. The men are background, not foreground, and it would have been nice to have become better acquainted with them, but one can’t have everything in 255 pages. If you are seeking a laid-back look into three devoted mother’s lives, this is for you.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 410 readers
PUBLISHER: AmazonEncore; Unabridged edition (August 10, 2010)
REVIEWER: Kirstin Merrihew
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Karen McQuestion
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August 10, 2010 В· Judi Clark В· No Comments
Tags:  В· Posted in: Contemporary, Family Matters

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