Fall is a big season for publishers, one in which books with high hopes for success hit the shelves. Two books that fit that category are by a well-respected author of fiction, essays and nonfiction, and a debut author whose name is well-known to anyone who has followed television and movies for the last 40 years.
The debut author is actress Sally Field, who took seven years to write her memoir “In Pieces.”
Field grew up in a decidedly female household with her mother, grandmother and great-aunts, all strong women. She tells some of their fascinating stories, explaining how they got to be where they were. It will inspire the reader to talk to their own mothers and grandmothers about their life experiences.
The biggest influence on Field’s life was her beautiful mother, an actress who had a modest film career. Field had a complicated relationship with her mother growing up, made more so when her mother married an actor/stuntman, Jock Mahoney. Mahoney sexually abused Sally at a young age, and that relationship resonated with her for the rest of her life.
As Mahoney’s Hollywood fortunes waned, Sally’s interest in acting earned her a starring role in the 1960s sitcom “Gidget.” It was a good first experience, but her second television show, “The Flying Nun,” was a deeply unhappy one.
She didn’t want to do it, but Jock convinced her that she may never work again and she needed to take the job. After a few desperately unfulfilling years there, she was introduced to the Actors Studio, where she came alive. She studied and worked hard to become a serious actress.
Field details the highs and lows in her personal and professional life, from her marriage at a young age and subsequent divorce to raising her three sons and working to get the kind of serious roles she wanted.
From her breakout role as a severely mentally ill woman in “Sybil” to her Academy Award-winning performance in “Norma Rae” to her very complicated relationship with actor Burt Reynolds, Field lays it all on the line in an honest portrait of her life.
Although her mother had a drinking problem as Sally grew up, it was her mother she turned to when she needed someone to care for her sons when she worked. And her mother was there for her and her sons at every turn.
She ends the book trying to understand her mother, what drove her and why they had such a complicated relationship. “In Pieces” is an indelible portrait of a woman we all thought we knew.
Barbara Kingsolver has written some of the best books of the past 20 years, most notably “The Poisonwood Bible.” She writes about big issues as illuminated by her brilliantly conceived characters.
Her latest, “Unsheltered,” tells a story that many people can relate to today. Willa Knox is a middle-aged mother of two grown children, happily married to Iano, a college professor she has loved forever.
When Iano’s college closes, they are forced to move to New Jersey, where Iano found a one-year teaching position at a small college. His very ill father, Nick, lives with them, a man who loves cable news and talk radio and loudly and profanely blames anyone different from himself for the woes of the country.
Soon, their son Zeke arrives with a new baby in tow, progressive daughter Tig comes home after two years incommunicado, and life becomes more difficult, made even more so by the fact that the home left to Willa by her aunt is literally falling down around them.
Willa lost her job when the magazine she wrote for folded, and money is tight. She discovers that their home may have historical classification, and she begins to research the previous owners in hopes of saving it, and them.
Thatcher Greenwood was a science professor who lived in the home after the Civil War. He believed in the work of Charles Darwin, which caused him trouble with his own family and the townspeople of Vineland. People believed science was sacrilegious, and it frightened them.
Kingsolver writes brilliantly and beautifully in a novel that touches the reader emotionally and rationally. Her characters feel like real people (and some of the historic ones are), and the relationships between them (especially Iano and Willa) are moving. She really nails the family dynamic, especially in times like these when it can be problematic.