Friday, July 31, 2015

The Children's Crusade

The Children's Crusade, by Ann Packer, © 2015, Scribner

Oak trees are well known symbols of power and strength. Whatever culture you look at resonates that thought in some manner or other. So when Bill Blair stumbles across a magnificent oak tree in California after his discharge from the navy, he makes the decision to purchase the land with visions of a family in mind.

Several years later, the oak tree is the central grounding space for the Blair family. Bill marries Penny and they quickly have four children. But Penny's vision had always been three and when James shakes up her plan, life will never be the same. Robert, Rebecca and Ryan were all she thought she wanted, but once motherhood surrounds her, she finds she cannot breath. And slowly she disconnects from it to follow a passion for art, leaving Bill and the children behind.

As Ann Packer weaves the tale of the Blair family, the perspective jumps between the children's views of the world they were raised in. They all take turns analyzing their relationship with their doting father and a mother whom they had strived to interest in them to no avail. Packer shows a family growing up, finding their ways into adulthood and encourages her readers to question how those years mold us into who we might become. Does an ambivalent mother account for James' chaotic behaviour in his youth and into an adulthood fraught with bad decisions and questionable actions? Would Bill's methodical parenting have been the reason for Rebecca's always analytical take on life? Where did Robert's anger stem from—being first-born and infused with the sense he had to be first/best at everything, yet not measuring up to those expectations? And sensitive Ryan; how did his quiet, loving soul get formed in the midst of the oft-times chaos that was their family life growing up?

This book will be the first novel discussed when my book club resumes this fall and I believe it will spark interesting dialogue. I suspect different people will associate with one or another characters. And the role of mothering versus following one's own personal goals might be a hot-button conversation amongst our members, who consist of both mothers and those whom have not had children for one reason and another. Where is the fine line between finding one's personal joy and being responsible for the children you have chosen to bring into the world?

If you have read the book, what is your take on it? The novel is a compelling read and has found its way onto the favourite lists of many people. Is it that we can all relate to Packer's dysfunctional family in one way or another? Perhaps. Life is never perfect, but it is entertaining. And if you haven't read it, this novel is too.

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