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Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Full House – But Empty

Quick Overview

Angus “Gus” Munro was born in 1931 in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada). At age 3 his father became a single parent with three children. Gus grew up during the Depression, in a rather poor – but loving – home. After dropping out of school at age 14, he eventually got a job working for a railroad in their communications department. Later he moved to CA, then Alaska, then back to California, spending most of his career in the healthcare administration field.

My Thoughts

The beginning of this book was fascinating. I was quickly drawn into Gus’s story. His home life was unpredictable – his father, although a hard worker, liked to host parties ‘til all hours of the night. People were constantly in and out of their house. This was difficult for Gus, since he was one of those kids who like things to be in order at all times. Yet his father and sisters loved him and each other. They made the best of what they had at all time. I loved reading about the period where the Munro family shared a house with another single father and his kids – those kids really enjoyed their time together (although they fought, just like all kids do). As Gus grew, I enjoyed reading about his various jobs and his experiences meeting some distant relatives.

The middle of the book really dragged for me. This portion covered his career in the healthcare field. What I know about this field comes from my husband’s experiences as a tech in a hospital, and later as a paramedic; frankly, I know enough to know that it’s not the field for me! Perhaps that’s why I had a hard time with this portion of the book. But it’s more than that, really. I appreciate that Gus was able to work from the bottom up, to succeed without a high school education, to achieve while still feeling self-conscious about his background. At the same time, I was bothered by the “human-ness” that I felt was missing from this portion of the book. Many people were referred to by their job titles rather than their names; this may have been because Gus had less than positive things to say about them, but I’d rather he had given them fake names than no names at all. And he seems to me to be too preoccupied with the way people dress and present themselves. It’s important, yes, but it there was too much focus on it for my taste.

The end of the book pulled me back in though. I enjoyed reading about Gus’s relationship with his two nieces – he got involved with both of them from an early age, and seemed to encourage them wherever possible. Later, when Gus became a regular part-time baby sitter for his niece’s new baby boy (and eventually for her 2nd son as well) I was thrilled. What a wonderful relationship he has with those two boys! I’d love it if my son had that kind of bond with a relative from the older generation.

Reconsidering the Book

If you asked me when I finished reading this book if I liked it, I’d have said “No” right away. But writing out my thoughts reminded me that there is much that I DID like about this book. I was just frustrated with the middle section. To me, that’s what is great about book blogging – it makes you think more critically about the things you are reading.

As I considered what I didn’t like about this book, I realized that it’s the lack of family that bothers me so much. Gus did not have children with either his first or second wife (he says in the book that he never really wanted a family), and he rarely speaks about his wives, his sister, or any other relatives in the middle section of the book. He spends 60 hours a week at work by choice. He truly is a work-a-holic and he seems perfectly content with that.

I think that is the reason that the middle section of the book didn’t resonate with me. My family is such an important part of my life, and my career (although I love it) could never compete with that. At one point in the book, Gus cancels an important family visit – during which he planned to connect with his best childhood friend after 50 years – because of a situation at work. He points to this as an example of his sense of responsibility and commitment to his job. Personally, I would never have cancelled my trip. Not in a million years. That’s the difference between Gus and I, and it’s a huge part of the reason for my discontent with parts of this book.

In the End

I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. I loved the beginning and the end, but I hated the middle. If you have experience in healthcare admin, you might enjoy that section. If you enjoy reading about someone’s career, you might enjoy that section. If you want tips on how best to handle awkward situations with your co-workers or subordinates (he ran into lots of strange ones!), you might like that section.

Thank you to Pump Up Your Book for the chance to read and review this book, and a special thank you to Gus Munro for the signed copy of the book you sent to me. I appreciate the opportunity to read new books that I may otherwise not come across.

What do you think?
Would you read this book? Do you identify more with Gus or with me in regards to family and career?

Read another review at As the Pages Turn.

Check out this guest post by the author, all about his life during the Great Depression.


Nan said...

Probably not a book I would be interested in, but wow! what a great, great review. I love your topic headings (for lack of a better term), and I so agree that writing about a book often clarifies your thoughts. I also think sometimes that it is easier (right word?) to write about a book you aren't so enthused about. Anyhow, that was a simply fantastic writeup, Heather. Fair, clear, fine examples. Good job!

Heather J. said...

Why thank you Nan! What a lovely compliment, especially coming from you.

Dewey said...

That happens to me all the time! I'll think a book was BLAH, but as I write about it, I remember so much that I liked. I also think sometimes I write a fairly negative post, and then readers will bring up points that make me realize there was more I liked about the book than I realized.

To answer your question, no, I probably wouldn't read this. I don't usually enjoy memoirs.

Heather said...

I appreciate that the process of writing up the review helped you to see the parts of the book that were great.

I probably wouldn't have picked up this book (I'm not one for literary nonfiction), but I'm currently reading The Glass Castle and my opinion of memoirs may change.

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