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Too Much Driving, Not Enough Distance + “Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty” by Ramona Ausubel

In the absolute nicest way possible, I’m sick of my kids.

I know it’s just because it’s summer, and I feel like I’m here for their amusement. Listening to them argue over every little thing. Watching them inhale every ounce of food in our house and then listening to them complain about the lack of food in said house. Cleaning up their messes (here, there, and everywhere!). Stepping over their equipment and books and STUFF. Cajoling them to do the easiest of chores, and taking deep breathes while I listen to them complain about it.

It’s these days when I really wish I didn’t work from home.

I love my girls, and they haven’t done anything outrageous or egregious. Their just being kids. But their always around, and they want to eat, and they want to go somewhere. And it’s all on me.

And the worst part of it all is all the driving without going ANYWHERE. 

Because it’s summer, we have to fill in all those blank hours (before I start to work, after kids-drive-me-crazy-they get up), which means driving. Driving younger daughter to day camp, picking up older daughter from morning swim practice. Driving to and from the library, the movie theater, the bookstore, the pool (for fun, not practice). Driving to and from the grocery store, for the food that is never enough. Picking up from day camp. Driving to and from afternoon swim practice (with a second team, at a second pool).

And, in the middle of all that, is my five-six hours of work.

All of this driving is done within about a five mile radius, with day camp being a little further, about 15 miles from home. The feeling of driving in circles is reality. I AM driving in circles.

I’m putting a lot of miles on my vehicle, but I’m getting nowhere.

And there’s rarely even a muttered thank you from my passengers. Instead I usually hear “I’m going to be late!” or “We don’t we ever get ice cream?!”

They’re making it easy for me to be sick of them.

It IS all winding down, slowly but surely. We’re almost done with one swim team, and the other follows a week later. Then we’re heading to Colorado for a couple of weeks of family time (driving). We get back into town with a few days to spare before school starts back up. And that means an end to the never-ending circles around town.

Of course, by October, I’ll be yearning for time with my daughters. And in a couple of years my oldest will have her license, and I’ll be missing the drive-time with my girls.

Although I’m sick of the actual driving, I kind of enjoy our time in the car, for the most part. It’s the time when we get to really talk without interruption. Because I’m usually in the front and they’re in the back, it gives them (well, my oldest, really-my youngest has no reserve) a chance to be honest without the eye-to-eye stuff.

So I’ll keep driving (the alternative is kids who sit around the house all day) — and I’ll probably keep complaining. But, in the back of my mind I’ll know that these are the last of the days when my daughters will rely on me for nearly everything. I’ll make an effort to savor these moments, hanging onto the tales of victory and loss, the giggles and the tears, the stories and the songs.

I’ll try to remember that while there isn’t much distance in all these miles, I’m gaining an abundance of memories with my girls.

Okay, onto my review of Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel.

Fern thought, this is what it feels like to be married today. Because the feeling was utterly different form being married the day before, the year before, the day they had made those vows.

The Premise

Fern and Edgar, Edgar and Fern. Fern is a rich girl, growing up in the type of ‘old’ money family in which things are done just so, and trying too hard is frowned upon. Edgar grew up in a ‘new’ money family, with a mother trying too hard to do things just right and a father who just wants to celebrate his hard-won riches with nice things. Both grow up in a world where they don’t have to worry about anything.

Set in 1976, both have lofty anti-money ideals stemming from the anti-establishment mentality left over from the 1960’s and The Vietnam War, although they live a life of ease because Fern’s family money. Along with their three young children, there life is easy without worry; living in Cambridge, summering on Martha’s Vineyard in luxury and affluence.

At least until Fern’s parents die (together), and she learns that all her money is gone. And Edgar must contemplate going to work for his father, who isn’t quite as willing to bankroll his grown child’s lifestyle.

Edgar’s life is a whirlwind of emotions with the thought of going to work in corporate America, and he falls into another woman’s arms. When they return to Cambridge, he tries to eschew his guilt by pawning Fern off on the other woman’s husband.

As the children return to school, both Fern and Edgar are confused at the turn their lives have taken. Edgar decides to run off with the other woman and sail to Mexico. He intends to tell his wife, but never does.

Fern is at a loss, knowing her husband has had an affair but unsure where this leaves her. As a favor to a friend, she acts as the bride in a mock wedding, and runs off with the groom, a flesh and blood giant. She attempts to call Edgar, but never gets through.

Both assume the children are safe with the other.

While their parents are off on their own adventures, their children have an adventure of their own. Nine year old Cricket, takes on the roll of caretaker, filled with visions of orphanages and Native Americans. Along with her younger twin brothers, the three live in their backyard, unwilling to face the  empty loneliness of their home.

As the three sets of adventurers take vastly different paths, readers discover the histories of Edgar and Fern, both individually and together, as they decide on their futures.

My Thoughts

It’s happened before and it will happen again: I HATED these characters (especially Edgar), but I loved this book.

But they were really deep, fleshed out characters. Even if they were slightly despicable.

Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty pulled me in from the beginning: I love stories that start on the Eastern Seaboard. And, as soon as I was drawn into their last lazy days of summer (1976), Fern gets the call from the family lawyer informing her that her parents left her penniless.

As soon as she told Edgar that she was broke, I became increasingly uncomfortable, which is not necessarily a bad thing while reading. Upon learning that he might have to work, Edgar immediately falls into the arms of another rich woman. Right there! Really–no money, I’m going to have a crisis.

Rich people problems. Or, rich people who might have to work problems.

I really felt for Fern. Throughout the book, she tried to be the wife and mother her mom was not. I know, from experience, that she already felt unappreciated. Then, the minute she tells her husband that she has no money and he might have to go work for his (also rich, but working rich) parents, he bolts.

The fact that they are such consumers of fine things, but they hate owning things and money in general is just ludicrous. Only those that have everything they want can say they don’t want anything. This is strongly represented in Edgar, the man who wants no money until it’s gone.

His adventure is interesting in that he’s called by a siren–the other woman, and he takes off on an ill-advised trip for which they are both ill prepared. The siren calls him away from his life and draws him into danger. Again, trying to escape the trappings of his life, he takes a boat his father built himself.

It’s a running theme, Edgar talking about not wanting money or things, but only because he has money and things.

Back to Fern. She runs as well (of course, not knowing that Edgar is running). And she runs away with a giant! A man who pulls her away from her family, with whom she feels a kinship and a connection. He’s not a bad guy, just very lonely. And Fern isn’t a bad woman; she’s spoiled, for sure, but she’s a pretty good wife and mother (the accidental abandonment of her children aside).

Her adventure–a drive from Massachusetts to California–is interesting. At first it is her revenge for Edgar’s affair. But along the way she starts to find herself a bit. And she starts to understand her mother, father, and especially her twin brother, who died a few years prior.

The children’s adventure is just as interesting, although it is very disturbing. Cricket believes what she is doing is what she should be doing, keeping she and her brothers out of the orphanage. It made me so uncomfortable, knowing that these children are on their own, and watching as no one notices!!! But it is amazing, and something every mother needs to remember:

Every tenth word out of her mouth for nine years had been one of caution. It was as if she had not completely let her breath out since Cricket was born. And yet they had survived on their own for five days. They had gotten themselves to school. They had eaten.

Cricket, amazing and brave.

Cricket, Fern thought. Maybe she did not need to be so afraid.

Maybe none of them did.

In Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, Ausubel presents some deep, real characters, and lays them bare for readers to judge. Giving us their histories as well as their families, we see that who they are is, in large part, a product of our environment and the times.

Setting it in the 1976,  a time when the world is caught between revolution and recession, in a year where America is celebrating 200 years of being, these two are products of America. The old and the new money, coming together. It’s a brilliant time for this story, perfect in every way.

I cannot say I enjoyed Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, but I did really like it. It’s the kind of story that pushes me as a reader, making me think and make connections. When a book makes me uncomfortable but I keep reading, well that says something. I often get lazy in my reading, staying to the safe and ‘fun,’ what I call brain candy.

This is not brain candy. This is a yummy, savory vegetable. The one that you don’t necessarily pick as a treat, but that your body (or your mind) needs and is actually quite delectable.

I give Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty 5 stars. Really, really good (and good for your brain, too!).



I love to read; writing is my outlet. My blog is my way to combine the two, with a some life stories thrown in for good measure.

One thought on “Too Much Driving, Not Enough Distance + “Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty” by Ramona Ausubel

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