Saturday, August 20, 2011

Vera's Still Point by Ruth Perkinson

Publisher:                 Spinsters Ink

"Have you ever been somewhere or with someone and it was such a wonderful experience that it was like time was not moving forward or backward? You were just standing still, taking in all of the moment's beauty….there is the dance, the dance of life, what we all live for but what most of us don't recognize. We are mired in the past and pulled centrifugally into the future. However, it is the small dancing moments that evade time that we need to touch like a spirit fleshed out before us." Vera's Still Point, p. 104

Vera Curran was living a life where she missed most of the still points. She wasn't completely to blame for this because she was a forty year old lesbian librarian at a public high school in Virginia, a state that unfortunately is well known for being gay-unfriendly. Vera made the decision that the only way to protect her job was to live her life as a complete denial of her sexuality and follow a rather mundane and mind-numbing routine. She thought she was relatively happy living like that, until she met Frankie Bourden. Frankie was a former military pilot who decided to become a teacher with a mission to change the world, or at least her little corner of it. Frankie represented everything that Vera taught herself to be afraid of; she was out and proud and determined to shake up the system. And Vera couldn't resist her. 

Unfortunately, as sometimes happens in real life, the relationship is doomed to be of short duration because the reader learns on page 2 that Frankie dies from cancer, but, instead of being sad, the end of the book is uplifting. It tells the story of two women, how one awakened the life in the other and how the survivor learned to go on without her. The chapters alternate from the present when Vera is telling their story to her nephew Kyle and flashbacks of how the improbable relationship developed, beginning with cryptic questions on Post-It Notes. In the end, Vera would learn from Frankie that it's the still points and the people who make them for you that give richness to your life and she loved her for it.

Vera's Still Point is not a typical romance. There is a love story involved, but it's overshadowed by other themes. The first is the cost of living in an environment that will not let a person be who she truly is. People who do not live in one of the extremely conservative states may have trouble understanding Vera's fear about what could happen to her career if it becomes known that she is a lesbian. Virginia has been dominated for many years by the presences of the Rev. Pat Robertson and the late Rev. Jerry Falwell and was the birthplace of the Moral Majority.

Perkinson, a former teacher, captures the repression of living in such an environment and the destruction it can wreak on a person's soul to be forced to live in the shadows. Vera's fear of discovery is real, which makes Frankie's openness either heroic or foolhardy, depending on how you view the outcome. The fact that Vera is so obviously unhappy in her personal life without realizing it will cause readers who have been in similar circumstances to consider what "still points" they have also failed to experience. There is a certain sadness in wishing that everyone could be as fearless as Frankie and knowing that it sometimes can't be so in real life. 

There is the theme of how family dynamics shape a person's behavior or fail to shape it. Vera and Frankie's mothers make an interesting contrast of people who don't approve of something, but choose to deal with it in different manners. One interesting question that never quite gets answered is why Vera, who appears to have the more accepting family, doesn't have the courage to be more of a fighter for her life. 

Also there is the theme of love discovered and lost. Or is it? The reader will be left to ponder whether the cessation of life has to be the cessation of love. Can love be sustaining when one person is a memory? And what happens if you are the one left behind? It would be expected that Vera, after so many years of cutting her emotions off and then finally discovering the deep joy that love can bring, would become bitter when it's taken away too soon or that she would retreat to her former behavior. Neither of those happens however and the book makes a powerful statement about drawing strength from the past to face the future.

Vera's Still Point is a thoughtful book told with humor and insight. While it tells a love story, it will also lead the reader into reevaluating life and what really matters. Hopefully, it will lead the readers to also be more aware and appreciative of the still points that they personally experience and the people who help to cause them.

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