She Was

( 4 )

Overview

Doreen Woods lives an ordinary life. She is a respected dentist, her son has just graduated from high school, and her husband teaches fifth grade. The one flaw is that her brother, Adam, has MS. Even that isn't all that extraordinary. . . . Then, out of nowhere, Janey Marks shows up, bringing the past with her.

In 1971 Doreen was young, idealistic Lucy Johansson. Adam was back from Vietnam, damaged and bitter. Caught up in the anti-war movement...

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She Was

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Overview

Doreen Woods lives an ordinary life. She is a respected dentist, her son has just graduated from high school, and her husband teaches fifth grade. The one flaw is that her brother, Adam, has MS. Even that isn't all that extraordinary. . . . Then, out of nowhere, Janey Marks shows up, bringing the past with her.

In 1971 Doreen was young, idealistic Lucy Johansson. Adam was back from Vietnam, damaged and bitter. Caught up in the anti-war movement Lucy committed a crime that changed everything for both of them.

She Was spans America, coast to coast, over four decades, to give us the story of one young woman who, like many of her generation, tried to change the world and how, thirty-four years later, in a world that still needs changing, she must pay the consequences.

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Editorial Reviews

Kash's Book Corner
“[S]pellbinding...evokes pathos without being sentimental...It’s a story set in the turbulent, emotional times of the Vietnam war. The beliefs of sons and daughters are set against the values of their own parents as American living rooms became increasingly hostile places. [P]owerful...harrowing.”
Sunday Denver Post
“Hallowell’s text... is razor sharp.... And few writers could match her depiction of Adam’s battle with multiple sclerosis....SHE WAS sustains a steady level of suspense for such a character-driven piece.”
Sunday Denver Post on SHE WAS
“Hallowell’s text... is razor sharp.... And few writers could match her depiction of Adam’s battle with multiple sclerosis....SHE WAS sustains a steady level of suspense for such a character-driven piece.”
Kash's Book Corner on SHE WAS
“[S]pellbinding...evokes pathos without being sentimental...It’s a story set in the turbulent, emotional times of the Vietnam war. The beliefs of sons and daughters are set against the values of their own parents as American living rooms became increasingly hostile places. [P]owerful...harrowing.”
Publishers Weekly

Disjointed and anticlimactic, Hallowell's (The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn) take on the far-reaching consequences of Vietnam-era protests gone bad addresses big issues but doesn't quite deliver. Doreen Woods, a successful Colorado dentist, wife and mother, isn't who she seems. Thirty years earlier, she was Lucy Johansson, a Berkeley student and antiwar radical who went underground (with her older brother, Adam) after a bomb she planted at Columbia University as part of a political group called Fishbone fatally detonated. As Doreen, she keeps her past a secret from her husband, Miles, and teenaged son, Ian, until she's confronted by Janey Marks, an old Fishbone friend with a grudge: Janey's husband, Jack, is in jail for explosives possession and Janey is determined to trade Doreen to the FBI for Jack's release. As Doreen struggles with the decision to come clean or run again, Adam is slowly consumed by multiple sclerosis and is frequently awash in flashbacks to his tour in Vietnam. But for all the anxiety, paranoia and violence, the reading experience is oddly flat. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Hollowell's second novel (after The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn) centers on married, middle-aged dentist Doreen Woods, who is about to be held accountable for a grievous act she committed at age 19 that led to her going into hiding and changing her identity. Doreen is now living in Denver, her only connection to her past her nearby brother, Adam, who suffers from debilitating multiple sclerosis. Adam is equally haunted by disturbing memories stemming from his service in Vietnam. When Doreen realizes that she is going to be found out, she must not only reveal herself to Miles, her unsuspecting husband of 26 years, and their 18-year-old-son, Ian, but she must also reconnect with her estranged mother. Hallowell doesn't always succeed in believably conjuring up an in-depth depiction of college campus militancy in the late 1960s and early 1970s; some characters are stock, and the situations can appear trite. With Doreen and her brother, Adam, however, Hallowell strives to dig deeper, allowing the reader to feel true concern for the emotional burdens they have carried throughout their adult lives. These fuller characterizations, coupled with an adept writing style that effectively draws the reader into the story, recommend this for all public libraries.
—Maureen Neville

Kirkus Reviews
Hallowell (The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn, 2004) weaves together the past and present in the story of a Vietnam protestor. Doreen Woods is a normal urban mother. What nobody knows-not even her husband and teenage son-is that in college Doreen was involved with a violent anti-war group called the Fishbone. Through a series of suspenseful flashbacks we learn that, in 1971, Doreen set off a protest bomb that accidentally killed a Columbia University janitor. For more than 30 years, she has lived as a fugitive. At present, Doreen is happily married, adores her son and runs a successful dental practice. She also takes care of her brother, Adam, who is sick with MS and is the only family member who knows Doreen's secret. Despite the appearance of normalcy, Doreen is always haunted by her past, and she constantly reinforces the parallels between the Vietnam War and the current Iraq conflict, displaying obvious dismay over the current state of the nation. With the reappearance of a former comrade who betrayed her years ago, Doreen knows that the day she always feared-the day she will be caught-is imminent. The character of Doreen is rendered with objectivity, and the reader is able to judge her on his or her own terms. Unfortunately, events occurring after the arrest are not addressed, leaving one to guess whether Doreen ultimately serves jail time or walks free. An engaging, if a bit too open-ended story about the consequences of actions.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061243264
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/21/2009
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Meet the Author

Janis Hallowell, author of The Annunciation of Francesca Dunn, is a MacDowell Fellow, and her short fiction has been published in Ploughshares. She lives in Colorado with her husband and daughter.

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Read an Excerpt

She Was

Chapter One

Doreen Woods drives through the still neighborhood. It is 7 A.M. and the August sky over Denver is already baked to a high, hard shell. There is no breeze. It hasn't rained for two months and none is expected. But at this hour, even though it's already hot, there's a freshness that can't be denied. She punches the AC button on the dashboard but keeps her window open. Extravagant, she thinks, like Richard Nixon, thirty-five years ago, running the White House air-conditioning at maximum so that he could enjoy his fireplace in the summer.

Thirty-five years ago she was eighteen, the same age as her son is now. She would have rather died than compare herself to Nixon. Thirty-five years ago, she and her generation, in their well-fed arrogance, agreed that Nixon was bad, Vietnam was wrong, and it was time for revolution. For the three and a half decades since then she's chastised herself for that arrogance, but now, in 2005, the architects of the Iraq War make the Nixon administration look like amateurs. And echoes of the old calls for change can be heard. It will be interesting to see what this generation, her son's generation, will do with a bad war.

Cold air blasts out of the vents as she drives with her elbow jutting out the open window. At fifty-three years old, nothing is as black-and-white as it used to be. She's a wife, a mother, and a dentist. She's middle-class, middle-aged, and what they called back then bourgeois. She smiles at the word. Nobody uses it anymore, but that's what she has become.

The elms that shade the streets stand thirsty and exhausted. Because of the drought, Denverhas become a city that conserves water. Their lawn, hers and Miles's, optimistically planted in May, was dutifully sacrificed in June when water restrictions forced them to choose between the new sod in front and the cherry trees in back. There was no debate. Miles is the gardener, it was his decision and he chose the fruit trees over a water-guzzling lawn. He'd planted the ten saplings when they first moved to Denver from Boston. They were the only things, at first, that gave him pleasure here. He watered, mulched, staked, and pruned the little trees. Now, six years later, they form a small orchard that, if there had been moisture, would be bearing its first fruit.

Most of the yards she passes are brown and parched, but three houses flaunt deep green lawns and lush gardens. All three are mammoth and ostentatious. Miles despises the owners. "They have this infuriating sense of entitlement," he says. "How could anyone expect them to sacrifice their landscaping?" Driving by now, Doreen gazes at the green, drinking it in. She understands why it irks Miles, but at the same time she can't help her surge of unwarranted joy in those three lawns, flamboyantly breaking the rules.

The truth is that in spite of drought and war, the mistakes of the past and the tenuousness of the future, this particular morning makes her absurdly happy. In spite of the vaguely disturbing realization that she has something in common with Richard Nixon, she's happy with the enamel blue sky and the fine linen of her skirt. And under the skirt her legs are still strong, though her belly and butt have gone soft. Right now, though, she doesn't care because the warm air from outside mixes with themanufactured cool and plays with her hair. The sun is still soft enough to feel welcome and nurturing. On such a morning she feels incredibly lucky. She has everything she needs; more than she ever thought she would get: a strong marriage, a son successfully grown and going off to college in the fall, a satisfying practice, and a beloved brother. Her elation subsides at the thought of Adam.

Adam's sudden decline over the last six months has been without mercy. He was functioning well with his MS, still building his sculptural stone walls. Then, one freezing day in February, when he'd been down with a cold and Doreen arrived with minestrone, she found him unable to see or walk. When the episode ended, he didn't regain as much as they'd hoped. Since then the cognitive symptoms have emerged: confusion, memory loss, and even some hallucinations.

Adam lives in a carriage house behind one of the old Denver mansions. She stops in every day now on her way to work. She uses her key to open the door, not wanting him to get up. In the small kitchen the dishes are clean and stacked in the drying rack next to the sink. The floor is swept, the stove is spotless, all evidence that Miranda's been here.

In Mexico, Miranda was a surgical nurse. Here, she's an illegal immigrant living with her son and daughter-in-law. She works for cash, prefers to do a split shift, coming to Adam's in the morning to get him up and give him breakfast, going home for the afternoon to watch her grandkids, and coming back again in the evening to give him supper, meds, and bed. Miranda makes Adam's illness bearable for all of them.

Walking through Adam's tiny vault of a living room withitshigh ceilings papered in William Morris is like taking a plunge into a tangled underworld. Doreen crosses over the threadbare Oriental, past the peacock green settee Adam bought in Boston. The door to the bedroom is open and she peeks in. His bed is not so large, it's only a queen ("Only a queen?" Adam has been known to say), but it fills the small room. The head and footboards are massively ornate with a canopy frame Adam has draped with sheer white and pale blue silk.

He's sitting up in bed, propped on pillows. His bare chest is thin, his muscles ropy, so that he has the look of a ruined ballet dancer. He's holding a short string of black beads in his right hand. In his left is a small dog-eared book the size of a box of matches, strung onto a leather cord. He doesn't turn to Doreen, but keeps staring ahead at some point in the mid-distance.

She Was. Copyright ? by Janis Hallowell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2008

    Good Book Club Read

    Our book club REALLY enjoyed this book. We rarely discuss a book as long as we did this one. We never seemed to run out of things to talk about. Not only did we discuss what the characters did in the book, but we tried to delve deeper into their lives. Its a GREAT book for a book club with member of all ages.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2008

    Page Turner

    Janis Hallowell has written an engrossing story of a student revolutionary in the early 70s while a student at Berkeley who gets caught up in a violent act of terrorism. She goes underground and spends decades living a bourgeois lifestyle as a dentist with a family. Then she is discovered by a fellow revolutionary from the old days and we follow her mental anguish as she tries to hide her past from her family as well as from the FBI. The novel teaches us so much about the revolutionaries of the late 60s and early 70s. It helps us understand how somebody can change identities (SHE WAS IS THE TITLE) and yet maintain ideals. She Was immersed me in the life of a family for over a week while reading it. I loved the novel. Hallowell has obviously done her research on the anti-war movement of the period.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 17, 2008

    Go Get This Book

    SHE WAS Hallowell is a deft craftswoman, and her novel, an absolutely must read, is a masterful braiding of two counterpoint stories: Doreen the passionate anti-Vietnam war Weather Underground activist who plants a bomb that inadvertently kills a man, and her brother Adam, who serves in that war only to prove to their father that he¿s not a coward¿neither realizing that their choice will have unintended repercussions which will dictate the shape of their lives. Vietnam wasn¿t the front line for freedom, Adam realizes, or the thumb in the dike of communism, or any of that bullshit. Once you¿d been in-country for a week or two you realized that in Vietnam there weren¿t any fronts. The only reason you had a gun and were humping those hills for gooks was because Command wished it. And the only way you were going to survive it was to do whatever you had to do and stay as high as possible. The portrait of Adam, who in the war¿s aftermath, is a walking casualty 'MS ironically renders him mostly immobile', is riveting, and his honoring of the Vietnamese monks who burned themselves in protest against the war is deeply affecting. The contrasting, counterpoint and back-and-forth between these two story lines is a brilliant move, in which we see the horrific and senseless violence of the war which Doreen in her youthful idealism hoped to prevent. The contrast skyrockets after the war when Adam comes out of the closet and lives his homosexuality honestly and openly, while Doreen, who deeply regrets the death she caused, chooses to go underground and live a lie¿hiding her true identity and constructing a good citizen¿s productive life as a dentist, a life which is as resoundingly false as it is real. Hallowell is a master of characterization, setting and plot¿all those elements with which one builds a novel, and the contrasting counterpoint and reverse parallelism in the book¿s structure is more than compelling¿this is a book that keeps you up at night, reading on and on! Go get it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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