The Love Ceiling by Jean Davies Okimoto
Endicott and Hugh Books
The Love Ceiling is a story of people in transition. Annie Duppstadt is about to turn 64; her mother has just died and her father, a famous painter and a narcissistic tyrant, carries on as though nothing much has changed; Annie's husband, Jack, is about to be forced to retire; and her daughter Cass is in an unfulfilling relationship with a man who can't commit to marriage.
Annie has always wanted to paint, but she was traumatized by her father at an early age (what I call Art Abuse) and grew up believing that she'd never make it as an artist. As her mother nears death, she extracts a promise from Annie that she will paint.
"When you see this do you...want to paint it?"
"Always." It was a whisper as much to myself as my mother.
" I thought so." Mom grabbed both my hands, turning her head to look at me. "You must do it."
"Maybe someday. You know how it is, Mom."
"You must do it." Direct, unequivocal, this time almost a command, while she tried pathetically to squeeze my hands. "Promise me, Annie."
"I promise," I whispered. (page 34)
Thus begins Annie's journey to her Self - a struggle to carve out time and create places where she can explore her artistry. Most women with families have obligations that pull them in many directions. When they give their passions a priority and give themselves permission, they can claim their power and explore possibilities. Okimoto did a wonderful job of portraying this struggle in The Love Ceiling. We recognize that Annie's mother was unable to do this herself, thus was so adamant about Annie pursuing her talent.
The story is told from alternating first and third person narratives - Annie in the first person and Cass in the third (though I suspect Okimoto originally had both characters in first person, as there's at least one instance of "I" in the narrative when it should have been "she" - editors, please!). It feels slightly awkward to have the two POVs. I enjoyed Annie's first person narrative - I felt as though I was inside her head and could understand her motives and actions.
I found there were places where there was way too much mundane detail - for example, I'm not sure why it was necessary to list all the bathing suit coverage options available in the Land's End catalog (again, editors!).
I enjoyed reading about Seattle and Puget Sound, since I hail from that area. I could visualize the Vashon Island ferry ride, the Olympic Mountains at sunrise, the seagull suspended against the wind. Okimoto brought those scenes to life for me. There is some lovely prose in this book, for example, as Annie is painting:
I felt almost disconnected from myself physically, detached from hunger or even thirst, lost in the mystery of the color, the emotions it evoked, and the luminous impasto taking shape before me. (page 151)Okimoto's publicists refer to The Love Ceiling as a "coming of age novel for women over 50...60...70...80...90...!" I would add 30...40 to that too, as 32 year old Cass is also struggling with the questions, "what comes next? how do I do this?" and has some important insights along the way. Overall, this is an enjoyable read, and I recommend it to readers who like stories about families going through big transitions as well as stories about art and artists.
There's a wonderful interview with Jean Davies Okimoto you can hear on this podcast, and another interview transcript here. And be sure to check out her website.
Thanks to TLC tours for asking me to be part of this tour, and to Endicott and Hugh Books for sending me a complimentary copy for review.