Thanksgiving is a short but compelling read about the lives of three women growing up in the New Orleans area. Ultimately I wish Mary Arno had focused on fewer characters in more detail. For example, the character of Peg feels under-written to me, and I wanted to know her better. I was really engaged in the stories of Mimi and Emmaline, but with Peg it felt like she was in the background most of the time. I also thought too much time was spent on Harry, who is mostly peripheral to the stories of these women.
Peg and Emmaline are neighbors as children. Peg’s family is pretty stable but Emmaline is being molested by her stepfather and trying to take care of her other siblings. Arno writes about Emmaline in a way that is both spare but tragic.
Peg is introduced to us first, so I expected that she would be the main character in this book. We see her childhood and then she goes to college in the 70’s and begins to develop as an individual. And yet she doesn’t get too much time in this book after her college years.
During college, she meets Mimi, who is beautiful and privileged. Mimi has been raised by a mother who cares more about looks and wealth than about her daughter, so even though Mimi seems like a pretty selfish person, we know her childhood wasn’t exactly easy.
In a fairly short book Arno says a lot about women, friendships, and relationships. A lot of the male characters come off pretty badly, but not all of them, which I appreciated. And the women aren’t perfect either. There is a story line about a sexual harassment lawsuit that I found really interesting and would have liked more of.
This book has a very “local” feel to it, which is not surprising since Arno was born in New Orleans and worked as a journalist there. Arno’s writing style keeps you engaged and moves the story along quickly, so you won’t want to put it down.
My issues with the book were the frequent narrator changes, and in this short book I didn’t get to know any of these women as much as I wanted to. The time spent on Harry may be important to the plot but I felt it took away from the rest of the book. It would have been better if Arno had spent more time on the three friends and developed Peg a little more.
I also thought Arno leaned a little bit too much towards the dramatic in the way she ended the book. She gives a fairly nuanced portrayal of these women’s lives up until the end.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from publisher Koehler Books. This book will be published on November 26, 2015.