Balancing the thrill of adventure with level-headed caution

Ten Elephants Ten Memories, by Ellen Gordon. Mascot Books. 304 pages. Hardcover $19.95.

This is one of those books that takes the reader – even the reviewer – by surprise. At first glance, it seems too quirky to gain an audience, what with its elephant toys and statuary, the saga of the iconoclastic great aunt, and the heroine’s adventures in Australia. However, it has a addictive charm and generates a highly pleasurable experience, despite the hardships of its protagonist.

Ellen Gordon

We meet small town Ohio girl Cate Kingston when she is quite young, spending highly pleasurable time in the company of her eccentric Aunt B, whose spacious and dazzling nearby home is named Chartres. Cate grows up, in part, on her great aunt’s fabulous stories, many of them ending with an experience that is memorialized by a gift Aunt B has received – a fabricated elephant that takes its place in a lifelong collection. There is a great deal of variety in the collection, as there is in the memories that Aunt B recalls.

Cate’s story gains momentum as she grows into young womanhood. Her senior year in high school and her college years are marvelously rendered, especially Cate’s problems making friends and her very close relationship with her father, a veterinarian who also has a small farm. Cate’s identity is connected to the father and daughter riding horses together whenever they have the time. It’s a powerful bonding experience for her that ends with a powerful loss. Cate is also close to her mother, but in a very different way.

Cate’s own story takes the shape of a regularly disappointed search for the perfect mate, the disappointments perhaps predicated by her idealization of her father. One fellow seems too much like a big brother; another is too possessive. Other relationships seem to lose their passion and sense of fulfillment. Cate questions herself about these seemingly doomed relationships, but perhaps they serve to make her the complex, accomplished, and productive woman she becomes over time.

The author sets Cate into memorable historical events, notably the impact of the Vietnam War on Cate’s generation of college students and the related crisis of the Kent State shootings.

Ms. Gordon’s novel moves into a higher gear once Cate determines to shake up her frustrating life path by moving to Australia. Having credentials as a physical education teacher, she participates in a program that challenges and rewards her. However, as much as she loves many features of her new physical and cultural environment, many of her familiar habits reassert themselves. As the saying goes, “the mind is its own place,” and a person can’t get away from what’s inside of her simply by relocating. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the March 28, 2019 Naples,  Bonita Springs, and Charlotte County editions, and also in the April 3 Fort Myers and  the April 4 Palm Beach editions, click here:  Florida Weekly – Ten Elephants Ten Memories

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