I looked like a girl you’d expect to see on a city bus, reading some clothbound book from the library about plants or geography, perhaps wearing a net over my light brown hair. You might take me for a nursing student or a typist, note the nervous hands, a foot tapping, bitten lip. I looked like nothing special.
Ann Arbor got it first snow this week. This is my first ever winter, so it only seemed apt that I pick a book set on winter to read. And I am glad I chose Eileen. It is disturbingly intense, so much so that I could not even be bothered by the cold weather! 😀
Eileen is the story of Lena, as she is now known. Fifty years ago, back in 1964 when she was twenty-four years old, Lena was some one else. She was Eileen Dunlop, a secretary at a boy’s correctional facility in Massachusetts, which she calls Mooreheads. Some boys in Mooreheads were in the system for misdemeanors, while some were in for felonies waiting to be incarcerated in prisons when they turn eighteen. These boys were forbidden to “dance, sing, gesture, talk loud, listen to music, lie down unless they were given permission to”, and it was not only them who were living the life of a prisoner. Eileen had lost her mother when she was nineteen. With her sister, Joanie living away with a man who was not her husband, Eileen was trapped at home with her drunkard father.
I’ve lived with many alcoholic men over the years, and each taught me that it is useless to worry, fruitless to ask why, suicide to try and help them. They are who they are, for better and worse.
We learn that Eileen was never really loved by her parents. Not even Joanie’s somewhat questionable choices could waver their father’s affection towards Eileen. So like a little girl, despite being almost an adult, Eileen yearned for adoration and attention. Just like the boys in the correctional facility, she was a lonely soul. But when the enchanting Rebecca Saint John, the first ever director of education at Moorehead arrived, with promises of friendship and admiration, maybe Eileen’s destiny changed forever?
For good part of the book Eileen’s narration was perverse and vivid. Yes, she kept a frozen dead mouse in her glove box of her Dodge, maintained a filthy house, and shop lifted far too often, but one can not help but notice the human beneath all that, waiting to be noticed and acknowledged by anyone in the world.