Setting: Vermont town, modern time
Website devoted to her work
I saw a review of the book in the Washington Post awhile ago and remember thinking, "this is just up my alley. Tragedy occurs in the life of a regular mom which she has to survive." I am reminded of the book, "Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading, where Maureen Corrigan identifies a sub genre called the female version of the extreme adventure story. In fact, she says her thoughts about this genre began after reading Quindlen's 1998 novel, Black and Blue. The protagonist of that book was an abused wife and mother who eventually runs from her husband but lives in mortal fear for the day he tracks them down.
As opposed to the male extreme adventure story made popular by Into Thin Air or The Perfect Storm where men are in life-and-death situations, often against elements such as a mountain or the sea, Corrigan says the women in the female version are working just as hard to survive, but their settings are domestic. Their struggles are internal - emotional and/or psychological. I would say this book fits into Corrigan's sub genre.
"This is my life: The alarm goes off at five-thirty with the murmuring of a public-radio announcer, telling me that there has been a coup in Chad, a tornado in Texas."With this first sentence, Quindlen thrusts us in the middle of Mary Beth Latham's busy life. She is a wife of almost 20 years, a mother of three teenage children and has a successful landscaping business. The spark has gone out of her marriage as depicted in the following quote:
"I can't quite recall, or evoke, that strange and powerful feeling that made me yearn to be with him every moment of every day, that made me think "till death do us part" sounded wonderful instead of simply like a very, very long time."Her kids are her life - like me and most moms that I know. She struggles with wanting intimacy with Ruby, her beautiful, independent seventeen year old daughter and with her fraternal twin boys, Alex and Max who are in middle school. While Ruby is fine now, she had struggled with anorexia. Alex is the athlete and popular one, while Max is the musician, quiet and depressed. While reading the book, I was drawn into their lives with a pit in my stomach as I knew something really bad was going to happen to this family. A family with issues, but what family doesn't?
NOTE: This book is helpful in my grief journey so the following contains spoilers.
Then "IT" happens. With me, it was the suicide death of my seventeen year old son. With Mary Beth, it was the nearly total disintegration of her family. And of her. The second half of the book is a story of survival. Some of her thoughts brought me to tears because I can relate. To her grief, her sorrow, her guilt, her struggle to cope, her emptiness.
"One of the worst aspects of living now on the far shore is that across the chasm I can see my glib unknowing self. I despise that woman, her foolish little worries and her cheap sympathies. She knew nothing. But I can't truly wish on her what I know now."
"My memories are booby-trapped."
"I have two selves now, too, the one that goes out into the world and says what sound like the right things and nods and listens and even sometimes smiles, and the real woman, who watches her in wonder, who is nothing but a wound, a wound that will not stop throbbing except when it is anesthetized. I know what the world wants: It wants me to heal. But to heal I would have to forget and if I forget, my family truly dies."
"It was not so much that I wanted to die; it was just that I could not bear the incessant feeling of being alive. And then it occurred to me that I was already dead; that what was left behind was a carapace, like the shells of cicadas...I had been full, of creating children, of taking care, of tasks and plans and a big bright future, and now all that was left was a translucent skin of what had once been my life."
"The worst part are all the things they are missing. All the things they won't get to have."
It has difficult to answer the question, "How are you?" from well-meaning friends. Mary Beth's best friend comes to stay with her one weekend and wants to know. Mary Beth can't answer her and thinks:
"Why should I share what no one wants to know? Why should I listen to the words of those who know nothing? I can predict what they will say: It will get easier. Lie. You can handle this. Lie. Time heals. Lie. Time just passes. Slowly."
This is a book of a woman coping with a loss so great, it could drown her completely. But because she has a son to look after, to care for, to live for, she will survive. She must survive.
I feel the same.
Other books by Anna Quindlen
- Black and Blue
- One True Thing
- Good Dog. Stay
- How Reading Changed My Life