The Beginner’s Goodbye

June 22, 2014 at 2:44 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , )

beginnersgoodbyeTitle: The Beginner’s Goodbye

Author: Anne Tyler

Publisher: Knopf

Genre: Fiction

Length: 198 pages

I have two Anne Tyler books on my bookshelf.  I acquired them somehow, possibly gifts or hand-me-downs from someone else.  I know I didn’t buy them, because I’ve never felt moved to read them.  Perhaps they were freebies I toted home thinking, “I might need these if I start dying from cancer.” It’s morbid, but it is a frequent thought where free books are concerned.  I worry that I will be trapped in the house or the hospital without reading material.  That must be a phobia of some kind or another, I’m sure of it.

The two books I have are Back When We Were Grown Ups and Digging to America.  They sit perched there right after Mark Twain and before John Updike.  I almost put them in the garage sale we had this week, but couldn’t bring myself to do it.  Something about them makes me want to hold on to them even as I try to decide what to keep and what not to keep during our ‘we might be moving, but aren’t sure’ months.

beginnersgoodbye2This last week at the library, however, I caught a glimpse The Beginner’s Goodbye in the stacks.  On the cover is a coffee cup and a dainty tea cup, immediately invoking the idea that two very different companions will be separated and someone will find themselves with a hole in their heart.

There are many covers out for this book, published in 2012, by a Pulitzer prize winner, everyone wants to add their own touch and be associated with it.  But this one with the cups, that’s what did it for me – that is what captures the essence of the book in my mind.  That’s what conveyed that essence to me from the shelf and prepared me for a mood that I wanted.  The other covers are beautiful, but I probably would have gone on forever ignoring them.

Anne Tyler wrote something in The Beginner’s Goodbye that I wish I had written.  I suppose I say that fairly frequently, but it is the highest compliment I know how to give.  There is much in the reading world I enjoy with all my heart but wouldn’t necessarily long to have my name attached to it.  This, is not one of those things, this is lovely and beautiful and gives you a taste of sweet humanity that even the greatest of storytellers seem to miss sometimes.

Appropriately titled and timed for my life, I’m learning to say goodbye to books that I anticipated keeping until my kid was old enough to read and discard them.  I might be saying goodbye here soon to my extensive library.  Granted, I could get rid of half my books and still have more books than anyone else I know, but sorting through them is hard for me.  By checking out this book from the library, Anne Tyler has made it clear that I at least need to read her other two before I give them up – and that when I give them up they should be wrapped and lovingly gifted, not tossed in a garage sale.

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Magical Thinking and the Vortex

October 16, 2013 at 5:00 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , )

magical thinkingTitle:The Year of Magical Thinking

Author: Joan Didion

Publisher: Knopf

Genre: Memoir

Length: 227 pages

‘I want to go to Malibu.  I would have especially loved to be there in 1976… but alas, I am not a time traveler,” I think as I look at the black and white photograph of Joan Didion with her family on the jacket of The Year of Magical Thinking.

I’m holding a first edition, twelfth printing from December 2005.  It’s a hardback and does not yet feature the gold emblem in the upper right hand corner you see there. I’m assuming where it announces that Didion won the National Book Award for her memoir about grief.

Didion describes ordinary moments when lives change with such detail and such sadness. All I can think is that I find people who go out of this world in ordinary moments sort of blessed.

I know too many who have departed at the height of some drama or another… a gun to the head, horrible bodily functions that caused them to drown in their spit, people who spent their last moments screaming in horrible pain of the body or the mind.

These other people who depart happy… well, let’s just say I hope I go out that way.

Reading this book brings back the nausea of my own grief.  Every description she offers sounds familiar in some way.  No, I haven’t lost a husband, or a child, but I’ve lost.  And I anticipate their loss every day.

Grief comes to you in a number of ways.  One of which is the way you find yourself trying to fill in the hole that missing person left behind.  And doing it badly.  Leaving not a filled in hole, but nauseatingly burning questions you can never get answered.  Song lyrics you can’t un-hear.

When someone dies you are to be there for the family.  You are in no way to interfere with their grief.  You provide.  You silently help.  You be there. You do not intrude.  I was taught this.  I was taught not to draw the attention away from the people in real pain – just as Didion describes.

But reading this, I weep.

What about the people who have no rights? No claim?  The person sitting there who viewed the deceased like family but clearly meant less than the real family?

What do you do when one of the best people you have ever known is dead and you have no claim?

You stay silent.  Or have inappropriate anger toward the deceased.

You find yourself trying to make new friends to fill their place, only to realize the relationship was entirely unique and can never be replaced. Because they were unique.

Didion speaks of the Vortex – of memories – in a way I know so well.  Her vortex are stories of her daughter – her husband – snippets from their lives.

Mine is my own private cage.  That world of private thoughts that I don’t have.  Mine come in deja vus and too much whiskey.  Mine come in always hearing the right thing at the wrong time and the wrong thing at the right time.  Mine come in conversations that remind me of silences, and silences that echo long gone conversations.

My Vortex is the panic attack that starts in my pinkie and the moment in which I forget something I used to remember… or suddenly remember something I forgot.

The Year of Magical Thinking is a bit of a Vortex too… best kept under wraps in a comfy chair, with my journal nearby for the uncontrollable vomit of thought and tears that will arise as I turn the page to the next chapter.

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An Exact Replica…

December 23, 2012 at 5:01 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

exact140Title:An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination

Author: Elizabeth McCracken

Publisher: Jonathan Cape

Genre: Memoir/Autobiography

Length: 184 pages

I have never felt so awful as a human being as when I sat reading An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination knowing I’d be ‘reviewing’ it for a blog shortly after I finished.  How do you justify that in your mind? ‘Reviewing’ something so personal, so devastating, so beautiful, so intense.  As an avid reader, a constant reviewer, and one those people who presume to call themselves a writer though I’ve yet to have anything published, I felt like an inconsiderate intruder reading such an intimate account of a loss so great.  It’s rare to read something so personal.

As a mother, on the other hand, I wept.  I wept, and wept, and wept, for little Pudding.  I wept for Elizabeth.  I wept for a friend who lost a baby not long after I had my own.  I wept for all the things I may have said wrong, all the things I may have not said, and I wept for the selfish joy that my own sweet, precious child was snuggled next to me as I read.  I wept for Pudding, I wept for another friend who died, I wept for his mother because even though she had 29 years with him he was still her child, and I wept for the baby cemetery that I pass every time I visit his grave.

I’ve had a writer’s crush on Elizabeth McCracken for sometime.  I have an extremely vivid memory of reading A Giant’s House while having lunch with the same friend whose grave I now visit.  We devoured deli food, iced tea, and discussed the oddity of a romance between a librarian and child giant.  I remember telling him what a strange tale it was, but if I could ever manage to write anything half so interesting I would pee myself with happiness.  He promised to read it too, though I’m quite certain he never did because he was in the habit of reading the first thirty or so pages of something and then proclaiming himself an expert on a topic, starting novels and not finishing them, and making half-hearted promises… little things that I tend to hate in people, but for whatever reason found endearing in him.  I loved him dearly, and for that reason, I’ve never been quite certain whether my Elizabeth McCracken crush was because Elizabeth McCracken was all that amazing, or if it was because thinking of her always reminds me of him.  I cannot think of one without thinking of the other.

Reading An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination, I’m now quite certain that Elizabeth McCracken is that amazing, and deserves adoration outside the realm of  Matty memories.  She’s a wonderful writer, a fascinating person, has a rockin’ last name, and by sharing this book with the world has proved to me (without ever having met her) that she has a very giving soul.

Elizabeth McCracken, thank you for sharing Pudding’s story.  And from the bottom of my heart: I am sorry for your loss.

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