Showing 181 - 190 of 227 annotations contributed by McEntyre, Marilyn
Gabriel McCloud, 18, has just been killed by driving his truck into a tree while intoxicated. The small town goes into shock. The chapters of the novel are narrated successively by key people in Gabriel's life: his girlfriend; a teacher who saw his potential and gave him extra chances he needed; his embittered and violent father; his two brothers, an uncle who has been estranged from the family for years; the son of the local mortician; a buddy; the sheriff. Each of them goes through a particular kind of shock, grief, and reflection following the loss.
Jennie, Gabriel's girlfriend, pregnant with Gabriel's baby, decides to take herself to the beach and commit suicide. She sits for some time on a rock that will soon be buried by the rising tide, but is eventually spotted and rescued by a man she has feared and despised: Gabriel's father. The various voices that give us vantage points on Gabriel's difficult life and violent death testify also to how important even the life of a somewhat wayward, underachieving, confused teenager can be to a community of people who recognize him, some belatedly, as a gift.
Ten-year-old Becky Zaslow is diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) just before her class talent show. The sudden changes in her world include a hospital roommate whose experience with chemotherapy has left her rude and embittered; a lively nurse who levels with her; and parents who react strongly and differently to her illness. Even though the treatments leave her bald and weakened, she shows up at the talent show just before her bone marrow transplant, to the acclaim of all but one of her classmates.
A key coping strategy for Becky is an increasingly vivid fantasy life in which she finds friends among a herd of zebras and one monkey. Holding her stuffed zebra, she "travels" to Africa to escape the pain and trauma of treatments. Gradually she loses ground; as her body gives way, her mind and spirit move increasingly to the other world where an old zebra offers wisdom and help for the crossing she is about to make. She dies, leaving behind a journal that becomes her younger brother's incentive to learn to read, a task he has been resisting.
Raina is 17, living alternately on the streets with a boyfriend addicted to hard drugs and at home with an abusive mother, also an addict. She has been victimized by a succession of her mother's live-in boyfriends and lost a young brother to an accidental overdose: he swallowed some of his mother's pills while the mother slept and seven-year-old Raina was watching him.
Margaret Johnson is 45, Raina's teacher at an underfunded, overcrowded public school where Raina's life of squalor is more typical than not. Her own story is told in chapters that alternate with Raina's story and with the texts of autobiographical compositions Raina gives her but refuses to discuss. Only when Raina finds herself pregnant, shortly after her boyfriend has been killed in a drug-related accident, does she take Ms. Johnson up on her repeated offers of help.
She lives at the teacher's home for awhile, runs away to her own home, unused to kind treatment and afraid she'll disappoint the teacher and be thrown out, goes to a shelter, has her baby, and finally returns, having nowhere to go. Ms. Johnson, with some hesitation, takes her and the baby in and the three begin to work out a life together, knowing it will involve difficult change, but willing to bet on love against the odds.
Traumatized from a small plane accident that killed his parents and sister and injured him, Finn has returned to his grandmother's farm in Vermont where he's always spent happy summers, to regroup and continue his life. His trauma has left him unable to speak.
At the farm he is surrounded by the healing presences of his grandmother, an old summer friend, Julia, and the animals. Between painful flashback memories of the accident, Finn begins to allow himself to enjoy moments, especially in the tolerant and undemanding presence of the girl and the woman who are also grieving, but who find ways to help him reclaim life and the present.
Visiting an old childhood hideaway in nearby pine woods, Finn and Julia run into drug dealers who use the isolated spot for their transactions. Finn finally finds his voice when he is forced to rescue Julia in the midst of a spreading fire from an abandoned well into which she was dropped by a panicked drug dealer who feared exposure.
In short chapters that alternate between remembered scenes of abuse, reflections upon those scenes, and tributes to the natural beauties and human kindnesses that tempered years of domestic violence, the author provides a galling, but not sensationalistic, record of what child abuse looks and feels like. Only when she was older and mostly beyond the reach of a father who routinely beat and sexually abused her and her siblings did the author find out that her father had been dismissed from a police force for gratuitous violence and had subsequently submitted to electroshock treatments for mental illness.
The title describes the nature of the narrative; in its deliberate discontinuities it testifies to the stated fact that there are places where memory has left a blank. Much of the telling is an attempt to piece together a story of recurrent violence, felt danger, and arbitrary rage that seemed at the time both regular and unpredictable.
The sanity of the narrative testifies to the possibility of healing. The writer makes no large claims for final or complete release from the effects of trauma, but does strongly testify to the possibility of a loving, happy, functional adult life as healing continues.
The story is a letter written by a 24-year-old woman to her niece who was given up for adoption. Bitte Liten, from a close Norwegian family, remembers the summer she was 12 when she was sent away during the last months of her sister's pregnancy to stay with her uncle. Her sister, 15, unwed and pregnant, had found adoptive parents for the child, but Bitte, imagining the pleasures of being an aunt and helping care for a baby, wanted her to keep it.
While at her uncle's, she visits her aging favorite aunt in a nursing home. Her aunt, sinking into dementia, doesn't remember her. This leaves her reflecting on how much of life is memory of the past and dreams of the future. Her period comes that summer for the first time, and with it, a new understanding of adult responsibilities and her sister's predicament.
She writes her sister to tell her she understands her decision and will support her. In return, her sister invites her to be at the hospital the day the baby is born. There Bitte meets the adoptive parents as well as the baby, says hello and goodbye to her little niece, and comes to understand something new and harder about what love looks like. Twelve years later, she records all these memories for the niece who has grown up as someone else's child.
Erin Bennett, a high school senior, faces the possibility of missing out on the senior play because of the violent headaches that have afflicted her since her sister's death a year before in a car accident. No physical cause has been found for the headaches, and her parents have insisted that she see a psychotherapist. Erin goes, resentfully at first, and after a few weeks begins to accept the possibility that her continuing pain may have something to do with the stress of unresolved grief which is exacerbated by various trigger events.
She is cast in West Side Story opposite David, to whom she takes an instant dislike, though she has the haunting feeling she has seen him before. Attracted to her, he pursues her despite fairly direct rejection, until Erin figures out where she's seen him: she took her sister's place once in clown costume and makeup at a party where he was also a clown.
David, whose little sister is hearing impaired, helps bring Erin to a place of acknowledging the ways in which she is hanging on both to her grief and to unresolved anger at her sister's boyfriend. She also blames herself for the accident, since she asked her sister to take the car on an errand in her place.
At a final counseling session, the therapist helps Erin and her parents understand how, in focusing attention on Erin's headaches instead of their own unattended grief, they have become "stuck" in a loop of stress and alienation. Going through a trunk of her sister's things, Erin finds a way ritually to say good-bye and joins David at a party with a renewed willingness to choose life and a hope that she can free herself from both blame and pain.
Jacob Hansen is sheriff, undertaker, and pastor in the little Wisconsin town of friendship. A Civil War veteran like many of the men in his town, he has seen many faces of death and knows how to balance compassion, prayer, and practicality in the presence of grief. When he recognizes a diphtheria epidemic as one after another the people of Friendship fall ill and die, he has to shoulder responsibility for protecting public health.
This means imposing and enforcing quarantine, extending even to the encampment of religious revivalists at the edge of town who mostly keep their distance and their own ways. Jacob's equanimity falters when his wife and baby daughter succumb; he keeps them alive in his mind and unburied for days, unable to acknowledge his own loss, though he helps others through theirs.
Finally he forces a passing railroad engineer to transport the survivors across the quarantine border into a neighboring town for safety, but the train is sabotaged, wrecked, and the fugitives killed. Jacob survives almost alone to return to what is now a ghost town and cope with the grim fate of survival.
When six fifty-year-old women gather for an annual reunion they've come laughingly to call "Camp Men-o-pause,” at an idyllic midwestern lakeside bed-and-breakfast they face a bewildering and sorrowful difficulty unprecedented in their many years of friendship since college: Micky, in many ways a leader and intellectual bright light among them, has been diagnosed with early Alzheimer's disease. She is present and functioning, but has bouts of confusion and memory loss.
She knows a great deal about her own condition and has shared it with the others. Only with one other, Jan, has she shared her desire to be helped to commit suicide when she becomes seriously incompetent, and, enjoined to secrecy, Jan has to bear the burden alone of deciding whether to make Micky that promise.
The story chronicles the week the women spend together, their various thoughts and conversations about their lives, and the ways in which Micky's disease leads them all to reframe their feelings about friendship, loyalty, aging, and medical options. Much about the week is bittersweet; the story ends inconclusively as Jan is unwilling to promise to help Micky die, but all come to some sobering understandings about what it might mean to "see their friend through” a gradual leavetaking that may erase them all from her memory.
Leandra lives alone in the backwoods of North Carolina where she makes a small but sufficient living repairing antique dolls for a dealer who sells them to collectors. The broken and ragged dolls occupy an old "mourner's bench" in her one-room cabin. For ten years she has lived in relative contentment, though she carries the pain of a trip to Boston when her sister bore a defective child who died.
The sister committed suicide soon thereafter. During that visit, as Leandra's sister withdrew into late-pregnancy depression and hostility, Leandra and Wim took comfort in one another's presence and finally fell in love. But after the suicide, Leandra returns to North Carolina with no intention of ever seeing Wim again.
Now, ten years later, he shows up on her doorstep, wanting to spend the final months of his life with her; he has inoperable brain cancer. He knows what course it is likely to take. He wants only to see her, but she insists that if he is to reenter her life, she wants to see him through all of it, even the worst parts.
They weather and cherish the days with gentle humor, frankness, careful sharing of memory, and the deepest love either has ever experienced. Leandra's neighbor, a friend from childhood, helps Wim build an extension onto Leandra's little cabin, one of several ways he finds to "provide for her" as he wishes he could have earlier.