Tuesday 16 July 2019

Short post on a hot day...

It is a hot, hot, hot Tuesday morning and I’ve just been enjoying the last of the local strawberries for breakfast as I think about our book club meeting last night.  

We discussed Nichole Bernier’s The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. and everyone who was able to attend enjoyed it.  I’ve listened to this as an audiobook twice before, and here is what I said about it in August, 2015:

... I also listened to The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier, narrated by Angela Brazil.  This powerful novel tells the story of two women, friends who are in their late thirties and contemplating their lives thusfar in relation to their children, their husbands, and their halted careers.  Kate, devoted mother of two, struggles with her choices as she considers her return to work as a pastry chef, feeling that it may be too soon. Her close friend, Elizabeth, died the previous summer in a plane crash, which occurred shortly before 9/11.  Kate was given responsibility for Elizabeth’s journals, much to Elizabeth’s husband’s dismay; Dave feels they should have been left with the family, but reluctantly passes them into the hands of Kate, locked in an antique trunk. Kate brings them with her as her family heads off for an extended summer holiday to their favourite beachside cottage in Maine, and she spends her summer reading the journals while tending to her family’s needs.  What she finds during her reading is that Elizabeth was a much more complex woman than she ever realized, leading her to contemplate how much we can ever really know about a person. Written with sensitivity and consideration, this novel explores the roles and expectations of mothers in today’s society, their struggles to balance motherhood and a career, and to maintain a personal identity without sacrificing the needs of their families. It looks at how we deal with loss, and poses the question of whether we can create our own destiny or whether we should just let fate take its own course.  It also makes readers consider whether it is ever justifiable to make decisions that are life-changing for you and your family by yourself, whether one person can take that responsibility solely on his or her shoulders. It was, again, not the type of book I normally read or listen to, being about motherhood and the struggles that women with children face when considering career versus family, but this book was excellent. It was sensitive and considerate, and the author, who was inspired to write it after losing a friend in the attacks of 9/11, did an outstanding job of exploring the randomness of life, the uncertainty we all face every day, and how the constant worry over the possibility of disaster can be paralyzing.  It was a heart-wrenching and heartfelt exploration of the life of one woman who spent her entire life trying to make up for one mistake, and the guilt she carried with her until her sudden death. The narration was excellent, really capturing the anxious tone of Kate and conveying her internal struggles and her constant hypersensitivity to things around her, both actual and potential. I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys character-driven novels.

This time I actually read the book, and it was just as good as the audiobook, maybe even better, because I could stop and contemplate sections as I read them, and go back to review parts if I needed clarification or reminders.  As I was preparing for the meeting, I asked myself what I took from this book, and came up with these: value family and friends, anyone important to you; life is arbitrary and random; you can never really know someone; do what you love; and I wondered if we all have rich inner lives that we conceal from others.  I was reminded of a line from a book I listened to recently, something like: “It’s not too late to become the person you always wanted to be”. One member said that the way this book was written created a sense of urgency to read the journals, so much so that she skipped ahead and read all the journal entries first, going back to read the “fluff” that were Kate’s parts afterwards, which she then realized was not “fluff” at all.  We commented that life is more anxious for everyone after 9/11, so Kate’s reactions to the loss of a friend shortly before that attack was natural. We talked about grief and the grieving process, how everyone grieves in his or her own way, and we should never judge anyone. This book really hit home for me at this time for many reasons, and it was eerie how so much of what was written echoed my own life at this time. I was at my sister-in-law’s cottage last week, and while everyone else went out on the boat, I stayed on the dock and read.  I sat down in the chaise lounger and picked up my book to continue reading, starting at a point in the book where Kate sits in the chaise and picks up the journal to continue reading… art imitating life, or life imitating art? Eerie either way. We talked about the reasons each member of these two couples, Kate and Chris, Elizabeth and Dave, lied to each other, and whether keeping secrets was the same thing as lying. We discussed our own losses, and ways themes in this novel reflected our own experiences. One member said she would have liked to have Kate and Elizabeth as friends.  All in all, it was an excellent discussion, often touching on deeply personal themes, and I believe we all know each other a little better after last night’s meeting.

That’s all for today.  Stay cool and keep reading!
Bye for now…

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