Monthly Archives: March 2016

Find the Good by Heather Lende

Heather Lende was recently asked to write a short essay on one piece of wisdom to live by.  For some of her friends, she thought, it would be an easy answer. For example, her friend from the public defender’s office had a very straight forward “Be nice to the dog and don’t do meth.”  Not so cut and dry for Lende, so she pretended she was on her deathbed and tried to imagine what parting wisdom she would share with her husband and five children who all seemed to require a different inspiration.  What came to her was  “find the good.”  The rest of her book is dedicated to sharing the good from the lives of different people she knows, many of whose obituaries she wrote.

“I believe gratitude comes from a place in your soul that knows the story could have ended differently, and often does, and I also know gratitude is at the heart of finding the good in this world.”

Early in the book, Lende takes a note from Mr. Rogers.  His mother told him when he was frightened by scary news to “look for the helpers.”  Mr. Rogers passed that information on to millions of children and parents.  I, in fact, saw that very message on Facebook shortly after the Paris attacks and began that practice quite consciously with my own children.

“Look for the EMTs wheeling the stretcher into the ambulance.  Look for the guys grilling hot dogs for hurricane refugees.  Look for the motorcycle club collecting canned goods for the food bank.”

Lende talks about writing obituaries, about calling and then visiting with the bereaved, and always looking for a piece of goodness in the story of the person lost.  She says, “How can we reaffirm that there’s so much to applaud, even if they see nothing worthy of ovation?”  Some families wanted her to share the low down awful as well, but she always finds something positive, even if unexpected, to share.

“You can’t have love without loss.  I know that.  I’m a mother, a grandmother, and an obituary writer.  This is not my first rodeo.”

This is a beautiful book.  I am much more of a book borrower than book buyer, but this is a book I will buy for myself and read again.  Find the Good reads like a conversation with a good friend-the people you love and pick up with where you left off.  It is a book I will give to dear friends…those who look for the good and who help me find the good.  The friend I walk with some Saturday mornings, the women I visit with on Sunday afternoons, the friend I email with each night, my mother.  It is a book that eloquently talks about what matters in life and how to choose what matters.  All of those sayings:  sorry for the mess but I am making memories with my children, no one ever said they wished they’d gone in for that extra day of work….there is a real story of a real person who chose to make memories, to value friends and family, and to choose life in all of its beauty and messiness.

“Cry a lot after a friend dies.  Then, when you’ve had all the sorrow you can handle, take a walk down by the river to wring yourself out.  Invite a new friend over for coffee.  Begin again.”

None of the wisdom of Find the Good is new or earth shattering, but it is all valuable.  I think Heather Lende is poised to be open to seeing these gems because she is an obituary writer, but also because she is a wife and mom, a daughter and a friend.  Her honesty is moving.  Find the Good is a short volume, but one you will want to savor.

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The Crooked House by Christobel Kent

 How do you come to terms with being the only survivor in a tragedy that took the lives of your entire family when you were only fourteen?  Esme Grace huddled in her top floor bedroom as the sounds of a gun’s blast echoes throughout her family’s old , isolated house house.  When it’s quiet again, her mother and siblings are dead.  Esme’s father survives, damaged beyond repair and accused of the heinous crime that took the lives of the rest of the family.

Years later, Esme is now Alison, and she lives quietly in London far away from the painful memories and the town where she lost her family.  Alison’s only happiness is her current boyfriend, Paul, whom she has reluctantly let into her life.  Just as Alison is getting used to feeling stable in her new relationship, Paul gets invited to a friend’s wedding in Alison’s(Esme’s)  old home town, Saltleigh, a place Alison never intended to visit again.

Once back in the place where her life changed forever, all the memories Alison had blocked for so many years begin to emerge.  Was her father really to blame for the murder of his family that night long ago?  The story flashes forward and back,  between the past and the present, as Alison slowly remembers the time leading up the the night of the murders.  Memories are funny things…

This is a suspenseful, psychological thriller which oozes atmosphere like the marshes surrounding the dark English waterway which it overlooks.  Kent crafts a well-constructed story with a clever premise and realistic environment for the primary setting.  Strong believable characters inhabit Saltleigh’s dark oppressive town where bad things seem to happen-as if a malignancy inhabits the town .  If I were to make one small critique, it would be that there are maybe just one too many tragedies thrown into mix and just a little bit of light wouldn’t have gone amiss.  All and all though, an engaging, compulsive read.

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Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

BE FRANK WITH ME by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Be Frank With Me‘s BB “Mimi” Manning is an author reminiscent of JD Salinger or  Harper Lee.  She published one great book years ago that was read by everyone and continues to be read in schools.  After years of living a very private and reclusive life off those royalties, she falls victim to a Bernie Madoff style Ponzi scheme and loses her fortune.  She decides to write another book.  Her editor from years ago, Isaac Vargas, is still her editor, and he sends his young publicist Alice to Bel Air  to support Mimi in whatever manner she can.  Alice thinks her support will be quite literary, perhaps transcribing the novel; what she ends up doing is caring for Manning’s 9-year-old son Frank, who is endearing and very eccentric.  Also in play in the story is the charming piano teacher slash sometimes estate caretaker, and, in the absence of Frank’s unknown father, male role model.

Be Frank with Me is a clever, witty and often preposterous debut novel reminding me a bit of Where’d You Go Bernadette.  I really enjoyed it.  It reminds me of an adult version of a good children’s novel–the ones you read aloud to your kids.  There are just enough believable details and then lots that you must accept because it is fiction and the adventure is worth the leap of faith.  Be Frank With Me is an entertaining story for the forgiving reader.

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