I guess this is what it means to really grow up + “The Keeper of Lost Things” by Ruth Hogan

It’s been a little more than a year. A year of wondering and hoping and waiting.

A year of hell.

A little less than a month ago my mom passed away. And yesterday the weight of that realization really hit me. Like a brick to the mouth.

It was a normal day for me. A little busy, a little running around. A lot of little decisions made every hour to keep our family going.

But suddenly, every decision I made seemed to contain extra weight. Like a plastic pitcher suddenly filled with water (or vodka . . .), every thing I had to do yesterday was heavier than just a few days earlier.

It was yesterday when it hit me. I’ve been mom, but now I’m the only ‘mom’ in my immediate family. I’m the older child, the only girl, the only one with children. There is no one left in my immediate family that really knew me as a child. Not the way my mom did.

There is no one left for me to  call mom. There is no way I can go home to my mom if things get rough (I don’t even come close to envisioning this, but there was always that net there, just in case). There’s no one I can call to complain to, who will just listen or put me in my place for sniveling and whining.

I no longer have that person who knew me best and longest. She changed my diapers, helped me buy my first bra, simultaneously ignored and helped me deal with my first (and subsequent) periods. She called me on my crap and rarely coddled me, but was the first to comfort me when my I experienced true heartbreak or hurt (and then to tell me to suck it up).

She was there for my victories and my defeats. She watched me rock and reel through my 20’s (I’m sure she was holding her breath for most of it), and then watched me emerge okay, to be married to a good man and to become a mother myself to two daughters. She watched me own a home and find a career; all those adult things we all must do.

In other words, she watched me fake adulthood.

Because that’s what I feel like I was doing before yesterday. Faking being an adult. Now it’s all real. There’s no mom to help me.

My mom taught me to be strong. So strong. I was a daughter of middle class privilege,  a child brought up wanting for nothing. Her childhood was the same, pretty much (although she was really spoiled, according to my Aunt’s stories. As the youngest of three girls, she got everything she wanted because she was stubborn and they were tired. I get it–the youngest child gets the most because everyone is SOOO tired of arguing with KIDS). But then things fell apart in her (in our) life, and I learned how strong she really was. Strong enough to get through the worst of EVERYTHING.

At the end of that horrible time (which I may or may not talk about later–it’s a true story of tough-as-nails), she met my stepdad. And, because of that, my mother taught me true love. She showed me love — or rather, THEY showed me what real love looks like. Supportive, unconditional, forgiving, true. It was because of them that I can love my husband the way I do.

But back to my original point. Suddenly the weight of it all hit me. Seriously hit me. My husband asked me to call the cable company, and then he left for work. That request just tipped the scale. Suddenly, at 50 years old, I felt grown up. I realized that all my decisions were mine. There was no mom to call and talk to about cable decisions or raising a teenager or dealing with unreasonable people.

Suddenly I am the one-and-only mom in our family. For 14 years I’ve been part of the ‘sandwich’ generation, caught between the bread of parents and children. I’m no longer part the meat or the cheese in a sandwich. Or maybe I am, for awhile. Maybe my sandwich is now open faced. But sooner than I want to think about (but not too soon, and in no way in the near future, please), I’m going to be that top piece of bread in that generational sandwich–the grandma and mother.

I miss my mom. Crazily. I’ve had time to prepare for the loss, at least mentally. Lung cancer is not easy to beat. But knowing that she’s gone, realizing that on an emotional level? That part is not so easy.

Days like yesterday make me want to call my mom. And knowing I can’t call her makes her passing so much more real.

And I guess that’s when this adult thing hits home. That’s what it means to really grow up.


The Premise

(Paraphrased from the book blurb.)

 

Anthony Peardew  is the self appointed keeper of lost things. After he lost a keepsake from his  fiancée on the same day she died unexpectedly. he has sought consolation in finding and keeping lost objects—the things dropped, misplaced, or accidentally left behind—and writing stories about them. He has kept his mission a secret from all, puting the items neatly in a room in his house. But as his life draws to a close, Anthony worries that done all he can do to reconnect the items and their owners. In his will, he bequeaths his secret mission to his housekeeper and assistant, Laura, leaving her his house and and all its lost treasures, including an irritable ghost.

Laura is one of Anthony’s lost thing, coming to him after a bad divorce. But when she moves into the mansion, her lonely life begins to change. She finds friendship in the neighbor’s daughter, Sunshine, and a distraction in Freddy, the rugged gardener. As Laura starts to emerge from the fog, she and her new friends embark on a mission to reunite the items with their owners.

In a connected story,  we follow Eunice, who found a trinket on the London pavement years ago and hung onto it. Now, as she comes to the end of her life, she has lost something precious—a tragic twist of fate that forces her to break a promise she once made.

As the Keeper of Lost Objects, Laura holds the key to Anthony and Eunice’s redemption. But can she unlock the past and make the connections that will lay their spirits to rest?

I received an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

My Thoughts

I have a tendency to give objects I find a story, creating a backstory for them that is rich and full of life. Knowing that there is a whole room filled with objects for which stories were created (at least in Hogan’s work) seemed logical to me, and make my heart more than happy.

And Sunshine, the next door neighbor girl? I love her. She is a young adult with Down syndrome, and reminded me quite a bit of my daughter. I do wish she had more of a life beyond the story (as all the other characters seem to have), but she I loved her. She was an integral part of the story, including the work of reuniting the items with their lost owners–this, to me, was perfect.

The Keeper of Lost Things is a character-driven novel, in that the lost things are characters — and the characters are lost things. Each lost thing has a story which must be uncovered, during which the actual characters are telling the stories and uncovering their truths.

The story of Eunice and Bomber, who met the same day Anthony’s fiancee died, is almost worth its own book. I can’t really say it was parallel to Anthony and Laura’s story: I would say it was more diagonal, running side by side but destined to intersect.

The story is a little too cute, a little too sweet at times, and it could have done without the touch of supernatural (which works fine, but not necessary). But honestly, I loved it. I think I needed to know that life works out sometimes, and that all the objects in the world have a story to someone out there. I needed the cute story, and the happy ending.

Book Details

Title: The Keeper of Lost Things

Author: Ruth Hogan

Publisher: William Morrow

Pages: 293 (Kindle Edition)

 

 

 

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Home + CRM Review of Emma Donoghue’s “The Wonder”

As a child, home was home. Where ever mom and dad were–that was home. For me, it was where I was safe and loved. Where my room was, where I snuggled into read a book and fought with my brother. It was familiar and warm and, well, just home.

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We moved a few times when I was a child — just regular moving. But that feeling was always there.

Two of the most memorable homes were in the country. A few acres and neighbors who were close enough, but not too close.

And then the teen years. The acres felt too big, the town too small. I wanted more (and partly because of me, but mostly because it made logistical sense with my parent’s business and where most of our activities were happening) we moved to the city (I won’t say big city, but it was a city, and it’s getting bigger all the time).

And, after graduating from there, I couldn’t wait to strike out on my own and get out of that city.

After many moves and many towns, I got married. And we began building out own home, a safe place for our girls.

It’s funny to think that as much as I wanted to get away from ‘home’ and the home town, I ended up in a place very similar. Maybe because it’s where I felt safe and loved. Where, for better or worse, they knew me best.

I think we’re giving our 200.gifgirls the same kind of smallish town, hometown feel that we grew up with (my husband grew up on a horse farm in New Jersey). I hope were giving them that same sense of security and love. Enough to make them want to leave the nest, but to know it’s here, filled with laughter and hugs.

Enough so they know that there is a place called home, and that they are always welcome (at least for the weekend).

Now, onto my review of The Wonder by Emma Donoghue.


 

Lib had a dizzying sense that time could fall into itself like the embers. That in these dim hints nothing had changed since the age of the Druids and nothing ever would. What was that line in the hymn they’d sung at Lib’s school? The night is dark, and I am far from home.

Emma Donoghue, The Wonder

 

The Premise

Deep in the heart of Ireland in the mid 1800’s lives a marvel of God’s love, or so we are to believe. Anna O’Donnell, eleven years-old, has lived off manna from heaven, eating nothing for months, drawing tourists and journalists to her family’s small cabin.

In order to substantiate the claims, a committee of village citizens has hired professionals to keep watch on the girl for two weeks. They call in a nun and Lib Wright, on of Florence Nightingale’s original nurses from the Crimean War (known as Nightingales).

Lib is suspicious of the claims, an agnostic (or maybe atheist) and non-Catholic. She’s scientific in her approach to the girl, checking every corner of the room in search for hidden food, taking notes on the girl’s condition day in and day out. Sitting with her for hours at a time, Lib is unable to avoid conversations with Anna. She discovers a quick mind and a clever, sweet girl.

Finding herself up against superstitious and devoutly Catholic villagers, Lib also must fight the blinders put up by the committee and Anna’s own family. All need it to be a miracle, bringing in tourists to their small village. But beyond that, they are devout Catholics, interested in sainthood for Anna. Nearly everyone involved is unwilling to see Anna as she is: swollen with dropsy, jaundiced, and dying as her body starves.

The town doctor believes she may be a medical miracle as well, thinking that she may be turning into a sort of plant, capable of living on air alone. The committee wants her to be a miracle, a martyr, a saint, in order to save their town. (Interestingly, the only two that seem to show real doubts about this course is the town priest and the nun.)

Lib is sure Anna is a hoax, and that her family is keeping the collections left by tourists. She watches Anna with detachment, unable to understand the child’s utter devotion to her Church. But when Anna’s health starts to fail, and no one will lift a hand to help, Lib starts to realize that she has to do something.

But will it be enough, and will it be in time?


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My Thoughts

I read a lot of books. And I get caught up in a large number of them. I fall for the characters, and then the stories. That’s the kind of reader I am.

And then I read a book with stark, beautiful prose. And I remember how much I love words. I remember that the best writers can tell a story with solid prose, rather than the flowery verbiage in many novels of late. I remember the words are the thing. With that kind of real, rugged prose, an author can do a better job of highlighting the characters and the story, taking the spotlight off the author’s ability to sprinkle a novel with their big, long descriptors.

Not that The Wonder is short on description. But it’s used to tell the story, not to draw attention to itself.

The story  itself is completely gothic, using the committee and the town, their religion and superstitions, as the most horrific monsters of all. We watch as a group of zealots allow a young girl to waste away, and she continues to let it happen, because she’s a child and these people are supposed to love and protect her.

I could have done without the nod to romance for the cold-hearted Lib, although it did give us a chance to understand why she is so cold-hearted. And it does work — as she thaws concerning Anna, so she is drawn to the handsome journalist.

The other sticking point for me is Donoghue use of a convenient device for Anna’s fervor, making it just a little too pat and obvious. I really wish she would have stuck to the religious for Anna, making it a reaction to the very recent potato famine (which had ended just seven years earlier), the death of her brother from unknown maladies, and her love for God.

But, as I said, the prose is perfect and beautiful, highlighting the strong story and characters rather than hiding the flaws behind ornate wordage. The Wonder is historical fiction, psychological thriller, and gothic novel all rolled into one well-written bag of goodness.

4.5 stars.

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