"A beautifully written story about loss and second chances."– Kirkus Reviews
After a traumatic car accident leaves her addled, a woman struggles to care for her aging mother in this novel.
Dee Ellison Chope, 64, lives with her 90-year-old mother, Bessie, whose mental faculties have deteriorated enough that she requires nearly constant supervision. Sixteen years earlier, Dee was in a horrible car accident that killed her husband, and a serious brain injury left her similarly in need of care. She moved back into her parents’ house, but just as she recovered enough to live on her own, her father died suddenly, leaving Bessie alone and saddled with debt. Dee had to find work to pay off a second mortgage on the home and stayed to assist her aging and increasingly helpless mother. Meanwhile, her younger brother, Georgie, always favored by Bessie and forever selfish, schemes to purloin the house for his own financial self-aggrandizement, even in advance of Bessie’s death. But Dee discovers that Georgie had borrowed a considerable sum of money from her father before he died, a loan she essentially repaid by covering the second mortgage. Georgie calls Adult Protective Services to have his mother committed to a home, forcing Dee to defend the quality of her custodianship. Separated from her grown-up children, widowed, and tasked with caring for a mother she had a difficult relationship with, Dee finds her life stalled until she gives romance another try. Arbor’s (Intentional, 2015) lucid prose poignantly captures Dee’s ambivalence about a family she loves but that often disappoints her: “Her brother murdered her favorite doll. He never touched or hurt any of her other dolls, so he wasn’t a serial killer. He just chose the prettiest, the one with her dress perfectly arranged on a messy shelf, the one she loved the most—the one her father gave her.” The depiction of Georgie flirts with hyperbole—he’s given almost no redeemable features. But Dee is bottomless in her complexity, a woman coping with her mother, mortality, and a bird in the house (“Dee still had most of her marbles, and however much she wanted to, she couldn’t blank out the image of the dead bird she’d discovered in the fireplace that morning. A bird in the house is bad luck. Someone’s gonna die”). She’s a protagonist worthy of the reader’s gripping interest.
A beautifully written story about loss and second chances.
In this novel, a woman’s friends and family deal with the aftermath of her suicide as they try to understand her reasons and their own roles.
The last Lily Cummings hears from her best friend, Dust Steward, is a text message: “I love U. Be.” Be what? Dust (shortened from Dusty) can never tell her, because she shoots herself with her husband’s gun in the fancy bathroom of their home’s luxurious new addition. Lily, 37, together with Dust’s husband, daughter, mother, and neighbor, struggles with her grief, confusion, and guilt. Dust left no note and had apparently been planning the suicide for some time. Why? A passionate environmentalist, Dust hated the house extension and its enormous carbon footprint—concerns that her husband, Robert, with his conservative political ambitions, dismissed. He also threatened to keep their daughter, Grace, from her if she tried to divorce. Now, he must face up to his role: “I’m not innocent….Everything she believed in, I smacked down. I did it.” With good cause or without, everyone wonders if they could have done more. Dust’s suicide becomes a catalyst for other major life changes elsewhere—a collapsing marriage, rapprochement with a long-gone mother, etc. Throughout this intelligent and perceptive novel, Arbor traces with strength and delicacy the many strands leading up to and away from a suicide. She brings out the textures of people’s lives through their in-jokes and little customs so that readers can feel the web of living connections that Dust was part of and left behind. The childhood friendship between Lily and Dust is shown to be full of the shared fears, hopes, and joys that kept them friends into adulthood, which helps define the scope of loss. Though everyone tries to play detective to understand Dust’s suicide, the answers are messy. After Dust’s death, one of her jigsaw puzzles, unfinished, lies gathering dust, the pieces never put together.
A thoughtful, sensitive, but never saccharine exploration of what suicide leaves behind.