In Flerlage’s (Before Bethlehem, 2012) short novel, a woman cleaning up a cellar finds a keepsake that conjures painful memories of love and loss.
When Lucy gets the “coveted chore” of sweeping her grandfather Landon Myers’ cellar, she expects to find nothing more than dust and mouse droppings there. She does find a couple of dead mice, and even a snakeskin, but the real discovery is an old baseball. She can tell right away that it means something to her grandfather: “As he took it, his heart raced; sweat formed above his thin white eyebrows.” After he collects himself, he tells Lucy the story of the ball, and of his life before he married her grandmother. In 1975, Landon was a celebrated pediatric oncologist, recently divorced, and the father of a young son, Alex. As per the custody agreement, Landon saw his child on weekends, which they spent going to Cincinnati Reds games—Alex was a huge fan—and at one game, he caught a foul ball, barehanded. Lucy later asks her grandfather why he’d kept his first marriage, and Alex, a secret: “I had to compartmentalize my life into two existences in order to help me to heal,” he says. Back in 1975, Alex was ill; he was experiencing headaches and issues with his vision. An angiogram confirmed what Landon feared: a brain tumor. The irony of a doctor who saves children’s lives but can’t save his own son’s isn’t lost on Flerlage; in fact, he even titles a chapter “Tragic Irony,” and later, he has Landon’s ex-wife, Marilyn, say that the loss of Alex will hurt Landon the most “because he, of all people, can’t save our son.” Suffice it to say that the book lacks subtlety, and it has the sentimental tone and flavor of a film on the Hallmark Channel. That said, it also tells an unusually affecting story. Overall, this is an earnest, unpretentious book that, despite overly deliberate grabs for the heartstrings, still manages to pluck them, all the same.
A familiar tale, but one that has a melodramatic sincerity.