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THE SUMMER OF THE GREAT-GRANDMOTHER by Madeleine L'Engle

THE SUMMER OF THE GREAT-GRANDMOTHER

By Madeleine L'Engle

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1974
ISBN: 006254506X
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Great-Grandmother is or rather was Madeleine L'Engle's mother and this is the summer of her 90th birthday and her "swift descent" before she died although she had already lost so much -- her memory, her physical and emotional faculties, herself -- everything except her ousia defined here as the essence of being. Mrs. L'Engle admittedly advances her new old word as enthusiastically and repeatedly as she did "ontology" in her last book -- A Circle of Quiet. The experience she shares is of course the death of a parent with its simultaneous, threatening portents for the next to come, the next to go. In part she attempts to reconcile it (and fails); in part she avoids it (along with passing mention of all the indignities of senility from nursing to funeral home) by writing around it to the degree that most of the book is a retrospective of her own childhood, of great-grandmother's, and of still more distant forebears while returning again and again to her own very complete home at Crosswicks with "its fullness of life" -- husband, children, grandchildren. If you are attuned to Madeleine L'Engle's ousia with all its expansive subjectivity/sentimentality ("my heart weeps"), you won't get away scot-free. She's dealing, after all, with that unconditional fact of life which faces us all sooner or later.