Family relationships and forgiveness converge in this true-life chronicle by novelist Simon (The Magic Touch, 1994) of a year that gave her better understanding of her mentally retarded sister.
Beth Simon has ridden buses for years. Not the way most people do, to get from point A to point B, but “a dozen a day, some for five minutes, others for hours.” When hyper-busy, thirtysomething Rachel comes for a visit, Beth asks for a holiday gift: for one year, several times a month, her sister will ride the buses with her. Reluctantly, Rachel agrees. Over the course of the year, she slowly comes to appreciate Beth’s ingenuity and stops viewing her solely as a burden. The author gracefully avoids sounding preachy or didactic; she reveals herself to be at times supremely frustrated with her sister’s behavior. (“On seventeen buses, over twelve hours, Beth’s talk brims with spite about the brutes she encounters. . . . Her babble is unceasing, booming, and unvarying from bus to bus.”) The real heroes here are the drivers, who include Beth in family outings, visit her in the hospital, encourage her to try new things, provide her with stability and human connections absent in her highly dysfunctional family. Rachel begins to see that her own life consists of nothing but work; she shut out friends and lovers long ago. This realization, along with Beth’s helpful matchmaking (“I wAnt to havE a driver as a BrothEr in law,” she writes), leads to a significant relationship. Rachel’s reflections on her own life are interspersed with memories of a far-from-ideal childhood: undiagnosed depression exacerbated by Beth’s condition toppled their mother, who took up with a violent ex-con after a nasty divorce.
The three disparate narratives come together quite well and leave the reader cheering for a reconciliation between the sisters and the rest of the family.