I’m starting this sunny day with a cardboard box large enough to pack too many books in and a Gaslight Anthem song. They’re another Jersey band playing a sold out show at Webster Hall on Tuesday and going on to Europe shortly after. The song is The Gaslight Anthem’s ‘Red In The Morning’. So good:
Say goodbye, say goodbye, give a kiss and a sigh.
Never, never, never bring me back to your mind.
Let me slide, let me slide, roll off your mind,
like I was a movie you’d seen.
On to the next book:
After Wild, I was smitten enough with Cheryl Strayed to bump her novel Torch to the top of my to-read pile. The book starts off on a heavy note when Teresa Wood, mother of two and beloved radio show host, is diagnosed with cancer. This isn’t the kind of diagnosis that leaves any room for hope and has the “survivor” reflecting years later like it was some kind of demented gift. The cancer is so far advanced that the doctor gives her less than a year to live.
But wait, it gets heavier. The tragic loss Strayed details in the early pages of Wild are magnified in this story. While it’s a work of fiction, it reads more like a writer’s therapy session. That’s not to say it isn’t worth reading, just don’t expect a page turner. Reading it was work. Then again, I try to stay away from sad and depressing fiction.
The story is structured by the natural course of grief. First there is the sickness. Then dread and disbelief of impending death followed by the finality of ashes. But death is not the end of loss. The meat of this story is in what happens to the family Teresa Wood leaves behind. The two kids, a teenager and college dropout, lose their mom and of course it changes them, throwing their lives off the predictable track. They struggle to find a way to cope and when that doesn’t work they unravel.
The book came long before Wild, so it’s not really fair to come to it with the same expectations. I didn’t love Torch. It doesn’t have the guts that transcend in Wild. It’s well written technically, but I need more than that if a book is going to pound me over the head with the same note again and again. But maybe that was her point, that loss is sad sad sad. If you stick with it through the end, the story feels so completely told that you need the characters to move on just as much as they do.
After Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, I wondered why there aren’t more books about mourning. Now I know. It clobbers you even when it’s ‘fictional’. Have you read any books that pull it off?