Monday, September 9, 2013

Book Review: When We Were the Kennedys

Monica Wood is the author of four works of fiction, most recently Any Bitter Thing, which spent twenty-one weeks on the American Booksellers Association extended best-seller list and was named a Book Sense Top Ten pick. Her other fiction includes Ernie’s Ark, Secret Language, and My Only Story, a finalist for the Kate Chopin Award. Her moving memoir, When We Were the Kennedys, is the winner of the Story Circle Network's 2012 Sarton Memoir Award.


“Our story, like the mill, hummed in the background of our every hour, a tale of quest and hope that resonated similarly in all the songs in all the blocks and houses, in the headlong shouts of all the children at play, in the murmur of all the graces said at all the kitchen tables. In my family, in every family, that story—with its implied happy ending—hinged on a single, beautiful, unbreakable, immutable fact: Dad. Then he died.”


Monica Wood’s writing is simply luminous as she magically conjures up a lost place and time — a small industrial Eastern town on the eve of the Kennedy assassination. The story of her father's sudden shattering death and her family's attempt to cope with the incomprehensible loss is brought
to vivid life through her precise and poetic prose. Her skill at characterization is so refined that I felt as though I really knew each of them personally: her no-nonsense little sister, Cathy; her solid, dependable big sister Anne; her forever-young handicapped sister Betty; her overwhelmed and anxious mother and heart-broken Catholic Priest uncle, "Father Bob;" her sometimes incomprehensible Lithuanian landlords the Norkuses and, of course, her beloved dad. Wood’s story begins the morning of her father’s death of sudden cardiac arrest on the way to his job at the local paper mill. Told through the perspective of her fourth-grade self we experience her shock as she struggles to understand what the loss will mean for herself, her mother and her siblings. Her poignant realization that anyone can be taken from us at any time is painfully raw and moving. Through her eyes we watch her family's sometimes incomprehensible response to grief, her mother, a widow, standing still and alone in a dark room, unable to return to her empty bed; her beloved uncle’s hidden alcoholism and brief institutionalization. “We were an ordinary family;” she writes, “a mill family, not the stuff of opera. And yet…my memory of that day reverberates down the decades as something close to music. Emotion, sensation, intuition. I see the day—or chips and bits, as if looking through a kaleidoscope—but I also hear it, a faraway composition in the melodious language of grief….” (p. 7) We watch as young Monica escapes her grief by delving into the world of Little Women and Nancy Drew and attempts to write her own novel poignantly titled The Mystery of the Missing Man. Here is a child in love with words, who copies them over and over on the beautifully made paper her father had brought home from the mill. Here is a child with the keen observational skills of the gifted author she will become.
This is an excerpt from a review that first appeared in the Story Circle Journal and on the Story Circle Book Review Site. To read more visit:



No comments:

Post a Comment