Shelter Me by Juliette Fay has received a lot of publicity in and around Boston not only because it’s a Target Bookmarked and Indie Next pick but also because Fay is a local author and local bookstores have the book featured in displays. Here is the back cover plot recap:
Four months after her husband’s death, Janie LaMarche remains undone by grief and anger. Her mourning is disrupted, however, by the unexpected arrival of a builder with a contract to add a porch onto her house. Stunned, Janie realizes the porch was meant to be a surprise from her husband—now his last gift to her. As she reluctantly allows construction to begin, Janie clings to the familiar outposts of her sorrow—mothering her two small children with fierce protectiveness, avoiding friends and family, and stewing in a rage she can’t release. Yet Janie’s self-imposed isolation is breached by a cast of unlikely interventionists: her chattering, ipecac-toting aunt; her bossy, overmanicured neighbor; her muffin-bearing cousin; and even Tug, the contractor with a private grief all his own. As the porch takes shape, Janie discovers that the unknowable terrain of the future is best navigated with the help of others—even those we least expect to call on, much less learn to love.
On letter writing:
Janie offered to scribe a letter for Beryl, who politely declined. “I’m very old-fashioned,” explained Beryl. “A typed letter is so cold and impersonal. It can be sent to so many people at once! Only a handwritten letter can convey the sense that the writer is actually with you, saying the words to you alone. When you write a letter with your own hand, you give a tiny piece of yourself.”
Janie, on recognizing her feelings:
It took a moment for Janie to realize that she was in the picture, too, standing to the side and a little behind Tug, her gaze directed toward him. She was smiling, but there was more than that. There as a look of…what? …’Gratitude’, she realized, studying the picture. ‘That’s me being grateful.’
On bridging emotional gaps:
Aunt Jude finished typing and glanced over at Janie. A look passed between the two women that, Janie realized, had never been transmitted before. It wasn’t about either of them or their struggles with each other. It wasn’t anger or disappointment or dismissal. It was a simple recognition of the real world in which they lived, both of them, together.
And for those of us who have traveled to the Cape with small children eager to get to Nana and Grandfather’s house:
“Pretty soon we’re gong to see a huge bridge, the Sagamore. When we cross over, we’ll be on Cape Cod. Can you watch for the bridge?” …When the Sagamore Bridge rose up in front of them like a metal giant looming out of the scrub pines, Dylan screamed in Janie’s ear, “I SEE IT!”
Marisa de los Santos has a blurb on the front cover of Shelter Me; and if you are a fan of her Love Walked In and Belong to Me, you’ll find much of the same satisfaction in Janie LaMarche’s story. Emotionally wounded and distant characters carefully and slowly come together; the children of the story do real kid things; friendship bonds disparate characters and makes other characters become stronger in their life journey; and mothers, daughters, aunts, cousins each grow in their knowledge and love for the other. One quibble: Some editing down from its 415-page length would have made this a 4/5 book for me.
Finished on February 11, 2009
Rating: 3.5/5 (Fiction Scale)
Format: Trade Paperback
Dedication: For Tom, with great love.