Sunday, May 2, 2010

Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt

There was a lot of pre-release buzz about Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt.  I will readily admit, however, that this was a the-cover-got-me book (Still Life with Kettle, 1977, by Lennart Anderson).

From Publisher's Weekly
Family tragedy is healed by domestic routine in this quiet, tender memoir. When his daughter Amy died suddenly at the age of 38 from an asymptomatic heart condition, journalist and novelist Rosen-blatt (Lapham Rising) and his wife moved into her house to help her husband care for their three young children. Not much happens except for the mundane, crucial duties of child care: reading stories, helping with schoolwork, chasing after an indefatigable toddler who is “the busiest person I have ever known,” making toast to order for finicky kids. Building on the small events of everyday life, Rosenblatt draws sharply etched portraits of his grandchildren; his stoic, gentle son-in-law; his wife, who feels slightly guilty that she is living her daughter's life; and Amy emerges as a smart, prickly, selfless figure whose significance the author never registered until her death. Rosenblatt avoids the sentimentality that might have weighed down the story; he writes with humor and an engagement with life that makes the occasional flashes of grief all the more telling. The result is a beautiful account of human loss, measured by the steady effort to fill in the void.

On learning to speak (this theory fascintated me!)
Bubbies has been attending to his own education, proceeding from one word, to several, to two-word sentences, to three and more.  Some say that children learn to speak in order to tell the stories already in them.

On an IBM Selectric typewriter (I remember clearly the day in 1966 when the first IBM Selectrics were brought into Katharine Gibbs School in Boston to replace the Royal Standards)
Jessie wants to know how my IBM Selectric typewriter works.  It fascinates her to see me at it--one antique using another.

On reading
In a rare tranquil moment on a March afternoon, I sit on the green couch in the lower-level play area, rereading Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist.  It is around four-thirty, and the light has gone from the day.  Jessie comes downstairs and asks why I am so quiet.  "I'm reading," I tell her.  She takes one of her own books from the coffee table and sits beside me, extending her long legs over the front of the couch.  We sit in silence, reading, five feet from where Amy collapsed and died.  I look up from time to time, then return to my book.

On Yeats
She [Amy] had a gift for custom and ceremony--the qualities Yeats wished for in "A Prayer for My Daughter."

This narrative of the events following the sudden death of Ginny and Roger's daughter Amy is full of those peeking-through-windows moments for the reader.  There's the expected sad, grieving and empty moments; but there's also the sweet and healing* moments that let you know that this family will be ok.

Les at Lesley's Book Nook has written a very touching review of Making Toast which you can read here.

Rating:  3.5/5 (Non-Fiction Scale)

*5/7/10 Update:  If you read the comments for this post, you will see Nan's spot-on comment regarding "healing."  I've been thinking about what she wrote for several days now, and I think the more correct word I should have used would be "mending"--mending in the sense of an attempt to hold things together.  I'm still thinking about this; might have to return yet again with more thoughts on this. 

Dedication:  For Amy


Les said...

I love the passages you've quoted here!! And, yes, I love that cover, too. It would look lovely framed and hanging on my kitchen wall.

Thanks for the link-love. :)

Nan said...

Oh, how trite of Pub. Weekly - 'healed.' This isn't fiction, this is real life. My best friend's daughter died at 28, and this woman will never 'heal.' Routine helps her get through the days and her life, but it could never heal or fix her. The very worst thing in life has befallen these people, these parents, and they are doing the very best thing they could ever do for their daughter. Your review was excellent, as always, Marcia. I'm always so happy to come by and find a new entry. Thank you.

Marcia said...

Les-It was difficult to flag passages--they were all so intertwined, each building on one another. Often, it's not a entire passage that strikes me but rather just a couple of words. Who knew what memories "IBM Selectric" would stir up?! I truly appreciate all of the information you include in your reviews and am happy to send everyone your way!

Nan-This book would be very difficult for any parent to read given the randomness of the cause of Amy's death. I know there's no healing in the truest sense of the word after a tragedy like this; however, I hope that there would be small glimmers of hope and a healing of sorts as the family tries to cope and to recover--even if those glimmers are nothing more than making toast. Lots to ponder in this very small book.