Saturday, October 3, 2009

Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Malloy

I loved this book. It inspired me, made me realize it’s never too late to try new things, to discover a new part of yourself, to set out to create a larger family.  Who would have thought a book about a 75 year old widow would be so engaging, informative and compelling.  I guess the truth is we don't have to read about people who are like us. We learn the most from stepping inside the mindset of those who are different from us.

Seventy-five year old Sarah Lucas is in mourning over the love of her life, her husband Charles. They lived a wonderful life together and Sarah suddenly faces each new day with dread, as she is without the biggest constant in her life. Now, as I reconsider this novel, I think of the 80 year old Jewish grandmother of a friend I met this summer.  She talked repeatedly of her beloved husband, who died a number of years ago, a chemist, "but brilliant, he could have been a lawyer."  This woman was smart enough to go to college but girls didn't go to college then (unless they had wealthy parents), and she still regrets this fact.  She didn't work and it is obvious that she always defined herself in terms of her wonderful husband.  I suppose similar things could be said of Sarah, whose husband was a beloved doctor.

Sarah, is suddenly able to find a new version of herself, defined only by her actions. Her memories take her back to the Great Depression when her parents opened their house to various relatives in need. The married wife of a doctor never imagined doing something similar but the widow who replaces her soon packs her house full.  With her teenage granddaughter, fighting for independence from the mother who doesn't understand, two of her teenage friends -one whose mother seems happy to lose a mouth to feed, an Israeli pacifist professor writing a book in Sarah's cabin, and a young mother and child whose husband and father (and breadwinner) lies in the hospital burned from the electrical fire that ruined their small trailer. In Sarah's house a new family forms, and Sarah discovers her inner artist. Young, old and middle aged mingle in the house finding ways to help each other overcome a series of hardships.  Movie nights are created, a sullen teenager crafts stories for the young fatherless boy.  Sarah and the Israeli widower ruminate on loss and violence, meditation and personal peace.

I loved the characters.  They were real, and their problems were universal.  Maybe communal living is the way to go.  This book made me a ready believer.  It also made me realize that one is never to old to try something new, to discover a new passion, savor a  new hobby, embrace a new family.  So many uplifting messages in a beautifully crafted story. What more could one ask for in a reading selection for a long bus ride?

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