Monday, February 13, 2012

On Canaan's Side and The Year of Magical Thinking

I got On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry for Christmas (one of the books I had requested!).  One of my book groups had read Annie Dunne (reviewed in this blog on 2/23/2011) by the same author, and since I had enjoyed his previous books (he also wrote The Secret Scripture), I was anxious to read it.  What was interesting and surprising to me, is that I had not realized that it was about the same family as Annie Dunne!  As I was reading On Canaan's Side, I rather slowly realized that the story was being told by Annie Dunne's sister, Lilly. 

The story is told in the first person by Lilly.  It begins with the chapter "First Day Without Bill" and ends with the chapter "Seventeenth Day Without Bill".

Bill was Lilly's grandson, whom she raised.  He had gone to fight in the Gulf War, came home and committed suicide.  As Lilly mourns for the loss of Bill, she tells the story of her 89 years and the losses that she has suffered.  Her brother, Willie, was killed in World War I.  A soldier friend of Willie's, Tadg, came to pay his respects to the family and he and Lilly fell in love.  However, Tadg was involved in the Irish uprising and he and Lilly have to flee Ireland immediately before marrying and head to the United States.  Tadg and Lilly take on assumed names and begin living quiet lives in Chicago.  Unfortunately for them, they eventually are found and Lilly's life changes as she tries to keep her family safe. War again deeply touches Lilly's life when her son, Ed, goes off to the Vietnam War.

The story spans about seven decades of American history.  And all through Lilly's narrative, her Irish background and family are woven in.  Ireland has never left her.  Lilly's life was full of grief, love, mystery, loss, joy...all the emotions that embrace a lifetime.  I thought that the book did an excellent job portraying the aftermath of war in the way it can affect families.

I really enjoy Sebastian Barry's writing, and recommend the books!

I read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion at the suggestion of my niece. I was glad to try it, since I had certainly read a lot about the book.  I don't know if I knew this or not, but Ms. Didion was married to the author John Gregory Dunne (for 40 years). The book is about her first year following his death.  Not only was she dealing with the unexpected loss of her life partner, but the week before his death, their only child, Quintana, had been hospitalized and was near death.  Ms. Didion was not even able to tell her daughter about her father's death for a few weeks, until the daughter was in better physical shape to learn of it.

The Year of Magical Thinking began.  Not able to get rid of his shoes, because what if he came back and needed his shoes?

"Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be."

 "Grief is different.  Grief has no distance.  Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blink the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life."

This book was not written as a self-help book, nor would I classify it as that.  I would even hesitate to recommend it to someone who was grieving, yet in the end, I think that I would recommend it.  I read it with two separate views.  As a therapist, I worried about the self-analysis that the author would go into, feeling that she was over analyzing things way too much.  But the wife part of me understood.  That is how one would feel and grieve. Her honesty in the book was much appreciated and is something that I may have to go back to someday. 

Near the end, she wrote of how she really didn't want the year to end.  It meant that John's death "will become something that happened in another year.". 

She wrote:

"I realized today for the first time that my memory of this day a year ago is a memory that does not involve John.  This day a year ago was December 31, 2003.  John did not see this day a year ago.  John was dead."

So very sad.

No comments: