the life we bury

81DXB1rBz2LIn order for me to enjoy a mystery, it has to have a little heart and some literary merit.  This book has both.  Joe Talbert meets Carl Iverson in order to do a biography on him for a college class.  Carl was convicted of murder thirty years ago and has been sent to a hospice center where he is dying of cancer. Carl agrees to tell Joe his story because he says, “I have to say the words out loud.  I have to tell someone the truth about what happened all those years ago.  This is my dying declaration.”

As Carl tells Joe the story of his life, it brings up ghosts from Joe’s own past.  Joe has some guilt over his grandfather’s death and over leaving his autistic brother at home with his alcoholic mother to go to college.  As the book develops, each man comes to terms with the things in their pasts that they have buried. Carl tells Joe, “No matter how much whiskey I drank, I could never dim my memory.  I just wanted the pain to stop.  I thought that by going to prison, I might silence my ghosts-bury that part of my life.  But in the end, there’s no hole deep enough.  No matter how hard you try, there are some things you just can’t run away from.’

I won’t give away too much of the book but by the end of the story, Carl has really opened Joe’s eyes to what it means to really live and be happy. Joe: “A heavy snow began to fall outside.  An incredible sense of lightness filled me as I brushed snow off the windshield. A young couple entered the restaurant, releasing a wave of warm air fused with the scent of fresh-baked goods.  The aroma sailed no a light breeze and swirled around my head.  It caused me to pause and remember something Carl had told me- that heaven could be here on Earth. I drew in a breath of crisp December air and stood perfectly still, savoring the feel, the sound, the smell of the world around me, sensations that would have passed by me unnoticed had I never met Carl Iverson.”

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small great things

51Qry6Ul0-L.jpgSmall Great Things by Jodi Picoult is a book that has a lot to say about racism. A little too much emphasis, I thought. The book could have made the same point without overdoing it quite so much! That being said, it was a good read about a very touchy subject. A black nurse is being sued by a white supremacist because he believes she’s responsible for his newborn’s death.

Ruth Jefferson has been a labor and delivery nurse for 20 years and all of a sudden she is faced with the possibility of going to prison and never being a nurse again. She has tried to set an example for her son, Edison and she worries what will happen to him if she does go to prison. Ruth’s mother told her she was destined for small great things and up until this moment she has been.

Reading the sections that were from Turk’s (the white supremacist) point of view was a little difficult and unnerving. The way he talks about his deep hatred and treatment of blacks and gays really disgusted me. What’s really upsetting is the thought that there are actually people like him out there in the world. It made me angry, sad and uncomfortable at times, but I think that is what the author intended. The author was quoted saying “The things that make us most uncomfortable are the things that teach us what we all need to know.”

I used to be a huge Jodi Picoult fan, but over the years I find I enjoy her books less. This wasn’t the best or worst of her books. If you can get passed the sensitive subject matter, it turns out to be a good read.

a little life

51Ht2Od+Z2L.jpgThis might be the most heart-breaking book I have ever read.  It’s dark and heavy, but so profound and powerful. The book centers around Jude and his three friends (Malcolm, JB and Willem) he meets in college.  Jude is a very broken man, haunted by the horrific things that happened in his childhood.  Although Jude has a few fleeting moments of happiness, he is a very tortured soul who battles with self-disgust and self-hatred.

Through the years his friends try to help him with his sadness in various ways but they all struggle to get Jude to open up and tell them anything about his past.  They see warning signs that his health may be declining and that he may be hurting himself but they don’t know what to do about it.  “But this was part of the deal when you were friends with Jude: You let things slide that your instincts told you not to, you scooted around the edges of your suspicions. You understood that proof of your friendship lay in keeping your distance, in accepting what was told you, in turning and walking away when the door was shut in your face instead of trying to force it open again.”  “How can you help someone who won’t be helped while realizing that if you don’t try to help, then you’re not being a friend at all?”

Jude kept his past a secret because he didn’t want to seem weak or helpless and he was very ashamed of what had happened to him. He was unable to talk to anyone about what he had been through. Every day was a struggle for him.Every month, every week, he chose to open his eyes, to live another day in the world. He did it when he was feeling so awful that sometimes the pain seemed to transport him to another state, one in which everything, even the past that he worked so hard to forget, seemed to fade into a gray watercolor wash. He did it when his memories crowded out all other thoughts, when it took real effort, real concentration, to tether himself to his current life, to keep himself from raging with despair and shame. He did it when he was so exhausted of trying, when being awake and alive demanded such energy that he had to lie in bed thinking of reasons to get up and try again,” “Life is so sad. It’s so sad, and yet we all do it.  We all cling to it; we all search for something to give us solace.”

Jude’s friends did manage to give some meaning to his life and they did bring some much needed happiness and companionship to his life.  “The trick of friendship is to find people who are better than you are and appreciate them for what they can teach you. I went to college and I met people who, for whatever reason, decided to be my friends, and they taught me-everything, really.  They made me and make me, into something better than I really am.”

“Wasn’t friendship its own miracle, the finding of another person who made the entire lonely world seem somehow less lonely?”

I won’t go into detail about what happened to Jude, but it is revealed slowly throughout the book. It does include some very horrific subject matter so this book may not be for everyone.  I will just say it really tore me up.  I was heavy-hearted for a long time after I finished reading the book. I felt as if I had been through some sort of emotional turmoil myself, but what an amazing thing that a book has the power to do that to a person.  It’s one of those books that I will never forget.  It will haunt you for a long time. Read it and weep!!!