Monday, April 16, 2012

27. Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Maloy

I copied this review from Dawn at "She is Too Fond of Books".  A great review from a great blogger.

Back of the book blurb: Sarah Lucas imagined the rest of her days would be spent living peacefully in her rural Vermont home in the steadfast company of her husband. But now, with Charles’s sudden passing, seventy-five-year-old Sarah is left inconsolably alone.

As grief settles in, Sarah’s mind lingers on her past: her imperfect but devoted fifty-year marriage to Charles; the years they spent raising their three very different children; and her childhood during the Great Depression, when her parents opened their home to countless relatives and neighbors. So, when a variety of wayward souls come seeking shelter in Sarah’s own big, empty home, her past comes full circle.

She is Too Fond of Books’ review: Every Last Cuckoo is about so much more than grieving and coping with loss, although Kate Maloy incorporates these main themes wonderfully into her novel. The characters experience love and loss in many iterations, including the ultimate loss – the death of Charles, husband to Sarah; father to Charlotte, David and Stephie; grandfather; good neighbor; lifelong friend.

We know from the first page that Charles dies; we watch in slow motion as Sarah rushes to him in the woods, alerted to his downed state by the agitation of their dog Sylvie. Maloy intersperses the scenes of Charles’s death as present-tense two-page vignettes throughout the first third of the book; the rest of Part One gives us the history of Charles and Sarah: the families that formed them, the shared history that shaped them, and the stories of the family they created together.

Maloy personifies grief; anyone who has experienced a death or deep shock will recognize these feelings of the reality hitting you again and again:

"Grief slipped away, only to attack from behind. It changed shape endlessly. It lacerated her, numbed her, stalked her, startled her, caught her by the throat. It deceived her eye with glimpses of Charles, her ear with the sound of his voice. She would turn and turn, expecting him, and find him gone. Again. Each time Sarah escaped her sorrow, forgetful amid other things, she lost him anew the instant she remembered he was gone."

The book considers the troubled relationships between Charles and their son David, and between Sarah and their daughter Charlotte. A similar strain is mirrored between Charlotte and her 15-year-old daughter Lottie; Sarah “was a drawbridge, separating mother and daughter until the traffic on their troubled waters could pass.” This talent for meditation serves Sarah well.

Part Two looks at how the family copes, and how Sarah eventually thrives after Charles’ death. Hers is a journey of self-discovery and reflection, stepping outside her normal routines and reaching back into her own experience of “family” to offer something more than she knew she had to offer.

Maloy writes compassionately about friendship and companionship of “the older generation.” Sarah is both physically and mentally very active, yet she is at odds with her aging:

"… She had lived many thousands of days, so it was not surprising that scenes from an hour here or a moment there should surface at random. Her memories were beads jumbled loose in a box, unstrung. Everything – people, events, conversations – came and went so fast that only a fraction of the beads were ever stored at all. Few were whole, many cracked; more rolled away beneath pressing, present moments and were gone forever. What was the point?"

The novel is full of metaphors, beautiful word pictures that are striking, but not overdone. A few months after Charles’ death, one afternoon finds Sarah sitting at the kitchen table as a snow spring falls. Maloy describes the sounds of the house – the high-pitched breaths of the dogs, refrigerator hum, snow sliding off the roof; then she adds:

"Otherwise, all was muffled inside the house, inside the blizzard. Sarah imagined herself a tiny figure, sitting and sipping tea inside a glass globe. Someone had shaken her life up hard, and now everything was still except for the whiteness falling around."

It was a pleasure to read Every Last Cuckoo and to see just where Sarah’s journey would take her. Maloy’s use of language made it hard to put down; when I was done, my paperback was flagged with dozens of passages I want to re-visit.

You’re probably wondering about the unusual title, Every Last Cuckoo. No, it doesn’t mean crazy, mad, off your rocker. It connects to the brood parasite nature of some species of cuckoo birds; it will all make perfect “aha!” sense when you read the novel! 

I think Dawn captured the essence of this book perfectly.  I loved her quotes and loved this book.
Rating:  5

1 comment:

  1. Added this one to my list. That's the danger of reading your blog.