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BOOK REVIEW

Learning kindness in the crucible of loss

Liz Rosenberg, novelist for young and now older adults. Liz Rosenberg, novelist for young and now older adults. (Geoff Gould)
By Chuck Leddy
Globe Correspondent / July 8, 2009
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Liz Rosenberg’s debut adult novel, a family drama of loss and redemption, follows a 46-year-old wife and mother named Eve living in Binghamton, N.Y. As Eve is preparing for a garage sale, her husband, Chuck, walks out on her and their two children. Rosenberg skillfully describes Eve’s descent into depression and its accompanying weight loss and diminished self-esteem: “Time was slipping away, and all that happened was she kept getting smaller inside her thick clothing. Despair made her look older.’’

But no matter how lonely Eve feels, she is not alone. Rosenberg’s narrative shows how the people in Eve’s life (from her family to co-workers to her auto mechanic) often surprise her with their concern, compassion, and small acts of kindness. While Eve’s children miss their dad, Eve develops a stronger bond with them. Eve’s mother arrives to supply both support and more exasperating advice than Eve had ever expected. Rosenberg, a poet and author of books for young people who writes a monthly column for the Globe, has created an absorbing tale where random acts of kindness abound.

The demands of daily life gradually pull Eve back into the everyday concerns of family, friends, and work. She remains haunted by loss, but like so many working mothers, she barely has time to contemplate its larger meaning amid the demands of raising children, helping her elderly mother, and working full time. Eve’s daughter Noni’s reaction to her father’s absence, however, eventually makes itself known: “Noni had been carving a wooden dove at school, but the shop teacher called Eve at work to say that she had beheaded it the week before Christmas vacation.’’

Yet when Eve stops to think, she feels her abandonment afresh: “She seemed to be staring at the demise of everything. Everything she’d already lost, all the losses still to come. It all headed toward grief in the end.’’ Perhaps the key, Rosenberg seems to say, is to keep moving, continue functioning.

Eve works at the local university and while her depression puts a wall between her and some co-workers, it draws her closer to others. She comes to understand the messiness of relationships, how the search for intimacy can lead to everyday frustrations and surprising moments of grace. One co-worker, for example, a quiet man named Lev, befriends Eve, helping her buy a car and spending evenings chatting with her on her porch.

A municipal employee named Jonah, who works at the park nearby, helps Eve find an apartment for her mother and, when her mother breaks her hip, drives them both to the hospital. In time, Eve helps these new friends, too.

By book’s end, Eve’s deep understanding of loss becomes a strength. After her teenage son, Marcus, loses two friends in a car crash, Eve helps him overcome his growing alienation from the world. She has learned to reach out to others, and she even has a developing romantic relationship with Lev. And in the tradition of Jane Austen, the novel ends with a marriage. But it is not Eve’s. A writer with a modern sensibility about the lives of women, Rosenberg knows that marrying off the heroine solves nothing, and may simply introduce new problems. It’s enough that Eve has integrated her own sense of loss, turning it into something that can sustain her and others through the challenges of life. As debut novels go, Rosenberg’s “Home Repair’’ is a keeper.

Chuck Leddy is a freelance writer living in Dorchester.

HOME REPAIR

By Liz Rosenberg

Avon, 328 pp., paperback, $13.99

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