Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review: The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.

About the Book:
Before there were blogs, there were journals. And in them we’d write as we really were, not as we wanted to appear. But there comes a day when journals outlive us. And with them, our secrets.

Summer vacation on Great Rock Island was supposed to be a restorative time for Kate, who’d lost her close friend Elizabeth in a sudden accident. But when she inherits a trunk of Elizabeth's journals, they reveal a woman far different than the cheerful wife and mother Kate thought she knew. 

 The complicated portrait of Elizabeth—her troubled upbringing, and her route to marriage and motherhood—makes Kate question not just their friendship, but her own deepest beliefs about loyalty and honesty at a period of uncertainty in her own marriage. 

The more Kate reads, the more she learns the complicated truth of who Elizabeth really was, and rethinks her own choices as a wife, mother, and professional, and the legacy she herself would want to leave behind. When an unfamiliar man’s name appears in the pages, Kate realizes the extent of what she didn’t know about her friend, including where she was really going on the day she died. 

Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women—their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears—considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices.

My Comments:
Once  upon a time, many years ago, during the years starting in college and pretty much ending when I got married, I kept a journal.  One day when they clean out my house, my kids will be able to read all about my post-adolescent angst.  They'll be able to read my prayers, my thoughts, about my dates, and about how I felt about their dad at that time in my life.  The journals are in a box in the garage along with other memorabilia from  high school, college and beyond.  I wrote them for eyes and for God's and there is a certain honesty there that I sometimes miss, but though I've tried to get back in the habit several times since I married, I finally decided that for whatever reason, that's not what God is calling me to at this time in my life. Perhaps He knows the stakes could be too high if someone read it. Perhaps He knows I need to be talking to my husband rather than to a book. 

Every once in a while when I'm in the garage I'll get the urge to pull those books down and read them.  It's funny sometimes how things that seemed so important at the time, calling for pages of writing, are completely gone from my memory,so that even reading about them doesn't bring them back.  It is also funny how different my memory can be from reality.  I was an elementary education major and spent the last semester of college as a student teacher. In general my memories of that time are good.  In general my memories of the two years I spent as a teacher are not. It was interesting to read a journal entry from my student teaching days "The kids were loud, I was a bitch, what else is new?"  Evidently things weren't so wonderful even then.  

As noted above, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. is the story of Kate and Elizabeth and Elizabeth's journals.  In her will, Elizabeth asked Kate to decide what to do with the journals, and Kate decides that means she has to read them, and spends the whole summer reading years worth of journals,  the whole summer learning that her friend was not who she appeared to be. In the process Kate has to take a look at who she is and what she wants from life.  

Kate and Elizabeth both spent early adulthood in New York City.  Elizabeth was a graphic artist; Kate was a chef.  Once they became mothers they moved to the suburbs and ended up in the same neighborhood playgroup.  Kate longed for her life as a chef but always managed to dabble in paid employment.  Elizabeth appeared to be super happy super mom, but unknown to most, she missed her career and tried hard to keep a finger in the door.  As Kate reads about how Elizabeth's life evolved, more by chance than by choice it seemed, she questions her own choices and reflects on her own life.

Besides being a good story, this book is also a showcase for good writing--writing that evokes feelings without being maudlin, prose that almost sounds poetic.  Yes, I liked this one and I'm giving it an A--and in case you are wondering, it is a clean read.  

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via Edelweiss.  I was not obligated to write a positive review,though in this case I was glad to do so.  

1 comment:

  1. This sounds very good. Great review. thanks!


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