Live and Learn

Trying to settle back into the mundanity of every day life again. Dishes piled up in the sink, a load in the dishwasher that needs putting away, books and files and papers and note cards and silverware, bottle caps and letter openers and my checkbook scattered about with reckless abandonment and no discernible pattern other than a concurrent lack of desire and energy and interest to do anything about it. Clothes are strewn across the floor of the laundry room while books gather dust on top of the dryer. For yet another day, I allowed myself to wallow in the malaise aftermath of a writerly weekend; a foot back into the swirling and comforting waters of my writing career. At some point–most likely tomorrow morning–I shall rise and make myself some coffee, answer the seemingly insurmountable amount of emails that have clustered in my various in-boxes, organize electronic photos downloaded and stolen from various social media sites to further document the weekend, and generate emails of thanks and gratitude. But tonight, realizing I didn’t even post a blog entry today, I chose to simply sit down as my tired mind and exhausted body wind down for bed and compose a start to tomorrow’s blog in an effort to maximize efficiency and leave more time in the morning for making lists and figuring out what needs to be done and what needs to be worked on, prioritizing and reordering and stepping full-time back into the day-to-day existence of going to work and running errands and cleaning and writing and reading and trying to stay on top of things and at the very least tread water rather than losing more ground.

Traveling does this to me, and especially traveling for writing; each time I am immersed full time into the writing/publishing/reading community it always takes me a little bit longer to pull back from it, to stop missing it, and get back to the business of being Gregalicious again.

One of the loveliest things about traveling, for me, is being able to read. I don’t know how people travel by air and don’t read, to be honest with you. The time just flies past and you can forget that you’re in a busy airport with some people who don’t care about clipping their toenails or other such horrific things in public, or hurtling through the air in a long metal tube thousands of yards above the ground through the theory of lift, a Physics principle I wish my father the engineer had never explained to me because now it creeps into my head every time I fly. I was not only able to finish reading The Gates of Evangeline by Hester Young as our flight taxied to the gate in Tampa; and I started reading Madeline Miller’s brilliant Circe on the way back and cannot wait to finish it.

But The Gates of Evangeline was truly a stunning work.

the gates of evangeline.jpeg

The sky is a dismal gray when I finally go to remove my son’s car seat. It’s raining, a cold autumn rain that feels both cliche and appropriate for a moment I’ve spent more than three months avoiding. I stand by my Prius, peering through the rear window at the empty booster seat, wondering for the hundredth time about the thin coating of mystery grit Keegan always left behind. And then I do it.

I don’t give myself time to think, just proceed, quickly and efficiently. Loosen the straps. Dig into the cushions of the backseat and unhook the metal latches. One tug, and the car seat lands with a thunk on my driveway.

They never end, all these little ways you have to say good-bye. I turn my face toward the drizzle.

The summer has gone, slipped away without my noticing it, and somehow October is here, flaunting her furious reds and yellows. Squinting, I take in the houses of my neighborhood their wholesome front yards: trim lawns, beds of waterlogged chrysanthemums, a couple of pumpkins on doorsteps. And leaves, of course, everywhere, blazing and brilliant, melting into the slick streets, clogging gutters.

These are actually not the opening paragraphs of the novel, but rather the opening paragraphs of Chapter One. I chose to not use the opening of the prologue to share, primarily because, while the prologue is extremely well done and gripping, it primarily serves to set the mood for the story, rather than introducing the reader to the main character, Charlotte Cates–whom everyone calls Charlie–and Charlie is the driving force of the novel; its success with the reader entirely depends on how you feel about Charlie, as a character, as a person, as a woman, and as a mother. That is key to the novel; if you don’t like Charlie, you aren’t going to enjoy the book.

Which is a shame. The plot of the book is powerful, an interesting mystery about a missing small boy of wealth and privilege who vanished from his room on the palatial family estate of Evangeline in Cajun Country, Louisiana. Charlie is a successful career woman, managing editor of a Cosmo-like magazine, divorced her husband for cheating, and was raising her son on her own. Her parents died young and she was raised by her grandmother; her parents were, as we say down here, “pieces of work.” But then her young son dies suddenly of a rare aneurysm, casting her down the road of grief, pain, blame, and horror. Whatever flaws she might have, Charlie is grieving, and her grief is so real and palpable that you start rooting for her as she leaves her job and drives to Louisiana to write a true-crime book about the disappearance of Gabriel Deveau. Many mysteries haunt the plantation, and Charlie has to navigate those while digging into what happened to Gabriel. The book is beautifully written, and how Charlie begins to slowly come out from under the dark cloud of her own grief, through her interactions with the others at Evangeline and the local people she becomes involved with, is even more powerful than the mystery she is trying to unravel. Charlie also has psychic visions she doesn’t understand, sometimes seeing the past and sometimes seeing the future; and one of those visions–of a boy being taken, rowed into a swamp by someone who has sexually abused him and plans to kill him–is the impetus that gets her to shake off her grief and head to Louisiana in the first place. The visions, which easily could be used to move the story along, etc., are intertwined into the story instead in such a way that seems organic and never seems manipulative.

I greatly, greatly enjoyed this book. As I said, it’s a crime novel but it’s really about coming to terms with grief, accepting tragedy, and moving on. I cried at the end. I will say I had a couple of quibbles, but over all, a great read.

There’s apparently a sequel, which I will definitely seek out.

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