Friday, August 26, 2011

After You: Grief times two

After You: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)After You by Julie Buxbaum
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Ellie Lerner's best friend, Lucy, is murdered in broad daylight--in front of her 8-year-old daughter--in an upscale Notting Hill neighborhood. Ellie flies to London to be with her goddaughter Sophie and help Lucy's husband pick up the pieces of their lives.

While she's grieving the loss of her close childhood friend, she's still mourning her son Oliver, who died in utero at eight months gestation. Ellie's difficulty in moving past her deep-seated grief has put her marriage at risk. While she's escaping her own commitments back in Boston, her husband wants her to return home, but she just can't.

To comfort themselves, Ellie and Lucy escape into Francis Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. Sophie is an unusually bright, too-blunt-for-her-peer-group child, and she has endured more than any child should. I had to chuckle while reading her father's response to Ellie's suggestion that Sophie go to a therapist (because of bed wetting and nightmares)...reflecting the prevailing opinion that therapy is too American and completely unnecessary for the stiff-upper-lip British. Sophie returns to school a scant few days after watching her mother be murdered, because the headmistress convinces her father that "she should get right back into the swing of things. Routine, structure, and all that. Good for kids. She said that breaking from that will shake Sophie up even more."

Through the process of mourning Lucy (and discovering that Lucy was keeping at least a few deep dark secrets from her and she didn't know her as well as she thought), Ellie realizes that she hasn't fully mourned for Oliver. Instead she's been trying to escape her own feelings of loss.

Buxbaum effectively and sensitively handled the issues of grief, including the different ways people grieve (and not to assume that someone is not grieving just because they grieve in a different way from you). One thing I realized about the characters, though: I would not have liked Lucy. She came across as shallow, unfeeling, and snobby. The most egregious thing she did was after Ellie lost her baby: her first response was to tell Ellie she could always have another one. Perhaps she was stunned and didn't know how to react. But after the losses I have experienced in my own pregnancies, I cannot imagine being able to move beyond that kind of completely insensitive comment. Although Ellie was upset about the comment, she didn't seem to think it was quite as horrible as I did.

I'm always attracted to stories about Americans in England or vice versa, so I enjoyed this book overall. Buxbaum lives in London and has done an excellent job representing the British culture through American eyes.

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