Journaling Grief: A Novel Review

Some (ahem) years ago, I applied to our local university’s MFA program. Imagine my surprise when I was accepted. The only downside was that my undergraduate majors were marketing and history, and I didn’t have the fundamentals of literature I needed to study writing. Actually, I had more “fundamentals” than appeared because as an undergrad I’d blown off too many classes to count, spending my time at the library reading the contemporary masters like Philip Roth, Chaim Potok, and Isaac Bashevis Singer. I probably could have gotten a degree in Jewish literature by taking a test ;). But I was sorely lacking in a lot of other areas. Shakespeare? Who?

A few years had passed since I’d graduated college, so when I went back as a grad student, I not only was going to study something I was passionate about, but my study habits had vastly improved. The department decided that to make up for not having an undergraduate major in English, I would need to take two undergrad courses in English, an American literature course and a poetry survey course. With a great deal of luck and a little “research” (OK, gossiping about which were the best professors with other students) I took the poetry course with a dynamic poetry expert, Dr. Russell Goldfarb, and the American literature course with Dr. Clare Goldfarb, who happened to be his wife. My friends and I came to call them Mr. Dr. G. and Mrs. Dr. G. Maybe not as a form of address, but when we talked about them. They were two of my best teachers.

The Goldfarbs retired not long after I moved to California and started my new California-then-Arizona life. Imagine my delight when I recently learned that Clare Goldfarb had written and published a book that is available on Amazon. The book is available only on Kindle, and you know me–I refuse to fire up a Kindle because I love paper books and because I don’t want to add yet another screen to the lot of my migrainatious eyesight. I’m resourceful, though, I will say. I asked the author if I could read a .pdf version of her novel. I’m so glad I did!

In She Blinked, the reader is caught up in the tide of Ruth Burrows’ life as she learns that her mother has had another stroke–possibly a fatal one this time. She must fly to New York City to see her mother in the hospital and to stay with her father, a difficult man and ex-physician. As Ruth re-enters the remnants of the world she grew up in and navigates hospital culture and the death watch on her mother, she first begins to examine the face of mortality. When she returns home to her husband and children and the life she has created in Michigan, she finds herself blindsided by grief. Her usual over-achieving approach to life is threatened by the emotions she wants to analyze but doesn’t know how to handle.

The story doesn’t end with an easy resolution or a one year work-through of mourning. Instead, Ruth must continue on with her life. Her grief threads through the following years and rears up again when events trigger it. She also comes to face her own mortality through the events she lives through. Grief, mortality, illness (physical and mental), and memory are all a part of Ruth’s life. An important way that Ruth learns to deal with grief and mortality is through journaling, writing entries to her therapist. I wouldn’t call Ruth’s journey one of acceptance of these aspects of life so much as her recognition that they are part of the fabric of life, that all these experiences are intertwined, universal to us all.

Ruth Burrows has written a book about Henry James, a writer characterized by his psychological insights and complex prose. In She Blinked, the psychological insights are as astute as in James, but Goldfarb’s elegant, sparse prose never calls attention to itself and, instead, the reader is welcomed into Ruth’s experience.

Head on over to Amazon: She Blinked is available for Kindle at only $.99!!!


Filed under Book Review, Books, Fiction, Publishing, Writing

11 responses to “Journaling Grief: A Novel Review

  1. Thanks for introducing us to your friend, Luanne. Great review!

    • Since my father has been so sick, Jill (he’s back in the hospital again this morning), this book came at an incredible time for me because it starts with the illness of Ruth’s mother.

  2. Luanne,
    I never knew about your undergrad – masters leap. It sounds like mine. I had 1-2 English courses. Tops. My parents had forbidden my persual of my passion. They said: “you can do that in graduate school.” So I did. With a vengeance. And my undergrad studies were dwarfed by the time I spent working as a photographer and teaching myself darkroom skills…waiting for grad school! Thanks for the share.

  3. How cool that you were able to reconnect with your professor and read her book–and good that you liked it, too. 🙂
    I went from an undergrad degree in early childhood and elementary education to a Ph.D. program in history.

  4. Mom

    Got it! On Kindle, because I love immediate gratification 😉 This is going to be my long-awaited sunshine on the patio companion for the next couple of days! Can’t wait to rread Mrs Dr G

  5. What a pleasant blast from the past, Luanne. All things full circle, right?

  6. Great blog, Luanne. I like the story of how you know the author plus the review of the book. I, too, skipped the BA in English, and I too learned a lot from Drs. Mr. & Mrs. G.

  7. Not sure I’m in the mood for it right now, but I’ll definitely put it on the wishlist!

  8. Luanne, thank you for sharing this review. I hope your dad is better. Hugs to you!

  9. What a thrill to discover this book written by your friend, and I love learning more about your background. The navigation of hospital culture is one I’m reminded of as I write my memoir and then the attempt to return to ‘normal’ life but as a irrevocably changed person. ‘She Blinked’ is on my list. And I’m so sorry about your dad as I read here in the comments, hope he is recovering… hugs…xoxox

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