Sunday, February 24, 2008

Curl up with The Gathering by Anne Enright and your heart will fly wide open

I just finished reading The Gathering after seeing a podcast of Anne Enright giving a talk at Barnes and Noble's New York store. She looked so.... normal, for lack of a better word. Kind. Thoughtful. Clearly smart. Poised.

Then I plunged into her book. It's the kind of book that lays you wide open. I spent the day yesterday reading in front of a hot fire while outside it stormed and rained and the wind blew in great, gasping, smoky breaths through the cracks around my windows and doors.

The Gathering is one of those books that ten people would have ten different takes on what it means, because it's so rich. For me, it was how to love and tolerate and truly see the family you're born into, as well as the one you make. It's about seeing them all clearly, and letting them be, and not flinching away from the truth of them all. And stepping truly and deeply into the life you've made for yourself.

Day before yesterday I went to the ophthalmologist. The woman who dilated my eyes was chatty. "Sure hope it doesn't rain this weekend!" she said. "My son's birthday. Everyone's coming over. We won't all fit in the house."

"Who's everyone?" I asked, trying not to squirm as the drops hit my eyes.

"My husband's one of twelve kids. The whole family's coming. 120 people."

I thought of her while I sat in front of my cozy fire and it stormed outside. I thought of her as I read about Veronica and Liam and their ten other brothers and sisters.

And I thought about my own life, and my ninety year old parents and my four brothers and sisters, and my husband and his five brothers and sisters. Once we all had open faces and ruddy cheeks and tangled hair and huge noisy birthday parties and unknown, promising futures. And how we've had some good luck and some bad luck and worked hard and had a few ruddy faced, tangled-hair kids ourselves. And I felt incredibly sad and grateful and joyful, all at the same time.

A good book will do that to you.


Anna Grossnickle Hines said...

nbkmMmmm...a heart opening book. It sounds too inviting to resist, especially coming from a family of seven. I'll have to check this one out.


Elizabeth Partridge said...

I admire Enright's willingness to have a main character with twelve siblings! Yikes! And she captures all the sibling rivalry stuff so well -- here's a bit I was re-reading this morning, when their grandmother has died, and the girls are told to go up to her room and take what they want: "...the Hegarty girls enjoying the quietest screaming match we ever had, choked with fury and hating each other in whispers.... so I left the house with a howl of regret for all I had been denied, though there was nothing there I actually wanted."

Over and over again, she catches the duality of our feelings. Incredible.

Anna Grossnickle Hines said...

Interesting...those dual feelings. How often do I focus on just trying to get one feeling in my writing, but it's true isn't it, that most of the time the feelings are all mixed up...even opposing? Hard enough to live that way, let along capture it in writing!

Elizabeth Partridge said...

Honestly, it often feels close to impossible. I think when I am trying to hold those dual feelings, I wonder if my writing looks like it is meandering all over the place, instead of heading somewhere.

Obviously, in the right hands, it feels truthful, and accurate, but I don't know if i have the right hands (yet!)