[asa book]0061374520[/asa] Julieanne Gillis’s life falls apart in a matter of weeks. Her husband walks out on her and their three kids (two of them adolescents, one hardly out of toddlerhood) and goes into hiding so as not to be disturbed while he reinvents himself; then it turns out the odd symptoms she’s been having — and he’s been either ignoring or ridiculing — are something after all. Julieanne is diagnosed with [[multiple sclerosis]]. For a woman who’s greatest joy in life is dance and who takes great pride in her physical fitness, this is an especially hard blow.
Tammy, I pulled your name out of the hat. Please contact me with your postal mail address so I can get this book to you.
She collapses, physically and emotionally. As Julieanne makes a living writing an advice column, the irony of her situation is not lost on her.
The narration switches between Julieanne and her oldest, Gabe. Gabe is fifteen, extremely observant and intelligent, but he’s got some learning disabilities and thus lives on the periphery at school, where the jocks call him Ed (for Special Ed). Wasn’t it Confucius who said ‘the stones in the street cry out at the cruelty of children’? Fortunately Gabe has a number of things going for him. He’s tall, a nice looking kid able to express himself and with enough confidence and perspective to stand up to the jocks. The adults at the high school are another matter. This novel throws a harsh light on the way public high schools can cause more harm than good and worse, how the staff and teachers sometimes take satisfaction in driving away kids who make them uncomfortable.
I really like Julieanne, who goes through hell and doesn’t turn into a saint, as so often happens in novels. She’s furious at her body and at Leo, the selfish idiot of a new-age spouting husband who doesn’t answer letters or phone calls from his desperate children; she’s worried about money and her kids and her job. Her sense of the absurd still struggles to the surface now and then, more so as her symptoms even out. I liked Julieanne, but I adored Gabe.
Gabe is one of those characters I want to grab by the ears and sit down to talk to. When Julieanne is too sick to turn in her advice column, he teams up with her best friend, a therapist, and they answer the letters together. But it’s Gabe’s personality that comes forward and he turns out to be far better than his mother at this advice business. Mostly because he pulls no punches. His advice is brief and unadorned with social niceties. Its popularity skyrockets, of course.
His voice is so authentic and his tone so believable I sometimes forgot I was reading fiction. Anybody who has had a kid who doesn’t fit into the standard high school cubbyholes and suffers for that will appreciate Gabe, because he provides a glimpse of what it’s like to be on the inside of that. I found myself wondering how I could get him and the Girlchild into the same room, and then I realized that this would only be possible within the confines of a Woody Allen movie.
This is a big novel with a lot of characters, but they are all very distinct one from the other, even those who don’t get a lot of face time with the reader. Julieanne’s very supportive parents-in-law, for example, experience what is going on in a way that is almost palpable. And then there’s Leo. I don’t want to say too much about him, except that he’s so awful that he manages to be disgusting and interesting at the same time.
In short, I found this a most satisfying read. It’s one of those stories that has been following me around and that I’ll have to read again to see what I missed the first time.
I’ve got an extra copy here, so if you’re interested, please leave a comment.