I was offered the chance to review Shelter Me by Juliette Fay through Avon's First Look program. I was immediately drawn into the life of Jane LeMarche, a recently widowed mother of two young children, living in a Massachusetts town very close to my own. It's not often that a novel makes me think so much about my life; I'm usually just reading for pleasure, often with several books in progress at once (My GoodReads "currently reading" list is a little ridiculous). When I reviewed the letter from Harper Collins and realized that the review was due tomorrow (well, today, but this was last night) and I was half-way through, I buckled down and started reading in earnest. I had already become engrossed in the story, so it wasn't difficult. I read into the night, and picked it back up this morning while H ate his cereal, putting it down to 'interact' with my kids for a few hours.
After putting H and C down for their naps, I tucked back into the lives of Janie, Dylan, Carly and all the people that made the first year after the death of Robby maintain some semblance of normalcy. I don't want to put any spoilers in this review, but the basic storyline revolves around Janie who is self-admittedly in a 'shitty' place in her life following the day her husband was killed after being hit by a car while riding his bike without a helmet.
Just months after his death, a contractor, Augustus "Tug" Malinowski, comes to her door with plans for a porch that her husband had designed for their home as a gift to her. Janie decides to go forward with the building of the porch, as it's yet another way she can feel close to her husband.
While she is prickly, and angry and all the things you might expect from someone who's suffered a tragedy of this magnitude, she also reminded me of myself in a lot of ways; brusque and unafraid to speak my mind, but internally sensitive and bull-headed all at once. There were many times throughout the novel that I felt like it was me talking, probably amplified by the fact that my kids are about the same age as hers. There is one instance in which she is describing a 'breakthrough' with her daughter. Following her husband's death, she stopped producing milk and had to bottle-feed her baby. Their intimate breastfeeding routine was interrupted and I'm sure the emotional impact of the situation as a whole contributed to Carly balling up her hands in fists as she ate. The first time Carly again allows Janie to stroke her palm, is one of the gifts or "daily miracles" that Janie recognizes as the signs she needs to look for that life will go on.
She described the palm of her baby, and I just started to cry. Nursing C and H (when he was an infant, not now...blech) is one of my favorite things about baby-hood, and stroking C's palm as I look into his eyes...well, there's just not much that compares.
I could go on and on about the minutiae of my life that this book made me recognize is really special. I have been feeling in such a rut lately, and I know it sounds silly that a work of fiction has bolstered me so much, but I can't really attribute it to anything else.
Janie talks about that feeling of relief that used to wash over her as she realized her husband would be home at any minute to help out with the kids, and how that was one of her many losses. I have to admit that it's the touchstone in my day on the days that J's schedule works out that way. His working hours are crazy, and this month has been particularly hard. This quasi-single parenting is a lonely business, but reading Shelter Me really gave me the gut-check I needed. I'm not a single parent, and each comment I make to that effect is probably a slap in the face to J, who's missing out on all the little milestones that I've been complaining about. But I digress....
The details that Fay brings to life in these characters made me feel like I was reading the diary of a friend. Of course, it helped that I was practically reading about my neighborhood, and I could barely stop myself from googling Janie's town of Pelham, MA to get all the details and feel even closer to the story...okay, fine, I googled it.
The search is over. I have my next book club pick already selected. It will add even more fun that it will be read by a group of Central Massachusetts moms...Ms. Fay...do any local book club visits? :) Shelter Me is available for purchase on December 30th...less than a month!