I thought it might be unbearable to read Making Toast (2010, Ecco) a memoir of loss by Roger Rosenblatt. I’ve had my own loss that I still haven’t comes to term with. So why would I take on a stranger’s painful baggage?
I kept hearing about this work, reading reviews about it. Lots of applause… I still hesitated to pull the book off the shelf.
For Valentine’s Day, Bill bought me Rosenblatt’s book on the art of writing, Unless It Moves the Human Heart (2011, Ecco). I read it that weekend and allowed myself to do something I had lately deemed verboten – to underline and put asterisks in the margins (in red pen, no less!)
I liked Rosenblatt’s tone, his self-effacement, his willingness to be challenged – and sometimes trumped – by a student one-third his age. He’s a bit of a smart ass. And he knows his stuff. I guess that’s why he’s been appointed Distinguished Professor of English and Writing at Stony Brook University.
Already in Rosenblatt’s sphere, I was drawn back to Making Toast and bought a copy when Bill and I were stuck in the Detroit airport for six hours en route to Seattle. The book was just as heartbreaking as I had anticipated, and a real bummer of an airplane read: there I was trapped in my window seat with only the clouds for distraction from the story of a vibrant young mother’s sudden death.
That mother, Amy, was Rosenblatt’s daughter. And she had three children under the age of seven. Rosenblatt and his wife immediately move in with their son-in-law to take care of the kids, to try to breach the gap after this 38-year-old mother/daughter/wife/doctor died instantly of a coronary anomaly while on the treadmill one morning.
There is nothing in this book about Rosenblatt’s critically acclaimed writing, his six plays and fourteen books. Nothing about his accolades and distinguished titles. In this memoir, Rosenblatt is simply known as “Boppo,” an endearing term for grandfather.
Rosenblatt intersperses stories of Life After Amy with stories of Amy growing up. The author is adept at sneaking in a back story for each of the main characters, and portrays them as someone you surely know – a neighbor, a colleague, a friend. As their hearts break, yours may do the same.
You won’t find spiritual redemption here; Rosenblatt is angry with God. But you will come out a better person for having read this book. For in this small volume one discovers what it is to be human, to connect with others, to find solace in memory and in the moment. To find it is possible, in the numbing aftermath of tragedy, to love and thrive.