Saturday, April 12, 2014

Heart Full of Hope (a review)


By this lovely little book.

Heart Full of Hope, by Christine Geery, is one of those books I hoped would never end. It has no plot, there is no suspense, no narrative thread that compelled me to keep turning the pages to find out what happened next, and no ending that made me gasp with surprise or delight or experience that sense of satisfying closure when all of the pieces finally click together and the whole makes perfect sense the way we wish it would in our lives. Yet, when I finished reading the final page of Heart Full of Hope and closed the covers for the last time, I felt an odd kind of loneliness. One thing many of these plotted books do have in common with Heart Full of Hope is that by the end you feel as if you know the characters, often as well as if they were family.

I had that feeling with Heart Full of Hope well before I'd read all of its 34 slices of Geery's life. I've never met her, have only the photos of her she's included in the book and maybe wouldn't recognize her if we met on the street. But I know her. I can hear her laugh and cry, and I can savor more than one of the Italian dishes that grace her popular table, even the last piece of apple crostata she confesses to having eaten herself despite her strict custom of always leaving the last piece for someone she loves.

Geery's writing is fluid and natural. It flows directly from her heart to her reader's, without the processed feel of craft or cleverness that compromises innocence and distances so many of the autobiographical sketches I've read from the intimacy that can open the heart as well as tickle the mind.

One image that's going to stay with me awhile is of Daphne, a mix of golden retriever and standard poodle she calls a “goldendoodle”. Daphne pops up several times throughout the book as a memorable character, but the one scene that sticks is how she handled “jail”. Here's Geery's description:

We set up an area that we call “jail”, because this is where she must go when she is naughty. One day she started to chew something that was off limits. I scolded her, and as I did she lowered her eyes, walked off and, to my astonishment, put herself in jail! But as always, one look into those wide brown eyes and I melted immediately, so she wasn't there long.

Geery likens Daphne's face to Woody Allen's. I can see where she gets that, but to me the beloved goldendoodle's mug is a spittin' image of Joan Rivers's.

Slim as this volume is, it took me nearly a month to read. I enjoyed it slowly, as I might sipping a fine Cognac. After a day spent struggling with my own writing and existential angst, I'd leave the bedside light on long enough to read another anecdote from Heart Full of Hope before clicking the room dark and drifting off to sleep. Often the smile inspired by Geery's words would drift along with me as if I had just hung up the phone after a pleasing chat with a good friend.

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