Thursday, March 7, 2013

Every Last Cuckoo

Book: Every Last Cuckoo
Author: Kate Maloy
Edition: eBook from Barnes and Noble
Read: March 2013
219 pages
Rated: 3 out of 5

For those of you who have not read the book, and hate knowing what happens before reading it, there is some spoilage in this review. On the other hand, this is not a book which depends on surprise and ignorance.

Charles dies. The first half of the book is where both Sarah and the reader reviews and learns of the relationship which Charles and Sarah has had during their marriage. The last half is Sarah learning to live without Charles.


Maloy notes that the grumpy Charles emerged more often than he used to. I am wondering if Maloy is giving aging as a reason for grumpy old men?

there is more to growing old than she expected-what expectations do we have as we grow older? We know that our bodies will not support all which we used to be able to do. We know our minds will not be able to process as much. But is the expectation that all which we will do is sit in the corner and drool? So what expectations do I have on myself? That is the most important question. How does Maloy answer this? I think she does a good job. When Sarah losses her husband, she starts to take in people with needs. As she does this, her horizons grow. She feels like she is a new person. If Charles had not died, Sarah would not have done this. She would continue to live a content life.

Charles responds to Sarah's reminiscing with the line I prefer the present. (13) Does Charles value the present only? Or what makes the present possible from the past? Without our pasts, we have no depth to live our lives. I agree about living in the now, but we do need to understand our past and Where we are going to in order to live in the now. Is the present the only thing we have? What consideration do we have for the past/future?

Tess, Sarah and Charles son's girlfriend, notes that you should not have to know that you cannot perfectly protect the ones you love. (32) This is a good concept. You try to protect everyone, your kids, your parents, your wife. But you, your self are not invincible nor can you be everywhere. But when we see those whom we love get hurt, we feel the hurt, the anguish, fear, and anger. Also the guilt. It is good to be reminded we are neither infallible nor infinite. There is only one who is.

In another place, Sarah is remembering the feelings of losing her new-born. The phrase used is really poignant: giving birth to death. (41) How sad of a phrase. But that is the end to all birth. It is a mother's thought, but not until the hope for the child has first died.

The image which Maloy gives of Charles, I love: He never sits still enough for time to catch him. (63) Here is a man who is able to be busy, not with things to keep him busy-placeholder things, but with things which are of interest to him. His walks, the outdoors, his wife. He is a man who continues to expand, even as his body is retreating. He develops a relationship with his son, which was broken early on. There is something like a pillar about him. Even as he is dying, his wife sees in his face, all the men he had been for the past fifty years. A man who has changed, truly matured, not just grown old. Even as his last words to her, gives a senses of expansion-Oh Sarah, you would believe what I have just seen....

Death moved ceaselessly at the edge of her awareness, just out of reach, stalking her. A few sentences later, Sarah notes that she hopes she has dementia, since she would never see her own death coming. This is not a book about escaping death, but trying to live before death comes. Because of Sarah's age and her experience with loss, she knows about death. She also knows that it is a terrible fact of life. We will die. She just does not want to face a long, withering time of looking death in its face.

The camera gave her new eyes (98). It is amazing how getting behind a camera gives you new perspective. You see things for the first time, which has always been staring you in the face. The dew on a blade of grass-you notice the refraction of light; the texture of an old dried up leaf; or the smile on a child's face. Fresh eyes for a tired world.

Sarah is feeling guilty about how she cannot shake her grief for Charles. Sarah's son's girlfriend notes that Sarah spent her whole life with Charles and that is a lot to mourn. She then comes up with a practical help of going through Charles stuff with Sarah. Two thought occurs to me: First, a good friend will find a way to be of use to a person in mourning-meals, time together, cleaning up. Secondly, is there a relationship between the length of time you are with someone and how long you mourn them? I suspect it may have more to do with how many holes the person has left in your life and how many unresolved issues you may have had.

Maloy brings in the Tess character, who is a Quaker and her son's girl from. She and a Jewish boarder have a dialogue about war. The Jewish boarder's thoughts are that wars are never about ideas-more about greed and hate. But Tess says that Quakers have evaluated wars, trying to assess the risks associated with the war. While Maloy does not state this, you understand the risk to be about the good or evil coming out of a war. But how can you do that? Very few wars are that cut and dried. Especially if you are in the middle of the war. But that is where we need to make our decisions-in real life. Maloy does not give us guidance on this. But she does understand the hardness of real time decisions. (162)

Maloy describes the lack of drive after the loss of a spouse. She talks about how all which Sarah wants to do is wander in the woods, taking pictures, minding the garden-things which Charles loved. But some things, like the linens folded crisply, which both of them liked, now recede I importance. This brings to mind that we live together and form patterns of behavior learned from each other. What will stand alone?

I do not understand what Maloy means when she says, You still believe you can solve the mystery of your mind, with your mind.... You wish to comprehend instead of apprehend. (172) What does this mean? Sounds sort of meaningless to me. Maloy goes on to say, the trick is to do it on purpose, then to guide the mind without pushing or tugging on it. (172). How is this done?

She was just a thing, like a sound or a scent. (180). Just a thing? We should never be that, except when we are before God. And even then, a thing is not what we are. We are creatures made in His image, maybe very small when compared with Him, but the object of His love which enlarges us when compared to what s around us. Of course, Maloy is probably only trying to say, that Sarah is not noticeable in the scenery which she is surrounded by.

As Sarah is growing more feeble, Maloy says that Sarah's life is all story, (181) parts of it incomplete, parts of it fulfilled. That is so true. Our lives are stories. We should live on in our friends and families lives as stories which they like to tell, enlarge and glorify. As they enjoy us now, they should enjoy us later. Also we should enjoy those who came before us.

Now for the title of the book. Some, and not even most species, cuckoo birds will try to hide their eggs with others, so that other bird will hatch and nurture them. Sort of leads up to why some of those birds grow up with mixed up identities. This is what happens with Sarah, she starts to have others, beginning with her granddaughter, Lottie, live with her. Lottie brings in some friends who are having parent troubles. Then others hear about this and asks her to temporarily house people in need. Soon the house bulging with these people. Sarah, while not forgetting or stopping to miss Charles, she finds herself being able to fill some of the void left in her life. She finds others will do the things, like housework, for her while she can make the time to be walk and wonder.

This book read like a Jan Karon novel, except without the Christian thought behind it. The book lets the reader understand that us old people do have a life which we value and which can be found fulfilling. Life does not stop at 60.

Maloy says that the book  is for her Mom and Grandmother, as well as her aunt whom she thinks Sarah resembles. As I am reading the book, I gathered that Maloy also hopes she can turn into the woman which Sarah develops into after her husband's death. There is a certain wistfulness in her writing in places which suggests Maloy is working out who she wants to become.

The good part of this book is the ability to explore loss and feelings, to examine how do we age and what are our needs. The unrealistic in this book is how Sarah grows stronger as she moves away from the loss of her husband, and as she grows older. In her own words, to write searching, not sizzling books.

When Sarah climbed up some rocks with Charles, she notes that such places are good for the soul. To be able to see ridge, beyond ridge, beyond ridge, gives a sense of standing on the verge of infinity. From a high Sierra mountain, you can see the curvature of the earth. Those times give me a sense of being able to look beyond horizons. This gives the perspective to understand how small I am, but also how big God is.

Notes from my book group:

My group generally did not lik the book. Some thought it was not that well written. Others did not like the lack of morality in it, as well as the use of sex, pot and swearing. They also thought it was predictable and it sounded like Maloy had a list of liberal issues she wanted to address, which she does address. But in places, it read like checking off boxes rather than exploring parts of this in depth. She does not differ any from a standard eastern liberal. Also there was a thought of is she really representing Quaker thought? From the Quakers we knew, this did not seem to be the case.
  1. What expectations of ourselves, of life, do we have as we grow older (old)?        Living in the moment causes you to be more in touch with humanism, than the eternal which Christianity presents.
  2.  Charles responds to Sarah's reminiscing with the line I prefer the present. (13) Is the present the only thing we have? What consideration do we have for the past/future?
  3. How does anger and fear influence our characters? What place does joy and happiness play in this book? 
  4. Does the camera give Sarah fresh perspective on her surroundings or is that a metaphor for something larger in her life?
  5. Death plays the form in many part in this book. For example, Charles' death, the death of Sarah's son Andrew and Tess' husband Ian.
    1. In last month's book, Book Thief, Zusak has death being the narrator. How does Maloy treat death in this book?
    2. How did the phrase: giving birth to death affect you?
    3. How would you have written about death-like Zusak or Maloy or something different?
  6. Tess, even though a little more than a stranger, assisted Sarah in her grief. How can we help people mourn and pass through their grief?     It was brought up in the Congo, there is a phrase, "sitting for death." This is where people will come and just sit with you. Listening is good.
  7. There is a discussion about war-never being about principles, but about geed and hate.  How would you respond to this? Tess responds that Quakers assess risk about war. Can this be done? How? The response is that we have a hard time making that assessment in real time.
  8. Maloy's web site says that she is a practicing Quaker. How does this background get infused in the book?
  9. You still believe you can solve the mystery of your mind, with your mind.... You wish to comprehend instead of apprehend. Explain what this means.
  10. Respond to Maloy's statement on pg 180: She was just a thing, like a sound or a scent
  11. A person's life is a story. How so? What difference does it make if life is a story?
  12. What do you speculate that Charles saw at the last:  Oh Sarah, you would believe what I have just seen....  How did it affect Sarah? What do you think Maloy was thinking? Just a good literary device or does she have something in mind?

New Words:
  • evanescence (41):  the event of fading and gradually vanishing from sight; "the evanescence of the morning mist".
  •  Esse (47): Essential nature or essence
  •  Catamount (137): A medium-sized or large wild cat, esp. a cougar.

Good Quotes:
  • First Line: on fear alone, Sarah Lucas follows her dog Sylvie down a long meadow and onto a disintegrating ski trail in the woods.
  • Last Line: There wasn't a thing she could do about loss.
  •  She had lived many thousands of days, so it was not surprising that scenes from an hour here or a moment there should surface at random. (8)
  •  Sarah thought such perspectives were good for the soul. (58)
  •  He never sits still enough for time to catch him. (63)
  •  The camera gave her new eyes. (98)
  •  His life was his art, and all of you, alone and in connection with each other and with us, were his masterpieces. (101)
  •  Some people just will not give up their hate. (155)
  •  War was never about ideas, it was always about hatred and greed. (155)
  •  To hate in the name of love, to kill in the name of safety. There will be no peace anywhere until we unlearn such stupidity. (163)
  •  Love always brings loss. Nevertheless, love is where she would put her energies, because that was where her powers lay. (219)