I have been meaning to write this post for about a month but alas my old nemesis Time has decided to run away from me. Two jobs and an editing process that has gone from a “new coat of paint and refinish the floors” job to a “let me take a wrecking ball to the whole manuscript and try re-writing it” massive project probably has something to do with it. The latter wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t have to culminate in a reading in less than a week. But I am not going to think about that right now.
I am going to think about my friend (see how I like to make the full disclosure) Saleema’s book Bone & Bread. Though we are in a writer’s group together (actually it is more of a drinking group with a writing habit) I hadn’t seen any of the manuscript until after it was published and fêted. I wasn’t able to make it to her launch at Drawn and Quarterly, but managed to swing by the store the next day to pick up the last copy of her book. It looked like a casualty of a blow out Black Friday sale, all ripped and discounted:
But the book. What about the book, Lina? Fine….
Quick plot summary: When Beena’s sister Sadhana dies abruptly at the age of 32, Beena finds herself revisiting their childhood above their family’s bagel shop in Montreal.
The story switches from the present, where Beena, now in her thirties, is dealing with her grief and guilt over her sister’s death and their childhood above the bagel shop where the story begins with the death of their parents and the different ways the sisters’ deal with their grief and loneliness.
I won’t lie. This book was hard for me. I suspect it is a side effect of getting older- inevitably you are going to be reading about experiences that closely mirror your own, that reflect your own complicated emotions. This is at once shocking, gratifying and discomfiting to know that you are not the only one on the planet to have felt that way. But to have certain memories plucked unexpectedly out of the murky depth of your own mind’s Lethe, to be confronted with these muddy souvenirs of one’s own life is always uncomfortable.
Saleema’s portrayal of the relationship between the two sisters gave me chills with its accuracy and nuance. I think the only thing that rivals the complicated nature of such a relationship is the one between mother and child, which Saleema also deftly portrays.
Spoiler alert: The way the sisters deal with their own grief and loneliness is very different. Sadhana slides slowly into the abyss of anorexia and Beena becomes pregnant. While one sister slowly dwindles in size, the other grows large.
What affected me so much about this story is that we see anorexia from the perspective of a family member, of a sister. It hurt to remember how that felt, to watch your younger sister all the time- to wonder if she was actually going to the bathroom or purging their dinner. It hurt to be reminded of the inadvertent cruelty the person suffering from an eating disorder foists on those around them- the darkness that lurks like a Stephen King beastie behind their eyes. The guilt you feel when you can’t help them and the trouble you have of letting go, of realising that you cannot control them.
This book is not a light read- at least it wasn’t for me. It is about grief and how it shapes our lives. But if you think this is a reason not to read it, think again. It is beautiful and lyrical and in the end there is a light at the end of the tunnel. If that doesn’t convince you, the first sentence will: “If you listen, you can almost hear the sound of my son’s heart breaking.”
I know right? She had me at that.