REVIEW: THE BEST OF US, BY JOYCE MAYNARD

 

In 2011, when she was in her late fifties, beloved author and journalist Joyce Maynard met the first true partner she had ever known. Jim wore a rakish hat over a good head of hair; he asked real questions and gave real answers; he loved to see Joyce shine, both in and out of the spotlight; and he didn’t mind the mess she made in the kitchen. He was not the husband Joyce imagined, but he quickly became the partner she had always dreamed of.

Before they met, both had believed they were done with marriage, and even after they married, Joyce resolved that no one could alter her course of determined independence. Then, just after their one-year wedding anniversary, her new husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. During the nineteen months that followed, as they battled his illness together, she discovered for the first time what it really meant to be a couple–to be a true partner and to have one.

My Thoughts: I am a big fan of the author, and have read a couple of her memoirs already, so I was happy for the opportunity to travel with her and her husband on this journey.

I could relate to being single a long time after a previous marriage, and how sharing one’s life with a partner, even someone you truly love, would have its adjustments.

Imagine, then, that once the two of them had found compromises and wonderful ways to be together, how truly devastating such a diagnosis would be. I admired the way they made a full time job out of searching for treatments, and how this new journey in their partnership would open up new ways to be together. Their “new normal” was not what they had wished for, but it was what they had. And they were together, working toward a common goal.

One thing I’ve learned about Joyce Maynard’s writing: she speaks her truth, even if it does not always put her in a flattering light. She tells of her flaws and foibles, her missteps, and even the negative feelings she might have about her situation. Who wouldn’t want a less challenging road to travel? But it was their road together, so it would be the path she treasured.

As death drew close, the author writes: “I was a different person than the woman I’d been eighteen months earlier. Grief and pain had been harsh, but they had served as teachers. We had been through a conflagration, the two of us, and I would have given anything to have avoided it, but we’d emerged like two blackened vessels from the forge.” The ordeal “had turned us into two people we might never have become if the disease had spared Jim. Better ones, though only one of us would survive this.”

As I reached the final page of The Best of Us, tears flowed as I took in the beauty of a love discovered later in life, a love that lasted just a few years, but turned out to be a forever love. 5 stars.
***My e-ARC came from the publisher via NetGalley.

REVIEW: THE DEEPEST SECRET, BY CARLA BUCKLEY

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David and Eve met in college, and their love seemed like the beginning of a perfect life. They married, had a beautiful daughter Melissa, and then a handsome son Tyler.

But when Tyler was a year old, the Lattimores learned something about their son that would change their lives forever. He has a disease that renders him fatally sensitive to light, meaning that he can only go out at night. He must wear masks and other concealing garments…and he must beware of even car headlights. Most of his life is spent in his room, while his mother is hyper-vigilant about the dangers in his world. To afford their lifestyle and their medical needs, David works in Washington, D.C., and is away from their Ohio home for weeks at a time.

Unfortunately, however, now that Tyler is a teen, he sometimes rebels. And he wishes to discover the world that is outside his reach. So he becomes a nightly explorer, with his flashlight and his camera.

Constantly under stress, Eve makes a fatal error one night that turns everything about their world upside down. We spend the rest of The Deepest Secret: A Novel learning more about the interior world of each of the primary characters through alternating narratives: Eve, David, and even Tyler…and some of the secrets we discover turn what we thought we knew into a puzzling kaleidoscope of shifting and mysterious perspectives. Who are the people living on this cul-de-sac? What is going on behind the windows that are only partially covered? Who is the strange couple that seemingly hides from everyone? What can happen to change friendships and turn everyone against one another?

I felt very sorry for Tyler, but some of his behavior was eerily troubling…and Melissa, a typical teen, suddenly turned dark and sulky, and we have to wonder about what she is hiding, too. Alone and feeling neglected, David is tempted by his colleague Renee. I had to question some of Eve’s choices, but then again, she seemed to live in an impossible situation.

In the end, many of the answers came…some of which I could see coming…and others, not so much. An unforgettable story that reminds us that when life throws those curves, we sometimes make choices that are irreversible. How our lives play out afterwards can truly define us. Five stars.