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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Leave Me: A Novel

Gayle Forman's most famous book, If I Stay, has made an appearance on this blog before, and while I was at Book Expo this year, I heard she was releasing her first adult novel, Leave Me. I happily waited in line for it and enjoyed it on my way to Dallas to meet the boyfriend's family. (It went well, thank you!)

Maribeth's life is fine -- it's wonderful, even. Her college-sweetheart-cum-husband works in his beloved music industry, her twin son and daughter are in Pre-K at a lush private school in their TriBeCa neighborhood, and she is working as an editor at a lush celebrity magazine. Maribeth is juggling all parts of her life smoothly until the day she has a heart attack. (Turns out it wasn't indigestion.) She must learn to take care of herself, but that is hard when her husband treats work as a top priority, her children are too young to realize the gravity of it all, and her mother is there to "help." (Spoiler: She isn't much.) Maribeth picks up and leaves with cash in hand and no specific place in mind. She somehow ends up in the exact place she needs to be to find herself -- both figuratively and literally.

This novel surprised me, as I figured that I would enjoy but I wasn't aware the degree to which I would find myself melting into the story. It felt like a big, comfortable armchair, and when I sat down in it I didn't want to find the will, the energy, or the motivation to get up out of it. Life was better in it. As this story went on, I found myself just sinking deeper and deeper into it until I didn't know who I was without it. Really. The writing is incredible, and the story is one that any person, but specifically any woman, would understand. Having just finished the forthcoming Maria Semple book, I was expecting more wit (and that is a fault of my having read it first!), so I was pleasantly surprised at the earnestness and honesty that Forman puts forth on the page.

I speak to my students in my development classes about the "second shift" when we talk about gender development, and how that shapes students' perceptions of the sexes. The second shift, for those of you hearing it for the first time, is the shift of "work" that women do when they get home after a day that consists of working for pay. This shift, however, is unpaid, but needs to get done. It's the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry, the childcare, the pet care, and the general household needs that just have to get done. This second shift is more often than not done by women, and my household is certainly no exception. This is what Maribeth is dealing with -- she can't take care of her job, take care of her household, and take care of herself. While I don't know if I could go to the extreme of leaving as she does, her story certainly lends itself to the full belief that this was the only way to go. I understood her choice and it was a superb read to follow her through her journey that ultimately ended in her searching out her birth parents.

Finding ourselves is a surprisingly difficult thing to do, and there is a reason why self-search is often done at a young age, but then needs to be repeated as we age. There's just so little time for it as we grow older. I loved the relationship between Maribeth and her husband Jason. When she leaves, she doesn't hear from him, and in a very real, very honest, and very human moment, Maribeth sends off a regrettable (and snarky) email to him. It is to his testament of what a good, loyal man he is that he deals with it, and in turn Maribeth, in a way that pushes this story forward in a way that endears both him and her to the reader. Their email exchanges melted my heart and warmed my soul. They were so real, so honest, and they embodied what this whole story meant to tell. That when you find yourself, then you can move forward.

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