Melanie Wallace’s novel, The Housekeeper, was longlisted for The Orange Prize. For about the first 100 pages, I couldn’t figure out why. The story itself – if the synopsis is to be believed – sounded intriguing: When Jamie Hall finds a boy tied to a tree and cuts him loose, she can have no idea of the desperate chain of events her act of humanity will trigger.
Jamie is 17. When her mother dies of cancer, she leaves home with her dog and heads for Dyers Corner – the only place she has any connection to; a place her grandmother, while alive, lived. She has nothing and she seems to want nothing. She falls into a strange relationship with Damon, a married man who eventually returns to his pregnant wife. She becomes housekeeper for an elderly photographer, Margaret. Galen, a trapper, pines for her. It is winter and the stark landscape adds to Jamie’s isolation.
The boy Jamie cuts loose is wrong. “He thought of nothing in words and so gave no thought to those things he saw before him…” Jamie’s act of kindness begins a series of violent acts that culminate in a tragedy that seemed inevitable, but still left my mouth hanging open.
It took me a while to warm up to Wallace’s story and the way it was written, but once I fell into its rhythms, I loved Jamie. She is a smart and resilient character who seems to accept her lot in life without complaint. But her life is grim. And so is Wallace’s story. Spring never comes for these characters, even those who deserve it most.
A book that makes you sad.
Oh, this is totally easy! Lots of books have made me weep over the years – including the one I talked about yesterday, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess which I included in the happy category for different reasons.
Top of my list – and no great literary work – The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. I say it’s not great literature because the writing isn’t amazing, but the story of one woman who has a chance to step away from her life to finally have great love, but doesn’t because she knows what she must give up in order to do so, just gutted me when I read it 15 years ago. I cried so hard, I couldn’t even see the pages and when I was done I immediately packed it up and shipped it off to my best friend.
I might have said that was the book that made me cry the hardest until I read The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. Once I stopped trying to figure out the time travel thing and settled into Henry and Clare’s story I was captivated. The writing is beautiful, but their story is magnificent. Again, though, bawled like a baby.
But is crying the same as being sad? I recently finished Melanie Wallace’s book The Housekeeper. Now that was a sad, sad story. I didn’t shed a single tear, but I felt Jamie’s pain like a fist in my throat and I thought about her for days afterwards.
Either way, a physical reaction or an internal one – I like the sad books. Or, at least, I like the books that touch me emotionally and I guess given the fact that it was harder to talk about a happy book (although my friend Karen suggested I move Carol Shields’ The Republic of Love up my tbr list as it will make me happy) I must have a thing for the sad stuff.