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Making Toast: A Family Story Paperback – February 15, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Family tragedy is healed by domestic routine in this quiet, tender memoir. When his daughter Amy died suddenly at the age of 38 from an asymptomatic heart condition, journalist and novelist Rosen-blatt (Lapham Rising) and his wife moved into her house to help her husband care for their three young children. Not much happens except for the mundane, crucial duties of child care: reading stories, helping with schoolwork, chasing after an indefatigable toddler who is the busiest person I have ever known, making toast to order for finicky kids. Building on the small events of everyday life, Rosenblatt draws sharply etched portraits of his grandchildren; his stoic, gentle son-in-law; his wife, who feels slightly guilty that she is living her daughter's life; and Amy emerges as a smart, prickly, selfless figure whose significance the author never registered until her death. Rosenblatt avoids the sentimentality that might have weighed down the story; he writes with humor and an engagement with life that makes the occasional flashes of grief all the more telling. The result is a beautiful account of human loss, measured by the steady effort to fill in the void. (Feb. 16)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
From Bookmarks Magazine
Rosenblatt wrote his "hauntingly lovely memoir" (Christian Science Monitor) as a collection of journal-style entries--images, conversations, scenes, and moments of quiet contemplation, ranging from a few sentences to several pages--that encompass the 14 months following Amy's death. Though Rosenblatt's subject matter is weighty, he writes of his grief with grace and sensitivity, while lacing his anger and disbelief with humor and warmth. However, the critics differed with respect to Rosenblatt's writing style: while the Christian Science Monitor found it oddly impassive, the Los Angeles Times characterized it as expressive and eloquent. The Chicago Sun-Times also thought that Rosenblatt's levity seemed somewhat out of place. Yet in the end, Making Toast is just as much a celebration of life as a reckoning with death. --This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
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Rosenblatt, ‘Boppo’ to the kids, continues life as a teacher, his writing, but also makes time to appear in his grandchildren’s respective classrooms almost as a show ‘n tell object himself where he comes away feeling like a clown, but a loved one, because he can no sooner teach second graders how to write as they always seem to one up him. His youngest grandchild, who has an equally endearing nickname, Bubbies, spars gently with the man who makes his toast just the way he likes it, offers nothing but love, and teasing, which he does not yet understand but no doubt he will come to appreciate when he is old enough.
A particularly sweet moment, and there are many, is when Rosenblatt is putting 23-month-old Bubbies to bed, he reaches for THE LETTERS OF JAMES JOYCE on a shelf demanding to have it read to him. Boppo, not one to skip a beat, quickly improvises and reads letters from Joyce:
“Dear Bubbies, I went to the beach today and played in the sand. I also built a castle. I hope you will come play with me soon. Love, James Joyce.”
“Dear Bubbies, I hate the Catholic Church, and am leaving Ireland forever. Love, James Joyce.”
They go on. Boppo still can’t get over that “Bubbies would latch on to a writer who would have stepped on a baby to get a good review.”
Rosenblatt’s telling of his family’s story runneth over with compassion. If only everyone could have a toastmaker like Boppo.
This book was one I wanted to read but agonizingly did so. Getting into the book and reading the stories that Roger told about Amy took the agony away. That is until I stopped reading and was in the present...where Amy is no more. It was a great delight for me to read what Amy had been doing in her life. I cannot understand the depth of pain Roger, Ginny and Diane must feel and I will never act as if I do. But I will say that there is no pain worse then the pain of a parent out living a child. Any parent would gladly give their life for that child, especially when there are grandchildren involved. I know I would for Stephanie and if Edward and Dana had children I would feel the same.
It was such a painful delight to read this book because I had not seen Amy since she was four and five years old. She was a cute lively child and her personality came through even then. My son was shy and a little younger then Amy but she always played with Eddie and made him feel comfortable. What Ginny, Roger, Carl, John, Harris and the children experienced is one I would dread. Roger tells so many stories about Amy you feel as if she is a personal friend that you have known all your life. Amy was a very thoughtful person and it comes through time and time again in the telling of stories. Roger mentioned that they went to Union Station to pick John up for Christmas and while sitting in the car there was the feeling as if a hand was on his hand...he stops there and does not dwell or delve into it but I believe he felt it was Amy. I believe it was Amy too because of experiences I have had with the death of close loved ones.
Roger shows how the children reacted to their mother's death, in different ways...and different times. His assigned morning duty is to "Make Toast." One morning the subject is broached about them leaving. The children said that they had to stay forever. That touched me because that is what I told my husband, mother, sister and cousin on the night I found out I had cancer. It will bring you to tears more than once because it is so heartbreaking. Then he will tell about happy times with the children. Taking them places and doing things with them. Visiting them at school and talking to their classes about the things he has experienced and making it interesting for three, four, five, six or seven year olds. Their classmates call him "Boppo" just as Jessica, Sammy and James do! The children are seeing a therapist and are always allowed to speak of their mother. "Making Toast" was not as painful as I had imagine it would be. I ended up enjoying the stories Roger told about Amy and her children, husband, father, mother, brothers, sister-in-law and nephews! It ended as it started with Roger at his appointed duty of "Making Toast!"
This chapterless book reveals vignettes of loss-moments embedded in the ordinary life of raising grandchildren. Like grief, it is not a narrative. It is however, Robert-Fulghum-variety ordinary meeting poignant moments of mortal honesty. There is a unique emotional intermittency in this bound collection of seemingly disconnected paragraphal reflections. Like loss, one emotion doesn't have staying power but multiple emotions remain simultaneously.
A book like this leaves the reader impressed by the author's descriptive vocabulary, uncertain because of the feeling of voyeurism in the intimate loss in this family, annoyed at the endless mention of celebrities, and frustrated because of Rosenblatt's approach of sporatically lowering the drawbridge into his life and then quickly raising it again lest we get too close.
It seems to me that this is a book written by a man who is understandably well-fortified, but whose heart is on the verge of fully breaking. I think Rosenblatt tries to manage the experience of grief with words; but my sense is that grief cannot be managed - it manages us.
I felt the closest to this author when near the end (pg 156), he describes life as a marathon and something that must be endured. This felt like a moment of breakthrough; I am not sure if it was me to him or him to me.