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My Only Story Paperback – May 1, 2001
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From Library Journal
In between fighting the gentrification of her Massachusetts hometown and cutting hair at her salon, feisty Rita, a thirtysomething divorc e, finds stray people to help. Extraordinarily sensitive to troubled souls, Rita has no problem recognizing John Reed's neediness when she spots him at a zoning hearing. Once she hears his sad "only story," she won't stop until she reunites him with his orphaned eight-year-old niece, kept away from him for years by in-laws after a devastating family tragedy. As she brings John closer to his heart's desire, Rita finds their growing love making her believe again in her own dreams for happiness. Then, the unexpected intervenes, with outcomes seemingly both preordained and unimaginable. At once bittersweet, funny, and moving, this finely written romantic novel is well suited for a summer afternoon's read. Recommended for most fiction collections.DStarr E. Smith, Marymount Univ. Lib., Arlington, VA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A lost, crippled dog appears to Rita, an unconventional hair stylist, in a dream, and she is determined to find and help that lonely soul. He soon appears in the form of John Reed, an unassuming, dejected thirtysomething hovering at the back of an Alanon meeting. As their friendship blossoms into romance, John reveals that his brother brutally murdered his wife and then killed himself, leaving their three-year-old daughter, Aileen, orphaned. Aileen was, and still is, very precious to John, but the three maternal aunts who became her legal guardians will have nothing to do with him because he so closely resembles his homicidal brother. Assertive and persistent, Rita helps John win over his aunts, but as their acceptance of John grows, so does a chasm between John and Rita. Meanwhile, Rita's sister comes to stay with her after being ousted from a cult in California, and strong-willed and headstrong Rita realizes that John was never the lost, little dog after all. A compelling and unusual tale that combines humor with tragedy, heartbreak with promise. Deborah Rysso
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Rita wants to help people, heal them, and she's good at it. Little does she know, she needs a healing makeover herself. She's in a rut: divorced, yearning for a child, and fighting a fight she can't win to save her town. When she think she's found happiness and purpose after dreaming of a crippled dog she needs to help, she learns she's only half-way there. Fixing other people isn't enough, you still have to fix yourself, and forgiveness goes a long way. Life is a glorious trip!
With more determination than skill, Rita sets out to right those wrongs as she fights the developers in her home town, refuses to forget the sister who seems determined to disappear, and tries with all her heart to help John Reed paint himself back into the life of his small niece.
With "My Only Story", Monica Wood brings us a conundrum. If people try to start over in life ("People do begin anew. They begin and begin."), does it mean they have to erase the unbearable past? Or see it as a bad dream, rather than a reality with which they can live? If there is only one story in each of our lives, is it a story that superimposes itself on everything we do?
Rita pushes John toward the reformation of his life, the meeting with the sisters of the woman his brother murdered. Laura had been one of the four Doherty sisters, forever going through life with arms linked. Their family was close, tight. Tight as a fist, no way in or out, and John's brother had shattered that by killing his wife, the hub, the one who held everyone together. Now, only Aileen, John's niece, kept the stitches from ripping out of that family quilt.
"When I was a child," Rita says, "there was more of a connection between what you thought your life was and what it actually was. That I miss." Rita, too, is dealing with a torn and broken family. As she and John seem to be putting all the pieces of the puzzle together, along comes Darla, Rita's sister, trying to wedge herself into the picture. It's a truth that none of us marries one person. We marry their family as well, and sometimes we find we can't breathe.
"My Only Story" doesn't offer any pat answers or comfy endings. As Rita realizes at the end, it's possible sometimes to try too hard to shape the world to our desires. Sometimes you just have to hold out for a while, waiting for the sweep of time to make things - if not right - at least balanced.
What I liked about this book was how drawn into it I became. Like John and Rita, I was attracted to the Doherty family; I wanted Rita to be the healer and the one who gave them a second chance. Ms. Wood's ability to write the story in many levels made it the kind of book that you keep thinking about, weeks after you read it, and little phrases keep coming back to you. In particular, for me, the phrase "It's wrong to erase things." Even though it was Rita who said it, even she is guilty of it, trying to erase her sister's life in a commune by denigrating the people she lived with. "I wasn't in a coma for all those years, Rita," Darla argues. "I lived there. I had friends. People loved me." Rita, who had made a life alone for herself, thinks she understands, but she really doesn't. "Rita," Darla cries, "I LOST something."
You see? This is what makes the book good. No matter how much each of us thinks we understand things, we still don't. We each have limits and blind spots but, as Rita says, life is long. One story runs out, another begins, and there is nothing to do but marvel at the slow, glorious sweep of time.
While this plot line may seem absurd from this description, it is refreshingly normal. This story is really about love, loss, forgiveness, family, and finally acceptance. Monica Wood is a stunningly beautiful writer and can convey complex emotions in the most beautiful and simple ways. The book stays with you long after you finish it, as do the characters.
Wood's ability to express both human pain and human hope is very refreshing. I look forward to reading every word she writes from now on. Also, I strongly recommend her other novel, Secret Language.
Monica is a writer who knows how to depict the quirky world we live in and the twists and turns that relationships take. I enjoyed this story.