Review of The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken

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I loved Elizabeth McCracken’s new novel, “The Hero of This Book,” and I hate depriving people of the chance to unknowingly dive into something wonderful. So feel free to stop here and pretend I’m pressing the thin hardcover in your hands and saying, “Don’t look at the dust jacket copy; just read.

If you’re the type who needs more information to engage, I warn you that the book is hard to categorize. It has no splashy hook and deliberately defies genre. Page by page is the quiet story of a grown child mourning a parent. As a whole, it’s a map of how to love someone.

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Told partly as a travelogue, partly through memories steeped in family lore, “The Hero of This Book” begins with our narrator’s trip to London in the summer of 2019, 10 months after his mother’s death. . Checking into a hotel, she checks her emails and finds the link to the ad for her childhood home in Massachusetts, which has just been emptied of her parents’ belongings – sold by a real estate service – and put up. on the market. She doesn’t want to look. Sightseeing provides distraction and remembrance in uneven parts.

It turns out she treated her mother to a trip to London in 2016. Now, wandering alone, the textures of the city are transformed in that time. Along the 2019 line there are visits to Tate Modern and Tate Britain, a bad sandwich, a ferry ride and a play, but his thoughts circle through his mother’s story , a strong intellectual with a magnetic sense of joy and wonder. Our narrator details the ebb and flow of chaos and clutter in his parents’ poorly maintained home (“everything they touched turned to nickels”); the death of his father; and a series of conversations, failures, successes, opinions and details that can only be gathered through someone’s deep knowledge. These harmonious yet dizzying leaps in time reflect the freefall of grief, the way our brain struggles to recall images of a loved one; how something as insignificant as a sandwich can trigger an avalanche of memories.

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With admirable candor, pragmatism and humor, McCracken offers us a confessional gift as she navigates the experience of dealing with loss. However, this book is not a memoir. Our fictional narrator (a writer with almost identical credentials to McCracken) sets the Terms of Service early and frequently. Her mother hated memoirs, especially if the memoir was about a writer’s mother. “I believed,” shares the narrator, “the afterlife was, as an atheist might tell a curious kid in heaven, other people’s memories. My mother would have hated that! Yielding control to other people’s brains , when her own brain was what she trusted in. Yet, she liked to be thought of.

To solve the memoir problem, McCracken introduces us to Trevor, a London hotel owner who turns out to be a cheeky device who grants her permission to write a near-true story that she can present as fiction. “Perhaps you are afraid to write a memoir, reasonably,” she wrote. “Invent one man and call your book a novel. The freedom a fictional man grants you is immeasurable. Therefore, in honor of his mother, and thanks to Trevor, “The Hero of This Book” is a novel.

Later, in small increments that sound like confessions we’ve earned as worthy confidants, McCracken details how she differs from her narrator. Deviations are mainly the omissions of real people to protect their privacy.

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Perhaps in the micro-genre of bereavement chronicles steeped in honesty about lying, there might be the slightest nod to Dave Eggers’ “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.” But it was a story of youth, premature parental loss, hyperbole and hope. McCracken’s book is a work grounded in adulthood, the loss in one’s reasonable time, and the reality of what we’re left with if we’re granted the privilege of going through a life that unfolds smoothly.

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There’s no big family drama, but you won’t miss it. This mother is not one of the monsters of the heartbreaking memoirs of adult survivors. She is a charming woman, sometimes frustrating, but this frustration hardly makes the headlines. simply an acknowledgment that everyone is at least a little frustrating.

She suffered from cerebral palsy, used mobility aids and had a significant medical condition several years before her death, but these are facts, not storylines. Her story is not one of overcoming challenges (although she did) but of living life to the full. I believe this mother was smarter, kinder, more strong-willed, good-natured, and charming than most, but McCracken doesn’t consider her an idol. Instead, taking advantage of the freedom Trevor grants her, she presents a multi-faceted woman who was both special and ordinary – loved for all of it – offering the unwritten recognition only when we lose our own special and ordinary people. , we are not alone in the experience.

Through “The Hero of This Book”, McCracken extends his mother’s paradise to our memories. I will think of her with great affection for a very long time.

Allison Larkin is the author of four novels, the most recent of which is “The people we keep.”

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