Every Last Cuckoo

Writer Caroline Leavitt writes about Kate Maloy’s novel, Every Last Cuckoo:

“A luminously textured novel that insists that grief need not diminish a life but instead can offer up a bounty of surprises, that choices don’t have to narrow as we age but, in fact, can grow more plentiful, and finally and most important, that love can be as open and expansive as the sky itself.”

Kate Maloy is obviously younger than I am; however, she writes about life as I know it and her book is “tender and wise” as author Katharine Weber writes on the book jacket.

From the book:

The day after Christmas, flakes as light as torn tissue eddied in the middle air.  Sarah sat at the kitchen table in the early afternoon and watched as they changed from dark against the sky to white at eye level.  The snow was coming down fast and thick, an inch an hour, with more than a foot predicted by evening.  The hemlock boughs bent under the weight, their branches scarcely visible.  They assumed fantastic shapes–gnomes with white robes and soft pointed hats falling sideways or bearlike creatures with heads bowed, shoulders hunched, limbs loose.

Charles and their grandson William had been out cross-country skiing all morning.  William, who had arrived just before the last storm, was the younger of Stephie’s two sons, a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.  He usually opted for Christmas in Vermont, not wanting to risk the longer trip home to Minnesota in winter.  No one else had come for the holiday.  Stephie and Jake did not travel between November and May, and David and Tess were spending Christmas with her large family.

The two men had returned a half hour ago, carrying cold into the house with them, stomping their boots, joking and steaming in their down vests and wet wool sweaters.  “Nana!”  William hollered from the mudroom.  “Thanks for the snow!”

Sarah grinned.  Once, in the car, when Stephie was two, she had objected to the bright, late-day sun in her eyes.  “Turn it down, Mama!” she had demanded, having recently seen her first dimmer switch on an electric light.

The story grew and changed until it became a well-worn piece of family folklore that Sarah had powers to control the moon, sun, tides, and weather.  But nature was Charles’s domain, not Sarah’s.  She never went into the woods alone.  Wild weather got under her skin.  She no longer swam in rivers.  Even simple aging confounded her, the relentless flight of her remaining days.

Kate Maloy writes that her “personal history, like anyone’s, and like the grander course of human generation and planetary time, has brought many of the moments that the Canadian writer Ann Michaels calls ‘gradual instants’ — changes and turning points that may seem sudden but are long in the making and variable in effect.”


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