Thursday, February 11, 2010
C. S. Lewis wrote, "No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear."
In Necessary Madness by Jenn Crowell, Gloria Burgess lives fear. Married for eight years, her young, healthy husband Bill begins to lose weight and energy. Hesitant to see doctors, Bill finally has the tests run and finds out that he has leukemia. A two year battle ensues, a battle complete with the gritty details of cancer therapy and treatment. Crowell lets Gloria tell us all about it.
In a valiant attempt to leave a legacy, Bill, an amateur painter, paints like a madman and captures the ugliness of illness and the scary place that, for him, death is....and at his death, he leaves behind his young wife and son to wrestle with the emptiness left by their now absent husband and father. Her grief leaves her inept and unfunctioning -- to where her young son nudges her awake in the morning to go to her job of teaching English to students, who noting their teacher's grief, become soft toward her and no longer complain about her assignments, an eeriness in itself.
When one of the fellow painters approaches Gloria with a offer of an retrospective exhibit of Bill's work, Gloria faces the demons of her past -- including her parents' less than satisfactory marriage, her father's obsession with an old girl friend whose untimely death changed him forever -- a change that caused him to make a radical decision.
Crowell makes Gloria's story very real -- the descriptions of the ravaging nature of cancer, the exhausting nature of the caregiver, and the son, protected but all too aware, feel authentic. Gloria's fear - her grief -- and her reluctance to have her husband's pain propped like a type of side show for others to see...are palpable.
As Gloria examines one of Bill's paintings titled "Necessary Madness," she reveals, " Self preservation. When you are drowning, you'll clutch anything. Because you have to. You have no other choice."
As a friend says to her, "Even if it's madness? Even if your very effort to survive might make you lose your grip?"
Gloria responds, "Even then."
This novel was published in 1997; Crowell was seventeen years old when she wrote this novel. Even though the novel is simply written, Crowell has a lyrical advantage -- she writes like a professional.
Just wow. Very impressive.