Sunday, February 25, 2018

Book Review: 'Montpelier Tomorrow' by Marylee MacDonald

Arizona author Marylee MacDonald received her M.A. in English/Creative Writing from San Francisco State and a Certificate in Novel Writing from Stanford University. Born in Los Angeles she grew up in Redwood City, California and wanted to be a "lady" wrestler or skate for the Bay Area Bombers, a Roller Derby team. While her children were young, she worked as a carpenter in California and Illinois. Later, she wrote how-to articles for Old-House Journal, Carpenter, and Journal of Light Construction. MONTPELIER TOMORROW is her debut novel.

Marylee writes with such conviction that we would believe reading this novel that it must be a memoir. But that is indeed the sign of a powerfully inspired writer - to bring the reader into a space about the struggles life doles out and how some people cope while others cave. In her opening chapter she demonstrates the insight and compassion that pervade this story. `Time robs us of chances for reconciliation. Time makes us liars. I wanted to save my daughter, and even now, I don't know what made me think I could keep her from going through what I had gone through, widowed and pregnant, all at the same time. The scars from her father's death had never fully healed, but if not for Tony's illness, Sandy would have sailed into her future and I would have gone on trying to save the world, one kindergartner at a time.' The flavor is set and the story can be summarized as follows: A mid-life mom, Colleen Gallagher would do anything to protect her children from harm. When her daughter's husband falls ill with ALS, Colleen rolls up her sleeves and moves in, juggling the multiple roles of grandma, cook, and caregiver, only to discover that even her superhuman efforts can't fix what's wrong.'

For those unfamiliar with the diagnosis, ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS eventually leads to their demise. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, people may lose the ability to speak, eat, move and breathe. The motor nerves that are affected when you have ALS are the motor neurons that provide voluntary movements and muscle control.

The manner in which Marylee weaves this diagnosis into the fabric of her story makes it one of the finer books on caregiving and family interaction. One reason the book works so well - and it does work extraordinarily well - is the grounding of the characters as real people facing calamity and coping. Mother, daughter, son in law, grandchildren - disease. She blends the story so well that there is not a moment of artifice: this is simply a life situation that is faced with the impossible made possible through genuine love. A very beautiful and richly rewarding book. Grady Harp, August 15

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.