As a writer, I’m always looking for a book to inspire and motivate me. Nancy Peacock’s third novel, A Broom of One’s Own makes me want to write . . . and clean my house. It is the unfiltered account of the life of a published author who struggles to find balance between life and work and making them coincide despite society’s (and her own) misconceptions about what it means to be a writer. Nancy Peacock knocks the dust off of the notion that the life of a published author is always glamorous like J.K. Rowling or Steven King. Although she is published, she continues to work while she writes. Currently she teaches writing, but her novel consist of reflections of when she was a housecleaner.
What makes this novel so enjoyable is the author’s observations. Her observations are honest and witty, and often poignant. Cleaning houses is not something she enjoyed and certainly not usually considered an interesting topic to write about, but I was gripped by this novel from the first page by her wisdom and the nuances of her descriptions. She didn’t just describe a house, she described the feel of it, the personality of the rooms and the inhabitants. For instance, she describes a house where a woman collects bears. She doesn’t simply make a list of all the bears she has, but focuses on one in particular. She could have just said it had burgandy fur and gold button eyes, but she mentions how she believes they were put on him by mistake in the factory, and how she gave him a hug when he fell off the bench when she was vacumming because she “felt he needed one.” She doesn’t just notice cobwebs that need dusting or toilets that need scrubbing. She scrutinizes behaviors, patterns, feelings, and characteristics of the people around her.
Whether a writer or a housecleaner, no matter what you do for a living, you can appreciate A Broom of One’s Own. I enjoyed reading it so much, I’ve already read it twice. I plan to put it back on the shelf, let it get dusty (as I am not as diligent a cleaner as Nancy), knock the dust off and read it again. Nancy has alot to say about writing, housecleaning, and life. She proves, you can be a writer, no matter how you make your living.
It was the title that brought my attention to Anne Tyler’s latest book, The Beginner’s Goodbye. (Had the book not been front faced I wouldn’t have noticed the title because the author’s name was larger than the title on the book’s spine.) Intrigued, I cracked the cover and read the synopsis on the jacket flaps (having nothing to read on the back cover—not even a review, blurb, excerpt, or quote—just a large photo of the author). The synopsis is ordinary enough (middle-aged widow must come to terms with his wife’s death) until it mentions the deceased wife making ghostly appearances. And so, it earned a place in my cloth library sack.
The story is about Aaron Woolcott who becomes a widow when his wife dies in a freak accident. He works at a publishing company that publishes a beginner’s series (hence the book title); however, there is no beginner’s guide for this novice widower. Dorothy, his deceased wife, begins to make brief ghostly visits, seldom speaking or even interacting with him at all, but each visit helps him with his journey of loss and recovery and teaches him how his emotional withdrawal impacts his relationships.
The story hooks you from the Kafkaesque opening sentence, “The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.” The supernatural element is not out of place in this otherwise realistic story about every day occurences following the death of a spouse. If anything, I believe Anne Tyler allows the reader to decide if Dorothy is a ghost or if Aaron imagines her to come to terms with his loss and find peace, especially since their last moment in life together was arguing about a box of Triscuits. Despite the heavy subject and ghostly encounters, the novel is still pleasantly light, witty, and realistic, not dark or over sentimental.
With only 198 pages, the novel has been criticized for being too short, but I don’t think it needs to be any longer than it is—especially given the lack of time people have these days to devote to reading. As a full-time worker and mother of a three-year-old with a list of chores to get done, I appreciated that I was able to quickly read this in my spare time. There is one drawback to the short length: I will miss the office staff of Woolcott Publishing. They all have quirks and unique personalities, like the characters of The Office. I couldn’t get enough of them. There was one blemish that I couldn’t quite get over. It was difficult to imagine Aaron middle aged. He seemed older, not because of his physical disability, but because of the way he acted. Other than that, I believe The Beginner’s Goodbye is a unique story, and all 198 pages are worth reading.