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Making Toast

Posted: 2010-03-02

Review: Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt

Family tragedy is healed by domestic routine in this quiet, tender memoir. When his daughter Amy--a gifted doctor, mother, and wife--died suddenly at the age of 38 from an asymptomatic heart condition, journalist and novelist Roger Rosenblatt and his wife moved into her house to help her husband care for their three young children, ages six, four, and one.

from Starred Review Publishers Weekly:

Not much happens except for the mundane, crucial duties of child care: reading stories, helping with schoolwork, chasing after an indefatigable toddler who is the busiest person I have ever known, making toast to order for finicky kids. Building on the small events of everyday life, Rosenblatt draws sharply etched portraits of his grandchildren; his stoic, gentle son-in-law; his wife, who feels slightly guilty that she is living her daughter's life; and Amy emerges as a smart, prickly, selfless figure whose significance the author never registered until her death. Rosenblatt avoids the sentimentality that might have weighed down the story; he writes with humor and an engagement with life that makes the occasional flashes of grief all the more telling. The result is a beautiful account of human loss, measured by the steady effort to fill in the void.
The reviewer says "Not much happens except for the mundane, crucial duties of childcare." This is true, and the recounting of the mundane makes the reader aware that the essence of life is in the details. . . Sort of like teaching. I think of the time the Language Arts Coordinator came in to evaluate me. She sat at a table with students, and right next to her a tough 7th grade boy struggled with writing a poem, a broken hearted 8th grader at a nearby table discovered that "West Side Story" spoke to her, two 8th graders coached each other for an upcoming science test, I gave a spelling test to a 7th grader. And more. Much more. Ok, an 8th grader was sleeping. I'd nudge, encourage, and listen to The Poet and it was truly miraculous to watch his poem emerge.

Ditto with Ms. Broken Heart, who thought she hated books but asked me for a pass to go to the library to get "Romeo and Juliet."

Ditto for eight other "rotten readers" in the room reading independently. Eight different books.

Finding herself in the midst of the forest my boss couldn't see the trees, never mind the wild flowers. After 10 minutes she got up, saying, "I'll come back when you're teaching."

Mundane details.

Now, on with Making Toast.I loved this book. It is about overcoming unspeakable tragedy by getting on with life, by taking care of young children and rejoicing in their growth (while noticing and attending to their own grief at the loss of their mother). And to prove it's not sentimental or treacly, here's the passage I read out loud to my husband.
A friend observing Rosenblatt's wife's interactions with the three young children, says, "Ginny's perfect, isn't she?" He responds, "Nobody's perfect" and tells this story of an interaction with one of their own children.

We were living in Cambridge. Carl was five, Amy two. It was the night before Easter and the Easter Bunny was about to pay his nocturnal visit. Carl had grown apprehensive at the prospect of an oversize egg-bearing mammal skulking about the house. At 11:00 p.m. Ginny and I were headed for bed. Carl emerged from his room and asked, "Is the Easter Bunny here yet?" No, we said, and he went back to his room. At about one a.m, he reappeared at our bedside. "Is the Easter Bunny here yet?" No, we said. "Go back to bed," said Ginny. "You'll hunt for the eggs in the morning." At 2:00 a.m., there was Carl with the same concern. I don't think he had slept. Again at three. He stood by our bedside at 4:00 a.m. and awakened us one more time. Before he could get out his question, Ginny sat straight up and shouted, "There is no fucking Easter Bunny!" Instead of being alarmed at his mother's using a word she had probably never used before, an expression of relief washed over Carl's face. He returned to his room a happy boy.
There's no fucking school miracle either. It's all in the daily details.

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