Friday, August 7, 2009

Hello Goodbye - Emily Chenoweth

I have an annoying habit of writing down the names of books, and later not remembering who recommended them. I impulsively ordered this book from the library, and weeks later, was hellbent to figure out why I had decided I needed to read it. After searching all of your blogs, I finally determined I read the review in EW, who awarded this book an A-.

elen Hansen has just been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Her husband, Elliott, has orchestrated a week-long vacation at a fancy mountain resort with their college-aged daughter, Abby. He also has invited a handful of Helen and Elliott's closest friends under the guise of an 20th wedding anniversary party, but in fact is providing everyone a chance to say their goodbyes.

To protect Helen and keep her hopeful to the bitter end, Elliott has chosen not to tell her about the death sentence that was just handed down from the oncologist - Helen has nine months to live. So the Hansen's kookie friends decend upon them, hiring spiritual healers, organizing picnics, painting watercolor pictures, getting massages and partying, along with some inevitable bickering. All in the name of enjoying what is left of Helen, of maybe finding one last possible cure, and letting her know they love her and celebrate her life.

While Helen is in the process of slowly fading away, her daughter Abby is in the process of finding her footing in womanhood. She is annoyed with her mother's recent helplessness, forgetfulness and weakness, but can't imagine her life without her. She wants desperately to find love, but knows she hasn't found it yet. She isn't even real sure who she is yet.

Despite the dire topic, this book fails to be a downer. The story mostly focuses on the mental anguish, struggles and guilt of Elliott and Abby, but at the same time, recognizes that they both have reasons to look forward, after Helen is gone. The characters in the story are likeable, quirky, and human. It is especially easy to empathize with Abby, who is a good kid, and is trying her very best to cope with growing up, becoming independent, and losing her mother, all at the same time. Heck, that stage of life isn't easy, even in the best of times! I remember. The writing is smooth and easy to read - I read it in two days. It is an admirable debut novel for Ms. Chenoweth.

I was bothered by one thing, however. Helen was a shadow, a ghost. She said very little, we were not privy to many of her thoughts, we received just snippets of her background in bits and pieces via her family's and friend's memories. It was almost as if she had already passed, and her spirit was floating around amongst the characters. Perhaps this was intentional on the part of the author, I'm not sure. Helen had already gone through intense chemo and had emerged confused, weakened and a fraction of herself. But it bothered me nevertheless. I wanted to know how Helen felt, besides the one-dimensional "I want it all to end" sentiment. But maybe this book wasn't so much about Helen, as it was about those who would survive her.

I was happy that I happened upon this book. For anyone who has lost someone from a terminal illness, or is in the process, this would be an extremely therapeutic, validating book to read.

3.5 out of 5 stars


ANovelMenagerie said...

I have the same annoying habit! I have a piece of paper on my desk with stuff scribbled all over it. No recommending names, though..



Melody said...

That's a sad story. I'm glad you enjoyed reading this book, Sandy. Like you, I think this book would be better if the readers could get to hear more from Helen's perspective. Anyway, I'm interested to read this so I'll have to check it out.

Andreea said...

This isn't a book that I would normally read, but I am glad that you enjoyed it. Thanks for the review!

Jeane said...

I am all the time looking at books on my written list, knowing I read a review on another blog and no idea where. It really bugs me, so I started keeping track on the computer. Anyway, glad you liked this one, but it doesn't sound quite right for me.

The Bumbles said...

Wait - they didn't even tell the poor woman her own diagnosis of 9 months to live?! That seems wrong on so many levels. Seems like the book is more about her friends and family saying hello and goodbye - not her. Which is perfectly valid - if it is clear that is the point.

Goodreads has a spot when you select a book and put it on a shelf where you can indicate who recommended the book to you - I always make sure to put a name and site, if applicable so I know who to go back and thank later!

ds said...

Those little slips of paper are all over my desk, too. I try to write down the recommender(s) at the time, but frequently forget...
I think you're right: this book probably would benefit from more Helen; her perspective, especially for her daughter, would be most interesting.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Sheri - well, now I have VOWED to start writing down names. I have to manage my lack of mental capacity!

Melody - it really was sad, but not overwhelmingly so. And again, maybe the author didn't want to focus on Helen, although I'm not sure I understand that.

Andreea - I think it would mean a heck of a lot more if you were someone in this situation. It would offer solace, I think.

Jeane - I don't know that it is right for everyone either. I basically grabbed it for its good review in EW. Not sure I would have given what they did though.

Bumbles - one of these days, you know you convince me to join GR! You know, there WAS something really wrong with not telling Helen. I would want to know! I didn't quite agree with that.

ds - No more slips of paper, that is my resolution!

Serena said...

I have the same problem. forgetting where I've found books on my tbr list. Its annoying, but I guess I can't change my I've tried miserably!

Sounds like you enjoyed this book in spite of not being in helen's head.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle is one I've wanted to read. You got some great books! Enjoy

Beth F said...

I too always forget where I first learned of a book.

This sounds like a good one, but I think I've been reading too many books lately about death and dying. Next month, I'm going for happy!

Darlene said...

This sounds really good Sandy. Thanks for the review.

Anna said...

Not sure this one is my cup of tea, but it does sound interesting. Great review, as always.

Diary of an Eccentric

Melissa said...

I would think that this book would be quite a downer and am glad to hear it's not...It sounds interesting if I was looking for something serious.