Friday, September 22, 2006

A MULTITUDE OF MERCIES by Fay Freimuth (iUniverse)

I found this book in the strangest of ways, or should I say it found me? This is a story I've been looking forward to telling.

While flying back home from my much-needed Labor Day vacation, I'm seated next to a chatty gal about my age and weight, married, two children, new job (and a whole host of other information that you [and I] have no interest in.) Finally, after two hours (two hours!) of her talking about herself, she decides to finally inhale. Then she asks, "So, what do you do?"

The plane lands.

By instinct, I want to respond with a brief diatribe about my day job: the tedium, the motionless moments, the necessary paycheck for living in the bloated Washington DC housing market. Then I realize the potential of this moment: I'm a writer (damn it!) and I'm going to sell my book to this chatmonster and have her endlessly buzzing (her modus operandi) my books to her friends and family.

I get this much out: "I'm a writer, a novelist."

She sucks in that deep breath with a wheeze and slaps me on the knee and says, "Oh, I have a book you've got to read. It is just fabulous! I just finished it and it just (sits back, puts hand to her chest, closes eyes) moved me.

I want to move her right out my window and onto the searing tarmac.

She unbuckles her seatbelt, grabs her bag, reaches past a mostly empty bag of cheesepuffs and pulls out an artificial-cheese-encrusted novel and drops it in my lap and walks down the aisle and out of my life.

My first thought was how I would be able to shove that book into one of those little airplane toilets.

But alas, as I sat on the plane virtually alone (for a layover), boredom turned to curiosity and I brushed the orange film away and noticed a familiar logo on the spine of the book; it was published by iUniverse.


A MULTITUDE OF MERCIES by Fay Freimuth, with a paperback price tag of $18. It was like a little overpriced slice of home.

And what can I say . . . it moved me, too.

The only flaw with this entire book is that the logo on the spine shouldn't be for iU as much as it should be for Knopf or Viking or Little, Brown.

Ms. Freimuth writes a superb and stunning (and biographical?) story of how the protagonist and her family come to terms with her sister's sudden-onset schizophrenia. Sounds depressing, but it's not. It's an uplifting story, at times invariably humorous and always deftly written. The book possesses everything the New York publishers love: despair, hope, emotional familial love. And while the story is something that would reach a varied readership (even more than THE MEMORY KEEPER'S DAUGHTER has), it urges you to continue reading no matter what your taste. The novel is compelling, but even if you have no interest in a story about a person with mental disease, the writing is so beautiful you have no choice but to read on.

Here's the opener:

"There's a difference 'tween being sick in your body and being sick in your head," Grandma explained to Mama as they sat on the porch. "You tell someone you've got a cold, they say they hope you get better. You tell someone you've got diabetes, they feel sorry for you. You tell someone you're a schizophrenic with serious paranoid tendencies, they scoot their chair farther away." She studied her stitches, then continued, "What can they say anyway? Sorry you're crazy? They can't say, 'Oh, it's been goin' around. Had that myself last week.' They don't tell you about their aunt Verna. The one they all suspected lost her marbles when she started setting out the fine china for her cats and took up smoking a pipe and singing "Swing Low" 'stead of saying her prayers at supper. Aunt Verna's the one people just don't talk about to outsiders. Sure they send a pie once in a while, or a card, or come in just for a second, leaving the kids in the car to make sure the visit will be short."

You immediately grasp the tone of the novel. From here it is a page-turning onslaught that will result in you burning dinner and holding your bladder until the very last possible moment. And Ms. Freimuth doesn't do this through trickery or thrilleresque manhandling. She does it the old fashioned way, through great writing. Oprah would dig this novel, big time. It's right up her alley, assuming she could get over the Frey thing. (What did she expect from a guy who wrote this?)

So, what can I say? My cheese-puff-loving neighbor tipped me off to one fantastic read--though I was annoyed she didn't get to hear the sales pitch for my novels. I really believed she was the kind of person who would grab on to a book she liked and get it in the hands of the nearest person.

What do you know; she was.

Buy it on Amazon. Ignore the price and indulge.