Oh, The Blessings is My. Type. Of. Book.
The Blessings, by Elise Juska, is domestic fiction at its finest: the story of a large, Irish Catholic Philadelphia family told from many different characters’ perspectives over the course of two decades. There are four siblings in the Blessing family- two girls and two boys – and each marries and has kids, so there are many people to get to know – grandparents, kids, spouses, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Over the course of the book, the extended Blessing family endures the stuff that many families do: births, deaths, illnesses, graduations and vacations, plus financial struggles, depression, infertility, aging parents, juvenile deliquency, etc.
The Blessings is a quiet novel, in that there is not a lot of drama. Juska’s style is even and understated, and the book goes from year to year, event to event, without fanfare. She follows the normal patterns of life – the aging of generations from kids to young adults to parents; from adolescents to parents to children of older parents. But The Blessings is anything but boring or ordinary. I loved it. I especially appreciated how Juska told the story: each chapter was written from a different character’s perspective. And often, the life event being described in that chapter was conveyed by someone unexpected, someone removed from the situation, but with a unique perspective on it. The death of the Blessing patriarch, John, was told through the eyes of his oldest granddaughter, Abby. The depression felt by the wife of one of the Blessing children, John Jr., after his premature death from cancer was told through the perspective of her sister-in-law, Kate. Stories are teased out over the course of many years, though the eyes of multiple characters.
The Blessings are flawed, everyday people. They have their highs and lows. But they are immensely real and sympathetic. And while the book deals with a lot of depressing topics, there is a lot of joy here too, in the everyday lives and relationships that the Blessings have with each other. This is a book that reminds you to appreciate the even, “in-between” times of life, because it can change quickly. Some of the characters find peace by the end, and some don’t. Isn’t that pretty much how life is?
I listened to The Blessings on audio, performed by the sublime Therese Plummer. Therese told me that she comes from a similar large, Catholic family, which means that she knows of which she’s narrating. She did such a beautiful job with these characters, particularly Helen, the grandmother, and Patrick, the youngest son. I was sad to see the book end as much for the story as for the chance to listen to Therese narrate so compassionately.
I don’t know how the whole blurbing process goes for books, but I assume that authors tend to blurb books by other authors who are likely to have an overlapping audience. I therefore wasn’t surprised to see that The Blessings was blurbed by Stewart O’Nan, Siobhan Fallon, Curtis Sittenfeld, and Jennifer Close, all of whom I have read and three of whom I have read multiple books from. I clearly have a type.
Go read (or listen to) The Blessings.
Depressing-o-Meter: kinda high for this one, given the number of sad topics. 8 out of 10.