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". . . an impressive and marvelous book . . ."
Shelter Me: A journey from numbing grief to irritating, painful and surprising life.
Jane LaMarche finds it difficult to get through the days since her husband Robby was killed five months ago. Nine-month-old Carly and four-year-old Dylan need her. She needs them, but not even their presence makes life any easier. All Jane wants to do is go to sleep and forget. Prickly Aunt Jude intrudes and bosses Jane, arranging courses and visits from the local parish priest, Father Jake. Jane does not look forward to Father Jake’s visits promptly at 11 o’clock every Friday. She finds Father Jake bland and ghostly, the perfect priest. Jane doesn’t want to take the self-defense course Aunt Jude won in a raffle, certain it will be as useless as the group therapy her pushy aunt decides will help Jane deal with her grief, but Jane goes.
Her husband Robby had hired a contractor to build a porch before he died. When Tug Malowski shows up on Jane’s doorstep with plans and contract in hand, Jane doesn’t know what to do except agree to let him build the porch.
All around Jane life continues. Friends move away. Her mother stays in Italy to spend a month in Naples. Aunt Jude intrudes, bringing food and unwanted activities. Tug appears and disappears, seemingly without rhyme or reason. He begins tearing away parts of her house to get at the rot, rebuilding to make a stable foundation for the porch. Father Jake, who informs Jane he is not her friend, forces Jane out into the world on weekly walks. And through it all Jane sees she is not alone and that she needs more than sarcasm and going through the motions of living to find her place again.
Life happens in the spaces between the big events: birth, life, holidays, anniversaries, marriages and death. Juliette Fay takes the spaces and makes them memorable in Shelter Me. In the midst of a heart rending scene where tears threaten to fall, Fay made me laugh out loud, taking me from the depths of despair to the mountaintops where I could hardly breathe for laughing.
Jane LaMarche isn’t a very likable character at first. She’s irritating and whiny, complaining that she wants the world and life to just stop and leave her alone. She wants to wallow in grief and lock herself and her children away, even resenting Carly and Dylan. She’d rather dive back under the covers and never wake up again. The irritation is short-lived as Jane faces life without her husband. As Jane begins to look around and see that there are others in as much pain as she, she begins to come alive. Jane is believable and ordinary with depth, integrity and irritating flaws that make Shelter Me an impressive and marvelous book.
Shelter Me is Juliette Fay’s first book. If she continues to create characters like these, she has a long and fruitful career ahead of her. Shelter Me is not timid and does not sermonize but is filled with emotional highs and lows. It brings laughter out of tears while sharing Jane’s journey from limbo back to complicated, messy and surprising life.
Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell