We begin with an interesting passage where Dora Judd becomes mesmerized by a Van Gogh reproduction that helps her recall a happy moment in her youth. She defies her overbearing husband, Len and chooses this painting from several options at an auction. She hangs it in her room and threatens Len if he dares to remove it, inwardly beginning conversations with her unborn child. Going forward, it is the one place where she can be found losing herself, finding joy and peace in the painting where sunflowers are a distinctive feature.
We transition forward where her 12-year old son, Ellis begins the narrative. He’s a sensitive boy, definitely his mother’s son, whose life is forever altered when he meets Michael, of same age now orphaned and coming to live with his grandmother, Mabel. The two of them shared everything, enjoying a close friendship until it became…more. Enter Annie Cleaver when they’re both older and working. She and Ellis knew from the moment they met that the other was “the one.” Rather than this creating a wedge between him and Michael, they became a group of three, a wonderful and delightful unit.
I don’t normally devote so much to describing a story but it’s important to understand what I write next. There’s such beauty in this story, in the telling of it despite the unconventional presentation. The writing is lyrical and often difficult to follow as normal punctuation breaks are absent (you could even sense this in the audio performance) and transitions between past and present aren’t distinctive. It just required me to pay attention and maybe that was the point because this is a story where every word matters. The prose is sparse, creating the intended emotional atmospheres…joy, sadness, abject loneliness and peace. Ellis and Michael narrate the story, beginning with Ellis and ending with his epilogue, which continues to haunt me.
What is it about? It’s the story of unique relationships that defy labels, of paths not chosen and alternative life parallels. The timeframe is 1969 – 1996 and you are left to wonder what might have developed between Ellis and Michael if they’d lived in a different, more accepting era and were not born to overbearing fathers. It’s short and utterly lovely, narrated by the author who told me the story the way she wanted me to hear it. The ending is poignant, both sad and hopeful, and I vacillate between the two even now. This is an important story.
(I received an advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review)