(Louisiana State University Press)Abbott lives with his wife and two-year-old daughter and dog and cat in a ranch-style house in Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts ("Ethan Frome's hometown.") We get to visit with him (and his thoughts) (and his delusions) (and the family fights) (and the family loves) for several months ... until daughter #2 is born.
Not exactly Sense and Sensibility or War and Peace or Bleak House. Then why, as I got towards the end, was I slowing down so it would last longer? And why, when I got to the last page, page 180, did I want to pick the fool thing up, start it all over again?
The one outsider who visits this menagerie, the refrigerator man, reports,
He comes to the door holding his daughter. "How old is she?" "I don't know, I can't tell anymore. Two?" His arm is completely covered with butterfly stickers, and he's wearing all this costume jewelry ... Three or four bracelets and probably ten necklaces this guy's wearing. His daughter is just in a diaper, and she has magic-marker streaks all over her chest and legs. They're listening to Tom Perry's Damn the Torpedoes.
O my god, you think, this guy's going to report them to Child Services and they're going to come in and take her away and they don't understand, won't get it: that Abbott is the kind of father you and I would have killed for, the father that would get right down on the floor with you, let you decorate yourself with magic-marker and then you get to decorate him and he goes along with all that stupid jewelry, being dandled with his wife's bracelets and necklaces --- all ten of them --- because he's that kind of father.
But, no, refrigerator man doesn't report them to Child Services and the family doesn't get ruined there in Pioneer Valley ... where Abbott can go off with daughter to the Big Y grocery store, and "He needs to leave in the car the snack he lovingly prepared so that his ravenous daughter, who is somehow never hungry at home, will have to eat food from the grocery store, which means that Abbott will end up purchasing an empty box and an empty bottle in the checkout line for $5.58." And when he gets home he will find a note from his wife, that has to do with installing a "plastic locking device on the toilet seat lid to prevent his daughter from dropping pennies in the bowl and laughing."
Moreover, the veterinarian needs a urine sample from the dog and, if Abbott is reading his wife's note correctly, the cat.
But it is not all joy and perfection there in Ethan Frome's hometown. There is, too, an existentialist malaise, perhaps a deconstructionist one --- that makes Abbott wonder if he is in his right mind, is in the right marriage, is in the right world, even. "Regretfully, Abbott must also, throughout the day, construct and then dismantle the grandiose conviction that he is unappreciated, and this cycle of self-pity and self-reproach tends to be arduous and time-intensive." Abbott has been invited to a party somewhere, but he cannot attend, because
he has to rise early with his daughter to play in the family room with buttons and beads for two or three hours. Some of the smaller buttons fit inside some of the larger ones, and quite a few of the beads are sparkly. It's just not something he can miss.
Even later in the day, he cannot swing by to visit the on-going party "because the afternoon and evening are completely booked."
He needs to go outside to play with pinecones, which always ends up taking way longer than you anticipate. Then it will be time to go inside to get some maple syrup rubbed in his hair, at which point he'll be busy clenching his jaw and reminding himself over and over that stewardship is a privilege, that he lives an enviable life, that by any important measure he is a profoundly fortunate man.
This is one of those books that has me thinking that I shouldn't be writing a review, I should just be culling long passages. Or, better, send me your name and address, and I'll send the book out to you*** and then you will know what a small, unpretentious masterpiece it is, reminding me, somehow, of Winnie the Pooh...
...which I remember when I read it at age ten years or so I wished I had been Christopher Robin because, obviously, he had someone who doted on him, appreciated him just as he was, got such a blast out of being father to such an original, with such a way about him, what with the bears and the honey and going up and down the steps, dragging this bear behind him. A real character.
It's like Abbott's daughter who knows better than anyone in the world what you do with animal stickers that the kind librarian has given to her:
The girl sits on a bench and begins to put the stickers on her neck and throat. She peels off one after another and presses them onto her skin. "Shouldn't she at least save some of them?" he says, but nobody answers. When the girl's neck and throat are covered, she begins putting stickers on her chin and cheeks. She uses every single animal sticker, probably two dozen. She is delighted. She smiles as she touches her face lightly with the tips of her fingers.--- Lolita Lark