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Longlisted for Best Literary Fiction Blog - 2011 Shortlisted Best Written Book Blog - 2010

Making Toast – Book Review

I wake up earlier than the others, usually around 5 a.m., to perform the one household duty I have mastered. After posting the morning’s word, emptying the dishwasher, setting the table for the children’s breakfasts, and pouring the MultiGrain Cheerios or Froot Loops or Apple Jacks or Special K or Fruity  Pebbles, I prepare toast. I take out he butter to allow it to soften, and put three slices of Pepperidge Farm Hearty White in the toaster oven. Bubbies and I like plain buttered toast; Sammy prefers it with cinnamon, with the crusts cut off. When the bell rings, I shift the slices from the toaster to plates, and butter them.

Harris usually spends half the night in Bubbie’s little bed. When I go upstairs, around 6 a.m., Bubbies hesitates, but I give him a knowing look and he opens his arms to me. “Toast?” he says. – from Making Toast, page 17 of the ARC –

Roger Rosenblatt’s 38 year old daughter Amy – a pediatrician, wife and mother of three very young children – had a heart defect which went undiagnosed until it took her life, suddenly and unexpectedly, just weeks before Christmas in 2007. Rosenblatt and his wife Ginny responded in the only way they knew how – they packed up their things and rushed to Maryland to help their son-in-law Harris raise their grandchildren. Making Toast is Rosenblatt’s memoir of the weeks and months following Amy’s death as the family struggles to make sense of their loss while moving steadily through the daily events of a life which continues without her.

Written in a series of vignettes rather than a straight forward narration, the book is non-linear in nature. At first, I didn’t like this scattershot approach which seemed to keep emotion slightly distant. It felt disconnected to me. But, as I continued to read, the style began to make sense. For what is grief but memories of the brief slices of a life lived? What is recovery if not the simple act of getting up each day and sharing another person’s life? How do we see hope for the future except through the eyes of our children or grandchildren? For Rosenblatt, who clung to his anger against God and the fact that his only daughter had died from something which affects ‘less than two thousandths of one percent of the population,’ his one consolation was that he was doing what Amy would have him do – caring for her family.

Making Toast is heartbreaking, and yet its sadness is fleeting. I found myself laughing at the simple, every day moments which Rosenblatt shares. I found myself marveling at the depth of love that he and his wife had for not only their grandchildren, but Amy’s husband Harris. The human spirit is nothing but resilient in the face of tragedy – and yet it is still amazing to see it in practice.

Rosenblatt shares his grief without telling us outright that he is grieving. Time after time he declines to listen to Amy’s voice on a telephone answering machine, so when her recorded words show up in the narration toward the end of the book, we feel Rosenblatt’s pain. This is Rosenblatt’s style – to show us moments which transcend words.

Making Toast is about patience, love, faith (and the lack of it), grief, and the slow, torturous process of recovery. But perhaps it is mostly about what it means to be a family. Rosenblatt’s simple prose and his matter-of-fact presentation is surprisingly moving in the context of the story. It is a beautiful tribute to a daughter.

Highly recommended.

FTC Disclosure: This Advance Readers Copy was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.

18 Comments

  1. February 28, 2010    

    This sounds like a book I need to read. Wonderful review. Thank you.

  2. February 28, 2010    

    Great review of a great book. I really enjoyed this one as well.

  3. February 28, 2010    

    I’m so glad this book is good. I reserved it at the library as soon as I read a description, but hadn’t read many reviews of it just yet. I like your interpretation of the vignettes, that grief and recovery is in simple moments. I can’t wait to read it!

  4. February 28, 2010    

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this one! I was really tempted to get it for review, but refrained. Now I guess it will just go straight to my wish list! Great review.

  5. Kay Kay
    February 28, 2010    

    I been seeing notices of this book lately. I’m glad to hear what it was like. Tragic, but hopeful, it seems. I’ll put it on my list. Thanks for sharing!

  6. February 28, 2010    

    I am so glad to hear the pain isn’t overwhelming. Lovely review!

  7. March 1, 2010    

    Not long ago, I happened upon an NPR interview with Rosenblatt while I was driving around in my car. I was quite moved even though I didn’t hear the entire interview. I was intrigued by his views about God and grief. Great review!

  8. March 1, 2010    

    Jenners: You’re welcome – I hope you’ll enjoy the book too.

    Bookshelf Monstrosity: I just read your review…glad we both agreed 🙂

    Kim: I will look forward to reading your thoughts on it. It is a very quick read…I could have read it in an afternoon, but I started it late in the day 🙂

    Aarti: I knew I would like the book which is why I ended up accepting it. But, like you, sometimes I just say “no”… I have far too many review books on my shelves *sighs*

    Kay: It is definitely hopeful…hope you’ll like the book.

    Rhapsody: Given the subject matter, I was surprised that I did not cry reading this one…which says something since I normally cry at the drop of a hat!

    Laura: I wish I had heard the interview. He touches on his views on God…his disbelief in religion…in the book. I think ultimately he comes to terms with his loss on a spiritual level, but his doubt remains. Hope you’ll read the book.

  9. March 2, 2010    

    what an incredible strength this family has! MAKING TOAST is on my TBR list; I really enjoy personal narrative, and am glad to know that you recommend this one.

  10. March 3, 2010    

    Dawn: I agree – surviving the death of one’s child, mother and wife just seems overwhelming.

  11. March 3, 2010    

    I’ve been seeing this book on a lot of book sites lately but this is the first detailed review I’ve read. It sounds like a great selection for my church book club so I’ll have to keep it in mind for the next time we choose our selections. (And don’t you just love the cover!)

  12. March 6, 2010    

    Lesley: I think this would make a really good selection for a book club read – there is a lot to talk about…and Rosenblatt’s struggle with his faith will be especially interesting, I think, for a church based group. I do love the cover!

  13. March 7, 2010    

    I have this in my stack to read this month, so I’ll wait to read your review once I’m finished. I’m glad to see you gave it such a high rating.

  14. March 12, 2010    

    Les: I wondered if you would read this book…I think you will find it a moving, but positive read. Looking forward to your review.

  15. March 12, 2010    

    Insert Twilight Zone music. I *just* picked it up this afternoon. Probably around 4:30 (my time)!

    So far, it’s put a lump in my throat on several occasions. Lots of weird coincidences. The daughter’s name was Amy. That’s our daughter’s name (but not the one who died). Her middle name was Elizabeth. That was Rachel’s middle name. I know there are other things, but I can’t remember right now.

    So sad for that family, but how wonderful that her parents could move in and help their son-in-law with the children. I’m tempted to buy a copy and send it to Rod’s ex-wife (who is raising our granddaughter), but I think it might be too painful to read, even after almost 5 years. Have to think about that for a bit…

  16. March 15, 2010    

    Les: I hope this is not too difficult a book for you to read…and wow, I would say that is more than coincidence! I found the book strangely comforting in many ways – hope you will too. It is so hard to know if people are ready for books like this…sometimes we think we are only to discover we are not as healed as we thought.

  17. Lynne Lynne
    June 1, 2010    

    Great book – gave you lots to think about. My only criticism is that it is too short !! It leaves me wondering what happens next in their lives. A follow-up book would be wonderful so see where everyone ended up.

  18. June 6, 2010    

    Lynne: I wonder what happened next too…this one just really touched my heart.

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