Making a bargain with God...
Reviewed in the United States on 29 September 2000
"It's wrong to erase things," Rita Rosario says near the beginning of "My Only Story". Wrong to erase the old town that's being gentrified out of existence, wrong to erase memories of the past, and wrong to erase people who are inconvenient to how we wish to live our lives.
With more determination than skill, Rita sets out to right those wrongs as she fights the developers in her home town, refuses to forget the sister who seems determined to disappear, and tries with all her heart to help John Reed paint himself back into the life of his small niece.
With "My Only Story", Monica Wood brings us a conundrum. If people try to start over in life ("People do begin anew. They begin and begin."), does it mean they have to erase the unbearable past? Or see it as a bad dream, rather than a reality with which they can live? If there is only one story in each of our lives, is it a story that superimposes itself on everything we do?
Rita pushes John toward the reformation of his life, the meeting with the sisters of the woman his brother murdered. Laura had been one of the four Doherty sisters, forever going through life with arms linked. Their family was close, tight. Tight as a fist, no way in or out, and John's brother had shattered that by killing his wife, the hub, the one who held everyone together. Now, only Aileen, John's niece, kept the stitches from ripping out of that family quilt.
"When I was a child," Rita says, "there was more of a connection between what you thought your life was and what it actually was. That I miss." Rita, too, is dealing with a torn and broken family. As she and John seem to be putting all the pieces of the puzzle together, along comes Darla, Rita's sister, trying to wedge herself into the picture. It's a truth that none of us marries one person. We marry their family as well, and sometimes we find we can't breathe.
"My Only Story" doesn't offer any pat answers or comfy endings. As Rita realizes at the end, it's possible sometimes to try too hard to shape the world to our desires. Sometimes you just have to hold out for a while, waiting for the sweep of time to make things - if not right - at least balanced.
What I liked about this book was how drawn into it I became. Like John and Rita, I was attracted to the Doherty family; I wanted Rita to be the healer and the one who gave them a second chance. Ms. Wood's ability to write the story in many levels made it the kind of book that you keep thinking about, weeks after you read it, and little phrases keep coming back to you. In particular, for me, the phrase "It's wrong to erase things." Even though it was Rita who said it, even she is guilty of it, trying to erase her sister's life in a commune by denigrating the people she lived with. "I wasn't in a coma for all those years, Rita," Darla argues. "I lived there. I had friends. People loved me." Rita, who had made a life alone for herself, thinks she understands, but she really doesn't. "Rita," Darla cries, "I LOST something."
You see? This is what makes the book good. No matter how much each of us thinks we understand things, we still don't. We each have limits and blind spots but, as Rita says, life is long. One story runs out, another begins, and there is nothing to do but marvel at the slow, glorious sweep of time.
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