And another one of the December 2020 gifts, this one is probably a birthday one. I timed it well with my birthday, it is too far from Christmas to give people and excuse to lump the gifts together, so I get them twice in one month. I start wondering if I’ll ever again read a book that I didn’t get in December of 2020. Not that I’m complaining. Every time someone asks me what gift do I want I tell them to get me a book. It’s not too expensive, and never fails to make me happy.
Bess Kalb is a television writer, here propelled to writing a book by her grandmother’s death. Bobby Bell was her grandmother, best friend and a confidante, so when she is gone, in some ways she’s not. In this book she is very much not gone. Kalb gives the narration over to Bobby and we hear her voice loud and clear. Starting with complaints about all the funeral ceremonies and then plunging back into the past to recount the family’s history. We do get to ‘hear’ also Bobby’s real voice as Kalb saved her voicemails and sprinkles them throughout the book.
bobby is full of energy, undaunted in the face of difficulties, a woman who always owned her life. She is opinionated, but she also frets like any grandmother. When she recounts her life in the direct, honest and wry voice we see person who can admit to their failings and mistakes, but it doesn’t come easy to her. She is a winner and winners are always right, or are they? But Kalb’s goal is not to reveal her grandmother’s weaknesses, it is to show her as a whole person. built and formed by her experiences and decisions, but also by where she came from. The life Bobby led was privileged, but also this privilege was worked for, for it wasn’t always so rosy. so once Bobby got what she felt she deserved, she used it to the full extent. One of those characters that are larger than life, full of themselves, but in a way tat makes people gather around them.
This book is not only a family history, it is also Kalb’s way of processing the loss. Similarly to Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking she cannot resign herself to letting go and moving on. what happened needs to be processed, and she is processing it very differently to Didion. The book is uplifting, less introspective, and more focused on the relation between the two women.
I found it funny, cheerful and uplifting, but with this undercurrent of sadness that comes form a loss that is expected, but none the easier for it.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska