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Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangersby Elizabeth Edwards
Synopses & Reviews
She charmed America with her smart, likable, down-to-earth personality as she campaigned for her husband, then vice-presidential candidate John Edwards. She inspired millions as she valiantly fought advanced breast cancer after being diagnosed only days before the 2004 election. She touched hundreds of similarly grieving families when her own son, Wade, died tragically at age sixteen in 1996. Now she shares her experiences in Saving Graces, an incandescent memoir of Edwards' trials, tragedies, and triumphs, and of how various communities celebrated her joys and lent her steady strength and quiet hope in darker times.
Edwards writes about growing up in a military family, where she learned how to make friends easily in dozens of new schools and neighborhoods around the world and came to appreciate the unstinting help and comfort naval families shared. Edwards' reminiscences of her years as a mother focus on the support she and other parents offered one another, from everyday favors to the ultimate test of her own community's strength — their compassionate response to the death of the Edwards'teenage son, Wade, in 1996. Her descriptions of her husband's campaigns for Senate, president, and vice president offer a fascinating perspective on the groups, great and small, that sustain our democracy. Her fight with breast cancer, which stirred an outpouring of support from women across the country, has once again affirmed Edwards' belief in the power of community to make our lives better and richer.
"The breast cancer diagnosis Edwards received on November 3, 2004, is dismayingly common. Uncommon, however, is the timing and the circumstances surrounding it. Wife of the vice presidential candidate John Edwards, Edwards's discovery of the lump on her breast came the day after the election and subsequent defeat of the Kerry-Edwards ticket. This mixture of the common and the uncommon, of the everyday and the extraordinary, defines Edwards and her life. A lawyer, mother of a grown daughter and two young children, and the wife of a politician, Edwards is both an optimist and a realist with the ability to laugh at herself. Yet she has had to endure a parent's worst nightmare — the death of her teenage son, Wade, in a car accident. In the end, however, Edwards's memoir is not about cancer, politics or even unbearable loss (though the description of her grief is heart-wrenching). It's about the value of people coming together to support each other. You'll find no celebrity gossip here. But like the kiss on the forehead her husband gave her at the end of their first date, this memoir is disarmingly moving. First serial to People, second serial to Ladies' Home Journal; feature in Good Housekeeping; national author tour; October 2 appearances on The Today Show and NBC Nightly News." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The beginning of Elizabeth Edwards' memoir is riveting. Two weeks before the 2004 election, in which her senator husband, John, was the Democratic candidate for vice president, she discovered a lump in her breast. A hastily arranged mammogram indicated it was probably cancerous. She told almost no one and chose to continue campaigning. In the struggle to maintain her courage and equanimity, she was... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) strengthened — perhaps paradoxically — by the realization that she had already endured and survived the most terrible loss imaginable: Her son Wade had died eight years earlier, at the age of 16, when a high wind forced his jeep off the road. But brave as Edwards was, she found herself weeping uncontrollably in a stylist's chair on Election Day because she didn't like the hairdo she'd been given. And then, with typical grace and empathy, she realized how much she'd upset the young woman and led her into the bathroom to explain about the diagnosis. Edwards' concern for other people is a leitmotif running through this thoughtful and compassionate book. The daughter of a military pilot, Edwards moved a great deal as she was growing up. As a result, she still creates homes and surrogate families wherever she goes. The portrait of her father is loving and detailed. He was, apparently, a playful, gregarious man who once wore a pink bikini top and a skirt for a Rockettes-style routine at the officers' club. In old age, he suffered a stroke. When Edwards phoned to tell her parents of their grandson's death, she heard from her father 'the sound of pre-language pain, guttural and uncivilized, and the most powerful and mournful sound man can utter.' The early pages of this memoir describe a happy, if peripatetic, childhood. When Edwards reached college, her response to the ubiquitous protests against the Vietnam War was ambivalent. She didn't want to upset her father; she didn't like the rhetoric or the rage. But the deaths at Kent State made an activist of her — albeit a well-mannered one. In law school, she got the few female students to sign up for intramural sports, and she was introduced to John Edwards, a textile major, who wore a bow tie on their first date and danced with her under a disco ball at a Holiday Inn. At the end of the evening, he won Elizabeth over with a restrained kiss on the forehead. Edwards can be a little wordy, and at this point, the narrative flow also becomes problematic. We learn that she was taking the bar exam while preparing for her wedding, and there's an amusing anecdote about her dress, but the wedding itself flies by in a paragraph. Almost instantly, she's in labor with Wade, and with the opening of the next chapter two pages on — by which time she also has a teenage daughter, Cate — she's recounting her last two phone conversations with her son. 'Saving Graces' is clearly intended as a guide for grieving families, so collapsing the time frame makes some sense, but the sequence is jarring and sometimes confusing. Edwards' description of her life after Wade's death is wrenching. She spent hours beside his grave, reading, praying, talking to him, tidying both his plot and the nearby graves of other children. She set up a computer learning lab in his name. On the anniversary of his birthday, she gave away hundreds of ice cream coupons. The Internet provided a grief support group where she found kindred spirits. One of the primary things she learned was the importance of honoring the dead and continuing to speak of those who've been lost to us year after year. Although politics is not the focus of 'Saving Graces,' it would be nice to learn more about John and Elizabeth's political beliefs. President Clinton arrives to give a speech during John's senatorial campaign and not a word of it is quoted; Edwards mentions intense political discussions with her husband but gives not a single detail. At these times it can feel as if you're at the most dazzling dinner party imaginable but have been inexplicably seated out of earshot of the conversation. We do learn that John wants to 'close the gaps in the country,' and at Radio City Music Hall, Elizabeth tells her audience that the election 'wasn't about them. It was about the young boys from Harlem who had sung for us earlier. It was about the people who would come in after we were gone and clean up the hall. It was about the mothers who that night could not find sleep because of a son or daughter in Iraq.' There's some oblique and interesting criticism of Sen. John F. Kerry, too. Distressed because briefing papers provided by the campaign contained nothing substantive, Edwards had her staff research the facts. She tells us that the Kerrys accompanied her and John to their ritual anniversary celebration at Wendy's but had gourmet food delivered later. She compares Kerry's stumbling answer to a reporter's question ('Is God on America's side?') with that of her husband, who quoted Lincoln: 'I'll join you in a prayer that we're on God's side.' Most important, she emphasizes the fact that after the election, John Edwards was unwilling to concede and wanted to keep fighting. This is a compassionate and insightful book that will help many people facing illness or bereavement. But it occasionally seems that there might be someone more complex, canny and perhaps even difficult beneath the text than the persona being presented — someone not afraid to work her staff as hard as she works herself, someone you might not want to cross. I'd like to meet this Elizabeth Edwards." Reviewed by
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"Edwards is literate and folksy, not only aware but also happy to poke fun at her imperfections, someone with enough heartbreak to last several lifetimes." Cleveland Plain Dealer
Elizabeth Edwards, wife of vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, powerfully recounts how community has sustained her through John's campaigns, the death of her son, and her battle with breast cancer.
About the Author
Elizabeth edwards, a lawyer, has worked for the North Carolina Attorney General's office and at the law firm Merriman, Nichols, and Crampton in Raleigh, and she has also taught legal writing as an adjunct instructor at the law school of North Carolina University. She lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
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