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A Song I Knew by Heart: A Novelby Bret Lott
Synopses & Reviews
“And Ruth said,‘ Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’” —Ruth 1:16
During a cold Massachusetts winter, a man’s car fatally skids on black ice, leaving a mother childless and her daughter-in-law a widow. Naomi and Ruth, bound together as kin, are now each other’s only comfort. Naomi lost her own husband, Eli, eight years ago, and now she has lost her son.
Watching Ruth struggle through grief, Naomi suddenly realizes what she must do to make herself whole again: She must return to her childhood home in coastal South Carolina. There, she remembers, was the innocence of youth and first falling in love. But when she tells Ruth about her plan, she receives an unexpected reply: “Where you go, I will go. Where you live, that’s where I’ll live too.” So the two women plan the journey together.
The only family Naomi has down South are in-laws, people she hasn’t seen in decades, having kept in touch over the years only through annual Christmas cards. But when she phones, apprehensively, to tell them of her plan, they welcome her with openness and warmth. Arriving at a home full of sons and daughters and grandchildren, Naomi and Ruth are flooded with a love they are nearly too fragile to accept.
Yet Naomi carries a deep secret in her soul—and not even this change of scenery can erase its dark shadow. As the long Southern days seep into their hearts, both she and Ruth begin to find themselves reawakened. And as the love of her newfound family and her enduring bond with Ruth prove themselves stronger than sin, stronger than heartache, redemption finds Naomi once and for all.
A Song I Knew by Heart is about the healing power of family—in particular, the bond between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. As Ruth and Naomi share their individual sorrows, together they find an uncommon strength. The pages of Bret Lott’s deeply moving novel flow with a lilting beauty that is as heartrending and as restorative as the relationship at its center.
From the Hardcover edition.
"Praised for his portrait of a strong-willed mother raising a Down's syndrome child in Jewel, Lott returns to the notion that some burdens are in fact blessings in this quiet, tender novel about what it means to go home again. After her only son, Mahlon, is killed in a car accident, widow Naomi Robinson is sure of one thing: she must leave New England, where she and her husband settled after WWII, and head home to South Carolina. In trying to recapture the joy of her childhood, Naomi hopes to find serenity and redemption, a process hampered by a 50-year-old secret she's kept hidden from all but her best friend. To Naomi's surprise, Mahlon's wife, Ruth, vows to join her. The book unfolds slowly, as mother and wife cope with their shared grief amid a loving, working-class family they barely knew they had. Based on the biblical story of Ruth, Lott's novel doesn't pivot on plot turns but rather on small observations about the power of mementos and rituals to give one a sense of history and belonging, and about how forgiveness can weigh the heart down more than guilt. At times, the writing shines with pathos — as when Naomi recognizes that '[l]oss was alive down here too.... You'd have to be a fool to believe otherwise, to think that loss lived only where you left it' — while at other times, it feels greeting card — like, with plenty of repetitive, treacly telegraphic paragraphs ('Eli. Her husband. Her love'). Lott misses the opportunity to make Ruth more interesting; she comes across as a one-dimensional martyr, beautiful, devoted and boring. The blessing is that readers will find it easy to identify with Naomi and Ruth's tragic loss, and aren't likely to notice. Agent, Marion Young. (Apr. 20)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Living with her son, Mahlon, and daughter-in-law, Ruth, since the death of her husband years earlier, seventysomething Naomi faces a new tragedy when Mahlon is killed in an untimely accident, turning Naomi's and Ruth's world upside down and sending them on a painful but uplifting journey of reconciliation, love, transgressions, and forgiveness. 65,000 first printing.
About the Author
BRET LOTT is the author of the novels Jewel (an Oprah Book Club selection in 1999), Reed’s Beach, A Stranger’s House, The Man Who Owned Vermont, and The Hunt Club; the story collections How to Get Home and A Dream of Old Leaves; and the memoir Fathers, Sons, and Brothers. He is a professor of English at the College of Charleston, and lives with his wife and two sons in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.
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