The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt by Andrea Bobotis

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What a terrific debut! Such a perfect summer read and what a great one to kick off my 20 Books of Summer Challenge with too. I saw this gorgeous cover on Netgalley, read the description, and just knew I had to have it!

I was immediately drawn into this story. The writing is beautiful, truly exquisite. The story, the characters and their descriptions grabbed me right away. It’s told in the first person by Judith Kratt and covers two time periods: when she was a young girl in 1929 and an elderly woman of 75 in 1989. (Such an excellent Hoarder fit isn’t it??)

Judith receives a postcard from her sister Rosemarie indicating her plans to return home after more than 60 years away. This postcard triggers in Judith a need to chronicle and inventory the items inside the Kratt mansion. These items hold significant value and sentimentality for Judith, who has lived her whole life in that house with Olva, a woman that has also remained her whole life with Judith. These items all contribute to Judith’s recollection of her family’s history and it is through this list where long buried family secrets are slowly unveiled.

You see, Quincy gathered secrets, but Rosemarie’s impulse was to scatter them to the wind. And my sister believes I killed Quincy. Well now. It was time to get my inventory underway.

More than anyone, she should understand the necessity of chronicling our family’s history. It is prudent, after all, to keep a record of how one sees things, especially when others perceive matters so differently. On the desk is a letter opener made of cut glass that we played with as children; we marveled at how, held to the window, it produced a different color for each of us. And isn’t that how memory works, too?

Judith’s family is quite a despicable bunch – well certainly her father and her brother, Quincy. As Judith notes above, Quincy gathered secrets – he was the boy that gathered information about people in town and informed on them to his father, who would use it for his personal gain. At the start of this story, Judith tells us that Quincy is dead, and the long held belief by her sister Rosemarie is this fault lays firmly at Judith’s feet.

I have occasion to think of Quincy frequently these days, as many of the things in this house call out his name. And it is good to remember him, even if it causes discomfort, because don’t memories have duties just like everything else in this world?

Sometimes, all the things must be taken from their boxes before they can be put back again. (Olva)

Judith comes across as quite na├»ve, but how much naivete do you accommodate for? She has set beliefs especially about her family’s prestige and importance in the community which are well tied to the Kratt mansion, in her mind. Some of the events in Judith’s past don’t seem to happen in the way she wishes to remember them, or she has this fierce refusal to have awareness of what was going on around her…did she really not piece it together, was she that blissfully unaware? She often mentions her brother’s gathering of information and evidence for her father to use against people, but is she playing us with her naivete?? Is there something about Judith that makes her an unreliable character? Or is she purposely holding back parts of her family’s history, refusing to remember or refusing to consider on purpose?

“What I mean, I continued, “is that our memories orient us just like the furniture in this sunroom.” (Judith)

Olva seemed to think about this. “And the view sure is different depending on where you’re sitting.”

I had just finished reading Extinctions before starting on this book, and there were similar threads running through Extinctions and The Last List of Judith Kratt – most especially how both Fred and Judith have placed significant importance on materials items, and their need to keep everything from furniture to mementos, letters, etc. What others see as clutter hold treasured and valuable memories for both. These items hold far too much value to them, that if they were to get rid of them, those memories, those moments would vanish.

It was an absolute reading delight to listen to Judith tell her family’s story and to tell it through the items she is inventorying. At the end of each chapter we are given the list of items that were just featured in her stories and recollections. It was so descriptively told and done through such beautiful storytelling, I was captivated the entire time I spent reading. It only took me a few short days to finish because I wanted nothing more than to be reading this, and be completely absorbed in Judith’s family story.

I was delighted to see this on Deep South Magazine’s Summer Reading List because I haven’t seen this one listed on many of these lists for the summer and you definitely should include it in your summer reading plans! I gave this one 5-stars! I loved it. (Thank you Netgalley and Sourcebooks Landmark for granting me access to this book!)