The Very Marrow of Our Bones by Christine Higdon

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Such an excellent debut! This is what I’ve been looking for, craving, and needing – something brimming chock-filled with wonderful storytelling. The Very Marrow of Our Bones is indeed wonderful storytelling, told by two unforgettable characters – Lulu and Doris. Well, for most of the book it is Lulu and Doris’ alternating voices. We do get to here from Bette Parsons, Lulu’s mother as well.

Lulu and Doris are both very different from each another but their perspectives made for such a satisfying reading experience. It wasn’t quite a quiet story, but it wasn’t something that ran at breakneck speeds either. To simply put it, it was just right and definitely what I was needing and begging for after reading way too many dud books kids! I also did not mind one bit the amount of time spent reading it – this is a book with some heft, but I was never anxious for it to end or grew impatient with it at any point along the way. Indeed, I’m left now wondering what to do without Doris and Lulu (and even Bette) in my life!

The Very Marrow of Our Bones catches your eye with this teaser: Defiance, faith, and triumph in a heartrending novel about daughters and mothers. 

Now, okay, there is some truth to that teaser, but I don’t think it really addresses the full picture found inside. It is a story of profound loss and abuse too, but it was such a warm and touching read at times with so many tender and beautifully described moments. I was waiting for a book where I could say the writing was like butter. It’s been some time since I’ve been able to say that! It was also something I always wanting to be sitting with reading it, and that hasn’t been something that I’ve been able to say lately either.

Lulu’s mother leaves when she’s 10-years-old. To the rest of the family, Bette has simply disappeared, but Lulu has found the note she left her husband on the table (Wally, it says, I will not live in a tarpaper shack for the rest of my life . . .) but she has kept it a secret from everyone and later buries it in the backyard. On the same day that Bette left, Alice McFee disappears as well. Even Doris Tenpenny, the mute egg-seller doesn’t hear anything about either of their disappearances.

Doris does know however, that Mr. McFee is bad news and his hanging around Lulu can only bring about more bad news.  I loved, loved Doris Tenpenny – the woman who never speaks, who has never spoken a word in her life, but has great concern for Lulu hanging around Mr. McFee. There is a chapter voiced by Doris where I felt it to be complete perfection. The entire chapter contained everything I crave when reading. It was where Doris is explaining to the reader her devoutly religious father, his high expectations and how their family behaves and has been conditioned to behave when he is present. But, she’s also thinking she needed to write a better worded warning to Lulu’s aunt Kat about Mr. McFee.  I thought this whole chapter was exceptionally written and solidified all the reasons why I loved this book as much as I did.

I also loved Lulu’s friend Nadine. Nadine was a big part of Lulu’s life in the early days after Bette’s disappearance. At first, Lulu thinks she needs to look for a new mother and enlists Nadine to help her out. One botched experience in that pursuit had me smiling wide – it was when the girls were in the home of Mrs. Tanner, the overly religious woman. After she tells the girls the story of Samson from the bible, Nadine questions the unreliable and male focus of the stories in the bible. They really reminded me of Grace and Tilly from The Trouble with Goats and Sheep.  This particular line had me smiling even wider too:

“Then that team of horses named Nadine started galloping.” 

There were plenty of twists and turns inside, and the story of how Lulu and her brother Trevor are unravelling following the disappearance of their mother, and the impact this has during their important formative years made for excellent reading. How this story is told too is what I appreciated for it’s not heavy on dialogue, but the dialogue that is there didn’t overwhelm and fit well into the storytelling. It’s not obvious and dominant (as I found it in The Figgs, The Only Cafe and The Fortunate Brother.) It is so wonderfully written and I’ve marked some examples of it here:

“I shivered. In one brief moment, the cold hard stone I’d been carrying in my heart for nine months shifted, and with it, my invulnerability cracked away. Bleak, shattering pain took its place.”

“We watched the bees like spectators before a house on fire.” 

“But teenagers, Doris has learned, have no notion of their parents’ aches. Doris learned this from all the parents who leaked their sorrow, like cracked eggshells and split yolks, all over the egg stand.” 

And there on page 332, is the title of the book…

She rushes back to the kitchen and stops before the blackboard. Someone has altered her Rachel Carson quote. It is surely Lulu who has erased everything but to the very marrow of our bones. Above it, Lulu has added two words: It hurts.

The Very Marrow of Our Bones gave me all the feelings I had when I read another wonderful Canadian novel earlier this year, Most Anything You Please by Trudy J. Morgan-Cole. While they are very different stories, both gave me immensely satisfying reading experiences.  This book also reminded me of Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller, probably because of the missing mother and the impact of not having her around during their formative years and the immense impact this had upon shaping their lives. Lulu addresses the trauma and confusion it caused:

“I hated her for it. I have hated her for forty years for leaving us. My mother gave us inconsolable lives, all of us.” 

I read through a few of the Goodreads reviews while reading, and I want to address one review that said it should have ended after Part One. I don’t feel that way At All. With all the twists and turns and the reveals, that second part had to be in there! (I can’t give anything away, it would spoil it and you really need to read this!) And, how it ended….Oh my. THAT was a beautiful ending. It was an ending as satisfying and wonderful just like the one in Most Anything You Please. I can’t imagine it ending after Part One and not pulling everything together the way it did in the end. I may have also shed a tear on that ending!

The Very Marrow of Our Bones has this fantastic “Musical Playlist to Listen to While Reading” too! This is at the end of the book and contains some of the songs mentioned throughout.

In short, I loved it. I’m at a loss as to how to fill my days now that Lulu, Doris and even Bette are not in them. A wonderful debut and I cannot wait for what’s next from Christine Higdon!

I’ve been on a steady ECW Press shopping spree lately at the Campus Bookstore. I swear I’ve been buying only ECW Press books there. When this one was on the shelf, I was constantly drawn to it – I would pick it up, appreciate its heft, the cover, the feel of the pages. I wanted to buy it, but I always put it back and walked away (I didn’t buy anything at all during those times). Finally, I went in and bought it (I also bought another ECW Press book that day too, The Convict Lover by Merilyn Simonds). I’m now obviously quite pleased with my purchasing decision.