The First Thing, and the Last

Friday, August 28, 2015

Katherine Stuart lived every day in fear. Fear that her husband would finally kill her, or turn his abusive attentions to her young son. After a brutal argument and knife fight in their Boston kitchen, Katherine's husband and son both lie dead on the floor.

Hundreds of miles away in Vermont, Lucy Dudley reads the newspaper accounts of Katherine's tragedy, and feels drawn to reach out to her. Lucy, an elderly woman living by herself on a small farm in rural Vermont, feels an immediate kinship with Katherine. She is carrying her own scars, and a secret that she has kept for almost five decades. Despite the two women being complete strangers, Katherine accepts Lucy's invitation to recover on the farm, and a beautiful relationship begins to take shape.

Readers who are interested in issues of domestic violence and their aftermath should find lots to interest them in Alan G. Johnson's novel, The Thing and the Last. Johnson, who was best known to me as the author of The Gender Knot, a non-fiction book about unraveling patriarchy, does an excellent job writing female characters who humanize the travesty and tragedy that is domestic violence in modern American culture. While the first chapter moves at lightning speed, the rest of the action of the book is slow and measured, much like recovery itself. Katherine is so broken by her experiences that she is not sure whether she can ever find a life for herself worth living. Lucy, as constant and stubborn as a boulder, provides both a soft place for Katherine to land, and a strong foundation for rebuilding her shattered life. How can Katherine give up on herself when Lucy never does?

While I have never had the experiences Katherine or Lucy have lived through, I couldn't help but think as I read that EVERYONE needs a Lucy in their life. A person who doesn't judge, but accepts you with all of your flaws. A person who is a constant comforting presence, just by the very fact of her existence in your life. Bit by bit, Lucy helps Katherine manage her grief, providing the compass for getting through the darkness, and finding at least a glimpse of the light. This book is a beautiful testament to the power of friendship and platonic love between women, and the power of forgiveness and redemption.

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