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Posts Tagged ‘Jessica Soffer’

I just finished Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer. The structure felt cumbersome and I found the characters a little unbelievable, but it’s a debut and the writing isn’t bad, so I suspended disbelief. It’s the story of an eighth-grader named Lorca whose chef mother is too much of an emotional disaster herself to deal with her. Lorca has a psychological condition that causes her to cut or burn or otherwise hurt herself. When the book opens she’s been suspended after getting caught cutting herself at school. That in itself seemed wrong (although I have no idea how accurate).

Her mother’s not-so-kind response includes threatening to send her to boarding school. Lorca overhears her mother and aunt talking and decides that she will get back in her mother’s good graces by learning to make a complicated Iraqi fish dish called masgouf that her mother remembers eating in a restaurant. An older boy, Blot, who works in a nearby bookstore, and who Lorca has a crush on, ends up helping.

They track down Victoria, who owned the now-closed restaurant. She’s a recent widow, and she and Lorca each begin to believe, without telling each other, that she might be Lorca’s grandmother (her mother’s adopted and as far as Lorca knows, never found her birth mother). As this poor child tries to please her unsympathetic mess of a mother, we hear about Victoria’s also (to me) unbelievable past. Part of which includes learning something she never knew about her husband.

What made me finish the book, which I would probably have put down otherwise, was that I got to thinking about the way people know or think they know about each other. And I wanted, despite despising a key character and finding some of the book’s architecture unwieldy, to find out whether anything Lorca and Blot and Victoria thought they knew would help them. Some books I’ve been reading for my next column — one about WWI dough boys interviewed in very great old age, another a novel about a very small town in Maine, another a brilliant debut novel about a Taiwanese immigrant — also hinge on this very human problem.

We are always so sure we know what we know. Especially about each other. Just turn on the news and you’ll hear this play out again and again. In the case of the Boston bombers. Or in my town, of a boy who was arrested, then cleared of a felony charge which turned out to be based on false witness. Or of three people, one of whom is the victim’s mother (I guess I have to cut Jessica Soffer some slack) accused of torturing an eighteen year old boy. In the case of atrocities and conflicts around the world and our perceived interest or potential role in them, people who claim to know argue endlessly in the public sphere, often as people unknown to us as anything other than faces in the news are irrevocably impacted. (All good reasons to consume less news, as I mused last week). True or untrue, full story or sketch, what we know is often just a fraction of what we could. 

So what DO we know? For me, books are a way to explore this question, to look at human frailty in the context of universal stories rendered specific by authors who lead us on the search for what an Episcopal priest I know calls “Big T Truths.” Books allow some distance — fictional detachment in the case of novels and poems, reflective analysis in the case of history, memoir, and narrative prose — through which we can try to reach what is known and unknown. Which is one reason I read. Books are a far more comfortable home for ambiguity than news.

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