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Any Bitter Thing

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Overview

After surviving a near-fatal accident, thirty-year-old Lizzy Mitchell faces a long road to recovery. She remembers little about the days she spent in and out of consciousness, save for one thing: She saw her beloved deceased uncle, Father Mike, the man who raised her in the rectory of his Maine church until she was nine, at which time she was abruptly sent away to boarding school. Was Father Mike an angel, a messenger from the beyond, or something more corporeal? Though her troubled marriage and her broken body ...

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Overview

After surviving a near-fatal accident, thirty-year-old Lizzy Mitchell faces a long road to recovery. She remembers little about the days she spent in and out of consciousness, save for one thing: She saw her beloved deceased uncle, Father Mike, the man who raised her in the rectory of his Maine church until she was nine, at which time she was abruptly sent away to boarding school. Was Father Mike an angel, a messenger from the beyond, or something more corporeal? Though her troubled marriage and her broken body need tending, Lizzy knows she must uncover the details of her accident–and delve deep into events of twenty years before, when whispers and accusations forced a good man to give up the only family he had. With deft insight into the snares of the human heart, Monica Wood has written an intimate and emotionally expansive novel full of understanding and hope.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“If you liked The Secret Life of Bees, try Any Bitter Thing.”
–Glamour

“Wood illuminates the grace in the average and the everyday, the miracles that lie within the ordinary life. . . . [An] intimate exploration of love and faith, betrayal and penance.”
–San Francisco Chronicle

“Deserves a place on the shelf with modern classics such as John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany and Richard Russo’s Empire Falls . . . the story is full of suspense and surprise.”
–Maine Sunday Telegram

“Here, as in [David Mitchell’s] Cloud Atlas, the forgotten, undersold virtue of good sound plotting proves its worth.”
–David Kipen, National Public Radio

“[An] exquisite, soul-satisfying novel of hearts broken seemingly beyond repair and healed in the utter unlikeliness of grace.”
–Tim Farrington, author of The Monk Downstairs

Andrew Ervin
‰ the cleverly blurred timelines allow us to see -- even better than Lizzy can -- how the different acts of violence in her life continue to define her.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
A near-fatal accident in the dark of night-30-year-old Lizzy is struck in a hit-and-run-sets in motion a complicated, surprising story of love, loss and sacrifice. When Lizzy was two, her parents were killed in a plane crash, and she was sent to live with her beloved Uncle Mike, a Catholic priest. In prose as fresh and lovely as a Maine summer evening, Lizzy tells of seven halcyon years with her uncle. But when a bitter housekeeper falsely accuses Mike of sexually abusing Lizzy, her cozy world is shattered. Sent to live with relatives, Lizzy is told that Mike succumbed to the weak family heart and died. So how has he visited her in her hospital room after the hit-and-run? This, as well as the mystery of why Father Mike meekly accepted the accusations leveled against him, begins to come clear when Lizzy's accident and rehabilitation dredge up questions of another tragic event, long hidden. Following the structure of the Liturgy of the Hours from Invitatory to Matins, Wood (My Only Story) employs a sophisticated, layered architecture, circling from present to past to reveal shocking truths. Interspersed with Lizzy's first-person narration are sections told from Uncle Mike's third-person perspective, which provide mesmerizing insight into what is known and what is remembered. Wood's story unassumingly builds in power, right up to its moving final page. Agent, Gail Hochman. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT
While running on a rainy night, trying to escape the marital difficulties awaiting her at home, Lizzy is struck from behind and left near death. In and out of consciousness, she receives a "visitation" from her Uncle Mike, who she believes is dead. Her experience "beyond the grave" causes her to examine her childhood and confront the grief she has suppressed for so long. Any Bitter Thing is Lizzy's recollection of being orphaned, not once but twice. She lost her parents when she was just two years old. Then she went to live with her Uncle Mike, a Catholic priest, only to be removed from his loving care when she was nine years old amid false sexual misconduct allegations. Lizzy was told Father Mike died shortly after their separation. "I tell this with the authority of memory..." begins Lizzy's retrospective as she recalls the happy times with Father Mike, her innocent childhood, and the inescapable grief of losing the only father she has ever known. The reader, however, quickly comes to understand that Lizzy's memory is one-dimensional: the mysteries that unfold bring both surprise and suspense. The author structures the novel within the parts of The Liturgy of Hours, the daily devotional that was a vital part of Father Mike's spirituality and Lizzy's family life. Monica Wood's prose is poignant and touching, and its many layers will provoke thought and compel discussion. This novel of loss, family, forgiveness and redemption will stay with the reader long after it is finished. Recommended for senior high and advanced readers. High school readers, in particular, will appreciate the wry scenes of guidance counselor Lizzy guiding the lost teenage souls in small-town Maine. KLIATT Codes:SA*--Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2005, Random House, Ballantine, 351p., $13.95.. Ages 15 to adult.
—Lorie Paldino
Kirkus Reviews
A catastrophic accident forces a young Catholic wife to question the good intentions of those around her, in Wood's polished second outing (after My Only Story, 2003), set in small-town Maine. Incredibly, the abandonment of Lizzy Mitchell on the side of the road after she's hit by a car one March night becomes the third traumatic desertion of her life: the first occurred when her parents died in an airplane crash, leaving her orphaned at age two; the second from the vanishing of her caretaker uncle, Father Mike, when she was nine. Nobody believes that Lizzy remembers a visitation when she was in the hospital after the accident-not even her husband, Drew, who is trying to repair their marriage after suspicions of his infidelity drove Lizzy out the night of the accident. Yet Lizzy swears that her beloved Father Mike was there, although she has always been told that he died shortly after the dubious child molestation charges wrested the priest away from her. A 30-year-old counselor in a high school, Lizzy suddenly receives word from the so-called Bad Samaritan who moved her body after she was struck by another car and then left her on the side of the road after calling 911: this aged broken-hearted alcoholic, Harry Griggs, desperately seeks her forgiveness but then doesn't have the strength to use her confidence in turning his life around. After an opening bang, Wood gradually works her way back in time, using alternating points of view and time periods to unravel the soulful mystery of these deeply scarred and intensely human characters. The trials visited upon Lizzy both as a child and adult seem brutally unendurable, and yet her vulnerability becomes her strength. Overall, Wood keeps afirm control, even when testing poor Father Mike with every temptation imaginable. Quotes from The Liturgy of the Hours delicately weave a Christian message throughout. A quiet tale with epic repercussions.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345477682
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/25/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 395,528
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Monica Wood is also the author of Ernie's Ark, a collection of stories, and My Only Story, a novel. Her fiction, book reviews, and articles appear in numerous magazines and literary journals. She was born and still lives in Maine, which is also where her fiction takes place.

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Reading Group Guide

1. As the novel opens, Lizzy says, “I tell this with the authority of memory.” A page later, she says of the girl who hit her,“She tells the cop she thought she hit a deer. She tells her parents she thought she hit a deer. She tells the judge she thought she hit a deer. Eventually, I guess, she thought she hit a deer.”Shortly after that,she observes,“The human craving is for story, not truth. Memory, I believe, embraces its errors, until what is, and what is remembered, become one.” What is the author implying about the nature of memory, and the nature of this novel?

2. This novel is, in part, the story of a marriage.What do you see as the turning points in Drew and Lizzy’s marriage? Do you think Lizzy and Drew are well matched?

3. Father Mike was both a father, small “f,” and a Father, capital “F.” How well do you believe he fulfilled both these roles? How did one role enhance the other, or diminish the other?

4. 1Vivienne tells Father Mike, “Faith has nothing to do with the Church.” Is this true? Does Father Mike’s faith fail him, or save him? What about the Catholic Church–does it fail or save Father Mike?

5. Would you describe Lizzy as an emotionally guarded woman or emotionally generous?

6. What do you think is the essence of Lizzy’s bond with Harry Griggs? Why does she turn to him instead of to her husband or friend? Is he more than just a stranger who will listen? Why did Lizzy defend Harry to his daughter, Elaine?

7. Is Vivienne a good woman or a bad woman? Do you blame her for her crime? Was her behavior in the aftermath merely an instinct for self-preservation, or more than that? Has she paid enough of a penance?

8. Is Mrs. Hanson a villain? What would you have done if you had seen what she saw?

9. One of the most moving passages in the book is Father Mike’s lament about being an accused person: “You wonder what made your love so desperate and gushing.What impelled you to admire her child’s body in the bath, the seal-slick purity of it, the strength it seemed to be acquiring, its miraculous shape-shifting? You wonder why you loved her sweaty socks, her smell as you tucked her in, her breath after she ate a plum. How can you help but wonder? You could not pass her in a room without touching your hand to her head, your thumb to her chin. What did all that mean? Tainted, all of it, your dearest memories stained for good.” Are Father Mike’s parental feelings every parent’s feelings, or do his unusual circumstances make for unusual feelings?

10. When Father Mike refers to Lizzie’s calloused hands as “the working girl’s stigmata,” how does this colorful phrase suggest several layers of pride? A similarly layered observation comes at the end, when Lizzy begins to see Father Mike’s “latter-day self bleeding through the veneer of his present-day self,like a painting beneath a painting.” Do you think Lizzy is beginning to heal in this moment, or is she merely connecting to a time when she felt the most safe, the most loved?

11. Lizzy and Father Mike are, in one sense, innocent victims of circumstance. But how does Father Mike bring about his own downfall? After Vivienne’s confession, he has no choices. But could he have made choices long beforehand that could have prevented his undoing–a choice to listen to Vivienne when she “wishes to talk about Ray,” for example, or a choice to confront Ray rather than turn a blind eye?

12. What does Lizzy see in Andrea that makes her a favorite student? Do you think they are much alike?

13. What will become of Lizzy and Mariette’s friendship now that they understand the full truth of the people they loved? Is a shared childhood enough to sustain a friendship for life? Is there really such a thing as unconditional love?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 28 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(13)

4 Star

(8)

3 Star

(3)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 7, 2011

    Til the bitter beginnings

    Wonderfully written epiphany as a woman learns the bitter and better truths of her haunted past. The debth of the story and character devopment is riveting and kept me longing for a satisfying conclusion for all. The author delivers by weaving the time lines and multiple plot undercurrents seamlessly. Can't wait for book club to dicuss this great read!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2009

    Wonderful

    The author, Monica Woods, can write! Very refreshing style, I loved it. Characters were developed well and we learn more about each one as the book flows on. It was thought provoking and stimulated a conversation with a friend who had read it. It has been a while since I read it but it lingers on--highly recommended

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 30, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Wonderful

    I read this book because someone selected it as our next book club read and I have to say that I was not looking forward to reading anything about child molestation. However, I am so glad that I read it! Once I started I couldn't put it down and I read it in one day. It is not at all what I anticipated and Monica Wood writes with such stunning and thought provoking imagery that there were several paragraphs that I slowed down and re-read savoring the words like poetry. The plot was completely unexpected and flowed smoothly from one shocking revelation to the next. I highly recommend this book and I will be looking into reading anything else written by this talented author.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2006

    Caught in the details

    I got completely wrapped up in this book with the detailed way that Mainards describe something but still keep the story moving. The second half of the book really picks up the pace with a few surprises.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2006

    Beautiful and universal truths

    I loved this beautiful, thought provoking, heart-centered story of people at their best, in their deepest needs, and at their worst. Belonging and redemption are at the heart of this beautifully written story. I believe others of all faiths in a 'God' of their own particular belief system will see a universality about the people in this story, and their struggles to live within the bounds of their 'institutional' beliefs, and their own personal needs and failings. 'God' being a God who cares/loves but does not necessarily respond at our 'beck and call' to save all our struggles as we might want Him to do. The struggle to belong, be seen, be heard, and be loved for ourselves is handled with great care by Monica Woods in a surprisingly absorbing book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2005

    Her best book yet...

    I received this book in the mail one saturday morning, brewed a pot of coffee and devoured both on my front porch, not coming up for air until I'd finished late that evening. Impossible to put down - not only do you fall completely for the characters, but you cannot help but question your own tendencies to believe what you want to believe rather than the truth. A remarkable book.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2005

    A beautiful book.

    Last year,my daughter gave me Monica Wood's book 'Ernie's Ark' . I loved it so much, that I presented eight copies of it to my book group. They all agreed. After reading it,I knew I had to read everything Ms. Wood wrote. 'Any Bitter Thing' surpassed my expections. I adored this book. She writes with such a passion for her characters. Please don't make this into a movie, the beauty of your words will get lost.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2014

    Great summer read

    This is my first book by this author. The book caught my attention right away and held it to the end. I cared about the characters and loved the imagery, the authors use of language, and the story line. In short, I really loved this book and could not put it down! I will definately be looking for more books by this author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2014

    A Worthwhile Read

    This book was one that I paced myself reading, although I wanted to read all day and night to find out what the truth was. The suspense and wonderfully detailed memories urged me to take this book with me everywhere I went just to read how Lizzy dealt with the troubles she experienced in her young life. I am so happy that I took the time to read this mystery, I never would have guessed the truth in a million years, Monica Wood is very skilled in her works, she fooled me.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2013

    Beautifully wordcafted

    Of human relationships, vows, sin and atonement, this author delivers a powerful story, each word deliciously crafted like fine chocolate

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2013

    SC reader

    For me this book was slow to get into. I had to force myself to read it at times. Then the truth and secrets stated coming out and it became very intriguing. I just woulda liked for the relatinship with Frannie to have been more developed. And the profanity left out.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013

    Loved it

    Started out a little confusing while I got used to the chaging POV. But quicly captivated me

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2013

    Kept waiting for something to happen...

    Boring, no personality, lots of errors which was weird. It was impossible to connect to the characters or the story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2013

    Excellant Book!!!

    I could not put this book down. Characters so real I felt like I knew their history as I know my own. Even thought the story centers around a young woman, the real story to me was about a truly good man who selflessly loved the women in his life as he loved his God.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 27, 2007

    Great book!!

    I really enjoyed this book. I read alot of books for a book club and I highly recommend this one.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2007

    Not so good

    when i bought this book i thought that i was going to enjoy it but i thought it was BORING!!! i had a very hard time reading thought it. i found it confusing when the author wrote about what happened in the past but the went right into what was happening in the present.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2007

    Wonderful

    This is the most heartwarming book I have read in a very long time. I couldn't put it down. Neither could my friends that read it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 25, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews

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