Errands

Overview

North of Bay City, Michigan, past the small highway town of Au Gres, past acres of sugar beets and fields of grazing sheep, the Browner family enters the slow curve in the road that leads to a view of Lake Huron. Keith, Annie, and their three children have rented the same cottage here every summer for the past six years. They know this place like the back of their station wagon. But a shadow has fallen over this particular trip: Keith is dying of cancer. It is a fate he has accepted. Annie however cannot, will ...
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Overview

North of Bay City, Michigan, past the small highway town of Au Gres, past acres of sugar beets and fields of grazing sheep, the Browner family enters the slow curve in the road that leads to a view of Lake Huron. Keith, Annie, and their three children have rented the same cottage here every summer for the past six years. They know this place like the back of their station wagon. But a shadow has fallen over this particular trip: Keith is dying of cancer. It is a fate he has accepted. Annie however cannot, will not. Once safe inside a happy seventeen-year marriage, Annie finds her entire world turned upside down after Keith's death. Her sister, Jess, does her best to comfort Annie, only to find the boundaries of their own close relationship stretched to their limits. Consumed with grief, mounting bills, everyday tasks that seem insurmountable, and three kids who have become nagging sources of frustration, Annie fails to see that the family is beginning to come apart. Thirteen-year-old Harry, the oldest, changes into a brooding teen, roaming the streets with a rebellious new friend; Julie, the youngest at nine, starts to lie about her whereabouts, but keeps a secret journal that reveals her true feelings; and Jimmy, sandwiched forever in the middle, can no longer take the pressure of being the peacemaker. As each child moves toward his or her own level of acceptance, a second threatening event will transform both the children and Annie, teaching them that, even with the loss of Keith, they are still a family - a different family, but one that is no less loving, real, and enduring than they had been with a father and husband in the house.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The specter and aftermath of death haunt a family, as they did in Ordinary People, Guest's classic of family dysfunction. Here, however, it's the father, not the son, who dies. After a cancerous brain tumor kills Keith Browner, his family reels from the sudden loss. Annie, his wife of 17 years, is so grief-stricken that she appears unable to meet the task of raising and supporting her three children in the Detroit suburbs. Her kids are trapped in a web of mourning and preadolescent angst. Harry, 12, is rebellious and guilt-ridden in his new role as man of the house. Jimmy, 11, is a loner. Nine-year-old Julie keeps a journal, trying desperately to make sense of all that is happening around her. Jess, Annie's sister, tries to help, but she's saddled with problems of her own, including a frustrating relationship with a married man. Annie resists all help as she gradually loses control of her life. Until the end, when some hope of recovery begins, each member of the family parcels out emotions tentatively, as alert as prey, certain that too much commitment will not go unpunished. In an epigraph, Guest writes that she prefers The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary's definition of the word "errand" as a "Journey made for a special purpose; an expedition; a mission." But her novel does not bear out that epic impulse. It never mounts a convincing expedition of the soul into the country beyond death and grief. While Guest has a fine ear for dialogue, especially in the family clashes, she lights no sparks of theme or character that might have propelled this earnest novel out of the realm of one-dimensional suburban melodrama. Major ad/promo; Literary Guild main and Doubleday Book Club alternate selections; author tour. (Jan.)
VOYA - Kathleen Krahnke
The death of a father/husband is devastating to all families, but it can be especially so when it affects a family with teens. Guest does a remarkable job of revealing the struggles of the members of this torn family. Each person is so lost in their grief that they are not tuned into each other and cannot give the support that is so desperately needed. Although at times the story is told through the eyes of the mother, who is swamped with the problems of supporting a family on her own, the teen voices come through loud and clear. Harry, age thirteen, pulls away from his family and finds escape with a rebellious friend. Jimmy, eleven, withdraws into himself, and Julie, nine, starts to skip school and keeps a diary that reveals her true feelings. Each child reaches out but no one is listening, so they try on their own to solve their problems. Things go from bad to worse until a new family crisis draws them all up short, and they pull together with love and support. This is a wonderful, gently woven story that shows the fine line an "ordinary" family treads to remain balanced after a death in the family. The voices of the characters are right on the mark, and the story moves uncomfortably yet smoothly with touches of humor. It ends with hope, and we can all use some of that these days. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, Will appeal with pushing, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
Library Journal
The author of Ordinary People (LJ 5/1/76) delivers a novel with similar promise and theme. This work, a selection of both the Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club, deals with death in a family. Keith Browner, an engaging high school English teacher, the beloved husband of Annie, and adored father of 13-year-old Harry, 11-year-old Jimmie, and nine-year-old Julie, has incurable cancer. The reader learns enough about Keith to admire his humor and fortitude and to look forward to his presence and then he is suddenly, irretrievably gone. The author's timing and skill makes his loss and its aftermath searingly felt. Annie struggles to reenter the job market and to attend to the myriad details of running a home. The children, in an effort to regain control of life and their mother's attention, act up in alarming ways. True, touching, and highly recommended for all fiction collections.Sheila M. Riley, Smithsonian Inst. Libs., Washington, D.C.
School Library Journal
YABy using The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary's definition of the word "errand," Guest explains this title"a journey made for a special purpose; an expedition; a mission." The protagonist, Annie Browner, embarks on such an errand. Her husband of 17 years dies of cancer and leaves her to raise and support their three children. Annie, consumed by grief, refuses all help and fails to see that her family is coming apart. The fine dialogue among the family members is one of the strengths of the novel. Many teens will identify with a single-parent home where coping with loss is difficult and painful. The book ends on a hopeful noteacceptance, love, and communication are key elements for healing.Carol Clark, R. E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
Kirkus Reviews
The highly praised author of Ordinary People (1976) and Second Heaven (1982) expertly molds another melancholy story of midwestern, middle-class family love and loss.

As in Guest's earlier works, the setting is Detroit and Upper Michigan. As the story begins, the Browners—Keith, an English teacher, Annie, his wife, and their children Harry, 13, Jimmy, 12, and Julie, 9—are on vacation in Au Gres on Lake Huron, awaiting the first of Keith's scheduled chemo treatments for a brain tumor that's just been diagnosed. But before treatments can begin, Keith, 38, dies, and the Browner family descends into grief and confusion. Back in Detroit, Annie searches for something more than a minimum- wage job (she had dropped out of college to marry), while the three kids, reacting to their mother's increasing rage and frustration, as well as to their own loss, grow fractious and sullen, then start skipping school and stealing. Annie's sweet younger sister Jess tries to help, but she's got her own troubles: Jess's married lover, Ryan, who keeps promising to divorce his alcoholic wife, instead goes back to her after she cripples their nine-year-old daughter in a car accident. Other griefs pile up: The stray cat the family adopted is killed by a car; Jimmy's brand-new bike, for which he'd saved up for two years, is stolen. Annie, frayed and feeling abandoned, flees the melee, going back to Au Gres to reflect on Keith's death; but she returns when Jimmy is nearly blinded in a fishing accident. In the midst of this particular extremity, Guest subtly and persuasively paints the beginning of family healing as each member is called on to perform an errand of love for the others.

A fine performance—the children are complex and delightful, the emotion direct and compelling—though the story is a sad and gloomy one.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679774198
  • Publisher: Random House Large Print
  • Publication date: 1/14/1997
  • Edition description: Large Type
  • Pages: 387
  • Product dimensions: 6.17 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Judith Guest is the author of Ordinary People and Second Heaven. She lives in Edina, Minnesota, and Harrisville, Michigan.
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