Making Toast: A Family Story
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Making Toast: A Family Story

3.1 85
by Roger Rosenblatt
     
 

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“A painfully beautiful memoir….Written with such restraint as to be both heartbreaking and instructive.”

—E. L. Doctorow

 

A revered, many times honored (George Polk, Peabody, and Emmy Award winner, to name but a few) journalist, novelist, and playwright, Roger Rosenblatt shares the unforgettable story of the tragedy that changed

Overview

“A painfully beautiful memoir….Written with such restraint as to be both heartbreaking and instructive.”

—E. L. Doctorow

 

A revered, many times honored (George Polk, Peabody, and Emmy Award winner, to name but a few) journalist, novelist, and playwright, Roger Rosenblatt shares the unforgettable story of the tragedy that changed his life and his family. A book that grew out of his popular December 2008 essay in The New Yorker, Making Toast is a moving account of unexpected loss and recovery in the powerful tradition of About Alice and The Year of Magical Thinking. Writer Ann Beattie offers high praise to the acclaimed author of Lapham Rising and Beet for a memoir that is, “written so forthrightly, but so delicately, that you feel you’re a part of this family.”

Editorial Reviews

When Roger Rosenblatt's 38-year-old daughter Amy died suddenly in December 2007, she was, by every indication, healthy. Her asymptomatic heart condition was only discovered in the autopsy room. Her sudden demise galvanized the entire family: Rosenblatt, the author of this soulful memoir, and his wife moved immediately into their daughter's Bethesda home to help care for her three young sons, ages six, four and one. Making Toast doesn't evade the subject of the family's devastating grief, but it gently prods us forward with its accounts of small daily acts of recovery. A restrained, heartfelt memoir of moving beyond loss; now in paperback and NOOKbook.

Cynthia Ozick
“[A] piercing account of broken hearts [that] records how love, hurt, and responsibility can, through antic wit and tenderness, turn a shattered household into a luminous new-made family.”
The Oprah Magazine O
“Sad but somehow triumphant, this memoir is a celebration of family, and of how, even in the deepest sorrow, we can discover new links of love and the will to go on.”
Carolyn See
“[MAKING TOAST] is about coping with grief, caring for children and creating an ad hoc family for as long as this particular configuration is required, but mostly it’s a textbook on what constitutes perfect writing and how to be a class act.”
All Things Considered - NPR
"[An] exquisite, restrained little memoir filled with both hurt and humor."
E.L. Doctorow
“A painfully beautiful memoir telling how grandparents are made over into parents, how people die out of order, how time goes backwards. Written with such restraint as to be both heartbreaking and instructive.”
Richard Ford
Roger Rosenblatt means, I believe, to teach patience, love, a fondness for the quotidian, and a deftness for saving the lost moment—when faced with lacerating loss. These are brilliant lessons, fiercely-learned. But Rosenblatt comes to them and to us—suitably—with immense humility.
Ann Beattie
“Written so forthrightly, but so delicately, that you feel you’re a part of this family... How lucky some of us are to see clearly what needs to be done, even in the saddest, most life-altering circumstances.”
Leon Wieseltier
“There are circumstances in which prose is poetry, and the unornamented candor of Rosenblatt’s writing slowly attains to a sober sort of lyricism...This is more than just a moving book. It is also a useful book....[Rosenblatt’s] toast is buttered with wisdom. ”
Christian Science Monitor
“Hauntingly lovely.”
USA Today
“Rosenblatt…sets a perfect tone and finds the right words to describe how his family is coming with their grief… It may seem odd to call a book about such a tragic event charming, but it is. There is indeed life-after death, and Rosenblatt proves that without a doubt.”
Los Angeles Times
“[A] gem of a memoir... sad, funny, brave and luminous....[a] rare and generous book.”
Bookbrowse.com
“A must read for all....By no means treacly with sentiment, the book takes us through the ordinary along with the extra-ordinary events in the life of this family as they struggle to regain their center and go on with their lives.
NPR's All Things Considered
“[An] exquisite, restrained little memoir filled with both hurt and humor.”
J. Courtney Sullivan
…a word of warning to anyone who reads while riding public transportation: This beautiful and moving little memoir will most likely make you cry on the train.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Family tragedy is healed by domestic routine in this quiet, tender memoir. When his daughter Amy died suddenly at the age of 38 from an asymptomatic heart condition, journalist and novelist Rosen-blatt (Lapham Rising) and his wife moved into her house to help her husband care for their three young children. Not much happens except for the mundane, crucial duties of child care: reading stories, helping with schoolwork, chasing after an indefatigable toddler who is “the busiest person I have ever known,” making toast to order for finicky kids. Building on the small events of everyday life, Rosenblatt draws sharply etched portraits of his grandchildren; his stoic, gentle son-in-law; his wife, who feels slightly guilty that she is living her daughter's life; and Amy emerges as a smart, prickly, selfless figure whose significance the author never registered until her death. Rosenblatt avoids the sentimentality that might have weighed down the story; he writes with humor and an engagement with life that makes the occasional flashes of grief all the more telling. The result is a beautiful account of human loss, measured by the steady effort to fill in the void. (Feb. 16)
Kirkus Reviews
A father grieves over the stunning loss of his 38-year-old daughter, who died in 2007 of a rare, undetected heart condition while exercising at home. Rosenblatt (English and Writing/Stony Brook Univ.; Beet, 2008, etc.), who has excelled in nearly every literary form-journalism, drama (six Off-Broadway plays), nonfiction and fiction-now adorns the memoir genre with a graceful, slim but piercing tale of loss and its sometimes grievous, sometimes ennobling effects. The author describes his daughter, a pediatrician with three children and loving husband, in tender tones. The extended family seems remarkably cohesive and affectionate, with a fondness for irony and humor. Rosenblatt and his wife, Ginny, moved into their daughter's in-law apartment in their home and assumed as many useful roles as possible. They taxied children, cooked, cleaned, ran errands, etc. The title derives from one of the author's morning tasks-making the children's breakfast. Though deeply wounded by tragedy, Amy's family was financially fortunate-able to afford private schools, a child psychotherapist and a nanny 12 hours per day, five days per week, as well as a retreat to the elder Rosenblatts' capacious and quiet summer home in Quogue. The author rarely discusses how fortune-financial and otherwise-eased their awful burden. Although the flow of the text has a gentle current, it frequently shifts and bends and obeys a psychological rather than a chronological imperative. Rosenblatt employs the urgent present tense as he relates how he and the others cope, but for Amy he must use the painful past. There is plenty of hugging and tears, but thankfully no mawkishness or emotional manipulation. Through the glass of theauthor's transparent style we see all the sharp and soft contours of grief.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061825958
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/15/2011
Pages:
166
Sales rank:
177,013
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Making Toast

A Family Story


By Roger Rosenblatt

HarperCollins Publishers

Copyright © 2011 Roger Rosenblatt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-06-182595-8


Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

The trick when foraging for a tooth lost in coffee grounds is not to be misled by the clumps. The only way to be sure is to rub each clump between your thumb and index finger, which makes a mess of your hands. For some twenty minutes this morning, Ginny and I have been hunting in the kitchen trash can for the top front left tooth of our seven-year-old granddaughter, Jessica. Loose for days but not yet dislodged, the tooth finally dropped into a bowl of Apple Jacks. I wrapped it for safekeeping in a paper napkin and put it on the kitchen counter, but it was mistaken for trash by Ligaya, Bubbies's nanny. Bubbies (James) is twenty months and the youngest of our daughter Amy's three children. Sammy, who is five, is uninterested in the tooth search, and Jessie is unaware of it. We hope to find the tooth so that Jessie won't worry about the Tooth Fairy not showing up. This sort of activity has constituted our life since Amy died, on December 8, 2007, at 2:30 p.m., six months ago. Today is June 9, 2008. The day of her death, Ginny and I drove from our home in Quogue, on the south shore of Long Island, to Bethesda, Maryland, where Amy and her husband, Harris, lived. With Harris's encouragement, we have been there ever since. "How long are you staying?" Jessie asked the next morning. "Forever," I said. Amy Elizabeth Rosenblatt Solomon, thirty-eight years old, pediatrician, wife of hand surgeon Harrison Solomon, and mother of three, collapsed on her treadmill in the downstairs playroom at home. "Jessie and Sammy discovered her," our oldest son, Carl, told us on the phone. Carl lives in Fairfax, Virginia, not far from Amy and Harris, with his wife, Wendy, and their two boys, Andrew and Ryan. Jessie had run upstairs to Harris. "Mommy isn't talking," she said. Harris got to Amy within seconds, and tried CPR, but her heart had stopped and she could not be revived.

Amy's was ruled a "sudden death due to an anomalous right coronary artery"- meaning that her two coronary arteries fed her heart from the same side. Normally, the arteries are located on both sides of the heart so that if one fails, the other can do the work. In Amy's heart, they ran alongside each other. They could have been squeezed between the aorta and the pulmonary artery, which can expand during physical exercise. The blood flow was cut off . Her condition, affecting less than two thousandths of one percent of the population, was asymptomatic; she might have died at any time in her life.

She would have appreciated the clarity of the verdict. Amy was a very clear person, even as a small child, knowing intuitively what plain good sense a particular situation required. She had a broad expanse of forehead, dark, nearly black hair, and hazel eyes. Both self-confident and selfless, when she faced you there could be no doubt you were the only thing on her mind.

Her clarity could make her severe with her family, especially her two brothers. Carl and John, our youngest, withered when she excoriated them for such offenses as invading her room. She could also poke you gently with her wit. When she was about to graduate from the NYU School of Medicine, her class had asked me to be the speaker. A tradition of the school allows a past graduate to place the hood of the gown on a current graduate. Harris, who had graduated the previous year, was set to "hood" Amy. At dinner the night before the ceremony, a friend remarked, "Amy, isn't it great? Your dad is giving the graduation speech, and your fiancé is doing the hood." Amy said, "It is. And it's also pretty great that I'm graduating."

Yet her clarity also contributed to her kindness. When she was six, I was driving her and three friends to a birthday party. One of the girls got carsick. The other two backed away, understandably, with cries of "Ooh!" and "Yuck!" Amy drew closer to the stricken child, to comfort her.

Ginny and I moved from a five bedroom house, with a den and a large kitchen, to a bedroom with a connected bath - the in-law apartment in an alcove off the downstairs playroom that we used to occupy whenever we visited. We put in a dresser and a desk, and Harris added a TV and a rug. It may have appeared that we were r reducing our comforts, but the older one gets the less space one needs, and the less one wants. And we still have our house in Quogue.

I found I could not write and didn't want to. I could teach, however, and it helped me feel useful. I drive from Bethesda to Quogue on Sundays, and meet my English literature classes and MFA writing workshops at Stony Brook University early in the week, then back to Bethesda. The drive takes about five hours and a tank of gas each way. But it is easier and faster than flying or taking a train.

Road rage was a danger those early weeks. I picked fights with store clerks for no reason. I lost my temper with a student who phoned me too frequently about her work. I seethed at those who spoke of Amy's death in the clichés of modern usage, such as "passing" and "closure."

I cursed God. In a way, believing in God made Amy's death more, not less, comprehensible, since the God I believe in is not beneficent. He doesn't care. A friend was visiting Jerusalem when he got the news about Amy. He kicked the Wailing Wall, and said, "Fuck you, God!" My sentiments exactly.

What's Jessie's favorite winter jacket? The blue not the pink, though pink is her favorite color. Sammy prefers whole milk in his Fruit Loops or MultiGrain Cheerios. He calls it "cow milk." Jessie drinks only Silk soy milk. She likes a glass of it at breakfast. Sammy prefers water. Such information had to be absorbed quickly. Sammy sees himself as the silver Power Ranger, Jessie is the pink. Sammy's friends are Nico, Carlos, and Kipper. Jessie's are Ally, Danielle, and Kristie. There were play-dates to arrange, birthday party invitations to respond to, school forms to fill out. Sammy goes to a private preschool, the Geneva Day School; Jessie to Burning Tree, the local public school. We had to master their schedules.

I re-accustomed myself to things about small children I'd forgotten. Talking toys came back into my life. I will be walking with the family through an airport, and the voice of a ventriloquist's dummy in a horror movie will seep through the suitcase. Buzz Lightyear says, "To infinity and beyond!" A talking phone says, "Help me!" Another toy says, "I'm a pig. Can we stop?"

In all this, two things were of immeasurable use to us. First, Leslie Adelman, a friend of Amy's and Harris's, and the mother of friends of the children, created a Web site inviting others to prepare dinners for our family. Emails were sent by Leslie, our daughter-in-law Wendy, Laura Gwyn, another friend and school mother, and Betsy Mencher, who had gone to college with Amy. Soon one hundred people - school families, friends and colleagues of Amy's and Harris's, neighbors - comprised the list. Participants deposited dinners in a blue cooler outside our front door. Food was provided every other evening, with enough for the nights in between, from mid-December to the beginning of June.

The second was a piece of straightforward wisdom that Bubbies's nanny gave Harris. Ligaya is a small, lithe woman in her early fifties. I know little of her life except that she is from the Philippines, with a daughter there and a grown son here who is a supervisor in a restaurant, and that she has a work ethic of steel and the flexibility to deal with any contingency. She also shows a sense of practical formality by calling Bubbies James and not by the nickname Amy had coined, to ensure the more respectable name for his future. Ligaya altered her schedule to be with us twelve hours a day, five days a week - an indispensable gift, especially to her small charge, who giggles with delight when he hears her key in the front door. No one outside the family could have felt Amy's death more acutely. Yet what she said to Harris, and to the rest of us, was dispassionate: "You are not the first to go through such a thing, and you are better able to handle it than most."

Bubbies looks around for Amy, says "Mama" when he sees her pictures, and clings to his father. Bubbies has blond hair and a face usually occupied by observant silences. When I am alone with him, he plays happily enough. I've taught him to give a high five, and when he does, I stagger across the room to show him how strong he is. He likes to take a pot from one kitchen cabinet and Zone bars from another, deposit the bars in the pot, and put back the lid. He'll do this contentedly for quite a while. When Harris enters the kitchen, Bubbies drops everything, runs to him, and holds him tight at the knees.

Jessie is tall, also blond, with an expression forever on the brink of enthusiasm. Amy used to say she was the most optimistic person she'd ever known. She is excited about her hip-hop dance class; about a concert her school is giving in Amy's name, to raise money for a memorial scholarship set up at the NYU School of Medicine; about going to the Nutcracker. "Do your Nutcracker dance, Boppo," Jessie says. (Ginny is Mimi, I am Boppo.) I swing into my improvised ballet, the high point of which is when I wiggle my ass like the dancing mice. Jessie is also excited about our trip to Disney World in January, the adventure that Amy and Harris had planned for themselves and the three children months before Amy died. We speak of distant summer plans in Quogue. Jessie is excited.

Sammy is tall, too, with dark hair and wide-set, ruminative eyes. He brings me a book to read, about a caterpillar. He brings another, which just happened to be in the house, called Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children. The book says, "There's a beginning and an end for everything that is alive. In between is living." The book illustrates its lessons with pictures of birds, fish, plants, and people. I lean back on the couch with Sammy tucked in the crook of my arm, and read to him about the beauty of death.

Like other nonreligious families, ours tends to cherry-pick among the holidays, adopting those features that most appeal to children - eggs and the Bunny at Easter, the tree and Santa at Christmas. Characteristically, Amy had prepared for Christmas long in advance. Unwrapped gifts for Jessie, Sammy, and Bubbies lay hidden in the house. Traditional ornaments and ones she made herself had been taken out of their annual storage. There were little painted clay like figures representing a family standing in a row and singing carols, and pictures of her own family as it had grown every year, along with older ornaments that Ginny and I had given her. Amy and Harris had picked out their tree the morning of the day she died. It remained on the deck during our first days of mourning, leaning against a post at a forty-degree angle, the trunk soaking in a bucket of water. Eventually we brought it indoors, and concentrated on making the holiday appear as normal as possible.

On Christmas Eve, Ginny cooked a turkey for Harris, me, and John, who was down from New York for a few days. I read Jessie and Sammy The Night Before Christmas as I had done with our own three children, adding nonsense exigeses and pretending to take issue with words such as "coursers" in an effort to hold their attention. Last year they had become restive by the time I got to " ... and all through the house." This year they listened to the whole thing. When the children were asleep, Ginny, Harris, and I opened some of the toys that Santa was about to bring. Jessie still believes, because she wants to. She got an American Girl doll; Sammy, Power Ranger outfits and DVDs; Bubbies, a remote control dog like a beagle puppy, that walked, sat, and yipped. Harris set up the some assembly-required toys.

It took him half an hour to put together an electric race track that would have taken me half a day when I was a young father. And his structure did not collapse. He and the children had decorated the tree as well. He strung the white lights.

Carl and Wendy and their boys usually spend Christmas with Wendy's family in Pittsburgh, so they came over the day before Christmas Eve to exchange presents. Carl and I gave Harris tickets to the Masters golf tournament coming up in April. He had always wanted to go. We got him two tickets so that he could take a friend. As we later learned, he had planned to go with Amy the following year to celebrate his fortieth birthday. Because it was a last minute thought, we were not able to get the actual tickets, which we'd reserved, so Carl made up an elegant presentation of the gift, worded like the announcement of a prize. The lettering stood out against a background of the Masters course in Augusta. We wanted to hide the gift in a bright green sports jacket like the ones Masters winners are awarded, but we couldn't find one. We had to settle for an olive-green windbreaker. When we presented it to Harris, he thought the windbreaker was his gift and was happy with it.

We told him to look in the inside pocket.

He held the piece of paper in his hands, stood, and burst into tears.
(Continues...)


Excerpted from Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt. Copyright © 2011 by Roger Rosenblatt. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

E.L. Doctorow
“A painfully beautiful memoir telling how grandparents are made over into parents, how people die out of order, how time goes backwards. Written with such restraint as to be both heartbreaking and instructive.”
Richard Ford
Roger Rosenblatt means, I believe, to teach patience, love, a fondness for the quotidian, and a deftness for saving the lost moment—when faced with lacerating loss. These are brilliant lessons, fiercely-learned. But Rosenblatt comes to them and to us—suitably—with immense humility.
Cynthia Ozick
“[A] piercing account of broken hearts [that] records how love, hurt, and responsibility can, through antic wit and tenderness, turn a shattered household into a luminous new-made family.”
Carolyn See
“[MAKING TOAST] is about coping with grief, caring for children and creating an ad hoc family for as long as this particular configuration is required, but mostly it’s a textbook on what constitutes perfect writing and how to be a class act.”
Leon Wieseltier
“There are circumstances in which prose is poetry, and the unornamented candor of Rosenblatt’s writing slowly attains to a sober sort of lyricism...This is more than just a moving book. It is also a useful book....[Rosenblatt’s] toast is buttered with wisdom. ”
Ann Beattie
“Written so forthrightly, but so delicately, that you feel you’re a part of this family... How lucky some of us are to see clearly what needs to be done, even in the saddest, most life-altering circumstances.”

Meet the Author

Roger Rosenblatt  is the author of six off-Broadway plays and eighteen books, including Lapham Rising, Making Toast, Kayak Morning and The Boy Detective. He is the recipient of the 2015 Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement.

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Making Toast 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 85 reviews.
katherine_nepp More than 1 year ago
As a grief counselor, I found this book to be fascinating. The author was so open and honest in expressing his feelings and emotions while also recounting his day-by-day actions and those of family and friends. Seemingly without meaning to do so, he brought out many concepts that I teach in my grief courses. That is, he lived what grief textbooks attempt to describe. Proof is that my copy of the book has many, many highlighted sentences and sections, which I plan to use in future sessions.
TheJoyOfNooking More than 1 year ago
As a pediatrician, I was intrigued to read this true story from a father's perspective about the death of his pediatrician daughter. I enjoyed the glimpse into the everyday life of a family that was ripped apart, then pieced back together in a new way. I loved the feeling of getting an insider's view of the small but important events that occur day-to-day in this family, as well as how each member of the family dealt with their grief. A good, solid read told from a unique perspective. A wide range of audiences will be able to relate to this story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was already a fan of Roger Rosenblatt's after hearing his thoughtful commentaries on The PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer. I love the cadence of his speaking voice, but decided to buy the book because I don't often do books on tape. I loved the sincerity of this book, how the author allowed us into his personal life at a very difficult and sad time, and how he communicated the truth of this difficult time with such delicacy. I do recommend this book.
Sheyin More than 1 year ago
I read Making Toast in a couple days. It was a good read with touching and humorous moments. Although not having any children, I can relate to parents loosing a child. My parents lost a son @ the age of 44. It was devastating for them & our entire family. The fact that the parents moved in with Son-in-Law & took care of the grandchildren was wonderful. The day to day activities that took place with the family was enlightening. It's a terrible thing for a young child to loose their parent, but to have your grand parents move in & take of you & love you is wonderful. I would recommend this book for any parent.
blissontwowheels More than 1 year ago
I find this to be one of my favorite books. It is a family with a true beauty and what happens to all sorts of people. I laughed out loud and cried at several different points through out the book. Roger writes with professionalism but from his heart. I have already bought this as a gift within a week of buying it myself. I read it in 1 day it was so good I couldn't put it down!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book the second day I received it and was so touched I could not put it down. While reading some chapters I laughed so hard because it was so true and others I cried for the Rosenblatt family. I loved this book because it was written in essay form and it was easy reading all the way. I read this book in one afternoon. I wish the Rosenblatt family my sincerest sympathy and am sure his deaughter Amy,s children will cherish her memory along with the Rosenblatts. I would certainly recommend this book because it was so easy to read and very touching.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Roger Rosenblatt's daughter died in her thirties, leaving behind a husband and 3 small children, at which point Roger and his wife moved in with them. As with Rosenblatt's other writings, it can be read at several levels. Through everyday details, one gets a glimpse of how they keep going, what's difficult and what's precious, and how a loving community helps. The book contains sadness, happier moments, and humor; experience and reflection. Gorgeous.
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JosetteK More than 1 year ago
Beautiful!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
May be a decent magazine article but not a book. Superficial, lots of name dropping, aren't we too special to have this happen to us feeling.
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aimlyss More than 1 year ago
Written by the father of the lady that died, this book tells of life in the year or so after. The author and his wife went to live with their son-in-law to help raise their three young grandchildren. Pretty good, but disappointing too. I was really looking forward to reading this book, but while I did find parts of it interesting, most of it was boring. The book is written as a collection of essays.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It's not that I didnt' like it but it was boring.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Spare, loving, and full of insight.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
bethannemandia More than 1 year ago
ebook. this book brought me to the verge of tears quite a few times..but the honest positivity of the author kept bringing me back to a place of subtle melancholy. i found it an inspiring and beautiful read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very touching story of death, grief and family survival.
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