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"With pen-not-pencil confidence and skill, Elise Juska has deftly crafted the puzzle of a crossword creator's struggle to understand the mysteries of family, love, and self worth."
— Suzanne Strempek Shea, author of Becoming Finola
"Elise Juska has written a wry, wise, and heartfelt novel about the ways in which we grieve. Her characters are rich with the kind of complications that make a novel sing. Juska's passion for language, and for the ways in which it tries, and sometimes fails, to represent who we are, give this lovely book a resonance that crosses not only family lines, but geographical borders, too."
— Marisa Silver, author of No Direction Home
The fascinating thing about bugs -- all living creatures, really -- is that they are designed to save themselves. Nothing is extraneous, nothing decorative; every feature is part of an intricate mechanism of survival. Some disguise themselves as thorns or sand, others as dead leaves or tropical flowers. The damselfly poses as a blade of grass; the golden wheel spider rolls into a ball and tumbles away. The walking stick can assume different forms. Sometimes it looks like a twig: thin, mottled brown, a cinnamon stick with feet. Other times it's gold or green, splayed open like a ragged leaf. When the bug is sitting on a tree branch, it's impossible to know it's there.
As Claire looks at her hand resting on the kitchen counter, a walking stick appears in her mind's eye. Her pale skin is the same shade as her Formica. The freckles sprinkled across the back of her hand merge with a smattering of dots the color of sand. Claire raises a finger, slightly, then lowers it. She has become indistinguishable from her kitchen.
She crosses the kitchen and pushes open the back door. It's been raining all morning, a steady rain, the temperature hovering just above freezing. She steps into the backyard -- half-mown, half-ragged -- and shuffles across the long side, wet fronds darkening her slippers like paintbrush tips. She is wearing her bug slippers, a gift she received from Bob shortly after they moved to New Hampshire. They are difficult to walk in, like shuffling inside two couch pillows. A year ago, the beetles' heads were bright yellow; now they are faded, their antennae limp, chins angled toward the ground in defeat.
She grips the handle of Bob's garage-turned-office and heaves the door open to the screech of rusty metal. Bob looks surprised to see her there; rarely does she interrupt his work. Claire is equally surprised by this vision of her husband. Whenever she pictures Bob in his office, it's with head bent studiously over research. Instead, he is just sitting there, slack-jawed, eyes trained not on a slide or book or specimen but gazing into the dull vortex of his office, a nest of computer wires clustered at his feet.
"Claire?" Bob says, sitting up straight. "What's -- "
"Nothing's wrong," Claire says. She pauses a beat. "I need to go."
"Okay," he says.
"No. I mean, I need to -- leave."
Bob's lips, at rest, are always slightly parted. Claire drops her eyes from his face. She focuses on the long, low cabinet behind him: a card catalog of insects, a hundred tiny coffins, glass-flattened, toe-tagged, angel-winged. The wall above it is covered with important papers in brown frames -- diplomas, citations, their wedding photo, a merit certificate from YES, the Young Entomologists' Society.
"Maybe just for a while," Claire says. "I just have to. I need to get away."
Bob has taken off his glasses and is rubbing them with a satiny red square, plucked from his pocket like a magician's scarf. It's one of his signature habits, reverted to in moments of disorientation: as if by cleaning the lenses the problem on the other side will become clear.
"But," he says, pushing his glasses back on. "But, ah, where would you go?"
Bob is a rational man; it is a large part of why Claire married him. He is steady with his emotions, realistic in his expectations, quick to unclog a sink. He is the kind of man who would never do a crossword puzzle in anything but pencil, who will always cut bagels in half before he freezes them. But when it comes to life's more complicated moments, situations that demand emotion -- in which another husband might ask why or how or what had he done or, my God, what could he do to change her mind -- Bob's first priority, always, would be logistics.
Claire tightens her arms across her chest. She feels disengaged from herself, her mind from her mouth, hearing her own words as if spoken by someone else. She must hold herself in place carefully -- too much talk, too much motion, and she might splinter apart. Then Bob stands up and takes a step toward her.
"I'm sorry," Claire says. Her voice is trembling. She unclasps her arms, slides her wedding ring off, and drops it in an empty kill jar on the end of Bob's desk.
Copyright © 2007 by Elise Juska
13. Walking Stick
Posted February 22, 2010
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A lovely novel. One for Sorrow, Two for Joy will make you long to travel as well as remind you of all the things at home you cherish. Claire, unhappy in the past as well as the present, leaves her professor husband and travels to Ireland to visit her carefree sister. There, like the crossword puzzles she is constantly creating, she begins to piece her life together, reassemblng memories of her difficult, deceased mother, and connecting with her wild sister and distant father. All this set against the stormy green of Ireland, the pubs, peat, jigs, and superstition, makes this both a contemplative and lush ride.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 23, 2010
Claire is an etymologist, who didn't finish her PhD to move with her entomologist husband to New Hampshire. The best I can say is Claire is a snobby, messed-up, unfeeling nutcase who worries whether one is using the word sylvan correctly. She leaves Bob, and, having no where to do, visits her younger, happier, more loving college drop-out sister who has moved to Ireland to be with her boyfriend and tend bar. If you are expecting Claire to change while finding herself in this book, you will be disappointed. She is as unpleasant and cold at the end as at the beginning. Two thumbs down.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 18, 2009
Posted December 9, 2008
Former etymology graduate student Claire tells her spouse Bob, an entomology professor that she is leaving him. Ever logical he asks her where she will go if she leaves their New Hampshire home. Married two years she leaves her ring behind as she tells him she does not know yet but will inform him once she does. She reflects back to when they met when both were in graduate school. She saw him ¿talking¿ to a caterpillar. They began to date and when he was offered a teaching position in New Hampshire, she stopped writing her PH.D in linguistics to marry and join him. Since she stopped going to school Claire has felt useless and does not fit in with the other spouses of professors. Claire calls her younger sister Noelle in Ireland informing her she left Paul. Noelle says she is surprised that Claire showed the guts and invites her to spend time with her and her boyfriend. Claire reflects on how the two sisters have seen each other twice in two years, at her wedding to Bob and at their mom¿s funeral. Claire accepts the invitation and leaves Bob a message. Now the two sisters try to reconcile the split caused by mom favoring Noelle and dad defending Claire. --- The key to this fine family drama is the changing relationship between the two sisters. The lead protagonist struggles with finding her place in life. This is handled deftly through present incidents and flashbacks although why Claire stopped working on her dissertation is unclear as school was her life before Bob. The dysfunctional family that the siblings were raised in allied each to a differing parent, which adds depth to the heroine¿s present day problems. Fans of a deep character study starring an adult coming of age protagonist will enjoy Elise Juska¿s fine look at Claire seeking something of substance even if it means sleeping alone. --- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 5, 2011
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