One Vacant Chair

One Vacant Chair

4.5 2
by Coomer
     
 

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It's where you sit down that determines everything in life.

Sarah's aunt Edna paints portraits of chairs. Not people in chairs, just chairs. The old house is filled with the paintings, and the chairs themselves surround her work - a silent yet vigilant audience. At the funeral of Grandma Hutton - whom Edna has cared for through an agonizingly long and vague illness

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Overview

It's where you sit down that determines everything in life.

Sarah's aunt Edna paints portraits of chairs. Not people in chairs, just chairs. The old house is filled with the paintings, and the chairs themselves surround her work - a silent yet vigilant audience. At the funeral of Grandma Hutton - whom Edna has cared for through an agonizingly long and vague illness - Sarah begins helping her aunt clean up the last of a life. This includes honoring Grandma's surprising wish to have her ashes scattered in Scotland.

We were two fat women, eighteen years apart, a chair artist and a designer of Christmas ornaments, who only knew we had troubles and a hot summer to get through," says Sarah. But as it turns out, there is a great deal more to her quirky aunt's troubles than Sarah could possibly imagine. As the novel turns from the hot, oppressive heat of Texas to the misty beauty of Scotland, she learns of her aunt Edna's remarkable secret life and comes to fully understand the fragile business of living and even dying.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Once again, Coomer (The Loop; Sailing in a Spoonful of Water; etc.) presents a wonderfully eccentric cast of characters and delivers a philosophical punch in a comic and poignant novel about life, death and family ties. He plays with oft-used narrative conventions a funeral that leads to a rebirth, a painter who teaches the art of seeing, a physical journey that leads to spiritual growth which, in the hands of a lesser writer, might have resulted in a mishmash of feel-good nonsense. But Coomer makes it work. "[L]ike separate drops of condensating water pooling in the bottom of a cold spoon," a scattered family reconvenes in Fort Worth for the funeral of its crotchety matriarch. Narrator Sarah, an overweight designer of Christmas ornaments trying to cope with her husband's infidelity, decides to remain there after the funeral with her Aunt Edna a school cafeteria worker, amateur philosopher and a skilled painter of portraits of chairs. Aunt Edna becomes Sarah's guru, advising her on matters of health, love and art as the two women plan to take Grandma Hutton's ashes to Scotland, in keeping with her surprising will. Everything that follows Aunt Edna's marriage, her death and her posthumous emergence as a major artist is as inevitable and unexpected as any lover of classic story structure could hope for. And still, the story feels real. Even James (Aunt Edna's boyfriend, a blind black chair repairman) is a fully rounded, believable character who, with his alternative ways of "seeing," only occasionally teeters on the edge of symbolism. Coomer's tight focus on the mundane reveals the magical underbelly of everyday life. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Shortly after Sarah finds out that her husband, Sam, has been cheating on her, her grandmother dies. At the funeral, she is surprised to discover that Grandma Hutton's ashes are to be scattered in Scotland by Aunt Edna, who needs a traveling companion. Sarah decides that it is a good time to reorganize her life, so she offers to go. Sarah knows only that her Aunt Edna paints portraits of chairs and has been the "lunch lady" at the local grade school for 30 years. During their time together, however, she finds out much more, including some things she would rather not know. The journey gives Sarah some perspective concerning the "big picture," and she remodels her own life accordingly. By turns witty, droll, silly, and laugh-out-loud funny, Coomer (The Loop) writes with assurance, conveying much about the human condition and the choices people make or have thrust upon them. His story shines with vivid characters in their everyday mode yet offers surprising twists that will keep the reader's interest to the last. Highly recommended.-Joanna M. Burkhardt, Ashaway, RI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Surprises and sucker punches keep things lively in this latest from Coomer (Apologizing to Dogs, 1999, etc.), a tale of emotional upheavals in a far-flung family about to be flung farther. The family members converge on their original home in Fort Worth, Texas, for a funeral. Grandma Hutton has died at 89, and the bad-tempered old woman will be missed only by Aunt Edna, the daughter who cared for her devotedly for 22 years. This is Aunt Edna's story, narrated by her niece Sarah. Besides working at an elementary school as cafeteria manager, Edna has found time to paint chairs, nothing but chairs (and they will eventually sell for megabucks). The funeral is a splendid set-piece, with Sarah's satirical eye panning the love and guilt, bullying and bitchiness that make up family life. She has her own ax to grind: husband Sam has been cheating on her. Grandma's will is the dramatic high point: she wants her ashes scattered in Scotland. Scotland! Edna has never even been out of state but gamely volunteers to go; Sarah will accompany her (she needs a respite from Sam). Before they leave, taking Grandpa's ashes too, Edna has a surprise of her own: she is going to marry James Laurent, an elderly blind black man who canes chairs. The scenes of these aging lovebirds have a haunting delicacy, but then it's off to Scotland, where the ashes are spread at three different sites, and the satirical edge gives way to Edna's grief and Sarah's agonizing over Sam. The mood becomes even more somber with Edna's revelation that she's dying from pancreatic cancer. The final section, back in Fort Worth, feels rushed: there's Edna's tenderly offbeat wedding to James, a further revelation (this time to the police)about Grandma's death, and then Edna's own demise. Coomer's canvas is too crowded. He does Scotland proud, but at the expense of the family rearranging itself back home-which is where the novel lives. Still, an enjoyable read, without a dull page. Agent: Elaine Markson/Elaine Markson Agency

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781555973858
Publisher:
Graywolf Press
Publication date:
09/28/2003
Pages:
256
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.05(d)

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