The Blessings

( 8 )

Overview

When John Blessing dies and leaves behind two small children, the loss reverberates across his extended family for years to come. His young widow, Lauren, finds solace in her large clan of in-laws, while his brother's wife Kate pursues motherhood even at the expense of her marriage. John's teenage nephew Stephen finds himself involved in an act of petty theft that takes a surprising turn, and nephew Alex, a gifted student, travels to Spain and considers the world beyond his family's Northeast Philadelphia ...

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The Blessings

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Overview

When John Blessing dies and leaves behind two small children, the loss reverberates across his extended family for years to come. His young widow, Lauren, finds solace in her large clan of in-laws, while his brother's wife Kate pursues motherhood even at the expense of her marriage. John's teenage nephew Stephen finds himself involved in an act of petty theft that takes a surprising turn, and nephew Alex, a gifted student, travels to Spain and considers the world beyond his family's Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood. Through departures and arrivals, weddings and reunions, THE BLESSINGS reveals the interior worlds of the members of a close-knit Irish-Catholic family and the rituals that unite them.

"There's no shortage of novels about the quirks and tragedies of large families, but The Blessings is a uniquely poignant, prismatic look at an Irish-Catholic clan as it rallies after losing one of its own."
-Entertainment Weekly


"[A] bighearted novel. . . . Juska's moving, multifaceted portrait of the Blessing family gleams like a jewel."
-Philadelphia Inquirer


"Fans of writers like Anne Tyler, Alice McDermott and even Richard Yates will revel in Juska's resplendent novel detailing two decades in the life of the Blessing clan. The story carefully balances the highs and lows of the everyday through the author's exquisite prism."
-BookReporter.com

"Several generations of the Blessings, a Philadelphia-based, Irish-American family, come beautifully to life in a deceptively simple tale that examines the foibles, disappointments and passions that tie family members together. . . the reader leaves feeling lucky to have spent some time in their presence."
-Publishers Weekly (starred review)


"Elise Juska is so good at describing people, places, and moments that you not only picture them, you feel them."
-Curtis Sittenfeld

"Afamily so real in all their sorrow, joy and complexity that they could be yours or mine . . . bursting with wise observations about the nature of love and belonging."
-J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times-bestselling author of The Engagements and Maine

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 02/10/2014
Several generations of the Blessings, a Philadelphia-based, Irish-American family, come beautifully to life in a deceptively simple tale that examines the foibles, disappointments and passions that tie family members together. Juska (One for Sorrow, Two for Joy) traces the trajectory of several family members’ lives over a 15-year period, starting with college student Abby, who comes to understand her family’s supportive and close-knit nature only after leaving for college. The novel goes on to introduce the other Blessings, including Abby’s siblings, Alex and Meghan; her parents, Ann and Dave; and many cousins, aunts, and uncles. The author brings a depth of understanding to the human condition, including in her descriptions of Abby’s cousin Stephen, on the road to becoming a ne’er-do-well; her uncle Patrick, a successful eye doctor, contemplating infidelity; and Meghan coming to terms with her eating disorder. Abby’s grandmother Helen’s dementia is among the more difficult family issues raised. Despite these challenges, the Blessings rally round each other—whether that attention is wanted or not—and the reader leaves feeling lucky to have spent some time in their presence. Agent: Katherine Fausset, Curtis Brown. (May)
From the Publisher
"There's no shortage of novels about the quirks and tragedies of large families, but The Blessings is a uniquely poignant, prismatic look at an Irish-Catholic clan as it rallies after losing one of its own."—Entertainment Weekly

"[A] bighearted novel. . . . Juska's moving, multifaceted portrait of the Blessing family gleams like a jewel."—The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Several generations of the Blessings, a Philadelphia-based, Irish-American family, come beautifully to life in a deceptively simple tale that examines the foibles, disappointments and passions that tie family members together. . . The author brings a depth of understanding to the human condition, including in her descriptions of Abby's cousin Stephen, on the road to becoming a ne'er-do-well; her uncle Patrick, a successful eye doctor, contemplating infidelity; and Meghan coming to terms with her eating disorder . . . Despite these challenges, the Blessings rally round each other-whether that attention is wanted or not-and the reader leaves feeling lucky to have spent some time in their presence."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Juska explores the collective experiences, traditions and loyalties of a close-knit family . . . a multilayered, sympathetic account of its members' lives."—Kirkus Reviews

"We are in good hands with award-winning short story author Juska. She is a shrewd observer of human nature and has an outstanding ability to bring her characters to life on the page . . . this wonderfully readable work about family life will have you eagerly turning pages."—Library Journal

"With each chapter, Juska takes readers into the life of a different family member, honoring the individuality that blossoms even amid the strong bonds of a family's deep love. She draws intimate and detailed sketches of each of these characters, but the ultimate portrait is of the Blessing family as a whole. This heartfelt tribute to the ups and downs of a large, devoted family is warm, uplifting, and recommended for readers from families of all sizes."—Booklist

"Beautifully crafted. . . Juska draws the characters so fully, with thoughts and feelings so real, the reader can't help but become emotionally invested."—All You

"Juska's emotionally resonant storytelling will remain with you long after turning the last page."—Irish America

"The Blessings are a family so real in all their sorrow, joy and complexity that they could be yours or mine. Juska's portrait of this close-knit clan is bursting with wise observations about the nature of love and belonging. I enjoyed every page."—J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times-bestselling author of The Engagements and Maine

"In the tradition of Elizabeth Berg's and Alice McDermott's work, The Blessings is a knowing portrait of a sprawling Irish-American family in Philly across the last thirty years, in all their shared strength and separate weaknesses. Elise Juska is deft and tender, letting us get close to her characters in their most vulnerable moments. The ties that bind are never simple, and often painful, but as one daughter acknowledges, 'these are the hidden intimacies, the private exchanges, on which she builds her life.'"—Stewart O'Nan, author of Songs for the Missing and Emily, Alone"Elise Juska is so good at describing people, places, and moments that you not only picture them, you feel them."—Curtis Sittenfeld

"In this absorbing novel, Elise Juska moves effortlessly among family members and across decades, covering tragedy and triumph, love and loyalty. I adored everything about this book and raced to finish it, only to turn the last page and long for more time with this large, complicated, close-knit family."—Jennifer Close, author of Girls in White Dresses and The Smart One

"Elise Juska, with a sharp and generous eye, charts the duality of family life in her novel-in-stories, The Blessings. Juska's characters, in their all-too-real efforts at self-discovery, remain home or travel the world, dabble with temptation or stay committed, reveal secrets or keep them; the one constant is their shared blood and history. Each exquisitely layered story builds on top of the other, leaving the reader with a lasting portrait of what it means to be a part of a family in today's fractured world."—Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone

J. Courtney Sullivan
"The Blessings are a family so real in all their sorrow, joy and complexity that they could be yours or mine. Juska's portrait of this close-knit clan is bursting with wise observations about the nature of love and belonging. I enjoyed every page."
Stewart O'Nan
"In the tradition of Elizabeth Berg's and Alice McDermott's work, The Blessings is a knowing portrait of a sprawling Irish-American family in Philly across the last thirty years, in all their shared strength and separate weaknesses. Elise Juska is deft and tender, letting us get close to her characters in their most vulnerable moments. The ties that bind are never simple, and often painful, but as one daughter acknowledges, 'these are the hidden intimacies, the private exchanges, on which she builds her life.'"
Siobhan Fallon
"Elise Juska, with a sharp and generous eye, charts the duality of family life in her novel-in-stories, The Blessings. Juska's characters, in their all-too-real efforts at self-discovery, remain home or travel the world, dabble with temptation or stay committed, reveal secrets or keep them; the one constant is their shared blood and history. Each exquisitely layered story builds on top of the other, leaving the reader with a lasting portrait of what it means to be a part of a family in today's fractured world."
Jennifer Close
"In this absorbing novel, Elise Juska moves effortlessly among family members and across decades, covering tragedy and triumph, love and loyalty. I adored everything about this book and raced to finish it, only to turn the last page and long for more time with this large, complicated, close-knit family."
Kirkus Reviews
2014-03-06
Juska explores the collective experiences, traditions and loyalties of a close-knit family and the perspectives of individual members as they journey through a span of 30 years. Like many other middle-class Philadelphia Irish-Catholic clans, the Blessings are tight. They celebrate every holiday in time-honored fashion (men in front of the television or tending the grill; women preparing side dishes and cleaning up), rally together during crises and proudly acknowledge important milestones. It's not surprising, then, that when oldest brother John succumbs to cancer shortly after his father's fatal heart attack, his illness and death become the definitive reference points in the Blessings' lives. Widow Lauren, the mother of two young children, is an only child and relied on John to help her feel comfortable among the Blessings. She faces the death of her husband as many widows do—by withdrawing from others—but as time passes, she helps another family member and becomes an integral part of the clan. Her sister-in-law Kate is married to the youngest Blessing, Patrick, and blames his grief over his brother's death for her initial failure to conceive; later, Patrick evaluates the direction his life has taken. John's sisters cope privately with problems as their children grow older and the family continues to commemorate John's life on the anniversary of his death. Ann and her husband, Dave, become increasingly alienated and finally divorce; their eldest daughter pursues life and love in NYC, their academically gifted son does the unexpected, and their youngest daughter battles an eating disorder. Sister Margie has tried to stifle anxiety over a confession her husband made years ago, but now her eldest son is in trouble, and although she knows taking certain actions will only cause her more pain, she insists that her husband unbury the past and help him. Juska's story is like leafing through an old family photo album, where typically unremarkable moments are captured in black and white. What makes the album unique isn't its contents but the way each photo abuts or overlays the next. The author (One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, 2007, etc.) has created an ordinary fictitious family and stitched together a multilayered, sympathetic account of its members' lives.
Curtis Sittenfeld
"Elise Juska is so good at describing people, places, and moments that you not only picture them, you feel them."
Library Journal
03/15/2014
This family saga explores the ups and downs of a close-knit extended Irish American clan in Philadelphia over a couple of decades. Like so many people, the Blessings discover that life often doesn't turn out to be what they had hoped. Among their trials are unhappy marriages, divorce, and teenagers who go badly off the rails. Most poignantly, the novel centers on the death of John Blessing, a young husband and father, and the effect this tragedy has on his widow, children, and entire family. In the wrong hands, a family story such as this could be either too sentimental or too much of a soap opera, but we are in good hands with award-winning short story author Juska. She is a shrewd observer of human nature and has an outstanding ability to bring her characters to life on the page. The author's wise decision to focus on a different relative in each chapter also makes the novel stand out. VERDICT This wonderfully readable work about family life will have you eagerly turning pages to find out what happens to characters about whom you really care. [See Prepub Alert, 11/18/13.]—Leslie Patterson, Rehoboth, MA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781455574032
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 5/6/2014
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 65,884
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Elise Juska's fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Ploughshares, the Gettysburg Review, the Missouri Review, Good Housekeeping, the Hudson Review, Harvard Review, and many other publications. She is the recipient of the Alice Hoffman Prize for Fiction from Ploughshares and her work has been cited in The Best American Short Stories. She lives in Philadelphia, where she is the director of the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of the Arts.

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with Elise Juska, Author of The Blessings

The Blessings is a look inside a large, close Irish Catholic family in Philadelphia. What drew you to writing about this particular clan?

I've been trying to tell this story, or some version of this story, for quite a long time. I grew up in a big Philadelphia family (six aunts and uncles, sixteen cousins) and although the book is not strictly autobiographical, there are aspects of this family that are very familiar to me: the sense of ritual, the rhythms of the frequent family get-togethers, the constancy, the loyalty, the emphasis on tradition. In my own family, two uncles died young, with young children; in the novel, the death of John Blessing is the event that shapes the family and reverberates, in various ways, over the next twenty years. For me, finally understanding how to write this book was a matter of, first, getting older and gaining some insight about what it means to be part of a big family and, second, figuring out the novel's form.

Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different member of the family—aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews. Why did you decide to structure the book this way?

One of the dynamics that interests me in big families, and one of the things I wanted the book to explore, is the relationship between the individual and the clan. The big family functions as a whole—built on traditions, foods, rituals, shared joys and losses—but in fact, everyone in it maintains a life outside it. This may not sound like a groundbreaking revelation, but when I was younger it shook me to realize that there were parts of my life that my family didn't know—and that, if true for me, that was likely true for all of us. So the structure, the use of multiple narrators, was a way of embodying that dynamic: all these family members are, in a sense, telling one shared story—framed by John's death—but they are also telling separate stories, private stories, known only to them.

The range of characters and experiences is diverse—a troubled teenage nephew, a grandmother confronting dementia, a father realizing his daughter is suffering from an eating disorder. Was it difficult to get into the heads of such different people? Were some more challenging to write? More fun?

I think what I like most about writing fiction is that very thing: getting into the heads of people who are not myself, trying to cultivate some empathy and understanding as I imagine what their lives are like. It may be fitting, then, that the characters I most enjoyed writing were the ones whose lives deviated most from my own—like Patrick, John's surviving brother, an eye doctor who ends up contemplating infidelity. Or Stephen, John's nephew, who at sixteen starts down a bad path. These characters were challenging to write but also very surprising, especially Stephen, for whom I developed a real soft spot. Maybe that's because, unlike some of the others, whose struggles are more internal, Stephen's problems are so visible. In a big family—especially one populated by other, seemingly more well-adjusted siblings and cousins—being the one whose struggles are so public can be a difficult role.

Several early readers have commented that the book feels like it could generate a sequel. Is that something you've considered?

I love that reader feedback (I loved writing these people and would happily go on doing it!) and think I understand where it's coming from. We're introduced to numerous characters in the course of the novel, so there are plenty of people to check in with and return to. Also, because the book spans two decades—in the final chapter, the babies from chapter one are in college—we watch a generation of this family grow up, but its core stays the same. In a way, the book is about that very dichotomy: the change, the sameness. I too find myself wondering how the dynamic shifts as the next generation gets older—the cousins have kids of their own, the aunts and uncles become grandparents, the larger world undergoes some dramatic shifts—and the ways the family does and does not change.

Who have you discovered lately?

I'm always most drawn to short stories, both writing them and reading them. I recently discovered Joan Wickersham's The News From Spain, an expertly knitted collection of short stories, all of them love stories of a kind. The individual stories are linked in lovely, subtle ways; the structure is like music. I also loved Asali Solomon's collection of Philadelphia-set stories, Get Down, which manages to be both funny and heartbreaking and also wincingly realistic in its depiction of adolescents struggling to fit in.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 8, 2014

    There is so much grace in this novel. I really love it all--the

    There is so much grace in this novel. I really love it all--the joy and heartbreak of the Blessing family, the scope of each chapter's shifting point of view, the precise and detailed language, the compassion Elise Juska has for her characters. Each chapter reveals deeper layers of the Blessing family--and each chapter has the precision of a short story, with the short story's focus on the unfolding decisive moments, but they all move together in a cohesive narrative arc that make it work as a longer piece. The little repetitions that happen, one character commenting on something that another story already spoke of, work really nicely too, like a series of overlapping circles that form a pattern about how real people live their lives, and how strong families return again and again to the only solution to mounting conflict--love. I've read all of Elise Juska's novels and many of her stories and this is without a doubt her most accomplished, subtle, powerful writing to date.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 23, 2014

    Wonderful

    I just finished this warm, frequently moving story. The relationship between the family members is real and so full of love and caring. Quite moving, beautifully written. It was a "blessing" to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 17, 2014

    Family is so important this book reminds us of it, great book to

    Family is so important this book reminds us of it, great book to read!
    First of all this book is good, like watching a neighbor or even your own family dramas unfolding before your eyes. Years past and years ahead, this story gripped the essence of a family, "The Blessings." Family is everything to this large close knit Irish-Catholic family of Philadelphia. They face the tragedies of death and grieving and the coping of it. They face marriages, divorces, breakups, births, miscarriages, addictions, illnesses, graduations, colleges, getting old, values, temptations and resistance. One thing that this family has and will always have is each other to hold on too. Striking out to be known as an individual only reverts back to their safe haven, family. Here's a tibit of what this family is all about; John's family the bigness, the competence, the tight sphere of constant togetherness is something to envy. Supremely confident Lauren, liaison, informant, nurse, repository for every questions and concern. Two parts of John's life that he's always struggled to reconcile, like having two friends who just don't click. Holding on to that old couch and then just letting go. Making mom's dating profile. A blur in her eye, declared unfit to drive? What a traffic violation? Wrote a check for $80.00 and mail the violation in only to put the keys in a drawer never to drive again. Cataracts, so it begins, joints, bones, edema getting old:( Kate thinks cooking is subservient, ungratifying something you do for others and get nothing in return, Helen's thought when her son Patrick entered her house. Here Helen thought's of how her son comes home with no cook meal prepared. To end this review I found this profound, "The older you get the more you revert to where come from." The author's writing flowed like a wisp in the wind so effortlessly. Read right through the book, flipping pages after page and left with exasperating emotions. Family is so important, at the end, family remains etched in your mind a dimmer of the past that you take with you no matter where you end up. Great read, love it! Won this on Goodreads First Read Giveaway. Thank you, Darlene Cruz

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 8, 2014

    Mating Ceromonies posted here!

    <>

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 29, 2014

    My mirror...

    I felt as thought I was looking into a mirror of my family's life....coming from a large Irish catholic family, and in turn having six of my, and living in Philly.....the ups, the downs of every normal family written in a way to draw you into their tomorrow....I hope for a sequel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2014

    Loved it

    Wonderfully written, don't let the multiple perspective part scare you away. I enjoyed all the characters and could connect with each in some way.

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  • Posted June 6, 2014

    "The Blessings" is a wise, inspiring and achingly real

    &quot;The Blessings&quot; is a wise, inspiring and achingly real novel that explores the dynamics of a large, close-knit family. I am amazed by the range of memorable characters whose minds Juska so skillfully and believably inhabits; I became attached to each of them for their idiosyncrasies, their strengths and their vulnerabilities, the ways they understand each other, the ways they may not, and the frustrations and grace-filled moments that happen as a result. This novel burst my heart wide open and left me me admiring the structure of the book and the precision, quiet beauty and fearlessness of each line. Juska is a master at crafting beautiful sentences and scenes, but what raises her writing to the very top tier is the humility and the wisdom she imparts into her work as a whole.  

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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