The Blessings

The Blessings

by Elise Juska


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The Blessings by Elise Juska

"Bursting with wise observations."
-J. Courtney Sullivan, author of The Engagements and Maine

"Gleams like a jewel."
-The Philadelphia Inquirer

"Stunning. . . Unique and unforgettable."

Hailed by Stewart O'Nan as "deft and tender" and as one of the best books of 2014 by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Elise Juska's THE BLESSINGS is an extraordinary novel about an ordinary family. The Blessings rally around one another in times of celebration and those of sorrow, coming together for departures and arrivals, while its members harbor private struggles and moments of personal joy. College student Abby ponders homesickness in her first semester away from her Philadelphia home, while her cousin Stephen commits a petty act of violence that takes a surprising turn, and their aunt Lauren faces a crisis in her storybook marriage she could never have foreseen. Through the lens of one unforgettable family, this beautifully moving novel explores how our families define us and how we shape them in return.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780594778462
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 05/26/2015
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 207,356
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.75(d)

About 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.


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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The Blessings 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
Writefast More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Masterful storytelling. I practically read it in one sitting- it flows so well and feels so true to life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
IrishLadyPK More than 1 year ago
This was a great read, very heartfelt and genuine. Related to everyone in one way or the other that has had family connection issues. Highly recommend!
Matilda1 More than 1 year ago
"The Blessings" 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.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I kept waiting for something to happen to make me like this book. I wanted to like it. I think that the lack of one overall "voice" was a detriment. Having different chapters narrated by different family members was interesting but there was never a unity in the overall story.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the book very much but the end felt very flat and contrived...which ruined it, in my opinion.
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