THIS WEEK’S OTHER FEATURED NOVEL, “THE HOLDOUTS,” BY SHERRY CLEMENTS, CAN BE FOUND BY SCROLLING DOWN BELOW THIS POST, ALONG WITH THE MONTHLY FIRST TUESDAY REPLAY
THE BOOK: Resting Places
PUBLISHED: March 1, 2016
THE AUTHOR: Michael C. White
THE EDITOR: Jennifer Geist
THE PUBLISHER: Open Book Press
SUMMARY: After receiving the devastating news of her son’s death, Elizabeth ekes out a lonely and strained relationship with her husband, Zack. While he takes comfort in support groups, Elizabeth becomes withdrawn and seeks solace from the only thing that helps her forget: alcohol. A chance meeting with a man on the side of the road spurs her to travel cross-country to the site of her son’s death in the hope of understanding what had happened. During the trip, she undergoes a transformation, one which allows her to confront the demons of her past but also to acknowledge the possibilities of her future. Through the wisdom and kindness of a man she meets along the way, she finds a means not only of dealing with her pain and her guilt, but of opening herself to the redemptive power of love, and of faith in something. Resting Places is an inspiring, upbeat story, a tale of real faith in what we cannot see except with our hearts, a novel that follows a character from despair to hope, from despondency to renewal.
WHY THIS TITLE?: Elizabeth, grieving the death of her son, meets a mysterious man along the side of the road who is placing flowers near a “roadside memorial.” She stops and he tells her about “descansos,” Spanish for “resting places”—those roadside memorials that were called resting places for people carrying their loved ones to their final resting place. With this she goes on a spiritual and physical journey cross country, to the site of her son’s death, in part to answer questions about his death.
WHY SOMEONE WOULD WANT TO READ IT? While the story is about the terrible loss of a child, it is also about how one survives such a loss and comes to deepen their love and understanding for the child she lost. It is a mystery as well as a spiritual journey.
“This is a beautifully crafted novel of unbearable loss and earned forgiveness. Elizabeth, a middle-aged lawyer, crosses the country in search of her son’s final resting place. Along the way, she uncovers the best and the worst of herself. Michael C. White has wrought a remarkably moving tale of love and redemption.” —Anita Shreve, author of The Pilot’s Wife and Rescue
“Resting Places takes readers into that most feared of landscapes: the difficult terrain where a parent must grieve the loss of a child. But Michael C. White is a masterful storyteller and a deft tour guide who interfaces this meditation on sorrow and death with a classic but contemporary quest story. Traveling alongside the author’s complex, sympathetic, but not always likable protagonist as she searched for the meaning of her son’s life and death, I read compulsively and voraciously. Elizabeth Gerlacher is a character I will long remember and Resting Places is a story I will not soon forget.” —Wally Lamb, author of She’s Come Undone
“This is a lovely, searing book. A son dies in a baffling car smashup, and circumstances hint at the even-worse agony of a suicide. With consummate skill and tenderness, Michael C. White follows his parents onto the broken ground of the unbearable hereafter.” —Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean
The summer Luke was five, they had gone on vacation to the British Isles. After spending a week touring London, they’d taken the train to Fishguard, Wales, for a night-time ferry crossing to Rosslare, Ireland. During the train ride the three of them had played games, like rock, paper, scissors and the find-it game, where the first person to spot something passing by in the countryside—a cow, a steeple, one of those red phone booths—won. They were going to spend another week traveling around Ireland, stopping along the way in Tralee, where Elizabeth’s father had been born. Her father had passed away a few years before, and his death had left Elizabeth with a jagged hole in her heart.
Suddenly she felt herself drawn to her roots, and she wanted Luke to remember his grandfather.
“That’s Poppy,” she explained to her son, showing him the black and white photo in her purse.
It was of a tall, good-looking, raven-haired young man in a seersucker suit standing in front of Sean Ogs Pub in Tralee. Elizabeth had always been told she was the spitting image of her father, tall, with that dark hair and broad mouth.
“He’s dead,” her son said.
“Yes, sweetie, Poppy’s dead. But we’re going to see where he was born.”
“Was he little like me?”
“At one time, yes.”
Weary as they got off the train well past midnight, they lugged their suitcases through a cool, oddly bluish drizzle toward a small café and gift shop along the wharf to await the boarding.
Inside, they dropped their bags, and Zack leaned in and kissed her. “This is going to be fun.”
Glancing over Zack’s shoulder, she asked, “Where’s Luke?”
“He was just right here.”
They hurried back to the train and began searching up and down the aisle of the car they’d been in. Trying to reassure her, Zack touched her shoulder and with that engineer’s pragmatic approach to any problem, he calmly said, “Don’t worry. We’ll find him.” Of course, they would, she told herself. Wasn’t this just like Luke to wander off when she turned her head for a moment–in the mall, a crowded airport, at the beach. Sometimes she thought Luke did it on purpose, an only child vying for the attention of his busy, professional mother.
“Luke,” Elizabeth called in a fluttery voice, at first mimicking those restrained British tones. But then, as the seconds ticked by, louder, more urgently, she cried out, “Luke, honey! Luke!” When he didn’t turn up on the train, they hurried outside, searching among the growing crowd of people assembling for the ferry crossing. As the uneasy seconds spiraled quickly into terrifying minutes, Elizabeth kept telling herself that Luke would show up any second, as he always did; she told herself that everything would return to normal and they’d board the ferry and continue on with their vacation. Wait till I get ahold of that little stinker, she even said to herself, trying to make light of the whole thing. But then she happened to catch the expression on the face of her normally unflappable husband. It was a stiff mask of barely withheld dread. That startled her. If Zack was scared, then it must really be serious.
At that point there was an announcement over the loudspeaker telling people they could begin boarding the ferry. This was followed by a sudden surge of damp bodies en masse toward the ramp.
Elizabeth and Zack felt themselves being lifted up as if on a wave and carried along toward the ship. In such chaos, she thought, how could they ever hope to find Luke? Her mind quickly bounded over all the other possibilities and went straight for the worst, the blackest prospect. What if at that moment their son was being abducted and whisked away. Or what if he had fallen into the murky sea, his little body floating face down in the harbor. This line of thinking carried its own inexorable and brutal logic. A lawyer used to arranging facts in a line of causation, she began working out the implications of Luke’s disappearance. Having to describe her son to the local authorities: age, height, weight, the color of his eyes (a greyish blue, sort of), what he was wearing (she couldn’t remember), the tiny scar beneath his chin he’d gotten from a fall when he was two (her fault, as well). Cancelling the rest of their vacation. After a certain interim, having to imagine the unimaginable plane ride home, just her and Zack, the empty seat between them mocking their loss. Followed eventually by wondering what she’d do with Luke’s things back in Connecticut, his clothes, his toys, his entire bedroom. And finally picturing the interminable days that would stretch out in front of her and Zack to the end of time, and all without their little Lukey. One moment they were a happy little family and the next everything had been ruined. Like that!
But suddenly her mood changed from fear to anger. She’d be damned if she was going to let this happen. No, she was Luke’s mother and she’d move heaven and earth to find him. She would do anything.
“Luke!” she cried out with renewed vigor, abandoning finally the last vestiges of restraint or dignity, no longer caring in the least how absurd she must have appeared to those around her—this loud-mouth, hysterical American parent. She left Zack and ran through the crowd, jostling people, shoving her way past them, all the while crying out her son’s name. Nearly knocking down one man with a cane (“What in the bloody hell, lady!”), she frantically made her way through the crowded wharf. Finally she stopped, spun around, her eyes darting this way and that, the pulse pounding in her neck. Then, beginning as a frail, almost inaudible whisper, a voice rose in her head, a voice that was both hers and that of a complete stranger. It was something she hadn’t done, not in years anyway, something that wasn’t part of her normally pragmatic, rational makeup. Elizabeth was thirty-six years old, someone who hadn’t been to church since she’d gone off to college, who hadn’t spoken a word to God once in all that time. Yet she now found herself offering up a plea somewhere within the darkened corridors of her mind: Please God, don’t let anything happen to my baby.
Finally, Zack was at her side, his arm around her shoulder.
“It’ll be okay,” he said, squeezing her.
Later, she wouldn’t be able to explain why or how, what made her think of it, but she took Zack’s hand and rushed with him toward the café. Inside, standing in front of a display of touristy trinkets was Luke. He was completely mesmerized by some toy he was playing with, twirling the thing back and forth in front of his face. Seeing him, alive and whole and unhurt, Elizabeth felt herself finally exhale the breath she hadn’t known she was holding, the sour feeling of dread passing from her lungs. The entire ordeal lasted perhaps only ten minutes, but it was the most frightening, most defining ten minutes of Elizabeth’s life.
When he saw his parents, Luke came rushing up. “Can I get this, Mom?” He was holding out a small toy in his hand.
Squatting, Elizabeth grabbed her son roughly by his narrow shoulders and had to fight the urge to shake him silly.
“Don’t ever do that again,” she yelled, tears springing to her face. “You scared mommy.”
As tears welled up in Luke’s eyes as well, she came to her senses, and hugged him, desperately, fiercely, squeezing him so hard he cried out, “Mom, geez! You’re hurting!” After a while, she saw what it was that Luke held: in his palm sat a tiny toy airplane, a diecast model of a British Spitfire, so small it could fit in the palm of his hand. Taking after his father the engineer, Luke had developed a obsession for model airplanes. He loved collecting them, displaying them on his shelf, hanging them by string from the ceiling. Of course, she bought the thing for him—she’d have bought him a thousand toys, anything to show her gratitude. Zack bent down and wrapped his arms around his wife and son.
“Didn’t I tell you it would be all right?”
Feeling suddenly grateful, as if they’d been granted a second chance at happiness, Elizabeth grasped Zack’s face and kissed him. “I love you,” she said.
“I love you, too. But we’d better get a move on or we’ll miss the boat.”
They hurried out and boarded the ferry and carried on with their vacation. Elizabeth tried hard to push the near-tragedy of that moment from her thoughts. As they toured Ireland, with Zack stressing out every time they came to a roundabout and Luke in the back making zzzzzzouuu flying noises with his toy airplane, she tried to enjoy herself, tried to forget what “might” have been. But she couldn’t, not completely, not in Ireland nor later on the plane ride home, nor in fact, in all their subsequent years together; in fact, she couldn’t hear the word “Wales” or see that airplane on Luke’s shelf back home without it conjuring up that dark memory, that moment of unholy terror of a mother facing the loss of her child. Nor could she avoid the nagging vulnerability that would plague the rest of her days, knowing as she did that in the blink of an eye everything could change. Like that.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Michael C. White is the author of six previous novels: Beautiful Assassin (Harper Collins, 2010), which won the 2011 Connecticut Book Award for Fiction; Soul Catcher, which was a Booksense and Historical Novels Review selection, as well as a finalist for the Connecticut Book Award; A Brother’s Blood, a New York Times Book Review Notable Book and a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers nominee; The Blind Side of the Heart, an Alternate Book-of-the-Month Club selection; A Dream of Wolves, which received starred reviews from Booklist and Publisher’s Weekly; and The Garden of Martyrs, also a Connecticut Book Award finalist.
A collection of his short stories, Marked Men, was published by the University of Missouri Press. He has also published over 50 short stories in national magazines and journals, and has won the Advocate Newspapers Fiction Award and been nominated for both a National Magazine Award and a Pushcart. He was the founding editor of the yearly fiction anthology American Fiction as well as Dogwood. He is the founder and former director of Fairfield University’s low-residency MFA Creative Writing Program.
AUTHOR COMMENTS: Resting Places is the story of one woman’s journey of self-discovery and spiritual awakening after suffering a terrible loss. After a chance meeting on the side of the road with a man with whom she confides her loss, Elizabeth decides to leave in the middle of the night on a cross-country trip in hopes of making sense of the senseless death of her son. During the trip, she undergoes a transformation, one which allows her to confront the demons of her past but also to acknowledge the possibilities of her future. Through the wisdom and kindness of a man she meets along the way, she finds a means not only of dealing with her pain and her guilt, but of opening herself to the redemptive power of love, and of faith in something. Resting Places is an inspiring, upbeat story, a tale of real faith in what we cannot see except with our hearts, a novel that follows a character from despair to hope, from despondency to renewal. Elizabeth is a strong female character with whom women readers, I believe, will make an immediate bond.
This novel, my seventh, marks a decided change from my earlier novels, the New York Times Notable Book, A Brother’s Blood, and the best-selling historical novel Soul Catcher. Yet as with those novels Resting Places has a dynamic central character who undergoes a dramatic transformation.
SAMPLE CHAPTER: (Provide link). Attached.
LOCAL OUTLETS: Publication Date: March 1, 2016
Format: Trade Paperback, 6” x 9”
Retail Price: $16.95
Length: 276 Pages
eBook ISBN: 978-1-941799-19-2
eBook Price: $3.99
Library of Congress Control Number: 2015955821
Classifications: Fiction, Upmarket Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Religious Fiction, Christian Fiction, Mystery
Available: Direct or through Ingram or Baker & Taylor
WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: See above
PRICE: see above
CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Michael C. White, 235 Summer Hill Road, Madison, CT 06443, 203-521-5748, firstname.lastname@example.org