On stoppering the storm while reading One More Day (Kelly Simmons)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

For months it has been raining in my kitchen. Whenever the clouds break, the water comes—through the roof, through the new ceiling, down the columns of new paint. The roofers say they're coming. I wait. I wait. And while I wait, storm by storm, I stand on a stool holding towels to the ceiling. 4 AM. 5 AM. Almost dawn.

Last night, while I was still in bed, I dreamed that the Beatles came to help hold back the storm. John and Ringo. (Paul was off getting married again and George was—absent.) Wearing white shirts, they sang their songs while they pressed old towels to the ceiling. When I woke at 3:30 they were no longer singing. It was up to me to stopper the storm.

Lucky for me, then, that I had ONE MORE DAY, the third novel by my friend Kelly Simmons, to keep me company. One toweled hand pressed to the ceiling, one hand cradling the book, my bare feet balanced on the old black stool, I read the last 100 pages of this novel from 4 AM to just right now, thinking, as I read, about all the conversations Kelly and I have had (during walks, over non-tea, in her house, in her yard, turning our turn-it-around bracelets on our arms) while this novel was in its stir. News of the first galvanizing surge of idea that sent Kelly to the page. News of the first electrifying email from Kelly's agent. News of the novel's sale to Sourcebooks. News of the story unfolding and again unfolding as Kelly worked through edits and revisions. News of our shared excerpt moment in Main Line Today. Kelly was writing something new to her, taking risks, exploring the idea of the supernatural set against the backdrop of a mother's loss. She was onto something.

When, a few days ago, ONE MORE DAY arrived, courtesy of Lathea Williams, I began reading at once. I am a fan of Kelly's work—her lovely sentences, her twists of humor, her insights into shame and longing. (Read my reviews of STANDING STILL and THE BIRD HOUSE.) ONE MORE DAY, with its limning of relationships and its multiplying secrets, is vintage Kelly with more than a soupcon of the otherworldly strange. A mother's kidnapped child returns for a single day. Ghosts appear—a grandmother, an old boyfriend, a childhood pet. The losses are real, the hurt is real, the secrets are real—but what is poor Carrie, the bereft mother, to think about these visitations? And what is her husband to think? Her mother? The police? The intruding newswoman? The neighbors? Libby, her friend from church? What are any of them supposed to believe, and what are we, the readers, to make of it all?

Whose side are we on?

Where do we come down on faith in things that rise up and then vanish?

I needed to know. I was so eager to find out that I didn't even notice that my suspended, book-cradling arm was shaking until I closed the book. Kelly, my copy is mottled with the unstoppered parts of today's storm. I hope you won't mind. I hope you won't mind, either, if I quote back to you my favorite passage in this book. You're so good at seeing this place we both call home. And you're so good at feeling that apartness that I, too, so often feel. And you're so good at writing sentences that sound just like this:
It was the type of neighborhood that was all proximity; you could turn left or right at any point off the boulevard and find a house that would inspire longing, part of your neighborhood technically, but not part of your world, with a quiet, lumbering grace that marked nobility, remove, other. Carrie was separate from all those people, she knew, and always had been. Not more deserving or less, just different from everyone else.
Congratulations, KellyKellyKelly.

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