Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

If you know anyone who is going through the grieving process, and more importantly, is open to some kind advice, buy them this book. It is a sweet meditation on grief and lives well lived. Sometimes fiction can be the better antidote than a well-meaning self help book, and I believe it's often easier to recognize ourselves and our foibles through a fictional character as opposed to say, a Joan Didion or a Diane Rehm.

Product Details

When Phaedra Patrick's ( novel opens, sixty-nine-year-old Arthur Pepper is hiding in his own house, breathing shallow, praying that the old neighborhood busybody will just GO AWAY. Bernadette is known in the village of Thornapple as the patron saint of lost causes. Arthur does not intend to be one of them.

Since his wife Miriam's death, a full year ago now, Arthur has become a recluse. They had forty beautiful years together, a peaceful life of love and contentment  ended by pneumonia. Now Arthur wants nothing more than to be left alone to live with his memories, his only companion, his fern, Frederica. Son Dan has his own life in distant Australia and his daughter Lucy? She didn't even come to her mother's funeral and Arthur doesn't have the heart or curiosity to ask why.

After Bernadette abandons all hope of raising Arthur, she shoves a few "self-help" brochures through the mail slot and trundles away. Arthur decides that he can put if off no longer. Today is the day he will bag up and dispose of Miriam's things. Reminiscing and tearing up, he sorts through clothes, shoes, handbags, and papers, remarking again on what a simple woman Miriam was, so easy to live with, asking so little of him.

Pulling out a pair of mukluks still good enough for the church sale, Arthur feels 
something bunched up in the toe. He is startled to discover a red, heart-shaped box holding a gaudy, gold charm bracelet, so unlike anything Miriam would wear that he laughs out loud. And then, as people with too much time on their hands are wont to do, he begins to wonder. Why had he never seen it before? Whose could it be? Why was it hidden away? And the exotic charms? An elephant? A tiger? What could they mean?

This discovery galvanizes Arthur in a way that nothing has done in the past year. He becomes obsessed with knowing all he can about Miriam's life before they met and the charms act like Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs. The story takes on a fantastical air as Arthur, in hot pursuit of Miriam's youth, comes back to life himself. He makes phone calls, follows up leads, begins to travel, to talk to people he never would have engaged with before. The origin of the elephant charm nets him an invite to India, and the tiger, well, let me say that Arthur's quest becomes a piece of slapstick comedy writing. And don't ask how he ends up posing in the nude for an art class!

Ms. Patrick's book is no literary masterpiece and it doesn't pretend to be. But it does represent the kind of homespun wisdom that you would find in an Alexander McCall Smith book or in "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry." It's such a pleasure to watch Arthur rediscover the joy of living, reconnect with humanity, and accept that we must not waste a single moment of the life we've been blessed with by mourning the past. In fact the author tells us, we actually have an obligation to the people we have loved, those who have died before us, too young, too soon, to fully embrace each day that we are given. I've always believed this.  "The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper," reaffirmed it for me in the guise of fiction, the only form I understand.


Andrea said...

What a beautiful review whose sentiments about fiction so perfectly reflect my own.

Sallyb said...

Oh Andrea, You will love this book. It's the equivalent of Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. A pure delight!