June 1, 2006


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Any Bitter Thing, by Monica Wood (2005, Random House, 351 pages)

In Any Bitter Thing, Monica Wood weaves a tale about love and commitment, family and sacrifice, shattered lives and new beginnings. It is one of those books where things are not always what they seem, the truth not necessarily the way some remember it, people’s motives not what we thought they were.

The narrative begins in the present day with 30-year-old Lizzy Mitchell remembering the night she was the victim of a hit-and-run accident. Lizzy lands directly on the yellow line as the car speeds off. Another car soon arrives, and a man carries her out of the road, places her on the shoulder, and then this “bad samaritan” also takes off. While semi-conscious in the hospital, she sees her uncle, despite the fact that he’s been gone for 21 years and died long ago. She feels as though she has come back from the dead, and that she has brought her beloved uncle with her.

The chapters flow in and out of Lizzy’s recovery, her childhood in Maine, and her adult life. After her parents died in a plane crash when she was only two, Lizzy was sent to live with her Uncle Mike, a Catholic priest. Wood deliberately paints the picture of a Father (priest) becoming a father (parent) and the paradoxical nature of this dual role. Father Mike finds himself in a unique position trying to raise his niece, and relies heavily on Vivienne Blanchard, who lives next door to the rectory. Mike ministers to Vivienne as her priest and advisor, but they also share the intimacy of friendship.

Like any other child, Lizzy occasionally got nightmares and sought comfort in her “father’s” bed. Shortly after the stern housekeeper discovered her there one morning, Father Mike was sent away, never to be heard from again. Lizzy was sent to her only other relative, an aunt already overwhelmed with raising her brood of boys and who resented having to take in “damaged goods.” To put an end to her endless questions about why Uncle Mike had to go away, her aunt finally told her that he was dead. It is only after her accident that Lizzy realizes what really happened, the alleged molestation that never took place, and wonders why her uncle didn’t stay and fight the charges. When she goes looking for answers, she is forced to let go of certain “truths” she had been told. Along the way, she is reborn, able to recommit to her husband and career, to begin the healing process, both physically and emotionally.

Wood’s language is like the rural Maine landscape of the book – simple, yet beautiful, sprinkled with French Canadian influences. Her writing flows effortlessly between past and present, and is easy to follow. Despite the subject matter, the story is not at all about religion. It contains sensuality and violence without being graphic, and explores themes of sacrifice and penance without becoming preachy. A tender and thought-provoking read. A

— Irene Labombarde

Meet the author
Monica Wood will be at Toadstool Bookshop, Lorden Plaza, Route 101A, Milford, at 7 p.m. Friday, June 2. Call the Bookshop at 673-1734 for details.

Danielle Beaudette of The Cozy Tea Cart will offer iced tea and a presentation at 6:30.

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