176 pages; Ecco
Comparing heartbreaks is a zero-sum game. Between the loss of a child and the childhood loss of a parent, there is no determining which hurts more. But as veteran journalist and essayist Roger Rosenblatt reveals in Making Toast, a deeply affecting and unsparing memoir of moving in with his three grandchildren after his daughter's sudden death, sharing grief can double the chance of survival.
Soon after 38-year-old Amy Solomon dies of a heart attack in her home gym, Rosenblatt and his wife, Ginny, leave Long Island and take up residence in Amy's house in Bethesda, Maryland, with Jessica, 6; Sammy, 4; Bubbies, as 1-year-old James is called; and Harris, the son-in-law whom they always liked but never expected to have as a housemate. A situation fraught with possible disaster becomes an occasion for mutual healing. It turns out that getting his family through this enormous sadness is the only way Rosenblatt can get through it himself.
Making Toast pays tribute to the quotidian pleasures of living with children, to the agony of watching them suffer, and to the serious business of growing up. Rosenblatt tells his story anecdotally, and the moments he chooses go for the gut: a small boy lying on the floor playing dead, the way his mom seemed to be when he found her. A little girl at a family gathering raging against the unfairness of her cousins having mothers while she is motherless. A posthumous birthday party where a child, when asked what Mommy would have wished for, answers, "To be alive." A grandfather taking out his fury on a punching bag bought for his grandchildren. Sad but somehow triumphant, this memoir is a celebration of family, and of how, even in the deepest sorrow, we can discover new links of love and the will to go on. — Ellen Feldman