Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Song I Knew by Heart

A Song I Knew by Heart by Bret Lott
Random House, Copyright 2004
Trade Paperback, 336 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345437754

During a cold Massachusetts winter, a tragic car accident leaves a mother childless and her daughter-in-law a widow. Naomi and Ruth are now each other’s only comfort. Naomi lost her own husband eight years ago, and now she has lost her son. Carrying a deep secret in her soul, Naomi decides to return to her childhood home in coastal South Carolina. When she tells Ruth her plan, she receives an unexpected reply: “Where you go, I will go.” So the two women plan the journey together, arriving at a place that is flooded with a love they are nearly too fragile to accept. Surrounded by the warmth of their newfound family, Naomi and Ruth begin to find themselves reawakened–and open to the possibility of redemption.

My Thoughts:
“And Ruth said,‘ Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.’” Ruth 1:16
A Song I Knew by Heart by Bret Lott is a novel based on the Biblical story of Naomi and Ruth. Since her husband Eli passed away, Naomi has been living with her son Mahlon and daughter-in-law Ruth. When Mahlon is killed in a car accident, Naomi and Ruth face his tragic death together. Naomi, looking for some peace and redemption, decides to move back home, to South Carolina. Ruth is determined to join her, saying "Where you go, I will go. Where you live, that's where I'll live too (pg 97)."
Since the novel is based on the Biblical book of Ruth, the bones of the story are well known.
It's an interesting idea for a novel and basically a well written story, but it does have a few problems. It ends up feeling overly sentimental and is too slow paced. This is probably because it is not plot driven. Lott depends upon his observations and reflections to give the story interest. He tries to flesh out Naomi's character by giving her an added 50 year old secret sin. Ruth, however, is left a one dimensional character - beautiful and devoted.
Ruth's story in the Bible is very compelling so I can see why Lott thought about an adaptation. In comparison I'd give the Biblical Book of Ruth a "very highly recommended" and Lott's A Song I Knew by Heart a recommended rating.


I stood outside my son Mahlon and his wife Ruth’s bedroom door, in my hands two coffee cups, the pain sharp shards in my old fingers looped through the handles. I had on my pale blue bathrobe and slippers, my hair still in a net. I’d had it done just yesterday morning, before the funeral, and though I wore a net every night, funeral or no, there came to me last night as I slipped it on and settled into bed that somehow this was wrong. That worrying over my hair enough to put it in a net might somehow be a sin, this vanity.
But I put the net on, like every night, because it was what I’d done every night. It was my life, the way I lived it. Who I was.
A widow who lived with her son and daughter-in-law. opening

I knew what she was just then being given, knew the pain of that move, of a hand to the flat quilt, to the pillow gone untouched, to cold sheets. It was a move wouldn’t go away, this touching to see if any of what’d happened weren’t a dream.
It was what I’d done every night these last eight years: come awake sometime from inside the forgiveness of sleep, and reach for my Eli.
Ruth’s hand stopped when she found the empty pillow beside her, on her face the puzzlement that showed she knew it wasn’t a dream.
“Bless your heart,” I said, and moved toward the bed. Ruth blinked again, her eyes now on me and still with the startled look. Like I was no one she’d ever known.
Then her mouth finally closed, her chin set to trembling, and I knew her now better than I ever would’ve hoped.
It was grief she’d been given, the black and empty gift God gives you like it was something you were owed. It was grief she’d been given, and grief we shared. pg. 5-6

"It's God gotten me through this long. His tender mercies that's gotten me through these eight years. He'll be there for you, too." I put a hand to her face, felt how soft her cheek was, how young and sweet and beautiful just that touch was. "Hollow words, I know," I whispered. "But two weeks won't begin to touch it. Two weeks will seem like a year and seem like a day. You got to trust God to see you home." pg. 53

When we are young, it means, I have made a mistake. When we are old, it means, I have separated myself from love. pg. 77

She whispered, "Where you go, I will go. Where you live, that's where I'll live too." She paused a moment, took in a slow breath, let it out just as slow. Still my hand was at her cheek, her hand holding on to mine. "This is a pact between us. Here. Now." pg. 97

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