Author: Elise Juska
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication Date: May 6, 2014
Synopsis from Goodreads:
When John Blessing dies and leaves behind two small children, the loss reverberates across his extended family for years to come. His young widow, Lauren, finds solace in her large clan of in-laws, while his brother’s wife Kate pursues motherhood even at the expense of her marriage. John’s teenage nephew Stephen finds himself involved in an act of petty theft that takes a surprising turn, and nephew Alex, a gifted student, travels to Spain and considers the world beyond his family’s Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood. Through departures and arrivals, weddings and reunions, THE BLESSINGS reveals the interior worlds of the members of a close-knit Irish-Catholic family and the rituals that unite them.
I’ve been putting this book off for a while, unsure of whether or not it was my kind of book. The Blessings turned out to be a wonderful collection of snapshots into the triumphs and tragedies of a large and closely knit Irish-Catholic family. It is a complex story, each chapter peeling back another layer of this family’s struggle. Theirs is a story of loss, but also a story of togetherness and closeness. Through death, illness, divorce, and devastation, the Blessings remain devoted to one another through their bond as a family. Although they may hurt one another or others, in the end they still have one another and they share in that support and that strength.
Juska has built a living family, each character distinctive and unique in their thoughts, their fears, their turmoil. Characters face internal conflict about their contentment with themselves and with those who surround them. Their lives are not perfect and that’s what makes their story so incredibly compelling. From beneath devastation, strength emerges. Characters learn who they are and they learn to build themselves anew when life doesn’t go as planned.
I really came to love the character of Lauren, who is left a widower with two infant children when her husband John is killed by cancer. Lauren, who never did anything independently–she had never even pumped gas into the car–finds her self. She is a strong woman and she becomes and essential rock in the Blessing family. She becomes a constant for her mother-in-law, and she is admired by her relatives who, before John’s death, did not truly understand her or her capacity. For as much as she experiences throughout this story, I really came to admire and relate to her.
I’m already itching to read The Blessings again. It is a sad read. There’s no doubt about that. It is a book of tragedies, but beneath that is an underlying devotion and love that only exists in the bonds of family.