Thursday, November 6, 2008

"The Cure for Grief"

Nellie Hermann attended Brown University, earning her B.A. in May of 2000. She received her M.F.A. from Columbia University.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Cure for Grief, and reported the following:
The Cure for Grief focuses on Ruby Bronstein, the youngest and only girl in a family with four children; the book begins when she is nine and ends when she is twenty. Over the course of the book, a series of tragedies strike her close-knit family, but the story remains mostly about how Ruby incorporates her trauma and her grief into her life, trying to remain a “normal” adolescent as she tamps down around what makes her different. Her father is a holocaust survivor, and she uses his example as inspiration for her ultimate conclusion, hard won, that she must embrace life—along with her fears—in order to live.

On page 69, Ruby is fourteen and in Prague with her parents; they have come to go back to the concentration camp that her father was imprisoned in. Ruby describes her parents, and her conflicted feelings towards her father, whom she feels cannot understand her because of the difference in their backgrounds. I’m not sure page 69 is representative of the whole of The Cure for Grief because it is not particularly wrenching, as much of the book inarguably is. I do think though that the page is representative of the general style of the novel in that it gives us Ruby’s interior, a view of the Bronstein family through her eyes, and a glimpse of the sensitive young girl who is at the heart of the book.

Ruby had always had difficulty relating to [her father], but in the last few years, as she grew, it had gotten worse. None of her friends had fathers who came to “inspect” their rooms two or three times after they cleaned them, who insisted they be home every Friday night, who made them set the table though their brothers never had to, who would allow them only two hours of TV a week. None of her friends had fathers who never came to their sporting events but who attended all of their violin recitals; who would never let them out of Hebrew school, ever; who wouldn’t let them go to the mall on Saturdays. Her father had no idea what it was like to be her! Many pages of Ruby’s journal were covered with her furious scrawl, the words I HATE YOU ripped into the pages from pressing too hard. She’d always feel guilty afterward and try to cross it out, writing no I don’t in the margins just in case somebody ever read it.

She rarely felt this way about her mother, but Ruby was her mother’s baby; after three boys, she was the gift her mother had always wanted. And just by being an American, and by being a woman, and by having had two parents her whole life, Ruby’s mother was able to understand more about Ruby than her father ever could. Like her father, her mother had come a long way from home: she was Jewish now, whereas she had been raised Catholic; she had money now, whereas she had not when she was younger. As Ruby saw it, both her parents had come from nothing to something—her mother from a four-room apartment with five occupants and her father from a kibbutz with a house full of other young people (not to mention the concentration camp, or the Israeli army barracks)—they had come from other worlds where they had learned the value of the life they lived now in the land of suburbia, and the value of the life they gave to their children.
Read an excerpt from The Cure for Grief, and learn more about the author and her work at Nellie Hermann's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue