Thursday, November 07, 2013

Good Hearts

Good Hearts is a 1988 novel by Southern writer Reynolds Price. I bought this when I found it used purely on the strength of the author's name. I read Kate Vaiden years ago, and it made quite an impression. This book is a good read, but I'm not convinced these characters are real people.

I did find that the following passage hit me like a slap in the face:
Mama's never been really fat, whatever she's said, but she's surely always been well-upholstered. Those layers are quietly peeling off her now. I've asked her about it. She says, "Rosa, your mother is an old woman. If people don't die in their seventies from bad hearts or kidneys, then you'll begin to notice how they just start to vanish into thin air. It can take another twenty years, but they're on their way. After a while you can all but read the newspaper through their hand. I think it's kind of pretty. Just get used to it anyhow and don't worry me about eating."
and then, much later in the book:
Emma had seen them and was out on the front porch waiting by the steps. When Rosa caught sight, she took a sharp breath. She hadn't seen her mother in exactly four Sundays, and in that time it seemed Emma had shrunk several sizes inward. And near the five steps, there seemed a good chance that that the slightest breeze would tip her balance and fling her down broken.

Again Rosa suddenly felt she should come here and spend the rest of her mother's few years giving constant care and learning everything her mother had kept in. There was no real way to manage it though and stay close to Wesley; she forced back tears.
I took this aspect of the plot (which is strictly a minor plot element) much too personally. I'm very much feeling the guilt/confusion/fear that this situation brings. And that's not even what this book is about! This situation is tangential to the main plot. And of course I would be reading this now.... But enough of that. I've definitely gotten off-track here...

from the dust jacket:
The time is now; the man and woman are Rosa and Wesley. Good and powerfully magnetic people, they have lived in marriage for twenty-eight years. They have good jobs, their skills are valued, and they have a good home. They mostly cherish and honor one another. Yet with no clear warning, their marriage breaks one evening in December. Soon they are more than light years apart. Wesley is in Nashville with another woman and all the ghosts he has tried to leave. Rosa is alone at home in Raleigh; in the absence of the man who vowed to protect her, she suffers a dark and mysterious assault. Too brave to settle for easy answers, they spend a long winter facing the trials of freedom and duty, madness and pain. Then, as spring comes, they try -with the help of family, friends, and strangers- to turn again to face one another.
The New York Times review closes with this:
Unobtrusively, without histrionics either on their part or the author's, Mr. Price's characters move through the action of the novel to a larger understanding of themselves and others. As we and they discover, they are people equipped with the power to be good human beings, with the power to love. In revealing this, the tone and rhythms of Reynolds Price's language are masterful. ''Good Hearts'' is superb storytelling by an enduring craftsman. It is a study of life and the placement of individuals within life. In every sense of the word, it abounds with goodness.


  1. Thanks for the review, this is a new to me author and as you know I'm always looking for a good book.


    1. i liked his novel kate vaiden better, but price is well worth seeking out.

  2. I think those passages in the book about aging are very insightful. I have noticed over the years, as we have A Very Old Person in our family, who is basically healthy, but is becoming more and more frail, how some of us have a very hard time accepting that proper nutrition and exercise will not restore her to her "old self" (which was exactly what the author describes as "well-upholstered"). Even she herself was rather shocked when a doctor asked about a year ago how she felt about life-sustaining measures in case her heart would stop or something like that. It´s not a given that they will do that, after a certain age. They don´t try to restart the failing heart of a nonagenarian, apparently, the way they would work on a fifty-something´s. Makes sense, but hard to accept, emotionally.

    1. mother made the decision about life-sustaining measures about 10 years ago. i wish i had ignored her wishes, to be honest, and had them give her a feeding tube the second time a doctor asked about it. she couldn't get past those broken ribs she suffered this summer. she has had such a hard time, but this summer was a disaster! :'(