Most of the time, I try to be happy. I think everybody does. Either we find that’s a good way to deal with the world or we think that’s what the world wants from us. But sometimes, happiness isn’t an appropriate choice for what’s going on in our lives. Now a motivational speaker might say the thing to do when you’re sad is paste a smile on your face anyway. Fake being happy until you cheer up again. While there’s something in the “fake it till you make it” idea, I don’t believe in divorcing yourself from your real feelings. Sometimes, the only way to deal with grief is to feel the grief. When that happens, I reach for Low Country by Anne Rivers Siddons. It’s a guidebook for the broken heart.
At first glance Caro Venable wouldn’t seem like the right kind of guide to learn about grief. For one thing, she’s got a life most of us would kill for. She’s got some talent, a loving spouse, a son that’s doing well and two houses, one on her very own island. Sounds perfect right? But Caro’s still tortured by the memory of her daughter’s death five years ago and there’s another problem: Caro drinks. Not snot-slinging, commode-hugging, drunk but too much and too often. Booze also keeps Caro from seeing her comfortable life have cut her off from a much that she loves; that art and the nature have been replaced by her husband’s business and ambition.
Into this half-life of booze and melancholy come a pair of catalysts to shatter the inertia. First a Cuban landscape artist with insight into drunks and the tongue of an adder. Then the news that her husband’s real-estate development company is at risk and Caro has the ability to save it…if she is willing to let him destroy the Gullah settlement and nature preserve already on the island. Caro has to choose between the life she left but holds dear and the man she’s loved since she was a kid. It’s only in the face of this “lose-lose” situation that Caro finally reaches back out to life.
So what’s great about this book? Maybe, not a lot beyond the descriptions of the Ace Basin and a kind of life peculiar to the Coastal South. But what the book has is an honesty about loss and how sometimes it can’t be avoided. If we live long enough, we all endure loss and the longer we live, the more grief we endure. What we do with that grief and how we honor the lost dictates how we’ll cope with whatever comes after. Caro shows how to comes to terms with despair and still fight for a better tomorrow. That’s something worth knowing when you’re broken-hearted and you need to start living again.