Anybody Out There

This was the funniest book about death I’ve ever read. The Lovely Bones? Not at all humorous. The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing? Didn’t crack one smile. Anybody Out There? Laugh-a-minute.

So Marian Keyes‘ whole shtick is this Irish family, the Walshes, with five daughters, a hilarious Mammy and a clueless Father. I have read two other Keyes books about the Walshes and one not (although I think it mentioned them somehow); I haven’t read them in order so I’m not sure when this one takes place in relation to the others, but no matter. Each book has had me cracking up and doing my best not to because laughing to oneself on the subway is not really acceptable behavior. As I have said before, I read all Sophie Kinsella/Madeleine Wickham books in a British accent in my head, and now I do the same with these books but in an Irish accent. I’m pretty sure Irish accents are even funnier — I just love how they say “Oy!” instead of “Hey!”, “fecking” instead of “f*cking” and all types of other wacky things. Even when talking about a dead husband.

So this book starts off with Anna, second-to-youngest of the five girls, home in Ireland and mysteriously banged up and broken after living in Manhattan for several years. We have no idea why she is in this condition until about halfway into the book, at which point we learn she was in a horrendous accident with her husband. She decides to go back to her glamorous New York life but has no idea where Aidan (the husband) is, and the whole time I’m thinking “Yea where the H is he?! Why isn’t he in contact with his very beat-up wife?!” until she tells one of her sisters about a dream she had in which Aidan was dead and her sister goes, “That’s because he is”. I really wasn’t expecting that!

The explanation of the accident — which I won’t describe because it involves a taxi and scares the poop out of me — was gut-wrenching, but everything before and after it was hilarious. The other Walshes’ treatment of Anna’s wounds and broken limbs, her one sister’s new career as a private investigator, the characters at Anna’s office (a so-totally-not-believable beauty PR firm), the other mourners at Anna’s new seance club. But somehow mixed in with all this laughter was, surprisingly, extreme sadness. I was able to relate to almost every single second of Anna’s grief, in that she felt she couldn’t be happy or laugh or have a good time ever again, and how all she wanted to do was curl up in a ball in her apartment and avoid everyone but no one would just let her be and they all expected her to be normal and “get over it” even though they wouldn’t say it, and then suddenly enough time had passed where she realized she was sort of almost pretty much…okay.

“A couple of days later I woke up and felt…different. I didn’t know what it was. I lay under my duvet and wondered. The light outside had altered: pale lemon, springlike, after the gray drear of winter. Was that it? I wasn’t sure. Then I noticed that I wasn’t in pain; for the first morning in over a year I hadn’t been woken by aches in my bones. But it wasn’t that either and suddenly I knew what the difference was: today was the day that I’d completed the long journey from my head to my heart — finally I understood that Aidan wouldn’t be coming back.

I’d heard the old wives’ tale that we need a year and a day to know, really know, at our core, that someone has died. We need to live through an entire year without the person, to experience every part of our lives without them — my birthday, his birthday, our wedding anniversary, the anniversary of his death — and it’s only when that’s done and we’re still alive that we begin to understand.”

I was able to relate to Anna’s loss, except for the fact that I’ve never lost a husband. But I know someone who has.

Reading about Anna’s experience gave me a teeny tiny bit of insight into what my mom must be feeling about my dad’s death. Teeny tiny because this is obviously fiction, and Aidan died in an accident not from cancer, and they were young and never even got to talk about having kids, etc. etc., but it still gave me something. My mom lost the one person she spent every single day with, the person she came home to, the person with whom she had built a life for 24+ years, the person with whom she never thought she’d be without. She has had a much harder time with all this than I have because she really didn’t expect it, she didn’t prepare herself at all for the possibility that he may not get through. I remember how after we got The Call from the hospital my sister and I had to calm her down, and I thought “Shouldn’t this be the other way around?” She still gets up every day, goes to work, comes home, makes dinner, does laundry, lives. She’s been completely back to her “regular routine” since about a month after he died, but that routine doesn’t include my dad anymore, so it’s a new “regular”. I can’t really imagine that.

Loss comes in all shapes and sizes, and losing my father does not make me an expert by any means. Plenty of people have told me they can’t imagine losing a parent, but many of those people have experienced losses I can’t even begin to fathom — siblings, friends, children — in ways I also cannot even begin to fathom — suicide, accidents. I had time to at least start to process my loss, but what about the people who don’t have time to process? How is their coping different from mine? Is it easier or harder, shorter or longer, or exactly the same? Is any one loss worse than another? I think emphatically not; they all suck beyond the telling of it.

But let’s end this on a happy note, shall we? I highly highly highly recommend this book. I am ranking it #2 of the three Keyes books I have read — The Other Side of the Story was even funnier and way less sad — but perhaps one should try to read these Walsh family books in some kind of order, which I BELIEVE is Rachel’s Holiday, Watermelon, Angels then this one. (So I read the last two first. Great.)

Next up: Where We Belong by Emily Giffin


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