I am not usually stunned to silence by, well, much of anything. I’m more likely to chatter on until I’ve sorted out my questions to my own satisfaction– in fact, I will actively seek out solitude just to preserve the rest of the world from my chattering, or write in a journal to get it all out without needing to bore my acquaintances by my navel-gazing. But being stunned to absolute silence? That doesn’t happen.
And then I read House of Dreams by Liz Rosenberg, illustrated by Julie Morstad (God, I love her).
Here’s the thing: You may have noticed I haven’t been around here much. Partly that’s because I haven’t been reading a huge amount, mostly it’s because I’ve been in the throes of a spiral of anxiety with an added dose of depression over my dissertation. Terrible idea, that: it prevents me from working, and also prevents me from seeking out the tools I use to keep myself working (writing here, writing in my journal, knitting or spinning– anything, really). I strongly recommend not ending up in a depressive spiral if you can at all avoid it.
But then I needed to pick up some birthday presents for the Changeling’s school friends, so I went to my beloved Children’s Book Shop, and one of the books they had on display was House of Dreams. I was in a black fog from my anxiety, and nearly cried as I bought it (that’s not very indicative of anything, actually– I cried over the laundry, too). I felt it was a betrayal of my dissertation to even touch another book, even though I only planned to read it on Saturdays, as usual– but I knew it would be good to have some heart-to-heart time with an author I loved as much as L. M. Montgomery.
I was right– right and wrong, but mostly right.
Here’s the thing: I went into this book knowing a couple of things about L. M. Montgomery (Maud). I knew I loved her writing. I’m a Maritimer by birth, and I grew up with Anne, to a lesser degree with Emily (Emily of New Moon), and oh so very close with Jane of Jane of Lantern Hill and Valancy from The Blue Castle. Darling friends of mine, all of those bright, spunky, flawed, growing and learning young women! They were there for me all my life. And I felt they represented various aspects of Maud herself.
But I also knew that she lived with terrible misfortunes in her life, and coped with bad depression until her death.
I didn’t know just how bad it was.
My initial reaction at the end of the book was a kind of pang of guilt for not having been there: an “I didn’t know” feeling. “I didn’t know Maud committed suicide. I didn’t know the half of her family difficulties, especially with her eldest son, Chester. I didn’t know about how bad her medical situation was.”
I also didn’t know how damned strong she was: “I didn’t know how well she stood up to her unscrupulous publisher. I didn’t know how prolific she was during very dark times. I didn’t know she survived a miscarriage and a still-birth with a husband who wasn’t really there for her.”
On a practical note, then, I can tell you that if you’re a fan of her works, House of Dreams will tell you plenty that you probably didn’t already know about Maud, and it does so with clear, engaging, narrative prose. It’s a great read.
But, as I said above, it stunned me, initially, to silence. It took me a while to write to my mother about it– and if you know anything about me and my mother and the scope of our correspondence, that alone will stun you.
Here’s the thing: if you love Maud, if you feel yourself reflected in her work, and if you are the sort of person who always thought that Valancy in The Blue Castle was her way of talking about mental illness (seriously, Valancy’s not suffering from heart attacks– she’s struggling with anxiety attacks and depression, I’m dead sure of it)– if you feel intimately connected to Maud’s books and have always felt that Jane of Lantern Hill was written about your life… basically, if you’re like me: it will take you a while to process what you’ve read.
That said: do yourself a favour and read this book. You’ll get to know Maud better than you ever did before, and I guarantee that although it will cost you pangs of grief as she struggles, you will also feel pride in how she dealt with adversity, in her strength, and in her ability to continue to be a rock for others to lean on even as life is dealing her blow after blow.
You will mourn the lack of support out there for her, and you will feel gratitude that medication and therapy have come so far as they have these days. You will feel torn to bits as you read about how she self-medicated to the point that it killed her. You will wish to God that you could have been there to offer to sit with her over a cup of tea and urge her to talk openly about her struggles.
And, ultimately, you will wish you could have said these words: “What you wrote meant something to me. Thank you for your writing. You, your life, and your happiness matter to me.”
Of the books I’ve read recently, this has probably touched me more deeply than most. I am so glad I read it. It got me to write here, and I bet you anything it gets me to write more than I delete on my dissertation this week, which would be a triumph of no ordinary proportions.
Reading notes: I read this over the past two Saturdays. Grand total, I bet it took me no more than six hours to read. It took me a lot longer to process, obviously.
So, please read this book, and then come back and tell me what you think!