The Long-Term Impact of a Traumatic Loss
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This book is told in two voices. Joe and Norma talk to us in alternating chapters. But before we start hearing from them, there is a prologue in which Joe is in bed, dying, when his sister, Mae, tells him someone has come to see him and that they will have some catching up to do. By the time we have read chapters one and two, it is not hard to figure out who this person is. But it will take the whole book to learn how momentous and miraculous this moment is.
Chapter one is in Joe’s voice. In it, we learn that in the summer of 1962, his family – the mom, dad, and his siblings, Ben, Mae, Charlie, and Ruthie headed from their home in Nova Scotia to pick berries in Maine. This is an annual event for the family and they seem to have some status with the farm owners, the Ellis family. By this I mean they live in a cabin instead of in tents like the other workers. This ranking did nothing to help them when tragedy struck that summer, and four-year-old Ruthie disappeared.
Joe was six at the time and it’s almost fifty years later that he is remembering it. He tells us his dad went to town to get the police while his mom had little faith that they would care, since the family was Mi’kmaw, a First Nations people of Nova Scotia. The police came, but the mom was right. They did not care, calling the family transients and not “proper Maine citizens.”
For six weeks the family searched for Ruthie. Joe says, “We hollered Ruthie’s name so much that the trees knew it by heart.” Ultimately, they returned home to Nova Scotia without her.
Jumping into the second chapter we hear from Norma who tells us that when she was four or five years old, she used to have dreams. Remembering bits and pieces, she says in one dream she heard a laugh that she knew was her brother’s, but that was strange since she was an only child. Of another dream she says her house was not her house. Nothing was where it was supposed to be. No one was who they were supposed to be. Her mom always had explanations. “We moved sweetheart. You’re just remembering the old house.” And the mom often went to bed with headaches whenever Norma tried to speak of her dreams. When she talked to her dad about the dreams, he would pick at the skin around his finger nails until he started to bleed.
As Joe and Norma continue telling us about their lives in advancing chapters, we learn that Joe has always felt guilty about Ruthie’s disappearance because he was the last to see her. Beyond that, when Joe was fifteen, the family suffered another tragedy for which he feels responsible. Though his family understands he is not responsible for either event, he cannot get that into his head. He becomes a tortured soul prone to rage.
His chapters are often hard to read because of this. But then again, his story is the crux of this book – an exploration of how a traumatic loss impacts an individual. As for Norma’s chapters, I liked them best. Her life experience turns out to be very unique. But when all is said and done, it’s Joe’s chapters that need to be the take away. Few will experience what Norma did, while many need to handle traumatic loss.
I liked this book, as did many people. It held the #2 spot on an Amazon list, “Amazon Reveals the Best Books of 2023.” Actually, it reminded me of two other books I liked in the past. Joe’s story was like What Could Be Saved. Norma’s story was like The Light Between Oceans. I liked all three of these books and recommend them!
Read my review of What Could Be Saved here.
Read my review of Amazon’s #1 book for 2023, The Heaven and Earth Grocery Store, here.
Click here to learn more about The Berry Pickers on Amazon.
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