Jane Green: Grief and Redemption and Literature

I first met Jane Green at a Cosmopolitan reception earlier this summer honoring some of the magazine’s favorite “fun and fearless” women writers, and we had a great time talking about the image of “chick lit” in literary circles. So when she was putting together a virtual book tour, and was wondering if Beatrice readers might be interested in the story behind her new novel, Second Chance, I greenlighted the idea immediately, before I had even the faintest notion of the loss and recovery that lay behind the story.

I was sitting in my office, procrastinating as usual by surfing around the web reading various news stories. ‘Brits still missing’ announced one, the day after the tsunami occurred, a tragedy that for me, here in America, was terrible but didn’t affect me on a personal level.

Until I saw a name I knew: Piers Simon. I had spoken to him three weeks before, had known, but forgotten, he was flying to Thailand for Christmas to visit his brother who was teaching there. Piers Simon. The words were blurry on the screen as I squinted to focus and my head filled with fog. It didn’t make sense. It couldn’t be the same one. These things don’t happen to people we know.

I had met Piers a few years before. He was a garden designer and had designed my garden in Westport, Connecticut, flying over from his home in England every few weeks to traipse around my garden and make me laugh with his stories. He was thirty-three. Tall, handsome, and the sweetest man I had ever met with an infectious giggle that was irrestistible. He quickly became a friend, staying in our spare room when he came over, jumping in the pool with the kids, sitting on the deck drinking a beer with me as the sun set.

I phoned his mother a few days later, holding it together until the end of the phone call when we both started crying. It didn’t seem real, and the grief was shocking to me, sweeping me up in its clutches and not letting go for months, playing an endless tape of memories of Piers in my head, over and over, but never enough.

He wasn’t a husband, a boyfriend, a best friend. He was someone I adored, but not inner circle, and I didn’t feel entitled to feel the way I did, it felt too much, I didn’t know who I could share it with. And so, as with all eventful emotional experiences in my life, I knew I had to write about it, to express it on the page as a means of getting over it.

But life never seems to go according to plan.


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24 July 2007 | guest authors |

Paul Zimmer, “Zimmer Envying Elephants”

I have a wide, friendly face
Like theirs, yet I can’t hang
My nose like a fractured arm
Nor flap my dishpan ears.
I can’t curl my canine teeth,
Swing my tail like a filthy tassel,
Nor make thunder without lightning.

But I’d like to thud amply around
For a hundred years or more,

Stuffing an occasional tree top
Into my mouth, screwing hugely for
Hours at a time, gaining weight,
And slowly growing a few hairs.

Once in a while I’d charge a power pole
Or smash a wall down just to keep
Everybody loose and at a distance.

From Crossing to Sunlight Revisited: New and Selected Poems. Zimmer, the former director of the University of Georgia Press and then the University of Iowa Press, has published a dozen volumes of poetry and a collection of essays, After the Fire, about his life in the publishing industry. This is a sequel of sorts to the 1996 collection Crossing to Sunlight, even referencing that book’s cover art.

11 July 2007 | poetry |

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