Summary and book reviews of The Blessings by Elise Juska

The Blessings

By Elise Juska

The Blessings
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  • Hardcover: May 2014,
    272 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl

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Book Summary

When John Blessing dies and leaves behind two small children, the loss reverberates across his extended family for years to come. His young widow, Lauren, finds solace in her large clan of in-laws, while his brother's wife Kate pursues motherhood even at the expense of her marriage. John's teenage nephew Stephen finds himself involved in an act of petty theft that takes a surprising turn, and nephew Alex, a gifted student, travels to Spain and considers the world beyond his family's Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood. Through departures and arrivals, weddings and reunions, The Blessings reveals the interior worlds of the members of a close-knit Irish-Catholic family and the rituals that unite them.

Excerpt
The Blessings

If every family has a certain kind of music, Abby's is the murmur of sympathy around a dining room table. It starts in the pause after dinner and before dessert, when the men migrate to the living room and turn on sports and the women surround the wreckage, spilled crumbs and crumpled napkins and stained wineglasses. They pinch lids from sugar bowls and dip teabags in hot water, break cookies in half and chew slowly. They trade stories of other people's hardships. This is the melody, the measure, of her family: the response to sad things.

"Fifty-six years old," her mother is saying.

This story is one Abby already knows. One of their neighbors, Mr. Whelan, collapsed and died the day before Christmas Eve. A stroke. Fifty-six. Two sons in college. Terrible. They shake their heads. A shame.

Abby arranges her face into a sympathetic expression, but she is thinking about Eric Winn. Mara had heard that he might be in Boston tomorrow, at the party. ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Throughout the novel, right up until the affecting final scene, Juska explores the paradox of family—how it is the thing that both stifles and sustains you, how it can be simultaneously predictable and unexpected, stable and fragile.   (Reviewed by Norah Piehl).

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Media Reviews
Library Journal

This wonderfully readable work about family life will have you eagerly turning pages to find out what happens to characters about whom you really care.

Kirkus Reviews

Juska's story is like leafing through an old family photo album, where typically unremarkable moments are captured in black and white. What makes the album unique isn't its contents but the way each photo abuts or overlays the next.

Booklist

This heartfelt tribute to the ups and downs of a large, devoted family is warm, uplifting, and recommended for readers from families of all sizes.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Several generations of the Blessings, a Philadelphia-based, Irish-American family, come beautifully to life in a deceptively simple tale that examines the foibles, disappointments and passions that tie family members together.

Author Blurb J. Courtney Sullivan, New York Times-bestselling author of The Engagements and Maine
Juska's story is like leafing through an old family photo album, where typically unremarkable moments are captured in black and white. What makes the album unique isn't its contents but the way each photo abuts or overlays the next.

Author Blurb Stewart O'Nan, author of Songs for the Missing and Emily, Alone
In the tradition of Elizabeth Berg's and Alice McDermott's work, The Blessings is a knowing portrait of a sprawling Irish-American family in Philly across the last thirty years, in all their shared strength and separate weaknesses...the ties that bind are never simple, and often painful, but as one daughter acknowledges, 'these are the hidden intimacies, the private exchanges, on which she builds her life.'

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Multi-generational Portraits of Family

The Blessings is a novel, but it's also a portrait —an ensemble in which assorted members of three generations reveal various complexities and challenges. Here is a handful of other books that also offer multi-generational stories about family.

Charming Billy Charming Billy by Alice McDermott won the National Book Award in 1998. It opens at the funeral of Billy Lynch, a working-class Irishman and hopeless drunk. The story of Billy's life and death is revealed slowly, through the lives of the friends and families who knew him best. Narrated by Billy's cousin Dennis's daughter, who professes detachment but gradually becomes emotionally involved, McDermott's masterpiece is a complex portrayal of an individual and family's ambiguities.


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