Excerpt from Grendel's Guide to Love and War by A. E. Kaplan, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Grendel's Guide to Love and War

by A. E. Kaplan

Grendel's Guide to Love and War by A. E. Kaplan X
Grendel's Guide to Love and War by A. E. Kaplan
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  • Published:
    Apr 2017, 320 pages

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Chapter One

When I was nine years old, on the nineteen-­day anniversary of my mother's sudden and unexpected death, I had the unfortunate experience of visiting the world's worst family counselor.

It was still not entirely real yet, my mother's death, and I vacillated between crying and waiting for her to come home and tell me that everyone had made a huge mistake, that it hadn't been her who had a stroke at the kitchen table, but the neighbor, or some random woman off the street who had wandered into our house and died in my mother's chair while we were at school.

Anyway, there we were, listening to the counselor give her phony condolences, and then she went on to explain that my mother's life was a sentence and her death was a punctuation mark. It was up to us, she said, to decide whether to view Mom's death as a period (boo) or an exclamation point (yay!). I sat there numbly and watched the clock, grateful that the hour-­long session would only run fifty minutes, and wishing that we were further in than minute fourteen.

On minute fifteen, my sister, who up to this point had appeared three-­quarters asleep, sat up and said, "What about a semicolon? Could death be a semicolon?"

"I," said the counselor. "Well. Um."

"Or an asterisk? Or an ellipsis? Maybe if you believe in reincarnation, it's an ellipsis." I frowned, because I did not yet know what an ellipsis was, while Zip turned to look at my dad, saying, "Do we believe in reincarnation?"

"Zipora," the counselor said.

"Comma!" Zip shouted. "Ampersand!"

At that point I stood up, sputtering but emboldened by the wisdom of my sister's accrued fourteen years, and screamed, "QUESTION MARK!"

Whereupon my father took my sister and me by the hand and walked us out of the office, down to the car, and drove us through the nearest McDonald's drive-­thru, where we ordered French fries that we ate silently in the parking lot.

Needless to say, we never went back, but even now, eight years later, I have trouble thinking of death without also thinking of punctuation. It's an unfortunate side effect of being a kid, I guess: you have no control over what people say to you, or what will stick. If I had a choice about what I remembered most from age nine, I guarantee Punctuation Lady would not have made the list, but there you go (period).


And so it was that on the day I heard of my next-­door neighbor's death, I thought (randomly): Parentheses.

I was mowing her lawn at the time I heard; it was around ten in the morning, the best possible time for mowing grass in the summer, if there is a best time for mowing grass in the summer. It was hot but not horribly so, and the mosquitoes were at a reasonable level.

I was pushing my heavy, nonelectric push mower, thinking, as I usually did, that there is something profoundly enjoyable about pushing a manual lawn mower. I'm not sure if it's the noise—­a sort of whooshing whir that sounds a little bit like a hamster running on a wheel—­or if it's the way your muscles burn when you have to push up a hill, or if it's just watching the piles of cut grass fall on the freshly trimmed lawn. There's something satisfying about the whole affair that you just don't get from a power mower.

At any rate, I was pushing my trusty manual across my next-­door neighbors' expansive lawn when I heard of the untimely demise of Minnie Taylor. It shouldn't have been much of a shock—­she'd been like three hundred years old—­but still. I'd seen her just the day before, standing outside in her unfortunately sheer nightgown, calling her herd of cats inside for dinner. I hadn't imagined that would be the last time I'd see Mrs. Taylor ensconced in her substantial under­garments, waving a bag of Friskies and screaming.

Excerpted from Grendel's Guide to Love and War by A. E. Kaplan. Copyright © 2017 by A. E. Kaplan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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