#BookReview: Someday Everything Will All Make Sense

My Review

Carol LaHines’ debut novel, Someday Everything Will All Make Sense, opens with a grabber of a scene: Luther van der Loon describing the death of his mother, who choked to death on a wonton as he tried–and failed–to save her with a badly executed Heimlich maneuver.

We come to know Luther as a hapless fellow, even before he failed to save his mother’s life. He is nearing middle age never having lived on his own, with no other family but his mother. He has protruding ears, a limp, and a sinus condition. If that weren’t bad enough, he is a failed harpsichord virtuoso turned associate professor of Medieval and Renaissance musicology, whose department has been relegated to the reviled animal research wing of the university.

After the trauma of his mother’s death, Luther is subjected to the indignities of the funeral industry, with descriptions reminiscent of Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death, (which he makes sure to read in an act of psychic self-flagellation):

. . . the shelves of coffins, from the visibly cheap to the garishly expensive, finishes of polished mahogany, gleaming steel, and eternal bronze; satin-lined, with pillows and blankets to conceal the hideous drainages that in time would mar the interior.

The rest of her, in reptilian fashion, had adjusted to the outside temperature (in this case, the chilly 60 degrees of the funerary chapel, the thermostat no doubt set to ensure optimal preservation in the days before burial).

The rest of the novel consists of Luther’s narrating his grief journey. (He would object very strongly to the phrase “grief journey.” He is having none of his therapist girlfriend’s forays into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy when she loses patience with his constant perseverating over the gelatinous agent of his mother’s death.)

In addition to Luther’s black humor directed toward the funeral industry, his depiction of the absurdity of Academia provides some of the funniest moments of the novel, such as the results of budget cuts to one’s beloved annual symposium for scholars of the arcane:

Rather than  a breakfast buffet in the Tishman Building vestibule, participants would have to choke down croissants and mini-bagels in the halls of the vivisectionist wing, fearful that an escaped chimpanzee (those not immobilized in a vice somewhere) might make off with their sliced cantaloupe.

Most striking about my experience reading Someday Everything Will All Make Sense was Luther’s use of language as first-person narrator. He has just gone through a horrendous experience and he tells us how traumatized and grief-stricken he is. However, I felt distanced from him, which is unusual when reading a first-person narrative.

Upon reflection, I realized that Luther is using the elevated language of black humor and arcane scholarship to distance himself from his grief, all the while insisting that he is expressing it. Ultimately, isn’t this a very human response, reflecting the absurdity of our need to make sense of a senseless event, and, ultimately, the inability of language to express the depth of our grief at losing someone we love?

The Inspiration

Luther was a character that came from a prior work.  Though that work didn’t end up going anywhere, it allowed me to develop the idiosyncratic Luther — a professor of medieval music and momma’s boy — as a character.  When I began this novel, I was in a period of mourning.  I was going through the familiar phases of grief, denial, anger, etc., stumbling through them much as Luther does.  I was reading a lot of the literature on bereavement, books like Kubler-Ross and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Jessica Mitford on the business of dying in America, and so this material was very much on my mind.

Most of my work tends to the comic or the tragic comic.  I was grappling with how to deal with such a heavy subject in a serious way but still with a lighter, wry touch.  I decided to use the Luther character as the narrator as he was a comic figure who would help me to maintain the tone I was going after as I mined my stages-of-grief material.

The manner of Luther’s mother’s death — choking while eating wonton soup — was deliberately ridiculous.  It thrust Luther into a situation where he was instantly in shock and grappling with a death that had arrived entirely unexpectedly.  He also feels guilty because he was unable to successfully perform the Heimlich maneuver to save her.

When I began writing the novel, I didn’t have much beyond that setup.  I also knew that I wanted Luther to be a music professor, because that would enable me to tap into my musical knowledge.  Luther’s early music colleagues furnish a lot of comic relief and are a counterpoint to the darker material.  Luther is obsessed with the problem of temperament — something theorists grappled with for centuries before settling on the equal tempered system.  The inexplicable imperfections in the circle of fifths — math that literally does not add up — vex Luther and serve as an extended metaphor, underscoring that there are losses that don’t make sense and are beyond our ability to fathom.

The Setting

Luther’s Passion in Life

This is a version of the song quoted in Chapter 6 of the book.

 

77 thoughts on “#BookReview: Someday Everything Will All Make Sense

  1. This is not an easy topic to deal with. I think this was a great review…the set up for the book is done very well. Even without reading this book, the characters and setting emerge before our eyes. We get to peak into the world of this book…and it does hold your attention!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your review, Liz, is comprehensive enough for me to decide whether or not to read but not too revealing. I appreciate reviewers who don’t rehash the entire novel 🙂 For me that’s a synopsis, not a review. What really impresses me, however, is not only your typically excellent writing, but your own experience with evocation. Sometimes when a novel creates something which seems negative, we then have that aha moment. As if to say, “Oh, I was supposed to feel that!” Person reflection is the spice of great reviews 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Excellent review!. The kind that gives just enough to encourages one to want to read the book. The author’s description is also sufficiently convincing that should entice new readers.
    If I find the courage to get back to a book I’ve had in the works for a rather large bit, I would hope to have you , or one with your review skills to to the same for me. Well done, Liz!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You write an excellent review, Liz. It includes enough information an excerpts to entice readers without revealing too much. I liked reading the author’s inspiration as well. I only read occasional fiction, but this might be up my alley.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This sounds like a marvelously creative way to deal with death and grief, incorporating both humor and subject expertise. And the title is a grabber as well! If we should all be so lucky. Thanks for introducing us to this work and author, Liz.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re welcome, Ranee! Thank you for reading and commenting. I was thinking about you yesterday as I was reading discussion posts in my writing process course. We’re spending an entire week on editing, and what resonated most with students was the reading on connotative language.They’d never heard of it before, and they plan to incorporate it into their writing practice so that their writing will carry more emotional weight. I was so pleased (albeit surprised that they hadn’t been taught about connotative language in K-12).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is great to hear, Liz, and makes me think: Sometimes when I’m working with clients, I suggest they choose a different word because of the connotation for the one they’re currently using. Now I wonder whether I should assume they all understand the meaning of “connotation.”

        Liked by 1 person

  6. This is the second review of the book I’ve seen this week. It sounds unusual, well-written, and a little quirky. I can understand the erudite language as a way that Luther distances himself from his grief, but I wonder about the reader feeling distanced. Excellent review, Liz. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. A detailed and excellent review, Liz. Making sense of everything, especially with a powerful opener to the book, is a welcome theme right now. Luther, of all people, seems to say it well in a way that readers can relate to.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I really enjoyed this review! I think it’s very human to use all of one’s personality traits when trying to come to grips with the loss of a loved one – not the least all kinds of humour. Black humour might be one of the most powerful mind-savers there is…

    Liked by 3 people

  9. A very thorough and well written review of Carol’s book, Liz! Nearly middle age, having no family other than his mother, Luther must be painfully shocked. It was a denial by not admitting his grieving, and dark humor was a way to cover up one’s emotions. Thank you for sharing your review, Liz!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Yes, an intriguing review. Thanks for sharing and personalizing Luther, who I had a strong image of, until you mentioned he had a girlfriend. A fact which didn’t seem to fit with the character and thereby adds another layer. So perhaps I need to read the book to find out how he overcame all his foibles.

    Liked by 1 person

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