Hello fellow readers! Welcome to my stop on the tour for Comfort of Fences by Stacy Overman Morrison.
Title: Comfort of Fences
Author: Stacy Overman Morrison
Publisher: Telemachus Press
Published: October 17, 2013
Source: Received from author in exchange
for an honest review
My Rating: 3 Stars
Ruth is dying and her 52 year old daughter Denise has never paid a bill, lived on her own, or had a romantic relationship. Ruth knows she has been overprotective, but hoped that she would outlive her special-needs daughter. Metastasized cancer crushes that hope and forces Ruth to find a way to provide for Denise once she is dead. First Ruth turns to Social Security for Disability benefits. After tests, pokes and prods, doctors, nosy psychologists, and ill-furnished waiting rooms, the government declares Denise not eligible for benefits. Mad at the world and daring the government to arrest her so they will have to take care of her since they wouldn't her daughter, Ruth takes up smoking pot in the backyard. A few joints in, Ruth begins to realize her anger is self-directed. She doubts every decision she has ever made in raising her daughter that doctors, in the 1950s, labeled "retarded." Partially to coax her mother from the backyard and partially because Ruth will not speak of the past, Denise asks her mother to write down their history of which Denise has no memory. Trying to atone and explain how she could be so obtuse, Ruth agrees. Telling her story becomes an obsession for Ruth who sees the history as her only chance to leave a place for herself in the world since cancer is steadily eating away her physicality. While Ruth writes, Denise begins to pursue her own independence, despite the minor setbacks of a chopped off fingertip and chemo poisoning. She begins to make choices for herself and finally tells her mother pieces of her own truth: Denise stayed with her mother because she chose to, because she loved her mother more than any life she could make for herself. In claiming her own truth, Denise also chooses silence about the biggest secrets of all. Comfort of Fences explores the messy business of mothering. It is a story about the love between a devoted mother and her special daughter that exposes the irony that the people we love the most can also be the ones we underestimate the greatest.
Comfort of Fences is slow to start, but once it's up and running, you become involved and interested in the lives of the characters.
Ruth is the glue of the story and her evolution throughout the book is the most interesting. I felt for her at first, because she seemed so stifled by her upbringing, and at the same time so naive. My opinion of her changed throughout the story as I personally don't agree with some of her choices, especially those involving Denise.
This book is all about choices. It begins with Ruth's choice to pursue a romantic relationship with a man who turns out to have his own demons, that are ultimately too much for him. It follows Ruth through her life as she chooses to keep and raise a baby eventually on her own, after her parents try to interfere in a way that she doesn't like.
The book deals with subjects that may be sensitive for some readers. It deals with alcoholism, mental disability, and cancer, to name a few. It is also what I would call heavy with religious elements. If any of those themes make you uncomfortable, I wouldn't recommend this book.
The format of the book is one that worked well for the story. When Ruth learns that she is dying of cancer, she decides to write down her story for her daughter, rather than try to explain it all to her. I think this was a nice touch, as it gives Denise a physical keepsake of her and her mother's lives together. Plus it ties the story together well.
As Ruth writes out the story, it the novel weaves in and out of the past and the present. As Ruth's battle with cancer becomes more serious, you get the sense of urgency in the telling of the story for Denise.
Of all the character's Georgia is my favorite. She's full of spontaneity and energy. But she also has a sadness to her that is so human. As happy and independent and carefree as she seems, she's just as weighed down by life as anyone else.
I felt that Denise's character was the most flat. She felt stifled, suffocated even. Both literally and figuratively. And maybe that was the point, as part of Ruth's evolution at the end of the novel is that she only hopes that Denise can see why she made the choices she made, and why she felt she had to stifle Denise. It was to protect her from all of the negativity in the world. I do understand where the development came from in terms of the story itself, but in terms of reality or real world application, I felt that the expectations for Denise were stereotypical, and that felt slightly demeaning in a way.
This book isn't without its flaws, but the overall story of friendship, and the demonstration that all the choices we make have an impact on the outcome of our lives are poignant themes that will stick with you after you finish this book.