Friday, August 16, 2013

Staircase Letters

The Staircase Letters: an extraordinary friendship at the end of life / Arthur Motyer
Toronto: Random House, c2007.
160 p.

One more epistolary read, but this one is nonfiction. It's a collection of letters between Arthur Motyer, his friend Elma Gerwin and her friend, Carol Shields.

Elma and Carol have both discovered that they have cancer, and begin writing to one another about their experiences. Into this mix comes Arthur, a decade older but not ill, and at first uncomfortable about what he will able to helpfully share. As their illnesses progress, he finds his role, and the letters reveal the conversations that developed between all three.

He has gathered the email exchanges and letters between the three of them, as they talk about the small moments in life that continue on despite illness -- the basic questions of family gatherings, food, children's questions, writing and creativity, and more. Of course, knowing ahead that the letters have a terminus doesn't much help to prepare the reader. Elma, in particular, had a voice that caught me, and just as I felt I was beginning to understand her, news comes of her death. I admit I shed some tears at this point.

This is a small and short book, but it provides some insights into what these two women were thinking and experiencing as they dealt with their own cancer diagnoses. There was nothing unexpected or shocking, but it was still a moving collection. Motyer is clear that both of the surviving husbands of these women were fine with this publication, which I was glad to read, as the letters are a very personal exchange.

I feel faintly guilty about not raving about this collection, rather, I don't think it is a must-read for the topic. But it is still of interest, and opens a window onto the lives of two writing women.


6 comments:

  1. Thank you for drawing my attention to this. I love Shield's work. Her book 'The Stone Diaries' was the first novel I had to buy in hardback because I couldn't wait either for it to appear in the library or come out in paperback. I shall read this simply to have more of her wonderful words.

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    1. If you already like Carol Shields then you will likely want to read this one. It's small but is quite affecting.

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  2. I think I liked it a bit better than you, but it has been a few years since I read it. The voices of the individuals really came through for me.

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    1. That is definitely a strength of reading collected letters -- you can see into the individual mind in a very personal way. I hadn't known of Elma Gerwin before reading this, but I won't ever forget her now.

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  3. I've meant to read this for awhile now; I absolutely loved the letters of Carol Shields and Blanche Howard. Well, anything Shields-ish, really. But, yes. And, letters, as you know and agree: just the best. Thanks for reminding me of this one.

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  4. Yes, you mentioned the letters of Shields & Howard to me and I still haven't read them, despite enjoying novels by both. I'll have to remember to pick that one up soon!

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Thanks for stopping by ~ I hope you will leave your comments and reflections to let me know what you think!