Friday, April 22, 2011

Rubber Houses

Rubber Houses, a 2007 YA novel in verse by Vermont College MFA grad, Ellen Yeomans, reveals, in slant, what impossible loss feels like and the healing that can follow. ( A detailed review can be found on teenreads. ) Telling slant, of course, can include the use of metaphor. Telling a story "slant" was the topic of a memorable lecture at Vermont College given by award winning author Tim Wynn-Jones. It's what great fiction writers do. I've thought about it a great deal ever since.

In my opinion, the personal story of little brother, Buddy's, illness and eventual death from leukemia, through the point of view of big sister Kit, can't be told through cold medical facts and details. Clinical language distances readers and does not evoke emotion. Yeoman's poems and the baseball metaphor that link these poems, go deeper. Why baseball? Because buddy loved it. Rubber house refers to the shape of home plate.

There is great clarity in Yeoman's writing. We are convinced she knows her subject. Stages of the grief process along with baseball, informs the arrangement of her poems into groups. For instance, the book begins with a group of poems entitled "Warm Ups." This encompasses the time before the cancer diagnosis. The next group of poems is, '"Regular" Season,' about Buddy's treatment. In "Post Season" Kit begins her and her parent's grief process. And so on.

This is a sad book; it brings tears, but in the end, we're proud of Kit. The last poems uplift. In one, entitled, "Play Ball," Kit attends a memorial baseball game. After many months, she has learned to celebrate her brother's life, telling us: "I see not just that Buddy died,/ but that he lived." Those who have experienced significant loss will identify with Kit's emotional journey.

Some stories of personal tragedy can sometimes only be told indirectly, through poetry and fiction.
Other reading:

Childhood leukemia was one of the first cancers treated in the United States. Pulitzer Prize winning The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee, shows us the evolution of treatment today, and what families endured in the past.

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