Friday, April 13, 2012

Brief Thoughts on Beth Kephart's Small Damages

I finished Beth Kephart's Small Damages a few weeks ago. I loved it on initial reading, as I always do. Beth has such a lovely way with words, such a sweet hopefulness to everything she writes. I enjoyed it, was moved by parts of it, but I'm glad I didn't write about it right away because the book has resurfaced in my mind and heart again after reading it, in ways I didn't expect it to it, asking to be given more consideration.

Right now I want to give a big huge disclaimer. You may feel free to disregard anything I say, because the truth is I love Beth Kephart. When I think about the people in my life that constantly pour their goodness into me, I think of Beth. She is by far one of the kindest, most generous people I have been privileged to cross paths with on this earth and I am deeply thankful for her presence in my life. She believes in me when I don't even believe in myself and I think that's one of the best gifts to give a person. I don't feel deserving of her friendship, but I do feel so thankful for it. And beyond that, I feel so lucky that we get to read her books! Her books are unique in the landscape of my reading life, they are lovely and poetic but more than that, I feel like she captures hope in a way I rarely find in books. I don't have the words to articulate what I mean, but I often feel like reading her books are almost like coming home, I recognize everything that I wish for life to be in the pages, not in a wish fulfillment way, but in the belief that love endures, that it overcomes, that it heals.

So...Small Damages. I have this feeling that when people write about Small Damages they'll write about how she evokes a feeling of Spain, of the details to the cooking, or the description of Seville. They might talk about teen pregnancy, choice, losing a parent. All of those things are great to talk about, but I want to talk about how much I love the way Beth writes about love. First a one sentence synopsis: Kenzie goes to Spain to give birth to her baby and then give the child up for adoption.

There are three relationships I really enjoyed in Small Damages. The most important, second maybe to the mother/child relationship at the center of the book, is the relationship between Kenzie and Estela. Estela is like a second mom to Kenzie throughout the book. She is at first her boss in a way, teaching her how to cook, but she also imparts ideas about love and life. She seems a bit rough around the edges at first to the reader, but underneath that rough exterior she has a huge heart. When Kenzie is trying to figure out what do about communicating with the father of her baby, they have this conversation I loved,
‘You know what time is?’
‘It’s distance.’
‘Distance isn’t the end of love.’

I loved that so much, because it feels so true. Sometimes we put these limitations and parameters on love that we shouldn't, sometimes love does go on even when it's not sense making. And time IS distance, that's what we always say when looking back on things, we say I needed to get some distance from it, meaning, I needed for time to pass. I don't know I just loved it. Anyway this relationship is really important to the book in more than ways than one, Estela and Kenzie cook together WHICH I LOVE, because I think making food and preparing food for others is a really valuable way of healing, and that theme of food=connection and healing is present in so many of Beth's books. Also they share their lives and that becomes increasingly important as the story progresses.

I also loved the way Beth wrote about Kenzie's friendships back home. I thought the group dynamics were really interesting and I loved that the more Kenzie reflected on what happened, the more she was able to take ownership over her actions. I liked how they genuinely loved each other, and how they almost acted as a second family to each other, ensuring that they felt loved at all times and valued. Kenzie's absence from them, what that meant to her and how they reacted were true hardships for her. They don't know why she goes to Spain, so there was a lot of loss tied up in her reflection on them. And that's a huge loss for her to bear.

Finally, I loved how Kenzie cared for her unborn child. I liked that part of why she didn't want to lose this child was because the child was part of her father. Her father has recently passed away which leads to so much of Kenzie's grief, her isolation, her decisions. And I never really thought about that before, probably because I don't have children, how much they are not only their parents but also part all of their grandparents. It was a really lovely to think of it.

Basically, Small Damages is another beautiful book from Beth Kephart, infused with hope and love. It is through the love of others that Kenzie finds herself empowered to make her own decisions, and the read is ultimately very satsifying! I hope you will check it out when it hits shelves in July.


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