“Come, Thou Tortoise” Jessica Grant

“Assume life can go on indefinitely. Barring accidents. Barring plane crashes.”

I had many expectations before reading this book, but I was surprised by several things.

I didn’t expect the novel to take place at Christmas.

I didn’t expect to receive part of the narrative through the point of view of a tortoise.

I didn’t expect my parents to call me up on Saturday morning–a mere 100 pages into the novel–to tell me that Maggie, my dog, died in the night.

And this may be the point where I lose a portion of my audience. It’s happened before. I wrote a story for a fiction class in which a group of reckless teens run over a cat. One teen’s cat dies in suspicious circumstances, and another teen suspects that the dead cat has somehow caused it. He begins to worry for the safety of his own pets. An argument occurred within my writing circle. Some students–the ones with pets–related to the fear in the story, while the others–sans pets–thought the plot was trivial. So some readers may not want me to relate this book to the death of my dog, but I need to.

I read in order to work through things. I write in order to work through things.

It’s easier this way. It’s easier to write “My dog died” once in a blog post than to repeat it several times to several people for several days. Most of my friends will read this (i hope).

In the novel, Audrey Flowers must return to her hometown after her father is knocked into a coma by a Christmas tree. She agonizes over saying the right words at her father’s bedside so that he will wake. But when she arrives at the airport, thirty pages in, the reader knows by the expression on Uncle Thoby’s face that Audrey’s father is already dead. After my parents’ news, I reflected on this scene:

“But I read Uncle Thoby’s face and get wobbly.

Someone behind me puts their hands under my arms. Upsydaisy my darlin.

Oh no.

Uncle Thoby is stepping up the sinking stairs. Oddly. I am hugged into a noisy coat.

You said it was a comma [sic].

I know, but it’s over.”

Sometimes death is that unclear. Sometimes death is that quick. I expect animals to get sick. There is a process to dying. It happened with my dogs, Chester and Taylor, before her. They were getting old. My parents reminded me every day to give them a hug, let them know you love them, you don’t know how long they’ll be with us. You don’t rush these moments because you know the last one’s on the horizon.

But sometimes, you don’t get that. Sometimes it’s quick. “You said it was a comma. / I know, but it’s over.”

I’m still having trouble comprehending a sudden death, one that I didn’t expect. I held my parents on the phone for nearly ten minutes with mostly silence because I didn’t have words for a situation that I couldn’t comprehend. And when they hung up, I couldn’t read. Cue the montage of me sobbing into a warm pile of laundry from the dryer, weeping while frozen with a water bottle in front of the kitchen window, bawling into the phone as I tried to explain to my friend why I stuttered my response to “How are you?”

She recommended I read a funny book, knowing that I was likely reading a book that would only further depress me. But I knew that comedy would only upset my stomach. Come, Thou Tortoise was exactly what I needed. When I returned to it, the sad part was over. The book continued a charming and profound narrative about characters attempting to overcome their deficits and prolong life. I needed the book’s wit and wordplay.

I had a slow start to Bookstravaganza, but I will carry on. Books are the cure.

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