Gayle Forman captures the overwhelm of managing life and acute illness in her novel Leave Me. The protagonist Maribeth Klein is a 40-something mom of twins when she has a heart attack. Like many women, Maribeth has no idea her heart is in acute distress. She keeps going because that’s what her boss and her family expect. But inside she’s screaming for help and time to recover.
I picked up this audiobook last week when all of my reading was just too serious, and the world was grey. Narrated by Eva Kaminsky, it was an easy way to digest this story.
You’d think a plot like this wouldn’t help my mood. But because Maribeth does what stressed people often fantasize about, it was perfect. She leaves her kids in the somewhat capable hands of her husband. Then she heads to another city to be alone, sorting out her health and a few other things.
Forman has a deft touch, skirting the responsibilities and irresponsibility of Maribeth’s choice. She makes it clear that getting well is first priority, including building strength and stamina. But on the other hand, this mother doesn’t reach out to her family for a pretty long time considering. And her husband is equally communication challenged.
This is pure fiction. Not the part about 44-year olds having cardiac events. But the part about Maribeth’s chosen coping strategy. If I polled ten women I know and asked what they would do in this situation, I imagine they would want to leave home. But I also think they wouldn’t really do it. Suitably, Forman gives Maribeth enough conscience to struggle with her choice.
My experience with illness is more on the chronic than acute side of things, but I also thought Forman handled this well. She presents just enough medical information to illustrate Maribeth’s situation. Managing a new and scary diagnosis isn’t easy, and Maribeth has all the emotional reactions I’d expect.
I found myself cheering for Maribeth as she regained her physical strength and emotional equanimity. She’s a deeply flawed heroine, which is more interesting than an unrealistically perfect woman. I wanted her to get everything sorted out and find the pot of gold at the end of her rainbow.