Judith Guest
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Get *Errands* delivered to your door! Errands

Judith Guest
Ballantine Books
335 pages
January 1997
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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Judith Guest, the acclaimed author of Ordinary People, offers up her latest novel. The story of a young family coming to terms with the premature loss of husband and father, Errands paints an honest portrayal of the everyday ordeals that accompany the process of mourning and moving on.

Curled Up With a Good BookKeith, a warm and witty English teacher and father of three, is dying of a brain tumor. Annie, his briskly in-control wife, is denying the possibility of his death, stubbornly believing that when Keith starts chemotherapy, he will start healing. But the worst happens on a family vacation before the treatments have even been started, and Annie finds herself thrust into the role of sole provider for their children. Out of the workplace for 17 years, 36-year old Annie struggles to find a job that will at least keep ends met while trying to live somehow with her fresh grief.

Annie's own pain becomes a barrier between her and her children, who are each trying to come to terms with their own loss. Harry, the eldest at thirteen, becomes brooding and withdrawn, spending his time with a new rebellious friend. Jimmy, the middle peacemaker child, grows increasingly fascinated with the possibility of communicating with his dead father through the ancient rites and powers of the Druids. And Julie, the nine-year-old baby of the family, starts skipping school and lying, beginning a written journal to record all the things she's done that she can't tell anybody about.

While the children argue more and more, and she herself engages in an exhausting battle of wills with a superior at her new job, Annie finds that she no longer has control over her new life. Her sister Jess, who is in a precarious relationship with a soon-to-be-divorced man, offers to Annie as much support as she can. When a potential tragedy strikes the family again, Annie and her children are finally able to give voice to their grief. In the process, they realize that though theyare all irrevocably changed, together they can and will endure.

Unrelentingly despairing Errands is not. Guest tempers the pain with gentle humor. When Annie comes home from job-hunting one day to find a lamp that she's secretly always hated broken, she summons the children to explain:

"What was the point of leaving it here for me to find? Or were you hoping I wouldn't notice?" "We knew you'd notice," Jimmy says, and she laughs suddenly, the whole thing striking her as ridiculous. They look at each other, not believing their luck. "Does that mean you're not mad?" Jimmy asks. "No, I'm not mad. I've hated it for years. But how did it happen?" They can't wait to tell her; the words wrestling, gymnastics, and karate feature prominently in the story.

And Julie, endearingly precocious, makes sage observations on family dynamics and her own experience in her continuing journal:

Today we went to grandma and grandpa's for dinner and Mom and grandpa got in a fight at the dinner table. He called her a goddamn liveral and after that nobody said anything but pass the meat pass the potatoes pass the peas...All day long Grandma kept saying bless your heart to me. I am the only one she ever says it to. Every time she does it Harry and Jimmy make a mark in the air like they're keeping track. Once she said bless your little heart and they counted that too.

Ultimately, Annie and her children start down the long road toward healing and acceptance, and the memories of Keith begin to be something that don't always have to bring pain:

Make peace with what is, he told her. Last November, even before they truly believed in it. Whatever happens, it will be okay. You will still have yourself. And that he has said to her right here. In this very place. That first week of June, when they arrived here. Farther down the beach, she can see a sign. She tries to focus her eyes, can only make out part of it:
A good way to be, then. Positively. On this beach. For now, maybe nothing more has to be known.

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