April 5, 2010

Every Last Cuckoo

Every Last Cuckoo by Kate Maloy
2009 Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Finished on 3/18/10
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Product Description

Sarah Lucas imagined the rest of her days would be spent living peacefully in her rural Vermont home in the steadfast company of her husband. But after Charles dies suddenly, seventy-five-year-old Sarah is left inconsolably alone—until a variety of wayward souls come seeking shelter in her big, empty house. As Sarah and this unruly flock form a family of sorts, they nurture and protect one another, discovering unsuspected strength and courage.

In the tradition of Jane Smiley and Sue Miller, Kate Maloy has crafted a wise and gratifying novel about a woman who gracefully accepts a surprising new role just when she thinks her best years are behind her.

It's been over two years since I first heard about Maloy's debut novel. Marcia (of Owl's Feathers) posted an enticing review which, along with the gorgeous cover art, whetted my appetite for a good "women's fiction" read. Eventually, I bought a copy of the book, but it wound up lingering for many, many months on one of the tables in our living room. Choosing to ignore some of the newer books I've acquired in the meantime, I snatched this one up as soon as I finished Making Toast and was immediately engrossed in Sarah's story. I loved the domestic details of her life and fifty-year marriage to Charles. Not a perfect marriage, by any means, but a real one consisting of love, friendship, devotion and mutual respect for one another's individuality.

Some favorite passages...

On memory:

This kind of thing happened more with age. Sarah was seventy-five. She had lived many thousands of days, so it was not surprising that scenes from an hour here or a moment there should surface at random. Her memories were beads jumbled loose in a box, unstrung. Everything—people, events, conversations—came and went so fast that only a fraction of the beads were ever stored at all. Few were whole, many cracked; most rolled away beneath pressing, present moments and were gone forever. What was the point?

On widowhood:

Sarah knew that life would go on for others even as it remained suspended for her. She had seen it happen before, the slow, cool shrinking back of friends when a person was thought to mourn too long, to fail at getting on with things. She could pretend when she had to, but nothing remained to be gotten on with. She got out of bed each morning with heavy reluctance, hating the look of her side rumpled and Charles's undisturbed. She took to lying flat in bed, pulling the covers up smooth over her outstretched form, then folding the top sheet over the edge before slipping out from underneath. Thus the bed was as good as made and the absence of Charles was less blatant before she even stood up. Wit that accomplished, she had sixteen hours to fill before unmaking her side of the bed once more.

On the elusiveness of death:

Early in April the warm breath of spring released ice and snow in torrents from their frozen imprisonment. Rivers and streams ran fast and muddy, breaching their banks in low places but otherwise furiously contained. Like the rivers, Sarah's grief ran fast and readily spilled over in low, private moments. She could picture herself sinking into sorrow as she'd done over her stillborn son. It was so easy; she could like back and let herself go dark. Death moved ceaselessly at the edge of her awareness, just out of reach, stalking her. She would startle when its immovable reality met her squarely in her thoughts. Surely she would be next. She was ashamed to feel so afraid. She half hoped she would lose her wits before her life. If dementia claimed her, she would never see her own death coming. There would be nothing to fear. Already she was not herself. How much was left to lose?

On grief:

Grief slipped away, only to attack from behind. It changed shape endlessly. It lacerated her, numbed her, stalked her, startled her, caught her by the throat. It deceived her eye with glimpses of Charles, her ear with the sound of his voice. She would turn and turn, expecting him, and find him gone. Again. Each time Sarah escaped her sorrow, forgetful amid other things, she lost him anew the instant she remembered he was gone.

I'm afraid I'm making this sound like yet another sad story about death, but it's really about more than just Sarah's loss. The first half of the book, described through flashbacks, details her life with Charles and their children. The second half is centered around Sarah's role as a mother of adult children, grandmother, and essentially that of a house mother. This gentle story about love and loss is a keeper and one, I'm sure, I'll read again.

Read what other bloggers have written about Every Last Cuckoo:

Sarah Lucas is a character who will live with me for some time. How often, of late, have I looked in the mirror and wondered just who that person staring back at me could be? How often, of late, have memories crowded in, demanding their space in my present? How often, of late, have I feared aging and inevitable separations? Sarah brings all of these fears and questions full circle, redefines her sense of self, and convinces that in the aftermath of inconsolable loss, life does go on…not the same, maybe not perfectly, but in some ways better. (Marcia, of Owl's Feathers)

The family dynamics were very believable because they’re so well written. I felt like the ups and downs in Charles and Sarah’s marriage were so realistic too. Even though I’m not as old as Kate, I could relate to her and was so glad when she discovered the wisdom she had inside. (Kathy, of Bermudaonion's Weblog)

Be sure to click on these bloggers' links to read their reviews in full.

Also, I discovered a wonderful post on Largehearted Boy in which author, Kate Maloy, has created a playlist for Every Last Cuckoo. I love this idea! Unfortunately, several of the video clips have been removed, but you can still see the song titles Maloy has selected.


  1. This book appeals to me on so many levels...loved your thoughts on it and this is one that I'm so going to read this year!

  2. Les~I am so glad that you liked this book, too. Sarah is still wandering around in my mind--a reread is definitely due in and around all those chasing milkweek fluffs in the air moments I seem to have more and more of lately!

  3. I have Marcia's review from January 2008(!!) in my book ideas folder. I loved the sound of it, and I just better get to reading it soon. Thanks for the push!

    There's a book I read ten years ago, which has stayed with me, and which sounds a tiny bit similar called The Southwest Corner by Mildred Walker. It is about an 83 year old woman in Vermont who lives alone in the family home. I am absolutely thrilled to find it still in print.


    issued by Univ. of Nebraska Press!


  4. From the quotes, this definitely looks like a good one. I have this one and was thinking of letting it go because I have no idea when I will get to it, but it looks like it's one I need to hang on to for awhile.

  5. Anonymous11:29 AM

    Such a pretty cover (and I know that's not indicative of the inside, but still!). I immediately thought of Nan as I was reading your review. It sounds like something she would love. I really like stories of long-term marriages that work, not that are perfect, but work.

  6. Staci - I'm glad to hear this. It seems like a book that slipped under the radar of most readers I know.

    Marcia - Thank you so much for sharing this title with me via your review. I thoroughly enjoyed Sarah's story and I can't stop admiring the gorgeous cover. I think I'll put it back on the table in the living room, even though I've already read it. :)

    Nan - I know! That's the review I read. :)

    Thanks for the mention of Mildred Walker. I added The Southwest Corner to my Amazon wish list and I read the write-up on the Creighton website. Yay for University Of Nebraska Press! :)

    Nicole - I'm glad you enjoyed the review and have reconsidered giving it a read. BTW, I added your blog to my blog roll.

    Kay - Isn't it lovely? I love all those colorful dishes and mugs. Yes, it seems like a book Nan would enjoy. I, too, enjoy stories about long-term marriages that work. And about older women getting by on their own. I have one I'd like to re-read. It's called Night Gardening. I don't think it's in print anymore, but I have my copy downstairs. Might be a good one for the 24-hour Read-A-Thon.

  7. Happy day! You have $10 Amazon gift certificate! The e-mail address I have for you is old, so if you'll send yours along to
    debnance at gmail dot com
    I'll send your gc out to you!

  8. Debbie - How cool is that?! Yippee! Now to decide what to buy. Maybe the one Nan just mentioned by Mildred Walker. Thank you so much. I'll send you my email separately.

  9. I so LOVED this book! Glad u liked it as well.

  10. i've seen this book around and love the cover--i'm a junkie for crockery!

    the quotes you included were so beautiful that a few actually gave me pause.

    i haven't read this novel and am not sure i'm up to it right now (i need some lighter stuff lately) but will jot down the title in my journal for later reading.

  11. I thought this book was very well written and could really relate to Sarah. I appreciate the shout out!

  12. This looks like a book I would really enjoy. Thanks for your review.

  13. I'm back again :<) - I really liked Night Gardening, though I kind of wished for a different ending. You probably know the author is Kathryn Lasky, a very prolific writer of young adult books:


    I read a couple when my kids were younger. Shadows on the Water is the one I recall. I checked out her adult fiction on the page and found several I'd like to read.

  14. Diane - I hope she publishes something soon, don't you?

    Nat - I probably would've bought the book without reading any reviews just for it's pretty cover. Thanks for visiting. I'll have to check out your blog.

    Kathy - It was a winner, wasn't it? I enjoyed your write-up.

    Framed - Hope you enjoy it as well as I did.

    Nan - Are you sitting down? Guess what I'm reading right now? A teen book called Ashes by none other than Kathryn Lasky! I got it at work a week or so ago and on a whim, picked it up to read yesterday afternoon. What a strange coincidence, huh?! :)

  15. I've been drawn to this simply because of the beautiful cover. Knowing that you liked it makes me want to really give it a try.

  16. Tara - Having gotten to know your taste in books, I think this is something you'd really enjoy. This is one of those times the cover didn't disappoint!

  17. I got a copy of this title from Algonquin and it's still lingering on the piles. Someday I swear I'll get to it but I don't think it's the right book for me at the moment.

  18. Ooh! I think that's a book I could really get into right now. I'm in the mood for something along those lines.

  19. Nancy - I think you might enjoy it, but yeah, maybe not right now.

    Allie - It definitely pulls you in from the get-go. The secondary characters are a little flat, but that's just a minor quibble. I really liked Sarah. And her husband, Charles.

    Thanks for stopping by with your comment!

  20. I loved this book too, Les. Her playlist is very interesting. I have seen other authors, including Diana Gabaldon, share their playlists for certain books. Being as much a music lover as a book lover I'd like to see more of this.

  21. Maudeen - I wish more authors would create a playlist. I think Marisa de los Santos has one for Love Walked In. And John Sandford has a huge list at the back of one of his Lucas Davenport books. I need to track that book down again and make a copy of the songs. It was something like his Top 100 Singles. I know there were a lot of great songs on that list!


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