In his 2010 memoir, MAKING TOAST, journalist and essayist Roger Rosenblatt told of his family’s struggle to cope with the sudden death of his 38-year-old daughter Amy from a rare cardiac anomaly. From the moment he and his wife Ginny moved from Long Island to his daughter’s home in Bethesda, Maryland, to help their son-in-law care for three young children, the ordeal became one of shared grief and striving toward recovery. In his new memoir, Rosenblatt turns inward, extending and deepening the story of his struggle to come to terms with her loss.
"Deceptively simple as the surface on which its author’s vessel floats, KAYAK MORNING possesses a depth that invites multiple rereadings to reveal its many levels of meaning."
Two-and-a-half years after Amy’s death, Rosenblatt --- engaged in a one-way conversation with her as he sifts through fragments of memory --- concedes that the pace of his return to normal life has been slow. “What I failed to calculate,” he admits, “is the pain that increases even as one gets on with it.” To assuage that ache, one Sunday morning in late June 2010, he takes to the waters of Penniman’s Creek (“an inlet shaped like a wizard’s hat, squiggly on the sides and bent at the point”), which leads from the Village of Quoge on Long Island to Quoge Canal and onward to the sea. His vessel is a humble kayak, “a small narrow boat in which you sit at the center and propel yourself with a double-bladed paddle.” Threaded through the memoir are instructive and informative descriptions of the technique one must follow to stay afloat and avoid the disaster that can befall the inattentive or careless kayaker.
But this modest voyage in the simplest of watercraft launches Rosenblatt on a strikingly wide-ranging array of meditations on literature, language, nature and his personal history. He glides effortlessly from the macro to the micro, his thoughts always rooted in his search for answers to unanswerable questions.
With its references to catastrophes like the 1984 chemical leak in Bhopal, India, the crash of TWA Flight 800 in Long Island Sound only eight miles from Rosenblatt’s home in 1996, and descriptions of the suffering of children on whose lives he reported in his book CHILDREN OF WAR, Rosenblatt’s memoir brings to mind Annie Dillard’s meditation on mortality, FOR THE TIME BEING. In its most intimate moments, it recalls Joan Didion’s searing narrative of loss, THE YEAR OF MAGICAL THINKING.
Seeking some exit from his grief, Rosenblatt speaks with a therapist friend, and he offers snippets of their dialogues, most of them partaking of a koan-like quality. In one of those exchanges, he admits that when he finished MAKING TOAST, “it was if she had died again.” His friend recommends Brian Weiss’s MANY LIVES, MANY MASTERS, a book “about past lives and the continuity of our souls,” and though Rosenblatt approaches it as a skeptic, he concedes, “I was surprised how much I took to the spiritual part.”
Though when it came to spirituality, in MAKING TOAST Rosenblatt acknowledged, “My anger at God remains unabated,” and little has changed with the passage of time. Rejecting Albert Einstein’s assertion th