Before everything in her world changes forever, Maura Corrigan feels almost ecstatic and on top of the world. It is a vibrant blue-skied June morning, and she soars through it, propelled by a secret she clutches close as she walks her children to their elementary school. Maura pushes Sarah in her stroller, while calling to her eldest son James on his bike to slow down. When she feels her phone vibrate, she pulls it out of her pocket to concentrate on the text she's received, formulating various witty replies. As James calls her name, she waves without looking at her son and then begins to type. The moment is broken by shrieking brakes and the crunching of metal as a car collides. Maura drops everything and races forward on a surge of adrenaline.
"[Woodruff's] understanding of the challenges a family undertakes during a tragedy adds an unflinching honesty to THOSE WE LOVE MOST, making it feel real... [R]eaders who enjoy contemplative character-driven plots will enjoy the emotional impact of this moving tale."
Maura's mother, Margaret, has spent a contemplative morning in the garden she loves, the one her husband Roger once dubbed her "mistress." Margaret never let on how ironic she found that name, given what she knows of her husband's long-term relationship in Florida during his frequent business trips for his commercial real estate firm. Margaret and Roger have drifted apart during their many wedded years. Roger is obsessed with his work, spending his free time golfing. As she mulls over the sad state of her marriage, Margaret hears the phone ring twice. She heads into the house, hoping that maybe Maura is inviting her for dinner. Then she hears the staccato sound of an urgent message being left on her machine.
Meanwhile, Roger is lying in bed, gazing at his mistress's tanned back as he anticipates the heat of the Florida morning. Roger and Julia have enjoyed a long-term relationship. Yet, on this last day before he flies home, he inevitably remembers his wife. When Julia wakes up, she comments on his "leaving-day look." His apology is cut short by the shrill tone of his cell phone, which he silences, pressing the "ignore" button. However, when it rings again, immediately he feels a prickling of alarm. It isn't like Margaret to persistently call him, especially early in the morning.
The family members converge at the hospital. As Roger enters the building, he remembers the pleasure of meeting James, his first grandchild, for the first time nearly 10 years before. Roger had carried a bouquet for his daughter and an "It's a Boy" balloon in celebration of the birth. Now, today, Roger is stunned; he can't believe he is in this hospital again under such terrifying and unimaginable circumstances. His sense of unreality lasts until he reaches his grandson's bed where his wife's vulnerability strikes an emotional chord he hasn't felt with her for many years. Maura runs, sobbing, into her father's arms. Roger is filled with helpless sorrow when he sees James, small and still, surrounded by tubes and wires. His grandson is covered with bruises and cuts. His head has swelled on one side, and he is hooked to a ventilator that breathes for him. Still, the family clings to hope…until James passes away.
Author Lee Woodruff draws on her own experiences with her husband, journalist Bob Woodward, who suffered a traumatic brain injury as the result of a roadside bomb in Iraq. Her understanding of the challenges a family undertakes during a tragedy adds an unflinching honesty to THOSE WE LOVE MOST, making it feel real (sometimes almost uncomfortably so, as readers acknowledge we are not immune to heartbreaking catastrophe). In her acknowledgements, the author states that her goal was to write a book about resilience; in that, she has succeeded admirably, as she follows the emotional trajectory of the two married couples, Roger and Margaret, and Maura and her husband, Pete, for the year following James' death. Although the pace lags slightly at times, readers who enjoy contemplative character-driven plots will enjoy the emotional impact of this moving tale.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on September 14, 2012
Those We Love Most