“June 11, 1951: Washington, D.C. … a Sunday, just after noon … Lucy Baldwin’s mother turned left onto Wichita Avenue … her husband’s car … was parked in front of the house the [family] had purchased as an investment property. Her father … left their house on Capitol Hill that morning” to do some last minute touch ups to the property before the new tenants moved in.” Lucy was sent into the house to remind her father of the dinner party her parents were having that night. She went all through the house without finding him, until she noticed the door to the basement was ajar … twelve year old Lucy, “could see the swinging shadow of her father’s long, slender bare feet” … he had hanged himself. But why? Would Lucy ever know? This is how Susan Richards Shreve opens her novel, YOU ARE THE LOVE OF MY LIFE.
"Susan Richards Shreve has written a heartwarming story about how people reach out in an effort to form relationships, even ones that are very tenuous."
Shreve immediately transports readers from the 1973 Watergate scene to New York City, where (the same) Lucy Baldwin, now Painter, resides with her children, 12-year-old Maggie and three-year-old Felix. Lucy is a very successful writer/illustrator of children’s books in the spirit of Maurice Sendak. The close-knit family lives in the Village, and their closest friend is “Uncle Reuben,” Lucy’s editor whom they all adore. He visits them a couple of times a week, an arrangement that goes on for years.
As her children grow and she thinks about her life, Lucy decides to move out of the city to the house where she grew up --- until her father’s suicide. When that happened, Lucy’s mother moved in a flash to Santa Fe and changed their name to Painter. She was afraid that the family of Samuel Baldwin would find them. When they relocated to New Mexico, Lucy was told not to tell anyone. But by that time, she had learned to live with secrets and lies.
After attending the Rhode Island School of Design, Lucy was able to move to New York where she met Reuben, and her career took off. She fell in love with him and they began their long affair. He continued to be her editor and encouraged her in her career. As the narrative moves on, cracks begin to show in their relationship. Rueben does not want her to move back to Washington, D.C., but Lucy is determined to face her demons and go back to that house. She has it restored and finds herself on a street where the women get together every morning after the kids leave for school on Zee’s porch for coffee and…but Lucy stays away. “… That group seems to operate as a team under Zee’s direction ….” After all Lucy never had women friends or confidantes and these ladies threaten the shell that she lives behind.
She does, however, make friends with August Ruff, her next door neighbor. He has created a reputation for being a recluse in spite of the gossipy women who have tried without success to bring him “out” and join them. He is writing a book about the history of the time when Lucy’s father died. She likes August very much and the feeling is mutual. He decides he wants her to be his “reader.” She agrees and a friendship morphs into one more personal. Then while cleaning the gutters on his house he falls and the ladder falls on top of him. Everyone visits him in the hospital but Lucy goes very early in the morning to be alone with him even though he is in a coma.
Susan Richards Shreve has written a heartwarming story about how people reach out in an effort to form relationships, even ones that are very tenuous. She points to what goes on between parents and their children highlighting the secrets and lies they tell them. Lucy is terrified that her secrets will be revealed and she will have to tell more lies. Living on the edge of truth is at the core of her being. Readers will feel both empathy and, at times, frustration with her. Nevertheless, Shreve is a seasoned writer whose characters are fully limned, and the narrative does not have any superfluous branches.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on September 21, 2012
You Are the Love of My Life