If you want a charming look at Charleston, a do-it-yourself book on the intricacies and value of furniture restoration, or some evocative reminiscence about good Kentucky home cooking, then LOOKING FOR ME is the book for you. In fact, somewhere in the midst of Beth Hoffman’s pages of this discovery-of-self novel about a young woman named Theodora Overman, you’ll probably want to take a break, head to a nearby yard sale, and pick up a treasure or two of your own to refurbish.
Hoffman has a good eye for detail and embellishment, and clearly enjoys the art of making better the parts of life that are old, broken or ill-used. Teddi Overman finds her passion for furniture restoration at age 10 when she lugs home a dining room chair, figures out how to and then refinishes it, and sells it to an antique dealer from South Carolina. This serendipitous meeting prompts Teddi to move to Charleston and begin her life of paying attention to the pieces of life that need some repair. A genuine pleasure in the novel comes from the transformations that Teddi and her colleagues effect on others’ junk.
"If you want a charming look at Charleston, a do-it-yourself book on the intricacies and value of furniture restoration, or some evocative reminiscence about good Kentucky home cooking, then LOOKING FOR ME is the book for you."
Her career as an antique dealer blossoms, as careers like that might in a history-laden city of the South, and her clients, employees and a good friend named Olivia add a rich layer to her life. She is sad to be away from Kentucky land and family, and struggles with her mother’s disapproval. Mrs. Overton is a difficult woman to love or understand as she considers Teddi a “trash picker” and always has a suggestion for her to marry, change jobs or settle down. However, at long last, Teddi buys a house needing a multitude of changes with the understanding that it has to be taken off the market immediately. “I don’t want anyone else setting foot inside until she’s all fixed up,” she told the real estate agent. “She’s embarrassed.” The agent is incredulous and doesn’t understand. But the reader by now has learned to trust Teddi’s instincts, and we feel, too, that the house is embarrassed to be seen in her current condition.
The heart of the story, as the title suggests, is Teddi’s search for how she fits into life after her younger brother, Josh, leaves home following a fierce argument with their father over the abuse of a neighbor’s dog tied to a car bumper. At age 18, Josh clears out his closet and leaves with a note saying not to try to find him. But over the 20-odd years he has been missing, Teddi does just that. She repeatedly leaves notes for him in the Gorge, a huge patch of wilderness near her home, and often explains how some of the pieces she sees have Josh’s earmark on them: beautiful feathers, handmade arrowheads.
Teddi recalls the night she and Josh saw a luna moth, and exclaimed that their extraordinary beauty made them almost unreal. Just as the moth flapped its wings and evaporated “into the moonlight like a shimmering green soul,” Josh told her the moths only live about seven days. In response to her regret, he said, “Don’t be sad. Maybe one day to a luna is like ten years to us.” Teddi relives the past again and again, building the story of a remarkable young man who was truly one with nature, who understood animals and the wild far better than his own kin.
The tragedy of Josh’s disappearance is woven throughout the novel, and Teddi cannot really move forward with her own life until she accepts that loss. When she realizes that it is no longer feasible for her to maintain the family property in Kentucky, which has been in the family for generations, the possibilities are limited. She makes the best choices possible with some surprising results.
Hoffman ends the novel in perhaps less-than-convincing ways. Some of us agree there’s nothing like meaningful work, and there’s especially nothing like meaningful work that is creative, hard and transforming. Evidence and affirmation of that truth are reasons enough to read LOOKING FOR ME as Teddi’s life prompts us to look for beauty and worth in unexpected places.
Reviewed by Jane Krebs on May 31, 2013
Looking for Me