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The Hope Chest

Review

The Hope Chest

THE HOPE CHEST follows quickly on the heels of Viola Shipman’s debut novel, THE CHARM BRACELET. “Viola Shipman” is a pseudonym for Wade Rouse, a prolific author of memoirs. He chose to honor his late grandmother by using her name for both of these books, which are based on actual family experiences.

The setting for THE HOPE CHEST is the shore of Lake Michigan, which includes the resort communities of Douglas and Saugatuck, Michigan. There, Mattie has enjoyed living for several years with her husband in the lakefront home she inherited from her parents. Now Mattie and Don are moving to a new house a few miles inland. Mattie has been struggling with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, for quite some time, and its progression has been relentless. She is confined to a wheelchair and is completely dependent on Don to take care of her. Married for nearly 50 years and with no living children, they only have each other.

"Although THE HOPE CHEST is fiction, the author movingly and effectively draws upon personal knowledge in selecting the location and in writing about the devastation of ALS and the importance of family heirlooms tucked away in an antique cedar chest."

Mattie enjoyed a successful career as a landscape architect. She had a real knack for arranging plants, flowers and trees to enhance the beauty that nature had already provided. Now she can only look at the world from her wheelchair. Don, physically exhausted and emotionally spent, needs assistance to care for Mattie as her condition continues to deteriorate.

As a result, they hire Rose, a caregiver and young single mother. Rose often brings her daughter, Jeri, to work with her, much to the delight of Don and Mattie. Jeri, a precocious and lively seven-year-old, is a breath of fresh air for the couple. Jeri quite happily listens to Mattie's stories. Rose steps in seamlessly to care for Mattie, which gives Don a much-needed break as well as a chance to finally deal with his sometimes-overwhelming emotions out of sight from Mattie.

A handmade wooden hope chest belonging to Mattie's mother but gifted to young Mattie one Easter several decades ago provides an unending source of conversation and stories. The McCoy vase, the handmade cloth doll, the snow globe, a very oddly shaped Christmas ornament, a Bible, a wooden plaque, a berry-stained apron, and several other items bring memories flooding back to a very ill Mattie, and she shares those stories with Jeri, who is interested in hearing what life was like in "the old days."

This odd quartet --- a dying woman and her devoted husband, and a struggling single mom and her young daughter --- forms a bond and becomes a family of sorts due to chance and choice. Families come in all forms, and these four individuals have a great deal to offer each other.

Although THE HOPE CHEST is fiction, the author movingly and effectively draws upon personal knowledge in selecting the location and in writing about the devastation of ALS and the importance of family heirlooms tucked away in an antique cedar chest.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on March 23, 2017

The Hope Chest
by Viola Shipman

  • Publication Date: March 21, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250105072
  • ISBN-13: 9781250105073