Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Story of Us by Deb Caletti

Cricket and her family are staying at Bluff House on Bishop Rock for a weeklong wedding. It’s one the west coast, not far from Seattle, and Cricket says, “Well, if there was actually going to be a wedding, Bluff House on Bishop Rock was a beautiful place for one. Set up on the edge of the cliff, the house was all white, with three levels of wraparound decks, and a rambling boardwalk leading to the beach.” The wedding that will hopefully happen is between Cricket’s mom and a man named Dan Jax, but Cricket’s mom has a tendency to leave her husbands-to-be at the Sea-Tac Airport at the last minute to avoid getting married altogether. Her mom’s complicated relationship with relationships has affected Cricket, too, as she describes the different men that her mom has lived with, the blending of separate families, the arrival of stepsiblings, and a whole lot of complication.

There are several threads of story in the book, all of which intersect in order to tell the story of Cricket’s family, and Cricket’s sort-of-ex-boyfriend who she emails regularly from Bishop Rock.  On a self-imposed break, her relationship with Janssen, her brother Ben’s best friend, is on hold. Even though he has been a part of Cricket’s life and family for almost ten years – since they moved into the house down the road from his – his absence at the wedding is necessary while Cricket sorts out her feelings. Her regular emails to Janssen tell “The Story of Us”; she details how they met, how they fell in love, and where things fell apart. Cricket’s difficult relationship with her father is revealed through these emails, since Janssen was present for one very important and frightening visit from Cricket’s father that he stepped in the middle of. Cricket explains,

“I love my father, but it’s a complicated love. He can be great, really great, and then he’s suddenly a storm slowly building, a storm that finally tosses lawn furniture and garbage cans, knocks trees down onto roofs. Dan was a regular, calm sky. You kept looking up there, and, yeah, it was still blue and still blue.”

But her father is not the only man that her mom has lived with, and Cricket spends a good deal of time talking about the changes that came with her mother’s relationships, including gaining a stepsister and stepbrother:

“Blending was a great idea, yeah, but Olivia and Scotty didn’t care about school and ate junk food for breakfast, and on the weekends they’d stay in their pajamas in front of the TV until the day got dark again. We did care about school; we ate Cheerios, not Skittles, in the morning; and on the weekends we’d go to a baseball game of Ben’s and come home only to find them in the same place as when we’d left. You can use whatever words you want, but I knew they weren’t my brother and sister.”

Now, with Dan Jax in the picture, Ben and Cricket are about to gain two new stepsiblings, eighteen-year-old Hailey and fifteen-year-old Amy, who are both fairly opposed to their father’s second marriage. As family collects and gathers at Bishop Rock, tension is pulled in with it, and Cricket just holds on to hope that her mom and Dan can make it through the week. All of the family members allow Caletti to really play with character, and you’ll find some of the most dynamic, funny, nuanced, sympathetic, and incredibly dislikeable characters in The Story of Us. There are exchanges and dialogue that really should not be missed, and small observations that Caletti sneaks in when you’re not expecting them. Two of my favorite:

“Have you ever accidentally put your slippers on the wrong feet? Your feet know in a second without looking that there’s been a mistake.”

“We’d take our shoes off, and you’d tell me my toes looked like a row of old men standing together. Old men, waiting at a bus stop.”

Underlying all of this is a thread that follows Jupiter, Cricket’s dog, as Cricket, Ben, and their mom remember different points of Jupiter’s life that have impacted their own. Cricket talks about small, meaningful moments that explain so much about having a dog as part of a family. While Ben and Cricket used to pack up their weekend bags to visit their dad, Cricket would hear her mom talking to Jupiter: “‘What are we going to do this weekend, huh, girl?’ Mom would ask her as we packed our bags. ‘Slumber party, you and me?’” Jupiter is along for the wedding, trying to get along with Cruiser, Dan’s dog, and Jupiter’s presence means an excuse for Cricket to get out of the house and take her for a walk when things get too stressful.

Caletti’s books usually focus on teenagers right at the cusp of adulthood: about to leave home, family, and familiarity. Her protagonists seem to fall between seventeen and eighteen; Cricket is eighteen in this book, but her brother and Janssen are twenty, raising the character age slightly past where it usually sits in her books. Leaving home and moving away is important to all of the characters here. Caletti’s The Nature of Jade ended by talking about how it was possible to balance family and going away, but the pull of staying is even more present in The Story of Us, especially when Cricket and Ash talk one night:

“You know what happened to me? You spend the last years of high school dying to get away, right? But somewhere in there it hits you. It gets real.”
“I know,” I said.
“The, what, pieces of you that you’re leaving.”
I stared at him. That was it exactly. Exactly. No one hat put it that simply before. That rightly. I nodded.
“Don’t tell anyone I said that,” Ash said.
“Don’t tell anyone I said that,” I said.
“For some reason no one says these things. You’re not supposed to talk about that part. Why is that? It’s wrong to love your family? The place you live? It’s your home. It’s all who you are.”

The Story of Us is another beautifully written book by Caletti that gets relationships, families, and the pieces that make them up so right. 

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