Brought to you by OBS reviewer Kim
Ruth is dying and her 52 year old daughter Denise has never paid a bill, lived on her own, or had a romantic relationship. Ruth knows she has been overprotective, but hoped that she would outlive her special-needs daughter. Metastasized cancer crushes that hope and forces Ruth to find a way to provide for Denise once she is dead. First Ruth turns to Social Security for Disability benefits. After tests, pokes and prods, doctors, nosy psychologists, and ill-furnished waiting rooms, the government declares Denise not eligible for benefits. Mad at the world and daring the government to arrest her so they will have to take care of her since they wouldn’t her daughter, Ruth takes up smoking pot in the backyard. A few joints in, Ruth begins to realize her anger is self-directed. She doubts every decision she has ever made in raising her daughter that doctors, in the 1950s, labeled “retarded.” Partially to coax her mother from the backyard and partially because Ruth will not speak of the past, Denise asks her mother to write down their history of which Denise has no memory. Trying to atone and explain how she could be so obtuse, Ruth agrees. Telling her story becomes an obsession for Ruth who sees the history as her only chance to leave a place for herself in the world since cancer is steadily eating away her physicality. While Ruth writes, Denise begins to pursue her own independence, despite the minor setbacks of a chopped off fingertip and chemo poisoning. She begins to make choices for herself and finally tells her mother pieces of her own truth: Denise stayed with her mother because she chose to, because she loved her mother more than any life she could make for herself. In claiming her own truth, Denise also chooses silence about the biggest secrets of all. Comfort of Fences explores the messy business of mothering. It is a story about the love between a devoted mother and her special daughter that exposes the irony that the people we love the most can also be the ones we underestimate the greatest.
I started to rate this as a 3 and I guess this is where personal choice comes in. The reason I give it 5 stars is because this book will make you feel emotions you didn’t know existed and in that aspect it gets 5 stars. A good book is supposed to draw you in and make you feel things as you read it. The reason I wanted to give a 3 is because I really don’t like Ruth. Kids don’t have a choice sometimes and have to rely on the adults in their lives which sometimes is not right or fair.
I really don’t know what to make of this story because some of the stuff is so out there, for example, Ruth making Denise have a hysterectomy taking her choices away from her. Sadly I can see this being done in real life. The story is there, the hurt, love, mistakes and family. This story is much like the real world, real life doesn’t always have a happy ending. The choices that we make in life, we have to live with and most of the time it’s too late to right wrongs. The story goes back and forth to the two main characters, the mother Ruth and daughter Denise and it begins in the present day and time, Ruth has been diagnosed with cancer again and this time there is no stopping it.
They make Ruth into a mother who only wanted what was best for Denise when actually Ruth was selfish and really only thought of herself and how to make it easier for her. If you want a book that makes you feel every emotion known to man this is the one. It will make you angry enough that you want to shake them. I know at one point I was so mad at Ruth that I literally didn’t want to finish the book but as good writing does it draws you back and you just have to finish. I did and I am glad because a good writer makes you feel, they draw you into the story.
Denise is much like Ruth, She takes the easy way. She doesn’t want to make choices and is afraid of anything that breathes because of Ruth telling her what she should be afraid of instead of how to cope with life so as not to be afraid. Denise lets her mom Ruth control every aspect of her life, now Denise is in her 50’s and her mother is dying and she has never lived alone or made any kind of a choice until Ruth’s cancer makes the decisions for both of them.
This is about a friendship and love of family and no matter what’s been said or done sometimes there are bonds that can never be broken. I can see that depending on the person reading this book and their life history is how they are going to see the characters in this book. I see what I wrote above but I think others will see Ruth as a devoted mother to Denise and Denise as a devoted daughter but I have to say I see selfishness. Lucky for them they do have a friend in one woman that Ruth has practically known her whole life and as far as Georgia is concerned she most always disagreed with Ruth but still stood beside her and was there for her good, bad and the ugly.
For the most part this is a good book, it will keep you on your toes and wondering what is going to happen next.
Thanks for taking part in the tour. I’m so glad you enjoyed Comfort of Fences.
I worked in human service and back until the late 80’s it was common to have women with development disabilities and with mental health issues to be sterilized with or without their consent.
Thank you for the honesty in this review Kim. Yes, Ruth is a difficult character. As a mother, I, too, cringed at her decisions but I also learned so much about parenting by exploring the mistakes she made. Thank you for appreciating the artistry of the book. I wish you comfort and peace.
you are welcome, Honestly it was hard to read because of my childhood but all books deserve an honest review regardless of real life emotions. I wish you many blessings.