"The Blessings" is about a family dealing with grief, but this book won't leave you feeling sad. Credit: Dan Bernstein
Big families make for the best stories, don't you think? It's why shows like "Parenthood" are so successful, and partly why our culture eavesdrops on the Kardashians. Families, with all their complex relationships, forced love and enduring bonds, make for good stories. And Elise Juska's novel, "The Blessings" is exactly that.
"The Blessings" centers around a big Irish-Catholic family living in Northeast Philadelphia. At the center of this dynamic family is a man named John Blessing, who dies. Each family member - from his wife, to his daughter to his parents, deals with his death in different ways, which the book gracefully explores.
The story, while not autobiographical, is close to author Juska's heart. "I come from a close Irish-Catholic family and we had two uncles who died early in my family," she tells us, calling from her native Philadelphia. "They were the core of my family for so long, so this was not a scenario I was unfamiliar with. It's something I've tried to write about many times. It was my way of telling that story."
Juska says there are certain aspects of the book that were directly inspired by her own family, even if she didn't realize it while she was writing. It comes across in the mannerisms of the grandmother, or a certain family tradition. "The truest part is the reaction to loss and the really long effect of that loss," she says.
The book spans 30 years, so readers get to know each character quite well and by the end, you feel like an honorary member of the Blessings yourself.
While she was writing the book, her grandmother died, adding another layer of real life grief on top of the fictional grief Juska was exploring. But despite the heaviness of the topic, Juska loved immersing herself in the Blessings' world, and even though the book is out and the ink has long been dry, she's not quite done with them yet. "I really love these people. I hadn't truly thought about writing about them again, but there's been a lot of early feedback from readers saying there should be a sequel. That would be a great excuse to go back to them and seeing where they end up. I'm curious about the next generation. It's possible."
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