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.
This is so far out of my normal genre of books. I am unsure what caught my eye to request it but I am certainly glad I did. I want to say it is adult contemporary but am unsure. whatever it is, it was brilliant and straying does pay off every once in awhile.
The synopsis says it all as to what the book is about. Ruth has come down with cancer and her “retarded” daughter, Denise needs to learn more life skills to deal with what is happening and for her future. Yet, it is about so much more. We learn all about Ruth’s past when she writes a memoir for Denise to read in the future that will help explain her decisions.
“I try to ignore the niggling voice in my brain that reminds me that she isn’t my girl. She is an overweight, middle-aged retarded woman with tight gray curls and a double chin.”
While reading this book, I wanted to jump into the pages and hug both Ruth and Denise. Both feel so guilty about the decisions they have made, yet they were always made out of love. With so many stories in the forefront right now that are all about love, sex, drugs, etc, it was certainly refreshing to read a book with so much more substance. This story also had a supporting character, Ruth’s best friend, Georgia, who brings a lot of comedic relief during the really tough parts which is a welcome distraction to the reality of the book.
“There is nothing in this world that can make me forget my momma in bed with her arms crossed like she’s already dead and in her coffin.”
This book is told in dual point of views, both Ruth’s and Denise’s, but then you also feel as if there is a third one as you are reading the memoir as it plays out. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys an emotional read and who is looking for a break from the New Adult genre. It will not be an easy read. You will start thinking about your mortality and the ones you leave behind. It will more than likely bring you to tears. But I guarantee, you will most certainly love the book and the characters.
Stacy Overman Morrison was born and raised in Texas. She earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s of Arts degrees in English from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. Upon completion of her Master’s, she taught secondary English and adjuncted at the University. She took time off from her teaching career after the birth of her second daughter and has pursued her writing since. She continues to live in Texas with her husband, two daughters, two dogs, and two horses. This is her first novel and she is hard at work listening to the voices of her characters in her second.