As an award-winning journalist, author, playwright, and teacher, Roger Rosenblatt already had a distinguished and varied career as a wordsmith. But it was the unexpected 2007 death of his daughter, Amy, that turned him to a fresh genre – the memoir – as an outlet for grief. His 2010 book “Making Toast” explored the way that daily tasks – in his case, caring for Amy’s three small children – can help to force mourners into the future.
Now, Rosenblatt has followed “Making Toast” with Kayak Morning, a slender but powerful meditation on coping with loss over the passage of time. Using a solitary kayak trip as a vehicle, Rosenblatt explores the pain, bafflement, and yet deepening compassion that have engulfed him since Amy’s death.
He also looks back on his career, pondering the limited utility of words to help him in his current crisis. “There has to be something more lasting than a book,” he tells his therapist. And yet it is words he finds in a book – “Beneath my chill, I felt a great love stirring” – that ultimately suggest to Rosenblatt how he might move forward.
One of the potent charms of "Making Toast" is the glimpse it offers into the tender interior of Rosenblatt's family relations. Despite its backdrop of grief, this earlier memoir is warmed and enlightened by the joy, pathos, humor, and controlled chaos of life with three small and adored grandchildren. Rosenblatt also seems to be a man surrounded by a sturdy network of a loving adult relationships, friends and family alike, and these too do much to soften the edges of the story that he must tell.
"Kayak Morning" is a much more solitary book. Here Rosenblatt is alone with his own thoughts. Readers looking for updates on the lives of the charismatic Rosenblatt grandchildren or even his extended family of adult in-laws will find little information here. What they will find, however, are the thoughts and feelings of a father – who also happens to be a writer – as he struggles with a grief that seems to go on with no end in sight.
His own words may seem insignificant to Rosenblatt at this moment of his life. His readers, however, are likely to disagree.
Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's Books editor.