Title: School for the Blind
Author: Dennis McFarland
Publication Year: 1994
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Source: My Stacks
Date Completed: 5/17/2011
I'm reading a bit less, and my reviews seem to be getting a bit backlogged, but I always make it a point to review (even briefly) every book I read. Two weeks ago, I chose Dennis McFarland's, School for the Blind as my First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Into , so in case you were curious what I thought about the rest of the book, here goes.
"HIS LIFE'S WORK and ambition fulfilled. Francis Brimm believed the only metamorphosis left him was a slow, affable decline toward death, and so at the age of seventy-three he returned to the town of his youth to retire. He had been a news photographer--a witness, a messenger amid the world's fire and ashes--and he figured he had earned not only the right to let the world go, but also the poise to let it go with authority. He would read, write, sleep, visit the beach, fish, garden a bit, whatever he pleased--the pastimes, he imagined, of solitary old people of some accomplishment. The medley of images he assembled for this retirement included a cottage with a porch on which he might sit and muse over the prospects of the very next hour, but soon after he had settled into just such a place, he found himself absorbed in entirely different, unexpected ways."
Francis Brimm is a retired photojournalist who has traveled the world. With no wife and no children, he decides to return to his childhood hometown to live out the rest of his years. His sister Muriel, also elderly (5 years older), still lives in their childhood home. An intelligent woman, she is a retired librarian, who had worked at the local "school for the blind". As a retiree, she keeps busy with a life of routines. Soon, although not intentionally, her brother's return to the home of their youth, forces both siblings to deal with issues which have long "blinded" them.
For example, soon after Francis' arrival, his eyes begin playing tricks on him. It was not a one time happening. The image on the ceiling was of a young girl from Normandy from some fifty years earlier surface. Muriel's response to all this:
"Muriel felt certain the apparition he claimed to see on his bedroom ceiling was only a recurring dream, but if it turned out to be a sort of psychic or supernatural event, she wouldn't be surprised. "
Muriel, soon begins to recall events of the summer in 1928. Their father, a doctor, was an mean drunk; their mother was cold and distant.
In addition to the story of a these siblings trying to make sense of their past, there are subplots which include a murder mystery involving two teens that had gone missing from the "school for the blind" where Muriel had worked. A third person, a pregnant, unmarried housekeeper joins the household and strengthens the feeling of family at a time when the siblings need kindness the most.
Without giving away too much about how this story unfolds, I'll just say that it was an ambitious novel, that covered a lot. Initially, I had thought adding a murder mystery to a story about growing old, and making peace with one's imperfect past just wouldn't be a combination that would work, but the author surprised me. McFarland knew just when to add a bit of humor, a tad of sadness, and a level of suspense to make it work. Although, the novel wasn't perfect, it was enjoyable. The author did a great job of slowly revealing the events of the siblings pasts. I will be anxious to try another book by this author in the future.