Pre-press chatter described Lauren Fox’s Days of Awe as “irresistibly witty” with “biting humor.” And as the novel unfolds with a funeral scene, I thought, “Well, obviously.”
At the center of story is Isabel Moore–friend of Josie, daughter of Helene, mother of Hannah, wife of Chris, and friend of Mark, seemingly in that order. These five represent her immediate support system, yet they also represent so many relationships lost.
As the daughter of Helene, Isabel is always reminded that even though the family escaped the Holocaust, the German families surrounding them in Wisconsin were also descendants of the war, with character and intent always in question.
Isabel and Mark grew up together. With the last names of Applebaum and Abrams, they were forced into close proximity of each other, often paired as science partners and field trip seat mates. They also shared rides to Hebrew-school, suffered the ignorance of Milwaukee’s non-Jews, and later, they shared the same disbelief.
Isabel’s support system begins to fall into place when she marries husband Chris; she then introduces friend Mark to friend Josie (a fellow teacher at her school) and they eventually marry, becoming a friend couple; Isabel and Chris have daughter Hannah. Now Isabel’s support system–husband, daughter, mother, childhood friend and best friend–is complete.
But when Josie dies, it initiates a downward spiral and every emotion is raw, punctuated with loss and disappointment. Already awkward in most situations, Isabel doesn’t know how to deal with the loss herself, much less recognize the pain suffered by those closest to her. And it’s only after she loses, one by one, the relationships held most dear that she begins her own personal “Days of Awe”–her own personal time of introspection, repentance, and self-forgiveness.
It takes more than a year of healing for Isabel to realize that Josie’s death–intentional or not–was not her fault. It takes more than a year of personal atonement for every awkward moment, ill-conceived outburst, lost pregnancy, lost pregnancy, lost pregnancy, etc., before Isabel allows her name to appear, once again, in her own Book of Life.
After visiting with a friend who also read Days of Awe, I realized that this is one of those books where readers react according to where they are in their own lives. My friend saw it as “serious with a lighter edge.” I found it full of love, loss, disappointment, and yes, biting humor.
And so beautifully honest.
Days of Awe by Lauren Fox (Knopf | 9780307268129 | August 4, 2015)