Title: Belong to Me
Author: Marisa de los Santos
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from my own library.
First line: My fall from suburban grace, or more accurately, my failure to achieve the merest molehill of suburban grace from which to fall, began with a dinner party and a perfectly innocent, modestly clever, and only faintly quirky remark about Armand Assante.
I can’t remember where I first saw Belong to Me by Marisa De Los Santos mentioned. All I can say to the nameless blogger who pointed me to this book is “thank you, thank you, thank you!”
Ms. De Los Santos is the kind of exceptionally gifted writer who can have you laughing out loud and then weeping – all on the same page. She writes her characters with a tender beauty, portraying each person with just the right details, just the right words, that you feel you know him or her. After finishing the book this afternoon, I know without a doubt that I will miss the characters from this book. Beautiful yet humble Teo. Quirky and full-of-love Cornelia. Strong and independent Lake. Gifted Dev, precious Claire, stiff Piper, heart-broken Tom. Oh, this is one of those books that you wish would go on and on.
Cornelia and Teo have moved from New York City to a suburb outside of Philadelphia, in spite of the fact that Cornelia thought she would always be a city person. She is craving the kind of womanly togetherness that she thinks living near other wives in a suburb will give her, but her initial impressions are just the opposite. Snobbery and gossip abound, all led by the queen bee Piper, who seems vicious in her quick judgments and superiority. Cornelia is saved when she meets Lake, who has moved to the area to give her genius son, Dev, access to a satellite school.
As Cornelia gets to know Lake, Dev, and Piper, and the heartbreaks each carries, their hearts are knit together in a way she never expected. Then a secret is revealed that could shatter these new, fragile bonds. The outcome will take your breath away. The author has written a story that demonstrates love and compassion, acceptance and forgiveness – all with hands and feet on. And she does it while writing with witty, bittersweet words like these:
On a recent rainy Monday, I’d tried imagining the last month and a half of my life as a feature film, a game I play, secretly, fairly often, and that I’m convinced other people play, secretly, too. (I’m so convinced of this that I consider imagining your life as a feature film to simply be part of human nature. If I’m wrong, don’t tell me; I do not want to know, and I wouldn’t believe you anyway.) ~p. 46
I was there – on a hilltop surrounded by the plunging gorges, streams, and maple trees of central New York State – to get a Ph.D. in English literature. That’s not true. I was there to read a lot of books and to discuss them with bright, insightful, book-loving people, an expectation that I pretty quickly learned was about as silly as it could be.
Certainly there were other people there who loved books, I’m sure there were, but whoever had notified them ahead of time that loving books was not the point, was, in fact, a hopelessly counter-productive and naive approach to the study of literature, neglected to notify me. It turned out that the point was to dissect a book like a fetal pig in biology class or to break its back with a single sentence or to bust it open like a milkweed pod and say, “See? All along it was only fluff,” and then scatter it into oblivion with one tiny breath. ~p.155
There you are, Dev thought, and it was suddenly the easiest thing in the world to keep holding Claire’s hand, walk with her over to the shade of Mrs. Finney’s back steps, and sit down beside her.
They talked, about the wacky, brilliant Emily Dickinson poems they’d decided to read and discuss together (”Pretty geeky?” Dev had asked, after proposing the poetry plan; “Absolutely,” Clare had agreed, happily), about Lyssa in the hospital, and Clare’s mother’s engagement, and how a full month stretched out before them, clean and open, like new snow. They sat so close that their legs touched. Clare smelled like white soap and mint and something buttery, like caramel, although Dev wondered if he was just imagining that part because of the color of her skin.
Dev loved talking to Clare, but all the time they talked, he looked at her and wondered what he had wondered before, about museum guards and Inuits: how you got used to so much beauty or if you ever did. Like how a person could just go about his ordinary life – salmon fishing, dogsled driving, or whatever – with the northern lights hanging in the sky above his head.
Because you saturated sight, and I had no more eyes, Dev thought, suddenly, so that when he leaned in to kiss Clare, they were still there, Emily’s odd words and the giant, blazing curtains of auroral light, but two seconds in, and Dev wasn’t thinking about them anymore. He wasn’t thinking at all, really, he was just aware of Clare’s mouth against his mouth, her cheek against his hand, and it wasn’t like the meeting of solar wind and a magnetic field or like electron entanglement or like a binary star or like any theory of relativity, special or general. There was matter, and there was energy, and something definitely happened to time, but Einstein was nowhere in sight, and it wasn’t like anything else in the world. ~p. 311-312
5 out of 5 stars