I often come away from novella’s and short stories feeling a little underwhelmed. I suppose it’s just not my format. I struggle to get into the story and to connect with the characters.
This was not the case at all with And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer.
This book is just…it’s beautiful. The story, as Backman puts it in his opening letter to the read, is “…about memories and about letting go. It’s a love letter and a slow farewell between a man and his grandson, and between a dad and his boy.”
The story takes place both in the grandpa’s head and in real life, though it takes a while for you to be able to properly separate the two. The combination of settings is powerful. It magnifies the confusion, giving us a little glimpse of what the man himself is going through. And by having part of the story take place in the man’s brain, it makes the memories he is losing more concrete to the reader. We see about the people walking past, their faces blurry. We see about the rain that comes down, wiping bits of his memories away with it. We see the dark paths and roads that the old man no longer goes down because he can’t remember what they hold and is worried he won’t find his way back.
Particularly moving are the scenes in the man’s head where he is walking with his wife, who passed away some years ago. She helps him to hold onto what is real, helps to fill in some of his memories, and to assure him it will be alright when he panics about the memories he is losing. His struggle to hold onto his memories of her and his fear of forgetting her and all of the moments that shaped their life together hit me particularly hard.
Backman is an incredible storyteller, and he is able to connect the reader to his characters almost immediately. There is a tenderness and empathy that permeates every word in this story (without ever once being sappy or cheesy). That’s true of everything I’ve read by Backman, and it’s particularly true of this story. Given the personal nature of the story (Backman explains it was written for himself, as he tries to deal with, as he puts it, “saying goodbye to someone who is still here”), I suppose that’s no surprise.
It’s a brisk read. It’s under 100 pages and can be read in one sitting. If you’re like me, will be read in on sitting. Not because it’s a page turner with some big mystery at the end, but because it’s powerful and you will find yourself caring so much about the characters that you can’t let go. Just, maybe don’t read this one in public unless you’re comfortable with folks seeing you cry. I can’t fathom how anyone could make it through this book with dry eyes.
A few highlights:
Isn’t that the best of all life’s ages, an old man thinks as he looks at his grandchild. When a boy is just big enough to know how the world works but still young enough to refuse to accept it.
"Tell me about school, NoahNoah," the old man says... "Our teacher made us write a story about what we want to be when we're big," Noah tells him. "What did you write?" "I wrote that I wanted to concentrate on being little first." "That’s a very good answer." "Isn’t it? I would rather be old than a grown-up. All grown-ups are angry, it’s just children and old people who laugh."
It's an awful thing to miss someone who's still here.
They were sixteen and even the snow was happy that morning, falling soap-bubble light and landing on cold cheeks as though the flakes were gently trying to wake someone they loved. She stood in front of him with January in her hair, and he was lost.
She taught him to read and bake saffron buns and pour coffee without the pot dribbling, and when her hands started to shake the boy taught himself to pour half cups so she wouldn’t spill any, because she was always ashamed when she did and he never let her feel ashamed in front of him.
Yes, sometimes it feels like having fallen asleep on a sofa while it’s still light and then suddenly being woken up once it’s dark; it takes me a few seconds to remember where I am. I’m in space for a few moments, have to blink and rub my eyes and let my brain take a couple of extra steps to remember who I am and where I am. To get home. That’s the road that’s getting longer and longer every morning, the way home from space.