A review of Green Nails and Other Acts of Rebellion: Life After Loss by Elaine Soloway, due to be published on September 16, 2014
This may sound harsh, upfront, but bear with me because it gets better. I’ll go ahead and say this: based on the cover design or title of this book alone, I never would have picked up a copy of Green Nails and Other Acts of Rebellion (She Writes Press). The pink font, the green smudge of nail polish, and the title in itself — it all feels trite, like something you might pick up in the airport gift shop and toss after the returning flight. I might expect some gossip-ridden drama based loosely on the life of an interchangeable author. We’ve all seen memoirs like this, right? Maybe it’s even thrown into that genre called chic-lit, which is a whole other topic I ought not to get started on. Ugh.
I also would like to preface this by saying I am not part of Soloway’s target demographic. The blurb on the back, by Tam Martinides Gray, CEO and founder of seniorwomen.com, says, “Soloway’s essays on caregiving and widowhood are important reading. They not only engage and stimulate, they also help senior women face new challenges, and share a sense of dignity and celebration.”
I’m no senior woman. I’m no widow. I’m not even married. And at twenty five, is there anything I can relate to Soloway over? After my rant about the cover, why did I even—?
Okay, let me come back to Earth and start over.
We all judge books by their covers, even when we know better. I know better. Perhaps more importantly, we know, or we should know, that covers, often designed by publishers, are in fact a separate entity from the writing, right?
And does it really matter if I can’t necessarily relate to Soloway? Does it matter if I’m not a senior? That I’m not looking for new challenges post widowhood? Of course not. What I love about reading in general is venturing into someone else’s world, fiction or non.
But I’d be lying if I said I had nothing in common with Soloway. We’re both Jewish women, Chicago residents, writers, and know a thing or two about loss and life after loss. Even I enjoy a manicure everyone once in a while.
The reason I wanted to get my hands on this advance copy was because after reading a short biography on Soloway, I was sold. Forget everything else I said earlier — this woman is incredible. She’s a longtime author, blogger, public relations consultant, writing coach, and tech tutor. And in Green Nails, she shares with her readers a story that’s honest (sometimes brutally so) and deeply personal, but also important. It’s not just about Soloway. It’s for anyone who’s played the role of caregiver, whether to a spouse or parent. It’s for anyone who has lost a loved one. I dare to say it is, or it can be, a self-help book, even if the reader is only learning about how to deal with a difficult situation from someone who holds her head high and gets through it.
Soloway admits in the first chapter that she fantasized about leaving her second husband, Tommy. At the time, he was exhibiting inappropriate and rude behavior and his emotions were going haywire. He was yelling into the television, things like, ‘You’re fat!’ toward Oprah. He was becoming weepy in social settings at all the wrong times. Soloway thought the guy had turned into a jerk after a decade of marriage, but after a visit to the neurologist, she comes to find out her husband has primary progressive aphasia, an incurable form of dementia that affects the frontal lobe of the brain. Within a short time, Tommy loses his ability to speak and his health deteriorates. Soloway is kept on her feet at all times. Tommy can’t go anywhere by himself. He can’t drive, can’t go on his beloved bicycle rides alone. Everything becomes a risk.
On the afternoon Tommy got lost, he was on his way to see his speech therapist. Her office is at Michigan Avenue between Randolph and Washington in Chicago. One hour and fifteen minutes after he left, the home phone rang. No one except marketers call on this line, and I’d urged Tommy to use only my cell. But I answered it.
Dead Air. Finally, garbled words.
‘Honey, where are you?’ I said. I held on to my desk.
‘Mmmm,’ he got out.
‘Are you on the subway?’ I envisioned him in the depths, alone, scared. My grip tightened.
‘Mmmm,’ he repeated.
This excerpt illustrates the anxiety Soloway faces at the height of her husband’s illness.
But Soloway’s story delves deeper than the role of caregiver to her husband. It’s not so much about Tommy as it is about coping with Tommy’s illness and learning to live with it. It’s about accepting life’s challenges and moving forward, even when forward sometimes feels backward. It’s a story that manages to stay surprisingly lighthearted, as Soloway injects bittersweet memories and bits of humor into her writing. There is no woe-is-me moment in this book. There is no asking of sympathy. I always respect that in a writer.
At times, I felt the pages turned a bit slowly, specifically when Soloway gets into heavy detail about selling her home or the ins and outs of doing the little things alone: laundry, changing a light bulb, putting together a vacuum. But overall, this is an honest and well-thought-out story, one that I don’t think you necessarily must relate to in order to appreciate and enjoy. You’ll feel like you know Soloway in the end and what an honor that would be. I give two thumbs up, as Tommy often did, to Soloway’s integral writing and her willingness to share such a difficult story with perspective and positivity.