One Vacant Chair
By Joe Coomer
From Publishers Weekly
Once again, Coomer (The Loop; Sailing in a Spoonful of Water; etc.) presents a wonderfully eccentric cast of characters and delivers a philosophical punch in a comic and poignant novel about life, death and family ties. He plays with oft-used narrative conventions a funeral that leads to a rebirth, a painter who teaches the art of seeing, a physical journey that leads to spiritual growth which, in the hands of a lesser writer, might have resulted in a mishmash of feel-good nonsense. But Coomer makes it work. "[L]ike separate drops of condensating water pooling in the bottom of a cold spoon," a scattered family reconvenes in Fort Worth for the funeral of its crotchety matriarch. Narrator Sarah, an overweight designer of Christmas ornaments trying to cope with her husband's infidelity, decides to remain there after the funeral with her Aunt Edna a school cafeteria worker, amateur philosopher and a skilled painter of portraits of chairs. Aunt Edna becomes Sarah's guru, advising her on matters of health, love and art as the two women plan to take Grandma Hutton's ashes to Scotland, in keeping with her surprising will. Everything that follows Aunt Edna's marriage, her death and her posthumous emergence as a major artist is as inevitable and unexpected as any lover of classic story structure could hope for. And still, the story feels real. Even James (Aunt Edna's boyfriend, a blind black chair repairman) is a fully rounded, believable character who, with his alternative ways of "seeing," only occasionally teeters on the edge of symbolism. Coomer's tight focus on the mundane reveals the magical underbelly of everyday life.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
In his fifth novel, Coomer (Apologizing to Dogs, 1999) displays his unique comic voice while returning to his favorite theme of personal regeneration. Sarah has come home to Fort Worth, Texas, to bury her grandmother, who took to her deathbed some 22 years earlier, plagued by a series of mysterious illnesses and waited on hand and foot by her daughter, Edna. Sarah, a designer of Christmas ornaments, and Edna, a painter of enigmatic portraits of chairs, decide to go together to Scotland to fulfill the dead woman's request to have her ashes scattered there. Among the secrets revealed during the long, hot summer are Edna's love for a blind, black neighbor who repairs chairs and whose colorful turns of phrase would give Dan Rather pause and Edna's longtime habit of pilfering silver coins from the school cafeteria where she works, a habit that will pay for their trip and then some. This novel's wide sentimental streak is offset by a peppery humor delivered by a most endearing cast of characters. A wonderful read. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Amazon Books 10/21/2011
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