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A Family Story

A-Making ToastNovelist and playwright Roger Rosenblatt is an English professor at Stony Brook University and an award-winning journalist with PBS's The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. He based this memoir on an essay published in the New Yorker in 2008.

The Topic: After the unexpected death of his daughter, 38-year-old pediatrician Amy Rosenblatt Solomon, on December 8, 2007, Roger Rosenblatt and his wife Ginny leave their Long Island home and move in with their son-in-law and grandchildren in Bethesda, Maryland. Ginny slips easily into the vacant-mother role, taking care of six-year-old Jessica, four-year-old Sammy, and one-year-old James, but Roger--"Boppo" to the children--has a more difficult time making himself useful. He finally claims the breakfast ritual, pouring cereal and making toast, and he plays the clown, amusing the children with jokes and silly songs. As this impromptu family struggles to come to terms with its loss, its members--adults and children alike--slowly learn to support each other.
Ecco. 168 pages. $21.99. ISBN: 9780061825934

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Without self-pity or sanctimony, the author reminds us in this rare and generous book that there is no remedy for death. The way to live, he concludes, is ‘to value the passing time'; the best we can do is to pay attention and to love each other well." Dinah Lenney

San Antonio Exp-News 4 of 5 Stars
"The subject and themes are heavy, and Rosenblatt clearly wrote the book as a way of working through his own grief. ... Readers are rewarded with the assurances, humanely and touchingly delivered, that the strength of families, remembrances of the deceased, time and the salutary effects of everyday events combine to restore a sense of normality." David Hendricks

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"It may seem odd to call a book about such a tragic event charming, but it is. There is indeed life after death, and Rosenblatt proves that without a doubt." Craig Wilson

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The story is about coping with grief, caring for children and creating an ad hoc family for as long as this particular configuration is required, but mostly it's a textbook on what constitutes perfect writing and how to be a class act. ... Making Toast, with luck, will [transform loneliness and loss] for the Solomon children and for many readers who will turn to this for information on how to live a treacherous life with wit, humor, courage and good manners strong enough to hold back the demons of monstrous death and meaningless loss." Carolyn See

Chicago Sun-Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"His tone throughout is restrained, and though Amy's absence is always present, the story rarely slips into clichéd scenes of hugs and tears. ... In that regard, the plainspoken eloquence of Making Toast is both its main charm and its chief flaw." Mark Athitakis

Christian Science Monitor 3.5 of 5 Stars
"If there's one shortcoming to Making Toast, it's that Rosenblatt's writing itself feels dispassionate. ... Yet Rosenblatt's memoir commands your attention by other means, including the format." Katie Ward

Critical Summary

Rosenblatt wrote his "hauntingly lovely memoir" (Christian Science Monitor) as a collection of journal-style entries--images, conversations, scenes, and moments of quiet contemplation, ranging from a few sentences to several pages--that encompass the 14 months following Amy's death. Though Rosenblatt's subject matter is weighty, he writes of his grief with grace and sensitivity, while lacing his anger and disbelief with humor and warmth. However, the critics differed with respect to Rosenblatt's writing style: while the Christian Science Monitor found it oddly impassive, the Los Angeles Times characterized it as expressive and eloquent. The Chicago Sun-Times also thought that Rosenblatt's levity seemed somewhat out of place. Yet in the end, Making Toast is just as much a celebration of life as a reckoning with death.