Tuesday, July 14, 2009

'How to Hold a Woman' by Billy Lombardo

Reviewed By Lynna Williams
Chicago Tribune

'How to Hold a Woman' by Billy Lombardo

Death of a daughter, sister ripples throughout her family for years to come.

Missing and then murdered children are so much a part of the American landscape that a novelist who deals with the subject must find new ways into the material. Chicago writer Billy Lombardo has done that in "How to Hold a Woman" by fragmenting the novel into stories, separate moments in the lives of the family a dead 12-year-old girl leaves behind.

The result is a moving kaleidoscope of sorrow, as the impact of the tragedy continues to wreak profound change on a middle-class family of six, bewilderingly changed to five on an August evening in Chicago that begins with a joyful homecoming. Dad Alan Taylor is coming home from two months on a research trip in Madagascar and his family -- wife Audrey, daughter Isabelle and son Sammy -- pick him up at the airport. Son Dex is spending the night at a friend's house, and the family decamps to a restaurant where Isabelle flirts with her father, acting out bits of Daisy Buchanan's dialogue from "The Great Gatsby." She has changed in those two months, Alan sees, become someone a little more grown up, less a little girl.

We see the family happy together for part of that night. Then, as quickly as the unthinkable becomes real, Isabelle drops out of the picture. When we come upon the family again, two years later, she's been sliced out of the family dialogue. No one refers to her by name or tells her story directly. We hear about no vigils, no years in therapy, no efforts to keep her memory alive. Alan and Audrey are a couple with an increasingly troubled marriage who, when asked, answer correctly that they have two children. We see the impact of the loss of Isabelle in everything they do, though, from Audrey's raging silences to the parents' separation to Alan's change of careers to Audrey's standing at a window at a dance studio, her nose pressed against the glass as young girls practice inside. The couple are loving parents to their sons, but the boys are left to think through Isabelle's disappearance and death themselves. Sammy is too young to really remember her last night, but Dex, who wasn't there, lives with regret that he wasn't present, sure that he would remember each moment with Isabelle in ways Sammy cannot.

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