Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Sunshine When She's Gone

by Thea Goodman

Henry Holt and Company, 2013
228 pages         Fiction

My daughter called me the other day, "Mom, can you come over? I just need a moment." I empathize with her because she copes daily with a toddler's incessant chatter and an infant clamoring for the breast every hour or so. I trotted over to her house to offer some relief. She thrust the baby in my arms, grabbed the car keys, and said, "I'll be back in an hour." Sometimes, parenting is just too much. 

Certainly that is the case for Veronica and John in Thea Goodman's debut novel, The Sunshine When She's Gone. She writes: "Sleep--for both of them--had become a precious commodity, worthy of fetish." Veronica had a very difficult delivery and even though baby Clara is now six months old, Veronica is still deeply depressed and John keeps trying to make things better. One morning, in an effort to allow Veronica to sleep in for a while, he takes Clara out of the apartment, and before he knows it, the two of them are on a plane for Barbados, a favorite vacation spot of the couple's. When Veronica wakes up after a lovely night's sleep, she discovers them gone, and she has no idea where they went. 

In alternating chapters, one parent in New York, the other in Barbados, the story evolves. Veronica thinks that John and the baby have gone to John's mother's house out in the suburbs. John tries to call but they keep missing each other. The reader is both sympathetic to their plight and horrified at the decisions that they make while they are apart. Veronica finds herself doing things that she hasn't done for months, some appropriate and some not so appropriate. We are appalled, too, at John's behavior. No one is acting admirably.

Many reviewers have called the observations of parenting in the book "astute." That is a good word to describe it because certainly every parent wants on occasion to just leave. But herein lies the mystery of parenting. Veronica desperately needs some relief, but the moment she doesn't have Clara with her, she longs to be with her.  Meanwhile, John, in an attempt to do the right thing for the baby that he has so rudely abducted, is searching all over the island for goat's milk because that is all Clara's tummy can tolerate. This temporary separation helps both of them find the essence of what they had lost in Clara's difficult birth. 

One reviewer I read suggests that Goodman lets the couple off lightly because in the end, they forgive each other and life returns to the normal chaos of family life. I think, however, they both came to the conclusion that rather than abandon the idea of family, they are willing to accept the vagrant weekend as a crazy sleep-deprived anomaly.

On a side note, I was about driven crazy by the title of the book, The Sunshine When She's Gone, because my musician head kept singing the song over and over all the while the book sat on my desk and beside my bed. I finally looked up the words to the song, took them to the piano and banged out the song, singing at the top of my voice. Once that was done, I felt better, and the song stopped ringing through my brain. The words, by the way, are completely appropriate to the book.

Ain't no sunshine when she's gone,
It' s not warm when she's away.
Ain't no sunshine when she's gone,
And she's always gone too long
Anytime she goes away.
Wonder this time where shes gone
Wonder if she's gonna stay
Ain't no sunshine when shes gone
And this house just ain't no home
Anytime she goes away

Here is Thea Goodman's website:
The Sunshine When She's Gone appeared as a winter "book of the week" at

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