by KC McKinnon, contemporary (2000)
Ballantine, $6.99, ISBN 0-449-00555-0
Candles On Bay Street is a very personal story by KC McKinnon, a haunting love song about love and friendship lost-and-rediscovered. Yes, it's one of those good old smalltown homespun stories, but this time, Candles On Bay Street moves me so much that I can't help but to be drawn into the story.
She was the childhood sweetheart I wanted to marry, but didn't. I blame General Motors for this. In 1982, when their new line of sleek Corvettes came off the assembly line, Bobby Langford bought one, a shiny gold, the color of the sun. And he looked so good sitting behind the wheel that Dee Dee Michaud fell head over heels in love with him, instead of me.
So says Samuel Thibodeau about his childhood friend, protector, and first love Diana "Dee Dee" Michaud. What happens when fifteen years later, Dee Dee returns to the sleepy town of Fort Kent, Maine, with her son in tow? Sam, a vet (Dee Dee calls him the James Herriot of Fort Kent), is happily married to Lydia, also a vet, but no, no messy love triangle things occur. What happens instead is a friendship between Dee Dee, Lydia, and Sam so rare and precious that it changes their lives for the better.
Dee Dee, you see, is dying of cancer, and she returns only to see her son settle down with a fine family - Sam's. And how does one deal with the knowledge that a very good friend is dying?
This story explores that question, without going overly sentimental or saccharine. Instead, the author uses gentle prose laced with humor yet powerfully emotional, I find myself crying and laughing.
Sam is a laconic, dry, sometimes witty, but always composed fellow, and he tells this story through his delightful point of view. There's humor, such as when he tries to foist a stray puppy on Dee Dee's son Trooper, or when he bemoans his wounded ego when Lydia and Dee Dee giggle and become best friends instead of even feeling a bit of jealousy of him. Then there's pain and denial when he realizes that Dee Dee, vibrant Dee Dee who would always hold a place in his heart, would not last the year.
And dear Dee Dee, fragile yet strong, she becomes the catalyst of Sam's rediscovery of life.
I would love to post excerpts from this book, and trust me, there are many warm, sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking scenes in this book. But alas, it will only dilute the effect of this book on future readers. In fact, I'm sure I'm not doing justice to this spectacular book in my review. I don't know how, I can also say that this story is a story of friendship, family, and how sometimes we need to accept the bitter facts of life and make the best out of it.
Then there's the music. Good Lord, I still can't play my copy of The Temptations' My Girl without bursting to tears. Who would've thought ABBA's Fernando could be an uplifting battle cry for living life to the fullest (thanks, Dee Dee)?
This book is beautiful catharsis indeed, for I cried not only for Dee Dee, Troper, Sam, Lydia, and all their friends in their bittersweet celebration of life, I also can't help crying for my own friends and family members long departed. That's the magic of this book. It's obviously a personal work out of the author's heart (just read the dedication and acknowledgements), but the author painstakingly makes the effort to make it a personal story for me too. I am coaxed gently to be part of these wonderful people's lives and to make them part of mine. It is as I am there with all of Dee Dee's friends, crying as we sing My Girl to the woman we all love as a fond goodbye. I care for these fictitious characters, and they make me feel for them.
Now that's good writing, I say.
Yes, I cried, I laughed, and I felt more alive than I ever felt in days. I am also inspired to live life all over again, thanks to Dee Dee's courage and the beautiful portrayal of selfless friendship and love in this story.
With animals, friendship, love, tears, and laughter, Candles At Bay Street is an inspiring story that teaches me to let go and reembrace life to the fullest. With such a powerful effect even after several rereadings, I gladly, willingly place this book on a really special, treasured place on my bookshelf. Will I give this book a full 100 score? Gladly, willingly.
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