You know how there are so many, SO MANY, novels out there that make you cry and think about terrible things and yet you can’t put them down because the writing is so beautiful or the story is so amazing or, conversely, the writing is so awful that you can’t believe someone published this crap and you have to see how the monkeys and their typewriters conclude such a derivative and stereotypical volume of drivel? It is so bad that I find myself gravitating towards non-fiction and memoir even though I love novels so much, which actually is worse when you think about it because memoirs that make me cry and think about terrible things are supposedly true, whereas with a novel I can at least reassure myself that “this is not real.”
Well, Everybody Has Everything is, at least, one of the first set. No, the events are not real, because it is a novel, but the subject matter is My Worst Nightmare, and it’s a book that I shouldn’t have accepted for review especially in the wake of personal loss, but something drew me to it and I loved the writing and story and in the end it made me get off my ass and hire an estate planning attorney to finish the job that I started and never could bring myself to complete.
In Everybody Has Everything, a childless couple struggling with infertility is charged with the care of 2-year-old Finn, whose parents were in a car accident – the father was killed and the mother is in a coma. The couple’s markedly different reactions to instant parenthood pull them apart. Ultimately it is a story about this couple and how they grow during this experience, and what it means to care for someone, to caretake, and to sacrifice for things larger than yourself, but it was Finn’s story, and his mother’s, that stabbed me right in the heart and made me unable to sleep at night.
I sobbed and sobbed when I read this book. Dammit. I knew I would. If I let the thin veneer of denial about my mortality crack in any way, I am an absolute mess. You’ve seen it here before when I have lost loved ones, but the thought of my children suffering such a loss is very hard to confront. The idea of them being left in this world without me or Stewart or both of us is paralyzing to me.
Of course I am getting a little weepy when I write this, which is why I have put this review off for so long. Finally, after realizing that there will never be a moment when I will be in the mood to confront this blog post, I just made myself do it.
That was how our estate planning went down, too. A while ago I started that project on my own, creating a trust document with Suze Orman’s website, filling out a deed transfer for our house with the help of Adrienne’s generous sister, and even getting that notarized. But she was so adamant about stressing to me that any tiny mistake in that deed transfer would render it null and void, that I sat on it for a year. Finally, after Stewart and I went through Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, and I had read Everybody Has Everything, I knew that I couldn’t go on will-and-trustless any longer.
We have life insurance, and I know that my family would wage the probate wars and help our children get what they need, but I saw how Lisa’s family, especially her father, had to deal with lawyers and bank accounts and probate and all that because she didn’t have a will. Besides the financial hit you get when your estate has to be processed through the courts, imagine the emotional anguish. I would not want to have to deal with that or have anyone in my family go through it.
It is expensive to hire a lawyer but we did it. (NB: He is not costing us $5,000 like the one in this post quoted.) Two months ago we sat in a small conference room with him and his secretary and I held myself together as long as I could but when it came time for me to stress my biggest concern – who would take the children if Stewart and I are both incapacitated or killed at the same time? – I cried. I couldn’t help it. My worst fear, out on the table. The lawyer and secretary see this all the time of course. They see the nightmares come true. They didn’t bat an eyelash, and they addressed my concern.
I’m pretty specific in my nightmare fantasies, so I want to make sure that in the event of this horrible thing, my boys do not get whisked off by cops or social services to a foster parent while the paperwork is being processed. I thought there would have to be some fancy court-approved document to make this happen, but the answer is all you have to do, at least in California, is keep a letter with your estate documents authorizing a temporary guardian to care for the children until the new guardians can get to them.
I know this is turning into a dramatic blog post instead of a book review, but I knew that would happen, which is another reason it took me so long to write this. The book is very good and the writing is poetic. Onstad’s character descriptions are delivered through the points of view of the husband and wife guardians, alternately, and their observations of each other make you care for them and understand why they care for each other.
James watched her: her foot popping ever so slightly out of the arch of those black shoes that looked like ballet slippers. He didn’t think about her beauty, but her lightness, the sense of upward motion in her body at all times, the ever-present possibility that she might bend her knees, push off, and float up and away from him.
The characters are memorable, especially Ana, who struggles with the concept of motherhood and responsibility. She has a choice and yet no choice. Just like all of us.
Everybody Has Everything
by Katrina Onstad
Paperback, $14.00, Kindle, $9.99 on Amazon