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‘Normal’ touching, honest

Depth, sincerity of characters drives LeClaire’s novel

Anne D. LeClaire’s novel “Entering Normal” is a touching book that became even more endearing after I discussed the characters and story with LeClaire following her book signing at a local bookstore last week.

The novel takes you into the lives of two women separated by age, experience and personality. Opal, a 20-year-old mother, has left her family and son’s father to start her life over again. A literal roll of the dice has brought her to Normal, Mass., and into the house across the street from Rose, her antithesis.

In the story, Rose’s teenage son died five years ago and Rose has not resumed her life. Her marriage is suffering and around town she has become known as “Poor Rose Nelson.”

Rose and Opal could not be more different. Where Opal is spontaneous and wild, Rose is set in her ways. Where Rose is quiet and private, Opal is loud and vibrant. What they do have in common is a deep love for their children and an overwhelming desire to protect them. It is this similarity that ultimately brings the two women together in the midst of tragedy and threatening circumstances.

“Entering Normal” is a simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming story about love, grief and friendship. Within the first chapters, the reader is captivated by this story of two families who could easily be living next door.

LeClaire said that although it sounds contrived, she simply let the characters tell their stories.

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“I usually hate it when I hear someone say that … but truly there was something special about this book and the way it came to me,” she said. “All I really had to do was pay attention and let them tell their stories and just try to get out of the way.”

The characters are the life of this simple story, and their quirks, habits and perspectives grab the reader.

“I love the growth of all the characters from beginning to end,” LeClaire said. “I’m just really crazy about them.”

A major element of the book is grief, especially the emotions Rose still feels over the death of her son.

Although unaware of it at the time, LeClaire discovered after writing the book that her family had experienced the loss of a child and the resulting grief for five generations. LeClaire said this gave her a perspective on why she may have written a book about loss.

“Each of us is the bearer of news from the gene pool and our creative imagination taps into that,” she said. “There is more to our memory than we ever dream.”

LeClaire also subtly incorporated another type of connection into her book when she made Opal’s son Zack 5 years old, the same number of years since Rose’s son died.

“I liked that symmetry, and I liked the thought of the way we weave in and out of this life, in a kind of mystical sense,” she said.

It is easy to believe that LeClaire simply let the characters tell their stories, as she herself learned from them while writing the book.

“I loved these women — the teachings they gave me,” LeClaire said. “The power of friendship and the courage to love and open your heart again after it’s been shattered.”

LeClaire was approached by a grief counselor who had recently suffered the loss of an adult child. He had not read her book, but had listened to a radio interview during which LeClaire discussed grief and loss.

It was obvious, as LeClaire shared the details of her conversation with the man, that she possesses what all good storytellers must have — extraordinary insight into human emotion and experience. It is this insight that makes “Entering Normal” and the main characters so accessible.

“The ethereal connections, the real connections, that, to me, was the heart of the book,” she said. “The power to learn, the courage to come to an accommodation of peace with your history and your connections.”

“Entering Normal” is a book about life’s tragedies and triumphs.

“If it were a movie, there would be no car crashes,” LeClaire said.

Instead it is a character-centered book that works because the characters themselves are honest and sincere.


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