Book Review by Sharon Dean
Every part of this book makes my heart either ache or sing.
In Staying, Jessie Cole describes the slow process of regaining her footing in the world after the suicide of her sister and then her father. ‘When someone takes their own life,’ she writes, ‘it is hard to forget that they have chosen to leave you.’
This beautifully crafted memoir describes the loneliness Jessie felt in the aftermath of the deaths of her loved ones, as friends and neighbours crossed the street to avoid her. While reading, I wanted to reach back in time and hug those few brave souls who acted differently, the ones who ‘took the plunge into awkwardness’ and were willing to listen to Jessie’s ‘sad voice’.
Jessie grew up at Burringbar on the Far North Coast of NSW – in the same patch of rainforest where she still lives. Reflecting on the countless childhood hours she spent playing on the property with her brother, she recalls, ‘Hours would pass where we barely looked up, the world around us was so utterly absorbing.’
This is exactly how I felt reading Jessie’s book, an experience intensified by my immediate physical environment. This month I’m looking after 120 acres of rainforest, separated from Jessie’s place (as the crow flies) by Jerusalem National Park. I read Staying over two days, cocooned in a hammock on the farmhouse veranda. As dappled light flickered down onto the pages through the leaves of the nearby mango tree, I savoured every perfect sentence while maintaining a heightened awareness of the sounds, smells and occasional sightings of the same types of subtropical birds, reptiles and plants that inhabit Jessie’s book.
I love this memoir so much I’ve already bought copies for friends who are working at finding peace within deep personal grief, a process Jessie articulates so well. ‘At its heart,’ she writes, ‘grief entails learning to live with the consequences of love. Without love, there is no grief, for nothing has been lost.’
- For our Brisbane readers, consider attending the Queensland launch of Jessie’s memoir tonight (May 24) at the Avid Reader Bookshop from 6pm for a 6.30pm start. Tickets are $7.50.
- For those who will be in NSW next month, Jessie Cole will be appearing at the Bellingen Readers and Writers Festival over the June long weekend.