Latest ‘Tale’ shows the power and rarity of strong friendship

By Tom Rivers
Feb. 22, 2007

I thought these “Tale for Three Counties” books would be safer, happier, more pleasant.
But all five “A Tale for Three Counties” have had rough elements. At least two of them portray murders.
The latest book, An Unfinished Life, takes us inside a home of an abusive man, Roy. He feels quite justified in beating up his girlfriend Jean, a woman he believes needs to be slapped and punched when she “talks back.”
Roy is the fourth loser-, abuser-, jerk-boyfriend Jean has had since her husband died in a car accident with her behind the wheel. Jean hasn’t been the same since the accident. In a self-loathing state I don’t understand, she seems drawn to these losers who treat her terribly. It’s all the worse because she has a 9-year-old daughter, Griff, who also is subjected to an occasional blow from her mom’s “lovers.” Griff has to endure her mother’s cries and see the bruises.
It’s Griff who gives her mother the strength to flee Roy. They go to her mother’s hometown and Griff meets her grandfather Einar for the first time. Einar didn’t know Jean was pregnant in the accident that killed his son.
Einar also has been unkind to Jean, not forgiving her for the accident. He blames her and tells her he wishes she had died in the crash as well.
I’m not going to do a synopsis of the story. I will say I didn’t like reading about Roy-the-jerk, and how Jean kept subjecting herself and her daughter to abusive jerks like him.
I enjoyed the adventures the grandfather shared with Griff. He teaches her to milk a cow, ride a horse and drive an old truck – at age 9. They even break a bear out of the zoo and release it in Yellowstone.
This is a story of redemption and forgiveness. You can read more about that yourselves.
It’s also a story of friendship, and that’s the best part of the book.
Einar admits he would have lost the will to live after his son’s death. But his war buddy Mitch kept him going, telling him to stop wasting his life in booze. Mitch gives Einar plenty of “tough love.” The two have been best friends for about 50 years, since they met in the service during the Korean War.
Einar is Mitch’s caregiver after Mitch gets mauled by the bear that was later put in the zoo. Mitch is the one who insists the bear be freed and returned to the wild.
Einar has some self-loathing of his own. He was drunk when the bear attacked Mitch. Einar knows if he had his wits about him that day he would have spared his friend a grisly fate. Mitch was crippled by the bear, even had an ear torn off. But he forgives his friend, and he wants Einar to give Jean the same gift of mercy.
The two friends nourish each other’s souls. They make fun of each other and build each other up. It’s quite a friendship.
The story made me think of my dad and his best friend. When I was a kid, it was always a treat for me to join my dad on trips to his friend’s house back in Cassadaga. Johnny Frick was the funniest guy I knew. I liked how he picked on my dad for his garage-sale finds and tendency to pinch pennies. But Johnny was always nice to my dad, offering wisdom and praising him as well. We used to watch the Memorial Day parades from Johnny’s front porch.
I don’t think my dad has been the same since Johnny died from cancer about 17 years ago. My dad still goes to the diner back home every morning to see his friends. But none are like Johnny.
A dear friend is a rare find. That was the best message of the latest “Tale.”

Tom Rivers is a general assignement reporter whose columns are published alternate Thursdays

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