Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt

By Ekta R. Garg

July 14, 2010

Rated: Bookmark it!

In Roger Rosenblatt’s touching book, Making Toast, we get an insider view to the aftermath of an event no parent ever hopes to experience: the death of a child.

Seasoned journalist Rosenblatt’s daughter, Amy, died of a rare condition—an anomalous right coronary artery.  Normally the heart’s two main arteries are found one on each side, and if one stops working the other can do the work for both; in Amy’s case they both ran alongside each other.  The doctors in the situation said she could have died at any time, but Amy had a chance to live a fairly full life—she was 38 at the time of her death on Dec. 8, 2007, a pediatrician, wife of a prominent hand surgeon, and mother to three young children.

Immediately after Amy’s death Rosenblatt and his wife, Ginny, move in to help Amy’s husband, Harrison, take care of the kids.  Rosenblatt describes the paradox of the situation: the jarring reality that has become the family’s new life and the normality that quickly follows the horror of death.  From his writing style we get a very real sense of how he must spend most of his time, splitting it between thinking about his precious baby girl’s childhood and adulthood and also trying to balance the demands of three grandchildren.

The title of the book refers to the one job Rosenblatt feels like he’s mastered in the household: making toast for breakfast.  He’s been able to grasp almost at the drop of a hat how each child prefers his or her toast, the choice of milk, and cereal.  Rosenblatt—whom the kids call Boppo—has come up with a fun, educational game for breakfast.  He’s instituted the “Word of the Day,” a game in which he writes an interesting and challenging word on a Post-It and sticks the little piece of paper to a prominent place on the breakfast table.  As the kids munch on their morning toast, they try to guess what the word is, what it means, and how it could be used.

Throughout the book Rosenblatt alternates between scenes from Amy’s childhood and early adulthood, memories of the days immediately following her death, and his daily adventures in taking care of the grandkids.  These adventures go from the mundane—being the special guest in his granddaughter’s classroom—to the heartbreaking—the children having an emotional scare when Ginny chokes during a meal.  It is at moments like these when the effect of Amy’s death on the children is most evident, and no one can do anything except help the children understand that everything actually will be okay.  No one will die this time.

Rosenblatt clearly appreciates the opportunity to be with the children, but he hates the method by which this opportunity has come.  His recollections are by turns loving and slightly befuddled at what to do with the children, emotions that all parents can relate to.  The difference is that Rosenblatt is getting the chance to live these experiences a second time around.  A saving grace for him is that he can see glimmers of Amy in the kids, and so through them he can hold on to Amy in the only way a parent can when he loses a child.

The book is a short one at first glance—the hardback comes in at a mere 166 pages.  Parts of the book first appeared in serialized form in The New Yorker, and the full version follows a magazine-style format.  For that reason the entries aren’t necessarily chronological, and that choice of style coupled with the gravity of the subject matter could require a second or third perusal before readers fully grasp what Rosenblatt is saying.  But he starts and ends with a positive note, and his book could be a comfort to other parents or even grandparents living in his situation.  Making Toast is a must read.

***

What the ratings mean:

Bookmark it!–Read this book and then buy it and add it to to your own collection.  It’s definitely worth it!

Borrow it–Check this one out from the library; it’s a worthy read, but think twice before spending your hard-earned money on it.

Bypass it–Free time is precious.  Don’t spend it on this book!

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