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Hearts on Our Sleeves – News from Main Street Books

by | Sep 7, 2021


“We are cleaved together – we are cleaved apart – everything that draws me to you is everything that drives me away.”


Dear readers,

I tested my sensibilities by picking up a favorite book of mine from 2017 and re-reading it this past week. I rarely re-read books, though if you’ve been following along here, you know I read Lauren Groff’s MATRIX two times back-to-back earlier this year. I was curious if The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry would perplex and move me like it did in 2017.

After a summer full of romance, I chose The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry to set my proverbial table for autumn because it was perplexing and moving when I read it in 2017, and I hoped that its fresh take on the culture of Victorian London and Essex would get my brain and heart moving for the coming season.

Holy cow, it’s a good book – second time was as powerful as the first. Perry gives us a protagonist who seeks the messiness and beauty of the Essex coastline to pull herself back together after the death of her abusive husband. Yes, the privilege of wealth enables this exploration of self, but the web of old and new relationships that carry her along in her mourning is truly the source of the story’s richness. Perry explores a vast continuum of relationships –

  • an intellect who is finally seen for her ideas,

  • a Protestant minister with room for science in his ministry but not mysticism,

  • a friendship with room for physical intimacy but not romance,

  • activists who make compromises with benefactors to move the mission forward,

  • mothers who best love their children by letting others mother their children, too . . . the layers and complexity are astounding.

So much of life is putting our hearts out there. My heart is out there for those in the path of Hurricane Ida in Louisiana this week. My heart is out there (and shattered) for Afghan families in the wake of the US military pullout this month. My heart feels literally out there as my kids navigate the halls of middle school in-person. 

And the world will surely cleave my heart, but living is to cleave to wonderful people and ideas.



P.S. Shout out to the middle school teacher who sent the simplest and most reassuring message to parent on Monday saying, “I wanted to reach out to make you aware that my first week interacting with your Hearts (to have a child means you are walking around daily with your heart outside of your body) was awesome.” That feeling inspired my reflection today. 

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