Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Book Review: The Possibility of Everything

Title: The Possibility of Everything
Author: Hope Edelman
ISBN: 978-0-345-50650-4
Pages: 323
Release Date: September 15, 2009
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary: In the autumn of 2000, Hope Edelman was a woman adrift, questioning her marriage, her profession, and her place in the larger world. Feeling vulnerable and isolated, she was primed for change. Into her stagnant routine dropped Dodo, her three-year-old daughter Maya's curiously disruptive imaginary friend. Confused and worried about how to handle Dodo's apparent hold on their daughter, Edelman and her husband made the unlikely choice to take her to Maya healers in Belize, hoping that a shaman might help them banish Dodo—and, as they came to understand, all he represented—from their lives.

An account of how an otherwise mainstream mother and wife finds herself making an extremely unorthodox choice, The Possibility of Everything chronicles the magical week in Central America that transformed Edelman from a person whose past had led her to believe only in the visible and the "proven" to someone open to the idea of larger, unseen forces. This deeply affecting, beautifully written memoir of a family's emotional journey explores what Edelman and her husband went looking for in the jungle and what they ultimately discovered—as parents, as spouses, and as ordinary people—about the things that possess and destroy, or that can heal us all.

My thoughts: I've read Hope Edelman before. Her first book, Motherless Daughters (published in 1994) was a sad and moving book, but at the same time I found it inspiring and supportive. It gave me the strength and courage I needed to move forward with my life at a time when things were not so great. Therefore, when I had the opportunity to read her new memoir, The Possibility of Everything, I jumped at the chance. And I wasn't disappointed. The book is a brutally honest, captivating story of a mother and wife on a quest to rid her daughter, and by extension, her family, of a troubling imaginary friend (who also plays the role of foe) and discovers the love, the strength and the joy that binds her, her husband and her daughter together.

Hope is a woman who worries about everything, particularly anything related to her daughter, Maya, her husband Uzi, and her family. She also has intense control issues. Thus, when Hope has something concrete to worry about, she imagines the worst possible outcome in order to guard against it, despite the fact she thinks of this imagined outcome as a given. She lives in constant fear of anything and everything from rats to car-jackers, mean-spirited book-reviews to breast cancer. She doesn't think her husband cares about or is concerned enough about the family. He works late and Hope sees this as evidence that he is distant and a less than perfect parent. At times she seems sure they shouldn't be together. Although Hope says she's aware of the differences between mothers and fathers as parents she expects Uzi to be very similar to her. She wants him to remember every detail of Maya's life and when he doesn't she resents him and writes him off as a lesser parent. Despite these seemingly frustrating traits, she is a likeable character because she admits her faults and realizes the occasional absurdity that results from her thought processes. This in turn allows her to laugh at herself which lets us laugh along while perhaps seeing similar traits (if not always, certainly occasionally) in ourselves.

Hope, despite her name, so, one might say ironically, doesn't believe in faith or anything even remotely connected to spirituality. Something exists and is real only if she sees it. She is a strict disciple of Rational Positivist Thought. Even so, what she can't ignore is her three year-old daughter's new imaginary friend, Dodo. Maya's behavior and it seems, her personality, changes considerably and for the worse once Dodo appears. Hope is a very good mother and very in-tune to her daughter. The kind of mother whose concern and worry are evidence of her love for her daughter right now but could become a troubling obsession in ten years time. Perhaps sooner, perhaps later. Dodo doesn't seem to be a "normal" imaginary friend. Even Uzi is concerned and believes Dodo has a troubling hold on Maya because her behavior is suddenly and often aggressive and petulant.

Unlike Hope, Uzi believes in determinism, reincarnation and other concepts that Hope considers questionable (and that's a charitable description). Uzi thinks they should take Maya to a Shaman in Belize while they are there on vacation. Asking Hope to try and be open about it, she is both intrigued and repelled by the idea of a Shaman. It freaks her out that Uzi agrees with their housekeeper, a native of Nicaragua named Carmen, who believes Dodo is a spirit that must be chased from Maya's body. To Hope, there's a duality here - it's not "real" but, she also acknowledges that she likes the idea of Dodo as a spirit because if Dodo is a spirit he can be chased away. Part of Hope desperately wants to believe as she honestly admits to her readers:

"Here's the thing about me and Shamanism: no matter how hard I try, I can't make myself believe in it. As much as I like the concept of a mortal journeying into the spirit world for answers and bringing them back to this world for execution, embracing the idea as fact feels as if I am betraying a basic commitment to common sense. Yet, a small, insistent corner of my personality wants to believe, badly needs to believe, in the prospect of such magical phenomena, and I don't know how to reconcile this duality. How is it possible to simultaneously discredit an idea yet hold forth hope in its existence."

The answer to this question and many others will come by the end of the vacation. Hope has seen some cases of these "alternative" practices work before bringing Maya to a Shaman, but still, it isn't enough. Unconvinced, she wants to be able to see the mechanics of the spirituality at work. And she wants to be convinced before she commits to subjecting her daughter to this kind of extremely foreign method (according to Hope) of healing. Aware that this need and her disbelief may actually render her unable to witness something so profound as the work of a shaman, she realizes the alternative is to live with Dodo, which is something she really isn't ready to do.

Uzi is frustrated by Hope's ambivalence, particularly when there is evidence and proof that some spiritual acts work. Uzi is a very patient man, easy going, laid back and very
intelligent. He believes that at some point you have to let go of rational thought and just believe. Aware of how stressed out and worried his wife is and how different Maya has become, he believes getting away from home as a family will help them. Uzi tries to reassure Hope, asking her to be open to the possibilities of spirituality and shamans. But Hope's many biases towards the shamans, including their appearance and choice of clothing, prevents her from accepting them and the way they work.

As the days go by during their week in Belize, Hope comes to know the Tut Family at The Crystal Paradise Resort. With her family, they canoe down the Macal River at Cristo Rey, visit Tikal National Park, also called the Place of the Spirit Voices, and she enjoys her surroundings and the people she meets. Eventually, she lets down her defenses and the walls she's erected between herself and the rest of the world. It is then that Hope begins to question some of her beliefs and attitudes and, as she begins to let go of her need to control everything she realizes what's been driving some of her behaviors. As she learns about and begins to understand the beliefs of the Mayan people, she relaxes and lets go of many of her worries and fears and celebrates this time with her Uzi and Maya.

I thoroughly enjoyed Hope's memoir and the story of her families experiences in Belize. She is a fantastic researcher and did a great job at unearthing myriad details of Belize and the Mayan people and culture. But at times I found it to be too much information. I struggled with the extensive accounts of some of the places the family visited such as Tikal National Park. I found it difficult to follow after a while not having any pictures to aid in the description and not being there or having been there myself. Similarly, Hope provided extensive coverage of some of the cities and towns they stayed in and passed through, more than found in many travel books. If I ever travel to Belize, and I hope to, I will be sure to read some of the pages in this book beforehand.

The Possibility of Everything is well written, keeping you interested and sympathetic towards Hope and her family. It is often humorous and most of all, eye opening. Edelman does a great job of conveying her thoughts and dilemmas, her frustrations and prejudices, and let's you in as she allows the barriers to come down, so that you can celebrate her liberation from old ways. As a writer, Edelman conveys the human condition and all its frailties and its strengths, which often comes from the ability to change and grow, in a way that so many of us can identify with, which, in my opinion, is quite a feat since most of us have not gone through, specifically, what she has. Her ability to make it accessible is what makes her such an effective writer, and makes this book so universal.


  1. What an amazing story. This sounds like a book I would love!

  2. I'm very curious about this book. Yours is the third review of it I read today!

  3. Great review! This book sounds very interesting and so does Hope's character. I will put it on my list.
    Thanks for your kind words on my blog. I really enjoy reading your book reviews and following your blog. :)

  4. Your reviews are always the best, Amy! You make me want to read every single book you have read!

  5. Stopping by from Willoughby's blog! I love cats, too...so I decided to follow!!!

  6. Bermudaonion: It really is a great book. Hope Edelman writes so honestly about her hopes, her faults, her issues and she's funny, smart and caring with a great family that she loves so much. You feel like you are sitting talking to her.

    avisannschild: I highly recommend this book. Last week I noticed several blogs were planning to review this book. If you haven't checked the website, do, it's great.

    Pesky Cat: Hi! Thank you. This is definitely a memoir worth reading!

    Willoughby: Thank you! That is so good to hear. What are you reading now?

    Raoulysgirl: Thank you so much. I wasn't able to get over there yesterday but I'm going to visit today. If you page through my blog you will see several cat stories!
    Thank you for stopping by!

  7. Great review! I've added your link to my own (which also posted today).

    I agree with you about the "too much information" in spots, but for me, it didn't take away from the story. I kind of liked the rambling, actually. I also found Hope likable and appreciated her self-awareness, even though I didn't always agree with her interpretations of things.