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The Woman Upstairs

The Woman Upstairs - Claire Messud "
""The person I am in my head is so far from the person I am in the world. Nobody would know me from my own description of myself; which is why, when called upon (rarely, I grant) to provide an account, I tailor it, I adapt, I try to provide an outline that can, in some way, correlate to the outline that people understand me to have—that, I suppose, I actually have, at this point. But who I am in my head, very few people really get to see that. Almost none. It's the most precious gift I can give, to bring her out of hiding. Maybe I've learned it's a mistake to reveal her at all.”

Nora Marie Eldridge lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts and works as a grade three teacher at Appleton Elementary. She's a well-meaning daughter, a willing teacher, a solid as a rock friend and a good law-abiding citizen; and by all intents and purposes is an all-around solid person. But something seems to be missing in her life and at her age it is continually haunting her cold, empty days. With little fight she has become resigned to her fate. Growing up she never wanted to feel the emptiness that loneliness can bring, or the desperation that breeds desolation, or the emotional, mental, and physical danger that wanting can produce. With today bringing the same end results of yesterday, Nora still holds out hope that there is still wonder out there to be experienced through the sights, smells, sounds and tastes that only the world can bring. Who knew that Nora would soon realize herself, distract herself from death, and change her life's narrative after encountering mid-term, a new student at the produce section of the local grocery store.

To Nora eight-years-old is the perfect age. Not yet a pubescent monstrosity of gangly limbs, plimples, and pitchy voices. Nor far from the whiny, destructive, needy and careless years where constant attention is paid. Nora has found her calling as a grade three school teacher at Appleton Elementary. Having been a teacher for quite some time now after living life as a struggling artist, she has developed into the perfect teacher. One that although she has no children of her own, she understands children, and she thinks she has found her perfect student in the olive-skinned wonder Reza Shahid. Transfixed by his charm, his worldly appearance and his willingness to learn, Nora sees an opportunity for greatness with this young man. With the destruction of September 11 2001 fresh in everyone's mind and undocumented civil uprising all across the globe, the children of Ms. Eldridge's grade three class don't take too kindly to strangers.

The Shahid's are an Arab, middle-eastern Christian Muslim family from Paris that have uprooted only to land in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Through time, sheltered, drab and encumbered Nora quickly becomes enamored with the technicolor Shahid family. Each member of the Shahid family brings their own unique quality that proves to be beneficial for Nora's livelihood. They allow her to open herself up, but to experience them all at once would have been too much for her to handle. Matriarch Sirena inspires Nora as a true artistic presence, she makes her feel alive and in tune with her thoughts and feelings that brought about action akin to being reawakened to the life that left her behind long ago. Nora can't help but think that Sirena's life was what her's should've or could've been. Head of the household Skandar brings love, conversation, seduction, the experience of marriage and the realization that Nora has much to give too this world. Reza has a charm that allows Nora to experience a type of motherhood that she hadn't experienced up to that point, and in all likelihood wouldn't ever. Life for Nora requires three acts, and with the Shahid's she's experiencing them all at a blazing pace. But what happens when you want something so bad you drop your guard? At this point does it even matter?

""Above all, in my anger, I was sad. Isn’t that always the way, that at the heart of the fire is a frozen kernel of sorrow that the fire is trying—valiantly, fruitlessly—to eradicate. And I was aware, in all this emotion, that as soon as she called - if she called - all would be forgiven. Every time my phone rang, my heart turned on vain hope. It was a reflex; I couldn't control it.""

From the outset you realize that this lady is pissed. You get the feeling that her life is crashing down before her after being ambushed and made a mockery of. Throughout your life you become different versions of yourself, and in this story you see many lighter and darker shades of Ms. Eldridge; hey a lot can happen in five years. Great tone to set, but one that got my hopes up and really meandered throughout, failing to reconcile my initial feelings. The author provides an outlet for her message for people to live their lives to the fullest while demonstrating the dangers of a life that can spoil at the blink of an eye. Message encouraging people to embrace and overcome their fear, let go of your emotions, let joy take over your world and don't let sadness take over your soul. Very in touch with this feeling it lends itself to a unique reading experience, albeit one that was difficult to stomach over and over again. Who are we kidding? The first few pages reveal to us in retrospect that there really was never any hope, the biggest question was how did she end up at this point enraged by the recent events and throwing a tantrum like a tiny tot being denied a snack before supper. The meek shall inherit the earth they said, well in The Woman Upstairs all the meek get is an invitation for emotional malfeasance. Anger has always been widely regarded as one of the greatest motivators, I believe the woman upstairs may have found a new purpose.

""When you’re the Woman Upstairs, nobody thinks of you first. Nobody calls you before anyone else, or sends you the first postcard. Once your mother dies, nobody loves you best of all. It’s a small thing, you might think; and maybe it depends upon your temperament; maybe for some people it’s a small thing. But for me, in that cul-de-sac outside Aunt Baby’s, with my father and aunt done dissecting death and shuffling off to bed behind the crimson farmhouse door, preparing for morning mass as blameless as lambs and as lifeless as the slaughtered—I felt forsaken by hope. I felt I’d been seen, and seen clearly, and discarded, dropped back into the undiscriminated pile like a shell upon the shore.”