Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Truth About Delilah Blue by Tish Cohen

Good morning and welcome to the first edition of the Celebrity Book Club.

As I've been blurbing in previous posts, this is the beginning of a new feature at my blog, where once a month I will feature a book I've read that just blows me away, and I will invite the author and other celebrities in the art world to join in with you, the reader, for a discussion of the book in the comments section here.

So today we start with "The Truth About Delilah Blue" by an absolutely amazing author I am also proud to call my friend, Tish Cohen.

And if you haven't already read this astonishing book, here is a comprehensive list, everywhere from Amazon to independent bookstores, which you can purchase it by just clicking here. It has two covers -- the Canadian version (Tish hails from Toronto)...

...and the American version.

Here is what we writers call the "elevator pitch", or, as Tish's publisher would say, the provocative premise of the book:

What if you woke up one day to learn that you were once a child on a milk carton?

Is that brilliant or what? And that is going to be our basis for discussion, sort of, but more on that in a moment. First, here's the official synopsis:

"Delilah Blue Lovett has always been a bit of an outsider, ever since her father moved her from Toronto to L.A. when she was eight, claiming Delilah's mother no longer wanted to be part of their family. Twenty now and broke, but determined to be an artist like her errant mom, Delilah attends art class for free—by modeling nude at the front of the room, a decision that lifts the veil from her once insular world. While she struggles to find her talent, her father, her only real companion, is beginning to exhibit telltale signs of early-onset Alzheimer's. Just as Delilah’s father falls further and further into Alzeimer’s, she discovers that he’s been harboring a horrible secret for over 15 years, but he no longer remembers the motivations behind his deception… or the consequences. And her mother, who Delilah always assumed had selfishly abandoned them, is about to reappear with a young daughter in tow . . . and a secret that will change everything. Delilah no longer knows which parent to trust—the only one she can really rely on is the most broken person of all: herself.

Reminiscent of the books of Jodi Picoult (House Rules, Keeping the Faith) and Jennifer Weiner (In Her Shoes, Best Friends Forever)—as well as Lisa Genova’s breakout novel about Alzheimer’s, Still Alice—The Truth About Delilah Blue by acclaimed author Tish Cohen (Town House, Inside Out Girl) delivers a touching, poignant novel about one young woman’s attempt to come to terms with loss, betrayal, and forgiveness

In a new novel as witty, sparkling, and poignant as her acclaimed Inside Out Girl, author Tish Cohen uncovers the humor and heart within the most dysfunctional of families."

This book has already garnered some pretty impressive praise from some very significant people:

"There are some books you can’t put down, and others that won’t even let you look away. Tish Cohen’s new novel is both. Try to read it while ironing, and you will perma-press a pinky; do the same while making a sandwich, and you will end up buttering the phone bill. But as the summer’s first terrific beach read, this isn’t really an indoor kind of book anyway. Both of Cohen’s previous novels (Town House and Inside Out Girl) are in development as films, and The Truth About Delilah Blue is sure to follow. She is clearly familiar with the cinema’s propulsive rhythms, and has an almost Hitchcockian sense of how to uncoil audience guts and play double dutch with them. And yet Delilah Blue is a purely domestic drama; no wild-bird invasions or psychotic moteliers in sight, though there may as well be..."—The Globe and Mail—

“Tish Cohen knows how to slide us into a story, letting us imagine we might know the pathway. But we are wrong because she is a wonderful storyteller and will surprise us at every turn. She has created a cast of characters who are filled with delicious human frailty and love. If you think you know anything about parental love and misguided choices, think again. Cohen peels away the layers of families and human desires and leaves us with a world of hope.”
–Jacqueline Sheehan, NYT bestselling author of Lost & Found and Now & Then

“A beautifully written, finely wrought, race-to-the-end novel about finding your family, finding a life, and finding yourself. Tish Cohen is the next great thing in women’s fiction.”
– Allison Winn Scotch, New York Times bestselling author of The One That I Want and Time of My Life

“[This] coming-of-age story itself—the transformation of outsider Lila into self-assured Delilah Blue—proves satisfying and will definitely appeal to the crossover audience that straddles YA and adult fiction.” —Booklist—

“Cohen…knows how to focus on character in ways that make readers care.” —Kirkus Reviews—

“Cohen’s popular fiction is balanced comfortably between heavy and light; the author employs humour to touch on serious issues, and she has a thing for precocious little-girl characters. Her prose is intelligent and sparkling, her characterization is deft, and she absolutely nails essential details, such as Lila’s habit of doodling on her boots when she’s nervous.” –Quill & Quire—

I would have to say I agree with all of the above and that is putting it mildly!

There are so many levels on which this book is brilliant I do not know where to begin so let’s go back to Tish's "elevator pitch" and build on that.

What if you woke up one day to learn that you were once a child on a milk carton? What if everything you thought you knew about your parents was a lie?

Here’s a theme which repeatedly ran through my head while I was reading and even more so afterwards:

What if you grew up thinking that your mother didn’t want you?

What would your life have been like if you didn't have a mother?

So much that occurred during my childhood up until my teenaged years formed the person I am today. What about you? Let's discuss that, too. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning but I can name every kid in my kindergarten through sixth grade classes in elementary school and all the teachers, too…I can tell you where I went, I can tell you what I ate…I can tell you how I felt at Delilah's young age when this book opens up, when I sadly laced my big, ugly saddle shoes I knew the other kids would make fun I had to wear because back then, they were considered "orthopedic" and would prevent me from being flat-footed or pigeon-toed, I forget which. My mother hugged me tight and told me I was the most beautiful girl in the world, and that no one would notice my shoes because I was so special and brilliant. Okay, so she stretched the truth, and I got teased mercilessly from day one, but when I got home from school that first day of "the shoes", there was a huge, freshly baked two layer coconut cake on the kitchen table, my very favorite, and my Mom beaming so proudly I didn't have the heart to tell her the rest of the world didn't quite agree with her assessment.

Christ, I even had to wear those freaking shoes with my Halloween costume that year...that's me on the first row, last one on the right, and please don't ask what that was on my head...but what I do know is that my Mom made all of my costumes even though like most kids, I didn't appreciate it and wished she'd just let me buy a costume in a box like everyone else. But now, looking back, it was my mother's love of art and music...she was a true beatnik...that made me the woman I am today and I was able to pass those same qualities on to my own kids.

Photo of Eric by Ramie Egan


I shudder to think what my childhood would have been like without my Mom, but sadly, like Delilah, she would be taken from me way too soon, but after graduation from high school and not by abduction but by a deadly cancer.

My mother was my best friend even though sure, there was a time as a teenager I made her walk fifteen steps ahead of me because I was embarrassed to be seen shopping with her; there were times I wished she could be like the other mothers; but even as a young girl I knew how special our relationship was. I lost my mother before I was really an adult; it was a loss from which I never recovered. She never met my children, and "all I got is a photograph". (Wait…am I quoting a Ringo Starr song? Oh well. It is one of his better ones)

So what if your mother wasn’t in your life from the time you were eight…and what if you grew up believing she didn’t want you?

Let's talk about that in the comments, okay? I'm interested in hearing about your relationship with your Mom and how she defined the person you became as an adult. Conversely, if you lost your Mom at a young age, please tell me about that, and the profound effect it had to have had on you.

Now let's talk fathers.

I couldn’t hate Delilah's father, Victor, an anal retentive man, so frightened, so consumed with love, that he’s lost sense of what is right and wrong. He adored Delilah so ferociously he really believed he was doing the right thing. He thought he was rescuing his beloved daughter from what he just knew in his gut would be a life of neglect at the hands of his hippie wife -- neglect that would surely lead to Delilah's gory, untimely death. Tish addresses the subject of early onset dementia, and your heart will break for Victor. (And if you are like me, you will hit Google because if you are of, *cough*, a certain age, you might identify with some of Victor's symptoms a little too much but again, this is more a result of brilliant character development rather than my walking upstairs and forgetting why the hell I am there and what it is I wanted to do.)

What was your relationship with your Dad? Ha ha, I will save my own experience for my therapist, but let's just say I don't think he would have tried to save me from anything unless he somehow benefited from it. But even that shaped who I am..I vowed as a child to be the complete opposite as a parent and as a result, I have the two least screwed up kids in the universe.

And I did think a lot about Elizabeth, the woman from whom Victor allegedly saved his daughter. Tish does not paint her to be an angel; far from it. At times it was hard to be sympathetic to her, even though she suffered the most horrific atrocity a woman could face --losing her child. But as I read the book, I "got her" and even related. Growing up is hard. Some of us do it better than others. I have two adult children and am still shocked when I look in the mirror and don't see someone their age staring back at me. Tish nailed what it's like to be from the "Hope I Die Before I Get Old Generation" and I ought to know, I'm club president. In Elizabeth she gives us two very different women - a tortured victim and a vain narcissist who must now face the sad truth that she is a fading beauty and no longer young and able to rely on youth and good looks to get by, but Tish has constructed this character so cleverly we have compassion for her regardless.

The co-stars in this book are also adeptly created. We have Elizabeth's daughter and Delilah's heretofore unknown half-sister, Kieran, remarkably the same age as Delilah when she was abducted, who is so obsessed with missing children she cuts their faces off of milk cartons and has every fact about them memorized. Tish tackles another interesting subject here: Does being raised by a hippie Mom automatically make you a free spirit or does it force you to become an adult way before your time and miss out on your childhood altogether? Let's talk about that, too.

There is Adam, a possible love interest for Delilah, brilliant but wounded...I do not want to give too much away about him but let's just say he's a very unique guy as well with some very fascinating quirks and talent.

Then we have Lichty, the eccentric art instructor whose personality will have you gritting your teeth more than once...a man whose claim to fame is that he is related to the great pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein.

Even a coyote named Slash (loved that!) has a significant role - you will actually find yourself rooting for Slash, and if you are like me, you will google coyotes and learn stuff like this.

In Delilah, though, Tish has created a character we love from the very start of the book.

"Look at me - I can fly!" she says at age 8, before the abduction.

But as Tish deftly switches between past and present (going back and forth to Delilah at age 8 in 1996 when the abduction takes place to the present time), and she is a master at seamless transition from chapter to chapter, we are overwrought at Delilah's lack of confidence in her art and her inability to let people really touch her or come close. We see her clearly, how she dresses...Tish is also a stickler for detail and tell me you can't visualize Delilah standing directly in front of you as you read...even in the way she shows her anger at her father by simple yet very telling act of revenge: dumping a can of corn niblets into the trash because they were her father’s favorite food

As you read on, there is building suspense as the story is told slowly and carefully from both Delilah and Victor's point of view, which, as an author, I can tell you is almost impossible to pull off and Tish did that beautifully, too, but just when you are sure you know how this book will end, you will find you are wrong. Nothing in Delilah Blue is stereotypical or predictable.

So. You have the official HarperCollins blurb, you've read what others think, and now you have my take on this wonderful, wonderful book. Let's talk! And authors, artists, whoever you are...please fully identify yourself and provide links to your websites, blogs, or any other outlets where we can find your work so that your mom..or dad...will be proud of you, wherever they may be...whether they are still with us or somewhere out there in the great unknown. And who may be my next celebrity book (or music) club "victim".

But before I end this post, let me again post the book trailer, because it's just too awesome for words.