Last month, we saluted Ginnah Howard when her novel Night Navigation was featured in the New York Times Book Review. Now, we have the opportunity to salute Ms. Howard again — and to thank her for responding in such length to questions about her novel and herself.
We’ve been sharing that conversation over four days. In today’s final installment, Ginnah talks about her mixed feelings about the honor of the Times review of Night Navigation, and her hope that readers will have a more nuanced response.
What was it like for you to see your first published book, Night Navigation, reviewed in The New York Times Book Review?
Since I graduated from college, one of the highlights of the week has been going out on a Sunday morning to get The New York Times, to spend most of that whole day curled up with The Book Review, the news of the Week in Review, Arts & Leisure, the magazine…so it was a special thrill to learn that Night Navigation would be reviewed on July 5. Who would review it? How much space would it be given? Would it appear in the first half of the Review? And, of course the main concern: Would it be basically positive, with no “kisses of death?” “We don’t know,” the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publicity Manager said.
Of course it is a great streak of good fortune to have my first published novel reviewed in the Times, to have it be considered a positive “take” on the book, to have my picture included, to be on page 13. Further, the next week, to have Night Navigation be picked as one of the Editor’s Choice books. Beyond the pleasure that such recognition brings, beyond the fact that this recognition is likely to improve sales and, perhaps, add some energy to the chances that Rope & Bone may more easily find a publisher in the fall, there has been the joy of hearing from writers I’d met in workshops and residencies these last 20 years, but whom I’d lost track of over time [because of] changed addresses and emails.
All of that said, I must add that I was disturbed by the reviewer’s “angle”: that the mother in Night Navigation was as addicted to enabling as the son was to heroin. “Mark’s mother’s drug of choice is the drama her son brings to her life. She can’t resist the urge…to indulge in ‘supermom’ exploits.” That’s a conclusion that a careful reading of the novel would negate.
As a longtime member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), I was moved to voice a protest in the form of a Letter to the Editor which may or may not be published. I wanted to speak up for the many parents in this country who have adult children with the co-occurring disorders of both mental illness and substance abuse, especially where suicide is part of a family’s history. When to let go and when to hold on becomes very complicated under those circumstances. These families need no additional drama in their lives. Readers who’d like to see a full copy of this letter can contact me through my Web site.
Summer can mean so many things: a new wardrobe, a new job, a new semester, vacations, camp, slower schedules.
For most, it’s the end to the school year. Kids are happy. Parents? Well, a mixed swirl of emotion, from relief to worry: now what? No structure or homework, but long hot days of idle hands.
Most kids in our neighborhood go away to summer camp. My kids never did that. In my family, you don’t leave until you’re married and even then, it’s appreciated if you live in the basement for a few years.My son Joey, being special (he has autism) and needing as much education as possible, needs full year to school, so he’s in school until mid-August. My older son, Nicholas, volunteers during the summer: With special-ed kids at a day camp. And I get to tuck my boys in and go to sleep knowing they are in the next room. What could be better?
Well this year something happened. A cousin asked Nicholas to come to Florida for three weeks.
The decision was easy enough. I trust that cousin with my soul, and would love to give Nick the chance to enjoy a few weeks without autism. Why not? Well did I open a can of worms. And he emailed me the clip from the video-cam: Yes, my boy is happy and yes, I couldn’t be more thrilled as I watch my cousin kiss and hug him, mentioning tell me how Nick is hers for three whole weeks. In the clip my son blushes and tells me she’s spoiling him. What a gift — what joy my heart feels. And so proud of my confident, honest, good-natured boy that fits in so well, who is on his way to being his own person.
But then I shut off the computer and the silence is deafening. I can barely stand it. My beautiful boy Joey is special and loving … but — well, may I say it? WORK. He makes messes, and needs help and runs outside and it’s constant and ruthless and I feel so guilty.My heart is as heavy as a ton of bricks. And I cry because I am lonely, and sad that I could be lonely with my boy right there. How unfair is that? And what kind of mother am I that I could feel so sad. And it hurts. And I’m sure it hurts for him too. Joey doesn’t want to be special; he just wants to be like every other 12-year-old boy. But he’s not. And he needs me to love him…because let me tell you, not that many do. He is dismissed by most as worthless. I was told just recently by a family member: I think you’re wasting your money. Just.look at him. A piece of my heart broke that day. Thank God Joey didn’t hear, or if he did didn’t understand. Or worse: imagine if he did understand, and can’t tell me.
So, this summer vacation, I’ve learned to count on myself. I let go of my star and try to shine without him. It’s tough; Nick’s so easy to shine with. Joey’s star is less constant, and needs constant rubbing, but every once in a while I see the sparkle. He tries so hard. Thank GOD. It’s what keeps me rubbing. And knowing that he’ll always need me there? It is sad but kinda sweet.Being needed is all we really want, especially us annoying overbearing mothers.
When I’ve learned what I need I have to learn, to need Joey back — then I think it will be a good summer.
Phyllis Fanzo Lombardi is well known in the Ardsley School District (Westchester County, NY) and the nation for her tireless advocacy on behalf of the families touched by autism. She has trained EMS workers, designers of schools and hospitals, and educators about the needs of low-verbal children with disabilities. When her son is admitted to the bar, she may just run for President.