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Surely one of life's most devastating experiences is the loss of a child. Some practitioners say it is a loss from which one cannot ever completely recover. Others say not so. What most will agree is that each person responds to tragedy in a different way. Such is certainly the case with Frank and Ellie Benton in Thrity Umriger's intensely emotional The Weight Of Heaven.
A young American couple, Frank and Ellie lost their seven-year-old son, Benny, to a mysterious illness. It was quite unexpected, absolutely heartbreaking and, in their case, polarizing. Frank is unable to explain what happened to him. Following Benny's funeral he felt he should go to Ellie and say something brave and consoling. But, he did not know how. It was if she were a stranger. He equates his marriage to a book he had read in high school and Ellie a character in it that he had forgotten. They are surrounded only by memories, recollections that mock them - a mug that says #1 Mom, a small baseball glove.
Not too long after Benny's death Frank's boss asks him if he wants to head a new factory the company is building in Girbaug, India. Frank declines saying it is not a good time for him to relocate. But, when Ellie hears about the offer she insists that they go, seeing the move as a new start and, most importantly, an opportunity to salvage their marriage and their once shared happiness.
Thus, a clash of cultures and ideas begins. Frank at first looks down on the small city and its inhabitants. But eventually he is drawn to Ramesh, the nine-year-old son of their housekeepers, almost to the point of seeing him as a surrogate son. This was not at all in Ellie's plan but she feels there is little she can do.
Grief recovery can be a long, painful process; Umriger deftly paints this journey with deft and understanding pen. She is an extraordinary writer; The Weight Of Heaven merits not only attention but accolades as well.
- Gail Cooke