Hello Goodbye is a poignant look at a week in the life of eighteen-year-old Abby Hansen, whose mother, Helen is dying of brain cancer. Neither Helen nor Abby have been told the truth about Helen’s condition. Rather, Abby’s father, Elliott, has decided that it is better for Helen to continue to live with hope and for Abby, who is extremely close to her mother, to be shielded from reality.
Since their twentieth wedding anniversary is approaching, Elliott decides that the three of them will take a trip back to their former home, New Hampshire. There they will stay at the historic Presidential Hotel and be joined by Helen and Elliott’s oldest and dearest friends for an anniversary celebration. The events of that week forever change Abby.
A Father’s Prophetic Words
The summer I was nineteen, my parents and I spent a week at a fancy hotel in New Hampshire, sunbathing, eating huge, decadent meals, and visiting with our old friends from New England. This was 1991, and it was my mother’s last summer, because she was dying of brain cancer. These circumstances were the inspiration, if you can call something so terrible an “inspiration,” for my novel, Hello Goodbye.
I don’t remember much from that week, which is one of the main reasons I didn’t try to make Hello Goodbye a memoir. One thing I do remember, though, is something my father said to me the first morning at breakfast (and which Elliott Hansen says to his daughter, Abby, in the novel). He waved his arm around the pretty, light-filled room and said, “Can’t you see yourself coming here someday to write?”
That question annoys Abby in the book, but it did not annoy me then. Instead it surprised me. I’d never told my dad that I wanted to write. I don’t think I even knew I wanted to write. I wanted to read. (And perhaps I wanted to already have written, and be just a little bit famous for it.)
Thinking about his question takes me back to another summer years before that. I was a kid — nine? twelve? — and I was jumping on my pogo stick in the driveway. (I was pretty good at it: my record was 714 hops.) My dad was standing in the doorway of the garage, and he said to me — these were his exact words — “It is my belief that someday you will write.”
I just kept on jumping; his words didn’t mean much to me then. But I ask myself now: How did he know? And sometimes, when I am feeling uninspired or impoverished or sick of staring at a computer screen, I wonder why he didn’t say, “It is my belief that you will have a glamorous and lucrative career as a rock musician,” or, “It is my belief that you will find tremendous satisfaction in being a prosecutor of white-collar criminals.” Because who knows? Maybe, unconsciously, I’ve just been trying to please him all these years. To prove him right.
But no, that’s not true, of course. I think he just knew me better than I knew myself then, because he was my dad and he’d been paying attention. These days, when I look at my three-year-old daughter, her nose buried in a book she can’t read yet, I can tell that she’s got years of fanatical, impassioned reading ahead of her, just like I did at her age. And I wonder if someday I’ll tell her, as she’s swinging on a swing or sitting in a tree fort, that I believe that she’ll write someday. Or teach. Or prosecute. Or heal. Or counsel. Or legislate.
And I wonder if I’ll be right.
Emily Chenoweth is a former fiction editor of Publishers Weekly. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Bookforum, and People, among other publications. Hello Goodbye is her first published novel.
She resides in Portland, Oregon.
You can connect with Emily on Facebook.
Enter to Win a Copy of Hello Goodbye
Emily has graciously provided one copy of Hello Goodbye for me to award to one of my readers, selected at random.
To enter, click here to read my review of Hello Goodbye. Then simply post a comment stating what aspect of the review most inspires you to want to read the book.
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Entries will be accepted through Wednesday, August 10, 2011, at 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time)!