THE WISDOM OF SALLY RED SHOES – Ruth Hogan
England – Present Day
Masha (her nickname) has spent the past twelve years grieving the loss of her only child to drowning. Each day she treks to the outdoor pool in town and “drowns”, or attempts to, at least. And each day she climbs out of the pool and goes home to her dog, and on to work as a psychologist. Masha has become an authority on drowning by researching the topic and has also chosen to read every book on death that she can find in the local used bookstore. For Masha, the only reason for living these days is her dog, her wolfhound Haizum. Losing her child effectively ended her normal life, and these days Masha drifts through each day, trying not to look in the nursery, and walking with Haizum in the cemetery where she is an expert of all of the tombstones. She even dreams up stories about the inhabitant of each grave. And it's there that she sees Sally Red Shoes feeding the crows.
Sally Red Shoes is not her real name, it's the name Masha has given her because the elderly lady wears red Mary Janes. When talking to Sally, Masha is constantly surprised at the seemingly mild-mannered woman's racy vocabulary. Sally feeds the crows breadcrumbs every day, swearing like a sailor, but obviously not meaning anything by it. As Masha comes to know Sally, she realizes that this woman is far from crazy, and is warmed by her very honest advice.
In a town not far away, Alice and her son Mattie live alone. Alice is overly protective of her son and Mattie is starting to resent it. Every day she prepares his supper and stands at the window waiting for him to walk up the street from school. Her whole world revolves around Mattie. Alice is certain there are no secrets between them. But lately he has not been sweet, lovable Mattie. There is a tension between them, although at times he reverts to his old self. Alice just wants everything to be normal and wants Mattie to love her.
THE WISDOM OF SALLY RED SHOES is extremely emotional in so many ways. It's also thought provoking, humorous, and poignant. Masha is trying very hard to overcome her long depression. She has lovely friends, elderly, caring parents, and a longing for normalcy. But she is probably more normal than she gives herself credit for. Alice is a woman with low esteem and doesn't know how to handle difficult situations, especially when it comes to Mattie. And Sally Red Shoes is a lovable curmudgeon who helps change Masha's outlook.
There is plenty of sadness in this novel, but it's interspersed with some downright hilarious scenes. One chapter, in particular, is a dinner party that Masha attends where one guest brings out the best and the worst in everyone else. I highly recommend this wonderful book. It's beautifully written and a tribute to the human soul.