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The Book of Ruth

The Book of Ruth

The minute the central story arc of Home Was a Dream came together in my mind, a fresh challenge immediately clamored for attention: how was I going to tell this particular story?

The first two novels in the Tim Green series (Believe in Me and Never Break the Chain) are narrated almost entirely from Tim’s first-person perspective; you are inside his head, in the present, experiencing what he experiences. But Home Was a Dream began as a story about Tim’s father Bernie, before growing to also feature Bernie’s father, Tim’s grandfather Max. So: how do you employ your series’ established first-person narrator to tell a story that’s mostly about two people who are, in your narrator’s present, both long since dead?

The solution soon became clear, in the form of a supporting character in both previous Tim Green novels: his Aunt Ruth. Ruth is Bernie’s older sister, the alpha sibling of her generation, and in the wake of Bernie’s passing—which prefaces the events of the first novel, Believe in Me—she and Tim naturally draw closer, each still feeling connected with Bernie through the other. We observe this bond developing in the first two novels, but it takes a leap forward in Home Was a Dream, as Tim begins asking Ruth more about his father’s past, exposing family history that he had only caught hints of before.

As the conduit for both her own memories of Bernie’s life growing up and her father Max’s stories about his childhood, Ruth serves as a bridge between Tim’s present and his family’s past. After an introductory chapter establishing Tim’s voice as the narrator, the subsequent Bernie and Max chapters in Home Was a Dream are narrated in the third person—which is soon revealed to be Tim’s own voice inside his head, listening to Ruth and then synthesizing and further embellishing the stories she is telling him.

This naturally leads during the present-day framing sections of the book to reflections on the tricks and pitfalls of memory and how each person who retells a story reshapes it through their own perceptions and filters, so that once a story has passed from person to person to person, it may or may not bear a strong resemblance to what actually happened. If this sounds like an echo of ideas found in my essay collection / memoir The Remembering; it absolutely is. In fact, there’s a paragraph about the nature of memory that appears almost verbatim in both books—the funny part being that I can’t remember anymore which book I initially wrote it for. (I started writing Home Was a Dream during a break between drafts of The Remembering.)

Late in the new book, Ruth’s narration and the story she is telling start to bleed into one another as past and present begin to merge into a single thread of moments, ideas and emotions. That wasn’t something I had planned, but rather a kind of instinctual narrative flourish that developed organically along the way.

So yes, Home Was a Dream explores the relationships between three generations of fathers and sons—but it does so largely through the eyes and heart of a remarkable woman, the person on whose presence, memory and integrity the entire story hinges: Ruth. In a way that would no doubt both annoy her younger sibling Bernie and leave him feeling proud, this story could easily have been subtitled—with a nod to her steadfast faith—The Book of Ruth.

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