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Read an Excerpt from Any Bitter Thing

Monica Wood     Monica Wood

 


A top-ten finalist for "Best Spiritual Book of the Year" at beliefnet.com.

Top Ten Booksense pick

Reading Group 2006 Booksense pick

New England Independent Booksellers Association bestseller

ABA extended bestseller list for 16 weeks

Contra Costa Times Book Club selection

 

About the book

Any Bitter Thing tells the story of Lizzy Mitchell, a 30-year-old guidance counselor now working back in her hometown; and Father Mike, Lizzy's beloved uncle, a Catholic priest who raised her until she was nine years old.  Their idyllic existence ended in a single day, when false accusations from a bitter parishioner forced the Church to separate them forever.  Twenty years later, in the aftermath of an accident, Lizzy believes she hears the voice of the long-dead Father Mike.  Thus begins a journey of reconciliation that will both devastate and revive the lives of the people she loves most.  Through the here-and-now voice of Lizzy and the filtered, back-then voice of Father Mike, Any Bitter Thing reveals ferocious loyalties, unexpected betrayals, and the enduring power of  love, faith, and memory.

 

                      Read an excerpt from Any Bitter Thing

 

REVIEWS

 

"Gorgeously written and deeply moving...Wood's sensitive exploration of  love, faith, and human frailty adds a rewarding dimension to a solid plot that keeps the pages turning." --Cleveland Plain Dealer

"[In]this beautifully written novel ... Wood deals movingly with the larger themes of faith, loss, trust, fatherhood, and renewal." -- Beliefnet, from their top-ten list for Best Spiritual Book of the Year

"Monica Wood's Any Bitter Thing is a quiet, cunning novel about a woman recovering from an accident who tries to piece together the disappearance of her beloved uncle and guardian from her life when she was still a girl. Here, as in Cloud Atlas, the forgotten, undersold virtue of good sound plotting proves its worth outside the usual confines of genre fiction.  Any Bitter Thing is also an unapologetically emotional book, full of well-observed grace notes and observations about grief and marriage that bring you up short with a grateful shiver of recognition."  -- David Kipen - National Public Radio summer reading picks

"Any Bitter Thing [is] an unexpected story about the beauty of human devotion...Wood has a reverence for the profound human connection created within families. When that connection is disrupted by death, violence, or deception, it knocks something askew in the universe. Her characters have to muddle through pain and uncertainty toward the wisdom that can set things right, motivated, in Lizzy's words, by "the human animal's insistence on stitching one life to another's with the flimsiest of thread."... Wood makes it clear that their collective struggle to find reconciliation is ultimately a spiritual task, and that acknowledging small truths can reveal much larger ones."  --Nashville Scene

"[Wood] deftly borrows  modern techniques to explore a mystery that cannot be understood but only taken on faith: love. With great skill, she sends Lizzy off on a journey through her childhood, letting the scrutiny of Lizzy's open adult eyes transform events and meanings until a larger picture slowly begins to develop.  And with smooth suspense, Wood shifts between the stories of Lizzy and Father Mike, past and present, etching that developing picture with fine details of shame and guilt, joy and compassion.  But Wood's greatest strength is undeniably her ability to tear the masks of the other from her characters and plunge readers directly into exquisite intimacy.  Wood has painted a surprisingly recognizable portrait: [Lizzy] is your neighbor, your sister, your friend, you....Wood illuminates the grace in the average and everyday, the miracles that lie within the ordinary life.  [The novel contains] the quiet loveliness of this intimate exploration of love and faith, betrayal and penance." - San Francisco Chronicle

"The victim of a hit-and-run accident, Lizzy Mitchell is left by the driver in the middle of the median, hurt and adrift. Later Lizzie comes to see the accident as indicative of her life up to that point. Raised by her uncle Mike, a Maine priest, Lizzy grows up surrounded by his devotion to ministry. But at age nine, her comfortable world crumbles when her uncle is accused of molestation. Lizzy, now a high-school counselor, is still trying to make sense of what happened to her uncle. Wood's characters, similar to those in Mary Lawson's Crow Lake (2002), show refreshing depth and complexity as they each grapple with the irrefutable power of the past. This emotional story is filled with crisp, rich details that linger in the memory much like the Moxie soda that Lizzy recalls from her Maine summers. Wood's stirring domestic drama is full of surprises as it explores the weighty themes of religion, perceived innocence, and the corrosive quality of best intentions."  --Booklist

"The intense, uniquely used language of Any Bitter Thing is perhaps its most outstanding feature." --The Leaf-Chronicle, Clarksville, TN

"Beautifully written...Wood's characters show depth and complexity, and unexpected twists continually defy expectations.  Wood's take on the modern-day suspicions of Catholic priests is new and enthralling.  She circles from past to present in a richly layered plot that builds upon themes of spirituality, innocence, and the question of best intentions." - Deseret Morning News, Salt Lake City

"Rarely in the past few years has a novel stood out as something truly genuine, and genuinely different… Wood’s masterful style, composed of complex characters, rich language and intricate plot [is] a mix that is rarely achieved…. It’s truly a literary masterpiece."  -- Shepherd Express Weekly (Milwaukee)

"A buried treasure...Wood spins a compelling story of love, looking at the loss of innocence and what is done in the name of love. Wood calls into play all kinds of love: familial, sexual, and religious. Her characters are complex and appealing in their human fragility. This is a richly textured domestic drama. Wood's meditations on God's grace find God in the ordinary. But all is not light. There is a dark mystery at the heart of this story. Lizzy says, 'The human craving is for story, not truth.' Wood satisfies this craving." -- Winston-Salem Journal

"Any Bitter Thing is more than a good summer read.  The book rises to the level of literature.  It deserves a place on the shelf with modern classics such as John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany and Richard Russo's Empire Falls.  The novel deals with injury and grief, love and redemption.  The story is full of suspense and surprise.  Yet it unfolds elegantly, like a flower opening in the cold Maine spring.  [It is] a giant among contemporary Maine novels."  - Maine Sunday Telegram

"After an opening bang, Wood gradually works her way back in time to unravel the soulful mystery of these deeply scarred and intensely human characters. A quiet tale with epic repercussions. "  --Kirkus Reviews

If you liked The Secret Life of Bees ...  try Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood.  This beautifully written novel of a woman grieving the death of the uncle who raised her shows how you can't forget some childhood losses but can start to move on.     -- Glamour Magazine

Monica Wood's moving new novel [is a] story of desertions, trust, faith and forgiveness.  - Hartford Courant

"A major work of Maine literature that will find an admiring readership, and deservedly so. Part of the business of the novel is to penetrate the layer upon layer of forgetfulness, deceit, emotional blindness, and simple dread in which the old secrets are preserved... Like physicists drawing closer and closer to the ultimate origins of the universe, we inch our way haltingly toward the Big Bang... '[Any Bitter Thing] begs some hard questions, of the sort raised by Job and numberless souls since...I can't say Monica Wood, or anyone else, has provided satisfying answers; but she does lead us to the questions along some novel and compelling paths.  More than that, she offers in good measure many of the things from which we have long taken solace: beauty, and love, and moments of peace, and rewarding (if fragile) human connectedness.  Above all, truth.

For a work of such universal scope, Any Bitter Thing is impressively focused in its evocation of place and time.  Think globally, write locally; you can practically smell the spruce... The natural backdrop is faithfully, if sparingly, drawn.  Surnames, places names, throwaway expressions, a hundred minor idiosyncrasies of life Down East -- all of it rings true." - Richard Grant, Down East magazine

Deeply moving, thought-provoking novel"  - Freshfiction.com

"A timely, gripping and compassionate tale of family, faith, and deeply hidden truths. Monica Wood has written an intimate and emotionally expansive novel full of understanding and hope."  - Lewiston (Maine) Sun Journal

"A near-fatal accident in the dark of night — 30-year-old Lizzy is struck in a hit-and-run — sets in motion a complicated, surprising story of love, loss and sacrifice. When Lizzy was two, her parents were killed in a plane crash, and she was sent to live with her beloved Uncle Mike, a Catholic priest. In prose as fresh and lovely as a Maine summer evening, Lizzy tells of seven halcyon years with her uncle. But when a bitter housekeeper falsely accuses Mike of sexually abusing Lizzy, her cozy world is shattered. Sent to live with relatives, Lizzy is told that Mike succumbed to the weak family heart and died. So how has he visited her in her hospital room after the hit-and-run? This, as well as the mystery of why Father Mike meekly accepted the accusations leveled against him, begins to come clear when Lizzy's accident and rehabilitation dredge up questions of another tragic event, long hidden. Following the structure of the Liturgy of the Hours, from Invitatory to Matins, Wood employs a sophisticated, layered architecture, circling from present to past to reveal shocking truths. Interspersed with Lizzy's first-person narration are sections told from Uncle Mike's third-person perspective, which provide mesmerizing insight into what is known and what is remembered. Wood's story unassumingly builds in power, right up to its moving final page.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved."  --
Publishers Weekly

"Any  Bitter Thing opens with a bang…the cleverly blurred timelines allow us to see -- even better than Lizzy can -- how the different acts of violence in her life continue to define her." - Washington Post

"This wonderful Maine writer has done it again [with]Any Bitter Thing ... The layered story, gorgeous descriptions, and moving characters make this novel one you'll not soon forget...This novel highlights an author in full command of her craft.  It deserves to be a best seller. -Maine Lawyers Review

"My first pick for fall ... Any Bitter Thing is rich and compelling.  Its protagonist, Lizzy Mitchell, is the victim of a hit and run, and as her body attempts to heal itself in the hospital, her spirit attempts to heal her memories ... a truly surprising ending ... The story itself and its structure make for a gorgeous read." -- Maine Women's Journal

"Any Bitter Thing is exquisite, a soul-satisfying novel of hearts broken seemingly beyond repair and healed in the utter unlikeliness of grace. Monica Wood writes beautifully, passionately, and the novel's layered, intricate structure is transparent throughout to the sheer loveliness of its story. This is a gorgeous novel, by an immensely gifted writer." Tim Farrington, author of The Monk Downstairs and Lizzie's War

"Monica Wood's new novel is astonishing. The subtle architecture and trajectory belie its complexity, embracing the reader in the warmth of the narrator's voice and the insistence of her desires. You cannot guess what will happen, and what 'happens' is never forced, though it is inevitable. You will be transported." Sandra Scofield, author of Occasions of Sin: A Memoir and Plain Seeing

 

REVIEWS FROM BOOKSELLERS:

From Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, CA

"Any Bitter Thing is a touching story about the relationship between a young child and her uncle, a priest. Wood has written a novel that truly explores the bonds of love and what people do for those they love. This is a beautiful book, highly recommended. - Sherri Gallentine

"It's my job to talk about books, but sometimes a book comes along that's so beautiful, that it leaves even a seasoned veteran like myself at a loss for words. I can't truly do justice to this deeply moving, wonderfully written novel, about a 30-year-old woman's near fatal accident and the resulting convergence of her past and present, in a simple synopsis. Suffice it to say, the book is about faith: in God, in a marriage, and ultimately in ourselves, and it's the best thing I've read in a long time. A rich treasure for book club discussion, or a satisfying treat for yourself. As my friend Margaret said when she sent me a copy, "I'm so glad that you still have the pleasure of reading it in your future.”
- Allison Hill, general manager

Any Bitter Thing is a book that offers an insight into how unconditional family love can be when a little girl and her uncle, who is a priest, have no one else left in the world but each other. The genuine and very sensitive approach to the subjects of respect, protection, chaste love, friendship, passion, duty, and so much more, make this novel a rewarding experience, enhanced by a truly gripping weaving of storylines and unforgettable characters. - Marie Buffel Du Vaure

A Clean Well Lighted Place, San Francisco:

"This is an absolutely haunting novel that even contains a few laughs. In fact, the story of a young woman searching for her life's meaning after having been wrenched from her priest uncle and guardian at age nine encompasses a full range of emotions. What a great novel. I'm begging my friends to read it." --Sheryl Cottleur, A Clean Well-Lighted Place, San Francisco, CA

Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops, Milwaukee, Wisconsin:

"In the midst of trudging through a lot of the same ol' same ol' stuff, I thought that Literature with a capital "L" died. How happy I was to discover that it still exists and it comes from people like Monica Wood. ... This is the first novel I've read in a long time that feels whole, complete, satisfying, and like I really did myself an enriching service by reading it." --Tea Benduhn 

The Norwich Bookstore, Norwich, Vermont:

"My true test of a book to recommend to others is what it looks like when I'm finished. If while reading it I had to stop and pencil mark pages that I will return to later for passages to copy into my journal, then it's one I'll whole-heartedly suggest. My copy of Any Bitter Thing is now all marked up. I loved the relationship between Lizzie and Father Mike. How he would let her stay up way too late, the books they would read together. And I could sense that his struggle with how to raise her was a real one." --Elizabeth Reynolds 

A Great Good Place for Books, Oakland, California:

"Chronicle Books has found a hidden gem in Monica Wood's Any Bitter Thing. With writing that is both elegant and graceful, Wood takes readers on a journey of reconciliation as Lizzie attempts to come to terms with the murky shadows of her past, the detachment of her present, and the uncertainty of her future. She interweaves the Catholic sacraments and rituals in a way that propels the reader on to the very end. Any Bitter Thing will certainly have a long life with book groups and on staff pick tables. I know it will have a place on ours." --Kathleen Caldwell

White Birch Books, North Conway, New Hampshire:

"The use of language is exquisite, the characters are full of life, and the story is so involving. After I started it, I resented anything that made me put it down! The way the novel shows how the past haunts the present, how harm can come from good intentions, and how things are not always as they seem is masterful. I hope [this wonderful novel] gets the attention and the readership it deserves!" --Donna Urey 

Millrace Books, Farmington, Connecticut:

"With extraordinarily beautiful language, Ms. Wood has crafted a story contemporary in theme and timeless in its message. Ms. Wood portrays compassion constructed as evil; expectations that erode love; listening as a gift to another and the miracle of grace..." --Janet Owens

 Longfellow Books, Portland, Maine: 

"It will challenge your beliefs about faith, love, and family." - Chris Bowe

Maine Coast Book Shop & Café, Damariscotta, Maine:

"I loved the characters and didn't want the story to end. I read it without putting it down (I can't say that about a lot of books). ... I will sell many, many copies of this."  --Susan Porter