“It was fun at first, playing house”
I made all my own meals. Crackers and cheese, three times a day
Nothing to think about but TV and cheese. A perfect world.”
So begins Suzanne La Fleur’s book Love, Aubrey. I like Aubrey’s idea of playing house; TV and crackers and cheese sounds good to me right now.
I can’t remember what I first thought of Love, Aubrey other than I liked the main character’s name because it sounded a bit like mine. I probably shoved it to the back of my bookshelf before turning to Cathy Cassidy’s latest release. Plenty have spoken about the pull of childhood favourites during lockdown. But pandemic or no pandemic, I’ve read Love Aubrey again every year since I first bought it in year 6 at the Scholastic book fair.
At 11 years old, Aubrey survives a wreck that kills her Dad and little sister. A few months later, her Mum picks up the keys and drives away. Naturally, Aubrey sticks a sign on the front door which says “ON VACATION” and gets groceries with her birthday money. Soon there’s a knock at the door from Gram who looks at the empty cans of spaghetti on the counter and knows mum hasn’t just nipped to the shops. So Aubrey helps clean the house and gets the overnight train to live with Gram, leaving Virginia’s red mud behind with her whole life in just one bag. She unpacks into draws filled with old pictures and she waters the tomatoes when it’s too hot to think. Summer ends, school begins and she plays in the snow when it comes.
Aubrey is gentle and angry and doesn’t like anchovies. Hers is a childhood defined by disaster but also routine. I guess Love, Aubrey is about starting again or just continuing to be because who can really tell when things stop? Of course, it has the big stuff; there’s plenty of grief and guilt. Although, it’s more a feast of the everyday, indulging in nail painting and homework assignments on what you did last summer. This is a nourishing book, filled with meals like the ones that are hard to swallow, the birthday pizzas, the boring bologneses, and the picnics other people eat with families we wish were ours.
Love, Aubrey is hardly a radical piece of writing. It makes no waves, ruffles no feathers and I wouldn’t bet on it not finding its way on to a reading list of any kind. I couldn’t care less. I don’t read Love, Aubrey for its literary merit, which is not to say it doesn’t have any. It just feels right, the way TV and crackers and cheese feels right. Three years into an English degree at Oxford, I’ve yet to find myself itching for a bit of Milton or even Woolf. Yet, I could always read about Aubrey picking at a sugar-crusted blueberry muffin on the school bus or how Sammy the blue Betta fish fares on his way to Vermont with its curious smell of cows. I have a dog eared copy of Persuasion but only in Love, Aubrey have I hastily jotted down a recipe for lemon curd at some point.
Aubrey writes letters to her Dad and her sister’s imaginary best friend Jilly. The words don’t help but they’re still important. Perhaps this is a pointless but necessary love letter to an unremarkable book that’s been on my mind for a very long time. “Aubrey will stay with you forever”, reads the front cover and twelve years after I first met her, I think she just might.