When ART reflects LIFE - POCKETFUL OF POSEYS09/27/2023 08:04PM ● By LIZ KEMMERY
It’s a love story, a family drama, a comedy, and a modern odyssey all rolled into one. And it’s a 180-degree shift from Tom Reed’s first novel, which is one reason he said it was so fun to write.
“On a very simple level, it’s something I enjoy doing—offering some kind of emotional experience for people,” he said.
Tom’s debut novel Seeking Hyde drew from his academic research as an English literature professor and Chaucerian at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Eventually, the New Hampshire native got into Victorian fiction, which inspired his first novel, on the origins and impact of Robert Louis Stevenson’s epic horror story, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
“It was really delightful, after spending a career analyzing other people’s writing, to actually put something together that was based largely on Stevenson’s biography and Victorian history, and to churn something out,” he said.
And it felt so good to publish his first piece that he was inspired to write another—albeit quite different—novel.
Pocketful of Poseys centers around a dysfunctional family and their free-spirited mother. After their father’s death, the matriarch is diagnosed with Parkinson’s and chooses to stop eating. While in hospice, she is inspired to treat her family to a unique experience. When she dies, the family discovers she has funded a worldwide trip where they will spread their parents’ ashes in meaningful destinations: New Zealand, Italy, Switzerland, and a New Jersey turnpike rest stop.
Of course, the excursion is more than an amazing trip and leads to quality time, uncovering family secrets, greater compassion, and forgiveness.
“It’s very loosely based on my mother-in- law’s experience. After she lost her husband, she started developing symptoms of some degenerative neurological disease. She felt as though her body told her it’s time to move on,” Tom said.
In Tom’s case, his mother-in-law graciously funded a vacation for the family to enjoy together. The Christmas following her passing, they took a trip to Antigua.
Although the roots of Tom’s story are based in reality, he clarified that his mother-in-law and main character are quite different people. The story’s matriarch has a complicated history, but Tom said, “The theme of the book—the blessing of honesty—is that the way of being honest is a form of love.”
And other pieces of the novel ring true. The sibling issues touched on in the book echo Tom’s reality, while the locations were chosen from vacations he enjoyed with his family.
“I sort of think of a work of art as crystal, it kind of grows from materials that come out of your life, but when you put it into a pot, it starts to structure itself from its own internal logic. It becomes the thing it was meant to be, not the thing that you took it from.”
Tom describes Pocketful of Poseys as a dark comedy that’s also reverent. Those who have reviewed the book call it comical, heart wrenching, and emotional. “It has deep seriousness and the haphazardness of life,” he said. “You think of tragedy and comedy and people crying and laughing. It felt like a full, ample combination of things to put out there and just represent the kind of balance of life. ...We’re all everyday either moving toward tears or laughter.”
Ultimately, Tom hopes readers find the book an enjoyable and casual experience. But he also shares that it’s a book about how “with time and the inclination to get to a better place, people can do that.”
Writing the book even moved Tom to fulfill some family wishes. The ashes of his mother, father, and sister were sitting on his bookshelf. While gearing up for publication, he put the ashes in the ground.
“That’s what art does,” Tom said. “It’s a place where the substance of what you’re doing comes from something personal. And if you find the right shape for it as a work of art, you’re probably finding a happy psychological or spiritual shape as well.”
So what’s next? Tom has some ideas for his next novel. And who knows, he and his wife might commission their children to take their own Posey trip. “Now, there would really be a book!”
To purchase a copy of Pocketful of Poseys, visit bit.ly/46iaccW.