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A Place at the Table
widely praised first book,
A Slant of Sun: One Childs Courage, a finalist for the National
Book Award in 1998, Beth Kephart C82 told the story of her son Jeremy
and his gradual emergence from pervasive developmental disorder not
otherwise specified, a condition related to autism. Jeremy, now an
active 11-year old, also figures in Kepharts new book, published by
Houghton-Mifflin in September, Into the Tangle of Friendship: A Memoir
of the Things that Matter. Watching her son form his first friendships
was one of several sparks for the book, a moving, clear-eyed and inspiring
meditation on what it means to be a friend and to have, lose and keep
the friendship of others.
at once lyrical and thoughtful, emotional and intelligent, illuminates
a subject often relegated to greeting-card sentimentality. She interweaves
observations of Jeremy and his friend James with her own reunion with
a lost best friend of her youth; her husbands timeless, sustaining
bond with his boyhood friends, despite vastly divergent adult lives;
the deep, trusting friendship between husband and wife. (We have little
but who would I be without him? she writes.) Other, darker
threads include Kepharts description of her comfortless yet profoundly
necessary vigil with a friend whose husband is dying, and the cautionary
tale of a caring woman ultimately overwhelmed by the burden of one-sided
friendships. In early reviews, The Baltimore Sun praised the
books grace and quiet wisdom and Salon.com called it invigorating
and odd, earnest and endearing. According to The New York Times
Book Review, Kephart neatly evokes friendships delicate balancing
written for the Gazette before [Haunted
by an Heiress, May/June], and our first thought, on learning about
the book, was to publish an excerptpreferably, one with a Penn connection.
However, while there are so many Penn friendships and people who will
always have an important place in my heart, Kephart says, the book
does not deal directly with that phase of her life. Thematically and
emotionally, [those] relationships did not help me tell the more universal
story about friendship that the book sets out to tell, she explains.
The truths divined from my college experience in many ways were redundant
to those learned in high school and during the early stages of my career.
For the readers sake, I winnowed the stories about me down so as to
make room for a larger discussion of friendship.
But there was
a Penn story that Kephart did want to share, on a closely related subject,
and we are happy to present it in the accompanying original essay. Coming
Home tells how she managed to find her own niche at the University
through an apparentlybut only apparentlyunlikely choice of
major. Among other things, the essay is an eloquent response to the
perennial question: What do you do with that after graduation?
is, at the end of the day, about the way we make room for others, and
about how others make room for us, Kephart says. People listening,
people caring, people rememberingthese are the essential prerequisites
to friendship. In the History and Sociology of Science Department, under
Dr. Kohlers care, I felt as if someone had pulled an empty chair up
to a table and said, This is your place. You belong here. Ed.
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