Not understanding what you have until you lose it is a bitter feeling. But losing something you’ve always recognized as important leaves a unique wound. The Mason House is a wonderfully vivid memoir painting the likeness of a young woman and her family dealing with that wound and doing their very best from allowing it to fester. And similarly to the many others who have and still must do the same, Marie and her family members struggle to adapt.
Loss is the key emotion of The Mason House and the author, T. Marie Bertineau, makes us clearly understand her loss of her “Gramma,” the owner of The Mason House, by showing us who Gramma was through her own eyes. Bertineau is great at presenting instantly recognizable people. And the picture she paints of Gramma is one of a genuine, if not often harsh, person with woods lady wisdom. A cool, sometimes enigmatic woman who is worth inheriting some personality from.
Grief over the death of a loved one is a particularly uncomplicated emotion to understand. There are never any ways to prepare or correct words to use when someone passes. The irony in that is, we all understand it to be not only natural and normal, but also impossible to escape. But no matter how much we see it coming or even understand its necessity, we disdain death, because we disdain loss. We fear the realization that someone will forever be missing. The execution of this thing will, for at least a moment, turn the most estranged frequenters of your local bar into an empty chair. A chair that your friend, or family may have sat in. A chair you may have sat in.
Bertineau is equally adept at painting landscapes as well as portraits. Her descriptions of the woods of North Michigan and especially those of The Mason House itself are incredibly tangible. If you have ever spent a long amount of time in the wilderness or if you live near the woods you can find yourself in familiar territory. Her descriptions of the stars in the moonlit sky and crackling fires on cold nights mesmerized me.
The nature of the story being fixed on a loving grandmother in a house in the woods attaches a coziness which is often reflected in the writing itself. Even the framing of the speaker reminiscing upon memories of her Gramma at her funeral envelops the stories like a bundle of heavy blankets. Interestingly enough, I found the descriptions of these things to feel the coziest in the beginning of the story, when the speaker flashes back to when she was younger and her father was a tangible presence in her life. Shortly following his introduction we learn he, long before Gramma’s death, had also passed prematurely. His loss comes as an obvious shock to the whole family, but the effect it would have on the relationship between Gramma and the speaker’s mother was complicated. From the perspective of the young Marie though, Gramma was sturdy as a rock. A timeless symbol of “Be Proud of Who You Are.”
Gramma herself is far from perfect, but she is honest and caring. This is why she is so important to the speaker. It's what makes her loss so devastating. When visiting the Mason House, Marie wanted things to be as they once were when she was young, it was cozy and she was in her father's arms. And when taken into account that her father may not have been what she once understood, we learn that perhaps no matter how it was sliced, Gramma was the person the speaker related to the most, the one she felt the deepest connection with. The reader’s developing understanding of the relationship between Gramma and Marie makes the pages detailing Gramma’s funeral increasingly tragic. It's what makes the loss of Gramma so incomprehensible.
T. Marie Bertineau’s enlightening understanding of loss is devastatingly honest, as honest as Gramma was. While sudden loss can leave a wound, sometimes a scar is a perfect reminder of how deeply you loved and were loved. If you can relate, and even if you can’t, The Mason House is an important read.