The Collected Regrets of Clover by Mikki Brammer #ARC #BookReview #LiteraryFiction #May2023Books

Mikki Brammer’s The Collected Regrets of Clover is a big-hearted and life-affirming debut about a death doula who, in caring for others at the end of their life, has forgotten how to live her own, for readers of The Midnight Library.

What’s the point of giving someone a beautiful death if you can’t give yourself a beautiful life?

From the day she watched her kindergarten teacher drop dead during a dramatic telling of Peter Rabbit, Clover Brooks has felt a stronger connection with the dying than she has with the living. After the beloved grandfather who raised her dies alone while she is traveling, Clover becomes a death doula in New York City, dedicating her life to ushering people peacefully through their end-of-life process.

Clover spends so much time with the dying that she has no life of her own, until the final wishes of a feisty old woman send Clover on a trip across the country to uncover a forgotten love story––and perhaps, her own happy ending. As she finds herself struggling to navigate the uncharted roads of romance and friendship, Clover is forced to examine what she really wants, and whether she’ll have the courage to go after it.

The Collected Regrets of Clover (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) (Audible)

I have no idea why I requested The Collected Regrets of Clover since the description describes a book full of melancholy. My mother’s death is ten months past, yet the grief is still there. I wasn’t sure I could handle a book that dealt with death in such a frank way. Yet I persevered, and I’m glad I read the book.

The story follows Clover, a death doula. What is one, exactly? They are sort of like a hospice worker, but less medical and more emotional. They try to ease one’s passing by talking to them and listening to anything they may not want to say to family or friends. Sometimes they have requests that Clover tries to fulfill, and sometimes they have regrets which they lay out, sometimes it’s simple funeral planning, or just holding their hand so they don’t lie alone. Clover keeps track of them in journals and tries to act on them from time to time, whether it’s something simple like “I never dyed my hair blue like I wanted to” to “I wish I went to the park more.”

In flashbacks, we learn that Clover’s parents died when she was six, and she ended up living with her grandfather. This turns out to be a good thing as it sounds like her parents didn’t let parenthood from holding them back from leaving Clover with the neighbors and traveling for months on end for work. Clover’s grandfather is a professor at Columbia University and has a set life: Thursday night faculty meetings, Sunday mornings at the cafe’, then a visit to the bookstore, where only one book can be purchased per week.

Clover’s grandfather died while she was studying abroad, and thirteen years have passed. There’s an African-American man, Leo, that lives in her building that she’s friendly with, but other than that, she’s shut off from the world. She does her job, and lives the life of a hermit, basically. The only time she goes out is to find a death cafe’, which is a meeting in a cafe’ where people talk openly about death. Apparently they’re a thing in bigger cities; can’t say our city has ever had one, but now with the book coming out, maybe the local independent bookstore would have one.

At one cafe’ Clover meets an over-eager man named Sebastian, who she can not wait to get away from. The problem is he shows up at the next death cafe’ she attends in another part of New York City. After talking for a bit, she reveals her real reason for coming to the cafe’s, and he announces that he needs to hire her for his grandmother, who has terminal cancer. Grandma Claudia was a trail-blazer in her day, one of the only female photographers around in the early 1950s.But she hung it all up when she married Sebastian’s grandfather.

Meanwhile, a young woman has moved into the building, Sylvie, who coaxes Clover out of her shell by taking her out for coffee and yoga. Clover starts to realize that she’s led a secluded life because she was afraid of rejection. Sylvie tries to help her see that there’s far less rejection than one would think. Claudia also helps Clover spread her wings by talking about her past as a photographer, and a scandalous affair she had while in Corsica while she was engaged to Sebastian’s grandfather.

As the book progresses, Clover faces some hard truths about her life through the relationships she’s forged. She realizes she’s still got some growing up to do, and plenty of life to experience. And with the help of her new friends, she does. This book ended much more on a high note than the beginning, where I was dreading reading about death so much. Because ultimately the book is about life and living it to the fullest.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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