THE PLAIN LANGUAGE OF LOVE AND LOST

A Quaker Memoir

Beth Taylor

 On November 16, 1965, Beth Taylor’s idyllic childhood was shattered at age twelve by the suicide of her older brother Geoff. The Plain Language of Love and Loss reflects on the meaning of death and loss for three generations of her family and their friends. Touching on the timely issues of bullying, child rearing, and non-conformity, she offers a rare look at growing up Quaker in the tumultuous 1960s. Beth Taylor tells how each stage of her life exposed clues to the subtle damage wrought by tragedy, even while it revealed varieties of solace found in friendships, marriage,

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 On November 16, 1965, Beth Taylor’s idyllic childhood was shattered at age twelve by the suicide of her older brother Geoff. The Plain Language of Love and Loss reflects on the meaning of death and loss for three generations of her family and their friends. Touching on the timely issues of bullying, child rearing, and non-conformity, she offers a rare look at growing up Quaker in the tumultuous 1960s. Beth Taylor tells how each stage of her life exposed clues to the subtle damage wrought by tragedy, even while it revealed varieties of solace found in friendships, marriage, and parenting. She learned many things from her childhood, in particular that history is alive—and shapes how we judge ourselves and choose to live our lives. She comes to see that grief can be a mask, a lover, and a teacher.

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  • Univ. of Missouri Press
  • Paperback
  • April 2009
  • 160 Pages
  • 9780826218452

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About Beth Taylor

 Beth Taylor is a Senior Lecturer in the English Department’s Nonfiction Writing Program at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Praise

“Beth Taylor’s memoir is one of the most tender and moving books I’ve read in a long time. Written with poise and grace, never falling into self-pity, The Plain Language of Love and Loss will surely touch the heart of anyone who has found the means to salvage a kind of meaning out of great tragedy. This is a book I will not forget.” —Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried and In the Lake of the Woods

The Plain Language of Love and Loss blesses us all with its wisdom and grace. It is a luminous, powerful, and unforgettable book that is ultimately a triumph of the human spirit and a sister’s love.” —Laura Palmer, author of Shrapnel in the Heart and coauthor of the New York Times bestseller Escape

Discussion Questions

There’s no doubt that there are aspects of this book that are very sad. What feeling did you ultimately take away from this book?

What does the opening chapter evoke? How do Beth’s memories of her mother deepen by finding the note? How is “The Note” a motive for writing the memoir?

What values shaped Bryn Gweled as a community? How do they contrast to our concept of the American family and community of the 1960s? Now?

Were there things that were unique to Beth’s childhood (aside from the suicide of her brother)?

How would you characterize Beth’s relationship with each of her parents?

How did your perception of Beth’s father evolve through the course of the memoir? At what points does it change?

How did your perception of Geoff’s story evolve throughout the course of the memoir? At what points does it change?

How would you characterize Quakerism as it is rendered in the memoir? Did the Quaker faith empower or restrict the Taylor children/adults—or both?

Pacifism is a central tenet of Quakerism. At what moments in the memoir do events show the practice to be tougher than the theory?

Family legacy is a key theme in this memoir. How does it seem to affect Geoff, his father, his mother, Beth, and Daphne?

Why, and how, did the Vietnam War get entangled in the story of Geoff?

Suicides can create ripple effects for years. The effect on Beth’s life traveled at least to the next generation. Talk about how Geoff’s suicide affected each member of the family differently, at the time of his death and in later years. What are their various coping mechanisms?

Think about Beth’s first long-term relationship with a man and think about the man she married. The Rolling Stones sang, “You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometimes, well you just might find/You get what you need.” Did Beth marry the man she needed?

How would you characterize Beth’s understanding of faith in the last chapter? What do you think Flannery O’Connor meant when she said Christ was “the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of [one’s] mind”?

How would you characterize Beth as a narrator? Does your perception of her change at different stages of her life?

Look at the Acknowledgements Page. What was the effect of hearing various points of view about what happened to Geoff?

How is this memoir a study in the problem of truth?

What remains unspoken here? In selecting the information for this particular story in her life, what kinds of stories and information does it seem Beth left out?

Beth published this book after the death of her parents. Do you think she could have published it while they were alive? If so, how do you think each would have reacted to Beth’s sharing this story?

Good memoirs often rekindle your own personal memories. What memories were sparked for you? How does your own upbringing and adulthood correspond to Beth’s?

How do you read the final paragraph? Does it make sense in your own life?