I was talking grandmothering with a new friend who already feels like an old friend. She said I had to read Bess Kalb’s Nobody Will Tell You This But Me. So I did. Now you have to read it too.
Ms. Kalb, past-writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live!, current weekly contributor to The New Yorker’s Daily Shouts, and all kinds of great creds in between, saved every voice mail her grandmother Bobby ever sent her. The author possesses the aural equivalent of a photographic memory. Armed with this triad of talent and memory, Kalb brings to life her relationship with her grandmother so palpably that were I ever to have tea at the Plaza, I could make my way to their table faster than you could shout, “Taxi.” (I said shout, not get one.)
It took a few pages for me to enter what at first seemed a helter-skelter narrative. Who is telling the story and to whom? About whom? Who had the meningitis? Who left Belarus at twelve, alone? Who decided to attend med school after the kibbutz nurse stitched close a gash in her hand? Who was in the first class of women admitted to Brown? Who tells us, “We never said goodbye, always, ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.’ Three times. Never enough.”? By the second page, I realized that the author’s narrative choice is her storytelling superpower. Instead of helter-skelter, Kalb has crafted a narrative of nesting stories one inside the other. Each one is distinct, yet none would could resonate as vividly as they do absent the context of the others.
That is why you have to read this book. Why you have to follow the author into this extraordinary relationship and into the world Bess and Bobby built for and with one another,