A Widow’s Guide to Becoming a Handyman | Susan Huehn | ISBN 9781948509435 | $21.95 | 316 p | Trade Paper | Grief, Memoir, Love, Relationships | October 2023
A Widow’s Guide to Becoming a Handyman is both poignant and funny, chronicling a concurrent journey through grief and learning to do home repair.
Part grief memoir, part immigrant story, and part how-to-guide. A story of premature death and emotional wreckage that uses the narrator’s old house as its foundation. Grief is as palpable as a hammer hitting a nail and doesn’t come at all the way a reader might expect as the narrator methodically cares for her quirky old farmhouse’s many needs following her husband’s sudden death: a leaky roof, rotten windows, mold, along with frozen pumps and pipes. The narrator repeatedly tries and fails to order grief into a linear process with five distinct stages, but instead finds grief to be as disorganized and messy as the garage and sheds full of tools left by her deceased husband.
He, from former East Germany; She, from a small town in south-central Minnesota. In alternating chapters, this memoir chronicles their transatlantic love story, as well as resentments and moments of forgiveness in their relationship.
“This is a compelling and candid love story about a cross-cultural romance. It’s also an immigrant story, which carries the remnants of war and loss, and the difficult work of bridging very different temperaments. Finally, it is a beautifully written eulogy to Klaus, whose abrupt death left his wife and their children bereft. A seasoned nurse, and educator, Susan felt competent at work but ‘unmoored with sorrow’ and unsure at home. Her endearing, yet eccentric husband, who had no experience building a house, enthusiastically tore the entire roof off theirs, and it remained that way for months. When he died, his improvised, makeshift house projects, left her with a run-down old farmhouse, a crippled septic system, and equally crippling self-doubt. Yet she responds to ‘the assignment fate’ had given to her, with courage and pluck. This is a wonderful, memorable read.”–Julie Neraas is a spiritual director, ordained minister, former professor at Hamline University, and author of Seeing the Sacred: A Year In Snapshots
Susan L Huehn is an Associate Professor of Practice in Nursing and Department Chair of Nursing at St. Olaf. She lives on a hobby farm outside of Northfield where she tends herself, a flock of chickens, and her three children.