Intentional, a novel

In a compelling story of life after the death of a loved one by suicide, this novel is a powerful exploration of how family and friends cope with loss. Grief, with its long, unrelenting fingers, pokes into secrets—recent and long forgotten—as the survivors discover themselves braver and more compassionate then they could have imagined.

When Dust Steward, an ardent environmentalist, shot herself in early October 2012, her husband, Robert, was running for US Senate, her best friend, Lily, was having an affair, and her daughter, Grace, was a normal self-absorbed thirteen-year-old. Dust left no note, so her friends and family can only guess why she did it. The novel explores how grief can stir up forgotten sorrows, and how the death of someone we love can make other losses almost insignificant. The story revolves around how friends and family cope and find hope after tragedy.

Lynn Arbor’s novel paints an absorbing portrait of the devastation wrought by suicide. Loss beyond imaging leads to hope, and then—for many characters in this fast reading novel—brave new beginnings.

Publisher: Spring Forward Publishing
ISBN: 978-0-9862206-0-9
Publication Date: February, 2015
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Kirkus Reviews

In this novel, a woman’s friends and family deal with the aftermath of her suicide as they try to understand her reasons and their own roles. With good cause or without, everyone wonders if they could have done more. Dust’s suicide becomes a catalyst for other major life changes elsewhere—a collapsing marriage, rapprochement with a long-gone mother, etc. Throughout this intelligent and perceptive novel, Arbor traces with strength and delicacy the many strands leading up to and away from a suicide. She brings out the textures of people’s lives through their in-jokes and little customs so that readers can feel the web of living connections that Dust was part of and left behind. The childhood friendship between Lily and Dust is shown to be full of the shared fears, hopes and joys that kept them friends into adulthood, which helps define the scope of loss. Though everyone tries to play detective to understand Dust’s suicide, the answers are messy. After Dust’s death, one of her jigsaw puzzles, unfinished, lies gathering dust, the pieces never put together. A thoughtful, sensitive but never saccharine exploration of what suicide leaves behind
Jan 13,2015
Reader Reviews:
This is a very thoughtful, sensitive and well written book. The characters feel like real people. The author's style of shifting from one character's perspective to another (using a close third person) is effective. Each character has a different personality and his/her own ideas about why Dust Steward committed suicide. Grief affects each of them differently, and ultimately leads to changes and new beginnings for some of them. The writing is clear and fluid. You'll love this book if you like Elizabeth Strout, Sue Miller, Alice McDermott, Alice Munro and Elizabeth Berg.
Elizabeth Hobbs Voss
The author has written a compassionate book about grief and the impact of suicide on family and friends. The suicide of her friend forty years ago inspired the writing of this book. She writes with a painterly eye. The author writes with empathy, love, and humor about her characters. She shows how the lack of empathy for Dusty moved her along the road to suicide. I am tempted to read this beautiful book again.
Yvette Kapan
My first dance with "Intentional" was just that - a dance. Having suffered the suicide death of my daughter many years ago, I didn't want to read anything that would open up long-closed wounds. Besides, I might get a case of diabetes from an overdose of artificial sweetener - the cloying ingredient prevalent in most novels of this genre. Not to worry. "Intentional" was safe: no Sweet `N Low, no Splenda and Equal. So I read a few pages, skipped around, waltzed over to the middle, fast forwarded to the last few pages and, intrigued, finally said, "Hmmm...maybe I should take it from the top and let this book become one of my friends." And so I did. And so it did...become one of my friends. Dust Steward's legacy becomes a skewed image, a distortion of the living Dust. She was not perfect after all. There was some gaping imperfection, a crumbling within, that no one saw. As the Psalmist expressed it, we are (she was) mere "dust" (Psalms 103:14). Guilt, anger, doubt, blame, fear, rejection, abandonment and profound grieving - these are the emotions that her loved ones must cope with in life after Dust. But coping (being) is the primary theme of Arbor's novel. Her characters find a way to go on after their loved one's messy exit -an exit taken without so much as a by-your-leave, much less a why-I-did-it. They are left without understanding the why of it, each one left to wonder, "What could I have done to prevent Dust from leaving me?" A Proverb makes the observation that turbulent changes do not affect reality on a deeper level other than to cement the status quo. The more things change the more they stay the same. The Dramatis Personae of "Intentional" go on with their lives pretty much the same 'after' as they did 'before': they go back to `chopping wood and carrying water.' They laugh and dance and bicker and make love. They find new loves and settle old scores. Their lives are forever changed but remain about the same. They eventually make peace with the inexplicable...why some people prefer `not to be' over `be.' Dust's last text to her best friend, Lily, says, "I love you. Be." Perhaps she was saying, "Choose life after my death. Choose to 'be.'"
Ricky Winn
INTENTIONAL: A story I thought I would read as time allowed. A story I was afraid might be disturbing........ A story about suicide. I started reading INTENTIONAL on a rainy Saturday morning; I did not stop reading until the story ended. Just one more chapter.... Absolutely loved the book!
Kim McLott
This is a well-crafted, attention-holding novel that begins with the suicide of the protagonist’s best friend. Lily has brought cleaning materials to remove the blood from the bathroom where Dust shot herself, but is too horrified to stay. From this startling event, one which you might ordinary expect to occur later in a plot, the novel describes the impact of Dust’s suicide on the lives of her friends and family. I have spent a good deal of time lately looking into what makes a novel environmental fiction or eco-fiction, and although Intentional does not purport to belong in that genre, as you discover Dust’s motivation, her passionate environmental activism becomes more than just a character trait. Her husband, Robert, an ambitious businessman running for a second term as State Senator from a suburb of Detroit, bulleys her into turning their home into a bigfoot mansion, complete with an enormous “master bedroom” and a kitchen as big as a gymnasium. He gradually breaks her heart with his renovations, intended to enhance his status in his bid for re-election. He destroys her cherished garden and cuts down the magnolia trees she loved. Every product he uses, including toxic weed killers, violates her deepest convictions. “She wanted to save the planet,” muses her neighbor Fred, “but even in her own house, she was ignored and ridiculed. The Be Green truck came whether she wanted it or not, the addition was built, and her garden was destroyed. She got worn down.” Realtors are always coming to my door in my Detroit suburb announcing that they would like to purchase my house for a tear-down, which always sounds to me like a personal threat. Besides, I have never been able to figure out why anyone would want to live with more space than anyone reasonably needs, incurring a huge carbon footprint in the process. So I took enormous pleasure to find a big foot mansion unmasked as the perpetrator of the central event of a novel which remains compelling read until the very last page.
Annis Pratt
When someone close commits suicide, echoes reverberate then and forever after in the lives of those left behind. Lynn Arbor has in this book portrayed that impact through the reactions of Grace, Christina, Lily, Fred, Robert and others. Such a dark topic could lead to despair, but at the end of the book I was left with hope. What I came away with is that, generally, we are not responsible for the decision of a loved one to kill him or herself. It takes a while to work through the inevitable guilt, and find a peace and acceptance. But more than that, as the author shows, after guilt can come transformation, insights, and new possibilities. I think everyone, not just those who have lost someone to suicide, should read this book. The book goes beyond being a novel about the impact of suicide. It’s funny and even sexy at times. It has strong, distinct characters we grow to care about. And it has a powerful sub theme about climate change and our responsibility to take action. In addition to that behemoth theme, Arbor gives some very interesting art instruction. Now I want to go look at the art at the Detroit Institute of Art with Lynn’s book in hand.
Joy Powell
Finally a non clinical novel that depicts the recovery process of suicides survivors. Ms. Arbor did a wonderful job with character development throughout the novel.
Katie Bogner
Loved this book. Writing is gripping and beautiful. I highly recommend!
Therese Joseph
This is a good book. So good, in fact, I've read it twice. It's a simple and yet complex book with layers of exploring the effects of suicide on family and close friends. The event sends concentric vibrations out as each character reverberates and reviews their relationship with Dust. Arbor explores the humanity of each character in response to Dust taking her own life. And each character is well developed and accurately reflects their own stage in life and role in relation to Dust. I particularly like Lily, whose vulnerabilities and fears make her a complex character who is a good person and a good friend to Dust. Robert, who could easily be disliked, is presented in an in depth way that shows his good side, his love for his daughter and for his wife. His character is well nuanced and believable. Arbor's use of language creates visuals that are clear and at times, visceral. Overall, she paints a complete and colorful picture of a very complex situation in a simple and straight forward way. I recommend this book highly.
Barbara Aylward
Intentional caught me up. The characters stayed with me after each reading, and I made it a priority to spend more time with them. They are revealed as deep and real with so many recognizable strengths and flaws of being human. I enjoyed the 60/70's references and references to contemporary events and locations. The twists of the story left me satisfied at its ending and with hope that good can come from bewildering grief. I have recommended it to friends and think this story has potential to become a movie bringing to light a difficult to discuss subject.
Lynn Bell