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Blumberg
Lisa Blumberg spent most of her childhood in Montclair. COURTESY LISA BLUMBERG

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

Let’s face it, it’s fun to see your town on TV, even if it’s pretending to be another town.

Look, there we are in “The Sopranos!” Look, Marnie on “Girls” is from Montclair!

Books get their share of fun, too.

Former Montclair resident Lisa Blumberg has set much of her novel “Righting the Hourglass” in Montclair.

The rest takes place in England, East Africa and New York.

Among the familiar places and haunts readers can spot are Erwin Park Road, Valley Road, Edgemont Memorial Park and Edgemont School, Montclair Operetta Club and Bloomfield Avenue.

The first half of the book, and where its main plot lies, is in Africa; Montclair becomes pretty much the place for happy endings and resolutions.

It’s Blumberg’s first book, published by her own company, Fernfield Imprint, and it is available on Amazon.

The story concerns Amelia, who lives in Tanganyika (now Tanzania) with her parents and brother, and who is sent away to boarding school too young.

Montclair as a land of happiness is how Blumberg, a former corporate lawyer who now lives in Connecticut, recalls the town. 

She attended Edgemont for elementary school, then Lacordaire, through 10th grade. Her mother also grew up in Montclair. Then, in 1968, her family moved to Massachusetts.

“I was very very happy in Montclair,” she said. “I think there was a halo around Montclair for me, just as there was a halo around Devon for Amelia.”

Devon is where the family lived during wartime. The father was not there, but Amelia was able to be with her mother, brother, and beloved dog Folly all the time.

Much of this interview was conducted via email. Blumberg has cerebral palsy, and is more comfortable with a written interview than spoken, though she spoke on the phone as well.

As a lawyer, she has written pieces on medical ethics and disability rights.

In “Righting the Hourglass,” one character, Jory, has polio, and the parents are given bad advice about how to treat him, which they then ignore.

Amelia being sent to boarding school at only 7, despite her parents’ warm and loving bond, is also the victim of bad advice. Her parents are told there wouldn’t be a good school for her where they live, and where her father has been transferred to the Civil Service.

Throughout the first half of the book Amelia counts down the days until she can go home and be with her beloved family (hence the “hourglass” in the book’s title).

As a teen, after one blissful year with her family in London, she is sent to a boarding school in England when her parents return to Africa.

Blumberg has never been to Africa, nor to boarding school. 

But she’d read a lot about the boarding school experience, and it always sounded terrible, she said.

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And although Amelia’s parents, who were older when they became parents, are besotted with their children, they take bad advice and lose precious time with them.

“I’m fascinated how one bad decision can derail a whole family,” Blumberg said. “The ‘Little House’ books by Laura Ingalls Wilder are really about how a family goes west and falls out of the middle class.” 

Within a few books, the family is living in half a shanty, Blumberg points out.

Blumberg has never lived in London or Tanzania. Nor is she of the World War II generation. It’s hard to believe; the tiny details of dress, slang and description are thrown in so vividly.

Montclair was recalled through street maps and her own memories; the rest, through research.

Indirectly, Blumberg drew on her experience of having cerebral palsy. 

“When I was a child, my folks did everything right, encouraged me in school, the whole bit. Then we moved up to Boston when I was in High School and [my mother] fell under the sway of a rogue orthopedist at a prominent hospital,’ she said.

“Everyone my mother talked to gave her bad advice, and I got coerced into having a totally needless and debilitating muscle procedure which has had negative lifelong consequences. I stumbled through the last three years at Wellesley totally overwhelmed by PTSD. In 1998, I wrote an article about my experiences but I guess I had to do more. In my novel, I changed the set-up, the circumstances, the age at trauma, EVERYTHING. So I wrote my story but gave it a fairy tale ending, set in the town where I had a happy childhood before we moved and the bad stuff happened.”

EXCERPT

“She yells like a hyena,” the pilot said to Stephen now.

Steph said nothing. He was jiggling his foot.

The pilot closed the plane’s door with a thud, just like the witches had knocked the hourglass over with a thud. Sitting down in his seat, he said, “I wish I had been sent off for an education. Maybe then I would be doing something other than ferrying tykes to school who don’t want to go.”

He started the engine. My parents were standing together on the ground, waving good-bye to us. They were a few yards away, and I was looking at them through glass and a blur of tears, so they seemed like they were in a picture, their smiles painted on.

The plane began to taxi. I thought my parents would watch us until we were gone, but suddenly my father spun my mother around, and they started walking very fast back to the car. My mother seemed to stumble over a branch, for she sank to her knees and would have fallen headlong if my father had not caught her.

***

It wasn’t a foregone conclusion that we’d live in Montclair. Sandy, our real estate agent, showed us houses in Maplewood, Cedar Grove, and Ridgewood as well. We even wasted an afternoon in Paramus, where there were housing developments nestled between malls and highways. It was Montclair, however, that had so much of what we wanted. It was a well-established town rather than a bedroom community. It had racial and ethnic diversity, which was important to us. The schools were quite good. The iris garden was renowned. We had family there. All right, it was a foregone conclusion, we’d live in Montclair.

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