The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick (2016)

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a wonderful story– kind and heart-warming — about one man’s brave attempts to restart his life after losing his beloved wife. One year after his wife’s death, Arthur Pepper is cleaning out her closet when he finds a locked box containing a never-before-seen charm bracelet that, “was opulent and gold, with chunky round links and a heart-shaped fastener…with an array of charms, eight in total: an elephant, flower, book, pant palette, tiger, thimble, heart, and ring.” 17

Puzzled that his wife would own something so out of character, he believes, but also keep it locked away, Arthur considers discarding it. Curiosity wins out and a closer examination reveals a phone number hidden on the elephant charm. Ignoring his instinct to leave secrets in their locked places, Arthur calls the number and his journey begins.

The call reveals that Miriam had a past, filled with travel, adventures, and thrills that Arthur had never heard one word about in his more than forty years as her husband. Shocked, betrayed, and scared, Arthur begins to doubt that he knew his wife at all. He considers retreating, ignoring the other charms and their stories and collapsing back into the shadows of his grief…but somehow, Arthur cannot. He realizes the charm and its story brought Miriam momentarily back to life, restoring her to him for just a bit longer, and he decides that even if what he learns is painful, he would be thrilled to have just a few more memories of Miriam to claim.

Spurred on by the story of the elephant charm, Arthur goes on a quest, searching out the story behind each and every charm and learning about his wife’s life before their marriage. While some of the stories are hard to learn, and some make him doubt that his wife was as happy in her married life as Arthur thought, he journey’s onward. Finding that memories of her that live on in the people he travels to meet allow him a few final moments of connection to Miriam.

What is more surprising is what Arthur learns about himself when he travels to Paris, London, and around the UK tracking down the charms and their meaning. He learns that he is smart, capable, and brave; that the quiet life he has lived so far can be made better with new experiences and new knowledge. He learns that he wants to move beyond the crippling grief and to go on living, and living well.

Reminiscent of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, http://wp.me/p6N6mT-gd , this novel takes a light-hearted — and at times funny — approach to the search for meaning and purpose after the loss of a partner; and about the need we all have, once in a while, to go on a quest that challenges the way we look at the world.

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