Abby Randolph's life is forever altered by a chamber pot in Mameve Medwed's How Elizabeth Barrett Browning Saved My Life. Reeling from a breakup and her mother's death in an earthquake in India (where she was vacationing with her late-in-life lesbian lover), antiques-dealer Abby inherits the chamber pot without realizing there is anything unique about it. But a colleague's inkling of its worth leads Abby to Antiques Roadshow, where an expert identifies it as belonging to the poetess of the book's title. What Abby initially envisioned as an old pot is actually appraised for $75,000 and potentially could be sold for much more.
Inevitably, such a fortuitous windfall comes with complications. Shortly after being informed of her good fortune, Abby is sued over the ownership of the chamber pot by her mother's lesbian lover's children, one of whom just happens to be her ex-best friend and the other the ex-true love who broke her heart. Of course, the battle over the chamber pot becomes a struggle over things much larger as Abby wrestles with her past and fights for what she believes to be hers. Medwed touches on the pressures of being reared in an academic family (Abby's father was a prestigious Harvard professor, and both academia and the Cambridge social circle surrounding it figure largely into the story), the deep wounds left by young love tainted by betrayal and our often profound relationships with inanimate objects. Nicely threaded through are literary allusions from Browning and others. What's also particularly delightful about Medwed's writing is her pace the story connects in a series of nodes before coming together in a satisfying conclusion. Though Abby herself can occasionally be grating (the novel is peppered with a few too many rhetorical questions and self-indulgent whining sessions for the protagonist to be wholly likeable), the story surrounding her is a lovely chronicle of the quest for ownership both of an object and of the self. Iris Blasi is a writer in New York City.