Another true story from someone who is neither famous nor a player on the world stage, nor the architect of some planet--changing accomplishment. However she DID go through hell and back, and not only survived but thrived, and lived to tell about it.
This woman has my unconditional admiration. The story has her pushing through obstacle after obstacle, jumping (metaphorically) through hoops and all the while never losing her perspective and sense of humor. Several times I laughed out loud while walking the bike path - other walkers, cyclists, runners must have thought I was nuts.
The gauntlet was thrown down many many times by her doctors and the rest of the medical establishment and she triumphed over that one too - hilariously naming all the characters and courageously ignoring their "advice" (in quotes for this) in order to follow her own path as an overachiever in the best way possible.
The narration was perfect. Joyce Bean's tone walked that fine line between sarcasm and honest emotion, and her nuanced characterization of Julia's impaired but gradually improving speech abilities could not have worked out better.
One more thing, if you've come this far in this review - the book uses the second person throughout, a technique that I am starting to love. Like the airplane pilot in "The Night Strangers" whose story is always a "you" story, 2nd person, this technique makes the narrative sound like an instruction manual, in a good way. After all, books can be, amongst so many other things, instruction manuals for life.
5 stars all around!
Talk about not wanting to turn the car audio player off...this is a minute-by-minute account, not only of a bereavement and of a death, but of a life as lived in each present moment. I'll never know why it is that some writers, and well-known, respected ones at that, can snooze me off with their painstaking detail (oh just get on with it will you?), and someone like Oates can mesmerize me, stun me with literary pleasure with her delicately nuanced accounts of the huge range of emotions encountered by one person, as they happen, moment by moment.
I am equally amazed at this "warts and all" presentation of Oates' self-doubts and insecurities, her lack of self-belief, and the meaninglessness to her of all her considerable accomplishments compared to the loss of her husband and soul-mate. That she can get this all down without appearing even mildly self-absorbed is another feat that impresses me.
As a memoir, this ranks up there with the best. The author successfully navigates the parallel paths of intellectual elitism, drugs, sobriety, family, relationships, sex, religion, financial dysfunction and everything in between. Her writing is smart and not always direct, and her language is surgically precise. This is not a sparse, lean style - it's more complex and indirect and you have to pay attention. Things are more rhythmic and measured as the book progresses, but the beginning chapters are not at all linear. Well worth the effort to stay the course, however.
Mary Karr as a narrator sounds rather harsh at the start - but after a few chapters one gets accustomed to the "lived in" voice. It's not a nice, crisp and correct "designer" narration - but it's emotionally riveting and very well matched to the material.
I am only giving this book 4 stars because of the lengthy epigraphs at the start of each chapter. Most of them are annoyingly long and oblique, and I started resenting these passages for taking up so much space in the book. When you like a listen, every minute counts, and I didn't think the quotes did anything to enhance the story. But, bottom line, this was excellent!
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
In four days it will be one year since my father-in-law died in an accidental shooting. He had recently turned 60 and recently celebrated his 40th wedding anniversary. In 18 days it will be four years since my older brother died suddenly in a black hawk crash in Germany. He was closing in on his 40th birthday. He was preparing to land.
I had two father-figures in my life. I also had two brothers. I lost one of each pair suddenly - dramatically. I've watched my wife struggle with the loss of her father. I've watched my mother-in-law struggle with the sad death and absence of her husband. I've watched my sister-in-law and her kids struggle with the death of their husband and father. I've watched my parents, my siblings. I have grieved much myself for these two good men.
I was reading when they died. I know this. When my father-in-law died I was reading 'Falconer'. When my brother died I was reading 'This Is Water'. After their deaths I couldn't read for weeks, and struggled with reading for months. I was in prison. I was drowning in a water I could neither see nor understand.
Reading Didion's sharp, sometimes funny, but always clear and precise take on her husband's death and her daughter's illness ... my experience is reflected. Not exactly. I'm no Joan Didion and my relationship with both my father-in-law and my brother are mine. However, Didion captures in the net of her prose the essence of grief, tragedy, loss, coping, remembering. He memoir makes me wonder how it is even possible that someone could both feel a semblance of what I feel and capture all the sad glitters, glints and mudgyness of mourning at the same time. It takes a helluva writer.