Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Young Widower's Handbook

Title:  The Young Widower's Handbook
Author:  Tom McAllister
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2017. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1616204745 / 978-1616204747

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "You don't fall in love at first sight, or first kiss even, but many months later, at that indelible moment when you awake in her bed before sunrise, her breath hot on your back, arm draped across your ribs, the contours of her hips flowing into you, and you feel like you're two interlocking puzzle pieces, built specifically to fit together with each other and no one else."

Favorite Quote:  "You like to think your grief is individual and unique and objectively worse than the rest of the world's, but the brutal truth is, it is not, and this fact is not as comforting as some people seem to believe."

The first sentence of this book is quite a mouthful. Given the physical nature of the description, I am not sure I want to proceed. However, I give the book a chance based on its description. Hunter Cady, a young man, tragically loses his wife and the love of his life, Kaitlyn. Kait dies suddenly due to the complications from an ectopic pregnancy. This book is Hunter's journey of grief and guilt. In that grief, it is understandable that you look to remember every little detail of your love. So, I give the book a chance to see where it goes.

Where it goes is on a road trip. Hunter and Kait always meant to travel but, in their years together, never did. So, Hunter in his grief decides to go on a road trip. Even more specifically, he decides to take Kait - her ashes in a cube - on a road trip. Again, a journey or any point of single focus to deal with grief can be a powerful thing. Nonfiction books such as Wild by Cheryl Strayed and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald present a compelling image of that single-mindedness as a way of coping with grief.

Unfortunately, this fictional story does not capture that same emotion at all. For me, the primary reason is that I did not connect with the main character Hunter. I cannot imagine the magnitude of the loss and want to sympathize. Unfortunately, I find myself not really caring at all. I find myself skimming through to see something more comes in the book. It does not.

The book becomes a cycle of destination after destination, the self-destructive choices of grief, and the fending off of family members who are dealing with their own grief. Each destination brings its own set of quirky characters, none of whom are really memorable. The cycle is tempered with reflections on their past - from the beginning of the relationship until Kait's death. In that, the book is a sweet love story. A journey such as this is often one of healing and self-discovery, but that self-actualization does not seem to happen for Hunter Cady. His journey seems rather to drift from thing to thing.

Part of the reason for this detachment may be the second-person narrative approach of the book.  The focus on the ubiquitous "you" makes this entire story somewhat impersonal. This is not my story. This is not the story of some nameless "you." This is supposed to be Hunter Cady's story. In real life, sometimes we distance ourselves from grief as a mode of survival. However, reality usually finds its way in. Ultimately, grief has to be dealt with, not escaped from. This story sadly stays with the "you" throughout, never coming any closer to Hunter.

Given the topic and enormity of the loss depicted, I so wanted to like this book and the main character. I wanted to marvel at the strength of hope and to cheer for his survival. Sadly, I did not.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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