Read March 27, 2013

The End of Your Life Book Club - Will Schwalbe
Mary Ann(e) Schwalbe
Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Dear Mrs. Schwalbe,

I've given your son's book a lot of thought. His account of your life - and death - is compelling, and even enjoyable, but regrettably I can only give it 3.5 stars. You see, it just doesn't ring true. There's something about the story itself (the telling of it is magnificent) that rubs me the wrong way.

I initially expected this to be the classic, hackneyed tale of two relatives who were distant or at loggerheads, who come together at a time of need and grief and chaos to build the relationship they never had before. The "situation" would be the main character in the drama. But you and Will WERE close. You were close to all your children, albeit in different ways. So while you and Will found your bond enriched by the book club, he never truly explains how you each grew as a result of it, or how his life has changed for the better. He simply appreciates more fully what he already appreciated. Not sure it was necessary to write a whole book just to say that.

Forgive me, Mrs. Schwalbe, for the following: I'm also not certain that your situation was all that "tragic". Sad, difficult, painful, complex. Not tragic. You yourself expressed this best when you kept repeating how lucky you were. Lucky to have had a long, satisfying, mostly loving marriage of almost 50 years. Lucky to have three adult children, each in a happy relationship of his or her own. Lucky to have the love and respect of your grandchildren. Lucky to have done all that you did, and lucky to have had the time, the opportunity, the education and the upbringing to make it happen.

My own father didn't see his youngest (and favourite) as a radiant bride, nor did he see either of his beautiful grandchildren born. So luck - and tragedy - are in the eye of the beholder. When this book was written, I don't think your son was prepared to acknowledge that. His grief was too new, his sense of unfairness too entrenched. The book suffered from a lack of perspective, which made me wish you had written it yourself.

Finally, you are presented in your son's book as a saint, which tends to grate on the reader. Don't get me wrong - I love the pride and devotion of his prose...but you weren't a saint, were you? I would have enjoyed hearing more about your quirks, and a lot more about your flaws. You were a remarkable woman, one who richly deserved to be depicted as a human being, not an icon of infatuation.

So...loved the discussion of books (added many to my TBR), loved the family dynamics, agreed with the political message - but it just wasn't enough. 

Thank you for the opportunity to learn about your story.