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Author: Terri Schlichenmeyer

Terri Schlichenmeyer of "The Bookworm Sez" is based in Wisconsin.

“Depth of Winter” by Craig Johnson

Depth of Winter” by Craig Johnson
c.2018, Viking
$28.00 / $37.00 Canada
292 pages

Book review by Terri Schlichenmeyer

Never take “no” for an answer.

Persevere, that’s what you’re supposed to do. Work around roadblocks, try to find a way. There’s always another path to get what you want, so never take “no” for an answer – especially, as in the new novel “Depth of Winter” by Craig Johnson, the alternative is certain death.

The postcard said it all: “Come.”

It was a needless command; Wyoming Sheriff Walt Longmire would have “come” regardless of a pretty picture and a one-word scrawl: his long-time enemy, Tomás Bidarte, had killed Longmire’s son-in-law, had hurt Longmire’s wife, and now Bidarte had Longmire’s daughter, Cady.

To get her back, there was no way Longmire wouldn’t “come” to the mountains south of the border and though the Feds wanted to help, carefully and cautiously, there wasn’t time for that. No, he’d get Cady back himself, with help from people his friend, Buck Guzmán, trusted: a pink Caddy-driving man, a blind “seer,” a former-doctor-turned-agent, and a woman the Mexicans called “The Skin Witch.”

He’d go… but getting there wouldn’t be easy.

Bidarte and his men had assumed control of a small, nearly-inaccessible village near old sulfur mines, reachable via a heavily-guarded road or by mule on a narrow trail over a steep peak. Either way, Longmire and his people could easily be spotted by Bidarte’s sharpshooters at several places along their route. If they made it to the village without getting killed, they’d be somewhat masked by the village’s annual Dia de los Muertos celebration, perhaps masked enough to find and save Cady.

But Bidarte was no fool, and his men knew that Longmire was nearby. Particularly murderous was Bidarte’s second-in-command, Culpepper, who possessed a good memory for faces and a cruel streak aimed right at Longmire – though the feeling was not mutual. Longmire was a sheriff, but he had personal standards. Unlike Bidarte’s men, he’d never been a killer for the sake of killing.

To get Cady back, though, he was willing to learn how to be…

It’s only a book. It’s only a book. It’s only a book.

Those are words to keep on your lips as you’re reading “Depth of Winter.” You’ll need them at every single twist and turn in this truly fine novel.

Open the cover and the action starts almost immediately when author Craig Johnson puts Longmire in the presence of a blind man who sees everything – a conundrum that works surprisingly well. From there, we’re incongruously taken in a pink Cadillac to violently dangerous situations that are faintly reminiscent of old-time westerns, and gun smoke that happens to come from some very modern automatic rifles.

Indeed, that’s what makes this book so compelling: it’s a super-fast-paced updated throw-back kind of novel that will appeal to lovers of old-school oaters and thrillers alike.

It’s only a book. It’s only a book. It’s only a book.

Remember those words and find “Depth of Winter” if you want action, horses, deserts, and cutthroat cowpokes with AK47s. Really, would you want to miss a book like that?

No.

 

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“Talking About Death Won’t Kill You” by Dr. Kathy Kortes-Miller

Talking About Death Won’t Kill You,” by Kathy Kortes-Miller
c.2018, ECW Press
$16.95 / $19.95 Canada
209 pages

BOOK REVIEW
by Terri Schlichenmeyer

Your mother can speak on just about any subject.

Family issues, money, old music, new technology, cooking, fashion, she’ll teach you all day. Ask her about one certain topic, though, and her lips are sealed tight but with “Talking About Death Won’t Kill You” by Dr. Kathy Kortes-Miller, you can school Mom on a thing or two.

One year prior to her second go-around for a PhD program, Kathy Kortes-Miller received a diagnosis of cancer, which altered her life and her career path.

Naturally, she was fearful. She said aloud that she didn’t want to die, and her statement was brushed aside. Nobody would even discuss death, she says, and though she obviously lived, she wishes today that someone had taken time to talk to her about her fears and the outcome she might’ve had.

“Death education,” as she calls it, should never be ignored. We spend years getting an education, we spend months researching a car or a new home, but we spend very little time learning to die – and that’s unfortunate. Dying, she believes, is actually an important part of living, which is why you should have That Conversation.

“Dying matters,” Kortes-Miller says, and until a few decades ago, that was a given; people were much more comfortable with death and the things attached to it. Death was a social event, as it is today, but it seems now as though we’re afraid to have a discussion about it, lest we invite it. The important thing is, everybody dies sometime so we may as well get comfortable with that.

When having That Conversation, gently tease out whatever fears remain, and face them by becoming “death literate.” Talk about “advance care planning” and the legacy you want. Know that family relations are complicated and that a proxy may absolutely be necessary. Write down everything you want health-care providers to know. Don’t be afraid to involve children and don’t use euphemisms. And finally, new technology gives a twist to something as old as life itself. Know how to use it right.

You don’t have to be elderly to get a lot out of “Talking About Death Won’t Kill You.” You don’t even have to be dying to read this book.

Even if you’re hale and in the bloom of life, Dr. Kathy Kortes-Miller has plenty to teach you, including questions you can ask to dig deep into your own feelings on end-of-life matters, and a matter-of-fact passage on what happens when we pass. But this book isn’t only for consumers: physicians and health-care workers are given attention here, too, because Kortes-Miller indicates a not-always-fulfilled need for That Conversation in hospitals and hospice situations. There are chapters here for parents and for caregivers, for adult children, for CEOs, and for work-buddies. On the latter, Kortes-Miller helps employers to create a better, more compassionate workplace.

This book probably isn’t anybody’s idea of a beach read, so grab it and grab opportunities for That Conversation. “Talking About Death Won’t Kill You” and, of course, neither will reading about it.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.

“Born to Fish: How an Obsessed Angler Became the World’s Greatest Striped Bass Fisherman” by Tim Gallagher & Greg Myerson

c.2018, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
$26.00 / higher in Canada
205 pages

Book review by Terri Schlichenmeyer

It was not your typical romance.

She fell for the first line you fed her and she played hard-to-get, but she was a beauty and she was worth every ounce of effort. A catch like her doesn’t come along every day, and in the new book “Born to Fish” by Tim Gallagher & Greg Myerson, you had her for sure, hook, line, and sinker.

By the time he was two years old, Greg Myerson was already fascinated by fishing. As the story goes, he was caught more than once with his toy rod and reel, trying to make a catch in the drainage ditch in front of his parents’ Connecticut  home.

Not long after that, though he was barely old enough for school, Myerson understood that his soul needed the outdoors to thrive and he spent hours alone, exploring the woods just beyond his back yard. He was never good with a classroom, but he got by; the best thing he gained from school were friends who taught him better ways to hunt and fish, and they showed Myerson the fine art of trapping.

At age eight, he was already determined to have a skiff of his own so that he could fish for striped bass in the ocean near his home; trapping muskrats and selling pelts would get him to that goal within two years. His parents were wise to what he was doing by then but, despite their wishes and that of the Coast Guard, ten-year-old Myerson began taking his new boat asea, into dangerous parts of the water. His fascination with fishing had become a full-blown obsession that only grew.

The summer after his first year at college, the obsession finally paid off when Myerson, who’d been ruminating on an idea, had a breakthrough that led to the catching of a record-smashing fish of epic size.

And that fish led to a fisherman’s change-of-heart…

First, this: “Born to Fish” can be a struggle to read.

To start, there seems to be a lot of repetition. That may be because, unlike most other biographies that offer a little more surrounding backstory, this book is almost completely about co-author Greg Myerson. You’ll read about his life in fishing, but also about a lot of fights and disregard for rules and laws, and that gets pretty stale. We’re also offered tales of elementary-school children alone on boats, and with guns.

And yet, there’s the fishing.

Co-author Tim Gallagher tells heart-pounding stories of landing the biggest of the big ones, tales that will thrill even the most neophyte of fishermen. Those parts of this book are like sitting around in the bait shop, ears open to tales of lures, equipment, boats and motors, and long battles with water monsters.

In the end, what you want from a book will determine how much you’ll like this one: if you come for the sport, then “Born to Fish” will hook you easy enough. If you’re looking for biography, though, let this book be the One That Got Away.

“Milk! A 10,000-Year Food Fracas” by Mark Kurlansky

c.2018, Bloomsbury
$29.00 / $39.00 Canada
385 pages

Book review by Terri Schlichenmeyer

Your cookies are no good today.

They’re too crumbly, too soft, too… something. They don’t taste right, maybe because you’re missing an essential from your fridge. Ach, no snacks for you; instead, you might as well dunk into “Milk! A 10,000-Year Food Fracas” by Mark Kurlansky.

In the beginning, there was Earth – sprang from milk, if you subscribed to the beliefs of the Fulani of West Africa, the Norse, Iraqis, the Egyptians, or the Greeks. They and others had milk or lactating women at the forefront of their creation myths, which made things easy for them to explain.

Even so, there’s no denying that farmers were in on this history.

“Each species has its own unique milk,” says Kurlansky, and though it should be no surprise that simian product is “closest to that of humans,” virtually nobody ever has a refreshing glass of monkey milk. Instead, we mostly drink cow or goat milk, as we have for the last 10,000 years since herding began, though mule milk may be better for us, and pig milk is likewise palatable.

Even so, it’s possible that the first time milk was taken from an animal, it wasn’t meant to be consumed in liquid form: it was probably meant to become cheese, yogurt, butter, or something portable and less liable to spoil. Nobody knows when those products began, but curds show up in ancient text and the Greeks knew how to make feta. Ice cream, by the way, surely has roots that are ancient but it wasn’t written-about until surprisingly later in history. By the time that happened, Europeans had already literally changed the landscape with cows they brought with them to the New World; settlers underscored that by accepting milk cows from England , and new dairy practices.

As for the littlest milk-drinkers, wet nurses were often employed for reasons of illness, convenience, or vanity on behalf of the mother. Maybe that was safer anyway, because drinking cross-species milk was sometimes chancy and could even be deadly but, says Kurlansky, by the late 1800s, there was “a scientist in France who had a theory.”

You may not believe that there’s a lot to consume about a basic substance like milk. All you know is that you can’t touch the stuff, but hold on. Inside “Milk,” there’s a surprising fact about lactose intolerance, and a whole lot more.

Starting in antiquity and bringing us up to modern times (and modern problems), author Mark Kurlansky exhaustively examines everything you ever wanted to know about milk but didn’t know enough to ask. Kurlansky writes about humans, milk, and human milk. We learn that dairying was perceived as playing in Marie Antoinette’s time. We see how American history would look vastly different without cows. Kurlansky shares other facts and looks at esoteric milk-based foods that have been enjoyed through the ages – and he includes recipes for the brave.

While this book is absolutely entertaining, it may be best-suited for foodies, historians, and the curious. If you got “Milk,” you’ll know exactly how t
he cookies crumble.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West” by John Branch


“The Last Cowboys: A Pioneer Family in the New West” by John Branchc.2018, W.W. Norton
$26.95 / $35.95 Canada
288 pages

Book review by Terri Schlichenmeyer.

You can’t take it with you.

People have tried for millennia to keep all their toys but eventually, there comes a time to step aside and pass the baton to the next person who needs a chance. It’s their turn, their time to take things and run. The tricky part, as in the new book “The Last Cowboys” by John Branch, is understanding when let go.

The seventh generation was coming up.

With thirteen children and numerous grandchildren, sixth-generation rancher Bill Wright knew that his family’s spread in Utah , near Zion National Park , would likely be passed to one of them someday. Meanwhile, working cattle, maintaining water reservoirs, it was a full-time business, but ranching was in Wright’s blood.

Once, though, for him, there was the rodeo.

That was the other thing Wright, a former bronc rider, had bestowed upon his sons: love of rodeo. His eldest boy, Cody, had reached high-level status as a bronc rider, and Cody’s brothers were moving up the ranks behind him. There was pride in that, not envy, and a dream for Cody that he might someday compete alongside his own sons.

But bronc riding is a hard way to make a living. For eight seconds, a rider must maintain balance, position, and form while astride a bucking, twisting, jumping horse. Points come from rider and horse, both; purses are cumulative and help rank the riders. Injuries are so common, they’re almost expected.

Says Branch, “The next ride might be a winner. Or it might be the last.”

While his sons criss-crossed the country each summer to ride in as many rodeos as possible, Wright cared for the ranch his family loved. He “wasn’t sure about all the talk on climate change” but he knew things weren’t like they used to be. Areas that once had plenty of grass were now drier. Grazing permits for federal lands were a tangle of rules. Ranching got harder and harder each year – but how could he sell a generations-old legacy?

In a way, “The Last Cowboys” is one of the most time-stretching books you’ll ever read.

Half of it is written in eight-second timelines, as author John Branch describes the skill, technique, and problems with staying on a rarely-ridden horse long enough to win what could be six-figure payouts. Though it’s difficult to read, Branch writes about how hard such a sport is on a man’s body, and how addicting it can be.

As it should, the other side of this book moseys through 150 years of ranch life. Branch describes beautiful, mountainous views; and dusty pastures often tied to bureaucracy and boundaries. This side gives readers a chance to dwell in the lushness while reading, with sinking feeling, about its dwindling appeal to newer generations.

 In the end, the answers are as complicated as are the rules for bronc riding and grazing rights, and readers who cherish the Old West shouldn’t wait to read about this New one. Start “The Last Cowboys,” and you’ll want to take it everywhere with you.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“Natural Causes” by Barbara Ehrenreich

“Natural Causes” by Barbara Ehrenreich
c.2018, Twelve
$27.00 / $35.00 Canada
256 pages

Book review by Terri Schlichenmeyer.

We all gotta go sometime.

For most of us, that time is later: eight, nine decades of wringing out every last drop of life, if we’re lucky. A few tucks here, a little dye there, hours at the gym, smaller meals, and we might manage to get a year or two more – although, as Barbara Ehrenreich reminds in her new book “Natural Causes,” you can run from your own mortality, but you can’t hide.

Some time ago, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to forego most recommended medical tests.

It wasn’t because she was feeling rebellious; instead, she thought that such tests seemed to be looking for problems that didn’t exist, with “overdiagnosis” as an end result. And besides, Ehrenreich decided, she was “old enough to die.”

The fact of the matter is, we all are. The freedom to acknowledge that, and to reject panicked unnecessaries concerning our health, “is worth celebrating.”

It all begins before we’re even born, in what Ehrenreich calls “rituals.” Until the 1970s, for example, women gave birth in positions more convenient to their doctors, and they did it without question; before that, laboring mothers were often rendered unconscious to have their babies. The tide turned, in part, because women were empowered enough to start demanding change.

Yes, Ehrenreich admits, there are many good reasons to have vaccines, tests, screenings, and exams – but there are many good reasons not to. Some cancers, especially those that hit elder patients hardest, are slow-growing enough that it’s safer not to treat them. Going for a full head-to-toe physical may make you feel better, but that doesn’t guarantee that a problem won’t crop up a week after you’ve had one. Some treatments, she says, can even backfire, and make things worse.

Okay, so you’ll just self-monitor, try to eat right, and stay active, then.

 Sure. But remember one thing….

Says Ehrenreich “Many of the people who got caught up in the health ‘craze’… –  people who exercised, watched what they ate, abstained from smoking and heavy drinking – have nevertheless died.”

And there you have it: author Barbara Ehrenreich’s book is not so much an anti-medical-establishment treatise. Though not always complimentary about medicine in general, she’s balanced. She’s not against healthy lifestyles at all. Instead, “Natural Causes” is more of a reminder that you can rant, wail, avoid “junk food,” and exercise until your muscles scream, and you’re still not getting out alive.

Even so, reading this book will make you see your body in a different light. Ehrenreich writes about cutting-edge science and in doing so, makes the human body seem like a cellular-level Ninja Warrior. That total badness can work quietly, unseen, against us, as researchers recently discovered to their horror, which proves the whole premise of this book: when it comes to our health, we only think we can control it.

Yeeks, that’s a sobering idea but it’s softened by wry humor and fascinating, eyebrow-raising info that’s irresistible. For science geeks, the health conscious, and anyone who dreams of immortality, “Natural Causes” is a book you gotta go get.

“My Patients and Other Animals” by Suzy Fincham-Gray

“My Patients and Other Animals” by Suzy Fincham-Gray
c.2018, Spiegel & Grau
$27.00 / $36.00 Canada
288 pages

Book review by Terri Schlichenmeyer

Lions and tigers and bears, Oh, my!

You probably don’t have any of those in your house right now – at least not in their full-size versions – but the kitty and puppy lying nearby might sometimes seem as ferocious as their larger cousins. Oh, my, as you’ll see in the new book “My Patients and Other Animals” by Suzy Fincham-Gray, we’re wild for our pets!

Even at the tender age of fourteen, young Suzy Fincham knew that she wanted to be a veterinarian. That was how old she was when she began volunteering at a local animal clinic – the same Herefordshire-area clinic where later, as a veterinarian-school graduate, she’d “seen practice” and learned a thing or three about larger animals.

While that was helpful and Fincham was tempted to stay in Great Britain , she knew that her heart was with cats and dogs, not sheep and cattle. With a lump in her throat and a multi-year plan in mind, she came to America to attend Cornell University , which led her to the University of Pennsylvania ’s veterinary teaching hospital.

It was there that she came to understand that the relationship between people and their pets baffled her. Fincham hadn’t grown up with pets in her childhood household so, for better understanding and because she was lonely, she adopted a cat, then another, and a third. With her own pets in mind, it was easy to see human connections in pet-ownership, but at the same time, Fincham’s impatience caused conflict with co-workers. Looking for a better fit, job-wise, she moved to Baltimore where her family grew to include a man and a hyphen; then to San Diego , where they gained a long-awaited dog.

In her career, Fincham-Gray has met animals that left their pawprints on her heart and lessons in her head. There was Hercules, a Doberman and her first GSW. A wolfhound taught her that her instincts and sub-conscious were both good tools to rely on. A jaundiced cat taught her that limits can be moved; she learned that hasty decisions are the worst ones to make; and she discovered that it’s hard when a pet dies, no matter whose pet it is…

Seriously, I defy you not to cry.

Nah, it’s going to be impossible. If you’re someone who loves a four-footed kid, “My Patients and Other Animals” won’t let you stay dry-eyed for long.

And yet, much as you’re going to enjoy the almost-Herriot-type beginning of this animal-loving delight and as much as you’ll eat up most of it, beware that there are things here you won’t like. Author Suzy Fincham-Gray describes old-time practices that may make readers gasp. She recalls dogs in pain, cats near death, injuries, abandonment, and not all the endings are happy. Don’t cry.

The good news is that those cringe-worthy bits are balanced by thoughtful observations on the human-animal bond, dogs-dogs-dogs, “moggies,” and bit of romance. For a dog- or cat-person, even despite a few shudders, that makes “My Patients and Other Animals” a can’t-miss book. Being without it could be un-bear-able.

“As You Wish” by Jude Deveraux

“As You Wish” by Jude Deveraux
c.2018, Mira
$26.99 / $33.50 Canada
416 pages

 

Book Review by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER

If you could, would you take it all back?

Every misunderstanding, cross word, and cold shoulder, erased. Time wasted, retrieved. Hurtful situations never happened. Would you eliminate each of them or, as in the new novel “As You Wish” by Jude Deveraux, would you change the entire course of your life?

Olivia Montgomery had never met her two new charges.

For that matter, she hadn’t met the therapist who sent them, either.

This wasn’t her idea. Olivia’s husband, Kit, was away on business and the doctor, who owned a cottage near the Montgomery ’s new home, needed someone to escort two of her patients there for a weekend retreat. Olivia wasn’t supposed to otherwise be involved but a chaperone had dropped out at the last minute; to her annoyance, Olivia had to step in and play den mother to two strangers.

Ray was a nice guy and, as it happened, he was at the retreat to figure out if he wanted a divorce. His wife, Kathy, was clingy and he’d met someone else but he couldn’t bear to hurt Kathy’s feelings and he didn’t know what to do.

It was a different story for Elise. She arrived at the cottage with a tale of escape from a psychiatric hospital, having been institutionalized by her father and her husband, who’d almost killed her. She, too, wanted a divorce but circumstances prevented it.

Olivia was good at listening and she was willing to do that with these young people but she had her own problems, including angry memories of time wasted. Still, she almost had to get involved when Kathy showed up and Ray departed for a business meeting, leaving Kathy behind.

Suddenly, the reasoning behind this retreat felt different and Olivia began to share her deepest hurts, just as Elise and Kathy shared theirs. They all knew that the past was past but, when offered an extraordinary chance to set things right, they knew it was time to find their own, better futures…

Initially, you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t wish to return to “As You Wish.”

Not to be prudish, but the beginning of this novel includes a lot of overfamiliarity: two of the female characters undress, for instance, and go streaking within hours of meeting one another. They then have an inappropriate conversation with a male character, who is also basically a stranger, about his sexual fantasies. This randy informality runs on and off throughout and while the girl-bonding parts fit into the story, the rest feels cringeworthy and gratuitously giggly.

Fortunately, these squirms don’t define author Jude Deveraux’s book. Once Olivia, Elise, and Kathy get over the über-lecherousness and into their narratives, readers are taken back and forth in time and there’s a delightful tale to be had, with a magical finish that’s wonderfully fantasy-inspired.

Charmed is what will happen by this books’ end, but there’s a lot of tee-hee-ing to endure first. Get past that, though, and stick around. “As You Wish” is a story for which you’ll take great pleasure.

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“Berlin 1936” by Oliver Hilmes

Berlin 1936” by Oliver Hilmes, translated from German by Jefferson Chase
c.2016, 2018, Other Press
$25.95 / higher in Canada
320 pages

You are not alone.

While you may be the only person in the room, you are one of many. Every word you’ve written was written before. Every place you’ve visited has been seen by other eyes. The things you experience have been done elsewhere. You’re not alone: in “Berlin 1936” by Oliver Hilmes, an entire city rushes to an end.

On the first day of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, composer Richard Strauss is impatient. He hates sports and he hates the tax that’s been enacted for this sporting event. For the hymn he writes on behalf of it, he demands 10,000 reichsmarks, and it rankles him that he ends up taking less.

Tom Wolfe has been to Berlin many times, and he couldn’t pass up a chance to see the Olympics there. Berlin is vibrant, friendly, and Berliners love the American novelist. He loves them… until a society matron whispers secrets in his ear.

On the second day of the Olympics, Toni Kellner is found dead in her apartment. She was not a social woman – in fact, she was not a woman at all, and Nazi-enforced edicts made her afraid to seek help for her bad heart. Berlin used to have a thriving gay community, but the Third Reich is über-aware of gay men and people like Toni now.

Joseph Goebbels can’t stop thinking about the trouble his wife put him in. Not only did she have an affair with a swindler some years ago, but something else recently came to light: the Nazi Minister of Propaganda’s wife was the child of a Jewish man.

Jesse Owens won gold. And again. And again. And again.

By the eighth day of the Olympics in Berlin , the city’s Roma and Sinti populations are taken from their apartments and moved to a sliver of land near a sanitation field. Most of them will die in concentration camps similar to the one being built just forty minutes away by local train.

And by the end of the Olympics, Hitler “is already determined to go to war.”

It may seem trite to say that “ Berlin 1936” reads like a novel, but it does. It’s nonfiction that reads like a horror novel, with a swirl of unaware and innocent victims, ruthless killers, and a stunning, invisible stream of ice just beneath its surface.

The compelling thing about that is that it’s not one large tale of the Nazis and the Games; instead, it’s as if author Oliver Hilmes starts with major historical figures and adds little Advent-calendar windows with real people inside: here’s the Roma child, snatched from her bed; there’s the terrified, ailing transvestite; here’s the American woman who kissed Hitler; there’s the Romanian Jew who owns a thriving nightclub; all in the middle of an international story that readers know is only the beginning…

How could you resist?

Don’t even try. Instead, just take “ Berlin 1936” to a corner and don’t count on coming out for a good, long time. Start this book, and you’ll want to just be left alone.”

 

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin

“The Group: Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine Life” by Donald L. Rosenstein and Justin M. Yopp

The Group: Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine Life by Donald L. Rosenstein and Justin M. Yopp
c.2018, Oxford University Press
$24.95 / $32.95 Canada
175 pages

‘Til death do you part.

Did those words give you pause when you said them in front of an officiate and a handful of friends and family?  Did you even hear them, in your nervousness and joy? Or, as in the new book “The Group” by Donald L. Rosenstein and Justin M. Yopp, were they things you put aside, hoping they’d never come true?

As far as they could tell, it had never been done before.

In their work at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina, Rosenstein (a psychiatrist) and Yopp (a clinical psychologist) “often consult with patients nearing the end of their lives.” Their work sometimes includes patients’ families, but Rosenstein and Yopp noticed something missing: there were few support systems specifically for widowed fathers. To fix the issue, the doctors organized their ideas, created a format, decided on topics for discussion, and hung a sign-up sheet; five men joined (Joe, Karl, Bruce, Neill, and Dan), and two came in later (Steve and Russ). Single Fathers Due to Cancer began with the original intent to meet once a month for six months.

At first, the sessions included lectures followed by open talk, but the format was altered immediately: instead of lectures, the men needed to examine thoughts and ask questions. They talked about their own grief and that of their children, while learning to overcome societal expectations of stoicism. They discussed experiences of being alone early in a marriage, and they tackled the subject of clueless-but-well-meaning friends and relatives. Through the realities and situations they shared, the seven men changed – and they changed Rosenstein and Yopp’s way of looking at patients with terminal illness and the spouses they leave behind.

They were only supposed to meet six times. More than three years later, they were still meeting.

While this may seem like a book for clinicians and hospice workers, I saw it differently: as much as it is about dying, “The Group” is also about friendship and finding the people we need to lean on.

Yes, there are things here that grief professionals will appreciate, including new studies on loss and a deep look at how Elizabeth Kübler Ross’ five stages of grief has expanded and altered with better understanding. That’s information that lay-readers can surely appreciate, but they’ll be just as fascinated by the journeys that authors Rosenstein and Yopp shared with the seven men who taught the doctors so much.

There’s sadness inside this book but, moreover, there’s hope and healing, resolution and honesty, eye-opening observations that may surprise you, some unexpected chuckles, and tales of ultimate peace with a situation that nobody ever wants to think about. Also, be sure you read all the way to the end, to catch the sweetest, most satisfying closure you’ll ever find.

For men who are facing the unthinkable, this book will ultimately be a valuable resource. For professionals, absolutely, “The Group” is a book to read. And if slice-of-life stories enhance your days, be sure to make this one a part.

 

Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin