Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Big Brother and "Oh, Brother!"

I receive monthly email newsletters and sale/coupon notices from Barnes and Noble and Borders. It always kind of freaks me out when I get one that says, "Since you previously purchased a book by this author, we want to inform you of the one that is currently being released..." That these chains have maintained a record of my purchases that is then matched to new releases makes me feel a bit like someone is watching me over my shoulder - a "Big Brother" kind of thing.

The latest message I got like this had to do with the new release by Debbie Macomber, "Hannah's List." I started reading this author a few years ago because she had a series about a knitting shop. She writes what could be termed "romantic fiction for women," not my usual style. But I love reading any kind of fiction that involves my knitting hobby. So I read and enjoy her when I need a beach read kind of fix.

The plot of "Hannah's List" evidently involves a dying wife's list to her husband of three choices of women she has chosen for him to pursue after her death. Debbie Macomber frequently portrays widows in her books, which is a very good thing. But I think she has pushed the envelope here.

For one thing, men and women think, act and process differently. Women, as caregivers and nurturers are constantly putting the needs of others before them. I can see a poor, dying woman worried about her husband's future fate much more likely than a man doing so. My husband was totally wrapped up in himself and his illness - trying to garner whatever strength he had left to survive. I can assure you that he was not thinking much of me in the present or future. But I wouldn't have expected him to. All I wanted him was alive for however long he could manage to stay alive. And if that took retreating into himself to shore up strength, he could do so without any resentment from me.

What bothers me about this plot, which I probably shouldn't even be commenting on until I read it if I do, is that it implies that people are replaceable. And all of us who have had to face loss know the error in that belief. I also suspect that years don't go by before this guy is supposed to start going through the list - that the duration of the grieving period is portrayed within a year's time frame or less. This might mislead people into believing that grief is quickly surmounted and it is off to the next conquest and new life. For many of us, the length of recovery time is far longer - and sadly, I have come to the conclusion that most of us out there in grief land will have pieces of our hearts missing until the day we die - those missing pieces don't grow back. We just learn how to live with the pain and loss that does lessen in its sharp intensity but never completely disappears.

I will save anymore commentary until I know more about this book firsthand. So I'll reserve additional criticism. I suspect Debbie Macomber's main intent was to provide encouragement and hope to the grieving - that life does go on and can go on productively. So that is not a bad thing - I just wish authors were more realistic in how they portray grief and loss. Since romantic fiction is usually unrealistic in general, I wish this book was about a husband who'd come up with a list of eligible men his surviving wife could pursue with his blessing after his death! Now that would be a good read!

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