Wednesday, 2 March 2016

"Where You Left Me" - A Book Review

I saw this book, a 9/11 widow's story, once or twice on the shelf at my local library and thought it looked interesting, but emotionally challenging. My work is emotionally challenging and sometimes, so is my life. I have to be in the right frame of mind to read or watch something emotionally challenging and didn't check this book out until our library's reading challenge. It never made it onto my reading list.
I only read the first 5 chapters.
I expected to feel the author's angst. I expected to be moved. I expected to be emotionally challenged. I wasn't. Instead, I was disgusted. And I couldn't help but think that this book actually was an insult to all the others who lost loved ones in 9/11. Because it was entirely unrelatable to over 90% of the world's population. 
How many of us can afford a $200 per hour psychiatrist to help us through the grief?
How many of us don't have to worry about going back to work after an altogether too brief bereavement leave because we don't have to work for a living? And even a year after our loved one's death, can still afford to send our son to a private school? 
How many of us have both a mother and a father who can afford to drop everything and move in with us for 4 months while we go through our grief? 
How many of us can actually afford to shop for designer clothing, let alone have an exclusive shop's sales associate bring a seamstress to our home to alter all of our clothing? Free of charge? Or usher us through the shop and personally wait on us so we don't have to deal with the other customers while we shop for several outfits for all of the funerals we have to attend? 
How many of us resent a lot of the people that are actually trying to be there to support us through the grief? (That's the impression that I got - that she actually resented a lot of them showing up).
And the list goes on... 
One statement in the book really hit me between the eyes. The author is discussing her friendships with other 9/11 widows whose husbands worked with hers, and says, " All of us were lonely, bored, and terrified." (p. 71). Bored? BORED??!!?!? I have experienced grief. I have lost both of my parents as well as my only brother. Never in all of my grieving would I have ever used the adjective "bored" to describe my feelings during these times. And I really can't imagine any of the others who lost loved ones in 9/11 would have said they were bored during this period of their lives either. The only other character - either real or fictional - that I could possibly think of that would have said she was "bored" during a period of mourning is Scarlett O'Hara. And she was a callous, shallow, self-serving prima donna who never loved the husband for whom she was supposed to be grieving. 
But there's more. The author is ostensibly a graduate of Harvard Law School. And she chose to quit work and be a stay-at-home mother. I didn't say "stay at home with her children" because at the beginning of the book she is starting her 4-year-old son and 2 & 1/2-year-old daughter in preschool. Really? Two years old and you're putting her in preschool when you don't have to? How many mothers in the universe would love to be able to stay at home with their two year olds but have to put them in day care because they can't afford not to work? So just why is she staying at home, if not to actually mother her children? Let her give the answer: "I did my best to make our home a safe, calm space with minimal demands... I made sure that, after work, he (her husband) could move effortlessly from the kids to dinner to a late basketball league game to falling asleep to Law & Order." (p. 6-7) Ouch! Did Mommy tuck him in, too? That description reminds me too much of the Quiverfull MovementDid a Harvard-educated woman really say that in the 21st century? Does she not realize how many years of struggle were invested by women - and men - so that she could have the right to an education at a school like Harvard (See https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/news/radcliffe-magazine/complicated-history-women-harvard). And she chose to be a kept woman, arm candy - and her husband's dutiful little slave? Don't get me wrong - I spent many years of my life being primarily a stay-at-home wife and mother. And I have numerous friends and family members who have also made that choice. But we realize that our job description encompasses far more than making "a safe, calm space with minimal demands" and doing for our husbands what they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves. And from what I read in this book, I strongly suspect the author spent far more time "doing lunch" than cleaning toilets. And respecting "minimal demands," it seems it wasn't a 2-way street as her husband appeared to have more than a reasonable share of demands. To me, he came across as a rather arrogant, controlling, emotionally abusive jerk:
"I attended Knicks games at Madison Square Garden...and dutifully rewatched them on videotape when we got home, so Doug could share his analysis of important plays with an attentive listener. I learned to respect Doug's sometimes exasperating passion for the Knicks - I will never forget making the mistake of attempting to read the New York Post at the Garden during a particularly uneventful game... Doug tore the paper out of my hands and threw it to the ground. 'What?' I asked incredulously. 'Why do you care? You never talk to me during games.' He answered with a semi-serious growl, 'In the event I want to discuss a play or point out a mismatch, you must know what I'm talking about.' After that moment, I always paid rapt attention." (p. 7).
No matter how rabid a Toronto Maple Leafs fan I may have been at one time, I cannot imagine seeing the game live and then going home and watching it again on videotape. And to do this on a regular basis? I can't see how that could ever be considered normal. OCD, perhaps? And the author fails to recognize how disrespectful and abusive - yes, abusive - her husband's behaviour over the New York Post was. Or the fact that he didn't even talk to her during the games.
The above excerpt is from the same paragraph as the statement about making a safe, calm space and so it appears that she considered the Knicks games her duty (note the word, dutifully), part of her responsibility as a wife. There's no mention that she actually enjoyed watching the games or was a Knicks fan herself. It seems like it was all about serving her husband. Perhaps if she'd devoted more time to developing her own interests, she wouldn't have been bored when he died. 
So after being offended and angered by a book that was supposed to have moved and challenged me, I decided I was finished, even though I hadn't read it all. It really was too frivolous and self-serving to adequately portray the horror of that day.