Monday, July 20, 2009

Review - Life's That Way by Jim Beaver

Life's That Way by Jim Beaver

published 04/09
297 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Life’s That Way is a modern-day Book of Job. In August 2003, Jim Beaver, a character actor whom many know from the popular HBO series Deadwood, and his wife Cecily learned what they thought was the worst news possible— their daughter Maddie was autistic. Then six weeks later the roof fell in—Cecily was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer.

Jim immediately began writing a nightly e-mail as a way to keep more than one hundred family and friends up to date about Cecily’s condition. Soon four thousand people a day, from all around the world, were receiving them. Initially a cathartic exercise for Jim, the prose turned into an unforgettable journey for his readers.

Cecily died four months after being diagnosed, but Jim continued the e-mails for a year after her diagnosis, revealing how he and Maddie coped with Cecily’s death and how they managed to move forward. Life’s That Way is a compilation of those nightly e-mails. Jim’s experience is universal for anybody who has lost a loved one. But Life’s That Way is not solely about loss. It is an immediate, day-by-day account of living through a nightmare but also of discovering the joy of a child, of being on the receiving end of unthinkable kindness, and of learning to navigate life anew. As Jim says, these are hard-won blessings. But then again, life’s that way.

My thoughts:

Sometimes, you are lucky enough to read a book that changes you. It changes the way you look at life, and relationships, and the things that really matter. It reinforces what you've always know, and reminds you of what's really important. Life's That Way is that kind of book.

I've struggled for a while to figure out the best way to write this review. I'm not sure I can do justice to the remarkable work contained between the covers. I'm torn between wanting to quote so many of the beautiful passages Beaver writes, and letting you discover them for yourselves.

Beaver writes with a simple eloquence that is immediately arresting. Because this started out as a series of emails, there is an intimacy between the author and the reader that is quite unique - I could imagine myself sitting across the kitchen table from the author as each day's tale was recounted. He talks about his great love for his wife, his anger and frustration, fear and disbelief, and shares all with such honesty and openness that at times it took my breath away.

"I'm not sad about Cec's chances, I'm sad about all she has to go through. I can't stand to see her in pain, to see her nauseous, or weak, exhausted. Cec said the other day that this illness had been a crushing blow to her illusion that she could control the universe. What it has crushed for me is the illusion that I could fix anything I tried to fix. I suppose that both of us are grieving for, among other things, our illusions."

But this is not a hopeless book. I had tears in my eyes nearly the entire time I was reading it, and yet ultimately felt inspired and uplifted. Through the pain, despair, struggle and heartache, Beaver is able to find goodness, hope, peace, and strength. He shares his good days and bad, his lessons learned and moments of joy.

"It's a lucky man who can both love and admire the woman in his life. I've always been lucky."

"As traitorous as it feels to say, I will feel better, I will feel happiness, I will feel less lonely, I will be less lonely. Even as Cec once awaited me a few months or years ahead, good things surely are poised just beyond the crest of this hill. It's steep, no denying. But my legs are good and my heart is determined. I'm sure it can't be too far. Since "life's that way ->," that's where I'm headed."

I know I haven't done this book justice. It has been a gift to my life, and I believe it would be to yours. I can't encourage you enough to find a copy - it is beautiful and moving and funny and brave and a completely engrossing read. It will certainly be one of my best reads of this year, maybe of my life.

"I had no idea a person was so many things, that her abduction from my life would leave such voids. It's not hearing her voice, it's not smelling her hair, it's not seeing her things in new arrangements in her closet or on her nightstand...It's realizing that it doesn't matter anymore if the sheets are tight and wrinkle-free on the bed, that no one leaves the cap off the toothpaste, that no one says 'What's wrong?' if I don't speak for half an hour...It's knowing I could pour a bucket of purple paint over the stair rail and into the hallway below and nobody would be upset. It's knowing I could bring home ten dozen roses and a string quartet and nobody would be happy...

All I can say is if you have someone you can share with, someone who cares about your life and wants to be involved in it in some way, any way, then share. Share, share, share. If a day comes when you've got no one to share that day with, nor the next nor the next, that's when you will know what you don't want to know. That even the best life can be hollowed out in a moment or a week or in four months. "

Go read it. It just might change your life.

Finished: 6/09
Source: Folio Literary Management
Rating: 10/10


bermudaonion said...

Your review of this fantastic book is extraordinary. I thought the book was beautiful, but I cried through half of it.

Beth F said...

I just skimmed your review, because I have it here to read. I've been putting it off because I keep thinking I need to be in the right mood. I guess I should just jump in.

ANovelMenagerie said...

Sounds like a must read!

Anonymous said...

I love memoirs but I cannot name one memoir which has affected me so deeply as this one has yours. I'm buying this book, if I find it that is :)

Thanks for the review.

Zibilee said...

You did an awesome job expressing your absolute adoration of this book with eloquence and heart. I really think I need to pick up a copy of this book, and thank you for the wonderfully thoughtful review.

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

Beautiful review. I've had this one on my list for awhile now.

Jenners said...

Wow ... this sounds powerful. I imagine it has such an immediacy about it as he was writing it before, during and after the events. I'm going to add it to my list.