Monday, June 25, 2018

Lonz Cook's A LOSS TOO GREAT, when "happily ever after" is DOA., a man's love story

A LOSS TOO GREAT (Elevation Books, May) begins with Tom's arrival home to discover his beloved Mary dead on the floor.  How she got there and what happened to the "happily ever after" of this attractive hardworking couple is a kind of parable for men about the fantasy of romance vs. real-life love.  Lonz Cook unfolds a story that reminded me of Erich Segal's iconic "Love Story,” but  shows how loss changes the man. This husband and father is tested and his strength changes his connection to life. in profound ways

In the beginning, Tom and Mary, a happily married couple, are looking forward to "empty Nester" status. Tom eagerly looks forward to  exploring new places, bike trips in nature, concerts and ,most of all, hot  romance with Mary, his ideal soul-mate. He's smitten with her incredible beauty, undimmed by the years, her intelligence and intuitive understanding. His fantasies are a glossy brochure of "the good life," beautiful hotels, cruises, beaches and woods filled with happy couples sipping wines.

As newlyweds, he had surprised her with keys to their Baltimore fixer-upper, they worked side by side restoring the place to an elegant home. He was the sole bread winner but loved how appreciated she made him feel with great meals and always looking great, even after a day of chores and coaching Tom, Jr. Now, he surprised her again with a realtor's keys on a trip to San Francisco.  He was taking their gracious married life to a new setting. But Mary balked at the notion of a new lif, when Tom Jr's room was in Baltimore. Tom was thinking of heights they could achieve now that their son, who had eschewed college for the Army was away. An Army man himself, he didn't see a problem, but somehow Mary wasn't on the same page. .

Love amid luxury travels, their rekindled great romance, all tom's expectations were cruelly upended with news of their son's death. Mary's paralyzing grief meant Tom's love  transformed. Soon he was the caretaker, working with her psychologist,  patiently working for her to come back to him. When he is offered a promotion to San Francisco, Tom gives her the key to the Victorian. But the hard working success oriented, man who seeks perfection in his life, now has to take life day by day and hope she improves in a new city. Grief is a sibject he knows well, he's studied it.

In a “Hallmark Special” kind of way,  Tom meets many kind good natured people who helped him, because they respond to his friendly people-oriented approach to life. He's fun, has a good sense of humor.  He's also a can-do employee revered by his employer. But in his new role in a new city, he overdoes this, being watchful of his ailing wife. His efforts do pay off, he allows himself to think she's returning to herself, when he finds her on the floor. 

This loss is too Great. Tom's entirely changed, Unable to imagine life without his wife, he avoided personal contact. He's completely withdrawn, uninterested in what he used to enjoy. His hold on life is tenous, when Mary is everywhere. When he takes a leave of absence, he goes in search of  what he doesn't know. He starts with a bike trip, painful without her following, but the trees are still beautiful. He tentatively tries to find interest in women and is surprised to find it's still there and feeling is reciprocated. He tries his drive as an athlete and finds he's good.  Slowly, he brings himself back to life, but he's a different man.  

A LOSS TOO GREAT is about the way a man loves in fantasy vs. the deeper love that evolves through real life.  I liked that Tom was an intellectually curious and sensual man. Through his love for his emotionally fragile wife, he is able to change. He gave his all to win her back to life. And when he lost, challenged himself to see if life without her was worth living. This is a serious romance with a resonance for men and the women who love them.



Friday, June 8, 2018

ALTERNATIVE REMEDIES FOR LOSS, a young woman's grief drives journey to maturity in this novel, sad, funny and true

Olivia, Joanna Cantor's narrator in Alternative Remedies for Loss (Bloomsbury Publishing, May) is  twenty-two, pretty and privileged. Her family isn't rich but comfortably middle class. Sharply aware and self-critical, Olivia knows she's cushioned by her family and yet is unable to stop herself from messing up. She tests her limits in a spiral less coming-of-age, than a struggle to manage the emotional turmoil after her mother's death. She wonders what would happen if no one helped her pick up the pieces--like her mother did. She is profoundly alone, trying to figure out not just her place but what, if anything, has value.

Olivia's angst reminded me of The Sorrows of Young Werther, Goethe's autobiography.She is a heroine just as self absorbed and overly serious. But she possesses a wicked sense of social mores and a meter for hypocrisy equal to Austen's Emma. Olivia's ruthless perception spares not her brothers, complacent in their relationships, nor her father, who shortly after the funeral introduced his new woman and even asked her on the family trip. Planned by her mother as a cultural trip and now a remembrance had become a meaningless diversion. Her mother had always wanted to go to India, and had included  a visit to a real ashram. Her father arranged for shopping and restaurants like home in an Indian setting. Olivia's alienation deepened, when she returned to New York City.

Through her brother's connections,Olivia had an entry-level job at a film company and, though she worked hard, her sideline was dabbling in dubious affairs. Though Olivia questions her behavior, she lets it go and decides to ditch school and work after the summer. Her father, angry when he learns she's not going back to Vassar with one year left, is over the top, when she loses her job for an unfathomable offfense. Numb with grief, Olivia faces being without an income, apartment or boyfriend with huge self contempt and escapisim. She's a party girl adrift on temporary couches.

With nothing else to do, she helps her brother clean out her mother's things and comes across a mysterious photo of her mother with a letter signed by an unknown man.. She thought she knew her mother? Her world already rocked, Olivia goes on a quest to learn more. The trip will take her back to India, to the shallows and depths of her soul. And what emerges in the end is knowledge bigger than herself and a new sense of being whole.

Olivia's passage is moving and shocking and unpredictable, as the life she's reclaiming. Nothing works out, because in the end, nothing is expected until she discovers what is true and matters. She's a great character and her coming of age happens on a couple levels. Her mother's passage underlies this journey.  Recommended.