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“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’s 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. 

“An American Marriage: A Novel”

By Tayari Jones

c. 2018, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

$26.95, higher in Canada; 308 pages

He did it on one knee. One knee, with a nervous grin on his face and a velvet box in his shaking hands, asking you the question of a lifetime. You’d talked about this day but it was still a surprise and now you have planning to do, just the two of you. Or, as in “An American Marriage” by Tayari Jones, three …

The last time Roy Othaniel Hamilton enjoyed a truly happy evening was about a year-and-a-half after he married his wife, Celestial, the only woman (after his mama) that he ever really loved. It’s true that they’d been arguing that night – they argued and made up, argued and made up a lot then – but things were going well. They’d even talked about having a baby on that last happy evening before the police broke down the door of their room at Piney Woods Motel and arrested Roy for a rape he didn’t commit.

His life was supposed to be with Celestial. He believed that all along.

They’d met in college: his buddy, Andre, was her best friend and Dre introduced them but Roy and Celestial didn’t click until years later. They met again, dated, and the rest was, well, not exactly smooth. He cheated on her a time or two. She’d freeze him out when she caught him, but she knew she was his woman.

Celestial also knew the man she married, and Roy wasn’t capable of raping some woman six years older than his own mother. But a jury wouldn’t believe her, wouldn’t believe him, would only believe an old woman who pointed a finger … and there you go: Roy ’s sentence was 12 years in a Louisiana penitentiary.

And, oh, they wrote letters, but they were apart longer than they weren’t and eventually, Celestial wanted to – needed to – move on. She found somebody else, somebody who was her future and her past, but she was still Roy ’s wife.

And when Roy got out of prison seven years early, he hoped to remind her of that fact.

There’s a reason that Oprah picked “An American Marriage” as one of her books. Yes, this novel is that good.

Really, though, author Tayari Jones tells a simple story of boy-meets-girl-marries-her. It’s a fairy tale, modernized; a romance with a twist: Roy idealizes his marriage, while Celestial is a realist. He’s your basic nice guy. She’s been raised to take care of herself and speak her mind. His memories differ quite a bit from hers, and seeing both sides through their eyes makes their story better. Add a situation that hints at the unimaginable, and some additional, sometimes irritating, characters with influence and you’ve got a book filled with a tale that’ll keep you dry-mouthed, page-turning, and right on the edge of hollering.

This is a novel that unabashedly plays with your senses of right and not-quite-right. It also plays with your emotions, if you’ve ever been in love – so have a handful of tissues nearby. “An American Marriage” could bring you to your knees.

More: The Bookworm: A dream come true and a worse nightmare

More: The Bookworm: Books to love, for every age

More: The Bookworm: Surfing and submarines 

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

 

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