Monday, June 24, 2013

Until I Say Good-Bye: My Year Of Living With Joy

by Susan Spencer-Wendel with Bret Witter

The author, a journalist in Florida and mother of three, was diagnosed with ALS at 44 years old. Deciding that she had about a year of health, more or less, left, she decided to live it with joy and pack it with as much travel, family time, friends, and fun as possible. She takes her Asperger’s son to swim with dolphins, has her 14-year-old daughter try on wedding dresses at Kleinfeld’s (on the premise that she will not live to see the real thing), finds her roots in Cyprus, tries to see the northern lights in the Yukon, and vacations in the Bahamas. She also writes a book, of course, tapping it out with her thumb on an iPhone.

This is an extraordinary journal of positivity, adventure, hope, and love. It’s absolutely tear-jerking in some places, and only a bitter curmudgeon would criticize it. So here I go. First and foremost, this is a family diary; it is a tribute to herself, for her children. I don’t question in the least the need for this tribute for her family, but I’m not sure that there’s a wider purpose here beyond family closure, as there was with the similar The Last Lecture. And I certainly could have been content for her family euphemism for defecation, “stink pickle,” to stay in the family. There’s also a disjointed chronology which means some parts get told twice; surely her co-writer could have tightened this up? Finally, this may be needlessly picky, but Spencer-Wendel seems incredibly na├»ve about a lot of things, which distracts from the book’s main point. How can an award-winning journalist in her forties, a mother of three with a master’s degree, not have ever even heard of ALS or Asperger’s, much less Cyprus’ Green Line? I found that very odd. Okay, heartless criticism over. Spencer-Wendel’s an undeniably brave woman, and her Buddhist-like wisdom (remove needless want, and you remove pain; don’t fear merely possible negative repercussions, but embrace adventure) is inspiring; I’m glad for her that she got a movie and book deal for her family’s security, even if I find the book a bit too personal to be truly affecting.

three stars

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