This review comes with a warning and a short analogy to illustrate my point. Back when I was a sophomore in college, my 17-year-old brother lost his battle with leukemia. He was my buddy, my champion, my best friend. The loss hit my mom hard and she grieved for many years. I did too, but in a different way. I knew that he had Jesus in his heart and we shared a love for God. My way of grieving was to throw myself into my studies to work through it; but for my mom, time stopped. At that time, a movie came out called Love Story. It had a beautiful theme song, and the book hit the best seller’s list. My mom forbade me to watch the movie or read the book. I didn’t realize why until about a year later, when I found the book and read it. I could understand why Mom couldn’t bear to watch the movie or read the book. The story was about a young college age couple who got married against the man’s father’s wishes. Jenny soon after discovered she had leukemia. She underwent treatment, but she still died of the disease. After reading the book, I grieved a little, cried a little but was able to move on. Not so my mom. She was stuck in one stage of grief for years. She couldn’t cope with the thought, since my brother had a girlfriend who may have married him eventually. It was too close to reality for her.
My point in telling you this is that this book I’m reviewing has a serious storyline that could affect the reader in many ways. If you think you may have difficulties handling a story about a wife and mother facing advanced stages of colon cancer along with a family who is emotionally distant, do NOT read this book. If you believe it could aid you in a grieving process, as reading Love Story did for me, then you may like this one. And this gritty, tough story may be the realistic book that’s just what another reader likes to read.
Saying that, this was a book more difficult for me to read than Love Story was so many years ago. Like Nena, I lost family members to cancer: my father, my brother, my father’s mother and father. I know the process described in this book well. Reading about her cancer brought back some unpleasant memories. In addition to that, Nena placed the management of the horse ranch she grew up on and inherited when her dad died above her young children. At the beginning of the story her children are adults and dysfunctional in many ways. There are some uncomfortable parallels in my family as well. My mother caused some hefty pain for her parents and siblings through the use of a sharp tongue. This continued through to us, her children, even when we became adults. Sad to say, we have never broken out of this dysfunction and there is no close relationship between us. We have all left family ties behind us. So this was a difficult book for me to read on a couple levels. Still, I value this author’s writing style, and even with the pain of loss, the ending was rejuvenating.
About the book:
Michael King’s writing style makes this tough-as-nails work of fiction well worth reading. He uses two tiers of storytelling: one timeline is in the present where Jimmy Hutching and his wife Nena face down a diagnosis of advanced colon cancer and deal with the apathy of their adult children. The second tier is Jimmy’s personal reminiscences of the past, beginning on the day he came home from school to find his father beating his mother. When he tried to protect her, his father beat him and threw him out of the house. Eventually he found work and a place to stay as a laborer on a horse ranch.The two tiers intertwine and eventually the reader realizes that Jimmy’s memories are the love story between him and Nena St. Claire, the rancher’s daughter. The story is sweet but takes on an edge near the end. That part of the tale is mostly from Jimmy’s perspective.
Nena Hutching wasn’t all that surprised when medical tests and scans showed the presence of cancer. Her grandfather and father had both had it. But the diagnosis and treatments were still hard to cope with. She was afraid to die. The cancer was a monster, and in her dreams became someone she could not escape.
In the meantime, her two daughters and adult son were having issues of their own. Ken was an ambitious lawyer with his eye on the prize–a partnership in his law firm. But he sacrificed his family on the way up, telling himself he was doing it for them. Now his wife wanted a divorce. Roberta Hutching was a successful journalist. She couldn’t remember the last time she heard her mother say, “I love you.” Looking for love and affirmation sent her to all the wrong places. She was stuck in a relationship where she was being taken advantage of. Barb, the eldest daughter was married and had two children. Her own demons included breast cancer and it was playing havoc on her family life.
Each of the three siblings got a call from their father to tell them about their mother’s cancer. None of the three wanted to visit her. The distance in her family hurt her, but Nena understood it as the natural consequences of her neglect years earlier.
“I hope you find this story not only moving and inspirational, but also deeply personal.” [author Michael King] I did find this story a bit disturbing at first. There is cancer in my family and I understand the process well. I have seen it all first hand. The author writes this novel well, sets up the tension on both tiers, working it into an element of suspense, yet creates a satisfying conclusion. For me, it wasn’t easy to read, not because of any problems with the book’s level of interest, because it keeps the reader’s attention very well, but it was a bit too personal. The story’s pathos crept down deep and touched me. This book isn’t one I’d pull off a bookshelf and read on my own for personal reasons, but I am glad I read it. The final scenes have the potential to bring the reader peace of heart, especially if they have gotten invested in the story emotionally.
The themes of family and reconciliation are dominant in this story. It takes awhile to reach a resolution for all the family members, and the ending may not happen in the way many of us readers want it to, but the conclusion implies there is more to come. For the Hutching family, it is simply a beginning of something better.
I enjoyed how the author expressed Jimmy’s love for his Nena. His was a quiet strength that I found heart-warming and intriguing. He knew his father’s tendency for violence and he was determined not to use brute strength in his own walk if at all possible. This placed him in an awkward position a few times when he needed to defend someone or himself physically. But when it came to Nena’s welfare, he fought willingly for her; it was one thing she always loved about him. Now while they were fighting the cancer, he took this quiet strength to the next level which endeared him to me as a reader. I believe many other readers will admire this kind of strength in Jimmy too.
The author has a marvelous sense of timing in turning a story filled with sadness into triumph, sensitivity for subtleties in the lives of his characters, and the ability to communicate real-to-life spiritual issues in a conversational manner. I would be happy to read more of this author’s books in the future.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the Booketeria on behalf of Charisma House Publishing (Realms). I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”