Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review: One Summer by David Baldacci

One Summer is not the first family drama written by the great crime author (read the excellent Wish You Well) and we sure hope it will not be the last.
     Baldacci seems to be leaping from the one genre to the other without any apparent difficulty. On the one hand in his books we meet trained killers, read conspiracy theories, and enjoy scenes of fast paced action, and on the other we find ourselves enjoying stories full of love and tenderness and, yes, with a touch of melancholy at the top. However, even the latter, manage to grab the reader by the throat and never allow his or her attention to drift away for a single moment from the action, from start to finish.
     It all begins when we meet Jack Armstrong, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran. He’s a dying man, confined in bed, breathing with the help of machines, at his home in Cleveland. What the enemy bullets and the bombs haven’t managed to do, is now done by a mysterious illness, from which the chances to survive are minimal, or rather nonexistent. However he’s not alone, as he always has by his side his loving wife Lizzie, whom he married when very young, and his young sons; Jackie, who’s just two years old and Cory, who’s twelve. They all seem to have come to terms with the idea of his demise. However, there’s someone who’s not there for him, and that hurts. His daughter Michelle, or Mikki, as they all call her, is a girl of sixteen who at a first glance doesn’t seem to know how to handle the situation, so instead of sticking close to him, she chooses to stay as far away as she can. Jack, trapped day and night in his own bed, in his very home, he mentally visits his past, counts his blessings and spends as much time as he possibly can talking to his family, but also secretly writing a series of letters to Lizzie. Through these letters he intends to explain to her some things, and confess some others, while, in a way, he also wants to convince her to go on and lead a happy life after he’s gone.
     Christmas day will be his last; or, at least, that’s the plan. However destiny, as usually is the case, has its own plans for him. Thus on Christmas Eve the wheels will suddenly turn and Lizzie will die at a traffic accident. As one would expect now things will dramatically change, as Jack will not only lose the love of his life, but also his kids, who will move away to live with their grandmother and aunts, each in a separate home, leaving him behind to die. Death, his death, seems to be the only thing he can control anymore and any time he decides to leave the world, the exit door will open. The only thing he needs to do is push a button and ask the doctors to put him out of his misery. However, even though death looks to be an attractive option, something holds him back from embracing its graces, despite the fact that “Sometimes living was far harder than dying”. As he reaches the point of no return, and decides to put an end to it all, exactly then the miracle happens; he starts to get better. Nobody can believe this miraculous reversal of fortune; not his doctors, not even himself. Each passing day though brings him closer to full recovery, and as time goes by his will to live is getting stronger and stronger. Now, with the help of his best friend Sammy, is determined more than ever to put things right, and make a new beginning with his kids. To achieve that though, he first has to make peace with his past. “You should respect the past. You should never forget the past. But you can’t live there”. The road to salvation will be long and winding, and Jack, better late than never, will at last come to realize that he needs other people’s help to reach his destination.
     This is a well written story that talks about love and death, about the big passions that rule our lives, about the darkness that lurks in the teenage soul, as well as for the big truths that we fail to see, even though they are constantly right in front of our eyes. A brilliant novel by a master storyteller.

By the same author

Hell's Corner
The Sixth Man

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