26 July 2008

Room for Two

To quote author Abel Keogh: At some point we’re all going to face a devastating affliction and cope with loss. How we choose to react to the bad things that happen in our lives defines who we are. We can either learn from our experiences and become a better person, or dwell in bitterness and sorrow. I choose to make the best out of a bad situation.

This is the thesis of Room for Two, an autobiographical book by a man who faced the unimaginable—the violent suicide of his young, pregnant wife—and then turned his grief and guilt into a triumphant growth experience for himself, and a pattern for courage, faith-filled resolve, and ultimate forgiveness for his readers.

From the first chapter:

"Sweetie, I'm home." I tried to put as much kindness into my voice as possible. I didn't want to have another argument—at least not right away.

Silence.

"Sweetheart?"

A gunshot echoed from our bedroom, followed by the sound of a bullet casing skipping along a wall.

Everything slowed down.

From the backliner:

When a life is destroyed, when guilt says you played a role in its destruction, how do you face the days ahead? Twenty-six-year-old Abel Keogh chooses to ignore the promptings he receives concerning his wife's mental illness, and now he feels he is to blame for her choices. If only he had listened . . .

At some point in our lives, each of us face devastating afflictions and must eventually cope with loss. Regardless of how it happens, the outcome is still the same—we are left isolated, alone, wondering what we could have done differently, and where we can turn for peace.

This is Abel's story in his own words. His search for peace and the miracle that follows is proof that love and hope can endure, despite the struggles and tragedies that shape each of our lives.

From the “reviewer” (me):

I read Room for Two at the recommendation of Candace Salima, author of Refiner’s Fire, and a woman I deeply admire as a writer and a person. I opened the book while seated on a hard cement bench, squinting into the hot afternoon sun while my two little nieces played nearby in a park. Three hours later, the sun was setting, my nieces were exhausted, the lower portion of my body was numb (I don’t think I’d moved in all that time; I’m not sure I even breathed at first) and I was still reluctant to close the book.

I can’t honestly say I loved everything about Room for Two—how the guy likes to be kissed is frankly a little too much information—but I can say unequivocally that Abel Kough is not only a solid writer, he is probably one of the most courageous and candid men on the planet. In the pages of this memoir of the worst (and, ironically, possibly the most promising) year of his life, he almost doggedly puts himself out there for the reader to judge if she will. I won’t. If there are shortcomings in his character—or writing—I didn’t see them. Rather, I admire Abel Keogh for being a man who is enough in touch with himself that he is unafraid to ask, and is sometimes able to answer, the hardest questions any of us could conceive.

In the final chapters, Keogh shares how he found a meaning-full poem written by his wife. This tender mercy allows him to at last make peace with a horror he can never fully understand in mortality. Then, with a new love at his side, he stands at the grave of his wife and infant daughter on the first anniversary of the suicide. He writes:

I felt that I should be crying or saying something profound. But my mind was blank, my eyes dry.

This, to me, was profound—and deeply touching. At the close of the third chapter I could not imagine how this young man would ever find hope, let alone peace, love, and eventual joy. Over the course of 200 or so pages I found out. Her name is Julianna and she is as remarkable as he is. The woman he calls “Marathon Girl” in his blog is perhaps the real hero of his book—and his heart.

Having written that, I wonder if I should post a spoiler alert. If I don’t it is because to me Room for Two was not intended to be suspenseful. Rather it is a generous gift: a chronical of a journey few of us have taken, a remarkable and meaningful glimpse into the worst and best life can offer. I could not have read past the thirty-eighth page if I'd had any doubt it would end any way but as it did.

Obviously, this is not a breezy summer read, but it is a book that will grip you from the first page and stay with you long after you have closed the back cover. Published by Cedar Fort, it is available at Amazon and other national booksellers. You can learn more about the author, read the first chapter of the book, visit his blog, and find links to other reviews and interviews on his website: www.abelkeogh.com.

Room for Two
Trade Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Cedar Fort (August 2007)
ISBN-10: 1599550628
ISBN-13: 978-1599550626
Retail: $14.99

4 comments:

Sandra said...

I, too, liked this book. I stayed up till 2:30 in the morning to finish it and I am so very glad I did.

Jennie said...

It's been awhile since I read this book, but it's one that the message has stayed with me and I've found myself thinking about at odd times. If I remember right there were some editing problems that could have been handled better, but the story itself was of lasting value.

abek said...

You're right. Marathon Gir IS the real hero of the book. I'd be lost without her.

Thanks for the review. I'm glad you enjoyed the book.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Beautiful review of a very touching book.