As You Were by David Tromblay

Tromblay takes a no-holds-barred, full-frontal approach to his writing that is immersive and, at times, shocking.

4/5 stars.
ARC ebook, 251 pages.
Read from October 14, 2020 to October 19, 2020.

A big thank you to Dzanc Books who offered me an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

When the author learns that his father is dying he decides to write a memoir of sorts, a testament to the brutality that was inflicted on him as a child and as a young man. Tromblay is part Native American, on his father’s side, and after being abandoned by his mother, his grandmother raises him the only way she knew how. Tromblay’s grandmother lived through the reservation boarding schools that Native Americans were forced into, meaning that anything she knew about punishment came in the form of fear and physical abuse. To make matters worse, Tromblay’s father lived with them as well and not only is he an alcoholic but he suffers brain damage from a previous car accident making him extremely volatile and aggressive. Tromblay’s father always said to him, that the day that he could “take him” was the day he had no place under his roof. Tromblay eventually escapes his tormenters and finds himself in the Armed Forces as a young man. While his capacities for violence were put to good use, his experiences inevitably led to further trauma. 

Tromblay takes a no-holds-barred, full-frontal approach to his writing that is immersive and, at times, shocking. The book moves back and forth in time to parts of Tromblay’s childhood to pieces of his adult life and his time in the Armed Forces, often half a world away. Tromblay’s story is a unique coming of age story that discloses so much pain and humiliation and yet it is still an engaging read as the book’s tone is not one of pity. You get the idea that the author has accepted that this is just the way things are, just like a straight-faced soldier who has compartmentalizes his pain.  The story is written in the second person, as the author addresses himself giving the story a poetic and poignant feel, despite its raw content. As a reader you’re drawn to Tromblay’s torment through its honest and direct structure as well as the poetic style that comforts you, as you somehow already surmise the strength behind the author’s words, anticipating a positive outcome. 

“He does die, but it takes you another half-dozen drafts to say what you need to say. With his last breath, the last bit of angst drips out of your pen.”

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Tromblay’s story is less about pain and more about overcoming it by confronting it head-on. It’s about a grieving process unique to those who have experienced traumas by people who were supposed to care for them as well as those affected by war and death. While there are many graphic details in the story that some might find triggering or disturbing, it was all part of a necessary process for Tromblay. His father’s death is an opportunity to release, maybe not forgive, but to let go and move on. 

With his father’s death, Tromblay finds some healing from his past and a future in writing to look forward to. After a decade in the Army, Tromblay went on to pursue his MA in Creative Writing having since published two books, of which this is his second. This book covers so many dynamic themes that it is an approachable story for those that are willing to follow in the author’s disturbing past and hopeful future. I would highly recommend it.

This novel is expected to be available for purchase in February 2021. 

Nine Lessons I Learned from My Father by Murray Howe

I will not rate this book. It is not a book a chose to read for myself and one that I didn’t get to finish as it should have.

Unrated.
Paperback, 240 pages.
Read from August 2019 to December 2019.

I will not rate this book. It is not a book a chose to read for myself and one that I didn’t get to finish as it should have. This book means far too much to me now to rate it. I bought this book almost a year to the day for my dad on Father’s Day 2019. It was a day that I couldn’t physically be present for since I live halfway across the globe from my family currently. It had also just been, at the time, just over a month since my dad was given 6 months to live.

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My dad with the book I sent him on Father’s Day 2019 eating his favourite cereal and wearing his old-timer team’s shirt. We would often get this cereal for him on father’s day as a treat because he would always share with us and it wasn’t something we were regularly allowed to eat.

My dad was diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer in August 2018. His cancer had spread to his bones despite him doing all the right things like getting regular doctor’s check-ups. Even with the late-stage diagnosis, we all thought my dad would breeze through treatment and we would have a good and solid two or three years with him, especially considering how young and healthy he was, it’s what all the doctor’s told us too. Unfortunately, after a variety of failed treatments that nearly killed him, twice, he opted to enjoy the remaining time that he had left. Sadly, that time was short, a mere 6 months.

Anyone that has lived with someone who has cancer or has had cancer knows the difficulties. It’s something that can’t be explained if you’ve never experienced it. The utter exhaustion, the despair of not being able to do more or relieve the loved one’s pain or take their cancer away, the frustration of unfairness, the denial of how bad things will be or are going to get to shelter yourself and the cancer sufferer, and for myself, the guilt of living so far away. I lost count how many times I flew home to support my family between August 2018 and November 2019. Some of those times were terrifying, having almost lost my dad then, while others were wonderful, albeit still difficult as my dad declined. I planned my wedding in two weeks so that my dad could be a part of it in the spring of 2019 and spent a month and a half over that same summer with my family.

It was during that summer I spent with my family that I started to read this book aloud to my dad. He rested while I read and sometimes my sister would come and sit and listen too. I had never read aloud to anyone, I can’t even remember what gave me the idea to do it. As I read this great story of Murray Howe recapping his childhood and talking about what a legendary man his father was, I couldn’t help but make associations with the qualities of Gordie and my dad.

My dad loved hockey and most team sports. He played football growing up, was even a quarterback despite his small stature. For most of his adult life he played baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter, he was also a runner. We ran our first marathon together. My dad was a leader who had a sense of justice and fairness that couldn’t be taught. He was passionate and caring about people so it was no surprise that he was a leader in nearly everything that he did. He was a manager of a credit union for nearly 40 years, he was the president of my swim team when I was a kid, he coached my sister and I baseball and soccer, and he would eventually come to run the old-timers hockey team that he played on for more than 20 years. Past his professionalism, he also had an endearing and absolutely goofy sense of humour that followed with a kindness that is hard to come by. My dad would help anyone.

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My dad and I at the Kelowna Marathon, October 2012.

Gordie Howe wasn’t only a good hockey player, he was a man of honour and he lived his life by his own code. Each chapter in this book is an example of a lesson that Gordie taught his son as he exemplified it in his own life. As I read the remarkable story of Gordie Howe’s life to my dad and the impact Gordie had on so many people, I couldn’t help but think of the lives that my dad also touched throughout his life and how my own dad lived honourably. Some passages were beautiful and really struck me, to the point where I had to swallow tears to continue reading. Sadly, I only made it to page 98 before my dad passed away, a page that will forever be bookmarked.

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My dad at The Heritage Classic in 2011.

My dad passed away at the age of 58 in November 2019. All the people he loved most in the world were present in the room when he passed. It was peaceful. It was beautiful. We were lucky. Murray Howe wrote an amazing tribute to his father. Murray may not have been the hockey player his dad or brothers were but he is a fabulous storyteller. This book came to be while Murray was writing his father’s eulogy and it was a source of inspiration for me when I also wrote my own father’s.

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My dad; happy, handsome, and healthy. As he should be remembered.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to but in December 2019, I decided to finish this book. Not only did it help remind me of happier times with my dad but it also helped to remind me of the lessons that my own dad taught me and process some of my own grief. It’s only been seven months and this is my first Father’s Day without him. I saved this review just for Father’s Day in hopes it would help bring me back to better times when he was still here and to make the day a bit more bearable for me.  

My dad was too young to pass. I am too young to be without my father. However, I am still thankful as many are not as blessed to have what I did or that I was able to be loved and love so deeply. No one deserves to die from cancer or to be taken before their time. I feel robbed in so many ways. For myself, for the children I may yet have, for my mom, my sister, and especially for my dad. Grief is ridiculously complicated, and in this instance, also prolonged. Grieving started from the moment of my dad’s diagnosis. Reading has often provided me answers and so it was one of the things that I turned to. While I received no answers this time, it was books like this one that has helped to ease the sorrow.

You don’t have to love hockey to appreciate and enjoy this book. Despite the circumstances that made start reading this book I’m glad that I did. The story is light, full of love, and really about the man that Gordie Howe was both on and off the ice. Even for those of us who know little of hockey, this book is still an enthralling read as it’s a story that is showcased in such a concise and loving manner while also breaching the topics of life, love, death, dying, old age, and grief. Gordie Howe was one hell of a character and it was a pleasure to read his story. Especially with someone who mattered so much to me.

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs by Caitlin Doughty

“It’s normal to be curious about death. But as people grow up, they internalize this idea that wondering about death is “morbid” or “weird.” They grow scared, and criticize other people’s interest in the topic to keep from having to confront death themselves.”

4/5 stars.
ebook,  240 pages.
Read from April 13, 2020 to April 18, 2020.

Anyone else struggling to get reading done during this virus? For whatever reason I find I read more when I’m on the move and busy. I read on the bus and on my lunch but when I’m stuck at home I’m distracted by many other things to fill my time. Obviously, I’m still reading but clearly, it’s not been at the same volume. I might have to adjust my reading goal this year…

I had been on the waiting list for this book for a long time at the library after a recommendation from a friend, which speaks to this book’s popularity. While I’m currently in mourning myself, this lighthearted and graphic book on corpses and dying might seem inappropriate for me but I figured since so many aspects of death are already on my mind, may as well make it somewhat enjoyable if I can.

This isn’t Caitlin Doughty’s first successful novel and she is also a successful mortician and funeral homeowner in LA. After getting a lot of interesting questions over the years, mostly from inquiring young minds, Caitlyn decided to write all these curious questions and answers in a book. The tone of the book is a mixture of intrigue with blatant corpse humour along with cute skeleton cartoons that weave between the chapters. Caitlyn doesn’t spare any details when it comes to the science and decay of dead bodies.  From straight forward questions such as, why we turn colours when we die? To more macabre questions such as why we as species don’t participate in cannibalism? My personal favourite questions, however, including wanting to know if you can have a Viking-style funeral, and what would happen if you swallowed a bag of popcorn before death and were then cremated.

“We can’t make death fun, but we can make learning about it fun. Death is science and history, art and literature. It bridges every culture and unites the whole of humanity!”

Death is universal. Well, with our current technological advances it is anyway. Maybe one day we’ll overcome it? Whether or not that’s a good idea or not is a whole other ethical debate. Despite death being something we all share, our modern society has no death culture and little support for the grieving. Grieving is something that people are expected to keep private and get over as soon as possible. Grief makes people uncomfortable, sometimes even for the person experiencing it. Why are we so uncomfortable with death? Probably because it terrifies us and we don’t know a lot about the process. It’s books like this one that help turn fear into intrigue and acceptance. Death is awful. No one wants to experience it, yet we all will. Knowing about the death process and what goes on at funeral homes once the bodies of our loved ones get there is a way to ease the pain of their loss.

Caitlin’s writing is scientific, yet approachable. She makes it comfortable to read grisly topics that would make other people squeamish and despite death being a grim affair, she somehow manages to make you laugh at the same time. I mean, someone who can make a Justin Timberlake and a dead body reference in the same sentence has some serious talent.

“I’m bringing body back. Returning corpses, but they’re not intact.”

*Kids, this is a Justin Timberlake reference. You’re fine not knowing who that is.

This book was just what I needed. An easy, interesting read on death. It’s the perfect book to pick up during this COVID-19 crisis too, especially if you’re in lockdown. This book will help alleviate anxieties during this stressful time. I’ll definitely add Caitlin’s other book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, to my reading pile. I would highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a curious and lighthearted read, even if you’re slightly squeamish.