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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

9 Letters by Blake Austin

Review by Wendy
4 Writing What You Feel Stars
* * * *
They say (who ever they are) "write what you know"....and in this book about gut-wrenching loss and then recovery...a lot of it felt very authentic to me.

Those of us who have been touched with the risk of major surgery, think to write to our loved ones in case things don't turn out as perfect as hoped. Having to put on paper all the things unsaid; hopes and dreams for your family, wishes for them... and your deepest is a humbling experience. As someone who luckily was able to tell my family in person my thoughts, I was able to understand very clearly the premise of this book.

The most impressive part of this read from the start was the voice of Luke and how it struck me as more masculine then other books with Male POVs....and with the author's name as Blake... it could be either gender who wrote it...yet it felt Guy throughout.

This is a retelling of sorts... it is the story of Luke and Emily- High School Sweethearts. The book excels when we are taken by the hand and relive all that is this very sweet, charming tale through Luke' memories. They were very young when they met. They came from opposite families; she from the life of Rodeo and Country living, him from a city life... yet they supported each other, were meant for each other; marrying and starting a life.

They didn't have much materially but had all they needed love wise.  They had a very short time, only 3 years as husband and wife...and she became ill and lost her battle with cancer. Leaving him devastated...inconsolable.

For the first 6 months he was a wreck and only recently had been a little bit better. He is bartending but messing that up by barely showing up to cover his shifts. The problem is nothing makes sense... him being here without Emily. He is existing; drowning in the booze and hooking up with the other bartender, Maggie...The relief brief and then  he is slammed with guilt and shame.

The anniversary of Emily's passing happens and after a fight with his boss over something stupid, he is told to get a grip and come back in a couple of days...everyone knows of his pain... but him behaving like an ass has to stop.

On the stoop of his house was a box with only his name, no postal markings or identifying handwriting.  Luke had found it before going into work so there it was when he returned. Picking it up, he goes into the kitchen and cuts the twine, pulls the paper away and opens the box.

Inside are 9 standard size envelopes, numbered from 1-9 written in Emily's handwriting. Taken aback, he goes and gets a shot of whiskey for some liquid courage, knowing his is going to need it.

As he reads this first letter from Emily, he hears her voice so clearly, it hurts his heart...Here she is reaching out to guide him... to take him by the hand and help in his only she could.  Her first letter lays it order for him to read all of the other ones... he must complete whatever task she has said in this letter... Before he can read the next one, Emily knowing him like no one else...knows he needs to have a living responsibility to break through this darkness....

His task is to get a dog... and the dog has to pick him out...

Luke at first is not having this, yet he knows he won't cheat and read all the other letters without doing as Emily asked.... so he finds himself at the rescue shelter. There he enters and is telling the worker he is just looking around and not really thinking of adopting....He is directed to the back where a volunteer with show him around.

This is how he meets Rae. She is lighthearted and can tell before Luke has figured out, he will be adopting a mutt. As they walk the length of all the different dogs in their cages/glass cubicles... at the end is a bloodhound... droopy, drooling and quiet in his corner.

Match made in heaven...King was from a family that had a terrible car accident and the survivors were heartbroken from their loss to keep him, the memories too much. King, seems to have taken to Luke, responds to him and both are bonded. Rae helps with all of the necessities and gives her phone number to Luke should he need any help with King.

What happens next is the progression of Luke's re emerging from his deeply depressed mourning through the assistance of Emily's letters. She is guiding him back from the brink, step by step and we experience the peeling of these layers... like he was wrapped up in this pain cloak and slowly he opens it, letting air circulate around him till he is able to throw it off completely.

There were times when it was two steps forward and then one step back... but eventually Luke was able to see life needs to move forward and Emily wanted that for him.

There were strong moments, feelings of deep love and loss... a perfect understanding of walking into a house and knowing your partner is never going to be there again. But with all of that, the most impressive for me was the feeling this had really been lived. This wasn't some made up deal. Yes, it is fiction and other books have covered the same issues of loss... but it wasn't just the use of the letters which made it feel real... it was the writer's understanding of this guy... this guy who was a terrific husband... and how he knew that was his calling.

The relationship with Rae was ok....but it didn't flow quite as strongly as the rest of the story for me. Their time romantically took on a different dynamic, too... as she had crappy experiences with ex's and his times were either with Emily... or with Maggie. Rae was hard to get a handle on...and although Luke was smitten and happy to pursue was difficult to warm up to her. Her actions were not always the best when it came to Luke.

There were some underlying concepts in this tale. The fact his wife did not have health insurance because he was starting his own business played a huge factor in his guilt and pain. He felt he had let her down as Emily did not tell him of her illness right away. He felt she sacrificed because she allowed him to work for himself, not at a big company where he would have had her insured. At 20, he never thought they would need it. This is a very timely concern; those without means deny themselves care every day and only recently have many had the options now available.

The other part of this journey was the faith-side. It was part of Luke's family as his older brother was a minister; however there were a few times towards the end it felt a bit forced. The willingness to accept love and help from those around you is important; it can be spiritual, faith based or whatever is needed... The main thing is to understand you are not alone and to reach out when in pain...

This read was a journey I am glad I experienced. It touched on so much of what we experience when we lose the ones closest to us. The way we mourning takes on all kinds of behaviors and there is no set perfect time to move on....but what I think is the most important lesson learned to honor those we have lost by living fully while we are still here...It is what they would tell you if they could.

A gifted copy was provided by the author/publisher for an honest review. 

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