When You Went Away by Michael Baron is a story of Gerry, a man who loses the love of his life (his wife and soul-mate for 20 years) unexpectedly to a blood clot. This tragedy happens closely on the heels of his teenaged daughter running off with an older man and his wife giving birth to their “oops” baby. His daughter is nowhere to be found and only communicates via untraceable emails, so she has no idea that her mother has passed.
Gerry slowly returns to work and life as he faces the struggle of being a newly single dad. Leaving his infant son with a stranger so soon after his mother is taken away from him, dealing with curious co-workers and bosses who prefer that he leave his issues at the door, stretch his resilience very thin.
He does develop close relationships with two women in his life; one who is his former sister-in-law and the other a new coworker. The author does a good job of cultivating those relationships and describing the guilt and turmoil that this causes him. As he finds himself falling in love, he questions the love and devotion he had for his wife if he can “replace” her so easily.
The author also does a nice job of focusing on the strained relationship that Gerry had with his daughter before she ran away and his futile attempts to track her down. Since he can’t reach out to her physically, he starts writing to her in a journal which he hopes she will read one day. He dissects their relationship and acknowledges where he may have faltered. As a parent, it really makes you look at your own relationship with your children.
While the storyline is relatively predictable and there aren’t many major events, it’s tender and honest. You don’t get caught up in the grief. Using flashbacks, journal entries and emails – the author gives the reader more insight into Gerry’s relationships with his wife and his daughter. At one point when his daughter sent an email and asked him to be happy for her, he wrote: What was the downside? Was it the concern that seeing this from her perspective might make it more acceptable to me that she was gone? Was it the fear that my being happy for her even for a second would somehow authorize her to stay away forever?
Gerry does find comfort bonding with his infant and re-learning how to be a good father, or so he feels. He writes that it’s so easy for tragedy to defeat you. It’s seductive in the way that I heard freezing to death is. Being consumed by grief is in many ways much more comfortable than battling your way out of it – especially when you realize that no matter how hard you fight you can’t reverse the situation you’re grieving over. But it’s so important to engage in the battle anyway. It’s really the only way to stay alive.
While story ends rather abruptly, and misses what I feel is closure for all of the main characters, it was an enjoyable read. There were some sections that I could have done without and I found myself skipping through, but overall the story was captivating. It tugged at the heart-strings just enough to keep me interested in the story. I would be curious to see what else this author as to offer.
Also available at Barnes & Noble/Nook