Thursday, October 20, 2011

Book Review: August Farewell by David G. Hallman

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc.
Pages: 167

In August of 2009, Bill Conklin was diagnosed with stage-four, pancreatic cancer. Only sixteen days later, Bill died. Bill’s partner of thirty-three years, David Hallman, narrates this sixteen-day journey interspersed with vignettes drawn from their rich and varied life together.

For the most part Bill was unconscious during his last weeks, so this memoir is more of David Hallman’s experience of caring for and letting go of his lover after a long and beautiful relationship. This book started as a personal account for David, as he wanted to document the details of those last weeks together before his memory began to fade, and much of it does seem like a personal diary.

I found the book well written with good pacing except for one issue. It is written in present tense. The author states up front that all these events happened in 2009, and then voices his story as if it were happening as he tells it. I found this very jarring, something that bothered me from first page to last.

One thing I found fascinating is that, one week after Bill’s diagnoses, he was bedridden, in much pain, couldn’t eat, couldn’t talk, didn’t even have the strength to suck water through a straw, yet they continued to keep him alive for as long as possible—another nine days of pain. If he were a horse, they would have mercifully shot him. Why, in this day and age, can’t we find the compassion for humans that we have already found for animals?

This is not a pleasant story. It is told with poignancy, humor, affection, and a good deal of tears. But be aware, I found this to be a depressing read. A bright spot is that the author delves into their life together: their commitment to environmental justice, love of the arts, love of traveling, and their deeply felt Christian beliefs.

This is a tale of letting go, a journey through the past to gain the strength to endure the separation. This is not a book I can recommend to all readers. Perhaps to readers who have made similar journeys, or people preparing for their own loss.

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