If you read one book this year, make it I Keep Trying to Catch His Eye by the sportswriter Ivan Maisel. The book is a memoir of the experiences of Ivan and his family dealing with the suicide of his son Max in 2015. Publishers Weekly called it “beautiful and heart-wrenching.” I can think of no better words to describe it.
Part of my admiration for the work comes from a deep respect for Ivan’s writing. As an amateur writer who hacks away at the keyboard attempting to push out readable blog posts and fiction, it’s both humbling and inspiring to be in the presence of a master of the language. And only a superior craftsman could weave together a work that delves so deeply, unsparingly, and poignantly into such unimaginable grief.
I’m not recommending this book as a favor to Ivan. We don’t really know each other. In fact, Ivan may not know that he knows me. We live in the same town and belong to the same golf club where we’ve played together once or twice. We both worked at ESPN, but our paths didn’t cross while we are at the worldwide leader.
My reason for doing what I haven’t done before in this blog – recommend a book – is because it is the best exposition and exploration of human grief that I have ever read. It is a topic that we don’t talk about enough in society, but we should.
Let’s face it. No one likes to dwell on grief. When confronted with it we do everything possible to minimize our exposure. We approach it like hazmat teams covered head to toe in protective gear venturing ever so cautiously into a contaminated area. However, grief is an inescapable part of the human condition, something all us must face eventually.
Ivan and his family traverse grief’s most terrifying terrain – the death of a child. It is the worst thing that can happen to a person. The fear all parents dread more than any other. The fact that Max Maisel suffered from mental illness which caused him to end his own life makes the situation exponentially more excruciating. However, it is precisely because Ivan has grappled this most awful demon, and continues to do so, that he can offer invaluable insight into grief’s most virulent forms.
And make no mistake, everyone who loves must grieve. There’s no protective gear that can shield us, no place we can hide. Maybe (hopefully) it’s not the loss of a child, but a parent, a spouse, a sibling, a friend. As Ivan writes grief is the love we are left with when we lose someone close to us. And our ability to process grief honestly, to allow it to wash over us, to accept the inevitable pain but also open ourselves to the mysterious ways it can help us find healing, are essential components of living well.
It’s no easy read for sure. But it may be one of the most important books you ever pick up. Thank you, Ivan, for bringing this work to the world.
Note for readers in and around Fairfield County. Ivan will be the featured speaker at the Fairfield Public Library’s “One Book, One Town” event on Tuesday, March 28. Click here for more details.