I need to say that this book is incredibly hard for me to review objectively. I've been reading Matt's blog since March 26th, 2008, the day it came across my cooking message board and a day after his wife died. I, like millions of others, was instantly hooked. For some background, Matt and his wife Liz were expecting a baby girl in May 2008. Liz had a difficult pregnancy and wasn't gaining weight, resulting in a small fetus and weeks of bed rest. On March 24th, their daughter Madeline was delivered via c-section and was transported to the NICU. Liz had to wait 24 hours to hold her baby, and she had just a few moments with her daughter before she was placed in a plastic box with a feeding tube to keep her healthy. Twenty-seven hours after her daughter was born, Liz died, the victim of a pulmonary embolism to her lungs. Matt's high school sweetheart, best friend, wife, and now mother of his newborn child died without ever getting to hold her daughter.
The tragedy in and of itself is heart-wrenching. Matt's writing in the weeks and months after Liz's death kept me coming back. Top it all off with his reflections of fatherhood, all alone with a newborn who was born seven weeks early. Holy crap.
The reasons this book is hard for me to review are many. First, this is a story I've been following for nearly 4 years. I feel like I know Matt and Maddy. Second, I've met them, so I do kind of know them. (Here's where I'd link to the blog post detailing my visit to LA, but I started it and never completed it because I suck at life. So.....)
|Oh, how I love this.|
|Seventeen months old and very, very okay with strangers|
These pictures were taken roughly a week or so before Matt flew to India to write this book, funnily enough. Again, super chill. "I'm leaving for India in six days and I'm not packed. Sure, strangers! Come on in!"
The third reason this is a difficult review to write is that Matt's story touches so close to home. He and Liz were high school sweethearts who dated in their last semester before college. They dated through college, grad school, and in different time zones for years before getting married. They had very different adolescent experiences, despite living a few miles apart. Matt towered over Liz by a foot. Liz had lost all her jewelry in a burglary, and Matt made a heartfelt promise to slowly replace it ....I could go on, but on nearly every single page, I read something that took my breath away. "It could be us. They could be us."
(In another strange similarity, a song I've always wanted played at my funeral called, "Dress Sexy At My Funeral" was played at both Liz's funerals/memorials. Until I found Matt's blog, I thought I was the only one who'd ever heard of it. Creepy.)
Unfortunately, this won't be a truly objective book review. But I'll do my best to be honest.
Now. Matt's memoir of his last days with his life and his first year of fatherhood isn't a light read. It's probably not a book I would recommend reading in a public place unless you're okay with sniffling, crying, and looking like a crazy person. For example, the train ride to and from work isn't where you want to be seen reading this book. Not that I would know anything about that....
As a reader of the blog, I was very familiar with the story. I'd heard it all before. What I didn't know were the small, intricate details of those days. Whether because they were too painful to recount until he wrote the book, or because in all the shock of losing his wife and becoming a father so suddenly he never shared those details, it was nice to have some more background. Matt writes in a way that he lets you in to those moments. I didn't feel like I was peering behind the curtain, I was in the room with him, waiting for Liz to wake up so she could meet Madeline. I could smell her hospital room and hear the panic in his voice when Liz slumped over, and I felt the rush of air behind me when he was pushed out of her room. That moment is raw, and he has an impossibly lovely way of sharing it with his readers.
While the story is the same, (duh!) the book differs from the blog in many ways. First of all, the writing. Matt has an e.e. cummings quality in his blog that doesn't carry over to the memoir. This is a good thing, because I think I'd stop reading and just keep turning pages if it wasn't in a format that gives me time to read and reflect before turning the page and starting the next chapter. The book does include small peaks into the blog and an introduction to each chapter, for those unfamiliar with Matt's story.
The first year or two of Matt's blog, he posted photos and stories of life with Maddy, but he also posed questions to the readers (mostly women). Questions about parenting and, "Crap, how do I [____________]?" and "What do I do when [________]?" The memoir describes the struggle, but not so much "How do I change a diaper in public?" The struggle is more, "How do I do this alone? How can I keep going without her?" (In the early days of the blog, this was a question Matt asked almost daily.)
TKFM also gets into the real loss of Liz. Matt discusses in detail Maddy's first Christmas, and the empty feeling that permeated the house. He tore my heart out when he described crying with Liz's mom and for the first time saw the pain of a woman who had lost a child, something that had rarely been touched on in his blog.
Matt writes that he wanted to talk about Liz and wanted to let people know it was okay to talk about her and share stories about her. He writes about the internal struggle to keep Liz's memory alive, and to channel his wife's spirit for his daughter, even though it was always painful to do. He writes about being a social pariah because no one knew what to say to him after Liz died. On more than one occasion, he writes that the better of Maddy's two parents had died. You want to sit next to him, hold his hand, and tell him he's doing a hell of a job given the circumstances. And it gives you an appreciation for the dead and you start to wonder why no one speaks their names after they've passed.
The memoir concludes with Maddy's first birthday, seemingly appropriate, as it was also the culmination of the first year without Liz. Even though I knew this, I wanted
Even though the memoir is peppered with names of family and friends who helped him and stepped up to be pillars of support throughout what can only be described as a shitty, shitty year, it's largely a solo flight. The description of being alone in their house at night for the first time is kick-you-in-the-gut heart-wrenching. I felt completely enveloped in the silence.
The tone of the entire book is largely bittersweet. I think this is largely because, by the time the book went to print, Liz had been gone for 3 years. Plenty of time had passed, but what was really impressive to me is that Matt wrote it in such a way that it felt like Liz died days ago. The emotions are raw, and I still can't bring myself to go back and re-read the entire first part. I have to put it down before Liz dies. There's really no way to describe how impossibly unfair it is.
Something Matt really stresses in his memoir is that he doesn't want to forget Liz, and doesn't want others to forget her by not talking about her. When I met Matt and Maddy, he talked about Liz as though she was in the next room or just out for groceries and would be back any moment. His house was relatively clean--he gave us a tour of the whole place--but he apologized for the mess, saying, "Liz never would have let you in here with it looking like this." Both of Maddy's Weirnermobiles were on display, and he half-joked that Liz would have demanded they live out in the yard. (See the blog for deets on that.) When Maddy climbed onto her play piano, he said that in twelve years together, he'd never heard Liz play, "...and she was fucking amazing, or so I was told." There was a touch of regret in his voice, and whenever Matt wrote about the what-ifs and never-weres, I heard that note.
In the face of all this awfulness, there were light-hearted and amazingly happy moments. Matt's inital successes as a parent gave him more strength, and with each hurdle, he grew more and more confident. Matt also went into greater detail about establishing The Liz Logelin Foundation, a non-profit aimed at helping the newly widowed (with families) overcome those early, horrific days without their spouse. With the establishment of the foundation, in addition to the blog, Matt garnered a fair amount of media attention in the first year without Liz. Matt was on Rachael Ray, Oprah, and easily a dozen other talk shows. Throughout the entire book, he never once name drops or makes note that he was ever on television and effectively a blogging celebrity. The book is the detailing of what happened after Liz died, and I appreciated that Matt kept the focus on Liz and Maddy. He never even says, "I went on Rachael Ray with Maddy and felt like shit the whole time because I shouldn't have been there." Amazing.
Because I was familiar with Matt and his story, the excessive use of "colorful language" throughout the memoir didn't phase me. In fact, I barely noticed it. And he says, "fuck" a lot less than I would have. However, it's definitely an issue with some readers. If you hate four-letter-words, check out the blog first and see if this is a story you want to read.
There's no one in the world, not even the people who have truly hurt me, who I would put in Matt's position. Personally, I think he's handled himself with a fair amount of grace and dignity. TKFM is a fast read, though not a light one. Matt writes as though he's talking to you and welcoming you into his home--and I speak from experience. He doesn't whisper Liz's name, or follow every mention of her with some garbage like, "God rest her soul." He is completely open and honest about their life together, and it's clear that their 12 years together were far too short.
Before I wrap this up, I think it's worth mentioning that the book isn't a complete sob fest. Matt's sense of humor is very evident throughout. His early parenting experiences, his resourcefulness, pictures of Maddy and Liz. Basically, he does a nice job of keeping you from feeling like you're at a funeral. There are so many happy moments he shares, and there were moments where I laughed and chuckled, and came crashing down with Matt. In a few moments, he'd made me forget Liz was dead, and each time I turned the page, I felt a sting of loss all over again.
I'd definitely read this again, but I'll need to wait a while. I'm too much of a sap these days.