Boyhood Memoirs and the Power of Angels
Review By Rebecca Rule
July 22, 2007
Rebecca Rule, a New Hampshire native, has published collections of short stories. The Best Revenge (University Press of New England) was named Outstanding Work of Fiction by the NH Writers Project and listed as one of five "Essential NH Books" by New Hampshire Magazine. She co-authored two how-to books with Susan Wheeler: Creating the Story and True Stories (Heinemann). Since 1992, she's written a column on NH books and writers, Bookmarks, which appears in the Concord Monitor, Nashua Telegraph and Portsmouth Herald.
"Thanks, Jack: In Need of a Miracle"
(Back Channel Press: paper, 304 pages, $19.95)
In my travels as a storyteller and leader of writing workshops, I meet many people who are writing about their lives. Some write to remember and leave a record for family. Some want to publish for a wider audience. Whatever the goal, reflecting on your life through writing, seems to me, worthwhile in itself. We write (I do anyway) to find meaning and order. Life events may seem random or chaotic. But a story has a beginning, middle and end. It shows how one act led to another - or foreshadowed it, or echoed it. In memoir, you discover the themes of your own life.
This week I read two memoirs. Each tells the story of a boy growing to manhood. Each is written with brisk honesty and refreshing directness. Each searches experience for meaning, and finds it.
Jack Rose of Conway, NH grew up believing he was the miracle replacement child for his brother, also called Jack. The first Jack died at age 12, exactly two years (to the minute) before the second Jack, known in the family as Johnnie, was born. Their mother believed her dead son appeared to her and lifted her grief with news that a boy would come to take his place. From an early age, Johnnie felt his brother watching over him, a guardian angel. In "Thanks, Jack: In Need of a Miracle," he recounts the many times his brother intervened in his life, ultimately saving his life from a car accident at age 18. An engineer on the scene called Johnnie's escape "a miracle."
Rose's tale, ironically, is a testimonial to the power of God and angels, particularly his big brother.
Rose's narrative ends just after the accident that should have killed him. A state trooper on the scene can't figure out how he survived. The car, forced off the road by a speeder, careened over an embankment, flipped and burned. Both doors were closed, the windows up. Rose's shoes were wedged against the pedals, yet he was found outside the car, with a few scratches on his face and a sore wrist. The last thing he remembered was heading for the guard rail.
His survival was a mystery to bystanders, but not to Rose: "I tipped my head back, looked up to the heavens and simply said, out loud, for any and all to hear, 'Thanks, Jack. How many times you've come to my rescue. God, I'm glad you're there!'"
Rose wrote his story years later, with the benefit of the long view. He was enough removed from the events to be, strange as it sounds, objective about his own life. Rose married young, became a mechanical engineer, enjoyed a long career, and retired to the White Mountains, publishing this, his first book, at age 69.
I can recommend this book for the subject. If you wonder about guardian angels and how a strong, supernatural belief colors a life,
Rose's book will answer some of your questions and perhaps raise new ones.
For me, though, some of the best moments in his book were recollections of boyhood. I enjoyed the boyish perspective, able to recreate: memories of fishing (Rose did a lot of fishing), fort building, ice skating, tree climbing, family gatherings, berry picking, first crushes, sexual curiosity - the adventure of growing up. Finally, I can recommend this book for those who are trying to write about their own lives. Memoir writing is hard! So much to include, or not. And where the heck do you start? How do you organize 10 or 20 or 70 years of living?
Jack Rose is not a professional writer - though he is now an author. He is a man with a story he needed to tell, so he set down and told it. Reading his books might give you some ideas for telling your story.
To find these independently published memoirs, try your local bookstores. (Some bookstores stock up on hard-to-find books featured in Bookmarks, anticipating demand.) Or order "Thanks, Jack" directly from the author: Jack Rose, 5600 Sugarloaf Pkwy., Unnit 419, Lawrenceville, GA 30043. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rebecca Rule of Northwood reviews books by New Hampshire authors. She may be reached at email@example.com.