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Review: Happenstance by Robert Root
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Please try again later. I purchased the book in part because the author was a fraternity brother during our college days and extended to me kindness when I was going through a bad spell my senior year. I am more than a little surprised by a number of parallel happenstances in our lives. Reading this book has caused me to once again reflect and wonder upon the actions, small and large, that have led me to where I am today. I have highly recommended this memoir those who found themselves fortunate to cross paths with Bob, "back in the day," but were unaware of where he came from and where he went.
After reading a couple of pages, I was ready to give it up. This book was supposedly comprised essays taken from the author's life dedicated to 'happenstance'. While the musings about how likely things are going to happen due to odd coincidences or people coming together in likely or even unlikely ways wasn't particularly interesting to me, this was really just used as a device to tell a larger story of a family and a secret which would eat away at a family for decades as the family structure crumbled and things never completely made sense as to why a relationship that started out promisingly enough went downhill with a solid thump.
The distance between parents and children and a foggy and hard to define set of circumstances between generations also left a void that couldn't be or wouldn't be understood until well into the author's adulthood. It was a passing statement made in relation to the author's father returning from WWiI that made me take notice and made me wonder if I misunderstood what was being said. There it was, a cat let out of a bag. Throughout the essays or what I now see as segments, this was used as a way to connect with the reader.
As the author tautly describes family photos, he also analyzes those photos and the family dynamic that is occurring. It gave me many moments to pause and consider the value of mere images and the thoughts and emotions that lie beneath them. This book is about life, family secrets, and how those secrets can change you and influence your perceptions about people and events.
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It can revise your way of thinking and make you question what you always thought you knew in an intimate way. As the author chooses to tell his story, he drops his bomb early on, teases the reader a bit, and satisfies toward the end of the book with an answer to the question the reader has been asking and waiting for so long. Cleverly written with at times a florid touch, this was a story that eventually satisfied and provided that ahhh ha moment I desperately wanted. I loved the author's visual descriptions and thoughtful analysis that made me question the depth of everyday things.
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I was immediately drawn into Root's story which takes you from the s all the way up to the present day as the author artfully attempts to unravel the extended history of his troubled family. A dreamy kid who often lived in his imagination and fantasies, Root grew up in a home filled with tension, acrimony and a family secret that smoldered for decades. He traces a bit of ancestral history and how his parents met as children, married too early and then were separated for three years by the events of WWII. The story really grabbed me when he began recounting his childhood memories of growing up in Lockport, New York, and his early fascination with comics, radio and TV shows, movies and books, all of which fired his own fantasies.
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Hey, I remembered that film! I read many of the same books too, and I also remember my own first attempts at writing stories, around the same age that Root did. In fact Root's stories and anecdotes triggered countless memories of my own, which is, I think, the mark of a skillfully written memoir. Sadly, Root's childhood and difficult adolescent years were darkened by divorce, a mother who was secretive and selfish, and a father who was often cold and distant.
His high school years were undistinguished and lonely, made bearable by books and movies.
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However, once he found his particular niche - as a writer and teacher - he turned out to be something of a late-blooming overachiever, at least professionally. Unfortunately his personal life seemed doomed to repeat some of the same mistakes of his parents, his first marriage ending in divorce. In the end, Root is a survivor who has made a good life for himself as a respected scholar, teacher, and a wonderful writer.