I'm well aware it's that cursed day of pink hearts, chocolate and Hallmark cards today - but as I have a fine-tuned sense of loathing for the commercialised vomit that is Valentine's Day (and this has applied whether I'm attached or single), I am deliberately choosing to review a book that's as opposite from buy-shite-to-prove-you-love-me day as possible.
For One More Day by Mitch Albom, not to be mistaken for One Day, is one of his most powerful works. I used to be a closeted Albom fan. It was a little bit like readers who are Nicholas Sparks fans, most of the ones I know are ever-so-slightly ashamed, muttering all sorts of flimsy excuses about why they like his work.
I like Albom because he is actually a decent author. He is good at creating narratives and pulling people into the story. All his novels are tailored around a central philosophical theme. In Tuesdays With Morrie, the theme is Life (with a capital 'L'), The Five People You Meet in Heaven is about Love, and now For One More Day is essentially about Forgiveness.
The book explores the question of regret, based around the chief storyline of what you would do if you could have a deceased loved one back for just one more day. In the case of Charles "Chick" Benetto, a failed former professional baseball player, it's his mother, who passed away suddenly nearly eight years ago.
As the novel jumps back and forth in time, a clear picture of Chick's relationship with his mother emerges. It turns out that he's spent most of his life seeking his father's approval, and as Chick explains in the novel, it's often the cold, distant parent whom you most want to love you. So he spends most of his life chasing after his elusive father, while taking for granted that his warm, loving mother will always be there. Until she wasn't.
There is one particularly moving scene of Chick as a little boy, researching the scientific question "what causes an echo?" - his mother takes time out of her schedule to help him learn, patiently talking him through how sound bounces and persists. His father first tells him to do his homework himself, then turns on the TV while muttering "what a colossal waste of time". It's a perfect example of the terrific Philip Larkin poem This Be The Verse, the one that starts with the famous line "they f*ck you up, your Mum and Dad".
It's a poignant, heartwrenching little tale, not very long and with rather a simple message conveyed using minimalistic language and spare storytelling that leaves many things brewing underneath the surface for the reader to detect, but like all of Albom's writing, it works because it carries an emotional honesty that can be hard to find in more literary fiction.
There are some truly beautiful quotes from For One More Day, like this one:
"...there's a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is your mother's story, because hers is where yours begin."
And also this one, whom anyone who's ever suffered a loss will be able to relate to:
"You can go through your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back."
With that cheerful thought...Happy St Valentine's Day! ;-)
Have you read For One More Day?