Monday, September 1, 2008

Surviving Ben’s Suicide – Book Review

Surviving Ben’s Suicide
A Woman’s Journey of Self-Discovery

by C. Comfort Shields

Surviving, quite simply, is the story of a woman whose college boyfriend committed suicide. The narrative follows the story of Ben and Shields’s relationship, his growing depression and suicide, and how Shields spent years trying to make sense of it.

The story unfolds slowly as does the full picture of Ben’s mental struggle. In an almost ABAB pattern the chapters toggle back and forth across time over the bright line of his death. Time moves forward along each story line but the reader is left feeling jolted back and forth. It is a jarring effect but I’m not sure if it would be more enjoyable if it were written more linearly. The back and forth disallows the reader from settling comfortably into the story of young love or the healing at the end but it also provides some relief from the darkest parts of the tale.

But that’s technique; let’s talk about the meat of the book. There is no question that Ben suffered. If the fact that a healthy, intelligent man in his mid-twenties chose to kill himself doesn’t convince one the final chapters of Surviving make clear the severity of his emotional or mental problems.

It is also clear that Shields, the narrator, suffered. Not only did her lover and friend kill himself but just a few years before she had survived a bus accident that killed another close friend. The years of the late teens and early twenties when one is deciding what life will be is a bad time to deal with even one accidental death.

I found it difficult to connect with this book. I understood going in that it was about dealing with the suicide of a loved one but in the aftermath and even before Ben’s suicide Shields’s perspective seems to be the most important thing. Naturally this is intrinsic in a story told first-person but her preoccupation with how everything and everyone affected her is almost myopic. That’s not to say that Surviving isn’t a compelling read; it is. I’m only saying that Shields occasional preoccupation with how everything affected her is distracting. In my life it is far more likely that I’d be Ben rather than Shields so I suppose that this skewed my perspective a bit.

On the balance I’d have to say that I enjoyed reading this book. As Shields points out there is a definite stigma against suicide in our culture as well as a stigma against those who are “only” lovers and not married – something with which I’ve dealt. Surviving is certainly worth a read if you are seeking to understand suicide or inspiration for dealing with the death of a loved one.

You can check out some other reviews on Surviving Ben's Suicide's page.

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