Book review: The Book of Why by Nicholas Montemarano

‘There’s no need ever to feel like a victim; there are no circumstances beyond your control.’

Self-help guru Eric Newborn has an answer for all humanity’s conundrums. Think positively and all will be well, he advises those whose lives are in crisis.

But when Eric’s wife dies from cancer, he finds that grief renders him helpless. There is no easy cure, no platitude to comfort him, no replacement with which to fill the deep trough of his devastating grief.

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For the first time in his successful career, the inspirational speaker and bestselling author of several motivational books is lost for words...

The Book of Why, a moving portrait of a man coming to terms with the death of his beloved ‘other half,’ is the remarkable work of New York writer Nicholas Montemarano whose short story collection, If the Sky Falls, won plaudits and prizes in literary circles.

Here he explores how memory, past events and the power of the imagination shape our perception of the world, and how we deal with death, disappointment, happiness, despair and the unpredictable course of our own destinies.

Montemarano dares to peer into the subconscious, to analyse how we process emotions like love, desire and guilt, and to examine the innermost workings of the human soul.

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‘This is a self-help book,’ Eric tells us as his story begins. ‘Didn’t think it was, but it is. It’s also a revision, a question, a confession, an apology, a love letter.’

Unable to cope with the death of his wife Cary, the soulmate he felt as if he’d known forever, Eric retreats with his dog to his isolated home at Martha’s Vineyard where he surrounds himself with Cary’s belongings ... her letters, her doodles, a few sweaters, a pair of her socks.

The old exhortations that we all have ‘the power to change our lives,’ that ‘happiness is an inside job’ and that illness is just ‘an extension of negative emotion’ have all been rendered either useless or meaningless.

Five years later, on a wild, snowy, storm-lashed night, a car crashes at the end of Eric’s lane and a woman turns up at his door, covered in blood and seeking help.

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Sam Leslie, a professional obituary writer (‘God is my assignment editor’), turns out to be a fan who is trying to track him down, convinced that Eric and his best-selling book, Everyday Miracles, will sort out the tragedies and coincidences that have both destroyed and coloured her life.

As Eric vanquishes demons in his past and faces the world again, he and Sam spin around one another like constellations in a greater universe. Together they set out to search for answers to their questions, and to find some meaning in the events that have knocked them off course.

Perhaps everything doesn’t happen for a reason...

The Book of Why is a powerful love story as well an exploration of the fragility of relationships. Thought-provoking, sombre and yet exquisitely tender, it forces us to confront harsh truths about life... and death.

(Headline Review, paperback, £13.99)

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