With colorful description and profound glimpses of personal experiences, SPARED author Shaun Deane looks back at the devastating circumstances that upended his life and his struggle to free himself from his self-centered father’s legacy of anger and bitterness.
Reading baby-boomer Shaun Deane’s memoir is like hunkering down in your favorite coffee shop with an admired professor ruminating about life’s tough breaks and comebacks. The elevated vocabulary and stylistic beauty of his storytelling are incisive and captivating. Although the logic of the timeline and “moral of the story” in his anecdotal musings about his parents, brother, friends, wives and the Boston/New England landscape are obscure at times, Shaun apparently has his own reasons for unraveling his tale this way, pogo-sticking among decades and people from the 1960’s to the present.
Shaun’s father, Paul, was a college professor. Moby Dick was perhaps his favorite novel, which he taught for years at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. The family trauma in their lives is the poignant foundation of Shaun’s memoir. The comparisons with Melville’s Captain Ahab may not be as obvious as Shaun assumes. He pointedly notes Paul’s ptolemaic sense of his own importance, but lets the reader determine the actuality of a “whale,” an unidentified, malevolent force. “Your dad could not have known this shit would happen,” surmised a close friend of Shaun’s, rather unpoetically. “People do what they do.”
Paul’s emotional tryst with a woman named Judy Rubin from 40 years earlier is revealed when Shaun finds letters in his now institutionalized father’s house. As Shaun tracks down what happened to Judy, his father’s behavior becomes easier to fathom. “And I only am escaped alone to tell thee,” is used by Melville in Moby Dick because Ishmael, the only survivor of the debacle, is at last healed and reconciled with God. Shaun echoes the line, implying that “escaping alone” not only tested his faith, it reiterates that “shit happens” and is a literal reference to the actions of those closest to his father.
Without giving anything away, one of the most moving chapters contains a letter written by his brother to his father. It’s not clear who is speaking when the chapter starts, but the realization hits with shattering force. A poem in that same chapter has equal power.
SPARED is constructed as a series of vignettes, but the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts because the reminiscing, although often witty and erudite, is a bit haphazard. Despite this, Shaun’s search for a “do-over” and his message that toxic belief systems can be rejected to make way for love are expressed in a way that is satisfying and worth the read.
~MG Milbrodt for IndieReader