Wise Men & Other Stories is a collection of essays on a number of topics emotional, spiritual, and familial, ranging from the author’s losing his keys after his daughter’s Christmas pageant to the life and death of a “tough guy” with a good heart.
Most of the essays have to do with family, from his difficult childhood to his happy married life with a dearly-loved daughter. None of them are terribly long, or dependent on any of the others, so it is possible for a reader to dip into the middle or read one or a couple of essays here and there without losing track of anything.
O’Mary addresses each essay straightforwardly and from the heart, in clear, plain language that is all the more touching because it doesn’t (usually) drip with sentiment. The essays are almost a form of prose poetry, enhanced by his wry sense of humor and the way he has of using a deceptively-simple discussion of a seemingly small thing or event – an EcoSphere, a costume party, his experience selling shoes – to make a complicated and thought-provoking moral or emotional point. He discusses difficult topics without shrinking, and he doesn’t hide from stories that don’t make him look good. Some of the essays are gentle, warm, and charming, like a mental cup of cocoa before a fireplace; others (especially the story of Joey Russo) are both heartbreaking and disturbing. The latter are probably more valuable, for the self-reflection they provoke, but the former certainly have their place.
Some of the essays are more powerful than others, and a few are simply sentiment (which is not necessarily a bad thing – it’s quite well-written sentiment). He generalizes a bit, though mainly about his own sex, and with humorous undertones that soften the stereotypes.
If you feel in need of some warmhearted philosophical companionship, and a bit of holiday reflection on what really matters, this book is good company.
Reviewed by Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader