Herald Book Club Review - What I'm Trying to Say is Goodbye

Reviewed by: Cordelle Neufeld

The title for Lois Simmie's novel comes from a statement made by the protagonist named Matthew: "I've been trying to say goodbye but I'm not very good at it."

This resonated with me because I, too, have experienced difficulty in bidding farewell to relationships, judgments and expectations as they were experienced in the past. Release of both myself and another are necessary in order to make the transition into new beginnings. It is in this wisdom of loss that Matthew Kelly grows into a renewed experience of life.

Simmie's main character once used alcohol to reach a place of peace and happiness where he was full of acceptance and good intentions. However, the author writes: "His body always got drunk before his mind and stayed drunk longer." Waves of nausea would cast him ashore from drownings in fantasy. Matthew's addiction to the amber-coloured worlds he found in bottles of scotch and whisky cost him his job as a newspaper reporter in September and his marriage with Delia one month later. 

The novel begins in November with Matthew as a depressed insomniac roaming the halls of the apartment building in Vicotira of which he is the caretaker. Drinking dreams haunt him: "Just last night he walked through a vine-covered barroom door, and trying to leave after just one drink discovered the door grown over with vines, as tough as a brick wall.

His chain smoking eases some of his desire to drink again but the intensity of his craving forces him to seek the support of Alcoholics Anonymous. Matthew cautiously learns to enjoy himself at the age of 60 despite a continuous sleep-deprived hangover, but not one brought on by alcohol. He watches for the warning signs of his vulnerability expressed by the AA acronym HALT: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired.

But Matthew needs the assistance of a sponsor named Marty to encourage him to change the things he can. Matthew confronts the consequences of what he has done, become and lost through alcoholism.

He reaches out to his daughter Kate who is addicted to prescription drugs. Her marriage is crumbling under her husband Michael's addiction to fundamentalism and delusion of self-importance.

Michael is building a millenium cult with his mistress while his wife meekly languishes in bed. Matthew's 13-year-old grandson is isolated by Michael's creationist rhetoric and apocalyptic threats.

The lives of three generations of family - Matthew the grandfather, Kate the daughter and Sam the grandson - are explored in this novel. The reader is also introduced to interesting tenants of Kensington Manor, as well as a mischievous poltergeist upset with the sexual trysts of a man with whom she had an affair in the building. Simmie's novel is an interesting and easy read. It will appeal to readers who are familiar with the television series Touched by an Angel and Twice in a Lifetime.

There is no enrapturement of angels and no erasure of pasts, but there are similarities in the discovery of possibilities contained within the seeds of each choice we plant in the soil of our lives.

This novel touched a chord within me and I have renewed eyes of wonder and hope.

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