This Shining Life by Harriet Kline – Review
By Sandra Callard
Harriet Kline’s new book will trigger every emotional urge in your body. A happy family, mum Ruth and dad Rich, deal with their only child, the young autistic boy Ollie, with understanding and love, and the story covers the time before and after Rich is diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. When he dies the immediate families of Rich and Ruth gather round in a variety of responses to the tragedy that has just occurred, and the results are both appalling and heartrending. Each person has loved Rich for their own individual reasons, and each response is different, resulting in misunderstanding and even horror as they misinterpret each others’ actions and plunge into differing crises of their own.
This, at first, seems overwhelming to the reader, but is eventually accepted because the reactions are based on the previously entrenched beliefs and thoughts about each other, in spite of the genuine love they feel. The personal tragedy of Rich’s death affects them all differently, and as they talk about him and how and why they loved him, the underlying, longstanding problems between them start to dissolve as they each begin to see themselves as Rich saw them, which was always with love, understanding and acceptance.
This book will resonate on a personal level with most readers, many of whom will have encountered at some level one or more of the issues in the story. Even if they have not, Kline’s feather-like touch at the deepest emotions are tender and yet startlingly real, and give a truly authentic feel to the story and the reactions of those portrayed therein. Kline’s depiction of Ollie is particularly touching as the seesaw reactions of autism are clearly shown. Ollie’s reaction to his father’s death is beautifully portrayed in a unique and wonderful understanding by the author of the autistic condition.
“Loving, tender and occasionally funny”
Kline has created some fantastic characters in this book, from the astounding Ollie to the weird and wonderful Angram, mother of Ruth, who has, all her life, given completely the wrong impression to people, including her daughters. Thankfully she can eventually see why her daughters and her extended family have always hated her, as her daughters also begin to understand their mother.
Books whose stories cover these kind of events can ultimately deliver a depressing tone to the reader. All early death is tragic but this particular book has a solid theme of love and redemption running through it which fails spectacularly to be morbid or excessively sad. It treads a fine line between morbidity and excessive joy in saluting Rich’s life, and is a welcome lesson to writers of tragedy that death can incorporate every emotion in the world, including laughter, anger and selfishness, and still be honest and touching. Kline has given a difficult subject a loving, tender and occasionally funny tone which is pleasing and very satisfying.
This Shining Life is, in fact, a beautifully crafted piece of writing which evokes the necessary emotions in the readers, who close the book enveloped in the doubtlessly intended feelings of love and sadness.
‘This Shining Life’ by Harriet Kline is published by Doubleday, £14.99 hardback