Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Review: If Not For This by Pete Fromm

After I graduated from college, I went on a week long white water rafting trip. It was absolutely amazing and had I not already had a life plan in place, I might just have tried to become a river rat. The trip was exhilarating and gorgeous and I could see the appeal of the life of river runners, even if it was hard to be that grubby all the time. As we approached each set of rapids, the guide in the raft told us about the make-up of that particular rapid and how we planned to run it. But there was always a caveat to the plan. Rapids are not static. They change over the seasons. They change depending on the volume of water raging through them. And they can even change beyond recognition after just a single storm. In many ways, and in this in particular, rapids reflect our lives.  We never know when a rapid is going to spin us around or present differently than we expect or just be wild with water running high.  Pete Fromm has captured life as a series of rapids to run beautifully in his novel, If Not For This.

Maddy and Dalt meet at a party for boatmen on the Snake River. Their connection is instant and they embark on an enviable all-consuming love story, dubbing themselves "the lucky ones." But life rarely goes as planned and after they start up their own river running company, Maddy discovers that the bone deep weariness she's been experiencing is not mono as she'd perhaps thought, but instead MS and that she's pregnant as well. And so Maddy and Dalt have to change course and fight for some sense of normalcy as they plunge into the out of control rush of rapids they didn't hear coming.

As they grapple with the inexorable march of Maddy's illness, they must change how they thought they'd live their lives together. They are clearly soul mates and while their connection can sometimes be a bit much, it gives a solid foundation to the hard decisions they have to make. Do they choose to have children, knowing the ravages ahead? How do you deal with the frustration of losing independence by slow degrees, either the afflicted person or the person who loves them? How do you persevere in a life that is so different than the one on which you planned? The novel allows time to pass in the blank space between chapters so that each chapter shows a new stage in their lives rather than the slow, daily decline of the disease. While this takes away the drudgery of the everyday, it highlights Maddy and Dalt's tender and passionate embrace of life in the face of certain decline, showing their struggles at every stage, the black comedy they use to cope with this life sentence, and the full speed ahead courage and love that gets them through the lowest ebb. The descriptions of the physical world, the rivers and the wilderness are simply gorgeous and these early descriptions contrast heartbreakingly with the later grim reality of a body trapped and living with this thief of a disease. Fromm has written a stunning book not just about living with MS but also about love and nature and who we are deep down to our very souls.  It will touch your heart and tear you up in equal measure.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book for review.


  1. First of all, OMG Jealous of your rafting trip! I've been rafting several times but never for a whole week, so cool! We should go to the Outdoors Center in Charlotte and do that some time since a rafting trip is kind of above my pay grade. This book sounds really good. On to my TBR list it goes!

  2. New book to me! It sounds like a unique and really powerful story.


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